Welcome to One A Day. At its core, One A Day is a project I've decided to take on for 2014. The idea, is that over the course of this new year, I will watch at least 365 movies and post a review a day. It's ambitious, considering I am a continuing student and work 40 hours a week, but it's a project I've been mewling over in my mind for a while.

There are two reasons I wanted to take this project on. One, and the most obvious reason, is to hone my review abilities, sharpen my eye for criticism, and begin to make a name for myself in one of the fields I hope to eventually become a part of. 

The second reason was to prove to myself that I could accomplish, and more importantly finish, a task that I started. I'm the type of person who starts one hundred projects and finishes two. This is one of the most difficult tasks I have taken on, as far as my writing is concerned, and is a journey I am eager to embark, if not endeavour, on. 

I can't say for certain I will meet my goal, but all I can do is try. I hope you enjoy my little project, just as much as I know I'm going to enjoy the challenge of bringing you fresh reviews on a daily basis. 

Peace, love, and Reptar,

Julia.

UPDATE: It’s been just over two and a half months since I started the One A Day project, and it continues to be the most ambitious task I’ve ever set my mind too.

It’s been difficult, and I’ve definitely faltered along the way, but I’m not quitting.

You guys and gals have been immensely supportive of me, and I thank each and every one of you for your beautiful comments and unwavering constructive criticism. I really appreciate those who have fallen into the latter category.

As I said at the beginning of the year, I set off on this journey to hone whatever little skill I may have, and prove to myself I can actually finish a task I put my mind too.

So here I am with a semi-quarterly update, a little piece to let you all know I am in no way dead, nor is the project or the site.

In fact, I have some great news I hope to share with you all very soon; I just need to finalize the details.

But I am incredibly excited to announce it, so hold on tight!

Stay classy online world, stay classy.

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The Punk Singer review: Girls to the front 

The Punk Singer is a documentary about a feminist in a female unfriendly world, but more than that, it’s a documentary about the continuously changing landscape of what we define feminism as in a constantly evolving cultural world.

The Punk Singer documents the story of Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the Seattle punk band Bikini Kills, and a founding member of the feminist activist organization, Riot Grrrl.

Hanna, who came from an abusive background, identified at a young age the issues facing women in society; the double standards, the objectification, the petty brushing aside when opinions were raised.

Being a strange individual, full to the brim with creativity, Hanna decided to tackle the issues originally through poetry and spoken word. It wasn’t until a writing instructor asked her why she wanted to write, to which Hanna responded by saying she wanted to be heard, that she received the piece of advice that would change her life forever.

If you want to be heard, join a band.

With those words, Hanna poured her entire life into forming her female stacked, feminist idealistic band Bikini Kills.

Through Bikini Kills, Hanna invoked certain etiquette policies that would forever change the way men and women acted at concerts.

“Girls to the front,” a motion started by Hanna that ensured women felt safe attending punk shows, created an ambience for punk never experienced before. For the first time in the punk scene, women were being thought of first, and they were outnumbering fellow male attendees.

Through her no bullshit attitude and ferocious, active stance on a wide array of women’s issues, Hanna had secured herself as the feminist role model of the ‘90s.

Through Riot Grrrl, Hanna took her leadership position one step further, effectively drawing up a manifesto for women. A way to band together and protest for each other’s rights, help each other deal with oppressive men, and through different Riot Grrrl collectives, discuss topics they were unable to do otherwise.

Although the documentary does an excellent job setting up Hanna’s past, where it truly succeeds as a film is its progressive narrative.

Just like its subject, the documentary feels like it’s questioning the future of the movement, unwilling to stay in the present for very long.

There’s never a moment of peace; every time the corner is turned another battle is being waged over another issue.

Accompanied by the angry, guttural punk soundtrack, the documentary never settles, like other films have.

By using the supporting filmmaking tools, like the score and the editing sequences, The Punk Singer manages to encompass all that it originally set out to do without relying on potential sound bites and visceral imagery.

In many ways, it transcends the usual documentary viewing experience.

It doesn’t leave you questioning the enormous amount of information you’ve been fed over the past two hours, but instead the entire package leaves you angry.

The never-ending punk banging meticulously left playing through all of Hanna’s speeches reinforces her ideas better than any secondary interview ever could.

The Punk Singer is a social justice documentary, through and through, although at times it’s hard to decipher it from a music doc, which in many ways, just adds to the brilliance.

Hanna used music to spread her message to the largest group of people she could. The band became the vessel for her message, just like how the documentary used her words as the vessel for the history of her music.

The Punk Singer is a documentary about powerful women and the rights they have continuously fought for as seen through one singer’s eyes. It’s a universal message attached to a catchy tune. But most important, is its engaging nature and punk rock vibe that makes standing up for women’s equality the most badass thing someone could do.

That’s pretty damn cool

Mortal Kombat review: K.O.

The issue with Mortal Kombat isn’t that it’s simply an egregiously atrocious film.

The problem lies within the lack of fun it allows itself to have, an issue when you’re adapting from a video game founded on the premise of having a completely nonsensical, fun time.

Generally grouped alongside the equally disastrous Street Fighter film, the 1995 Paul W.S. Anderson movie feels like one of the oddest acid trips you can take without actually placing a tab on the tip of your tongue.

As previously mentioned, Mortal Kombat is based on Konami’s legendary fighting game franchise, set in an alternate universe made up of six different realms that were created by the Elder Gods. In the first Mortal Kombat game, which the film’s plot line is based on, seven strangers enter the legendary Mortal Kombat tournament, a series of ten consecutive matches allowing one realm to effectively reign supreme over the residing five.

Upon arrival in the official realm where the tournament would take place, fighters Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras), and Liu Kang (Robin Shou) are informed that if one of them doesn’t win the tournament, the evil overlord Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) will destroy Earthrealm and, predictably, take over the world.

There are a number of narrative and acting problems blatantly staring the audience in the face, but before the onslaught of insults and massacring of a movie start, there is one element that deserves some level of credit.

Considering the film was released in 1995, many of the CGI created scenes are pretty remarkable.

From the first opening shot, a wave of silver cloud foreshadowing the dismal undertone of the entire film, the corny CGI is pretty impressive.

Even the choreographed fight scenes aren’t too shabby. They’re not sensational by any stretch of the imagination, but they aren’t as painful to watch as its Street Fighter cousin’s were.

What Anderson and his team seemed to understand when they were making the film is how to pander toward fans.

Each fight includes the character’s unique finishing move, and extremely wide shots allow the vast tournament arenas to feel like arenas, as opposed to staged sets.

Like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat does include a fair share of dramatic close-ups, but unlike the previous fighting movie, the close ups didn’t feel orchestrated or corny. Instead, they worked with the overall direction of the film, and in times where the direction lacked, the fighting scenes sometimes made up for it.

But even with the crafty choreography, the film manages to fall flat at every turn.

The acting is superficial, and the irony of that sentence isn’t lost. The whole point of acting is being able to convince the audience that what’s occurring on screen is real, even if the concept of reality is so far gone from the narrative the term takes on a whole new meaning.

The entire cast never once breaks the apathetic poses, slouched shoulders hardly emphasizing the slightly more ambitious voice acting.

If a cast doesn’t believe in a film, and the directing is lacking, it’s damn near impossible for an audience to be expected to by hyped for the production.

To add to the displeasure of having to sit through a terribly acted, highly confused directed, b-level movie, the writing is chalk full of corny puns and narrative ripped straight from the game.

As great as the Mortal Kombat games were, they weren’t well known for their writing, especially considering how testosterone filled, macho minded it constantly strived to be.

For some reason, however, Anderson thought it would be a great idea to lift the tone of the game’s writing and use it in the movie.

Moves and games, however, are completely different beasts and often time what works for one will not work for the other.

It’s why they’re called adaptations, not photocopies or clones. Instead of lifting the material and molding it to fit for a theater going, non-interactive audience, he merely accomplished translating the game for a non-game playing audience. And poorly, at that.

That’s the worst part of the film; the entire production feels like a faux love for a game no one on the entire team cared about.

When the film was made, Mortal Kombat was one of the biggest games in the world, with a large audience that would probably watch a movie based on their favourite game featuring their favourite characters.

As an audience member, it feels like a money grab, and it’s disheartening to watch.

The best genre films only work because the director and the cast stand behind it; it’s something they are proud to be a part of, something they’d want to go see.

Mortal Kombat gets treated as a punishment, the next step in making the movies they actually want to make.

There’s no fun to be had with it, any way you slice it, and it’s hard to continue watching past the ten-minute mark.

It’s become a perfect example of what not to do, ever, when it comes to handling a beloved fan franchise.

I can’t help but think it’s a shame Anderson wasn’t around to see what Favreau, Whedon, and the Russo’s did with Marvel’s empire.

K.O

The United States of Leland review: Wasted opportunity 

There’s nothing worse than when a film has a fantastic promise of premise and goes on to create a boring, unfulfilled, confused narrative with hardly any exceptional qualities.

The United States of Leland could have been an interesting movie about social dysfunctions, mental illness, and the complex American family strife countless have encountered. Instead, it felt like too many storylines were trying to fight for the top spot, while the moral of the film was spoon fed to an audience that could have easily deciphered it on their own.

In United States of Leland, a young Ryan Gosling plays the socially awkward, extremely depressed Leland P. Fitzgerald.

After killing his girlfriend’s (Jena Malone) younger, intellectually stunted brother, Leland ends up in a juvenile detention center, enrolled in Pearl Madison’s (Don Cheadle) class.

It’s from this point forward, about twenty minutes into the film, the downhill trajectory starts.

The main problem with The United States of Leland is its overly rumbustious, ambitious nature to try and mingle about nine different story lines into an hour and a half feature.

The focus of the movie should have been on Leland and his strangely mature view of the world, his obvious mental distress, and his “Angel of Mercy” take on the world.

Instead, the audience gets treated to about thirty minutes total of Leland time, while the rest of the minutes are divided among secondary characters that are far less interesting and crucial to the film.

The audience is let in on every condescending secret, getting their hands on every piece of dirty laundry the families of Leland and the boy he killed have tucked away in their hampers.

Madison, a struggling novelist, begins to use Leland, interviewing him for he’s certain will be a scorching book. In doing so, he’s introduced to Leland’s father, Albert Fitzgerald (Kevin Spacey), an immensely successful writer and phantom father to his son.

Through his less then chivalrous parental nature, we learn Leland was shipped off every summer to different cities around the world, including a two-month stay in New York City with the ideal, picturesque family. Although, as the movie would attempt to showcase, nothing is as it seems.

These types of intermingling situations are gimmicky, and when executed sporadically and well thought out, can elevate a movie.

Director Matthew Ryan Hoge doesn’t use the “mind-blowing” plot structuring as a treat for filmgoers, but instead uses the gimmick as a means to cram all of the story lines he’s clearly thought about for a long period of time into the film.

In that regard, The United States of Leland would have been a perfect mini-series on television, hosted by a network like Showtime or HBO that isn’t afraid to take risks.

With the extra time, Hoge could have developed an incredible relation to each of these characters, and let them all become the center of attention as a long running ensemble.

It is a film, though, and we were served an overly energetic, enthused kid who’s just discovered they can include cool graphics on PowerPoint ‘98.

What’s most disappointing about the film is that it had the potential to be an incredibly important one.

Ryan Gosling, whose acting was the small silver lining throughout the entire film, played a beautifully disturbed, mature teenager who saw through the facade people throw up, the glamour’s they hide under.

It was because of the sorrow that he saw in his girlfriend’s younger brother, that no one else could see because of their own narcissistic, self-indulgent ways, that he decided to take mercy upon the depressed teen and put him out of his misery.

The views Hoge instilled in Leland were extreme, but there was a truth hidden beneath the audacious acts that for a second resembled the message within great films like Elephant and The Dirties.

It was a film that openly and directly talked about mental disorders and depression, and it felt wasted, trapped inside the walls of a boring, overly zealous attempted feature.

The United States of Leland is a disappointment, and that’s a crying shame.

The potential this movie had, the promise of what it could have been is almost heartbreaking.

Damned if you do, I suppose, and damned if you don’t

Captain America: The Winter Soldier review: Shields drop, bullets fired

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a phenomenal action packed thrill ride with bits of Marvel easter eggs subtly woven in, pandering toward the most loyal of comic book fans.

Set directly after the events in The Avengers, Winter Soldier finds America’s favourite propaganda weapon, erm, superhero rather, back in Washington, going on covert missions as one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s top agents.

Unlike in the first Captain America film, The First Avenger, the new Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) isn’t a naïve loyalist, willing to jump into lethal battles based on a direct order from a reigning officer.

Instead, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have matured the soldier, made him slightly more wary, more aware of his surroundings and the diabolically devious mind games that plague his nation’s capital.

It isn’t until one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s most trusted agents is hurt, however, that the Captain finally begins to see what’s going on.

Armed with his newfound knowledge and his trusty patriotic painted shield clasped firmly by his side, Rogers embarks on a mission with Agent Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) to discover the wicked secret S.H.I.E.L.D’s executive commanders have kept hidden at bay since the organization was founded during the first world war.

Unlike the rest of its Marvel family, Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn’t a standard superhero movie; it isn’t a part of a specialized genre that’s finally found its footing after years of hesitantly climbing treacherous cliffs.

Winter Soldier is far more relatable to the Mission Impossible franchise. There’s a billion bullets used, hundreds of people are shot, and the CGI-ed visions of mass destruction are anxiety powered adrenaline rides.

Unlike Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, or Thor, Winter Soldier strays away from using the serum filled super soldier as the focal point, instead letting his character fall into the background, carefully constructed and brought to the forefront when he needed to.

Throughout the film, the Russo’s make it blatantly obvious when they want to hone in and remind the audience the Captain isn’t an ordinary fighter.

Quick close-ups of the engraved star on the shield or a slow vertical pan of his mighty American suit, accompanied by Henry Jackman’s booming score, tingle the senses, raise the hair on your arms, and make you recall why you’ve loved these movies since they began in 2008.

Familiarity is an important part to any successful franchise, and within the walls of familiarity, is bringing together different events of different films over the six-year period to sustain fans interest.

In a post-Avengers cinematic universe, Marvel has delivered those quirky one-liners and easter egg moments brilliantly. From the post-credits scene in Iron Man 3, where Tony is seeing talking to his best science buddy Bruce, to Thor: The Dark World, where the demigod brothers often reference the events that occurred in New York City, Marvel understands how to build a universe.

In Winter Soldier, however, writers Chrisopher Markus and Stephen McFeely take fan pandering to a whole new level. With deliberately quick camera shots of the Stark Industries logo, to name dropping future Marvel titles and other Avengers members, Markus and McFeely are able to surreptitiously bring Captain America back to a superhero film.

Ironically, it’s because the film is the least genre embedded as the rest that Winter Soldier will appeal to a larger audience than Thor or Iron Man.

And, it should be mentioned, deserving so. Winter Soldier is a fun, intense ride packed with typical Marvel humour that will appease the biggest fans and the curious passersby. It’s not a genre movie, but a universal action flick.

In many ways, the path Marvel has taken to where it stands today, as a film empire, is very reminiscent of the Fast and the Furious franchise.

Originally, the action films were b-rated joy rides at best, but for some reason, the chemistry between the strewn together Toretto family struck a chord with audiences. Each film became bigger and bigger, with fans wantonly waiting for the next cheeky Dominic Toretto-Brian O’Connor exchange.

As the series grew, however, the relationship between the miscreant family fell to the background, making a sporadic appearance once in a while, while the incredibly choreographed stunt scenes rocketed to the forefront, enticing a larger audience.

In the end, the formula works for both franchises, and Winter Soldier is the perfect example of what Marvel has strived to do.

Bring on Guardians.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel review: A scrumptious delight 

The laziest way to describe a Wes Anderson movie is to simply refer to it as a Wes Anderson movie; if you’ve liked most of his earlier work, chances are you’ll like his most recent release, too.

Anderson has developed his own unique branding, sharing similar nuances, caricatures, settings, colour tones, and even actors.

But to simply refer to Grand Budapest Hotel as a Wes Anderson film only cheapens it and takes away from its unique singularities lingering beneath the traditional Anderson markings.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical tale of family, love, and war all wrapped inside a supposedly nonfiction novel, documenting the history of an immensely talented concierge and his most trusted protegé lobby boy.

Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) has earned himself as one of the best concerige’s in all of mythical Eastern Europe. His tenacity for top of the line service is only preceded by his utmost want to please blonde, elderly widows.

When one such widow, Madame D (Tilda Swinton) mysteriously dies after leaving his hotel during one of her routine stays, Gustave and his faithful lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), embark out on a journey to pay their respects at her home.

Upon arrival, Gustave learns he is the sole recipient of the incredibly valuable, incredibly rare painting, “Boy With Apple,” much to the confused disgust of Madame D’s son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody).

When it’s made clear Dmitri refuses to give up the prized painting without a fight, Gustave and Zero endeavour through treacherously humour filled situations to keep it in their possession.

Everything about Grand Budapest Hotel has Anderson’s markings, and it’s a prime example of the director’s close attention to detail in every balanced shot.

Each scene is meticulously balanced, but the focal point of each shot differs depending on the type of shot used. Ironically, it feels like a film student’s mark, but perfected to meet what they had only previously imagined.

Anderson uses a centered close up to deliver brilliant facial acting, a trait executed magnificently with Brody and his chracter’s mafia like henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe).

Far distanced wide-screen shots are used to highlight the humor in the simplest of acts, from running up flights of stairs to a practically animated downhill ski chase.

It’s a collaborative effort between all the different takes on scenarios that has given Anderson his auteur card. He’s surpassed a typical comedy film with The Grand Budapest Hotel because of his directorial stance and his seemingly endless ability to surreptitiously blend physical or witty comedy with soulful, dramatic lessons.

The lesson in Grand Budapest is distinct, too, but it’s one Anderson has carried with him through earlier films.

Everything in life must rust, whither, and die for humanity to see the beauty in it.

In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Bill Murray is slowly coming to terms that he’s become an obsolete figure within the world he used to rule.

In Moonrise Kingdom, two children seek each other out after maturing alarmingly fast, surrounded by a group of childish adults who cling to their once omnipresent youthful selves.

Even though it’s an extremely familiar theme in the Anderson world, there’s an honest reflection in the way it’s presented throughout Grand Budapest.

For the first time, it feels like Anderson is aware of his eventual fate as a creative person at the top of a creative ladder.

There’s a scene toward the end of the film where a much older Zero, now called Mr. Moustafa, steps behind the counter of the decaying Grand Budapest and straightens the Boy With Apple painting hanging crookedly, unappreciated and unloved by the few straggling guests.

THe painting that had caused so many problems when it was desperately sought after all those years ago has become forgotten, hanging symbolically in the equally symbolic hotel.

It’s this view on the creative world, in addition to the idea the entire film takes place in a book, being read by an audience and thriving because of an active audience, that allows the audience to see inside Anderson’s head for a second.

It’s one of the few times Anderson lets his concerns and his vulnerabilities blatantly come through, hiding behind an extremely thin veil, unlike his previous work where it felt like diving to the bottom of the ocean to discover one lone, lost pearl.

The Grand Budapest Hotel will undoubtedly please any Wes Anderson fan, but it also transcends that general description of a film.

It’s hilarious, it’s whimsical, it’s dramatic, it’s articulate, and it’s vulnerable. It’s one of the easiest Anderson films to connect with, and for that reason alone, it feels much less like a narrated story and much more like a passive conversation.

Won’t you listen to what he has to say?

Street Fighter review: A hadouken to the gut

The Street Fighter movie is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever created, and should never have been made. Because of this wholly unpopular opinion, it’s cemented itself as a must watch film with friends and sarcastic induced background commentary.

Starring European action star legend Jean Claude Van Damme as Colonel William F. Guile and Raul Julia as General M. Bison, the movie adaptation of Capcom’s uber successful fighting video game franchise was almost doomed from the start.

It’s full of semi-racist caricatures of the video game’s eclectic fighters and punny one liners you would expect from a studio trying to interpret characters they don’t know much about.

Street Fighter, the game, is full of mythology surrounding the characters and has an entire wiki site dedicated to chronologically collecting the information for obsessive fans of the franchise.

The movie, however, doesn't dive into the lore behind each character’s past, but instead tries to re imagine their history through a different lens; a disastrous effort.

In the film, written and directed by Steven E. de Souza (Die Hard, Commando, Judge Dredd) Bison is an evil dictator whose sole goal in life is to unionise the entire world under his command. Oh, and make people happy. He’s desperately trying to turn the entire world happy.

Van Damme is Guile, Bison’s nemesis and the man in charge of taking down his villainous plans.

Along the way, both men encounter a medley of others who accidentally, or purposefully, want to play their part in bringing down the Bison empire.

Reporter Chun-Li and her broadcast journalism team, E. Honda and Balrog come across Guile during their embedded mission, as do two young, best friend punks Ryu and Ken.

Inevitably, all of these fighters end up in Bison’s secret lair, partaking in a huge fight with a medley group of opponents.

Everything about this movie is horrible, from the dialogue to the character portrayals to the cinematography.

Street Fighter relied heavily on great visual fighting choreography, and to some extent, an incredible amount of CGI. Instead, the fighting was just as corny as the dialogue, over saturated with a zealous amount of wide pans and cuts to swift close ups of a punch or look of defeat.

For fans of the franchise, finishing attacks are the euphoric moment strived for when sweating out a match.

Instead of giving Ryu is famous hadouken attack, a move where he clapses his hands together and a ball of blue flames emerges, audiences got wide shots of his mediocre karate abilities.

In a way, it feels like de Souza was covering up his lack of available technology with minimalistic fighting sequences, close ups of the defeat or final blow used to manipulate the true impact of the fight.

Even worse than straying from the biggest element of Capcom’s arcade series, is the complete lack of regard for the characters and their past.

It’s a mixture of the blatantly phony accents and illogical pasts that makes it seem like de Souza and his production team barely did any research into the project.

When it came to filming, minimalism worked out in action sequences because they lacked the technology to make it a spectacle; with characters, the team moved in the opposite direction.

By giving the characters a “deep” and enriched past, and intertextualizing their stories, their inner desires and secrets are blown up, and quite frankly, out of proportion.

It would seem by all accounts, then, that Street Fighter should be ignored at all costs.

However, what Street Fighter has going for it is something friends have done for years and was popularized by Dan Harmon and his cinephile character, Abed from Community.

Street Fighter is one of the best movies to watch with a group of like-minded friends who will watch the film with their own commentary, laugh track, and directorial cues.

It’s because of its utter horrid corniness and downright laughable qualities that Street Fighter is still one of the first choices when it comes to picking a movie for the night.

There’s something to be said about the experience of watching a film, not just the film itself. When it comes to grading a film on its merit, Street Fighter, without a second hesitation, is putrid. But when it comes to grading a film on the laughs and good times it causes with a room full of people, when it comes to acknowledging it as the focal point of a good, rainy day movie with some other knuckle heads, when it comes down to why people are still downloading it and watching it over and over again, always eager to introduce it to friends who haven’t seen it yet, Street Fighter is a blast.

But that’s not what a film review is; the laughter surrounding the existence of a “so bad it’s good” film isn't important when someone wants a breakdown of the plot, aesthetic, and quality of it.

It is fun, though, and for that reason alone, it’s hard not to recommend this movie to people who haven’t seen it. If you’re going to dig into the movie, don’t watch it alone, because you’ll hate it. Grab the best friends you have, make a bowl of popcorn, maybe even pour a couple of shots for the crew, and bask in the horrid, confused, ludicrously fun 1994 feature.

 

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Nymphomaniac Volume II: An unmasking 

Nymphomaniac Volume II is the spiraling degredation of a wantonly lustful woman who’s harnessed the sexual prowess she explored in the first volume of the series.

In Volume I, younger Joe (Stacy Martin) is introduced as a naïve individual, obsessed with her sexuality and what she can do with it.

From the way Martin smiles, the camera squaring in on her seductive smirk as her eyes light up with the vivacious excitement over the possibility of sex, to the desperate attempts to get off as quickly as possible with as many as possible, it’s all a simple education.

In Volume II, however, the modern day Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) approaches her sexual beast ferociously, both clinging and revolting against her one singular, constant trait.

From the very first shot of the film, where Joe is viciously masturbating, attempting to recover a feeling she’s lost, simultaneously losing her sanity at the thought of losing her sexual being, von Trier sets up the self-degrading tunnel Joe must travel through.

Instead of scheduling dates with random men, Joe’s forced to expand her sexual horizons to resurge the excitement she once felt as a young woman.

She organizes a sexual encounter with a man who doesn’t speak a word of English, and when that doesn’t pan out as she had hoped, she grievingly moves toward finding another practice.

Somehow, Joe stumbles across K (Jamie Bell) and his sadomasochistic practices, forcing herself to figure out what the next step is as a hyper-intense sexual woman.

Everything about the situation is claustrophobic. The room is void of warmth and light, instead dark and constricting, becoming more of a dungeon, a laboratory of sorts.

Unlike the first volume in which Joe took control of each situation, using her gift of sex over men, this time around Joe has succumbed to her submissive side, choosing to let the dominate stranger beat her until she eventually finds some release.

The juxtaposition between her two distinct selves becomes the focal point of the film, the difference in how she treated and viewed herself as a nymphomaniac.

An activity that used to be exciting and chased after in anticipation becomes a loathed chore, but like a drug addict to a needle, one that's nearly impossible to not take on.

It's carefully written in the wrinkles of Joe's clothes and the dishevelled bun her hair's been tied into. It's in the exhausted lines etched in the skin under her eyes and in the apathetic way she walks, all executed masterfully by Gainsbourg.

In many ways, the nymphomania story line can be converted into a dramatic rehashing of von Trier's career.

He started out young, discovering his love for the art form, and chased it. He chased that first high, and realized at a very young age he was successful. But as the success waned on and he became scrutinized under the public eye, his film making became an artistic chore, a part of him so deeply embroidered into his heart he couldn't just let go of it.

Like Joe and Seligman, von Trier is desperately trying to explain his story to

someone who won't judge him or the his actions, but instead will listen to his tales and help him figure out where he went wrong, help him find his way back.

The last scene of Nymphomaniac's second volume, just before the screen goes black, and you can hear the echoing of Joe's fading footsteps, sums up the entire four hour production.

Like von Trier, Joe thought she found a friend in Seligman, and confessed her dark, twisty tale without fear of repercussion from her friend, who in the end, became just like the rest of the people she encountered in her life.

As she's bolting down the stairs, or what can only be assumed as bolting down stairs, the message clicks that just because Joe is a nymphomaniac who will constantly chase after her next encounter, it's her choice.

It's her choice who she chooses to sleep with, it's her choice how many partners she has, and it's her choice when it happens.

Nymphomaniac Volume II uses lewd imagery and politically incorrect teasing to draw its audience in, but the film itself is a deeply political, deeply personal view inside the auteur's mind.

But it also feels like a cry for help, an artistic grasp for attention, to remind people von Trier may have much to offer, and in return, he just asks to be respected, not executed.


Nymphomaniac is a film about explicit lust, but it's core is founded on a primal desire to belong, to be accepted, while being itself. Nymphomaniac is a film, plain and simple, about love and the messy discourse that eternally encompasses it.

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Nymphomaniac Volume I review: An explicit revolution

Nymphomaniac Volume I takes the most shocking and explicit moments of a sexual life, and blatantly extorts its imagery in an attempt to broaden a conversation surrounding its deeper cultural magnitude.

The latest film from Danish auteur filmmaker Lars von Trier, Nymphomaniac concludes the complex and erratic trilogy started in 2009’ Anti-Christ, and followed by 2011’s Melancholia.

Nymphomaniac, the most sexually provocative film to come out of Hollywood since the dawn of film, is broken down into two separate acts, Volume I and Volume 2, which are then broken down even further into eight distinct chapters.

The film starts off with Jo (Charlotte Gainsbourg) being discovered in an alleyway, beaten and disoriented, by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who brings her to his home, allowing her to stay the night in a warm bed and rest.

Once settled in, Skarsgard inquires as to how she ended up in the alleyway, only for Gainsbourg to declare it’s an awfully long, horribly depressing, and morally compromising tale, but upon further prompt, delves into the tale of her struggles with nymphomania.

From the very first chapter, von Trier sets up the theme for the next hour and a half: explicit scenes and stories, not withholding, no matter the size or importance of it. From a young pre-pubescent Jo discovering masturbation at the age of twelve, to tirelessly scheduling eight or nine romps a night with an array of men, Gainsbourg’s recollection of her nymphomania is brutally honest, experienced through a mixture of recoiling memories and spotty rose-tinted glass moments.

But even more than honest, Gainsbourg’s retelling of the story is ultimately empowering, heavily reminiscent of the sexual revolution women fought for in the 1960’s.

Von Trier, like countless stand up comedians both past and present, unloads his message through sporadic one-liners, ones that briefly peek through the folds of flesh otherwise on camera.

Von Trier understands that audiences don’t want to be lectured on subjects they may distance themselves with normally, and uses shocking expletives to draw in a crowd, and hopefully enlighten them with a message he’s clearly very adamant about.

As much as it’s a part of his auteur leadership and desire to consistently best his previous work, it’s also an encompassed bravery of idealisms past.

Von Trier has taken, and will continue to take, heavy artillery fire for the explicit scenes within the film, but for those people who focus on that aesthetic aspect of the film, no defense or conversation will ever suffice.

Volume one, in particular, explores the surfacing of sexuality and the messy, curvy road that it often leads to.

A visceral coming of age story that Gainsborg acts out elegantly and thoughtfully, never once pausing to consider the ramifications of her actions, coinciding with the sexual revolution of generations past, and most importantly, perfectly portraying a woman’s right to choose and dominate sexually.

Nymphomaniac is filthy and crude to be certain, but it’s also empowering and embracing, reinforcing the struggles women still face when it comes to the tricky, tumultuous territory.

Ironically, the most interesting parts of the movie, where the big discussions about sexuality and the attempt to fully comprehend it in a constantly changing world, come about when there’s little to no mention of sex at all.

The relationship and sentimental conversation between Jo and Seligman becomes an imperative part of the film, not only allowing a miniature break from the intense, slightly pornographic material, but permitting the audience to understand why Jo acted out or indulged in the experiences she did as Skarsgard and Gainsbourg begin to understand, too.

Everything about their relationship is meticulously perfect, and totally unbelievable, yet somehow works.

They’re complete opposites, and his unusual sexual disinterest in her provides Jo with the safety she needs to confess her tale, especially the heart wrenching tale of her disastrous love affair with Jerome (Shia LaBeouf).

A tragic tale on which the first volume dramatically and disruptly ends, begging the viewer to stick around for the second volume, which is, quite frankly, the only way to get the full experience.

For if volume one is a tumultuous coming of age story, the second volume is a Shakespearean tragedy, full of betrayal, pathos, and inner turmoil that concludes the film in a very poetic way.

Divergent review: Diverging down all the wrong paths

Divergent is the latest movie to hop on the teenage dystopian train that’s enamoured young cinephiles around the world, but unlike its Hunger Games predecessor, fails to deliver any kind of memorable experience.

Set in a futuristic, semi-apocalyptic Chicago that has been ravaged by war, Divergent examines what happens when a paranoid society decides to segregate themselves into five distinct factions that perform specific duties: Abnegation the selfless, Erudite the intelligent, Dauntless the brave, Amity the peaceful, and Candor the honest.

Once citizens of new Chicago hit a certain age, they are daunted with the task of choosing which faction to permanently align themselves with based on a combination of their inherent abilities and deepest desires.          

But every once in a while, a rare being is born into the new world order, disrupting the meticulous security set in place once the unspoken war came to an end.

Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley) just so happens to be a Divergent, lucky enough to know her true identity, and burdened with the task of never letting anyone know what she is, out of fear of certain death.

Divergents, a group who encompasses traits of all five factions, have become the anonymous targets of the Erudite’s tireless tirade, the reason for a highly secretive plot to wipe out an entire section of the faceless sixth faction.

Armed with the lethal information, Prior sides with the Dauntless, a faction divided into juvenile miscreants and overly mature, broken children.

It’s through her decision to join the Dauntless family, inevitably throwing away her Abnegation blood family in the process, that Prior meets Four (Theo James), an ex-pat with a darkened past.

Like Prior, Four is an enigma that slowly unravels as they strip away each other’s tight exteriors and examine the secrets they hold.

It’s only through their extremely intimate deconstruction and exploration of each other’s minds –and bodies as the romance “heats up,” a term to be used lightly- that they become the team needed to take down the tyrannical party ambitiously looking to overthrow the ambivalent party sitting atop the imagined throne.

Even with a promising story, and even more attractive characters, Divergent manages to bore at almost every corner of the film.

The teenage dystopian genre has become over saturated in the past five years, but at least some of the films, most noticeably the Hunger Games series provide provocative characters, developing plot lines, and a dynamic, rounded out film that lets the viewer care about what’s happening in the horrific world the characters inhabit.

Divergent’s characters fall flat, and while adequately acted, are as monotonous as the newfound world they live in. Even in their darkest moments, what should have been the most intriguing of the film, there’s little empathy as there’s very little reason to care for their safety and well being, let alone their quickly entered relationship.

The quickness factor, it should be noted, is a huge problem with the film.

Understandably, there is a lot of material from the novel (which I should confess I have not read) that needs to be properly introduced and explained, but it is a part of a trilogy. If Peter Jackson can squeeze the vital parts of Lord of the Rings into three, two and a half hour films, while creating a breathtaking visual and emotional experience, there’s no excuse why Neil Berger couldn’t do the same.

It’s not like Berger is an amateur director, still tip toeing around set, discovering the art of pacing. The Illusionist and Limitless, while not without flaw, were paced well, and were pleasing to sit through; Divergent felt like a race to the finish, like a child mumbling as fast as they could to get to the end of their school presentation.

Although Woodley and James should be commended on their acting, bringing a film on its deathbed to life for sporadic seconds throughout the film, it’s not enough to deter people in the audience from yawning, laughing at the absurdity, or even getting in mini rounds of Flappy Bird.

The only hopeful thought that can be taken away from the film is that it’s set up it’s successor to be full of violently emotional confrontation and, ideally, intense action scenes that don’t feel like a two and a half hour schoolyard recess.

The future dystopian setting works for Divergent, it’s gloomy monochromatic depression apt as the five factions viciously fight to forget this film ever existed in the first place.

Salinger review: A redundant biography 

Salinger attempts to enter the maelstrom of the aforementioned famous reclusive author’s life, but instead gets lost in the uninteresting side stories that take away from the truly fascinating discoveries.

Shot over multiple years, documentarian Shane Salerno (writer behind Savages, Avatar 4) and his film crew dive into a borderline stalking investigation behind the life of the author made famous by his pious coming of age novel, The Catcher in the Rye.

Between recovered footage and photographs of Salinger in the midst of battle during his time in France over the last year of World War II to interviewing Salinger’s various lovers, editors, and friends, Salerno effectively portrays the elusive writer in all of his extremes.

The few times Salerno succeeds at producing an interesting, highly refreshing depiction of Salinger, are heavily outweighed, however, by the common history most Salinger fans can learn about through reading one of the abundant novels on Salinger’s life. 

The documentary manages to provide an in-depth overview of Salinger’s life, focusing on his life before his works began getting published, up until his death in 2010, but falls short of the revolutionary experience it promised die hard Salinger fans at the time of its presentation.

The documentary seemingly goes out of its way to appeal to tenth grade English teachers, who have penciled in the showing of it over the course of two days to properly prepare, or perhaps reward, their students for reading the novel.

It’s a drawn out, simple introduction to a subject that has been studied to death for generations upon generations; one that its community has shown no sign of wanting.

Understandably, Salerno needed to include some form of introduction to the subject he was about to explore, giving an audience a quick grace period to get caught up with the basic knowledge needed before discussion can be expanded upon.

But Salerno wastes all of this time, and all of the viewer’s time, redundantly confirming the facts presented within the first twenty minute introduction to Salinger, instead on the radical information hidden deep within the bore of the documentary.

The exclusive knowledge he and his film crew become privy too, the announcement of future Salinger works to be published sporadically over the next five years, receives just over two minutes of screen time, visually presented in a fashion akin to an eighth grade PowerPoint project.

In subsequent, the conversation over the unfinished works, one of the most fascinating subgenres of the writer’s uniquely created bookshelf, gets an inkling of parse, a nod of recognition before returning to the overly dramatic, quite tiring, borderline intrusive investigation into Salinger’s scandalous sexual affairs.

There are aspects, however, to Salinger that, while previously unearthed by his grudge wielding daughter, provide insight into the man revered by many.

The severe isolation he withdrew into from his own family, slinking away to his personal bunker at the foot of his property for weeks upon weeks to craft his own world, with his ideal family, and his perfect female counterpart, finally separated the man from his beloved work.

It’s a dilemma fans, specifically those so deeply enamoured with a piece of work, have faced since the dawn of celebrity and its taunting secrets.

Can art and artist be separated from each other, or are they welded together, one for eternity in the eye of their million beholders?

Woody Allen, Chris Brown, Roman Polanski, and now J.D. Salinger, among many, many more names, have all faced the difficult question, and Salinger’s answer to the scrutinizing was to recluse away, surreptitiously taking back his anonymity until the world recognizes his disappearance.

The documentary finally succeeds in bluntly showcasing the Jekyll-Hyde facet to the author: the genius author who connected with millions, and the belligerent, traumatized man, ceaselessly trying to revive his lost innocence.

But despite its small success, Salinger is overwhelmingly disappointing because of its arrogantly naïve opinion that it holds all the answers to one of the biggest conundrums in the literary world.

Salinger does not expand the conversation on the man they set out to understand, but instead adds more questions to the equation: was it the drawbacks of fame that made things go awry for Salinger? Was Salinger guilty of incredibly disturbing crimes when it came to the women he dated? Is Holden Caulfield, in the end, the world’s most beloved antagonist?

Harvey Weinstein and Salerno promised Salinger would be the documentary for Salinger fans, by Salinger devotees. Instead, it was lacklustre in every sense of the word, and leaves a giant, questioning hole that should have been cemented with information.

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12 Years a Slave review: A brutally honest journey

There are films that are difficult to watch because of their sheer dismal nature, and than there are films that are difficult to watch because they evoke such an intense emotion, it’s hard not to squirm in your seat as your emotions fluctuate as they flood in.

Steve McQueen has mastered that level of masochistic torture, creating astounding works of arts that leaves the audience speechless; perhaps uttering a simple, “wow” once the film ends.

12 Years a Slave isn’t McQueen’s harshest film, but instead is one of his most inspired, tackling a sensitive issue with a rigorously, brutalizing truth.

Based on the true story of Solomon North, 12 Years a Slave follows North (Chiewetel Ejiofor) from his content life as a “free man” living in New York state to being kidnapped and sold into slavery, illegally, finding a new life on countless plantations in the southern states.

Bounced around from plantation to plantation, North recounts his time as a cherished and respected enslaved man, helping create waterways for Master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to his time as a severely hated, inhumanely tortured man picking cotton for the ruthless Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

During his travels, North meets countless other kidnapped men, women, and children, helplessly watching as the other people in his camp are raped and beaten within an inch of their life.

Even with the level of graphic violence present on screen, McQueen manages to let the whippings and lashes become a smaller part of the entire film; the background of a painting that adds, when needed, an break for the eye.

The truly disturbing parts of McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is the dehumanizing moments that occur when his shirt is on and he’s left with his inner turmoil.

Before North is kidnapped, McQueen gives an intimate look into his life as a free man, walking around town with his wife and young children, performing at primarily White parties and being applauded for his incredible musicianship. He even takes five minutes to showcase something as trivial as going to the local corner store to purchase a suitcase for his wife, who would be travelling for two weeks,

It’s the commonplace errands taken for granted in a world run by the privileged race, that when swiftly taken away from North, candidly reminds the lucky just what privileged means.

The entire film feels like McQueen trying to remind people of just how lucky there are to have been born during a slightly better time, in a slightly better world.

One of the most stomach churning, tear inducing scenes comes toward the beginning, when a mother is separated from her children after a plantation owner decides to purchase her alone. For quite some time afterwards, whenever she would appear on screen, all she would do is wale violently, her cries never on the brink of subsiding.

It’s just one of the many reasons 12 Years a Slave is so successful as a movie. It doesn’t just aim to shock with grotesque, violent images, but instead attacks the delicate subject matter with a level of mature understanding, trying its mightiest to communicate with the viewer, to spark a conversation, instead of angering and sparking a riot.

With that said, the blunt horror derived from the intimate violence on screen shouldn’t go unnoticed; if it was supposed to be aesthetic, it wouldn’t have been included. McQueen’s directing style can be described in many words, but superfluous isn’t one.

The brutality of the attacks is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate the sheer egregious aspect toward the inhumane act of enslaving a fellow man or woman, and then beating them to a pulp, demanding their respect and hard work in return for their allowance to live.

McQuen treats the vulgarity of the situation as such, leaving every individual visibly wincing with each shot of a whip cracking down on the bare skin of Ejiofor or Lupita Nyong’o’s back.

Often times in other films about slavery, the image of a whip being used to break the skin of a slave’s back is either non-existent or focused upon the face of the beaten, or the aggressive look of the beater. 

While that certainly occurs in 12 Years a Slave, McQueen doesn’t shy away from focusing on the bare skin as the whip lands a blow, watching it instantly tear.

It’s the level of honestly McQueen is willing to bring to the subject that makes 12 Years a Slave so difficult to watch, but it’s also what makes it a needed one.

It doesn’t allow the audience to mutter how horrid that must have been, and continue munching on their popcorn. It actively holds their head still and asks them to acknowledge the problem, to continue actively discussing it.

12 Years a Slave treats slavery like slavery, an atrocious act millions upon millions are ashamed to admit is part of their history, not just some Hollywood selling plot line.

McQueen respects history, and all he asks in return is that during the two and a half hours you’re watching it, you respect history, too.

Solomon North’s tragic tale may have lasted for just a little over a decade, but the act of slavery lasted millenniums, and is an ongoing battle today.

All McQueen asks with 12 Years a Slave is that we don’t allow that conversation to end.

For that reason alone, 12 Years a Slave is a masterpiece. Now talk.

The Lego Movie review: Everything is awesome 

Since they were first developed, children’s movies have managed to slip in an alarming amount of adult humour, appeasing the actual ticket buyers.

From Donald Duck and Daisy Duke’s “harmless” flirting to the Lion King’s blatantly obvious “sex scene,” children’s movies have become much less innocent over the years.

The Lego Movie takes the increasing trend one step further, combating the childlike animations with witty dialogue and spicy relationship humor so successfully, it’s no longer seen as a children’s movie at all.

Set in a fictionalized Lego town, where “everything is awesome” if every single rule in the guide book is followed, run of the mill construction man Emmett (Christopher Pratt) is as law abiding and boring as a Lego man can get. 

Upon one fateful night (it’s always a fateful night), however, Emmett tumbles into an uncovered hole at his construction site, falling deep underground and stumbling across the Piece de Resistance, a heavily coveted Lego brick with never before seen powers.

It’s the Piece of Resistance, an obvious pun on piece de resistance, that introduces Emmett to Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a badass punk whose sole mission in life is to take down the diabolical Lord Business (Will Ferrel) and restore peace to the Lego universe.   

Together with the hilarious Lord Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), the arrogant, douchey Batman (Will Arnett), and a cavalcade of other talented celebrity voice actors, Emmett travels between the various Lego worlds he wasn’t aware even existed, let alone used to be sanctioned by the government for travelling, and concocts an anarchical plan to overthrow the vicious usurper.

Throughout the entire ordeal, Emmett is constantly reminded that he’ll never be anything more than ordinary, that his unfortunate stumbling across the Piece of Resistance would ruin the mission Wyldstyle and her band of misfit men had been trying to run tirelessly for years.

Almost Shakespearean, it’s his inner turmoil that adds to the existential crisis present as he tries to shake off the feelings of inadequacy.

It’s not until the end of the movie, that Emmett realizes it’s his ordinary traits that make him one of the most extraordinary. Once free from the confines of the repressive guide book handed down to each Lego citizen, Emmett’s free to explore his creative side. When his newfound freedom is combined with his inherent compassion and empathetic nature, it’s clear that his ordinary construction self is quite extraordinary in the Lego realm.

The message isn’t hidden, and why should it be; it’s still a kids movie at the end of the day.

As far as messages for kids to take away from the film experience, too, learning to be okay with yourself and not follow in the footsteps of friends, but leave your own prints behind is a pretty damn good one.

Even with the morally uplifting message and hilariously animated feats of physical comedy, it’s the collaboration between the incredible voice acting cast and rapid up and coming directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) that make this film soar.

Lord and Miller aren’t strangers to working with both raunchy and sentimental material, but The Lego Movie just cements their creative genius when it comes to finding the perfect middle ground.

The Lego Movie wasn’t something many were expecting much out of, but one that left everyone pleasantly surprised.

After all, everything about it is, as the Lego community choruses, awesome.

Capote review: A true master

An actor, often times, can make or break an entire film.

The Godfather wouldn’t be half the film it is without Marlon Brando and Al Pacino’s remarkable performances. Bela Lugosi terrified us in Dracula, and turned the literary monster into a conceivable horror.

In Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman captures and emulates one of America’s most famous and revered authors, Truman Capote.

Retracing the four years Capote spent actively researching and investigating the gruesome slaughter of a Kansas family in 1959 that would become his biggest, most sensational novel In Cold Blood, Capote propels audiences into the author’s mindset during the difficult time.

Capote is one of those rare films that would have been difficult to decimate. It’s subject matter is intrinsically fascinating, and the backdrop of an intimate look at hardened criminals continues to find a soft spot in audiences. Just look at Shawshank.

But what catapults Capote from average to astounding is Hoffman’s enigmatic draw throughout the film.

The alienation, alcoholism, and sullen depression Hoffman takes on to properly emulate the life of Capote is constantly present. When he’s on screen, which is the vast majority of the time, he’s not an actor playing a role.

From physically changing his voice to the significantly small, practically unnoticed actions, like the dramatic raise of an eyebrow at precisely the right moment, it feels like a documentary.

Capote, as a film, achieves the one task artists have been trying to do since the dawn of expression and storytelling; providing an escape for its audience.

In an age where watching and reading habits are constantly changing due to the influx of mobile technology, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to pay attention to the task at hand.

It’s not hard to see, either. In fact, it’s harder not to see. At a theater, half of the attention is on the film while the other half is dedicated to alerting the online world of just how fantastic or just how disappointing said movie is.

At a library, rows and rows of books go untouched as people huddle close to one another over an iPhone, laughing at some meme that’s begun to spread.

Capote doesn’t let its audience fall into that trap, though. Instead, director Bennett Miller (Moneyball) and Hoffman put forth their best effort to combat the chronic ADD that’s infecting public forums everywhere.

There’s nonchalance in the ambition Miller and Hoffman set out to achieve that allows the movie to present itself without a hint of pretension or arrogance. The only arrogantly ambitious pretension comes in the form of Capote’s character, allowing his inner monster, bred from his creative genius, to absorb any bad quality the film may have leaked otherwise.

Capote has become an example of what incredible filmmaking partnered with an incredible cast and an equally incredible script can produce. Entertainment, yes, in every regard, but also a piece of cultural history to look back on and remind ourselves there is a level of excellence we should aspire to, and it’s not impossible.

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Admission review: Rejected 

It takes a truly spectacularly horrible movie to realize just how much appreciation and adoration should be shone on the good ones.

It also takes a certain level of dedication and masochism to sit through a particularly terrible movie, trying to pay attention, wistfully anticipating a scene of actual value.

In Admission, the addition of its comedy genre title just adds to the depressing state of the film, which may very well be one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the past couple of years.

Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer for Princeton University. Despite her background in education and dealing with teenagers on a constant basis, Portia hates kids, choosing instead to live with her pretentious English literature professor husband, Mark (Michael Sheen).

When Portia’s boss announces he’ll be stepping down and is looking for a replacement, Portia immediately starts to pick up extra work to prove her worthiness.

It’s on one of her routine school recruitment sessions that Portia meets John Pressman (Paul Rudd), who not only attempts to woo her, but upon meeting her expressed his concern that he thinks she may be one of his student’s biological mother.

The rest of the film focuses on Portia getting to know Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), her son she gave up for adoption in college, while simultaneously trying to get him into the prestigious Ivy League school, despite his clear academic flaws.

While this main story is occurring, a secondary romantic plot is introduced between Portia and John, the traditional formulaic romantic pairing Hollywood seems to demand of its writers.

With John’s help, Portia becomes closer with Jeremiah and explores the possibility of motherhood while letting her usually tightly bundled hair down, exploring the slightly wild side she kept bundled up.

Contrarily, with Portia’s help, John learns the importance of stability and providing a semi-normalized life for his son Nelson.

Funnily, or depressingly enough depending on how you view it, the utterly clichéd plotline is the least of the problems with this movie..

For a comedy, the laughs aren’t just non-existent, but the sad excuses for jokes and horrendously boring gags are as forced as they can get.

At times, it even looks like Fey and Rudd, two golden comedians, aren’t enjoying themselves, and certainly not believing in the farce of a film.

Admission is the type of film that you weren’t sure to begin with when it was first announced, so you waited for it to hit video on demand or Netflix, and once it did, you popped it on, only to feel your life force draining away with every additional minute you have to sit through its corny lines and predictable outcome.

Admission could have been a great satire on the traditional process of applying to a top tier school and the tropes of the students who are selected as the next brightest leaders of the free world.

Instead, Admission barely plays up to its namesake, instead focusing on an admission of feeling and admitting confession.

More disappointing, tragically, considering it was filmed by Paul Weitz, a man we know can execute comedy, and satirical comedy nonetheless, extremely well. Just look at About a Boy and American Pie.

No, by the end of the Admission it feels like it’s accomplished its goal of donating a nice little pouch of money in Rudd and Fey’s bank accounts, but that’s about as far as successes go.

I could go on about the faults in Admission and why I wouldn’t wish its viewing on my worst enemy, but its own ghastly existence is tragic enough.

Viewer beware if you dare.

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Monsieur Lazhar review: An endearing education 

It’s arguable that teaching is the most important profession in the world.

From shaping the minds of tomorrow’s leaders to helping them deal with the problems associated with growing up and experiencing the harsh realities life can throw their way, teachers are a parent, a psychologist, and a friend rolled into one authoritative figure.

In many ways, it’s the most touching profession in today’s world, that often times, gets taken for granted, something French-Canadian film Monsieur Lazhar sets out to remind.

Monsieur Lazhar tells the story of a fifth grade class traumatized after their teacher commits suicide in their classroom during one recess.

Desperate for a replacement, the administration brings on Monsieur Bashir Lazhar, a refugee from Algiers.

Over the course of the year, Lazhar and his class of twelve year olds grow, teaching each other equally, and helping to heal one another, making sense of the traumatic paths they’ve been served.

Really Monsieur Lazhar is exceptional in its plainness.

Lazhar isn’t an exceptional teacher by any stretch of the imagination. His story isn’t akin to that of Erin Gruwell in Freedom Writers.

Instead Lazhar’s story is grounded in its realness, in its utter relatedness.

During one powerful scene at the end of the movie, one of the students who has grown attached to Lazhar and his teachings, breaks down into tears, approaching him.

Although he’s aware of the strict rules put in place about hugging a student, in this moment, he abandons them, choosing to change into his role as a friend.

It’s appropriate the film is centered on students and, for the majority of the film, takes place exclusively in the elementary school.

Monsieur Lazhar is about learning. Learning about life, about death, about survival, and about friendship.

It’s an age-old story, but Lazhar enters the children’s lives at the time they need him most, while they enter his life at the time when he needs a reason to continue living.

Mohamed Fellag excels as Lazhar, combining his incredible acting with his naturally soft physical features. His actions and his soft spoken voice remind you of the elementary school teachers you had, who defended you when someone called you names or gave you a glowing smile when you turned in an excellent report.

Although buried beneath the light hearted moments the film interjects from time to time is a profoundly sad story about the death of innocence at a tragically young age.

Mortality is a concept hard enough for adults to wrap their heads around, a fact only heightened when suicide is the cause.

It’s heartbreaking watching kids try and figure out who’s to blame for the death, what it all means, how it makes them feel.

They find their answers in Lazhar’s mature teachings, encouraging outbursts of emotions and explicit conversations about death and the suicide of their teacher who has abandoned them.

The best part about Monsieur Lazhar though is the earnest tone that envelops every scene. There’s no pretension in trying to perfect it, instead, it lets its faults air, allowing the audience to see them clearly.

Monsieur Lazhar touched me more than I thought it would when I threw it on as a film to simply fall asleep to.

Instead, I was captivated from the beginning, and I mourned with them until the end.

Monsieur Lazhar made me want to reach out to past teachers that encouraged me and thank them for all of their efforts.

This film is a must watch.

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August: Osage County  review: No one does dysfunctional like Meryl Streep 

Tina Fey once semi-mockingly said, “Meryl Streep, so great in August: Osage County, proving that there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streep’s over 60.”

The latter may have been a joke used to rile up the audience at this year’s Golden Globe awards, but the former is right on the money.

Meryl Streep’s performance in the film, which is an adaptation of Tracy Letts’ long running Broadway play, is the driving force behind the entire production. Without it, the film would be drawn out and droll.

August: Osage County focuses on the relationship of a dysfunctional family in Oklahoma after the patriarch drowns himself in a nearby river.  

Daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Juliette Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis) return home for the funeral, and stay a couple of extra days to help their drug addicted mother Violet (Streep) get back on her feet.

Instead, the cast of caricatures that make up the most dysfunctional family to grace theater screens in the past decade, begin to spill their secrets, adding to the chaotic abode.

The dialogue is witty and, although at points can feel unnecessarily elongated, for the most part feels snappy, borderline Sorkin.

It’s without a doubt the incredible cast that makes the movie sparkles, starting and ending with Streep.

 Combining spoken comedy and bouts of physical comedy impressive for a 64-year-old woman, Streep steals the spotlight anytime her character is on screen.

And just like Streep does best, she makes the process look ludicrously simple, as if she just threw on a wig and went to work.

The supporting cast, including the unmentioned Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, and Margo Martindale, play their parts quite well.

While not quite reaching the standard of acting Streep has perfected over the years, there were some performances that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Cumberbatch’s stuttering shyness he equips himself with to portray Little Charlie, Streep’s nephew, is staggeringly good.

Martindale’s judgmental, but at times overly sweet, portray of Aunt Mattie so closely resembles an aunt you’re sure you’ve met at one point or another in life, it brings a sense of realism to the obviously surreal play.

I don’t use the term play lightly, either. The one aspect this film has working against it is it’s play like execution.

At times, it’s easy to point out where a character would have entered from, or where they would have dramatically exited from, stomping off center stage to the nearest curtain entrance.

It’s a problem most films face when they’re adapting a play, and a beloved on at that, for film. But unlike Once or Rent, August: Osage County just can’t seem to shake the Broadway feeling from its system.

Overall, though, the film is an interesting watch. It’s not a fun feature to sit through, but then again, it’s not supposed to be.

The black comedy aspects are certainly ingrained in the dialogue and there are small bouts of physical comedy that occur, but for the most part, the film is about addiction, depression, and extinction.

It’s about the loss of sanity manifested in a family that’s been dysfunctional since day one.

The chicks have flown back into the madhouse, and one by one their heads will be chopped up, leaving them to run around clueless, trying to make sense of their world before it all fades to black.

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Red State review: A movie about cults, but certainly not a cult movie

Red State may define itself as a horror movie, but the mediocre film doesn’t even come close to reaching psychological thriller level.

Kevin Smith’s 2011 indie psychodrama focuses on a Westboro Baptist like cult taking refuge in one of the southern states.

Obsessed with fantastical idealisms over topics like homosexuality, premarital sex, and adultery, the sects way of dealing with the “no-good-doers” and the “nay-sayers” is to kill them off, violently and inhumanely.

The audience is introduced to the sadistic ways of the cult through three high school students who responded to a local prostitute’s online ad.

Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) are drugged, wrapped in cellophane, and left to be shot by the religious group.

While the three attempt to break free from the group’s grasp, the FBI are simultaneously plotting to infiltrate the cult’s bunker and arrest Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), the notorious leader.

What occurs is a gun blazing, half-assed attempt at creating some kind of intense atmosphere, to what I can only assume was made to try and draw the audience into an otherwise boring movie.

But even that fails. Miserably.

Instead of drawing the viewer in with a great concept and outstanding cast, its plot line falters every step of the way, and the incredibly long monologues forced from Cooper’s mouth actually dissuade the viewer from continuing.

There are moments within the film that hold some level of promise, it’s impossible to not sit there, silently hoping this one scene could be the reason you’ve invested an hour and a half of your life into this dreary film. But alas, it never comes.

This is easily one of the worst Smith movies I’ve ever seen, and I’m usually a fan of his work (minus Chasing Amy, of course).

Red State is a film you want to like, or even love, because of the director, but it’s just not possible.

There are too many things missing from it. The plot is weak, the acting from usually strong actors is adequate at best, and there’s no enticing quality whatsoever.

Some day down the road, someone will make a Red State like film centered on a cult and it’s miscreant members that’s both horrifying and adrenaline pumping, one that’s remembered for years.

Oh, wait, that exists. Instead of dreadfully sitting through Red State go and watch Martha Marcy May Marlene. That’s how a movie about cults is supposed to be made.

Take note Smith, and better luck next time.

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Reefer Madness review: A farce of a public service announcement

Reefer Madness is the longest, and easily the most hilarious, public service announcement that’s ever been made.

That’s not hyperbolic, either.

Filmed in 1936, Reefer Madness was a short film, clocking in at just over an hour, that was created to scare teenagers away from the tempting evil that was marihuana.

Starring Dorothy Short, an actress who made the rounds in various marijuana condemning PSA films, Reefer Madness tells the tragic story of how one joint changed the lives of multiple people forever.

Mae (Thelma White) and Jack (Carleton Young) are local pot dealers who rope the local high school kids into dropping by Mae’s apartment and indulging in a little ganja.

The once stellar and straight laced students eventually agree, and become so harrowingly addicted to the substance, they lose all control of their lives.

One boy starts to grow less concerned about school, losing focus on all extracurricular activities he once held in the highest regards.

Another smokes a joint before taking off for a drive, running over an elderly man in the process and being persecuted for murder.

Perhaps the most traumatic of all is poor Mary, who’s almost raped by Jack in one of his moments of “reefer madness,” before being accidentally shot and killed.

Reefer Madness has become one of the most beloved, hysterical, and gawked at propaganda films that emerged from the ‘30s era of film.

The ‘30s were a time when parent teacher associations across America began to rally the troops and delve into unique ways they could teach their kids about the harmful nature marijuana brought with it.

In the film, the green plant is compared to heroin, the consequences of smoking it just as severe as shooting up heroin, or as it was used more often back then, smoked in a pipe.

Instead of scaring teenagers around the country, the announcements only seemed to drive up curiosity for those that hadn’t tried it and an admiration for the plant for those who had.

While corny and utterly ridiculous looking back on it almost eighty years later, the propaganda films were menacing at the time, vicious in nature.

They were crafted and published with the menacing intention to stalk fear into the heart of the teenagers and young children watching the films, instead of educating through conversation.

Regardless, watching it with a more liberal minded opinion on the subject, and as someone who has certainly indulged in a little chronic from time to time, the ludicrous plot lines and exaggerations present throughout the entire film just add to the charming, hilarious qualities they carry.

Reefer Madness is an interesting view into the mindset of 1930’s parent teacher association groups, but plays today like a piece of propaganda farce.

It’s most certainly a trip, and ironically enough, has secured itself a home with other marijuana comedy cult classics.

Throw on some pajamas, some electric avenue, and prepare to laugh at the traumatic filled, ‘30s, ganja toking men and women.

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Tonight You're Mine review: An ode to the festival heads

For the 365 series, I thought it’d be fun to mark a holiday with a film that would appropriately suit it. Today is Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to love. Some may see it as a cash grab, a corporate holiday created by greedy individuals, slaves to their own gluttony while some see it as a day to cherish their loved ones with gifts and chocolate. The optimist in me has decided to go with the latter, and so today I am reviewing a romantic, indie darling that I was pleasantly surprised by. Happy Valentine’s day readers, I love you all dearly. 

Tonight You’re Mine is a great little romantic film that will only resonate with a certain audience.

To be properly enamored with Tonight You’re Mine, you would have had to go to at least one music festival in your life. One of those slimy, flu-inducing festivals, mindless perfection scattered around the fair grounds littered with vomit and spilled beer.

As much as Tonight You’re Mine falls into the traditional romantic genre, complete with clichéd one-liners and “boy gets girl” scenario, it plays more like a passionate love letter, an ode, to music festivals in their entirety.

Adam (Luke Treadaway) is the front man for a popular American group who’ve travelled to Scotland for a dizzying five-day festival. Morello (Natalia Tena), keyboardist and singer for a local British band who just so happen to be playing the same festival inevitably ends up meeting the famous American.

During the taping of a song, the two end up in an argument, which amplifies when a stranger passing by grabs their hands and handcuffs them together, before taking off and getting lost among the thousands of festival goers.

Stuck together, the two decide to make the best of it, introducing each other to their significant others and enjoying a surprising sunny day and mild evening in the usually bleak and damp country.

As the hours pass on, the booze and weed coursing through their system, the hate they once held for the other fades, until it completely dissolves, replaced only with admiration for the other and their music.

It takes Adam remixing one of Morello’s songs during a live performance for the animosity to completely drop, and the connection they inevitably build upon, like a magnetic force drawing them closer, to replace it.

Unsurprisingly, the two end up confessing their feelings for each other, breaking up with the partner’s who they travelled to the festival with, and journeying down a new path with one another.

Although, the fun parts of the film, the ones that actually put a smile on your face when you watch it, aren’t necessarily the ones that center on Adam and Morello.

They’re plot line is, as previously mentioned, clichéd and boring, one that can be found in any romantic comedy aisle at a local movie store.

Instead, the fun is reliving a festival experience through the acitivites they partake in while handcuffed together, forced to spend their only time at the festival engaging with the general public and checking out all it has to offer.

It’s the silent dance parties, watching patrons of the fest laughing and pointing to each other as they get their groove on.

It’s the disgusting street meat, the only food available throughout the entire duration of the fest, that somehow quenches a hunger you weren’t even aware existed.

It’s the carnival rides that add to the ambience of the festival, watching people laugh and scream that reignites a flame in the pit of your stomach that comes around every time the lineup is announced for Coachella, Bonaroo, or Lollapalooza, among many, many more.

It’s because of this connection to the film, however, that it only works for those that have been to a festival in the past.

It’s hard to watch the circus on screen, understand the craziness and not be filled with disinterest unless you’ve ever been.

Even more so, however, is the difficultness involved in understanding how two people could fall in love in less than twenty-four hours at a festival, because it’s certainly a thing.

It’s an experience shared by two people, almost telepathic as Adam announces at one intense moment in the film, that occurs when you’ve gone through a festival together.

For me, Tonight You’re Mine isn’t a traditional love story, but ironically enough, a specialized universal one.

For those that have had the fortune to attend a music festival, there’s no words needed to express the love that develops during a show or a silent party, and for those that have never gone, there are no words that can explain it.

It’s a feeling larger than words or attempted words, and at the end of the day, that’s what love is.

Love is experienced, not said, and Tonight You're Mine captures that beautifully.

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Antiviral review: A sickly infatuation 

Antiviral, the debut feature film from Brandon Cronenberg, son of legendary director David Cronenberg, is a cringe inducing horror about society’s obsession with celebrities.

Set in a slightly dystopian future, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for a highly profitable organization that specializes in infecting their clients with the same diseases their favourite celebrities have contracted.

Genetically modified and mutated to infect only the client and leave them with an incurable illness that resembles carrying around a constant cold, the infection has become one of the most popular forms to emulate their idols.

March isn’t any different from the clients he takes on, injecting himself illegally at work, copying the virus at home to create his own private stash.

His cheating ways have always worked well for him, until one day he’s sent as an errand boy to collect the blood of an A-list celebrity and transport the lucrative samples back to his company’s lab.

After collecting the blood, he stalls, injecting himself with the illness, sparking the cataclysmic unfortunate events that follow.

Eventually, Syd’s infection becomes too much even for him, and after learning that the celebrity he stole it from has died, begins to panic, unsure of where to turn.

It doesn’t take long for conniving worms of the underworld to track down Syd after discovering whose infection his body was playing host to, and kidnapping him, effectively sterilizing him until they can extract the infection for their own purposes.

As the film ends, Syd learns that the model whose blood he had effectively stolen, the woman whose very DNA led to the monstrous ordeal he was currently in, is alive.

Instead of celebrating the possibility of his future life, he’s directed to a room where he can see her body being kept alive via a futuristic ventilator, her organs, skin, and of course, blood ready to be sucked up and slung out into the greedy hands of celebrity obsessed beings.

It’s the underlying message present throughout the entire movie, the sickness of this seemingly newfound obsession society has with becoming the celebrities television stations track and report on.

Although we’re not injecting ourselves with the infectious diseases they carry, we’ve been exhibiting symptoms of a much more severe disease since before the dawn of TMZ.

We’ve become a society so entrapped by the ongoings of celebrities, celebrities who haven’t contributed any kind of talent to the world, going out of our way to style our hair, our clothes, and even our bodies to become them.

Plastic surgery has risen as women and men inject themselves to have broader chests, larger gluts, and a wrinkleless face.

Cronenberg’s movie may be set in a somewhat futuristic dystopia, but the terrifying plague that seems to be picking up steam is as apparent as it’s ever been.

Antiviral doesn’t forewarn, but instead examines and acknowledges, reinforcing a universal truth society has diluted themselves into thinking is nothing more than a passing fad.

The only aspect this film was missing that would have made much more of an impact on today’s audience was the use of social media to track down the celebrities we stalk.

There wasn’t a mention of Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. No snap chat conversations or viral vines.

In today’s internet addicted age, the inclusion of the tools young people are using to shadow their celebrity crushes and obsessions would have been integral to the film.

Although, even without the latest batch of internet savvy devices (which would have certainly added a Her element to the film), Antiviral succeeds in disturbing the audience as a horror movie and illustrating the vibrant message as the horrifying aspect.

For a debut feature, it’s pretty damn good, and perhaps to Brandon Cronenberg’s delight, certainly showcases his apparent talent, not just his surname.

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Broken Flowers review: Beating back the stoicism

Stoicism can be the greatest defense in the war on intimacy, but it’s through that impenetrable armour that a loneliness born from apathy can rear its ugly head.

Mentally, stoicism is great. Take out the need to rely on another human being for happiness and one can pass through life with the minimal amount of emotional intimacy, instead focusing on the quantity of bodies they lie with, not the duration of years between.

In Broken Flowers, director Jim Jarmusch uses stoicism to explore the varying degrees of loneliness that encompasses the defense mechanism, and ultimately, the severe consequences that occur because.

Don Johnston (Bill Murray) is an aging self-proclaimed bachelor, living with woman after woman, never anchoring himself down, but instead taking refuge in the lighthouse constantly searching for the next one approaching.

Although his chosen lifestyle visibly depresses him, he just can’t seem to find the heart to settle down and start a family, hand his ticket over for the picturesque lifestyle he should want.

His current girlfriend calling it quits just amplifies the depression, leading poor Don to seek solace in his next-door neighbor and best friend Winston.

Until one morning he receives a letter explaining that he has a twenty-year-old son he’s never met and who’s endeavoring across America to find Johnston.

Coerced by Winston to track down the potential mother of his child, Johnston embarks on his own journey, reconnecting with past flames and comparing they lifestyles they currently lead.

By the end of the film, nothing’s changed, but there’s a clarity that’s overcome Johnston he can’t seem to move past.

In one scene toward the end of the movie, Johnston is having a quick lunch with what appears to be a runaway, when he’s asked what’s the most important advice to live life by.

He responds with a simple, “live in the moment” spiel, adding that acceptance of an unchanging past and an ever changing future is what leads to happiness.

The advice he really only just learned himself after dolling out one intimate conversation after the other with his past exes passed unto the next generation of stoics.

For Johnston, it took the possibility of a son to go out and reconnect (or rather, finally connect) with the woman he took for granted so many years ago.

Chip by chip, falling piece after piece, Johnston’s apathetic stoicism crumbled, reminding those surrounding him, and most importantly reminding himself, that he was a human being with a basic need to be intimate with someone, to share and express unhindered thoughts and feelings with.

Like the wilted flowers he returns to, Johnston realizes his perceived wild and carefree way of living was shielding him from ever truly breathing in life.

The film is ironically tense considering Murray’s unwaveringly cold performance the entire time. In a way, it’s extremely reminiscent of his role in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, where Murray also plays a lost, stoic individual, wanderlust and bound for a change in life.

But it’s only with Murray’s astounding performance and Jarmusch’s subtle directing style that the film’s allowed to succeed.

It finds its breathing room in the nooks of the movie you weren’t even aware were there; the shots through the car’s window as Murray drives, the rhythmic playing of one looping song, or even a close-up of Murray’s seemingly uncaring face.

Broken Flowers doesn’t force its somewhat comedic moments down the throat of the audience, either, instead placing a safe bet that the audience understands the queues well enough to decipher the dramatic from the comedic.

Broken Flowers isn’t a perfect movie, but it leaves room for self-discovery, opening itself to become a cult favourite among passionate theater patrons and dedicated film aficionados.

It’s a therapy session that doesn’t charge, doesn’t judge, and entertains; like a flower, it grows from its seed until it eventually blooms for all to witness.

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The Act of Killing review: Disturbing, cold, and eye opening 

The Act of Killing is easily the most disturbing film to come around in decades.

It’s not gory, it’s not scary, it’s not even creepy. What the film lacks in traditional horror it makes up with the reality of the situation the documentary tracks and the lack of empathy from the followed subjects.

The Act of Killing mainly focuses on Anwar Congo, an executioner for the Indonesian government in the ‘60s when over a million suspected communists were murdered for their beliefs.

The question posed by the documentarian to Congo and his gang member friends, including Paliamentary Leader Herman Koto and newspaper publisher mogul Ibrahim Sinik, is could they recreate how they carried out their executions through short films.

From classic Coppola like gangster genres to lavish and outlandish musicals, the documentary crew captures the utter joy these past top gangsters have reliving their every kill, showcasing how, where, when, and who they would murder.

Using villagers standing on the side of the streets they still look over, they reenact how they burned down potential communists homes, slaughtering their children with them.

From the very first time Koto grabs a child and asks him to cry, begging for his father and Koto’s army to leave, only for Koto to call “cut” and applaud the performance with the rest of the villagers, the hair on the back of your arms stands up.

Watching these men gleefully recall their glory days, slaughtering thousands upon thousands of innocent people, is sickening, but the worse part is, it’s almost impossible to hate them.

They’re old men, with a deep passion for American cinema, music, and drugs, ready to throw on a beat and have a good time. At points, they’re funny and poignant in their thought and it takes a self imposed mental kick to remind yourself that these are mass murders.

The only line that separates Koto, Congo, and the rest of their crew from the majority of Hutu soldiers in the Rwandan genocide is the Western aide the Indonesian government received to track down and murder suspected commies.

The Act of Killing intimately captures the mindset of a murderer in a way that few other films, or documentaries, ever have.

It’s what makes the doc the powerhouse film it’s become. Months spent with these past gangster and generals gave insight into an area usually reserved for federal bureau profilers and top ranking journalists with a weekend pass to a penitentiary housing one serial killer or another.

Truly spectacular, however, isn’t the content or the subjects themselves, as fascinating as they are. Instead, it’s the context of the entire scenario.

Not once does director Joshua Oppenheimer villainies the evil; instead, he lets the story progress, letting each murderer tell their side of the story.

It’s bone chilling. These men are loved by their families, by their grandchildren and their wives, their past actions wiped clean from their slates.

They aren’t the monsters parents warn their children about as they walk their bike out of the garage, promising to call when they get to their destination point. These are simple men who want a simple life full of family and fun, even if their former selves would have been executed decades ago if they had been American, Canadian, or European citizens.

By the end of the documentary, watching Congo find simple imagery in a falling waterfall while he sings in an open field about his countless murders, it sinks in just how little care these men had for human life as a whole.

They were ordered to do a job that paid incredibly well and protected their family, and under the influence of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino marathons, they were the coolest cats in the world.

The Act of Killing focuses on three or four men who killed a number of people we can’t possible conceive of, but in this film, they aren’t murderers.

Instead, they are reminiscent of soldiers, carrying out direct orders, wiping their conscious clean with that simple knowledge.

At the beginning of The Act of Killing, the filmmakers use a quote from Voltaire that sums up the entire mood of the film, and quite frankly, of war’s irony in general.

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sounds of trumpets."

According to that logic, ironically enough, they are national heroes, the farthest thing from from monsters.

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb review: A lesson in insanity 

Dr. Strangelove helped define the black comedy genre through its satirical craftsmanship, but more importantly, Stanley Kubrick taught future directors how to incorporate terrifying worldly events into their filmmaking to make it that much more impactful.

Facetious in every line spoken, the story of a group of international diplomats and politicians trying to stop the detonation of an accidental bombing, changed the landscape of cinematic comedy.

Released in 1964 at the height of the Cold War, the film hit close to home, simultaneously striking a nerve in the millions of citizens glued to coverage of the infamous “Doomsday Clock,” while giving them the laughs they didn’t even know they craved during the troubling time.

When American Brigadier General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders a surprise attack on the USSR, it’s up to his right hand man Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) to try and recall the attack using every option available.

As Mandrake attempts to solve the problem, United States President Merkin Muffley (also Peter Sellers) puts in a phone call to the USSR’s President to try and explain that the impending bomb was a silly mistake.

The cherry on top of the situation comes in Sellers’ last, but most memorable character, Dr. Strangelove, an ex-Nazi who has come to work for President Muffley and who confirms the existence of the much feared Doomsday Machine.

Although entirely fictitious, the similarities drawn between the Cold War and the imagined one are almost one in the same, but it’s that level of honesty that allows Kubrick to make his political point.

When executed well, black comedies have the power to create the type of conversation that insightful stand up does. It has the power to leave the audience laughing while questioning their own view or behavior when it comes to a certain subject.

Kubrick’s opinion on the Cold War wasn’t revolutionary, but he understood the power he had as a filmmaker, the power of comedy, and the power of a message broadcasted to millions of theater patrons.

In Dr. Strangelove, the strongest men in the world, all situated around one large table in the “War Room” are portrayed as the dumbest, unable to accomplish any task without some form of grave error.

The men trusted with protecting their country by coming to an agreement with international leaders can’t even come to an agreement with each other on how to stop the bomb, let alone how to deal with the various politicians they’ve angered.

And we laugh. We laugh at their stupidity and the ludicrous situation that we’ve been placed in because of grown children. We laugh at the ridiculous individuals on screen, subconsciously laughing at the real predicament born by the hands of real elected politicians.

It’s because of Dr. Strangelove that we have movies like Atomic Café and to some extent movies like Inglorious Basterds. Kubrick took a chance on a potentially lethal topic and took away the fear, replacing it with intellectual thought, and above all else, punch line after punch line.

It’s entirely impossible to talk about Dr. Strangelove, however, without mentioning Sellers’ stunning performance as three of the main characters.

When Sellers’ acts, whether it be this film, the Pink Panther series, or the heavily underrated What’s New Pussycat? he controls the screen, demanding attention at all times.

His small facial expressions and his deliverance in his lines, takes the film to a whole other level, taking it from a dramatic film about a devastating bombing to the revered black comedy it is today.

Sellers’ captures Kubrick’s vision perfectly, and executes it so well, it’s not difficult to see why it earned him an Oscar in 1964.

It’s the combination of timeless creativity and ingenuity that draws back audiences again and again, causes them to quote the movie as they avidly watch it.

The cheekiness hasn’t aged in fifty years, and the one-liners that made it so popular during its initial release are still heavily quoted today, a quality no one can dispute.

After all, “You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!”

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Wayne's World review: Party never stops 

Wayne’s World is a treat for the pop culture aficionados around the world, but for fans of Saturday Night Live both past and present, the film is magical.

Based on a long running SNL skit featuring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as local cable television oddities Wayne and Garth, the movie plays out as the longest running sketch show of all time.

When Wayne and Garth are offered the chance to take their show to an actual network by the conniving Benjamin Kane (Rob Lowe), they jump at the opportunity (and the triple dollar signs) to make it happen.

It doesn’t take long for them to notice Benjamin’s dark side and disingenuous feelings toward the pair.

The drama only escalades when Benjamin starts to put the moves on Wayne’s girlfriend, Cassandra (Tia Carrere), promising her the same coin he promised them earlier.

Through the power of classic ‘80s hair metal and some pre-Austin Powers digs, the two end up getting the lifestyle they dreamt of when their show was still a low budget, local cable channel late night shenanigan, filmed directly out of Wayne’s basement.

Wayne’s World is an unconventional film that works because of Meyers’ and Carvey’s brilliance as regular sketch actors and writers. They understand how often to use a witty comment, a joke revolving around the pop culture of the time, or a piece of straight up slap stick comedy.

The movie never would have worked had it not been an SNL production. With Lorne Michaels behind the steering wheel, overlooking the entire production, the elements that made the sketch raunchily hilarious on the weekly variety program transmitted through in the movie.

The absurdity of it just adds to the comedy, and provides a sense of familiarity for those who have watched the goofy pair interview random cast members on their show for years.

With quirky facial expressions from both Carvey and Meyers, it’s impossible not to laugh at the awkwardness in every scene, but the true beauty lies in the heavy pop culture laden dialogue, with a new event or celebrity to poke fun at.

And while these are undoubtedly the aspects of the movie that make it so successful, it can also be it’s greatest downfall.

The small percentage of people who will watch Wayne’s World because it was recommended to them or they read about it online, but who aren’t fans of Saturday Night Live or familiar with the characters, may not enjoy the movie.

Or, if they do enjoy, they may just see it as another “dumb” Mike Meyers movie, instead of the intended gag it’s supposed to be.

The idea of taking a four minute sketch from a show and turning it into a ninety minute film is so outrageously absurd, it could only work with a couple of characters.

Wayne and Garth, the MacGruber cast, the Blues Brothers, are all just some of the characters who can get away with extending the often times incomprehensible dialogue, and turning it into a cult phenomenon.

That’s what Wayne’s World is. Sure, it’s most certainly a popular cult classic, but it’s still just that. Wayne’s World will hold a special place in the hearts of the people who watched Carvey and Meyers perfect the characters almost every Saturday night before leaping into Hollywood’s claws.

Passionate Saturday Night Live fans will double bill it with A Night at the Roxbury in an attempt to get closer to the cast they’ve come to worship.

If anything, its semi-cult status gives it an air of cool that only those deeply immersed in the show’s roots will be star struck by.

Mainly, though, this film will be remembered for being hilarious, because at the end of the day that’s what it is. It’s the perfect combination of wit, slap stick, improv, and heart that make it the revered film it’s become.

Party on Wayne and Garth, party on. 

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CBGB review: Certainly not the patron saint of troubled teens

The story of CGBG, the birthplace of the American east-coast punk movement, is too important to screw around with, but somehow Randall Miller has gone and done just that.

The director (most known for his 2008 film Bottle Rocket) tries to tackle the story of Hilly Kristal, the “Godfather of punk” and the owner of the infamous New York City club.

Miller also tries to capture the essence and attitude that sparked the music revolution by focusing on some of the most important acts, and even the lesser known ones that made the scene vital, which created an entire new genre of music.

Try, of course, being the key word.

CBGB is a raw film, intermitted with deep guitar riffs and Sting vocals, choosing to study the mass of artists that found their sound through the rugged, tenacious club they flocked to.

But made even more important in the film is Kristal’s story, of his unabridged adoration for music and his keen eye at picking out the groups that “had something” to offer.

From the Dead Boys, who he attempted to manage before they imploded, to Lou Reed and Blondie, Kristal saw the same burning passion these lost kids had for music that he had when he was young and devoted his life to helping them, giving them a stage to yell.

It’s one of the few better moments within the film, watching this congregation of misfits push their way into the club and bow down before Kristal, the patron saint of punkers and lost souls, that's fascinating.

Kristal became a father to many of these kids, feeding them and providing them with a couch to crash on, turning them on their sides to ensure they didn’t asphyxiate overnight.

Considering the film was centered on this revolutionary genre of music and Kristal’s part in it, it would have been much more interesting to see his relationship with these now famous stars. Instead, Miller just dabbles in it, soaking it in enough kerosene to let it light on fire, but not enough to make any sort of impact.

It’s the same feeling that could be applied to every other part of the film. We see a tad of Lou Reed, a thirty second clip of The Police, two combined minutes of Iggy Pop, and a smidge of New York’s staple punk band The Ramones. It’s enough to get your attention with the loud ruckus and familiar songs, akin to the first sip of beer before you decide to down the pint, but not enough to fulfill the desire that catalysts from those first opening growls.

One of the great attitudes that allows punk to prevail is that lack of organization, the rawness every member of the community shares.

In Sid and Nancy, Alex Cox understands the chaotic anarchy is essential to authentically showcasing a punk group or scene. It’s chaotic at every corner, with some scenes hard to swallow based on the chaos alone.

CBGB feels choreographed in such a way that it feels counterfeit for the specific audience that’s going to pay money to watch it.

With a movie like CBGB as much as we go into the theater hoping to learn a new tidbit, we’re going to either relive or experience the birthplace of an important scene.

A movie like CBGB should be more than just a history lesson, it’s a communal gathering complete with headbanging and as much debauchery as you can get away with in a public setting.

But Miller didn’t provide that. Instead, he created what could have been considered a prelude to an incredible film that has yet to be made.

Where’s the fun in a boring punk film? One of the biggest displays of an oxymoron present in modern day cinema.

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The Heat review: False advertising 

The Heat goes out of its way to try and redefine the stale buddy cop genre audiences have been exposed to for generations, but fails to light a flame with its redundant scenarios and less than stellar jokes.

Agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is your run-of-the-mill overachiever, quickly rising through the ranks of the FBI.  When an opening for a promotion comes up, she’s told by her boss (Demian Bichir) that while she may be a top agent, her arrogant tendencies have caused a rift between her and the rest of the staff. He gives her one simple instruction: prove to him she can be a team player and she may end up getting the promotion she’s practically salivating over the entire movie.

Officer Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) is a top notch detective with the Boston Police Department, but only due to her unconventional, violent methods of interrogating possible perps.

When the two are forced to work together to take down a massive drug operation, it’s like watching two dogs pee on any available surface, each marking their territory and growling as the other approaches.

One ludicrous event after the other, including an attempted awkward club scene causes the two women to put aside their wide array of differences and put all their efforts into taking down the mighty underground organization, even becoming friends along the way.

The ending is about as predictable as it can get with a movie of this nature, and while it wraps up the story, it doesn’t add anything of value to it.

The Heat could have been exactly what the genre needed. It promised to reinvent the archaic trope, using women instead of men, and making it equally witty as it was slapstick.

Instead, it feels as if the wit is forced by the writers, profanity laden dialogue added to emphasize McCarthy and Bullock’s roles as women.

McCarthy and Bullock’s performances aren’t horrendous, but they’re also not phenomenal. It’s tiring seeing McCarthy pull of the same shtick in every film she does when her range is so great. McCarthy may be a comedic actor, but she can pull off a scene without any sort of physicality just as well as she could one that does require it.

Satirical and facetious in nature, the film is made not to be taken seriously, but from a comedic standpoint. Like 21 Jump Street, it’s supposed to shake the audience by their shoulders, slapping them from cheek to cheek, asking them to question why we’re watching the same movie over and over again.

Instead, the entire production comes off as one large farce. Instead of poking fun at previous franchises, it insults itself the entire way through. When it feels like the entire crew behind the production doesn’t care about it or take it seriously, it becomes difficult for you to.

The Heat is one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in the past year. It had the potential to be so much more, to do so much more with McCarthy and Bullock, but it was wasted on shoddy filmmaking and apathetic undertones in every line uttered.

They failed to deliver the heat, plain and simple.

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Elephant review: An important dialogue hidden within a borderline boring film

With sickeningly reminiscent undertones of the Columbine massacre, Elephant is one of the most horrific films about school shootings that exists today; it just takes a while for its impact to be made.

Directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), the film focuses on a group of students attending an unnamed high school over the course of an hour, just before two students enter and begin their killing spree.

From a local punk kid, to a trio of friends gossiping about boys and obsessing over their weight, the film achieves its perceived desired effect of being totally monotonous and non-captivating, much like the actual lives of the film’s subjects.

Through the use of brilliantly executed cinematography, the stories of these students become intertwined, whether it is through a five minute conversation in the hallway or just the image of running past each other in the halls.

Unfortunately, while the point of the film may have been to show off the uninteresting aspects to a daily high school life, it really just succeeded in being boring. The lack of spotlight on any one student made it difficult to care about them, and even more so, made it difficult to continue watching the movie without grabbing a laptop or cell phone in a moment of intense antsy to keep entertained.

And while the monotonous theme feels familiar, it feels like misused space in a film that’s supposed to engage.

It disengages the audience it’s supposed to be reaching, especially, as aforementioned, in the technology filled A.D.D. age. It’s a crying shame, too, considering the last ten minutes of the film are among the most engaging moments in any recent teenage school shooting movie within the past decade.

Eric and Alex are completely deranged, sociopathic in their very essence, but it’s nearly impossible to hate them until the last shot on screen. Instead, there’s a sympathetic undertone toward the whole situation because of the horrific situation they’ve been placed in.

One, that’s become an unsurprising story in 2014 where there’s practically a school shooting a week.

From the moment they enter the film, their only interest is in murdering the most students they can before taking their own lives, following in the footsteps of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

Watching them execute their plan, seeing them smirk and lustfully pump out round after round is jarring, but the subtle masterpiece is drawing away the focus from the shooters and replacing them with the monotonous, boring, everyday high schooler.

The film doesn’t glorify the lives of these “harrowing” shooters, tracing every step of their lives until you root for them, which has become the case in other films of this nature. Instead, Van Sant  glorifies the ordinary, silently begging the audience to remember the faceless Ben’s and Chloe’s who get lost in the crowd when society only focuses on the shooters.

If only the film had a more captivating beginning, it could have been the go to movie on the subject. Instead, I kept recalling scenes from Matt Johnson’s The Dirties, which decided to focus on the lives of a sociopathic school shooter, and while focusing on the bland, made it so incredibly interesting from a psychological perspective, it was impossible to turn away.

Elephant has a great ending, and a terrific cinematography that intertwines the story of many instead of the story of one, but it takes a bit of drive on the viewer’s end to get their without turning to one distraction or another.

But if you can, it’s certainly worth it, just to understand the elephant in the room we continuously shy away from that needs severe addressing.

 

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Les Magasin des Suicides review: Finding the colour in the grey

Sometimes the only way satire surrounding a delicate subject can work is through the use of other filmmaking devices, including animation.

For Le Magasin des Suicides or “The Suicide Shop,” an animated musical was the only way the film could have driven its intended point home without facing vicious scrutiny for its difficult themes.

Based on the novel by the same name, written by Quebec author Jean Teule, Le Magasin des Suicides takes place in a gothic, bleaker version of Montreal. Suicide is on the rise, with “one attempted suicide every forty minutes” occurring within the city’s walls.

Due to the rise in suicide, and the surge in public suicides (including jumping in front of buses or jumping from skyscrapers), the Montreal police force has begun to hand out tickets to those who do take their lives, often sticking them to the deceased bodies.

Enter the city’s official suicide shop, a depressing little store hidden inside a nook of the colourless town.

Run by Mishima and Lucrece Tuvache, with help from their children Marilyn and Vincent, the suicide shop carries any item one might need to execute their ideal suicide.

Fragrant poisons, samurai blades, cement blocks, and your run of the mill pistols are just some of the popular goods the townsfolk can’t wait to get their hands on and end their drear filled lives.

The entire landscape of the shop changes, however, with the arrival of the third Tuvache child, Alan. Unlike everyone else in the city, Alan is full of life and like a plague, tries to spread his joy to anyone he comes in contact with, including the severely depressed patrons of his parents shop.

With four of his neighbourhood friends, young, innocent boys untouched by life’s cruel punishment, he embarks on a journey to change the gloomy landscape of the world, starting with his own family.

Le Magasin des Suicides may surround itself with death, facetiously approaching the subject in a way others haven’t.

But beneath the surface, the movie is quite obviously only concerned with life and the beauty of its endless colours.

It’s the stark contrast between the adult’s despondence and the joyous nature of the young that make this film exceed any expectations you have going in.

There’s a scene where Mishima is bringing a concoction of poisons to an elderly man who can’t make it out to the store to buy his own suicide materials. When he arrives, he stares down at the sickly man who can no longer walk, distress evident as he’s faced with the image of what his own future will be. It isn’t until the man looks up at him and utters, “life is a shithole,” that Mishima finally understands why the suicide rate is so high. Paralyzed with fear and depression, he becomes bedridden, refusing to acknowledge the good in life, allowing his mind to only focus on the negatives.

It takes his youngest son, whose cheery disposition he can’t stand, making him laugh to make him see the colours that had faded and mixed on his palette until they were a grungy grey.

By the end of the film, it feels like Alan has reached out past his family, Montreal, and the world, into your personal space, and shaken you, reminding you that there are positives in this world that can get lost in all the negative news and imagery.

It’s hard to satire a topic like death, and even more so, suicide, but Les Magasin des Suicides manages to pull it off in such a respectful, enlightening way, it’s nearly impossible to criticize the subject matter.

To do so would condemn the film itself, something Patrice Leconte’s film most certainly does not deserve.

It may not be perfect, but Les Magasin des Suicides has set the precedent to allow more filmmakers to be facetious with topics like suicide and address the bigger concern; living.

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Garden State review: Beauty in the breakdown

Garden State is a movie about finding yourself in the very last place you’d think to look, even if it is the most obvious: the place you lost yourself.

It’s about doing something crazy just for the sake of doing it, not worrying about what others are going to think or how you’ll be perceived. It’s about understanding that it’s our individual oddities, not our commonalities that brings us together in the times we need it most.

With a combination of incredible acting on Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgaard’s behalf, an appropriately moving soundtrack, and a timeless theme, Garden State has secured itself as one of this generation’s classics.

Andrew Largeman (Braff), a severely depressed and lost wannabe actor, reunites with his estranged family nine years after leaving them, to attend his mother’s funeral.

From the get-go, it’s clear he’s not particularly welcome in the home he grew up in, nor does he necessarily want to be there. His father Gideon (Ian Holm), who also happens to be his psychiatrist, blames his wife’s death on his son, much like how he was blamed for his mother’s paralysis after one afternoon as a boy.

While home, he reconnects with his friends from high school, including best friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) who just so happened to be the one to dig his mother’s grave.

But Largeman’s saving grace comes in the petite Sam (Natalie Portman); an offbeat, pathological liar who’s just as screwed up as he is.

Like magnets, the two are drawn to each other, and from the moment they meet, become practically inseparable.

Through their conversations and mini adventures with his friends, Largeman begins to rediscover the person he used to be, before he was turned into a zombie, chugging down prescription anti-depressants like they were his only hope of survival.

Most importantly, he learns to breathe and to act, instead of constantly thinking about what he should do or, even worse, not thinking at all.

Shown through the opening and closing shots of the film, the five day emotional journey through his home town, mixed in with the slight detox period, proved to be the exact prescription his father never thought to prescribe.

At the beginning of the film, Largeman is lying down in his bed, which lies inside a barren monochromatic room, thinking about what his reaction would be if he were in a plane preparing to crash. By the end of the film, as he sits on an airplane preparing to take off, he bolts, running back toward Sam, expressing his desire to choose life and choose to live in the moment, not constantly planning or preparing for what comes next.

One of the best comparisons that can be made is Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club.

Before Jack “meets” Tyler, he’s empty, thinking about how he’d react if he was on a plane spiraling toward earth, and in subsequent, his death. After he and Tyler become a pair and establish a fight club however, that changes. He becomes alive, full of a spirit and energy he didn’t know he possessed.

And like Jack had Tyler to discover who he was, what he was actually capable of, both physically and mentally, Largeman has Sam. It’s only through her that he’s able to become the person he should have years ago, without any type of inhibition to keep his true self at bay.

Largeman’s story isn’t a unique one, although the circumstances surrounding it certainly are.

As I watch his struggles to discover who he is, who he was supposed to become, after years of mind-altering, numbing drugs, I empathize, because I have been there.

And we are not the minority.

Prescription drugs for diagnoses of A.D.D. and depression are flying off of doctor’s medical pads faster than they can write it down. We’ve become a nation of zombies, succumbing to whatever pill will make us function within mainstream society’s delicate borders.

When Largeman, Sam, and Mark are standing on top of a broken down car, rain pummeling their bodies, and screaming into the depths of an empty canyon, it’s the exact cathartic moment the audience didn’t even know they needed.

Garden State may have been released in 2004, but ten years later, the themes and messages hidden inside its conversations between Largeman and Sam are still relevant.

I’d even argue they’ve never been as relevant as they are now, and that’s perhaps the saddest realization of all.

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Little Birds review: Innocence is a double edged sword 

Innocence is one of those aspects to childhood that falls into the “you don’t miss it until it’s gone” categories of life.

In Little Birds, innocence doesn’t naturally dissolve, but instead is viciously stolen from its two protagonists.

Lily (Juno Temple) and Alison (Kay Panabaker) are bored with their droll teenage lives, living in a dead end town. Their single parents, a neurotic mother (Leslie Mann) and a lazy father (David Warshofsky) drilling into their minds the portrayal of the life they will one day inherit.

Of the two, Lily is the most adventurous, a wanderlust filled individual with typical dreams to relocate and recreate herself as a different person. Alison, a homely teen, content with manning a local stable and wasting her days away frolicking with the horses, doesn’t share her best friend’s passion for a life full of constant excitement.

As Lily pushes the boundaries on what she can do as a teen (stealing cigarettes from her aunt, drinking, dressing provocatively), Alison hones in on the last remaining innocent she has.

Their innocence is tested one afternoon when Lily and Allison stumble upon a group of misfit teenagers, drinking beer and riding their skateboards around the inside of an empty, abandoned pool.

Immediately Lily is drawn to street kid Jesse (Kyle Gallner), who she eventually ends up exchanging numbers with, promising to venture down to Los Angeles to visit him.

Eerily reminiscent of Thirteen, (a film that kept reappearing in my mind as I sat through Little Birds) the events that follow Lily and Alison’s decision to run away for a small vacation are just the beginning of their tragic downfall.

From Lily losing her virginity in a house she broke into with Jesse to pimping herself out to online Johns in order for Jesse and his two squatter friends to rob them, her final loss of innocence gets stolen through death itself.

It’s only after almost being raped and watching her best friend shoot her attempted rapist after her supposed love abandons her, that Lily finally understands as much as she may try to shave it off, she is still a kid.

At the end of the film, as Alison and Lily run out into the ocean, Alison comments that there’s a difference between a cut and a serious injury. The hard part, she says, is between knowing where one begins and the other ends.

The death of innocence is an old tale filmmakers love to play around with. Coming of age stories are a safe bet when it comes to appealing toward a wide demographic.

Little Birds was an interesting film, sporadically interesting rather, but more often than not, it felt like it wasn’t sure of the tone it wanted to set.

Was it supposed to be incredibly disturbing, or enlightening? Was it supposed to be a drama with comedy thrown in, or were the humourless jokes added to give the dialogue a little push?

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, but there’s so little right with it. When the director, Elgin James, wants to captivate you, he can. The high intense, highly disturbing scenes of reeling in online perverts is impossible to tear your eyes away from, but the problem is these scenes are stretched so far apart, it’s hard to keep your attention on the screen for all the scenes in between.

The one aspect James captures perfectly, however, is the death of innocence. Between the metaphors and the actual murder occurring before Lily’s eyes, committed by naïve Alison, the death of innocence is extremely profound.

Like I mentioned earlier, though, Little Birds is so eerily reminiscent of Thirteen, it’s difficult to recommend sitting down for an hour and a half to watch this when I’d much rather recommend that.

Regardless of which you choose to watch, here’s a toast to innocence and the treacherous wrath it leads us to believe it holds, instead of the warmth of security it actually does.

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I Am Not a Hipster review: Passionately apathetic

There are few movies that come along and truly grasp every fiber of your being, cementing themselves in your veins, and nestling into your heart.

I Am Not a Hipster, the first film by Destin Cretton (Short Term 12) does exactly that in the most faint way a film possibly can.

Surreptitiously, the music, dialogue, and circumstances present throughout the entire ninety minute production align themselves with your fleeting thoughts, their presence only made aware by the quick connection your brain makes.

Brook (Dominic Bogart) is a struggling indie musician, fresh to the San Diego music scene after moving from his Ohio hometown following his mother’s death. From his appearance, to his attitude, and the friends he surrounds himself with, Brook is the living definition of a hipster.

Not that it’s ever referenced in the film. The term hipster doesn’t come up in conversation between him and his artist type hipster friends, the type of people who ride their speed bikes everywhere and drink tall cans of beer at two in the afternoon.

Unlike the typical denouncement of the hipster title twentysomethings around the world are quick to do when its declaration is thrust upon them, being a hipster isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being a hipster means sensitive, drawn to creative types, and the inexplicable desire to plunge into the depths of a thousand different art styles.

But I Am Not a Hipster isn’t about art, music, or the highly sought after, heavily disappointing starving artist lifestyle. Instead, I Am Not a Hipster is about escapism and the lonely safety its tenants discover.

Brook ran away to escape the reality of his mother’s death and start his life anew, recreate himself as a person. It’s only when his three sisters and father, whom he has a less than stellar relationship with, appear suddenly one week to scatter his mother’s ashes that his reality comes crashing down.

Through their week with him, he begins to see the resentful person he’s turned into. The type of person who attends his best friend’s art show and then drunkenly picks a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, leaving empty handed minus the beer full of cheap beer.

The escapism he so desperately sought out begins to falter around him, crashing into the ocean waves of the city he’s traveled to. Even the art that once used to bring him pleasure has become an apathetic duty, tediously pushed into the corner as a reminder of what must be carried out eventually.

It’s that exact apathetic feeling, mixed in with the sparse intense emotional breakdowns and the continuous feeling of being lost that allows the film to synchronize with the viewer, especially a twentysomething trying to make it in the world on their own for the first time.

Why? It’s such a difficult question to answer, but it’s the one we pose the most. To ourselves, to others, from others to us, it’s on the cusp of everyone’s tongue. Why are you moving out there, why did you choose this career, why are you acting like that? Brook’s apathetic response and denial about the obvious, choosing to lie in subconscious oblivion instead, is the most accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be twenty and still be confused over what is you’re supposed to do.

These elements, in combination with the incredibly melancholic soundtrack, tug at every string your heart holds. It’s reminiscent of a rainy afternoon, watching the water pelt down on the road, the eerie yet comforting calmness of the storm played to the background of your favourite album.

Perhaps that’s what makes I Am Not a Hipster such an incredible film; it’s not extravagant or extraordinary, just plain and comforting.

It doesn’t need to prove itself as a piece of art, or use a certain style of cinematography or wit to capture its intended ambiance, it just does. It’s not a hipster film, it just exists, and in some poetic way, that’s where the beauty lies.

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Chinatown review: Here's looking at you, Polanski

In order to execute a film noir successfully, certain criteria must be met. It should take place in the ‘30s or ‘40s, the tale should be suspenseful with a wide array of twists in the plot, and generally, the crime being committed should have been of a sexual nature.

Tick, tick, and semi-tick for Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir classic, Chinatown then.

Sitting at just over two hours, Chinatown is a mind trip, taking its audience on a twisty ride almost from the get go. While long, the story never feels drawn out or extended for the sake of hitting a certain time mark, like other films have and continue to do.

Jack Nicholson plays the suave, devilish private investigator J.J Gittes whose fate is tested when he takes on the case of Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Donaway). After her husband’s body appears in a nearby ravine, Gittes begins to delve into the dangerous underground network of millionaires who have begun to take out men like Mr. Mulwray one by one.

Through the wild investigation, the darkest of burried secrets begin to appear, making the case even more extraordinary than what it already was. From a daughter born to Evelyn out of incestuous rape to an intricate and diabolical plan to force the people of Los Angeles out of their homes, with each clue, a new twist is presented that manages to draw the viewer in more than they already were.

Every aspect of this movie screams classic noir, but what’s most impressive about the film isn’t the plot twists or the constantly evolving character development, but instead is the respectful homage Polanski pays to noir films of the past in every scene.

Nicholson’s character may be his own, but there are certainly traces of Spencer Tracey and Humphrey Bogart beneath the collar, popping their head out and drifting into the suave actions and the witty one liners Nicholson recites.

The same goes for Faye Donaway’s Evelyn. Uniquely her own, for sure, but with just the right undertone of Mary Astor and Kathryn Hepburn.

Most of the time, whenever a director attempts to pay homage to a film or genre of film from a generation past, it feels like a lousy attempt to be noticed by the men and women who inspired them. Like an eager newcomer to the scene, often times filmmakers attempt to pay homage to their heroes by replicating exactly what they’ve seen growing up, losing their own voice and failing to capture the previous director’s in the process.

Chinatown, however, doesn’t fall into that trap. It’s a distinctive tinge on a beloved genre with just the right amount of references and eyebrow quirks to please longtime connoisseurs of noir films and those just discovering it.

It’s a film unlike many others because it plays so predominantly into the hands of pure movie lovers; those who would rather spend their days sitting in a dark theater, wistfully watching one film after the other until their eyes can no longer stay open.

In Chinatown, Polanski breathes life into a genre long forgotten, encapsulating the attention of people around the world and developing a cult like fan base in the process.

The subject matter is timeless, the story line one that anyone of any age (within a reasonable limit) can enjoy because it’s one told time and time again. Lust, forbidden love, greed; practically all seven of the deadly sins are represented in the two hour picture.

Unlike a Nolan or an Aronofsky film, Chinatown carries itself with a subtle brilliance, one of art house worthy but opposite of the flashy films associated with that specific subgenre. Like a Miike film, the brilliance is in the cinematography, the direction of the actors, respectfully using them as puppets, pulling on the strings to orchestrate the story exactly as they saw it in their minds.

And unlike a von Trier or a Carruth film, Chinatown isn’t intimidating. For anyone who’s ever felt a spark of interest to delve into the noir or neo-noir genre, Chinatown eases them into the water, until they’re completely submerged, lungs filling with all of the features the genre carries.

In Casablanca, Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” It’s a sign of respect, a sign of such high admiration that he can only convey it by saying those exact words. In that moment, there’s no one more beautiful to Bogart than Bergman; she’s tops.

As far as neo-noir films go, Chinatown is the Bergman of the crop.

Here’s looking at you, Polanski,

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Prozac Nation review: One nation under Prozac, the United States of depression

In Prozac Nation, Christina Ricci’s character is painted as a person so deeply immersed in insanity that there’s no way she could ever function.

That was in the early ‘90s. Depression was an ailment, sure, but it wasn’t understood. It was looped in with craziness, and those groups of people just weren’t accepted in mainstream society.

Dylan was spot on; the times have certainly changed.

Nowadays, it’s stranger for a person to not be in routine therapy, washing down their meals with some form of anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, or anti-something pill.

Prozac Nation, based on the novel of the same title, is a memoir of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s deep plunge into depression as a young adult.

Wurtzel, a troubled teenager dealing with a newfound freedom at Harvard, away from her constantly bickering divorced parents, finally gets to explore the dark side of her mind she kept at bay when living at home.

A talented writer, she begins writing a weekly music column for the Harvard Crimson, wantonly and lustfully writing about Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen.

In between her writing and practically daily breakdowns, she’s also developed a bit of a love life. Having lost her virginity to a man (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) she met while riding an ecstasy high, her new found sexual prowess leads her to riskier evenings with different men.

Wurtzel’s aware of what she’s doing; after all, she’s practically been doing the same thing as a child, just with a blade instead of a dick.

Like girls before her, and thousands after her, she’s learned that at times of heavy emotional distress, the use of physical pain can very quickly take on a tangible form of stress, something visual to focus on.

As crazy as it seems, it deters from the self imposed craziness depression can make you feel like you’re a prisoner of.

Ultimately, Wurtzel’s exploration ends when she meets Rafe (Jason Biggs), a man she actually falls for, instead of just lusts for.

For a period of time she’s happy with him, but like almost every other facet in her life, the relationship inevitably crumbles slowly and painfully. Rafe, just like her father, leaves her using her “being sick” as the perfect breakup excuse. And just like other people with depression will tell you, it only takes one person to say it for the monster you’ve keep hidden to become real instead of a horrible image projected solely in your mind.

As the film ends, Wurtzel comments on the state of the nation, noticing the increasing number of people swarming into pharmacies to get their latest fix. One nation under Prozac, “the United States of depression.”

The interesting part of the ending isn’t necessarily in Wurtzel’s comments, but in the lack of finality.

Wurtzel isn’t any worse than when the film started, but she certainly isn’t better. Instead, she just understands and as she puts names to the feelings she’s learned to battle on a constant basis, she learns the immensely important art of survival.

It’s what makes Prozac Nation one of the better films on depression. It doesn’t glorify the disease, as some films have outrageously done, making it look like a hip trend to jump on board with, but it doesn’t horrify it either.

Depression can be scary; any type of illness that affects your mental frame on any given day is. But depression isn’t a fiery dragon that must be locked away from the world. It’s a facet of life that more and more people are learning to cope with, while the lucky few that don’t are educating themselves on how to react to it.

Prozac Nation addresses all of these issues, using music and writing as a backdrop to explore the ups and downs of living with it.

I haven’t read Prozac Nation, so I can’t compare the text to the film, but I can say that between the writing and the incredibly strong, incredibly believable performances by Christina Ricci and Jessica Lange (Elizabeth’s mother), I can only imagine the film does the novel justice.

Sporadically, Elizabeth and her mother cry, scream, rant, threaten, and love each other, each not sure how to approach the other’s unstable emotions that day.

But they cope, they support, and most importantly, they never give up on the other, always ready to link arms and take on the battles of the upcoming day together, even if those battles could only be seen by one of them.

That’s the true story of depression, and thanks to Ricci and Lange, it’s a story that’s accurately portrayed for the first time on screen for others to see and learn from.

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Blackfish review: An ocean of grey matter explored through a species

To enslave or not to enslave, that is the question.

Or at the very least, it’s the question posed in the recent CNN documentary Blackfish, the latest documentary to examine SeaWorld and the dangers of keeping Orca whales caged for human entertainment.

Like any documentary, there is an apparent bias rolling off the filmmakers and into the film itself. Gabriela Cowperthwaite has two clear stances on the issue: she doesn’t believe Orcas (Killer Whales) should be herded and kept in captivity for any reason, and she also doesn’t believe in humans being used as sacrificial lambs for corporations to make money.

The documentary looks at the deaths of multiple trainers over the year, but specifically anchors itself on the death of Dawn Brancheau, a senior Orca trainer who was brutally murdered by Tilikum, the gigantic male whale, in 2010.

Using a mixture of archived footage and interviews with past SeaWorld trainers, the documentary delivers the wallop it clearly intended to. Between watching the mother Orcas cry for their kidnapped children and the emotional interviews with family members of the deceased trainers, it’s the type of documentary that stimulates your senses and your tear ducts.

What’s most interesting about Blackfish though is even with Cowperthwaite’s stance, the film still acknowledges that Orcas, when taken into captivity, are deadly. Hence the name.

Even at the most vulnerable moments in the film, there’s still an eerie tip-toeing from the trainers when talking about how they dealt with the whales. They loved “Tili” and generally felt like they could go swimming with him, but only if there was a spotter, in the daytime, and if he was separated from the female whales that antagonized him.

It’s the faux confidence, hidden inside constant anxiety that keeps your pulse slightly above normal as you wait for the inevitable attack that’s going to come. As one trainer says in the film, “At the end of the day, we don’t speak whale. We can’t understand what they’re saying or thinking.”

That’s where the grey matter lies, the true debate of the film. As much as we can train animals, and like to think that training will eventually equal  domination and control, we never will. But if we can train them even a little, should we do so for the entertainment and enjoyment of others? At what point does the line get drawn?

As mentioned in an earlier review, documentaries are completely subjective. At the end of the film, you’ll either agree with the filmmakers opinions on the subject or completely disagree. But the point of a documentary, even more so than a fictional, heavy narrative driven film, is to leave the audience thinking about the issue presented to them. One, like in the case of Blackfish and myself, that they may not even be completely aware of.

In that regard, Blackfish accomplished exactly what it had set out to do. Not only had it informed me on a subject I knew very little about, but it also intrigued me to a point that I ventured off and did some of my own research once the documentary was over.

Unlike standard movies, documentaries are continuous affairs. There’s constantly new information surrounding the subjects being published and talked about within various circles. With the use of social media, it’s even easier to keep track of the subjects that you’ve begun to develop an interest, if not a passion, in.

What’s most impressive about Blackfish then, is that whenever I hear a story about an Orca in the wild, or another potential accident at a theme park like SeaWorld, I will always think of the documentary and Tilikum.

It sparked an interest in a subject I knew very little about going in, and I believe that is the biggest testament to a documentary a critic can give.

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Say Anything review: Empty words

The thing about not liking a quintessential movie is you feel like you’re entering the coliseum, taking on a ferocious lion while thousands of people yell for your throat to be sliced from ear to ear.

Say Anything has some appealing, quirky elements to it (mainly in John Cusack’s character), but overall the film doesn’t leave an impressionable mark on the ‘80s beloved teen genre.

It’s a pretty clichéd stoy, but for a film like Say Anything it works just fine. Lloyd Dobler (Cusack) is your run of the mill, hopelessly idealistic and romantic under achiever. He has no idea with what he wants to do with his life come graduation time, but has a pretty clear understanding of what he doesn’t want to do. If it’s processed, sold, or can be bought, he’s staying clear of the slippery path it may lead to.

Diane Court (Ione Skye) is class valedictorian, en route to England after winning a prestigious scholarship to go study abroad for a year.

What transpires is a classic tale of boy seeing girl, boy wanting girl, and boy falling in love with girl.

From a high school party full of classmates and friends to learning to drive a stick car, the more time the two spend together, the more in love girl happens to fall in love with boy, until finally they spend the night together, physically saying what their words refuse to.

Dobler couldn’t be more proud of his girlfriend’s academic conquests and ambitious attitude, and even more important, is profoundly grateful that she doesn’t seem to care that his life is a slowly building disaster, waiting to spill over the tipping point.

The only thing stopping their budding romance comes in the form of a sarcastic, over protective, over bearing father.

James Court (John Mahoney) has kept his daughter on the track he carved for her when she was young, keeping her faithfully by his side as he ensured she rose to the top of the academic charts. Enrolling her in full time summer courses and ensuring her extra curricular activities were centered around volunteering at the nursing home he ran, Court viciously disproves of his daughter’s new found relationship with Dobler.

And at first, his unkind words and fatherly figure carries weight, leading to the inevitable breakup between Diane and Dobler, but its his unwillingness to say anything to his daughter as she does with him that ends their relationship with each other and mends her broken one with the brokenhearted teen.

In the end, Dobler and Diane do end up together, or at least end up on a plane together, heading off to England to endeavor on their newest journey. Hunter S. Thompson’s, “Buy the ticket, take the ride” quote has never felt so applicable.

And even though Say Anything has an array of characters, it comes off amiable instead of genuine.

Cameron Crowe (We Bought a Zoo, Almost Famous) is a genius at whimsicality. He takes ordinary situations, like an aspiring music journalist or a father with a dream, and twists them into stories that are so fantastical it’s hard to believe they could ever exist outside of a DVD box. The use of these storytelling and film methods make for great cinema and fun reading (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), with any other genre.

The reason teens cling to movies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles is because within their Hollywoodesque screens, there is a story that can reflect what’s happening in their lives. Be it cliques or a harrowing teenage romance (that doesn’t include dashing off to England together or a father in prison) that they may be experiences as they watch the film.

On the opposing end, the teenage films that have been crafted to tell a story so niche or obviously exaggerated, like Heathers, Weird Science, or Less Than Zero make their audiences aware of the undeniable fantasy within the first twenty minutes of the film.

Say Anything instead pretends to portray the typical American teenager going through the motions as they graduate high school and start the next chapter of their life.

To some, this may have been the case, but reviews, like films themselves, have always been subjective pieces. To me, the film felt like it was trying to fit in with a cast of medley films that had captured the hearts of teenagers around the world years before.

It’s a genre that I know Crowe can write about, and write about beautifully, because he did so with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He got the characters down, the trivial problems magnified under the lens of a teenage perspective, and maintained the glorious innocence, and in subsequent the loss of it, all teenagers face.

Going into Say Anything I had hopes it would become another title I could throw on as comfort or bask in a time of problem free, responsibility free long past.

Instead, I found myself yearning for The Breakfast Club DVD I knew was sitting on a bookshelf just down a flight of stairs. The teenagers in Say Anything, as hopeful as they may have been, were not teens I had ever known, and I think that’s the most disappointing factor of all.

If we can truly say anything, this is my piece. There, I’ve said it, it’s done.

Let the throat slicing begin.

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Trainspotting review: An addiction to pleasing manifested in heroin

Trainspotting’s captivating elements aren’t necessarily embedded in the drugs as they are in the conversational styling created for the characters.

It doesn’t feel like the film is trying to be a harrowing tale of addiction, death, and recovery. Instead, it naturally, seemingly effortlessly, becomes a movie about addiction, death, and recovery. It’s authentic, and that’s the only quality a film about drugs can ever truly be.

Renton (Ewan McGregor) is a Scottish heroin addict. It’s what he classifies himself as. If Renton were a heroin addict in 2014, he’d have it promoted in his Twitter profile box.

Renton’s friends also happen to be heroin addicts, for the most part. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewan Bremner), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) waste their days away cooped up in their dealer’s apartment, cooking and shooting up all the heroin they can afford.

In between the constant injection of drugs and the robberies committed to pay for future bags of brown dust, is the story of redemption.

All Renton wants to do is get clean. He says it at the beginning of the film, coursing on his latest high, leaving his dealer’s apartment and holing himself up in his own, hell bent on sobering up.

But heroin isn’t smoking, a completely different addiction all on its own. It doesn’t take long for Renton to start schmoozing around with his friends again, and picking up a silver spoon, holding a flame beneath it.

That is until one afternoon's attempted robbery, Sick Boy and Spud placed ever so faithfully at his side, running from Scotland’s police service.

While Spud goes off to jail for six months, Renton goes free, under the careful watch of his parents and a promise to get clean.

Locked in the bedroom he grew up as a child, the juxtaposition almost comical had it not been the image of an addicts reality, Renton sweats and screams as the toxins flush themselves from his body. Hallucinations of his friends threatening him and Sick Boy’s baby who died under the neglectful eye of his friend plague him constantly, unwilling to give him a moment’s rest.

In the end, it works. Renton, riding a new wave of sobriety and clear minded thinking, manages to score himself a small job, saving money as he lends his apartment to his still faltering buddies. His little hole in the wall becomes a haven for the addicts and alcoholics who are constantly chasing their next high and a place to live, two acitivites they can do under the roof of their best mate.

It’s through his attempts to be a good friend and make a better life for himself that he falls into the same junkie routines he suffered from before, eventually succumbing to the sickeningly twisted spell the drug held over him prior to getting clean.

Physically, there is no question that Renton’s body craves the dissolved solution. Mentally, however, the heroin is just a replacement for this never ending desire to please his friends.

He boasts about how Sick Boy would sometimes get clean to show him how easy it was to sway off the drug, unlike Renton. Also unlike him, Sick Boy was never one for following his friend’s around, instead taking charge and often times isolating himself from the group altogether.

But Renton needs to the approval of his friends, so desperate for it, that he’s willing to inject himself with untested heroin to prove his allegiance to them.

It’s why Renton could never kick the habit; he could never kick his friends. He couldn’t abandon the people who he needed most, the ones who filled the hole in his heart meant for a wife, family, career, a washing machine.

It’s why in his most vulnerable state, drenching from sweat as he thrashes in bed during his detoxing, that he hallucinates about his friends, and everything he’s done to let them down.

And that’s what makes Trainspotting the film it is. It doesn’t just examine drug addiction, it acknowledges the strong families created through the understanding struggle of addiction, of suffering the highs and lows from the world you’ve inhabited.

Being an addict gets you an unwanted, lifelong membership into a club. Only those with the experiences shared among the rest are allowed in, and as welcoming as it is, it vividly paints itself in red letters, warning those thinking it might be fun to be a part of the club that once you’re initiated there is no leaving.

Like addiction, when you’re caught in its tangled webs and there’s no hope of leaving, it’s difficult to abandon the only friends, the only people really, that you know. It’s far more terrifying to start anew on your own than it is to abandon everything you’ve ever known, the safety blanket you’ve knitted for years resting cozily around you as your best mates snore on the floor next to the bed.

Which is precisely why the ending to Trainspotting is so enlightening.

In the end, Renton does choose to kick his friends to the curb. He decides to hell with them, and in the same moment, silently decides to kick his hollow heroin addiction too.

In that moment, when he decides he wants better than what he’s constantly surrounded himself with, he chooses life.

After all, it was only a matter of time before death would have chosen him.

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Mitt review: A fascinating subject lost in a mediocre documentary

Politicians are more often villainized than they are celebrated, or even less extreme, regarded.

As an electoral group, we don’t see politicians as people, just as that running joke played to the tune of Stephen Colbert. Jon Stewart, or Bill Maher.

Using a compilation of home videos and recorded footage from two federal elections, Mitt attempts to show audiences who Mitt Romney is, not just what he stands for.

Political documentaries are a tricky forum. For one, if the subject comes off perfect, or nearly perfect, in every shot, it’s hard to believe the documentary is candid.

It’s the problem with Mitt. At points, it feels like the presidential candidate, running opposite Barack Obama in 2012, and vying for his spot as Republican nominee in 2008, subsequentially losing to John McCain, is too sickeningly sweet of a person.

Throughout the entire process of deciding to run for President in 2008 and eventually travelling across the entire country as Republican nominee in 2012, Romney never falters. He never swears, his smile never disappears for long, and even in the most depressing, intense situations, he always has time to joke around with his sons and grandchildren.

There was never any question that Romney was a strong person. Continuing his campaign amidst his wife’s Multiple Sclerosis diagnose, keeping his private life out of his professional life (as much as the media would allow him), and joking around about the weaknesses he was repeatedly called out for prove that.

But there was no point for a documentary to showcase these attributes when they were clear from his real life daily occurrences.

What would have made Mitt more interesting would have been to see Romney at his lowest point, when he wasn’t putting a face on for the camera.

When he’s sitting with his family and political aide, watching his numbers fall, realization dawning on all of their faces that they weren’t headed to the White House, there’s no compelling, stirring emotion. Instead Romney jokes it off, asking how to write a concession speech. Ann Romney, his wife, and his sons are visibly upset, some in tears and some shaking with rage. But Romney himself is devoid of any emotion. At least, devoid of any emotion captured on tape.

During certain scenes, it definitely felt like the documentary makers were on the path to create a documentary about their friend Mitt as opposed to telling the story, their initial goal with the project.

There needs to be a certainly level of subjectivity in documentaries to make them compelling and to prove the point the filmmaker has set out to bring attention to.  With political documentaries, however, there must also be some level of objectivism from the filmmaker, otherwise an advertisement, an extraordinary campaign video becomes the final product.

Although Mitt was for the most part droll, there was one aspect that was absolutely fascinating.

As a Canadian, watching how fanatic voters could get about a political nominee was positively intriguing.

Only in the United States, would a politician be able to fill up a baseball stadium or a parking garage on a cold day, full of people who have scheduled their entire days around it.

It was one of the rare moments that Romney dropped his façade of constantly being put together, instead exclaiming excitedly about all the people who had turned out to support him. It was the only endearing aspect about the entire doc.

More of those earnest moments could have turned Mitt from a piece of political weaponry into a worthwhile documentary. Instead we get a glimpse into the private Romney camp that’s been specifically created to give off the image he’s always upheld.

A truly captivating subject lost in a less than adequate documentary.

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Blue Jasmine review: Cate Blanchett's neurotic breakdown perfectly mirrors Allen's voice

Cate Blanchett does a wonderful job of impersonating Woody Allen.

That’s not to take away from her magnificent return to film since she left the scene to be a part of theater productions in Australia, it’s just true. In Blue Jasmine, the film that earned her an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe win for Best Actress, Blanchett’s character steals the show in a role Woody Allen usually would have reserved for himself.

Blanchett plays Jasmine, a displaced wealthy socialite who is banished to the outlands of San Francisco after her husband  Hal (Alec Baldwin) is arrested on countless charges of theft and fraud. After suffering a nervous breakdown, Jasmine decides to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) until she gets her life back in order.

A feat easier said than done, it turns out, when Jasmine’s only means to deal with her neurosis is through a cocktail of vodka and anti-anxiety medication.

From the moment Jasmine steps foot in San Francisco, she hates it. She’s never gotten along with Ginger, someone who she believed settled for mediocrity, and absolutely despises her choice in men, including her sister’s latest beau Chili (Bobby Cannavale).

Chili and Ginger’s relationship is everything Jasmine resents. It’s free, openly sexual, and low class. The pair are happy to grope each other walking down the street or spend the night at home, eating pizza out of the box it was ordered in and yelling about that night’s fight over a couple of beers.

Jasmine hates them for it. These people are beneath her and everything she stands for, or at least, once stood for. She constantly compares them to her relationship with Hal, which she relinquishes missing after denying it to everyone she encounters.

Her distaste for Chili only grows when he and his friend try to help her get a job as a receptionist for a dentist in town. She antagonizes the entire table in her tyrannical rant about how she, the once gloriously wealthy woman from Park Avenue could not do something as menial as being a receptionist for a lowly dentist. A job, it’s worth noting, she irrevocably ends up taking.  

She boozes and schmoozes her way through the job until she ends up meeting Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a handsome man, full of wealth and accomplishment. Someone she could latch onto with pride and show off around town.

But even their relationship is built on the foundations of her neurosis, as every detail she confides in Dwight about herself becomes lie after lie. Inevitably, her lack of effort to become a different person, to truly transform from her cocoon, leads to her final nervous breakdown and the downfall of the character she constantly strives to be.

In many ways, Blue Jasmine lacks everything a Woody Allen film should have. It’s not as carefree, the self deprecation isn’t as obvious as it usually is, and it doesn’t focus on the lives of the many, instead choosing to focus on the specific life of Jasmine. Her neurosis is only made clearer by the supporting cast of characters in her life, but the story is truly about the way she interpreted the events surrounding her.

And in that regard, it’s exactly like a Woody Allen movie, just without the aforementioned man. In all of Allen’s movies, the self deprecation, neurosis, and arrogant narcissism comes from Allen’s character. He’s relatively successful, high on himself, and completely disregards the actual facts surrounding him. In his place, Cate Blanchett pulls off a female Allen masterfully, mixing together beautiful feats of physical comedy (in the ticks and twitches) and witty banter.

But perhaps even more interesting is Allen’s take on two distinct groups of people, both economically and culturally speaking.

When Jasmine is at the top, she’s living in New York City, home of the wealthy and diabolically ambitious. When Jasmine is at her lowest, she’s in an apartment in the bustling, but less cutthroat city of San Francisco. When she’s Hal’s wife, the perfect stay at home wife and step-mother, she’s a façade of herself, a character she’s conned herself into believing it’s who she truly is. When she’s in San Francisco, the façade fades away, and all she has left is the debilitating reality of the shambles her life has become, the neurosis paralyzing any form of recovery.

Allen has always used cities to further elaborate on the tone of his films. Paris and Rome to symbolize ancient, if not archaic, romanticism. New York City as the perfect backdrop for ambition and success, Manhattan in particular. To see the two vastly different cities contrasted against one another, the old comparison of East coast mentality versus West coast, adds a little extra umph to the film that it certainly did not need, but wasn’t hurt with.

Blue Jasmine may be one of Allen’s best films simply because for the first time, really, Allen isn’t the visible center of it. Sure, his voice is in Jasmine’s words and it’s still his directorial vision, but he lets the players take control of his quite personal story and dramatize it in their own way that would have felt redundant with him in the picture.

Cate Blanchett may not be Woody Allen, but she’s a damn good impersonator of the film’s true unmentioned subject.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai review: Honouring a culture through restraint

A samurai is nothing without his honour, and sometimes the best way to showcase that is through using the least amount of violence possible.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, a film by acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Miike (13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer) masterfully removes the bloody violence the samurai genre hinges itself on, and focuses on the personal lives of the men instead.

In 17th century feudal Japan, employment has become scarce during a time of peace throughout the country. Samurais have been left to scrounge for money by any means necessary, including putting their honour on the line and attempting “suicide bluffs.”

The intention behind the act was to approach the house of a Lord and his men, and ask to commit suicide on his property (a prestigious and honourable way to die). The gamble came in the hope that after explaining why he had decided to take his own life, the circumstances being so awful and the future so dim that there was nothing else to do, the lord would take pity over him and offer the young samurai a job.

But in co ordinance with how fibs generate and evolve, the story of this particular scam makes its way across the country, inevitably falling on the House of Li’s doorstep.

It’s where we’re first introduced to Motome Chijiiwa, a young samurai, no older than twenty, who has stepped into the haunting house in an attempt to complete the suicide bluff. Unbeknownst to him, however, is the presence of Hikokuro Omodaka, the most talented of the samurai from the Li collective, and in Motome’s case, the sniffer of suicide bluff lies.

Instead of shaming his entire family by copping out of the highest of rituals, Motome accepts his fate and using the wooden sword he brought to the grounds, chops his stomach open, dying before cruel hands.

It’s between this point, and the final scene, that the movie distances itself from the action packed genre. Instead of a simple revenge story, the tale of Japanese lore and commonalities of falling in love, building a family, and struggling to survive are presented to the audience.

Not only does this simple, yet brilliant directorial route alter the tone of the film, it makes the overall message of honour and death that much more powerful. Unlike in Miike’s previous films, these aren’t just faceless men, slaughtering each other in the most grotesque ways. You root for Motome the entire time, and through his personal story of grievance and undeniable strength, root for his family.

Motome’s father passed away when he was young, and as such, was taken in by his father’s best friend Kageyu. Kageyu raises him like a son, teaching him to fish and the ways of the samurai, while indulging Motome’s natural gift for academia, nurturing his curious mind. Eventually, Motome marries Kageyu’s daughter Tajiri, welcoming a son, Kingo.

But as fate would have it, Tajiri and Kingo become sick, growing weaker and wearier as the days progress. Motome, a simple teacher, doesn’t have the funds to purchase their medicine or take them to see a proper doctor. It’s only when Kingo becomes deathly ill that he realizes he must at least try the suicide bluff, ironically enough, to preserve his honour within his family.

Like Miike’s other films, the ending takes a dramatic turn, twisting the plot to keep audiences guessing. While I won’t ruin it, I will say, the final moment encapsulates all of the themes present throughout the film, but truly demonstrates what it meant to have honour as a samurai in feudal Japan.

That’s what makes the film so fascinating, the level of dedication one man undertakes to preserve honour and his family. While pride and honour exist in today’s society, it’s nowhere near as powerful or as righteous as it was, allegedly, back then. Today, one may rob a convenience story or deal in illegitimate wrongdoings to provide for their family, but they certainly wouldn’t kill themselves.

There’s sadness in the eagerness to please and uphold a reputation, that death is the only other possibility in their realm of living. But it’s a hauntingly beautiful sadness, one that far surpasses the span of life and carries on throughout time. It’s the desire to be great and nothing short of it, a story carried by Achilles and the Greeks, and one that hasn’t died out since.

What’s so entrancing about Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is not that promise of legendary samurai fights, but the lack of them. Miike took, what could have been, an almost senseless revenge film about samurais, and instead turned it into a romantic film about honour and the battle to preserve it.

With movies about groups of centuries past, or films so egregiously packed with action that it becomes totally nonsensical, it becomes hard to invest anything besides apathy into it because it’s not relatable on any level.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is, however, and that’s what makes it one of the best samurai movies I’ve seen. Miike respected his film’s subject and the people who made the stories possible, with a level of conviction and honour that I can only hope future directors follow.

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High Fidelity review: An outsider's lustful glance into a beloved infatuation

High Fidelity is one of those timeless classics that focuses on all the utterly wrong aspects of the novel it’s adapted itself from.

The movie doesn’t know if it wants to be a romantic comedy or about a man so in love with the entire spectrum of pop culture that he inevitably fails miserably in the former category. Instead, both scenarios are mashed together and the result is an average movie full of lackluster laughs.

And that’s worse than watching a strictly terrible film because it leaves you thinking about the characters you just gave two hours of your life to, and what could have become of them.

High Fidelity, based on the book of the same title and written by Nick Hornby (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), tells the story of misanthropic Rob (John Cusack), a lonely record shop owner who spends the majority of his time questioning why he’s constantly suffering in his own wallows.

The subject of his recent depressive state is ex-girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle), who’s decided to leave Rob for his sex god of a neighbour, Ian Raymond (Tim Robbins).

It’s because of this breakup that Rob begins making his way down the list of the women that broke his heart the hardest in all his years of dating. Lists are Rob’s thing. He makes top five lists for everything, from music to films to sexual partners.

At the center of every breakup, Rob has the perfect mixtape to go along with it, an idea only magnified when he opens his record shop. Everything that’s gone wrong or right in his life has been set against the backdrop of music.

While down in the dumps, Rob meets Marie De Salle (Lisa Bonet) a local singer who he instantly bonds with over their mutual love of artists and sitcoms, and beds her for the night. He reminds himself this is the type of woman he needs to fall in love with, someone who places high value on conversations surrounding everything pop culture.

Ultimately, Rob comes to the realization that while pop culture is an incredibly important aspect to his life, and to the life of the two men he surrounds himself with the most –coworkers Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black) – it’s simply trivial.

Context wise, the film itself is fine. There’s nothing obscenely wrong with it, and it manages to get both the Cusack siblings (Joan plays Laura’s eccentric friend Liz) in  a film together. What’s bothersome about the whole film is while it stay true to the dialect and plot of Hornby’s masterpiece, it doesn’t capture the essence of the story.

It doesn’t capture the devotion to music that Rob carries with him at all times. It doesn’t capture the heart so entirely possessed by the wrath of pop culture that almost nothing else can live up to its empty promises. It doesn’t capture the tangle with youth that Rob’s struggling to hold onto as he ages.

I worked in a record shop for years, basically came of age in it. The conversations and ambience of Rob’s little hole in the wall definitely grasped at how it’s actually like to work in a store surrounded by music connoisseurs and pop culture aficionados.

But those moments are transitory in comparison to the dull, monotonous tales of Rob’s bleak romantic past. The romanticism doesn’t exist in his love for Laura, or any of the previous girls that broke his heart he just can’t seem to stop pining over, but in his eternal love and life long relationship with music.

It’s why High Fidelity is a universally loved book. It’s the most relatable story for anyone who’s ever been in love with an album, a book, a film, a show, or even more memorable, a scene.

It’s the story of self discovery set to the tunes of an Against Me! or a Tom Waits album.

The film doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to the book, and to the true meaning of being pop culture infatuated. Being so dedicated to the world of art that conversations constantly return to it. It’s the feeling of creating the best top five lists because you’ve put in so many hours of listening to records or watching films that you begin to develop a doctorate level worth of knowledge about the subject.

It’s a Stephen Frear movie, and that gives High Fidelity a level of credibility. Frear did such an impeccable job adapting this year’s Oscar nominated Philomena, capturing the true ambience of that tale, garnering the right amount of authenticity in every scene, I wish he’d revisit High Fidelity with the knowledge he has now.

At one point in the film, Rob says, “.I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films - these things matter. Call me shallow but it's the fuckin' truth…”

That is what High Fidelity is all about, and that is exactly why you should read the book and then watch the film. Harness the absolute love Hornby has for the scene before you sit down to indulge in the lust filled fantasies Frear has of it.

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Following review: Nolan's true artistry allowed to shine

Angst ridden loners, twisted plots, and gothic writing have become the trademark telling of a Christopher Nolan film. Following is no different.

The first feature length film Christopher Nolan directed, Following at face value is about the dangers of treading into illegitimate territory to satisfy an intellectual curiosity.

Jeremy Theobald plays the Young Man, one of the many characters whose name is never officially given. The Young Man is obsessed with following people, stalking them for days on end. Unlike serial killers or serial rapists tracking their prey, plotting their best moment to attack, the Young Man simply follows to learn about who they could be.

An aspiring writer, he’s obsessed with the idea of different characters and their back stories. Originally a harmless hobby, events change when he’s confronted by one of the men he was stalking, Cobb (Alex Haw).

Cobb is a suave professional burglar who entraps the easily persuadable Young Man into joining his illegal escapades.

It’s where the Nolan trademark comes in. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that the confrontation between the Young Man and Cobb was no accident. The well of lies runs deeper when the characters are introduced to the Blonde (Lucy Russell).

Like with Cobb, the Young Man assumes it’s completely coincidental. He saw the Blonde sitting at a bar, he picked her up, and soon began a relationship with her.

Unbeknownst to him, however, is Cobb’s relationship with the Blonde, one that far surpasses his own in both intimacy and longevity.

The twist at the end is what truly sparks the desire to watch it once more, much like Memento, The Prestige, and Inception.

Nolan has perfected drawing out the twist, surreptitiously dropping hints along the way as a reward to those actually paying attention.

With Following, the use of black and white only intensifies the dramatic twists and turns. It allows the film to authentically replicate the classic thrillers from generations past. It’s slightly more haunting, slightly more claustrophobic, and slightly more noire.

Even the setting of the film plays into the noire fantasy Nolan clearly holds with such high esteem. From the lounge where the Young Man meets the Blonde, a ritzy dive bar, to the shots of their drinks and cocktail napkins, Nolan emulates Hitchcock and W.S. Van Dyke in shots throughout the film.

Nolan creates films for film buffs, and will inevitably strive to create artsy films alongside his billion dollar blockbusters. But like Aranofsky, to use as an example, he’ll have trouble finding his audience if he strayed forever into Memento and Following territory.

But this is Nolan at his finest, or rather, this is his creativeness at its finest. The Batman series gave Nolan the numbers he needs to sustain himself making his offbeat art, and it’s a genre that Nolan diehards would be glad to see him return too.

In partnership with his brother Jonathan, his writer-in-crime, Nolan could possibly rejuvenate the entire noire genre for a 21st century audience.

Following is a film for film fanatics, but should be seen by everyone. The evolution of story, the plot twists, and the simple dialect is crafted beautifully; a feat only made more impressive considering it was his first feature length film.

Following is intense, but most importantly, doesn’t treat its audience as idiots, another Nolan quality fans have come to appreciate. In The Prestige or Inception the clues were left for the audience to figure out as the film progressed. It felt like an interactive experience, even if one was really only sitting and absorbing.

While Following should be seen as a film that stands on its own merits, because it does indeed, it should also be seen as the film that launched Nolan’s career and artistic stylings. It’s as important to see from a historical standpoint as it is an artistic standpoint, and that’s pretty damn fascinating.

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The Square review: The revolution was documented, not televised

Once a flame is lit inside the hearts of an already passionate group of young people, there’s no stopping the inevitable movement.

The Square isn’t just a story of revolution, it’s the story of unity. It’s a story of haunting maturity inside a world surrounded by violence and death. It’s the story of wise elders and fiery youngsters putting aside differences of opinion to reach their final goal for the betterment of an entire country.

The documentary, filmed by Jehane Noujaim (Control Room) follows three Egyptian revolutionaries in their journey to overthrow the Mubarak, Morsi, and military regimes. The actor Khalid Abdalla, the twentysomething activist Ahmed Hassan, and the Muslim Brotherhood member Magdy Ashour all come from extremely different backgrounds, both economical and religious.

Despite their differences the trio become quick allies and fast friends, bonding in their incorrigible ideologies about how their government should be run. They listen to each other and their experiences from their different backgrounds, learning more and more about how citizens of Egypt have been wrongly mistreated for decades.

Noujaim has two things going for her with The Square: the subject matter is immensely fascinating and the main revolutionaries who endeavour for years are spectacularly charismatic.

But it’s the latter category that takes the documentary from one among dozens on the Egyptian revolution, arguably the biggest one during the Arab Spring uprisings, to the go to, must see film.

Noujaim not only captured the events of the revolution and the people involved in the underbelly of it, but most importantly, captured the philosophy of the revolutionaries themselves, capturing their entire essence in the process.

Their conviction in their beliefs is shown so strongly, it humanizes the entire events that most of the audience would have witnessed in the comforts of their own homes, watching the six o’clock news. When their friends and fellow comrades in battle fell, it was hard not to weep with them.

What’s most attractive about the film, however, is watching Hassan come of age, unfortunately, in one of the worst ways possible. It’s mind boggling watching this teenager speak to groups of hundreds of men, practically preaching what would become the revolutionaries manifesto.

It’s reminiscent of war and the young men and women who offered themselves as sacrificial lambs to protect the beliefs they held onto so dearly. As Hassan and his friends tightly bound their scarves over their nose and mouths, rushing off into battle against the militant forces trying to oppress them, you’re reminded of black and white images from the first and second world wars, of young men rushing into heavy fire to fight alongside their brothers.

Herodotus said, “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” There’s a reason the faces of youth have always been the cover stories for war, and the young men in The Square humanize that aspect to it. They believe with their entire bodies and minds that what they are fighting for is worth dying for. They are willing to die for a better tomorrow, to lay down the plans for a democratic country for their younger brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, to have a better life than they could.

The reason The Square is so powerful and stirs so much emotion within the person watching the often times grotesque images on screen is because for once, the revolution isn’t just a sea of faceless faces. For once, the revolution has faces as clear as day, with names and family members surrounding them.

The revolution may have been televised, but the men and women who fought within it will be documented, archived, and as Hassan and his friends said, martyred for the changes they brought to the country.

Vive history and vive the men and women who fought, died, and continuously endanger themselves for it.

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Slackers review: Talk about slacking hard

When writers decide to focus their comedy on students attending college, and examining the college lifestyle, it’s either going to be hilarious or mediocre.

Slackers definitely falls into the latter category, but its star Jason Schwartzman certainly does not.

Dave Goodman (Devon Sawa), Sam Schechter (Jason Segel), and Jeff Davis (Michal C. Maronna) are self defined slackers. They’ve cheated their entire way through college without ever touching a book. Through elaborate schemes and heists, the trio created the perfect trifecta of individuals born to eventually be caught amidst their own stupidity.

Ethan Dulles (Jason Schwartzman) is the complete opposite. He’s as straight and narrow as it comes when placed in a setting with rules. Like a typical comedy, Schwartzman plays an awkward personality, nowhere near as cool or suave as the college’s pranksters.

The paths of the local three stooges and Dulles collide when Goodman goes to a chemistry exam in place of Schechter to steal the test for his friend so he can ace it later. Following the formulaic steps to birth a romantic comedy, Goodman sits down beside the girl Dulles has been in love with since college began, Angela Patton (Jaime King). Refusing to leave his seat and find another in the large lecture hall for Dulles, the awkward, semi psychotic loner vows a vendetta against Goodman.

Which, of course, becomes possible when he finds a piece of paper left behind by Goodman that not only proudly displays his phone number, but clearly states his name, and not Schechter, the one who was supposed to be taking the exam.

Dulles tracks Goodman and his clique down, blackmailing them into helping him finally capture the heart of his beloved Angela.

But this is a romantic comedy, and although the outcome is as predictable as it can get in a movie, it still fails to play at the heart strings.

Sure, romantic comedies are silly, sarcastic, and stupendously unrealistic, but there are moments in them that inevitably bring out a smile. When the boy and girl can finally be together or when the boy and girl finally admit their feelings to each other, just like in [insert any romcom title in the history of film].

With Slackers even that feels tiresome. Inevitably, the boy does tell the girl she loves him, and inevitably the boy and the girl end up together, but the apathy surrounding the event is ever so present in the faces of everyone watching.

The one saving grace this film has, not that it should be enough for someone to sit down and subject themselves to an hour and a half of torture, is Jason Schwartzman.

There’s a reason Wes Anderson and David O. Russell love to use him as an actor; he’s brilliant. Whether he’s playing a dramatic or a comedic role, Schwartzman steals the show from every other actor whenever he’s on screen. And in those moments when he’s not on screen, you’re silently wishing he’d come back and begin to entertain once more.

Schwartzman pulls off conversational comedy and physical comedy in this film that are superb. If he had a better supporting cast (although many would argue Schwartzman was the supporting actor), the film could have become so much more than what it is; a forgettable, bargain bin rental.

But even with Schwartzman’s strongest effort, the film continuously falls flat on its face, never giving audiences a moment to say, “Yeah, that was pretty funny. I’m glad I stayed and watched it.”

I didn’t have that option, because I was critiquing it. But you have a chance to turn it off, or better yet, not start it at all. I took that pain on for you.

No one should have to subject themselves to this mediocre piece of so called comedy, not when there are masterpieces waiting to be discovered.

Go watch The Royal Tenenbaums or I Heart Huckabees. Jason Schwartzman is a talent that shouldn’t be missed, it’s just this particular film in his long career that should long be forgotten.

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Metropolis review: Unquestioned oppression is lethal

The power of the mob mentality can be empowering, but under the wrong pretenses, can be lethal.

 There are times for upheaval and times to rebel, but there must also come a time when listening and remaining quiet is just as important.

 In Metropolis, a silent film from 1927, upheaval and social unrest are the underlying messages in a film hidden inside the construed idealisms of a fictional city.

 Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) is the son of the wealthy and incredibly powerful Joe Frederson (Alfred Abel), the mogul who basically created the city they live in.

 Freder lives a life of naivety, assuming the riches he has have been shared among his brothers and sisters. One fateful day, after following a beautiful young woman down into the trenches of the city’s underbelly, his innocent naivety is stripped.

 It’s here that he witnesses the men and woman he assumed were leading fulfilling lives slaving away behind the steam powered machines. Even more horrific to the man who’s slowly beginning to realize that the poor people of Metropolis have been swept under the rug, is watching an explosion occur at the factory he’s snuck into.

 He makes it his new mission in life to find the woman he chased after and fatefully into the heart of the city, Maria (Brigitte Helm), make her fall in love with him, and end the slavery his brothers and sisters have been put under.

 He goes to see his father about the matter, only to learn his father, the great creator of the perfect city, was the one who enslaved them in the first place.

 As Freder attempts to try and ease the situation for his comrades, even switching places with one of the men within the steaming factories, the unease between the men and women trapped under the ground.

 Watching this film now, as opposed to five or ten years ago, I viewed the uprising and the events within it with the Arab Spring in the back of my mind. Like the characters in the film, the young men and women in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and in various other countries were exhausted with being oppressed and their anger reached a tipping point.

 I understood the furious nature these characters held because I had seen oppression happen, daily. I had read about it, daily. And I had heard stories from friends overseas about it. I could understand the men and women in the film and their desires to fight, perhaps even kill, for a better future for their children.

 But unlike the events of the Arab Spring, and perhaps more in line with the events of the Occupy Wall Street movement, certain travesties within the film could have been stopped if they had just listened for a moment.

 The dangers of the herd mentality are very apparent in Metropolis and it’s the most horrifying aspect to the film. The oppression is terrible and the ignorance surrounding it appalling, but the most horrifying bit is the herd mentality that’s derived from it.

 Instead of questioning, they persecuted. They didn’t give a chance for any of the men and women to explain, nor did they allow for any conversation to occur.

 For problems to be fixed, conversation must be prevalent.  For change to happen, understanding on both ends must be achieved. For life to evolve, a willingness to try must be committed too.

 Metropolis is a film one could write a thousand page essay on. There’s religious, political, societal, anthropological, and cultural secrets hidden within its story’s depth.

 But for me, watching this film with the current strife’s faced by millions of people my age around the world, I couldn’t help but draw these conclusions and it made it that much more powerful as an art form.

 Perhaps what I loved most about this film, however, is that it left you with something to chew on. Since the dawn of film, it’s been a medium created by intelligent people looking to share their ideas. Much like games, books, and visual art, there is a desire to showcase ideologies that audiences or readers can take with them and think on as the night wagers.

 Metropolis did just that, considering it was created in 1927 and has stood the test of time, it should be viewed with an appreciation for carving the path for the fantastic films we get to see, and think about, today.

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Dirty Wars review: The chilling true story of secret operative affairs plays out like spy thriller

Investigative journalism is one of the hardest forms of story telling imaginable. Dealing with sources who want identities hidden, sources who don’t want to talk at all, and worse, sources lying through their teeth are just some of the hurdles investigative reporters face. Compiling evidence to support the claim you’re attempting to make and making vicious enemies in the process are all just part of the job. Being shot at, a calculated risk.

It’s precisely why Dirty Wars is such a powerful documentary. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill documented his journey putting together the pieces of America’s infamous Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the group responsible for executing Osama Bin Laden two years ago.

While uncovering the dirty secrets hidden within the walls of the organization, including the unjust murders of pregnant women and children, Scahill finds himself becoming emotionally invested in the cases around him, at times visibly disturbed by the lack of information available on the numerous citizen casualties.

Reminiscent of HBO’s Manhunt: The Search for Osama Bin Laden, throughout the documentary, Scahill constantly proposes the question, “is what we’re doing here right?”

A question posed by millions since the dawn of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Scahill’s opinion on the matter isn’t one you’d have to dissect under a microscope to understand. He believes that what the American military, in partnership with the government, are doing is wrong.

The difficult aspect to reviewing a documentary is acknowledging the obvious bias and working around it to see if there evidential claims are substantial enough to hold up even after the tone is disregarded.

Dirty Wars does. The facts are in plain sight, and it’s not like Scahill is the first reporter to talk about the issues surrounding the United State’s influence and activity in the wars.

Scahill’s documentary, directed by Rick Rowley (The Fourth World War), plays out like an old espionage thriller, with Scahill slowly uncovering the details of the organization he thought he was working for.

It’s enthralling, concerning, and most importantly, highly informative on a subject kept under wraps for so many years.

Despite all of the great qualities this film had, there were still some disappointments I found myself sighing over.

Scahill as the narrator isn’t particularly interesting. He’s brilliant and his work speaks for itself, but at times, his voice became monotonous, making it difficult to keep my eyes from peeling over something trivial occurring in the room I was watching the documentary.

While I understand Scahill isn’t an actor, but a journalist who used film as a medium to demonstrate the atrocities of war while ousting the American government, I still feel he could have used emphasis in his tone or included more of his reaction to what he was learning and seeing to personalize the story.

Much like how Ryan Duffy, Shane Smith, and Thomas Morton document their stories according to the Gonzo gods, it would have been interesting to see Dirty Wars take on a VICE style of coverage.

Some of the most interesting parts to the documentary occur when the camera is focused on Scahill and his usurp over the situation, battling the conflicting emotions he felt as an objective reporter.

Even though these details made it harder to pay attention at times, overall the documentary was fascinating and accomplished its goal of leaving the viewer informed.

There was no feeling of outrage like one might experience at the end of a doc like Blackfish or The Cove, just disappointment.

There was no feeling of hope for a better future, just understanding that this was the world we exist in. There was no feeling of unity, just a reminder there will always be segregation.

There was no answer lying in within the words of Scahill and his film, just an endless list of questions for future investigative journalists to find the answers to, trekking through the dystopian world we inevitably helped form.

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Green Street Hooligans review: United they stood

The love of brethren is a type of love that will stand the test of time. The desire to maintain a reputation will lead men into committing unspeakable acts. The hunt to find oneself amid a storm of emotions is lonely, unless you’ve found brothers in arms and a reputation to uphold.

In Green Street Hooligans brethren, reputation, and a fiery passion worth defending to the death are explored through the daily excursions of a West Ham United football firm.

Matt (Elijah Wood) has been expelled from Harvard after being accused of dealing cocaine on campus, taking the fall for his extremely wealthy, extremely influential roommate. With nowhere to go, Matt hops on a plane to London, planning to stay with his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani) and try to get his life back on track.

Not too long after arriving, Matt meets Pete (Charlie Hunnam), the brother of his brother-in-law, the head of the local West Ham football firm, the GSC. Matt’s quickly pawned off on Pete by his brother-in-law Steve (Marc Warren) and taken down to the local watering hole.

Bewildered at the spectacle thrust upon him, the crazed merriment of the firm’s other members, Matt’s immediately taken in by the sights and sounds of what it’s offering. The desire to be accepted by the rough hooligans only escalates when he attends his first match with the boys, the childish jovialness overtaking him completely.

But Matt doesn’t truly get the never ending itch to join the firm until he’s cornered by members of the opposing Chelsea gang, about to be pummelled within an inch of his life. Rescued by his newfound comrades, Matt unwillingly enters the first fight of his life, and with the adrenaline pumping, is unofficially inducted into the prestigious underground world of football.

Being a part of the club wasn’t about the football, and it wasn’t about the fighting. As Matt himself says, “it wasn’t knowing that they had my back. It was knowing that I had theirs.” For the first time in his life, he’s not the lone wolf.

His father was absent most of his life, running around the world to chase down the latest story for whatever publication he was working for. His mother died while he was a teenager. At Harvard, he was the odd journalism major, lacking the fraternity American colleges almost promise upon entry.

With his West Ham family, Matt found a group of individuals he had always wanted to find. He found brothers, he found an army of supporters, and he found a strong knit community that would never abandon each other.

It’s not just Matt who’s looking for some kind of connection to an entity, something to cling for, and something worth fighting for. All of the men in the firm aren’t overly successful career wise. They’re not ambitious blokes and unlike their role in the firm, aren’t taken seriously by those they do work with. Being a part of this exclusive club, however, fills them with pride that they can’t find outside of their bubble. The countrywide reputation they all so desperately yearn for can finally be achieved after being sought out for so long.

Subconsciously, it’s precisely why Matt didn’t fight the accusation that he had been selling cocaine. A question posed to him by both his father and his sister, and one that Matt can’t answer – or simply won’t put into words – that never resolves itself. After being abandoned by every person he held close to him, sent off to an Ivy League school where he didn’t fit in, and isolating himself further, the accusation brought attention to him. People knew who he was, and for the first time, he had a reputation. He wasn’t a nobody anymore, he was a somebody.

There’s a sense of pride he discovers he has when his name is passed around by illegitimate people in less than legal circumstances. As he pounds another pint at the firm’s pub, he mentions that people who weren’t even a part of the world had heard about him, and if they heard him talk, knew exactly just who the “Yank” was.

The true test of his dedication to the firm, however, comes at a time when they need him most, but would rather he not be there. After a severe encounter with the Millway firm, their legendary enemies, results in Steve barely surviving a stabbing and their home pub being set on fire, they decide to set up a private brawl to fight out their issues once and for all. A brawl to end all brawls within the underground crime network.  

Matt has the chance to fly home with his sister, leave behind the circumstances he had walked into, and most importantly as everyone keeps reminding him, start from scratch, leave his newfound troubling reputation behind. But he chooses not too, instead running towards the danger that awaits him, and the inevitable death of his mentor Pete.

Matt needed to see Pete die, needed to see that what he had glorified in his head was not only incredibly dangerous, but heart breaking. He had lost his best friend, the man who instilled in him traits that he would never forget.

“Pete Dunham’s life taught me there’s a time to stand your ground, and his death taught me there’s a time to walk away.”

Green Street Hooligans is a football movie in the sense that Fight Club is a film about fighting. Metaphors for the struggling emotions these isolated, confused, and above all, angry young men face. Bloody insane and insanely proud, Green Street Hooligans is a story of being accepted into a family when you have none. But unlike typical gang films, although Green Street Hooligans momentarily glorifies the idea of belonging to a gang; it seamlessly demonstrates the monstrosities that accompany it.

There is no dignity in death, but there is a glory in living, and that’s worth fighting for.

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Chasing Amy review: Masochistic delusions 

The issue with unrequited love isn’t that it’s unrequited; it’s the mind’s constant masochistic deluding into believing it will eventually blossom into requited love that’s the problem.

Chasing Amy is a film full of delusions. Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) deludes herself into thinking she can’t possibly have feelings for Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) because she’s gay. Holden deludes himself into thinking that even though Alyssa’s gay, he has a shot of winning her heart. Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), Holden’s best friend, deludes himself into thinking he’s straight, when he’s been in love with his best friend all this time.

The entire film practically starts under false pretences. While at a comic book convention to promote their comic, Bluntman and Chronic, Holden and Banky attend their friend Hooper’s (Dwight Ewell) panel, where he stands up and preaches against the white man. The entire panel, an act conceived by Hooper to scheme his way into making more money, is a joke and sets the tone for the rest of the film.

It’s also the first time Holden and Alyssa meet. Intrigued by her, he agrees to go out for drinks with everyone and as clichéd as it is, falls madly in love with her after spending only hours in each other’s company.

Except Alyson is a lesbian and has no intention of falling in love with Holden.

But as time progresses and they spend more time with each other, they finally admit to both themselves and each other that they are in love and nothing, including something as “trivial” as sexual orientation was going to stop that.

As they scour this newfound relationship with one each other, they also begin to uncover information from the past.

In one fantastic scene, featuring Kevin Smith’s primetime players Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), Holden learns that his “virgin” girlfriend wasn’t so innocent. Arguably, Alyssa was far more experienced sexually than Holden could have ever thought possible. And while disgusted at the idea of his girlfriend being with two men at once in high school, he listens to Bob’s parable about his own past relationship with a girl named Amy.

He explains that he judged Amy for events in her past that had absolutely nothing to do with him and after he broke it off, he realized it was one of the worst mistakes he had ever made. He loved Amy, and after months of chasing her, finally catching her, he threw it all away over trivial stories.

Foreshadowing at it’s finest, Holden inevitably walks down the same rocky path, eventually losing the girl of his dreams and his best friend in the process.

Chasing Amy is a story of melancholy, and thanks to Kevin Smith, it’s a time old tale reconstructed for a ‘90s audience. The story may have seemed ludicrous, but the underlying feelings of intense passion, heart break, and hopeful delusions are constants in any relationship.

But Chasing Amy also had its flaws. The acting, especially on Ben Affleck’s part, was mediocre and it was hard to root for the characters when it felt like there was nothing to invest in. It doesn’t really matter if Holden and Alyssa got together because there was no reason to care if they did or not.

Disappointingly bland, Chasing Amy has an interesting storyline with some well written scenes, but the film falls flat more times than naught. I wanted more from Kevin Smith and his crew of, usually, superb actors. I wanted the conversational stylings of Clerks, and I just didn’t see that with Chasing Amy.

 The dialogue felt forced and the characters felt like caricatures. Chasing Amy could have been something spectacular, but instead it was wasted. It could have been a film that resonated with everyone who’s ever been in love, but instead it felt fictional. It could have been the love story of the past generation, but instead became just another title in an already over stimulated genre.

Chasing Amy is all about delusions; delusions over who you are as a person, whom you fall in love with, and what your life has actually become. Like the characters in the film, Chasing Amy has deluded itself into thinking it’s extraordinary when in reality it’s really just quite ordinary.

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Smashed review: The path to sobriety is full of unimaginable toxins

Someone once said that even when sober, there is no love greater for an addict than that of their vice.

He said people could fool themselves into thinking that when they eventually became sober they could lead healthier lives and maintain healthy relationships, but in the end, they were destined to fail.

It’s the perfect way to describe the series of unfortunate but much needed events in Smashed. Starring Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) as Charlie Hannah and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs The World) as Kate Hannah, Smashed is an intimate look into the troubling relationship held between two addicts.

Kate and Charlie are alcoholics, going out night after night, getting belligerently drunk. It’s only after Kate shows up to teach her grade one class after a particularly wild night and vomits in front of the six-year-olds that she admits she may have a problem with her consumption.

Offered help from her school’s vice principal Dave Davies (Nick Offerman), Kate attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and embarks on the tough road to recovery.

The audience treks down the difficult path to recovery with Kate, but the most intriguing aspect to the film is her unorthodox relationship with Charlie.

Although approaching their 30s, Charlie and Kate’s relationship plays out like one would between college or high school students.

They truly believe they’re in love with each other, and perhaps underneath the alcohol induce happiness there are some lingering feelings. But, much like college students, they can’t get past the party phase to truly find out. They love each other because they partake in the same vices.

It all goes back to the love addicts have for their drugs of choice. The reason that love runs so deep and never truly leaves is because the imagined love a drug gives its user is as unconditional as it can get. The drug doesn’t judge or question its user; it just bows down, doing all that it can to bring an abundance of pleasure.

When they’re in the alcohol induced, practically catatonic state, they morph into touchable versions of their liquid love, they turn into the vices they lean on. The love they have for each other is so pure, so unadulterated, it feels like a buzz, their heads swimming with love for the other and the alcohol they carry.

Addiction, however, isn’t a positive aspect to any addiction and can’t last forever. Eventually, the results turn disastrous, sometimes irreparable. When Kate decides to get sober, after finally admitting to herself that she was scared of what she was becoming with every passing, fading night, Charlie supports her. But he doesn’t join her.

At first, they try to make it work. Charlie gets smashed with his brother and his close friends while Kate goes to AA meetings. But as Kate goes to more and more meetings, listening to different people talk about their experiences and meeting new friends, she realizes she can never truly be sober if she’s living with Charlie.

Part of her road to recovery is ridding herself of the toxins that both inhibit her body and mind, categories Charlie fits into perfectly.

So Kate does. She lets go of Charlie, washes him down the drain with the rest of her alcohol and walks away from the only life she ever knew. Her sobriety smashed the glass that held together the love they have for each other. His inability to work on his own demons smashed the last bit of patience Kate had for him.

Their nightly quests to get as fucked up as they could smashed the last of their sanity. 

Even though Kate walks away from Charlie, there’s still a connection between them that she can’t erase. When the clarity dawned upon her that she would never be able to stop saying she was an addict, because that lingering desire to drink would never truly fade, she realized she could never say she would ever stop loving Charlie, because he was just as much an addiction as the drinking was.

Kate may have sought out sobriety to put an end to her nightly smash routine, but it was the lucidity that arose from it that made her realize she would always be smashed.

She was an addict for life and she had never felt so isolated.

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Upstream Color review: Viewer beware if you dare

Upstream Color is an art house film from beginning to end; full of existentialist metaphors hidden beneath a confusing exterior.

But there is a message trying to break through it’s practically impregnable gate, but it might take some researching once the film is done.

The second film from artsy filmmaker Shane Carruth, the man behind 2004’s critically, erm, noticed Primer, Carruth’s latest offering to the film gods is just as obscure.

It follows the story of Kris (Amy Seimtez) and her husband Jeff (Carruth) after aliens have abducted Kris, toyed with her mind, and led her to commit acts of bodily harm.

But unlike traditional science fiction films, the aliens in Upstream Color aren’t green with multiple eyes and engorged tongues. They appear like humans, and instead of whisking Kris away to some far off distant planet in the galaxy, bring her back to the house she shared with Jeff. Jeff, it should be mentioned, has disappeared for this entire ordeal, and there’s never a direct reason given as to why.

Once Kris awakens from the hypnotized, practically catatonic state she was left in by her kidnappers, she slowly starts to rebuild the memory of what happened. She’s left with no money, no job, and a husband she can barely remember, but who seems to remember her quite clearly.

And while the story is about these two people fighting for the life they once had before their world was shattered, the focal point of the film seems to be the experiment they’ve undergone.

They are closely watched to see how they react to one another when the normalcy and sanity from a relationship suddenly vanishes. Testing their strength, belief, and love in one another becomes a game for the various aliens involved in the experimental process.

Like pigs, the group of animals simultaneously referenced and used in the film to offset the drama stirring between Kris and Jeff, they are herded into a pen, stapled with identification codes, and watched. They’re just players, plucked from the grass they were peacefully grazing on, and thrown on stage to perform for strangers.

It’s the message that I believe Carruth was trying to get through. The feeling of being watched, and studied, without putting a personality to the identification number. The feeling of being a subject and being taken from the only life you ever knew to be a lab rat for some faceless scientist is all there, lying beneath the images in the film.

You can understand Carruth’s feeling of claustrophobia as Jeff and Kris lock themselves in their house’s bathroom, isolating themselves from the rest of the world. Terrified no one will understand what they’re going through, or how they feel, they find solace and comfort in each other and hold on for dear life. In their minds, quite literally.

But while all of the metaphors and imagery is superb, it’s a daunting film for the average filmgoer.  When I write this review, I sit here thinking of someone like my brother or my mother, who while both film buffs, wouldn’t be able to sit through fifteen minutes of Carruth’s work without cringing and picking another title.

And perhaps Carruth wishes it so, but that hinders a large audience who would find great value in his art. Slow at times and full of large periods where communication is practically non-existent, Carruth has found his cult audience who will watch Primer and Upstream Color again and again, but will never be a household name. His films will be seen by hundreds, but never millions.

Despite the commercial flaws, I enjoyed Upstream Color. It left me thinking about it, and searching for the message I know Carruth buried deep for those who did venture down the path to watch it. It feels like a film that needs a second viewing once it’s been mewled and chewed over for a couple of hours. But I cannot reiterate enough it is not for a mainstream viewing audience.

Viewer beware, you’re in for a dare.

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Stoker review: There's no lust like bloodlust

Hemingway once said, “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”

No truer words could be spoken about Stoker, the latest film from Chan-wook Park (Old Boy). Written by Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) and starring Nicole Kidman (Hemingway & Gellhorn), Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), and Matthew Goode (Watchmen), Stoker is a story full of obscenities, but lacks any mention of vampires.

Visually stunning, the film fails to captivate even under the premise fascinating subject matter. What could have been an uncomfortably psychological thriller drearily morphs into an uninteresting drama with select few moments that shock.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has just lost her father Richard in a car crash. On the day of his funeral, a long lost uncle she wasn’t aware she had, Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) appears.

He becomes smitten with both India and her mother Evelyn, and not so subtly worms his way into their daily life, taking residence in their home, filling the spot his older brother left behind.

Almost immediately the film zooms in and focuses on the eerily disturbing relationship between Charlie and India. At first, India is fearful of her uncle, of his sudden presence in her life, and as the movie progresses, there’s no question as to why.

India is presented as an odd child, one that resembles Taissa Farmiga’s Violet from the original American Horror Story series. Unlike Violet, India’s oddities run a little deeper than just teenage misfit.

As Charlie and India become closer, their relationship changes, it deepens. They sense something in each other, much like animals recognize similarities in each other.

It’s only after they execute their first murder that the animalistic quality that drew each other to them gets a name. Sociopaths, bloodlust constantly on their mind, the predatory hunt for their next prey constantly on their mind.

It’s their lust for the next kill that leads to their incestuous love. They’re the only ones who could ever understand each other and their dark needs.

Unfortunately, that’s the only resemblance the story has to its storyline, and in turn, to the original Dracula.

There’s a reason it’s called bloodlust. The way in which Dracula would take his victims, as horrendous as it was, remained surly and wanton.

In each of the murders India and Charlie enact with each other, the murders are doused with sexuality, and often times, are during an intimate sexual act. It brings a whole new meaning to getting off on violence.

Just like Dracula needed blood to survive, India learns, just as Charlie had at a young age, she needs blood to thrive. She understands the hunting trips she used to take with her late father were specifically driven to prevent her from becoming her uncle; society’s own little monster.

But unlike Dracula, the story tries to villanize Charlie, and especially India,  but instead glorifies them. There’s almost a moment, beneath the incest and sociopathic tendencies that has you rooting for the strange couple. It leaves you with the same feeling Mickey and Mallory Knox did in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

They lack the empathy present in other killers throughout film history, yes, but unlike other characters, they never reflect on the apathy. Instead, they seem to just embrace it, and in doing so, loses the audience. It’s hard to feel bad for someone in a situation when they don’t spare a moment to think about what they’re doing.

Instead, the film ends with a hunt, a vicious hunt. India has leapt from protégé to master after taking out the man she thought she needed to be with. After murdering her uncle to save her mother, India ventures off on her own, leaving the audience to assume she’s finally about to embark on the monstrous expedition she always wanted too.

While Hemingway may have been spot on about the plot of the film, and the overall theme, it’s Tyler Durden, Fight Club’s elusive leader who cocks the gun, preparing the last bullet to be shot.

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything, that we’re free to do anything.

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Fat Kid Rules the World review: God save the punkers

Fat Kid Rules the World is an open letter to punk rock, homage to the ‘80s, and a love letter to the freedom it brings all of its patrons.

Hidden under a story of family drama, it’s a typical coming of age tale set against the backdrop of the confusing punk scene.

Matthew Lillard’s (I Know What You Did Last Summer) feature length directorial debut tells the story of Troy (Jacob Wysocki), a suicidal, obese high schooler. Fed up with the spiral his life has taken since the death of his mother, Troy steps in front of an oncoming bus only to be saved by reckless hooligan Marcus (Matt O’Leary).

Let the horrible clichés present throughout most of the movie begin.

Marcus takes an interest in the reclusive boy and during one fateful breaking and entering trip, accidentally introduces Troy to the world of punk.

As Troy’s interest in punk picks up, so does his desire to be a part of the world, not just a witness. Taking drum lessons from one of Marcus’s ex-bandmates, he forms a band with his literal lifesaver.

Parallel to his development as a musician is his rise in self-esteem, breaking out of his isolated shell. At the beginning of the film, Marcus didn’t speak to anyone, fearful of the persecution he might face if he did, and spends the majority of his nights playing a World of Warcraft like game.

But while Troy grows, his savior stumbles. Marcus, the stereotypical perception of a punker, has developed a nasty prescription drug addiction since he’s been expelled and kicked out of his home. The cocaine he snorts just a kick for the oxycotin. Troy’s progression into reality, breaking free from the fantastical realms he once committed himself too, mirrors Marcus’s fall from conceived fantasy to dreary reality.

The difference lies in Troy’s progression and Marcus’s regression, but the similarity lies in the lifeline they share.

At the beginning of the film, it’s clear Marcus saved Troy’s life, again quite literally, but by the end of the film it’s completely flip flopped. Through Troy’s internal dilemma and self-realization, he helps Marcus accept the reality he’s begun to face, showing him there’s a life beyond what they had built up in their minds.

And while Fat Kid Rules the World has some positives, it’s mostly clichéd lines delivered by clichéd characters in a heavily clichéd story.

It’s hard to talk about the earnest qualities of the film because they’ve been executed in countless movies before it. The acting was adequate, but didn’t resonate. The directing was apathetic and lacked focus, and the writing was boring.

But there was one small saving grace aspect to the film. The use of punk rock as a stage for personal development and breaking free from emotional restrains was perfect.

Punk music, at the end of the day, is a coming of age drama. Chalk full of anger, immature humour, and vulgar insults, the reason punk continues to thrive with teenagers is the resonation it makes with them at that moment in their lives.

Troy was an angry kid, but concealed the anger and let it slide into depression. Watching him experience his first punk show, moshing with the other seasoned vets, and the release of pent up emotion, was so nostalgic it became the one scene that hit home.

Memories of trekking by bus to the local punk venue, spending hours with groups of friends and strangers with the same interests sprang to mind immediately and, for a brief moment anyways, hooked me. I relived my moments of discovering some local punk act, taking a bewildered look at everything that small room had to offer, and sporting the same maniacal grin Troy rocked.

Unfortunately, the moment is fleeting, and once gone the film falls into the monotonous rhythm it had developed.

Fat Kid Rules the World is a story of punk rock, but lacks all of the qualities it needs to make it punk. If only it had let itself go, carried a facetious tone, and let itself be discovered instead of forced, it could have been the punk coming of age story this new generation of punkers need.

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Grave of the Fireflies review: "Why do fireflies die so young?"

“Why do fireflies have to die so young?”

A question posed by Setsuko to her older brother Seita in the 1988 Studio Ghibli film, Grave of the Fireflies.

It’s a simple question formed by the innocent curiosity only a child could possess. In Grave of the Fireflies, however, it’s foreshadowing and sets the tone for the entire film.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies follows two young orphans, a teenage boy and his young sister, as they try to navigate their way around war torn Japan in World War II.

The movie starts with one death and ends with another. But while the deaths are the whopping factor in the film, it’s the story of life in between that makes them so prophetic.

The relationship between Setsuko and Seita is extraordinary, a type of sibling love that those without it desperately yearn for. It’s the type of sibling relationship that continuously blurs the line between just that and one seen in a parent-child relationship.

After their neighbourhood is bombed and their home completely destroyed, they make their way to go live an aunt in a neighbouring village, accepting that they are forever motherless.

Even though they’re taken in by family, it still feels like they’re outsiders, strangers in a rented home. The tenuous relationship between their relatives only strengthens the relationship between brother and sister, spending every waking minute with each other, adventuring around the city.

These brief moments of happiness, when they’re swimming at a beach or running up and down hills, remind us that these children are just that, still full of hope and excitement for the world.

But they’re rare, fleeting moments. When not darting to the nearest bomb shelter, they’re learning how to properly ration food, and how to survive on their own, quite literally after they decide to leave their aunt’s unwelcome house.

Like war movies before it and war movies after it, Grave of the Fireflies focuses on one aspect of war’s horrifying devastations. Unlike previous war films, however, the focus on a young brother and sister fighting to survive tugs at the heartstrings like no other.

One of the most traumatic progressions to watch, however, is Setsuko’s slow withering away, and Seita’s struggle to try and stop it. His struggle to keep his baby sister alive, echoed by the Japanese army’s movement to keep their citizens alive, just plays like an objective correlative. The emotional breadth of the children, still undeveloped, is carried out through the wreckage of World War II. The devastation they feel mirrored by their country’s.

As Setsuko is dying, Seita’s constant distress over the lack of control he has is the most thought provoking and reflective. If he can’t save his sister from the external forces that are wearing her down, how is the country supposed to defend themselves against the more powerful American army.

It’s the embodiment of this concern, rage and feeling of uselessness that personalizes the entire ordeal and makes it incredibly difficult to watch. You yearn to help these children who have lost the only two people in the world that could have. The depression, a word they have not yet learned, and the unjustness of the world, a feeling they cannot name, is taken on by the audience in a useless attempt to try and alleviate the sorrow.

Incredibly, beneath all of the sadness, Setsuko and Seita never give up hope that they will eventually begin to eat more, become healthier, and live a better life. Even when Setsuko is on her deathbed, slowly eating the watermelon Seita was able to purchase for her, she mumbles, “It’s good. Thank you, Seita.”

The hope for life simply dies on her lips.

Although it’s not a Miyazaki film (it was written and directed by Isao Takahata), the film still carries the signs of a Studio Ghibli film. It uses children to tell the incredibly mature, adult like story, and although tackles difficult issues, leaves the audience with a feeling of hope for the future of the characters.

In Grave of the Fireflies, that hope isn’t necessarily for Setsuko and Seita, whose time on Earth has come to an end, but for the rest of the villagers and family members they knew. There’s hope that all of Japan would return to the beautiful country it once was, rebuilding on demolished ground.

We don’t know why fireflies have to die so young, just like we’ll never understand why some children, like Setsuko and Seita, lost their lives at such an early stage.

But just like fireflies, there’s a hope that when the next night rolls around, there will be new ones to carry on the beauty of their predecessors, and illuminate the night skies once more.

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Prisoners review: There is no right or wrong, just survival

In Prisoners, evil and righteous aren’t presented as black and white, but instead mixes them together and presents them as an option for the audience to decide upon.

At the very beginning, it’s almost obvious who’s at fault, but that slowly erodes as the plot thickens. Two families in Pennsylvania come together to feast and celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, and enjoy the company of each other. It isn’t until they can’t find their youngest daughters, after searching high and low, that they begin to panic and the festivities come to an abrupt end.

While the film follows the troubles of both families, the psychological horror centers on Hugh Jackman’s character, Keller Dover, the father of one of the girls that has gone missing.

Jackman is a monster, but unlike other monsters in history, one whose actions are almost worth defending. After tracking down one of the men he believes helped kidnap his girl, he turns from an upstanding, law abiding citizen, into a deranged torturer, using whatever tools he can to make the man –who he’s kidnapped himself- give up the location.

Like Jackman’s emotional stages, you can’t help but flip flop on your opinions of Dover. In scenes where he’s scaring the suspected pedophile, who has the mental capacity of a ten-year-old, with a hammer, the veins on his neck popping from barely restrained anger, he’s a monster. In that scene, it’s almost involuntary to want to help the real villain because they’ve reversed roles. Instead of Dover being the vulnerable victim, overcome with the shock and despair at the thought of losing his daughter, he’s become the punishing bastard. The kidnapper, already earning a bit of empathy for his mental disability, elicits compassion from the audience.

Jackman’s unhealthy mental anguish continues throughout the entire film. At first, when he’s kidnapped the man, he has help with his archaic torture methods. Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), the father of the other girl who has been kidnapped, reluctantly helps Dover.

Howard’s character not only provides an edgier tone for the movie, but also helps juxtapose the two men along with the main theme of the film. Birch hates what they’re doing, physically repulsed by the idea of locking a man up and torturing him, but continues on almost for survival. He needs to see his daughter again, protect his cub from the world like a bear, and so tries to convince himself in that moment he’s doing the right thing.

Unlike Dover, however, it eventually becomes too much for him and he decides to remove his hand from the lid of the boiling pot, keeping the dangerous water from escaping. Dover continues to torture the man, coming up with new ways to do so, apparently ripped right out of a CIA training manual. From being trapped in a shower, boards surrounding it so he can’t out, he douses him in hot water, before turning the tap and doing the same with freezing water.

Even with the constant torturing, his ambition to search elsewhere for his daughter never wavers. In the end, it brings him to the house where his daughter is being kept, and face to face with the deranged mastermind behind the entire ploy.

Inevitably, just as the film was setting him up for, it would lead to his entrapment, with nothing to keep him occupied but the knowledge that he was right. In this moment, he’s no longer the alcoholic monster he quickly transformed into during his search for his daughter, but he’s the vulnerable man. In this moment, the audience is reminded that he was just a father, searching for his daughter who was taken from his grasp.

Alongside Jackman’s emotional arc is another storyline, one just as full of ambition. Unlike Jackman’s however, it’s a story focused on the positives of ambition, even if it is unhealthy and potentially fatal.

Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the top detective on the local Pennsylvania Police force. He’s got the edge and cynical mindset of a veteran officer, even though he’s clearly still one of the younger officers.

It’s because of his age that his ambition and drive make perfect sense. He’s still hungry to complete 100 per cent of cases and unlike officers who have given up on the dream that each case will produce a positive result.

His latest obsession is the case of the kidnapped girls, one that he gets assigned too after he arrests the alleged kidnapper, the one Jackman later kidnaps himself, in his truck. His storyline constantly overlaps with Jackman’s and tension rises between the two.

But unlike Jackman’s story of ambition to make everything right in the world, Gyllenhaal’s story is about redemption to prove he can do right. He carries a chip on his shoulder the entire time, hell bent on proving to these families that he can do his job, proving to his boss he’s in control of the situation, and most importantly, proving to himself that he’s a good cop.

But the biggest problem Gyllenhaal seems to have is proving to himself that he’s not the monster he eventually discovers Jackman was. His anger problem isn’t a secret, and he has a hard time empathizing with the families he’s helping. Emotionally, he’s vacant, unless it’s seething anger. Almost sociopathic in nature.

His ambition and emotional detachment from the case, however, is precisely what leads him to solving it. Even more so, his ambition is what leads him to delivering on the promise he made to the parents of the young girls when he first took their case; he was going to find them, alive, and save them. Unlike Jackman’s character, his ambition doesn’t end there. Unlike Jackman, he has a moment of clarity where he realizes just what’s important in life and what’s not.

It’s the combination of both characters mental anguish, off the rail personalities, and intensity that makes it so difficult to watch. The subject matter is disturbing, but doesn’t hold a candle to the way these two actors portray the descent into maelstrom. Without these two actors, the film may have fallen flat, but with them, is one that will soon be on everyone’s must see lists.

Prisoners is the perfect psychological thriller that leaves you with an empty feeling in your gut as you question what you would do in that situation. In that regard alone, it’s accomplished what it set out to do as a film: let the case live on through you, let you decide who was evil and who was righteous, or if those terms ever existed at all.

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Pi review: There are no answers, just algorithms 

Darren Aranofsky films are tough to digest, but like medicine, they're something everyone should be adding to their viewing lists.

Pi is no different. The story of a mentally disturbed mathematician obsessed with the patterns of numbers and their role in the natural world is eccentric, powerful, and above all else, macabre.

Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) sees the world as a complex algorithm, and one that can eventually be cracked. His main focus is on the stock market, the ambiguous, eclectic world that has never been cracked. It’s been rigged, it’s been changed, but it’s never been understood, even by those whose only job is to be fluent in the algorithm that powers it.

But unlike the stock brokers and bankers that keep a constant eye on the ups and downs, Cohen doesn’t do it for selfish gains, he just wants to make sense of the only tangible version of the world he can grasp.

Along his journey to discover the almighty truth hidden behind the numbers, Cohen meets an assortment of strange characters, all seemingly out there to use his above average intellect.

From his mentor Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis) to a local Jewish numerologist Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), each conversation is calculated, much like Cohen’s way of living, and each conversation repetitive.

The one constant in all of his conversations and thoughts is numbers. He’s obsessed with the idea that he can break the algorithm, and in turn, take control of the external forces he currently has no control of.

It all seems a bit maniacal, but when his daily severe migraines are thrown into the equation, his obsession almost makes sense.

From the time he was a young boy, Cohen suffered unbearable migraines, and drove him into seeking constant isolation. When he does manage to venture out of his house, he’s armed with dozens of pain relieving pills, and he only risks going to familiar joints.

It’s through his inhuman ambition to take down an invisible wall and take control of the fortress that lies behind it that he allows the audience to see his shattering breakdown.

Like Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky’s most popular film, it’s hard to understand where Cohen is coming from, just like how it was hard to understand the tribulations Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) and Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) underwent, but it was impossible to forget their most vulnerable moments on screen.

From the beginning, it’s obvious Cohen will never complete the one task in his life he’s so stubbornly sure that he will. Aronofsky sets up the character to fail from the beginning, making his endeavor that much more difficult to sit through. The mental anguish that constantly haunts him and often times overtakes him is flinch worthy.

But Aronofky, ironically, doesn’t vilify Cohen, doesn’t turn him into a monster to be feared. Instead, his mental collapse is sullen, traumatic, and above all else, honest. Often times in films, mental illness is associated with terror and abandonment; they are not like us and therefore should not be treated like us.

Cohen’s breakdowns, on the contrary, prove that he’s more human than the rest of us who walk around with a façade of sanity. His mental breakdown just proves that he understands the insanity of the world, and in a show of utter bravado, faces the insanity of it head on.

Until the end. Cohen’s intellect and insight prove to be too much for him. He’d rather live an ignorant lifestyle where he wasn’t aware that the world was an algorithm that could be cracked, that the people in it were just numbers following a decimal point; like pi itself, there is no importance to what follows. 

That’s what makes the film such a daunting watch. There’s an honesty that Aronofsky has figured out, portrayed through Cohen that interrupts our blissful way of existing. As a film should, it leads to difficult internal questioning. It leads to discussion about mental illness, a taboo topic even today, avoidable my most parties.

Most importantly, it reinstates what we already knew, but constantly disregarded. We are not in control of what occurs in this world, as much as we try to. We can go to war, attempt to find cures, even trade trillions of dollars worth of currency globally, but in the end it all comes down to an algorithm we won’t ever figure out.

It’s pi, and there’s only so many numbers you can memorize and study before your sanity slips.

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Hamlet 2 review: Should definitely not have been, Hamlet

When you throw Steve Coogan into a leading role with the least supporting, erm, supporting cast in the history of film, it only showcases his comedic brilliance even more.

Hamlet 2 follows Coogan’s character, Dana Marszch, a failed actor turned volunteer high school drama teacher in Tucsan, Arizona.

With the drama department’s lifeline hanging by a thread due to budget cuts, Marszch decides the only way to save the only foot he has left in the acting world is to throw the most outrageous, bonkers, exploitive play he can.

Counseled by the high school’s only film critic, and the bane of Marszch’s existence, he makes the decision to finish the play he had been working on, a sequel to one of the world’s greatest plays.

As if the frazzled, cynical drama teacher doesn’t have enough on his plate, he also has to work with a large group of students who want nothing to do with drama or the play he’s so desperate to put on.

It’s through the ups and downs of the play, and Marszch’s unusual ways of dealing with both, where Coogan is truly allowed to shine.

He becomes a bit of a one-man show, stealing the spotlight in every scene. But he does so as Dana Marszch, not as Coogan. Usually, when an actor steals the show, it’s attributed to them and their incredible depiction of their character. With Coogan, though, he plays the role so undeniably perfect, it’s hard to separate one man from the other.

Coogan is no stranger to fighting for a role. While popular in England, it took many years for the comedian to break into Hollywood, and even then, was always a sidekick, a supporter to whatever leading man the studio had been able to land.

Although not a failure, there are definite similarities between Coogan’s professional career and Dana Marszch’s personal career that make it feel like Coogan is just projecting himself on stage, instead of portraying the assigned character.

It brings a realistic ambience to an obviously surreal film. Even more so, it doesn’t take away from the film, from the escapism associated with the medium, but enhances the comedy.

Which is fantastic because without Coogan, the film would be a total waste. The storyline is interesting, but it’s not revolutionary. Worse, it’s rushed and leaves unanswered questions sitting bitterly on the tip of the tongue.

Then there’s the issue of the supporting cast. Like in the aforementioned paragraph, it barely exists. Actors who deserve more time on screen (Amy Poehler, Catherine Keener) are given the exact opposite, while boring actors without any charisma are given all the time in the world. If it weren’t for Coogan, the film wouldn’t hold someone’s attention for longer than forty minutes. A very real concern, it should be added, in the new age of film, when attention spans – or lack thereof, rather- are fading.

Hamlet 2 could have been something, but instead if was, “meh.” Before I set out to write this review, I literally forgot I had watched it the night before. Forgettable, unmemorable are perhaps the best terms to describe it. Coogan’s performance, however, was enlightening, jovial, and full of youth.

Maybe the studio can do a Hamlet 3 starring Coogan and no one else. It couldn’t be much worse than the drivel fed to audiences in Hamlet 2, and one could argue, Coogan received all the training he’d need for a one man show while doing it.

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Sons of Perdition review: Fascinating subject matter, mediocre content

The world of cults, from the least bizarre to the most extreme, will forever be of interest to outsiders looking in.

It’s precisely why a documentary focusing on former cult members draws interest around the world. It’s the difference between someone picking a documentary like Sons of Perdition to watch on Netflix over the others that may pique interest.

The documentary follows three teenage boys –Sam, Joe, and Brian- after making the decision to run away from their Colorado cult, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

The cult was a staple in the United States, but gained international acclaim after its leader Warren Jeffs was arrested, throwing the entire community in a media frenzy.

The documentary is predictable, with a couple of poignant thoughts on the modern day American family.

From the moment they leave the compound, the lack of education they received at home becomes one of the many striking factors against them. Unable to recall past presidents, state what the capital of the country is, or even explain the basic horrors of the Second World War, the thought of navigating the world on their own is terrifying.

Moving from foster home to foster home, the journey of the boys is tortured, but the carefree attitudes they seem to constantly carry with them make their hopes for the future seem more realistic than hopeful.

The strongest part to the movie, and one of the only themes that makes up for its otherwise lackluster viewing experience, is the teens constant desire to reconnect with the families they abandoned.

It’s a catch-22. They logically understand that they must move away to ensure they retain their sanity. Emotionally, they are constantly drawn back to the pleasant memories of their time at, “The Crick.”

As children, their awareness of their inner society hadn’t been formed yet. To them, coming home from school everyday and having nine or ten brothers and sisters to play with wasn’t abnormal, it was a way of life. As they mature, just like children who haven’t grown up in cults or abnormal environments, they begin to question their way of living and ask what they want out of life.

In their new homes where they’re constantly battling feelings of isolation , they throw on CD’s that play music recorded by the people in their village, and stare at photos of the family they left behind.

The juxtaposition of their desire to escape the only family they’ve known while clinging to the very group of people who made them what they are is executed extremely well in the movie.

It’s that juxtaposition that draws into question relationships between families now around the world. These teenagers are willing to break the law and risk their lives to go back into the commune they desperately ran away from to rescue the family members who were in the same position as them.

For them, the prospect of happiness can’t occur until their family is back with them, and it’s obvious from the way they glow at rare times when they are able to connect with their brothers and their sisters.

For Joe, Brian, and Sam, moving away from home wasn’t a part of growing up and naturally embarking on the next step of their lives, it was about salvation from the grasps of a dangerous hand quickening its hold on their throats.

The cult and its beliefs are archaic in a multitude of ways, but the love they have for their family is emphasized in a society where truly showing the love for a family as a teen is ridiculed.

It was the only aspect to the film that was enjoyable, though. The documentary doesn’t delve enough into the criminal misconduct of the family to brutally showcase just how severe the situation is. At times, it feels like the boys aren’t necessarily on a difficult journey, and it often times feels like it was a spur of the moment decision to leave instead of a life altering one they spent time thinking about it.

Overall, Sons of Perdition is a documentary that is interesting because of its subject, but falls flat with the actual content. It’s a documentary that if not on Netflix, wouldn’t have been one to spend money on. 

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The Dirties review: An intimate look at the deranged mind of the pop culture obsessed

The definitions of insanity, reality, and moral consciousness are not only heavily contemplated by the two main characters in The Dirties, but audiences will find themselves sitting with an anchor like weight in the pit of their stomach as they hazardously question their own role in the fictional foretelling.

Matt Johnson stars in his own directorial debut alongside real life friend and cast mate Owen Williams. The two best friends team up as partners in the movie for their high school film class and create a short film pitting them against their high school bullies, a gang they call the dirties.

As time progresses, Johnson decides the film would be much stronger if it starred them actually shooting their constant tormenters, stalking their every move to capture the perfect moment on camera.

Despite all of the horrific planning, the truly disturbing aspect of the film is not the insanity of the few, but the possible insanity of the pack.

From the first few minutes of the film, Johnson provides an insight into the minds of him and Williams’ characters. The two work dynamically on screen as the perfect caricature of a dominant and submissive team. Johnson calls all of the shots as the main actor and director of the short film, while Williams slavishly follows his one friend without much question.

Funny at first, and growing progressively eerier as the story unfolds, is how much audiences can connect with the two high school misfits through one shared love: media, and our society’s unhealthy obsession with it.

From the ode to past Hollywood films like Pulp Fiction, The Usual Strangers, and Clueless to carefully calculated conversations on Johnson’s part, full of quotes and forgotten lines, the one true friendship the two boast they share, is nothing more than quality acting.

Through a mockumentary styling, Johnson’s character encompasses one of the issues with people, but especially teenagers, growing in an age of over-saturated media. At one point in the movie, Johnson and Williams are joking about how the short film would fair better with audiences if they were to literally annihilate the clique. Johnson, anxiously pacing, looks around his basement covered in movie posters, comic books, and video games, and says, “Oh, that’s funny. This is so sick, it’s hilarious.”

The satirical facet of the situation, combined with the complete displacement from reality, is a reoccurring theme from different characters throughout the film. While planning out how exactly they’ll shoot up the school, Johnson jokes to a girl Williams likes, “Hey, we’re going to shoot up the school, don’t tell anyone,” to which she laughs and wishes them luck on it.

Society, as Johnson silently explains, has blurred the line between reality and fantasy to a tipping point where the line doesn’t matter anymore. Everything is a movie and the people living in it are merely actors.

A Shakespearean sentiment taken to a ludicrous level in todays modern age, the film portrays a group of young people, still maturing, desensitize themselves to real life travesties, laughing at it like a boring history lesson.

Jovial references to the use of The Catcher in the Rye as a novel all psychopaths carry around while Johnson and Williams walk through their school library, and reading a book on Columbine as research take out the significance of the events, instead leaving them as a theatre production.

In one scene, Williams begins frantically yelling at Johnson in perhaps the most honest moment of the film. He argues he doesn’t know where the real Johnson begins or ends, and in essence, where the real conversation begins. It’s a tense moment that only grows tenser with the realization that Johnson could easily be a best friend, a family member, or even yourself.

A film produced by Kevin Smith’s company, Kevin Smith’s Movie Club, the themes of bullying and escapism are not entirely new, but the direct exploitation of school shootings to seize the idea and demonstrate it makes The Dirties all that more disturbing. Much like in the original ‘Clerks,’ the two oddballs cling to each other for dear life as the real world treats them like dirt and fills them with nothing but disappointment and confusion. Their grades are mediocre, they’re not athletically inclined, and they won’t be voted prom king based on their looks.

Much like Dylan Kelbold and Eric Harris, the two students who have gained inconceivable fame and immortality, these two retreat into the comforting embrace of pop culture, a world where they feel the fuzzy happiness cultural escapism provides.

The Dirties accomplished the rare feat of poking fun at the audience watching the movie while empathizing with them over their need to stare at a screen. Johnson calls everyone watching it crazy, “not being able to distinguish the line between reality and pretend,” as his mother explains to him in the film upon questioning whether he was, in fact, insane.  And perhaps even more rare, it leaves the entire audience, instead of a few, questioning the message conveyed.

Johnson does an outstanding job of portraying and scripting remarkably unremarkable characters that seem like your friend’s younger brother, sister, daughter, or son. Through his own obsession with creating a movie about a movie, a meta ideology that works well with the criteria of the film, Johnson satires this generation of up and coming adults through a truly terrifying lens. The Dirties through facetious means, brings to light the depths of a worldly obsession that shows no signs of slowing down as the blurred lines continue to bend and twist until the line no longer becomes visible, just a relic of generations past.

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White Irish Drinkers review: An attempted coming of age story that drowns in its own contempt

White Irish Drinkers has almost nothing to do with Ireland, drinking, or being white but touches briefly upon all three words throughout the film.

The movie follows Brian (Nick Thurston) as he’s trying to find his way in the ‘70s Brooklyn.

A secret artist, Brian’s a true patron of pop culture, but the periods of enjoying the arts he holds dear are sporadic as he deals with his broken family.

His older brother Danny (Geoffrey Wigdot) has become an urchin of the street, turning to a life of crime to earn a living. His mother Margaret (Karen Allen) is a domestically abused woman, hell bent on antiquated ideologies handed down to her.

But the cream of the crop comes in the form of the patriarch of the family, Patrick (Stephen Lang). An Irish immigrant with a dead end job, and a diseased taste for liquor, Patrick has become the sole riff in the family, scarring and scaring both his wife and his two sons.

White Irish Drinkers could be labeled as a coming of age story, but those stories are generally full of heart breaking angst, a new or first sexual encounter with someone, and a fulfilling ending, usually alluding to a future full of hope and promised success.

All of which White Irish Drinkers has, or rather, attempts to show it has. The characters feel forced and uncharismatic, the story feels overplayed, and the supposed climax of the film is horrendously anti-climactic. 

Brian’s secret passion for art, which only his friends and his brother are aware of, begins Brian’s journey.

His best friend Todd (Zachary Booth) has returned from Carnegie-Mellon University for a small vacation. On his brief return home, he mentions to Brian that the school has a visual arts program, with a promise of bountiful success upon graduation.

It’s the first time Brian begins to think of leaving Brooklyn and embarking on the hunt for a fulfilling life. Before, he had resigned himself to either joining his brother on nightly robberies and other misdemeanours, or taking over the local cinema house he worked.

In his mind, before Todd returns home, he had already subjected himself to leading the life his parents had, already assumed that he’d seen the best he’d ever had. He had digested the fact that he would probably live in a small apartment with an Irish woman he met around his local block, and work until he died.

But as Todd comes home, implanting the idea in his head he may have a better prospect in life, another miraculous feat happens; the Rolling Stone’s agree to play the small cinema house he worked at.

With the Stones on their way to perform and the idea of applying to a university being mewled over, it almost feels as if the small joys he gets out of life, whether it be art or pop culture, were outweighing the bad in his life.

He even goes on a date with a girl, Shauna (Leslie Murphy), which of course leads to the clichéd sexual experience. Although only a girl he’s had sex with once, Shauna fills his head with wanderlust, preaching about the vast corners of the world he had yet to visit.

Of course, while all these positives are beginning to unravel in his life, he’s still dealing with an abusive, alcoholic father and a severely depressed and oppressed mother.  Not to mention, his twisty relationship with his brother that goes from profound to fickle in the span of a punch.

Every time Brian thinks he’s on top of the world, having drinks with his friends at the local bar or at a house party, the negative side of his life brings reality crashing down on him. He shakes his head, ridding the thoughts of “ifs and what could have beens” from his body, instead toying with the idea of what crime he would commit with his brother that night.

The internal battle continues on for the entire film, even within the last ten minutes of the movie. Much like the characters, the narrative, and the message, the internal battle feels forced and it becomes hard to care about whether Brian was going to get out of ‘70s Brooklyn or not.

Even though for the most part White Irish Drinkers is boring, blunt, and bland, there was one theme I drew from the film I thought was interesting.

The movie focuses on Brooklyn’s Irish community, but the story could have been applied to any immigrant community at the time. The Italian immigrants were dealing with the exact same issues as the Irish, and like the Irish community, many turned to organize crime to provide for their families.

Like Brian’s people, Italian’s were expected to graduate from high school and go find a job. Then a wife or a husband, and start having children. The idea of a better life was secondary to life itself, and the menial task of actually living it.

It was the most interesting aspect to the film, but was one that had to be drawn by the individual audience member. I grew up with a heavy emphasis on our European culture, and stories like struggling in New York, Boston, or Toronto were nightly tales. The fictional family Brian was apart of, and specifically the tedious issues they had to deal with when it came to employment, felt like I was back home with the entire family, listening to stories from grandparents, uncles, and aunts.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good part of White Irish Drinkers ends. It’s a film full of potential, but unlike Brian, never quite realizes it. It strives for greatness, but falls flat at every opportunity it’s given. The movie feels like Brian’s character at the beginning of the film; lost, confused, bored, and apathetic. Perhaps if White Irish Drinkers had a Todd to come along and hand it a pamphlet for a brighter future, the end result would be dramatically different. 

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American Hustle review: A masquerade for the American dream

While the actual con in American Hustle wasn’t the greatest or the most twisted heist in the history of cinema, David O. Russell and Eric Singer managed to create such emotional and dynamic characters, it was impossible to not root for heisters the entire time.

Set in 1970’s New York and New Jersey, Irvin (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) are a young couple making their way through the bustling New York scene. Irvin owns five or so Laundromats, deals counterfeit art to wealthy faux art enthusiasts, and in his spare time, runs an illegitimate business promising loans to those who can’t get approved for a one time $5,000 fee.

Sydney, a wanderlust filled woman full of ambition and charm, leaves her home in Albuquerque, and winds up as a clerical worker for Cosmo.

At one fateful pool party hosted by a mutual friend, Sydney and Irvin meet, and thus begins their spiralling, out of control romance.

But as Russell and Singer explain before their affair even begins, there wasn’t any possible way the two could have co-existed together without a foundation of lies being there to support them. Their whole existence in the fast pacing, upper class New York society they’re both so hell bent on entering is a con.

Both Irvin and Sydney come from less than elite pasts, and both attained the privileges and current standing they held through lying their way to the top. The act never drops for the two until they finally expose their real selves to each other. Just like their masks, their personal cons slip away and they revel in the fact that they can be open and honest with each other. They begin a life as criminal partners, moving from one great scheme to the next.

Generally, the criminals aren’t the one audiences root for, although that’s begun to change over the past couple of decades. They’re painted as the lowest common denominator of society, the scum of the earth.

Through a combination of writing and the incredible acting from Bale and Adams, these two antagonists become the protagonists of the film. Bale masterfully wears his mask, only dropping it in scenes of passion with Adams or in a state of fury with his on-screen wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). In a way, his role is reminiscent of his earlier Patrick Bateman, the sociopathic serial killer turned banker in Mary Harron’s 2000 film American Psycho.

And yet, while Adams and Bale are undoubtedly excellent in their roles, the true star of the movie is Bradley Cooper who plays the ambitiously dirty FBI agent Richard DiMaso.

DiMaso is an enigmatic force on screen, demanding attention at all times. Enlisting the help of Irvin and Sydney to help bring down the white-collar criminals roaming, aggressively ruling the streets of New York and New Jersey, DiMaso’s spiralled downfall is the most fascinating part of the entire film.

In a way, DiMaso has conned himself into thinking that he’s a pretty decent man, a real stand up guy. As he embeds himself into the investigation, however, the true nature of his character comes out. He doesn’t necessarily care about maintaining justice; he wants to become the new face of the FBI. His ambition to become the number one federal agent in the country lands him in the hands of the very criminals he’s vowed to put away.

But DiMaso can’t help but fall in love with the electrifying, if not enormously enticing illegal underground. Back room deals and hushed tones puts a smile on his face, while he surreptitiously snorts cocaine in the back rooms of local clubs. In his mind, through the conned thoughts he keeps deluding himself with, he whole-heartedly believes that he’s doing it for the greater good, for the good of his country, not for his egotistical desires.

It’s the directness of the film’s title in correlation to the narrative that drives the point home. Hustle hard enough, taking whatever routes you have to, and all that the illusive American dream promises can be within your grasp. Through deceit, through violence, and through good old American determination, the players in this staged production learn just how consequential all that hustling can be.

There are moments, though, where the film does fall flat. The incorporation of Jennifer Lawrence’s character as Irvin’s neurotic wife is glorious, but at times, her side story feels forced. There are times when it feels like Lawrence was plucked from the sidelines and thrown into a scene simply to remind the audience that she had a role in the film. The times she was in the movie, she was stunning. Lawrence has proved that she’s a versatile actress, and her chemistry with Russell is obvious after both this film and Silver Linings Playbook. But her personal story arc felt weak, sparse, and even unneeded at times.

And although minor, the cinematography feels experimental. Quick dashes of the camera between characters and rapid, concentrated close-ups occurred sporadically. In certain scenes, it felt sequential and flowed naturally with Russell’s direction, but often times, it felt gimmicky, something to remind audiences that it was supposed to feel like a ‘70s heist movie. It borders barely noticeable, but there’s a tinge of that experimental feeling that lingers once the shots have been used.

Ultimately, the negatives don’t deter from the positives. American Hustle is an almost immaculate story of fraudulent behavior, both literally and metaphorically. It’s a story of remarkable people and their ambition to rise to the top of society, to stand alongside the people they once envied, and vowed to become, as children. But like rappers have expressed and warned for years, hustling may take you to the top of the game, but don’t expect to ride scotch free. Like Sydney and Irvin learned, hustling for the American dream is all fine and dandy, so long as you don’t mind living with the person you’ve become, embracing the target on your back, and staring into the mirror each day to see the reflection of who, if not what, you’ve become. 

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Her review: A glance into the window of our modern relationship with each other

Her may take place in the not so distant future, but the dystopia hiding inside a utopian world that Joaquin Phoenix breathes feels like the world we live in now.

At its core, Her is a love story between a man and a woman who will never actually meet. Beneath the core, mixed in with the molten lave and constantly forming rock that moulds the earth, the story of an individual who has become a byproduct of the alienating digital world.

After an unsuccessful marriage, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) has isolated himself from his friends. Submerging himself in a world of video games and only engaging in conversation with his operating system, the once exuberant man shrinks into a smaller version of himself.

That all changes when Theo decides to purchase the newest operating system (OS) on the market, one designed to evolve as the system begins to learn more about him.

Thus begins the tumultuous, terrifying, and transcendent relationship between Theo and his operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Her’s brilliance isn’t about showcasing what the future of relationships can, and probably will be, but acknowledging the rapidly changing landscape of what a relationship is.

There are moments throughout the entire film where Joaquin Phoenix is struggling with the idea of dating a voice, a bodiless entity that brings him joy no other woman can. He’s confused as to if their sex life is real, if the relationship is real when the physicality of it all is so obviously not.

The confusion over the entire scenario captures this exact moment in time when relationships are forming with people who have never met before, who may not meet for quite some time.

Samantha was an operating system, but she could have been a follower on Twitter, a bodiless entity with whom Theo shared all of his thoughts.

We’ve developed a more reclusive lifestyle for the most part, but we haven’t squashed our primal desire to connect with people. It’s become easier to meet people, to meet someone we can fantasize about since we don’t actually see them, can’t actually feel them, thanks to the programming of others.

There’s a moment when Theo is talking to a colleague about Samantha, and almost reluctantly admits that Samantha is an operating system. His coworker doesn’t even blink an eye at the admission, just rephrases the conversation they were having previously.

It was one of the many moments within the film that captured the tone and essence of the current day, even if it was supposed to “futuristic.”

The stigma we try to evade when it comes to online dating, or giving the title of best friend to someone you’ve talked to for over a year but have never actually met, have never actually heard speak, is profoundly communicated.

It’s become the norm, of course. One in five couples met online last year. But there’s still a part of us that yearns for the “normality” of dating, the archaic notion of sitting at a bar night after night until you meet your prince or queen subconsciously gnawing at the back of our minds.

During one intensive scene, Theo’s arguing with Samantha, and bluntly explains she can’t understand what he’s going through, the feelings that he’s experiencing, because she’s not a person. She’s not tangible and therefore is not capable of understanding.

As the film rolls on, and Theo learns that Samantha is the most human connection he’s felt since he separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), he erases the idea that their relationship isn’t substantial because it’s only one sided physically. It takes a friend’s divorce for Theo to understand that love goes deeper than living with a person, it’s deeper than physical existence. Love is existing in thought and harmony with someone who understands, supports, and connects with you, no matter how, or even if, they appear.

It’s the unspoken definition of our lives today. We can not define the relationships we build with people over social media forums or on faceless websites because we don’t know what they are. But to argue that the relationships are not real because they are not palpable is to deny the existence of a person, even if they are not a part of our fleshly reality.

Her is a love story at its core, but it’s not a love story between a man and a woman. It’s a love story between people, and a desire to be understood, accepted, and beyond all else, loved indefinitely.

At the end of the movie, Theo is standing on the rooftop with his best friend Amy (Amy Adams), staring at the Neo-Los Angeles skyline, breathing in the air around him and just existing. After spending all of his time with technology, attached to his futuristic cellphone, his main lifeline to Samantha, the scene brings a much needed emotional release to the film.

He may have fallen in love with an operating system, but he was a human, and nothing was going to change that. He had friendships that were tangible, relationships that were definite.

Eerily reminiscent of Lost in Translation, as Theo stares at the city before him, eyes full of wonderment and wanderlust, clarity dawns. Biological life isn’t infinite, and like the clothes we purchase to define ourselves, the postal code we carry to group ourselves, we are material beings, built of constantly eroding matter.

Her is a love story, but it’s not a love story between a man and a woman, or a man and his computer. It’s a love story between a man and life, the living, and the definite. 

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Leaves of Grass review: A story of self discovery through inebriation


Leaves of Grass is a story of self-realization, of acceptance, and of grassroots all set against the facade of an a-typical stoner comedy.

Edward Norton steals the show throughout the entire film. It’s partly due to his charismatic presence on screen and his dedication to the characters he’s playing, but it’s also because, simply put, Norton plays both main characters.

In a true acting feat, Edward Norton takes on the rolls of Bill and Brady Kincaid, twin brothers from a small town in Oklahoma. While Bill despises his humble upbringing and the “hick” friends he left behind, Brady relishes in it.

Bill has moved out of the dead end, small town to become a professor of philosophy at Brown, taking up residence in Providence. Bill’s suave, intellectual, and beams with pride at his current status in society, shunning any version of his previous self.

Not that those around him are willing to let him forget. In one scene towards the beginning of the film, Bill’s having lunch with the Dean of Harvard’s prestigious law school, whereupon he’s offered the position of a lifetime; the chance to start up his own philosophy department at the Ivy League school.

While chewing on the idea, one of the Harvard professors who has accompanied the dean, played by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, remarks how impressed he is that Bill has made it as far as he has considering his background, scoffing at the idea of anyone who had grown up out side the realm of America’s elite could be successful.

From Bill’s noticeable cringe on screen, it’s obvious it’s a touchy, probably reoccurring subject for the professor.

This is where the film really starts to find itself, and the message it’s trying to get across. The constant struggle to reinvent one’s self when they’re past is held up in question.

At the beginning, it’s easy to see why Bill would want to eradicate himself from the quote unquote embarrassing family he’s from.

His brother, Brady, is the top marijuana grower and dealer in the county. Laced with an intensive criminal record and a medley group of misfit friends, he’s the complete opposite of the character Bill has built for himself.

But as we spend more time with the mischievous, almost dangerously immature Brady, it’s hard to not fall in love with his goofy quirks. Sure, he’s a drug dealer, but what movie pot dealer hasn’t been loveable?

And unlike his brother Bill (or Billy as he lovingly calls him), he’s an authentic person, not a fictional character that he’s had to create. From his southern accent to his pregnant girlfriend he used to babysit, he’s got the stereotypical “hick” down to a tee.

But he’s also a strong family man and interested in protecting his own. He believes in his country and believes in working hard to earn a dollar. Unlike Bill, he’s proud of the small town he’s grown up in his entire life.

The yin-yang between the two starts when Bill arrives back home after learning that Brady had “been murdered, shot with a crossbow.” From the moment he steps off the plane and into the airport, his nose is slightly turned, sneering down at the people he was better then.

After learning Brady hadn’t died, but in fact had faked his death so Bill would fly out for one last drug dealing scheme, well, he struts around knowing he’s better than the trashiness he left behind, even if hidden through his anger lidded mask.

It all begins to change, though, as movies of this nature do, when his brother convinces him to smoke some of the homegrown weed he had perfected. Bill, higher than he’s ever been, settles in for a night with Brady, Brady’s outlaw friends, and a woman, Janet (played by Keri Russell), who he becomes intrigued by.

It’s the first time Bill let’s his mask slip. The twinge of a southern accent peeks through, and for the first time in years, he’s the happiest and the most care-free he’s ever been.

At times, Leaves of Grass feels like a coming of age story about a man in his mid-thirties. Through the trials that he encounters over the next two days with Brady, clarity begins to dawn that he’s not the better individual, the better character.

He’s a caricature of what he thought he wanted to be his entire life. He was a respected professor, but he was lonely, isolated from the real world.

It’s the first time he admits to himself that moving away from Oklahoma was the hardest thing he ever had to do, and it’s the first time he drops the façade, the first time he’s not this caricature from Providence, the first time he truly smiles.

He finally understands Brady isn’t just an extension of him. He envies Brady and the life that he’s built for himself. Brady’s about to have a baby with a woman he truly loves. He has a circle of friends that would literally die for him, just as he would they.

The fact that it’s a stoner comedy almost loses its entire purpose. The marijuana becomes a plot tool, but even then, it’s not integral.

The reason this narrative and this message works with a stoner comedy like this is the exact same reason it worked for Pineapple Express. Originally, the growers and the dealers are just that. They’re goofy sub criminals, not intellectuals who are going to sit down and debate Nietzsche and Freud. They just want to smoke a blunt and call it a day.

But marijuana provides the right bonding environment for self-discoveries to be made.  When one type of character meets the other, universal truths are acknowledged and facades are dropped in the most secure of areas. Inebriation allows insecurities to fade away, and for true thinking, both from the mind and the heart, to take place.

The fact that Bill is a professor of philosophy, “writing about what some guy thought about what another guy thought,” is the piece of irony the film needs to drive the message home. It’s only when Bill has let go of his walls, smoked some weed, and through conversation with his brother, begun to think for himself, that he discovers exactly who he was, not the caricature he’s created.

Leaves of Grass has its flaws. The pacing is off, and the comedy is far and few in between. The supporting cast isn’t needed, as Norton steals the show. The conversations he has with himself as the twins are what engages, not his relationship with the other people he meets.

But overall, Leaves of Grass belongs to a group of stoner comedies, like Pineapple Express, that allows conversation about inebriation and power of self-discovery to take place. It’s not Cheech and Chong, it’s Brady and Bill. It has its intelligent discoveries and prose, but it has it’s offbeat characters and sublime mishappenings.

Leaves of Grass isn’t perfect by a long shot, and that’s what makes it such an endearing treasure. 

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The Wolf of Wall Street review: Let's toast to the end of our morals 


Jordan Belfort said he based all that he wanted in his life on the fictional stylings of Gordon Gecko, the narcissistic, sociopathic stockbroker in Oliver Stone’s 1987 Wall Street.

In The Wolf of Wall Street, a caricature of Gordon Gecko is precisely what Scorsese presents. If it weren’t for the over excessive drug use, the spousal abuse, and ironically, his own sociopathic tendencies, the shot of Jordan Belfort’s life would be like looking into the window of heaven.

Except Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) did carry a ludicrous drug habit with him, he was abusive, and stark crazy. And unlike his fictional hero Gecko, Belfort’s ups and downs, extraordinary fortunes and tragic misfortunes, his were very much real.

Based on the real life story of the Stratton Oakmont founder and CEO, The Wolf of Wall Street takes the crimes of the wealthy, and instead of criminalizing the fraudsters and japesters, satirically glorifies their triumphs.

Belfort and his best friend cronies, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Brad (Jon Bernthal), and Nicky Koskoff (P.J. Byrne) commit outrageous acts, both legal and illegal, but at the heart of all their criminal drama lies the curiosity and desires of teenagers. 

By day to their neighbours, stock brokers at one of the biggest firms in New York, the true one per cent of Americans. By night, and at the office amidst the never ending chaos supplied through their line of work, they revert back to children, stuffing their faces with too much cocaine instead of ice cream, collection woman like a young child would collect comics or baseball cards.

While this is all happening, you find yourself hopelessly, almost involuntarily rooting for Belfort and his men because at some point you’ve felt like Belfort and his men.

It’s a story arc that Martin Scorsese has perfected over the years, turning untouchable men and women into the most conversational creatures, turning them into the average schmuck you feel like you can relate to on some level.

Which is precisely the genius in The Wolf of Wall Street. As Jordan Belfort is downing quaaludes and snorting copious amounts of cocaine, it feels like this is a ride you could have easily been on had you met your own Belfort. As Belfort is wrecking a plane full of prostitutes and his best friends, the adrenaline in your body starts to pump and the hair on your arms begin to raise because it feels like it could have been you.

But while that comforting feeling of acceptance is there, the entire ordeal seems to extraordinary for it to actually occur, and the safety blanket that we naturally reach out for is laid upon you. It’s okay to experience Belfort’s rise to the top because you’ll never have to face his fall from grace and his countless indictments once the movie is over.

Through beautiful cinematography and impeccable directing, when Belfort snorts a line, the film enters high intense situations and the chaos descends, as it would actually. When the Quaaludes are taken, everything feels like it’s spinning out of control because Scorsese and his team made it so.

The entire film feels like a true experience that you embark on. For three hours, you endeavor through the chaos of Belfort’s life, and although his sociopathic tendencies burst through the creaks of whatever reaming sanity he had left, the desire to root for him, to pardon him for his obvious crimes, never leaves. By the end of the movie, you're physically exhausted.

You question their lifestyle through the tiredness seeping through your bones. How can they continue on a day to day basis, when you couldn't keep up with their disastrous lows and skyrocketing highs for three hours?

That message, the incurable desire to reach the god like position these men and women had through their seven year time with Befort, is the most daunting epiphany once the lights come up and the trip has ended.

We’ve created a society where illegality’s are just a hurdle that must be overcome to acquire the yacht lifestyle we subconsciously, if not consciously, deeply yearn for. We’ve created a society where young men aspire to be Gordon Gecko, to become full fledged addicts on the road to wealth.

By the end of the film, Belfort and some of his friends haven’t necessarily fallen from grace; they’ve stumbled. But like animals in a jungle, the constant comparison made in the movie by Belfort, just because they stagger doesn’t mean they’ve fallen. Instead, they pick themselves up and start again, because in their minds, they’ve done nothing wrong.

They’ve committed a white-collar, victimless crime; no harm, no foul.

Gecko said greed is good, and Belfort’s story just proves that if you’re greedy enough, you can be better than good, you can be practically invincible. That's the true horror of the movie, and perhaps even scarier, is that Belfort, immortalized by Scorsese, will become a Gecko to future greed hunting, sociopathic adrenaline junkies of the future.