Drama

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It has been two weeks since I watched Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, the eventual winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF, and it remains in my mind the best film I saw during the festival. The power, emotion and harrowing beauty of the film is quite remarkable, and it has left a lingering impression that has not dissipated since it’s Canadian premiere. You have likely read a lot of hyperbole and praise for the film by now, and not think much of it. But believe me, it deserves all of the hype and more.

I knew very little about Room going in, and feel it is the best way to see the film. But suffice to say, the film follows the lives of Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (an absolutely incredible Jacob Tremblay). They live their lives in a confined room, hoping to break free. The circumstances of their captivity are disturbing, but no more so than Jack not knowing about anything outside of the titular Room.

Room is an emotional gut punch from beginning to end. It stuns in its simplicity, and never overly complicates itself explaining everything we do not see. Abrahamson navigates the abrupt tonal shifts very well, moving with ease from the likes of psychological drama to a breathless thriller. Even better, it is narrated and follows the point of view of Jack, making for many moving and deeply emotional scenes. But Room never feels like it is pandering to the audience — it earns every single feeling you have watching it.

As suggested, the young Tremblay is astounding as Jacob. He brings a genuine feeling to each moment in the film, whether his character understands what is happening or not. Watching and experiencing the film through his eyes is simply mesmerizing, and almost shifts your perception of what Room is actually about. He is the heart and soul of the film, and I fear for what it would have looked like had Jack been played by someone else. And Larson truly breaks out here as his Ma, giving one of the most brilliant performances of the year. Where Tremblay brings absolute joy to the film, Larson brings a harrowing darkness and deeply disturbing psychological neurosis. Her character is damaged, and watching her cope with everything that happens is a master class all on it’s own. She commands every moment, and you simply cannot look away from her when she is on-screen.

Room may be hard for some to watch, but it is a genuinely powerful film that is simply unmissable. It has a simply story, but packs incredible Oscar-worthy performances from its two young leads. This is a bonafide Oscar contender in every sense of the word, and I cannot wait to see it again. When it hits theatres near you, trust me when I say do not wait to see it — rush out and see it as fast as you possibly can.

Spotlight opens in a police station in the late 1970’s, before cutting to the more modern 2001. It is supposed to be an early set-up and introduction to this true life tale of a group of journalists uncovering corruption within the Catholic church in Boston (and later and more horrifically, worldwide), but it also suggests nostalgia for the era a film like this would have thrived. They just do not make slow-moving procedurals like this anymore, with no gloss, no flair and a mantra of “just the facts mam”.

But much like it’s grandfather All the President’s Men, Spotlight is a riveting piece of cinema that feels authentic and real. There are no superheroes saving the day, just honest, hardworking journalists who stopped at nothing to deliver a story they knew people needed to know about. It may feel slow and long-winded in certain instances, but no frame or detail goes wasted. In fact, the film seems so driven on chronicling the story that it barely mentions 9/11, using it only to establish the film’s timeline. That is certainly not something we have come to expect from American cinema, but director Tom McCarthy has never been one to follow typical conventions. While he may have struck out with last year’s Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler, he has always strived to be unique and atypical with his previous films like Win WinThe Visitor and The Station Agent. With Spotlight, he continues that trend and will become a director to truly look out for now.

Acting wise, everyone is at the top of their game here, from Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, all the way down to scene-stealers like Stanley Tucci and relative unknown Brian d’Arcy James. There are no stand outs because everyone seems to be on the same footing, all working together much like the team in real life, to deliver a truly moving and captivating film. As a student of journalism, I could barely look away from what was happening on-screen; I was just fascinated from beginning to end. The story at the heart of Spotlight may be despicable, but seeing how the team broke the news to the world is a more than worthwhile investment.

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Nearly two weeks later, and I am still not quite sure what to make of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. It was a curiosity when I first picked it in my TIFF package, and remained that way well after it premiered at Telluride and Venice. I have always admired his work, and he was one of my favourite screenwriters for a very long time. But he has been entirely absent from the big screen since 2008’s Synecdoche, New York — a film that is easy to admire but hard to sit through — and his only credit since is for an unaired FX pilot starring Michael Cera.

But you would never think any of that based on how wonderful a film Anomalisa is. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a motivational speaker on a trip to Cincinnati. Michael has no real drive, and nobody stands out to him — everyone just sounds and looks the same. He meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and is immediately quite taken with her.

Revealing anymore about this unconventional romance would be a disservice to Kaufman, his co-director Duke Johnson and their extremely talented production team. The description may not have hinted at it, but Anomalisa is filmed entirely in stop motion, with puppets, and only has three credited voice actors starring in it (the other is character actor Tom Noonan, who does his very best to make every character sound just as mundane and ordinary as the next). But I cannot even begin to imagine this as a live action film. It just has too much imagination and wonder compacted within its 90-minute running time. While the look of the film is truly wonderful, the details of each puppet are even more spectacular. The emotions they display are nothing short of astonishing, and truly compliment the impeccable voice work.

Kaufman’s screenplays have by and large been about people on the fringes of life, wrestling with internal conflicts and how mundane life can become. And Anomalisa is no different. It says so much, by saying very little. I enjoyed it by and large, but there is something about it that is compelling me to revisit it as soon as I possibly can. And with Paramount buying and releasing the film by year’s end, it will not be nearly that long a wait.

Anomalisa does not quite measure up to the brilliance of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it is yet another eclectic and unique treasure that only a man like Charlie Kaufman can deliver.

Another Blu-ray/DVD release #ShortCuts review for you this week — this time for Cameron Crowe’s Aloha. Pretty proud of how quickly I wrote this one up. It came out a lot longer than I thought it would. But trust me, be glad I saw it and you didn’t.

 

alohaposterRemember when I was complaining about how awful Hot Pursuit was a few weeks back? Well, I had the privilege of watching Aloha a short time later – and I think I may have found the worst movie of the year. Even that retched excuse called The Wedding Ringer was better than whatever the hell this is. Is it a comedy? Is it a romance? Is it a drama? Is it some hybrid mix of the three with thinly veiled allusions and commentaries on…everything? I could not tell you for the life of me, and I doubt writer/director Cameron Crowe could either.

Now it may sound like I am just jumping on the bandwagon and bashing this movie like everyone else did when it was released in May. But I am a huge Crowe fan – Almost Famous is legitimately one of my top five favourite films of all time. I love Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything…, Vanilla Sky and Jerry Maguire, and I did not hate Elizabethtown or We Bought A Zoo (Singles is sitting in a pile of movies waiting to be watched). But Aloha is easily the worst film he has ever done. It just lacks any form of cohesive story, the performances are all wasted, and it just comes off like a total disaster. I can readily admit I was not fully paying attention at all times, but it felt like the film had new ideas being introduced every 15 minutes, and then fully resolved without much conflict quickly afterwards.

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Southpaw – Review

By David Baldwin

If you have had the misfortune of seeing the trailer for this week’s Southpaw, you may be disappointed when you watch the movie. It is common place for a film trailer to give away the best parts of the movie. That is nothing new. But Southpaw‘s trailer gives away all but the entirety of the film. A little disheartening but even with that in mind, the film may still rank as one of the best this summer has given us.

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unstoppable force as a boxer. He has a storied past as an orphan and a criminal, but he turned it all around with the help of his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). He is at the top of his game when tragedy strikes, losing Billy everything including the custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). With nothing to lose, he turns to veteran boxing trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) to help him turn it all around.

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