Saturday, December 31, 2011


Written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilley and Ezra Miller

Dr. Foulkes: He’s a floppy little boy, isn’t he? But there’s nothing wrong with him.

I know we’re supposed to talk about him but I have a very hard time talking about WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. (I meant to write this review three weeks ago and just couldn’t do it until now.) From the moment it opens, with a jubilant Tilda Swinton, dousing herself, the people around her and the entire screen in deep red tomatoes and their juice at the Tomatina festival, in Bunol, Spain, I was consumed by the film. The imagery and the intention were so vibrant and alive, it was almost intoxicating. And then it gets drab and ugly and we are thrown into a world where every trace of Swinton’s former life is absent. All that remains is a run down shack on what is clearly the wrong side of town. The red is still there but now its the painted curse words on the front of her home. How did her life go from one extreme to the other? She had Kevin.

Swinton is mind blowing in Lynne Ramsay’s brilliant adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s popular novel. She plays Eva Katchadourian. Once upon a time she was a successful travel agent who would travel to the most exotic of locations with her happy husband, Franklin (John C. Reilley). Like most people, her life changed when she had a baby. Before long, she and her family were leaving New York City for a quiet place in the suburbs, as they do. Eva struggled though to find happiness in her new life. She never seemed to connect with her son, Kevin (played primarily as an adult on screen by the disturbingly lanky, Ezra Miller), and began to fear there was something wrong with him. It doesn’t take too long though before she starts to suspect that Kevin is just being spiteful and directing some fairly disturbing anger solely at her. It gets so callous she can hardly seem to get the words out at some point. She loves him but she also hates him simultaneously. It’s as if she knows she is obligated to love him but cannot for the life of her figure out how to accomplish this. And for as much direct suggestion the title provides, no one ever seems to talk too much about Kevin, when clearly they should.

Ramsay slowly reveals to us in flashback how Eva fell from grace and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN becomes a modern telling of a familiar horror story. Personally, I find it quite refreshing to see a film about an evil child that isn’t possessed by some spirit or satanic force. Kevin has done something truly horrible but we don’t know what that is, just what it did to Eva’s life and that she never abandoned him despite any of it. The back and forth in time and space, which I loved being lost in, makes it near impossible to situate yourself directly in the narrative for too long at any one time, likely very similar to the blur of Eva’s fractured mind. To piece the puzzle together means having to ask whether or not Kevin’s troubles came from his mother or perhaps whether Kevin is just plain evil. It’s nature vs. nurture but it forces us to acknowledge that if we side with nature, we must not only admit that some apples really are just bad but also remember the trees they fell not too far from.

PS. If you or anyone you know is thinking about having children, you might seriously consider seeing this first (or not).

Friday, December 30, 2011


Written and Directed by Dee Rees
Starring Adepero Aduye, Pernell Walker and Kim Wayans

Alike: I am not running. I am choosing.

Simply put, PARIAH is a very special film. By the very nature of its independent roots, it is itself an outsider. This small film will surely struggle to be heard and find its place amongst the marketplace. On these levels, the film, a feature version of the award-winning short of the same name, is something of a pariah itself, hoping for acceptance. While the impulse is usually to run from that which could be labelled as other, the opposite needs to happen here. Embrace PARIAH. It deserves all the love it can get.

In one of the film’s opening scenes, Alike (Adepero Aduye), a high-school student with a spectacular vernacular for poetry, takes the bus home from a night out at a local lesbian bar in Brooklyn, New York. She says goodnight to her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), who gets off a few stops before her, and proceeds to change out of her club wear on the bus. While it wouldn’t ordinarily be so strange for a teenager to hide the evidence of her likely unauthorized night out drinking, Alike is not covering her self up, as you might expect. No, Alike was already dressed pretty down to begin with, from her baggy jeans to her even baggier, plain white T-shirt, to her backwards ball cap. Alike isn’t worried her parents will know she was out. No, she’s afraid they will find out just where it was she went out.

Alike, as executed brilliantly with great sensitivity and strength by Aduye, who incidentally also played Alike in the short, is not only trying to fully realize her identity, but she is also desperately searching for the strength to inhabit her own skin. While she finds solace in words on the page, the angry words that are flung around the room regularly at home are making it impossible for Alike to grow. Her style of dress, which her mother (a frighteningly cold, Kim Wayans) vehemently denounces, is a constant topic of conversation. It is somehow easier to address how no daughter of hers will dress like a boy rather than talk about the very real possibility of her daughter’s lesbianism. The passion exchanged between both of these fine actresses is both intense and gut-wrenching.

PARIAH is a visceral experience unlike most in modern filmmaking. Writer/Director Dee Rees provides her audience with a truly honest perspective, unclouded by all bias and without any request for sympathy. Although somewhat crude at times, it has a timely quality that only further invites the viewer into the complicated streets of this particular Brooklyn borough. Rees keeps the action very present and reinforces the need for Alike to break out of the world that is now rapidly crashing down upon her. Carving out an identity for yourself is hard enough as it is but it can be exponentially harder when the direction you find yourself heading in is the one no one wants you to go in. PARIAH embodies this struggle perfectly and rightly beams with a beautiful sense of pride.


Written by Glenn Close and John Banville
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Starring Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer and Aaron Johnson

Dr. Hollaran: We are both disguised as ourselves.

Glenn Close first played the titular role of ALBERT NOBBS on stage nearly thirty years ago. She defined the role for the stage and has been trying to get the play, based on a short story, made into a film ever since. Her aspirations have finally been realized, resulting in what may be one of the finest turns this 5-time Oscar nominated actress has ever given. As Nobbs, she shines so brightly on screen by blending so perfectly into the background and going with as little notice as possible. And though her character is inherently humble, she is simply unforgettable.

At the turn of the 19th century, Albert Nobbs is going on thirty years or so as a servant in a popular British hotel. That’s three decades of knowing which guest prefers which flowers, when each guest takes their tea and keeping a rather significant secret. Albert is not the man he portends to be; Albert is actually a woman. Every day, she puts on her armour, including some rather constrictive binding to hide her chest, and faces the world in character. She fools everyone around her and has been doing such a good job at it for such a long time that she has very little idea of who the woman she used to be still is. Her finely woven web begins to unravel though when she meets another lady disguised as a man to get work (Janet McTeer, in an incredibly ballsy performance). Seeing her lead both a public and private life as a man shows her how her life of servitude has forced her to miss out on some of the finer things she never dreamed she could have.

ALBERT NOBBS deals with issues of identity and class with delicate care and all their due and it does so with a lighter than expected tone. The film, under the direction of Rodrigo Garcia (MOTHER AND CHILD), is unexpectedly amusing, deeply touching and an incredibly revealing character study. And despite the impressive efforts from the entire ensemble, including the young and talented Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson, this is Close’s picture. It may have taken ALBERT NOBBS thirty years to reach the screen but that just may have been the time it needed to become this good.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Written by Eric Roth
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Starring Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow and Tom Hanks

Making movies about the September 11 tragedies is unquestionably tricky. You don’t want to gloss over the facts and you definitely don’t want to exploit the pain but you also have to ensure that your movie is not so bleak and depressing that no one ends up seeing it. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, the latest film by Oscar nominee, Stephen Daldry (THE READER), does a pretty decent job of oscillating between the morose and the uplifting, without ever succumbing too much to either side, but it also never truly finds its voice as a result.

The story itself, adapted from the well regarded novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, is a poignant one. Young, precocious, Thomas Schell (played by Teen Jeopardy winner, Thomas Horn, in his first film), loses his father (Tom Hanks) in the September 11 attacks. Naturally, this causes his already rampant anxiety to expand greatly. He no longer takes trains, fears tall buildings and carries a tambourine around with him at all times to help ease his mounting tension. All of this makes his quest to find the lock for a key he found amongst his father’s belongings particularly difficult. Before his father passed away, he would orchestrate mysterious puzzles for his son to solve and Thomas sees this key as a way to keep his father alive just a little bit longer. Not surprisingly, he pushes away his mother (a touching Sandra Bullock) in the process and subsequently befriends a stranger (Max von Sydow, in an incredibly telling turn considering the character is mute) in an effort to replace his absent father figure. Across the board, the acting is quite understated and very respectful to the horror that inspired this story. The way the events unfold though is at times too whimsical to be fully believed.

What I found most moving about EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE was how perfectly it captured that newfound sense of danger, apprehension and confusion that didn’t exist in Western society before the World Trade Center towers collapsed. At nine years old, Thomas cannot make sense of what happened on that day. Heck, most adults couldn’t make sense of it. And so, without being able to understand how his father was taken from him when planes flew into buildings, he now fears most everything instead. The beauty in the final journey Thomas finds himself on, is that it not only brings him closer to his father, but it also brings him closer to healing without his even realizing it. Maybe Daldry will have the same effect on you.


Written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church

In 2006, a man by the name of Benjamin Mee bought a zoo alongside his mother and his brother. He had no experience with animals and, in fact, his offer to buy the zoo was originally rejected based on his inexperience. The zoo had been closed earlier that year and it was Mee’s plan to refurbish and reopen to the public as soon as possible. His wife, Katherine, died after he and his family had already moved to the zoo but he soldiered on with his two young children and eventually brought the zoo back up to code. Mee’s story is unorthodox and inspirational and thanks to famed film director, Cameron Crowe, it has now been sucked of all genuine heart and humanity and turned into a ridiculous and laughable “true story” film called WE BOUGHT A ZOO.

Buying a ticket to WE BOUGHT A ZOO is less about buying into what actually happened and more into a Hollywood idea of what should have happened in order for audiences to understand the inspiration in Mee’s journey. On screen, Mee is played by Matt Damon, who cannot seem to choose a decent project these days. For the purposes of the film, Mee’s wife is already dead when we meet him. In fact, it is her absence in his life that propels him to buy the zoo in the first place. He is looking to find meaning in his life again and boy does he need it. Crowe paints Mee’s life as one big giant cliche - from desperate single mothers bringing him lasagna six months after his wife’s passing to his brother (Thomas Haden Church) making broad suggestions that he just needs to get back out there. Even his eldest son is painting gothic imagery in school so you know that things are not good. Hence, the zoo.

Thank goodness for Damon. He elevates past the triteness of every scene to reveal true pain and difficulty in dealing with the loss of his wife and the scary, new direction of his life. Crowe frames him in close-up so often, it is impossible to miss any part of his emotional journey but despite Damon’s best efforts, he cannot save WE BOUGHT A ZOO from Crowe’s completely crazy approach to the rest of the film. Almost every character other than Damon’s is an exaggerated farce. (You cannot convince me for one second that supposed zookeeper, Scarlett Johansson, knows anything about wild animals.) Perhaps this is meant to show how bizarre the world seems in Damon’s state of grief but it really only comes off as disingenuous and distracting. Benjamin Mee is a real person who really bought a zoo but all Crowe seems to see is the movie, not the man, and he barely has a handle on that as it is.


Written by Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec
Directed by Brad Bird
Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg

After seeing the third installment in the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series, and after witnessing the self destruction of franchise star, Tom Cruise, over the last few years, I would have bet that the most impossible mission of all would be getting a fourth film made. And that is to say nothing of whether it would even be watchable. Yet here we are with a fourth film on our hands and it was created at the hands of a director famous for animated rats (RATATOUILLE) no less. Somehow though, not only does Brad Bird manage to reinvigorate a dying series in one grand sweep but he also succeeds in unleashing one of the most exciting blockbusters I’ve seen all year.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL is simply a non-stop blast of energy from start to finish. Drawing on his experience with the spy game (THE INCREDIBLES), Bird crafts a twisted trip for the viewer to get caught up in. His experience with the limitless genre of animation is directly applied to his intense and creative vision of the supposed real world. Of course, in real life, regular people don’t scale the biggest building in the world with their hands, but we can all agree this is pretty far away from real life. Audiences don’t want to watch Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team, - rounded out here by a hilariously endearing Simon Pegg, a stunning but not so intriguing Paula Patton and a solid, sexy Jeremy Renner - in reasonably tense scenarios. No, they want to see them in situations no one alive could ever get through but somehow still do. It isn’t about actual realism; it’s about finding out how far you can push implausibility and stopping just shy of that sweet spot.

Hunt is the perfect character for Cruise. He exhibits strength and smarts and does so with savvy. This is wear Cruise cruises. Hunt leads but he does so with few words and very little emoting. This is where Cruise usually crashes so its refreshing to watch him coast by on what he does best for a change. And as he leads his disavowed team on a mission to stop nuclear war from breaking out, he does so with a commanding stance and a reinvigorated sense of determination. It almost feels as though Cruise is not just fighting to save the world but he’s pushing it hard because he knows his career is on the line too. By the time he completes his mission, he has taken us on a ride so exhilarating, it actually had me getting flush from excitement and nerves. It is a mission both he and Bird can claim as accomplished with pride and as far as you’re concerned, it is well worth accepting.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston and fourteen different horses as “Joey”

The other day, I told a friend of mine that I had never in my life ever ridden a horse. She gasped in horror as if I had missed out on one of life’s most rewarding experiences. I’m not against the idea of it, although I can’t imagine horses enjoy that kind of weight on them for hours at a time. I have just never had the occasion and therefore, I have never had the chance to connect to one of these majestic creatures, like so many others. From what I understand, the bond between a person and a horse can be quite something but having no first hand experience with it, I have no idea why. And so, my lack of horse experience or appreciation may have unduly influenced my reading of Steven Spielberg’s WAR HORSE. Or maybe, it just wasn’t that great.

Based on both the original 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo and the 2007 stage play by Nick Stafford, WAR HORSE is the story of one remarkable journey, had by a horse. The horse, named Joey in the film, starts out born on a farm, and we are naturally present for that birth, and then, after being separated from his mother, is sold at auction in a pissing contest between a landlord and lis lessee. There, Joey must overcome his exquisiteness to become a work horse or the farmer will lose his land. Past that, he goes off to fight in the first World War and the film follows as he changes hands during his four years away from home. Some of the characters Joey meets along the way make for some tender and beautiful moments but given that the story is his, the perspective gets away from him all too often. A horse’s point of view is a little awkward but Spielberg should have reigned himself back in and focused more.

This horse movie is nearly three hours long and it is never clear what kind of movie we are actually watching. Spielberg is known for two types of filmmaking - family style blockbusters that are entertaining for all and graphic war films. WAR HORSE tries to be both of these films, which makes the experience a confusing one at times. The first hour, or at least it felt that way, is about Joey bonding with his young owner, Albert Narracott (relative unknown, Jeremy Irvine) and seeing if he truly can plow the field. The tone is light, the story tired and the shots somewhat plain considering the man behind the camera. Once he goes off to war, the tone changes drastically and the stylized violence Spielberg thrives on takes over, erasing all traces of family entertainment. Predictability follows and we wait for the horse to find his way home. We wait almost three hours ... for a horse.


Written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig

Tintin: How’s your thirst for adventure, Captain?
Captain Haddock: Unquenchable, Tintin.

When I was a kid, I abhorred the series of Tintin book. I found them to be tedious and terribly dull. And so when it was announced that the Belgian books would be adapted into a film, I was less than enthused. The involvement of director, Steven Spielberg, helped some but it wasn’t until I first saw the trailer for THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN that I ever even imagined it might actually be a lot of fun. No offense to HergĂ©, the author of over 20 Tintin adventures, or the millions of fans the world over who adore this adorable character, but after seeing Spielberg bring his particular brand of awe to the tale, I feel that all Tintin needed all along was a little bit of that good old movie magic to bring him to life. I’m not sure if that makes this an authentic adaptation but I think I prefer it this way.

Spielberg chooses to tell Tintin’s story with motion capture, 3D animation instead of the traditional hand drawn animation that would have been more loyal to its origins. This is actually Spielberg’s first crack at directing an animated film and to see it begs the question, why did he ever wait this long? Not only is the aesthetic richly detailed but his imagination is boundless in this limitless format. He can go anywhere he pleases and he most certainly does. Whether that finds our hero zip lining through a crowded marketplace on the handles of a motorbike or flying a plane through the clouds in the middle of a violent lightning storm, the action is always exciting and lofty. Some of it is a bit far fetched at times but as outlandish as it can be, it never feels impossible and it is always a ton of fun.

Tintin, as portrayed underneath all that animation by the charming Jamie Bell, is a curious journalist hot on the trail of a missing treasure. His pursuit finds him crossing paths with a modern day pirate bent of beating him to it (Daniel Craig) and a sea captain who contains the key to solving the mystery (Andy Serkis). As a hero, Tintin is a delight. His good nature and inquisitive mind make him extremely likable to the point where, if I had hair, I would wear it with a cowlick right up front in honour of the great explorer. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN is the Indiana Jones movie Spielberg should have made instead of that last one. It appeals directly to my all too often silent boyish exuberance and runs with that unencumbered spirit as high and as far as it can. It is vibrant and its energy is electric, allowing Tintin’s own wonder and amazement at his adventure to wash over us and become our own.


Written by Steve Zaillian
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard

Armansky: I’m concerned you won’t like her. She’s different.
Frode: In what way?
Armansky: In every way.

I always say that film criticism is an inherently subjective practice and reviewing David Fincher’s remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is the perfect example to prove this. It has only been a year and a half since I first saw the original Swedish version of this film. It was known even then that Fincher’s version was in development and it was obvious that the only reason it was being made was to cater to a wider American audience. To be fair, the subject nature of the film is way too dark for it to ever really play that wide but, as the first film only raked in about $10 million in North American box office receipts, and given the popularity of the late Steig Larsson’s novel of the same name, there stands to be a great number of people interested in Fincher’s version. And so, while some will find the new version exhilarating, anyone who has seen Niels Arden Oplev’s original may feel a distinct lack of purpose.

I have not read any of the popular novels but as both film versions are more or less identical in plot execution, I can only assume that the structure of the novel is my first issue with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Without the shock value to cover it up, the introduction to Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) comes across as a character punishment and misguided distraction more so than anything else. While Mickael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) embarks on the film’s actual plot - deciphering a family murder mystery dating back 40 years - for the first hour or so of the film, Lisbeth is being presented separately as a dark, dangerous girl. Her gothic look is seen to all who encounter her as a sign of weakness that allows them to use and abuse her. Lisbeth can take care of herself just fine but she has been through a ton of horrifying experiences that have made her into this clearly disturbed creature. She is a fascinating character, and the fantastic Mara is incredibly devoted to the part, but the painful effort to portray her as “other” makes it feel as though Fincher also sees her the same way. It makes me wonder if Larsson ever liked her even.

Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is certainly stylish but it never rose to a level that justified its need to exist for me. In fact, the more polished look seemed at times less authentic in comparison with the more rough aesthetic of the original. That being said, the mystery at the root of the film is a good one and if you’re coming to the film blind, it will certainly shock you. I commend Fincher for making every effort possible, even shooting the film in Sweden and casting a number of Swedish actors in smaller roles, but in his attempt to honour the original, he finished by recreating instead of actually creating something all his own.


Written by Diablo Cody
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson

Buddy Slade: Mavis, I’m a married man.
Mavis Gary: I know. We can beat this thing together.

Mavis Gary (the always stunning, Charlize Theron) wakes up, it would seem, most days face down in her pillow, still wearing her makeup and heels from the previous night of debauchery. When she comes to, she immediately reaches for the nearest 2L bottle of Diet Coke she can find to give her the jolt she needs to get on with her day. After high school, she promptly exited her hick town, Mercury, in favor or the mini-apple, Minneapolis, to pursue a once thriving career in ghost writing young adult fiction. At 37 years old, Mavis is hardly young like the characters she writes about and knows best but after spending five minutes with her in Jason Reitman’s latest film, YOUNG ADULT, you’ll see that calling her adult is sometimes an even bigger stretch.

If you pointed out what a mess she was, I seriously doubt Mavis would know what you were talking about. Actually, given the amount of attitude she usually carries in her demeanor, I’m thinking she would probably punch you in the face for the suggestion. As constructed by Diablo Cody, who last collaborated with Reitman on the contemporary classic, JUNO, Mavis is quite simply unlikable and Theron is perfectly cast in the part. She is strikingly beautiful and therefore has always had an easy time getting what she wants but despite her soft features, she is about as callous as they come. Theron is unapologetic as Mavis, determined in her resolve no matter how misguided it is and no matter whom she takes down along the way. Yet she still reveals enough of that once young adult inside of her to give the audience some insight into how she came to be this person.

Compared to past Reitman films, like UP IN THE AIR and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, YOUNG ADULT is by far his prickliest pear. It’s humour is decidedly darker in tone and it isn’t easy to forgive his heroine her actions, regardless what damage inspired them. Mavis returns home under the guise of a real estate transaction to essentially “save” her college boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) from his supposed death trap of a marriage despite his first child just being born. (In fact, the baby is the catalyst for her decision.) In doing so, the high school prom queen befriends the hapless high school loser (an endearing and impressive, Patton Oswalt) and the two form an unlikely friendship that holds a mirror up to both of their issues. Their chemistry is so unexpected and natural that it gives YOUNG ADULT exactly what it needs to mature into the film it was always meant to be - a modern exploration of how growing up can be a lifelong process.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sheldon's Holiday Gift Guide 2011

In case you hadn't noticed, you've got a week left, people. Just one little week to find that special something for that special someone so they know you care. And just so you know we're in this all together, I admit to not having even started my holiday shopping. And before I do, I give you this list of films and television series, made up of titles I would love to get for all the film fans on your shopping list. These aren't necessarily that something special that will have you crowned king of the gift givers but they are pretty sweet little something extras that will make for great stocking stuffers or secret Santa presents.


My fifth favourite film of all time and my all time favourite musical, WEST SIDE STORY, has just turned 50 years old. To commemorate the occasion, MGM has released the film on blu-ray for the very first time. The release features all new special features, like a song specific commentary by lyricist, Stephen Sondheim and a storyboard to film comparison. What with the kids on GLEE preforming the show this year as their school musical and all the Natalie Wood murder investigation stories in the news, demand could not be higher for this great love story. Fans of musicals or just film in general should be happy to spend the holidays with the Sharks and the Jets.


Oh look at this. Not only was my 5th favourite film of all time released on blu-ray for the first time this year but so was my fourth. Quentin Tarantino's 1994 masterpiece changed the way we see cinema today. Not too many films in recent history can really lay claim to something like this.  Brand new interviews with the cast and critical analysis about the film's impact on film history contextualize its significance even more. And as if that weren't enough reason to pick this beauty up, perhaps that fact that it's just one badass of a movie is reason enough. Alliance also released Tarantino's follow up, JACKIE BROWN on blu-ray around the same time.


I'm sure you all have boys on your list and, as a boy myself, I can tell you that I love me some cartoons. Get me some cartoon televisions series action on DVD and I will be a happy camper on a couch for far longer than I likely should be. You can start with the more traditional, and quite frankly, reliable, Homer and company with THE SIMPSONS Season 14, featuring classic episodes like the one where Barb accidentally gets a boob job and where Lisa brings back the stars to Springfield. Or you can go more crude and pick up the 9th edition of FAMILY GUY, where Peter has amnesia or Meg goes to prison. If you really want to get that someone something unexpected, pick up ARCHER. Season 1 is now available and Season 2 comes out December 27. This spy spoof series from FX is outrageous and often uproarious.  You could score some serious cool points with any of these.


For the foreign film fan in your family, you can pick up this Gael Garcia Bernal double feature. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, put him and his then acting partner and now processing partner, Diego Luna on the international map. The coming of age story focuses on two best friends who get a lot closer than they ever expected one unforgettable summer. Bernal continues grabbing international attention with his turn as a young Che Guevera in THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, as he embarks on a road trip that will forever change him. Both are subtle, powerful films that will make fine additions to any enthusiast's collection.


Martin Scorsese maybe be grabbing all the awards season attention with his first family adventure, HUGO, this year but what is perhaps his finest film, TAXI DRIVER, from 1976, was released on blu-ray this past year. The blu-ray edition is packaged in a fancy triptych book that is in itself reason enough to purchase the film. Film aficionados need this film in their collection as there is so much to commemorate - from Robert De Niro's groundbreaking turn as Travis Bickle to the emergence of a very young, Jodie Foster. I actually got this one myself already as a gift and I personally cannot wait to see how its aged.


When I first caught HBO's BIG LOVE in the first season, I was amazed. It all seemed so real, so complicated and yet somehow so fulfilling and genuine. For five years, the Henrickson's have spearheaded the cause of plural marriage in suburban Utah. The road has not always been consistently smooth in terms of the shows direction but it comes to an end in the fifth season.  I have yet to see how it all comes together but the acting on this program is always so stellar that I almost don't care how they wrap it up. If you're looking to splurge and go all out for someone, you can also pick up the complete series on DVD. Whatever your feelings on polygamy, this show will change your perception.


This was undeniably Adele's year, at least when it comes to sales and impacting the world. Her album, 21, sold 10 million copies around the world, she scored two number one singles and will likely walk away with every Grammy she's nominated for (six for whoever is counting). Unfortunately, she also suffered serious throat issues that required surgery and threatened the very gift that brought her to the world in the first place. Fortunately for her, the surgery was a success and she will be singing again shortly. Fortunately for us, she recorded this live performance before she could no longer sing. I know you know an Adele fan that has played 21 to death. Well, now they can over play this fantastic live recording too!

That's it for now, folks! I hope this helps you find those last minute gifts to bring smiles to all those who make you smile all year. Now, if you will excuse me, I've got some shopping of my own to do.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Written by Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly

Penelope Longstreet: Why can’t things be easier? Why does everything have to be so exhausting?

There are some plays that seem as though they could never be adapted for the screen and Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” is certainly one of them. Although I have not myself seen it on stage, I can imagine its physical scope is quite limited as all the action takes place in one apartment over the course of a few hours. On stage, this can be riveting, as long as the conversation itself is sharp and insightful and as long as those partaking in said conversation give brilliant performances. On film, one location with the same four characters can be a static stand still. Fortunately for Reza, all involved in the film adaptation of her play, now called CARNAGE, are precisely the right people to keep things moving.

At the CARNAGE helm is infamous director, Roman Polanski, a man who has seen his own fair share of carnage in his life. Reza herself collaborated with Polanski on the screenplay so the fundamentals are firmly intact. Essentially, two couples meet to discuss an altercation that took place between their boys in a playground that resulted in one of the boys losing teeth. Things naturally don’t go as well as anyone had hoped. And who does Polanski amass to captivate us with their wit and humour? Four brilliant actors of course as the entire acting community seem to clamor to work with him. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play parents to the boy who lost his teeth while Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play parents to the boy who was armed with the stick - sorry, who was carrying the stick - that knocked out the teeth. I don’t know about you but I can think of way worse people to be stuck in a room with for ninety minutes.

These two couples, as portrayed by this amazingly talented and dynamic cast, start out as sensible, civilized adults who are doing what they all think is right according to societal standards given the situation at hand. After all, what matters most is the well being of their children and ensuring that they come out of this as positively as possible. It’s the fact that the children are involved though that makes their exercise so futile to begin with. Their children were in a fight and hurt each other. The natural impulse for these parents would be to protect their children no matter what. And so it is not at all surprising to watch as their facades slowly but surely fade away to reveal not only their anger over the current situation but also the deep seeded disgust that has been festering in all of them for as long as they’ve had to hold it in. And given how polite our Western society can be at times, I’d say they’ve been holding back for a very long time.

Polanski does everything he must in order to keep a picture that almost never leaves the living room feel like it is in constant motion. Much of that comes from the rapid unravelling of the characters themselves. Their descent is delicious making CARNAGE a truly stimulating experience. Still, I imagine that if these four people exhibited just as much passion on stage, the immediacy of it would make their madness that much more meaningful.


Written by Madonna and Alek Keshishian
Directed by Madonna
Starring Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy and Oscar Isaac

Wallis Simpson: You and I can only create disaster.

“Disaster” is a word that I’ve heard easily thrown around regarding Madonna’s latest film, W.E.. With the notoriously despised film actress at the helm of the project, it almost seemed like I was hearing the word before people had even seen the film. To deem a Madonna film disastrous is expected, fashionable even. And so, at the first sight of any questionable direction in the film, it would appear that the great majority of the critical world wrote it, and her, off. As negative criticism tends to be more colorful (and more enjoyable to write) and as negative reviews are more fun to read, the hate for W.E. is now rampant. Is it a great film? No, it isn’t. Is it a disaster though? Absolutely not.

W.E. is as stylish as they come. Under the watchful eye of cinematographer, Hagen Bogdanski (THE LIVES OF OTHERS) and production designer, Martin Childs (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), it is undeniably sumptuous and rich. The imagery is then elevated to dizzying heights by an equally lustrous score by Abel Korzeniowski (A SINGLE MAN).  At times, it can all be a bit much to take, an overdose of exquisite taste and fine furniture of sorts, but Madonna’s guidance is always omnipresent, albeit somewhat heavy-handed. There is a vision though and the dramatic tones she strikes are often quite real and effective. A good director makes choices and Madonna is nothing if not decisive.

The true problems with W.E. lie with its script. As a director, Madonna shows promise; the woman clearly has an eye for beauty after all. As a writer though, she can be stiff and unfocused. Co-written with her TRUTH OR DARE director, Alek Keshishian, W.E. tells the story of one Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a doctor’s wife whose life looks perfect from the outside but is downright abusive upon closer look. Wally is obsessed with the love affair of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), an American divorcee, and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), who abdicated the thrown to be with her. Their love story was told the world over and was admired by many as one of the greatest romantic gestures in history. Feeling no love in her life, Wally takes solace at a Sotheby’s auction for the famous couple and meets a security guard (Oscar Isaac), who reminds her of how beautiful she truly is.

The connection between both story lines is a stretch most of the time and eventually goes nowhere at all. That sounds harsh but the cast are all beautiful and compelling so W.E. does engage the viewer in the end. The romantics amongst you could even very easily be swept up in it. Madonna’s decades old preoccupation with championing the plight of women who are despised the world over, in this case Wallis after she stole England’s king (and apparently showed some sympathy towards the Nazis), ultimately distracts her from the task at hand.

For my part, I have no shame admitting that I am a Madonna admirer and that this admiration in turn taints the way I see her work. Still, as a critic, there is a job to be done and I believe I’ve done it here. And so, if I can keep my bias in check, I wonder why others cannot do the same. Besides, if critics really want to see a disastrous Madonna movie, they need only watch her first effort, FILTH AND WISDOM. That’s essentially unwatchable.