Films viewed in 2011

Posts Tagged ‘writer/director’

494. 8 1/2

In Foreign Language on August 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Dir. Frederico Fellini

A harried movie director retreats into his memories and fantasies.


Tricky business this film reviewing 50 years after the fact. Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) is still widely regarded as a cinematic masterpiece after creating a small firestorm on its release, winning two Oscars along the way. The visuals remain striking and bizarre, and the overall atmosphere manages to capture the chaos of an artistic mind desperately grasping for both creative and sexual releases. But I couldn’t help feeling like more context was required for piecing together this poetic puzzle. The title may refer to the number of times you need to see it before the whole thing really clicks.


491. Before Night Falls

In Drama on April 18, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Dir. Julian Scnabel

Episodic look at the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), from his childhood in Oriente province to his death in New York City.


Following up from his impressive debut feature film Basquiat, writer and director (and celebrated painter) Julian Schnabel created another splendid achievement with Before Night Falls. The struggles of a Cuban writer in the 1960s, in a breakout performance by Javier Bardem, combines an impressive balance of hand-held grit and smooth artistic flourishes in the camera movements. The story is equally moving, providing a perfect portrait of a martyr to a cultural revolution. The film’s content earns it a special place in Queer Cinema, and one of Johnny Depp’s dual roles (the cross-dressing Bon Bon) risks making the straightest of men question where they stand.


486. State and Main

In Comedy on February 17, 2012 at 4:45 PM

Dir. David Mamet

A movie crew invades a small town whose residents are all too ready to give up their values for showbiz glitz.


At the intersection of American ideals, a small town gets swallowed up by Hollywood big shots in David Mamet’s State and Main. A colourful cast of (mostly white) characters portray film crew personalities the actors themselves are probably all too familiar with. Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin are the “big three” of writer/director/actor (respectively) each with varying degrees of depression, delusions and debauchery (again, respectively). The on-set machinations aren’t as rewarding as the actual relationships, which take a while to build, but eventually provide comfort and pleasure beyond stereotypical familiarity and industry in-jokes. The humour is also headier than just a succession of gags, which means the comedy usually evokes more smirks than laughs.

482. Drugstore Cowboy

In Drama on February 14, 2012 at 12:09 PM

Dir. Gus Van Sant

A realistic road movie about a drug addict, his ‘family’, and their inevitable decline into crime.


Gus Van Sant’s independent film hit Drugstore Cowboy is like the sober response to low-budget wannabe crime movies playing to a genre. Honest and immersed in the world of petty thieves and hard-core junkies, the script keeps the dramatic stakes heavy, but also infuses the right mix of comedy and dispassion to limit heavy-handed storytelling. Matt Dillon charismatically leads the gang of losers, while Heather Graham makes her first feature film role count as a beautiful and naïve fated friend of the fiends. Kelly Lynch, on the other hand, lets a potentially star making role slip through her fingers and doesn’t leave the impression her character is supposed to. Some films are, in fact, too good for a cowgirl.

480. This is England

In Drama on February 10, 2012 at 11:57 AM

Dir. Shane Meadows

A troubled young boy is adopted into a group skinheads who become like his new family.


Young Thomas Turgoose has a face that will instantly break your heart. Shane Meadows uses those features brilliantly in his stirring, powerful and determined feature that’s about so much more than just a boy losing his father. This is England uses a seemingly straightforward coming-of-age formula to explore a British culture struggling to accept its loss of leadership in the world. Ambiguously painted secondary characters help us see the story in much more than black and white terms, while Stephen Graham provides equal measures of comfort and menace to carry us down his dark path. Gritty and uncomfortable, the film hits all the right notes to keep us invested right up until the end.

478. The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom

In Canadian on February 9, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Dir. Tara Johns

An eleven-year-old girl finds out she was adopted and she runs away to find the truth.


If you’re going to fantasize about who your real birth mother is, I suppose Dolly Parton is as good as anyone. Tara John’s coming-of-age story is a sweet childish daydream that has a good heart, but the dramatic stakes are about the equivalent of a kid running away to the end of the block. Beautifully art directed to recreate a small town feel from the 1970s, the film does benefit from an authentic atmosphere even when the child performances sometimes feel stiff. The story is rescued by a satisfying third act that uses a smart tactic of including the real Dolly Parton without having her play an on-screen version of herself that’s supposed to be 40 years younger. Even with the help of special effects, her ungodly amounts of plastic surgery could never be that convincing.


477. Doubt

In Drama on February 7, 2012 at 3:38 PM

Dir. John Patrick Shanley

A popular priest’s ambiguous relationship with a troubled 12 year old black student is questioned by the school’s principal.


Forgive me, John Patrick Shanley, but I was skeptical that a playwright adapting his own material for the screen as both writer and director would do much to elevate the material. I was wrong. Doubt is certainly not an indulgence of style, but it also never feels restricted by the limitations of its confined Catholic school setting. Casting Philip Seymour Hoffman as yet another (alleged) creep felt almost lazy, but he nuances his performance with a fierce pride and progressive liberalism that forces us to rethink our prejudices. Meryl Streep is equally infuriating as we alternate between admiring and abhorring her rigid good intentions. Amy Adams rounds out the triumphant acting triumvirate with a malleable naïveté only her doe eyes could make believable.

476. Trigger

In Canadian on February 7, 2012 at 2:57 PM

Dir. Bruce MacDonald

Trigger is the story of two rock n’ roll women who once shared a friendship, a band and a whole lot of chaos


In a rare example of a non-comic-book-based side-quel, Tigger gives us a parallel (but certainly not equal) tale of rock n’ role that exists in the same world as Bruce MacDonald’s own Hard Core Logo. Lacking all the ferocity, grit or testosterone that made the original so beloved, Molly Parker and Tracey Wright reminisce about days gone by and talk themselves in circles with a chorus of bemoaning. Instead of a rock ‘n roll road trip, we get a stranger’s stroll down memory lane populated by only glimpses of familiar faces.  Lazy cinematography and uninspired dialogue are also to blame, reducing the scope and impact of the film, which were most likely hindered by the ailing health of the late Tracy Wright. Perhaps I was just mislead by the liner notes, but the film would have been better off piggy-backing into the world of Boys (and Rock) on the Side.

474. Kissed

In Canadian on February 3, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Dir. Lynne Stopkewich

Over the years, a child’s romantic ideals about death blossom into the most profound relationship of her life.


When you think about films that could only be made by a woman, I’m guessing Kissed isn’t what immediately comes to mind. But this artsy romp into necrophilia is handled with a delicate touch that would surely be beyond the reach of most male directors. Molly Parker plays the naïve nympho in question, possessing just the right balance of beauty and wide-eyed wonder to sell us on a deviant debutante. Peter Outerbridge can’t keep up to her fantasies, and brings the film to a logical if not shocking ending. One more example of why Canadian cinema has built the infamous reputation of weird sex and snowshoes.

473. Choke

In Comedy on February 3, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Dir. Clark Gregg

A sex-addicted con-man pays for his mother’s hospital bills by playing on the sympathies of those who rescue him from choking to death.


Sam Rockwell has a ball during every step of his sex rehab in Clark Gregg’s Choke. Adapted from Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, the film has fun with its subject matter and takes glee going over the deep end into holy water and taboos. Perversion might be at the heart of the story, but there’s a lightness to the narrative and brightness to the dirction that never allow things to get too seedy. Angelica Houston brings the film some necessary heart and drama, while Kelly Macdonald handles her turns as the love interest with a sly grace. I’d love to see more of best friend, played by Brad William Henke, but at least got to see more than I could have hoped for from Community’s Gillian Jacobs.