Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Film Review: Get on Up (2014)

The problem with most music biopics is that they try to condense the lives of complex, often troubled people into easily digestible narratives. Some great films have been made using that approach, but for the most part they result in some of the most formulaic stories imaginable. In telling the story of James Brown, Get on Up runs as far and fast away from that style as it can. Much like Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose, director Tate Taylor cuts between all the different eras of Brown's life and career, seemingly at random, and tries to capture as many different facets of his persona as it possibly can. And, much like Dahan's film, Taylor's relies on a singular, galvanizing central performance to keep the whole thing from completely falling apart.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shot/Reverse Shot: Interstellar

Christopher Nolan's Interstellar has been one of the most divisive mainstream films of recent memory (probably since The Dark Knight Rises, appropriately enough) and that has proven to be the case within  the Shot/Reverse Shot offices. I didn't particularly care for the film, though I did admire it, while Joe thought it was pretty decent. Using that divergence of opinion as a jumping off point, Joe and I talk about Nolan's work in general, his strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker, and how even Interstellar's failings demonstrate how Nolan has been able to reach the upper echelons of Hollywood filmmaking.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Film Review: The Babadook (2014)

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a nurse trying her best to juggle work and raising her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Their relationship has always been strained, largely because Amelia's husband died while driving her to the hospital so that Samuel could be born, but also because Samuel has a number of behavioural problems which repeatedly get him in trouble at school. One day, Samuel brings Amelia a book for her to read to him. It's a book she has never seen before, and it contains a nursery rhyme about a creature called The Babadook, who takes the form of an impossibly tall man in a black coat, top hat, and who comes complete with distressingly long fingernails. As they read, the story becomes more and more violent, ultimately ending with the monster menacing a young boy who looks suspiciously similar to Samuel. Thus begins the first of many sleepless nights for Amelia, as her house and its occupants are menaced by a being they can't see, who communicates solely through saying its own name in a raspy, bloodcurdling moan.

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

This does not last long.
If you want to know what kind of movie John Wick is, the following description should give you a good idea. Having been beaten up by Iosef (Alfie Allen, muscling in on Tom Felton's monopoly on playing reprehensible twerps), the snotty son of Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), a Russian gangster, and having watched as Iosef and his men stole his '69 Mustang and killed his dog - a beyond adorable beagle puppy that happened to be a gift from his dead wife - the titular former hit man and assassin (Keanu Reeves) decides to get even. He leaves his New Jersey home - but not before dispatching a dozen of Nyqvist's henchmen - and heads to New York where he checks into a hotel. Not just any hotel, though: The Continental Hotel, a hotel that caters solely to the city's society of trained killers, all of whom obey a strict code of honour put in place by its owner (Ian McShane) and enforced by his concierge (Lance Reddick). It's like the Cheers bar, except everybody knows your name because you might represent a potentially huge payday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Film Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a scumbag in search of a calling. He spends his days educating himself via the Internet and his nights stealing copper wire. After a semi-successful evening - he sells his haul but is rebuffed when he applies for a job with the very people he just sold clearly stolen goods to - he spots a flaming car by the side of the road and stops to look. He sees some cameramen filming the aftermath, and learns that they sell the footage to local news stations. Inspired, he buys a camera and a police scanner (funded by stealing a high performance mountain bike) and starts his own freelance business filming crime scenes in order to sell the footage to an L.A. station run by Nina Romina (Rene Russo). Unsurprisingly given his other work, Lou goes to extreme lengths in order to get the best footage possible.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Shot/Reverse Shot: Days of Fear and Wonder

The BFI are currently running a series called "Days of Fear and Wonder" which celebrates some of the greatest works of science fiction cinema. In that spirit, this episode of Shot/Reverse Shot is dedicated to the genre. Joe and I discuss why science fiction is afforded more respect from critics than other popular genres, talk about the ways in which the genre allows filmmakers with big ideas but no money to make an impact, and offer our thoughts on some of our favourite science fiction films. To top it all off, we've swapped out our usual end credits music for a more apropos ditty.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Film Review: Whiplash (2014)

At the heart of Damien Chazelle's Whiplash is a deceptively simple question: What does it take to be great? Not very good, not better than most, but truly great. That question is explored through the story of Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a 19-year-old drummer who has enrolled at the prestigious Schaffer Conservatory. Andrew believes that he has it in him to become one of the greatest jazz drummers who has ever lived, and that the best way to achieve that is by landing a place on the Schaffer Studio band, under the guidance of its conductor, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Once he makes it into the band as an alternate, Andrew discovers that Fletcher is not like other teachers; he employs verbal and physical abuse, mind games and a fascistic approach to discipline to get the most out of his musicians. Faced with such hostility, Andrew tries to rise to the occasion, even if it leaves him exhausted with blood pouring from his hands.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Film Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

While some might point to Christopher Nolan's Interstellar as this year's Gravity, largely due to their shared genre and similar release date, that title truly belongs to Alejandro González Iñárritu's odd dark comedy Birdman. Or, to give it its full, grammatically baffling title, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). There are some personal connections between the two films - Iñárritu and Gravity's director, Alfonso Cuarón, are longtime friends, while the films share a cinematographer in Emmanuel Lubezki. The more substantial connection lies in a shared formal daring, and a willingness to approach relatively straightforward stories in ways which are stylistically adventurous. It's easy to imagine the films as a game of oneupmanship between two friends at the height of their respective powers.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Doctor Who - Death in Heaven (S08E12)

Last time, I wrote about how the problem with a lot of Doctor Who two-parters is that the first halves tend to be much better than the second halves. It's not hard to see why: the first episode has the advantage of getting to escalate a crisis for The Doctor without the burden of having to resolve anything, while the second has to deal with the immediate fallout of its predecessor before leaping into its own story. In drama, raising questions is fun and easy, but providing satisfactory answers is frustrating and difficult.

Shot/Reverse Shot - The Alternate 100: Part 8

After a brief break, Joe and I return to the Alternate 100 with part 8. In this one, we try to make "fetch" happen, talk about Vietnam a surprisingly large amount, and discuss how a 35-minute horror film that barely got made fits into the Independent Film Boom of the 1990s.