By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 21, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Christmas rush of holiday movies is upon us, and if you find this whole notion of peace on earth is already beginning to wear thin, they offer some harrowing alternatives. Two of them, Jack Reacher and Django Unchained, had their premieres cancelled last weekend because their scenes of gun violence were considered inappropriate so soon after the Newtown massacre. Jack Reacher, which reboots Tom Cruise’s career as a action hero, has landed with especially unfortunate timing in light of the Sandy Hook massacre—it opens with a scene of a sniper killing five random civilians, including a mother holding a young child. Django, Quentin Tarantino’s tale of slave liberation, is tale of merry vengeance that opens Christmas Day.
Jack Reacher opens Dec. 21, along with Judd Apatow’s fractious family comedy This is 40. Those two studio pictures will likely lead the weekend box office, but also opening Dec. 21 are The Impossible and Rust and Bone, a pair of potent dramas from European directors that could win Oscar recognition. The Impossible is the harrowing tale of a family on holiday torn apart by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami; Rust and Bone is a romance about an animal trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses both her legs to a renegade killer whale. No one ever said escaping Christmas would be a walk in the park.
So many movies, so little time. Here’s the rundown:
As a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, I was as mortified as everyone else when it was first announced that the 5’8″ Tom Cruise would play the 6’5″ Reacher It seemed like a historic coup of miscasting. Since then Child has endorsed both Cruise and the movie, which is loosely based on One Shot, the ninth novel in the Reacher series. Now that I’ve seen it, I still feel Cruise is miscast, and not just because he’s too short. Size doesn’t matter so much on the big screen. But character does. Reacher is a rugged Army veteran, a multi-decorated former U.S. Military Police Major, who has gone rogue and become a drifter. Cruise doesn’t look like he’s a veteran of anything but the gym and the red carpet. Reacher, who has a brutal manner and a forensic intellect, is cool, detached and laconic. He’s like a human bullet: smooth, fast and hot. Too intensely polished for the role. That said, he’s an athletic actor who is always impressive in hand-to-hand combat. He functions best with blunt, minimalist dialogue, and in that sense he makes the character his own. Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 8:56 AM - 0 Comments
From the screener to the red carpet to the film’s after party at Soho House, these seniors sure know how to have fun
As the credits rolled after a recent screening of Quartet, the man next to me collapsed his head. ”I never cry in real life,” he said, “but I’ve being doing it a lot during these TIFF screeners.”
Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut features four opera singers in a retirement home in the English countryside. The film ends when the septuagenarians (Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins) perform Verdi’s Rigoletto.
“Twenty-five years ago, I saw my first opera,” my seat-mate said. “It was Rigoletto.”
As the lights went on and before we parted ways, my new friend made introductions. ”I’m George,” he said, as in Stroumboulopoulos.
At Quartet’s TIFF premiere at the Elgin Theatre on Sunday night, the four stars and their 75-year-old director were in top form. Billy Connolly, wearing black patent leather shoes with oversized tassles, laughed when I asked if he shared the “appetites” of his character Wilf, who boasted the libido of a teenager. “We’re nothing alike,” laughed the actor, who once said in an interview, “I’m a very f—ing wealthy person, I’m married to a very beautiful woman and I get laid with monotonous regularity.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, March 9, 2012 at 5:01 PM - 0 Comments
John Carter, the year’s first big blockbuster opens this weekend, and looks like it’s headed for box-office disaster. I certainly found it pretty tedious. It feels about half an hour too long. And it plays like a cheesy rip-off of Star Wars and Avatar—but that’s because it’s based on the century-old work of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose work exerted a primal influence on both George Lucas and James Cameron, back when they were fanboy bookworms. So even though John Carter is based on the original prototype, it plays like a knock-off.
It’s the sage of a Confederate Civil War veteran who is mysteriously transported to Mars (aka Barsoom), where he plays Lawrence of Arabia to a horde of green, four-armed, tusked barbarians. The movie marks the live-action directing debut of Pixar wiz Andrew Stanton. It also launches the action-hero career of Canadian Taylor Kitsch, who is as buff as the movie is bloated. If he’s lucky, the movie’s box-office failure will nip any future sequels in the bud. As Kitsch has already proven in Friday Night Lights and The Bang Bang Club, he’s too good for this shlock. To read my recent interview/profile of this 30-year-old actor from Kelowna, B.C, go to: The next action hero.
So, unless you’re still looking forward to puberty, you should avoid John Carter. But do try to see Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, one of the biggest hits at TIFF last fall. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 11:22 PM - 3 Comments
It’s the battle of the Canucks. I’m not talking about Vancouver’s ill-fated hockey team, but about Ryan Reynolds and Jim Carrey, two Hollywood Canadians butting heads at the box office this weekend as stars of studio blockbusters: Green Lantern and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, respectively. Both give charming performances in ridiculous movies. Just in time for Father’s Day, both Reynolds and Carrey play heroes whose destiny is cast by the legacy of a dead dad. Neither movie is as bad as I expected it would be from the trailer. But I can’t heartily recommend either of them—unless you’re too young to be reading this, in which case the pooping penguins might strike you as the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. If you’re a grown-up, however, and don’t feel a need to escape into a computer-generated fantasy world, there’s a superb and mature alternative—Beginners, which also happens to explore father-son issues and feature a Canadian, Christopher Plummer. (Unlike the two blockbusters, it opens in Toronto only this week, with Montreal and Vancouver to follow June 24.)
Wednesday night’s preview of Green Lantern overlapped with the first period of the Stanley Cup’s Game 7. Having seen the trailer, which looked abysmal, I swore to myself that if the movie clearly sucked after an hour, I would bolt to watch the game—rationalizing that Ryan Reynolds, its Vancouver-born star, would probably do the same. But I ended up staying for the whole damn thing, which doesn’t mean that the film was so good that I couldn’t tear myself away. On the contrary, it was more like not being able tear myself away from a train wreck—a movie so exotically misconceived that it became strangely fascinating. I had to see how the carnage would play out. And I felt for the film, which seemed almost sheepishly aware of its own shortcomings. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 8:39 PM - 5 Comments
Now that the Blockbuster Winter Games are history, it’s back to the showbiz grind. As Opening Weekend returns after an Olympic hiatus, all I really want to do is rant about the Closing Ceremonies—and how patriotism, which can inspire such brilliant heroics in sports, is a disastrous incentive for art, especially comedy. Gotta love Neil Young. But how sad it was to see Canadian movie stars like Catherine O’Hara and Michael J. Fox miscast as stadium stand-up comics, scrambling to find their bearings in this woefully misdirected spectacle of Canuck self-consciousness. (Andrew Coyne’s live blog) tells a different story, so I guess you had to be there.) Don’t get me wrong. I loved these larger-than-life Olympics, the Games that is, but frankly I’ll be happy if I don’t hear the word “Canadian” again for quite some time, now that it has become a brand, adopted by everyone from Coke to Walmart. . . OK, that’s my belated rant. Time to move on.
This weekend’s crop of new releases brings us three very different tales of imprisonment. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which updates Lewis Carroll’s tale of a girl trapped in a wild dream, turns out to be a bit of a disappointment, despite superb performances. From the infamous Roman Polanski comes The Ghost Writer, a claustrophobic thriller about a scribe enduring a figurative house arrest on an island while writing an ex-politician’s memoirs—ironic considering Polanski finished the film while under literal house arrest himself. It’s a playful potboiler, riddled with trademark touches of vintage Polanski. Then there’s A Prophet, a powerful prison drama from France about an French-Arab inmate who struggles to survive under the yoke of a Corsican godfather. Of these three films, it’s the strongest; when it premiered in Cannes, many expected it to win the Palme d’Or, and though the prize went to The White Ribbon it was the highest-rated film in competition among critics polled.
Alice in Wonderland
This Disney film is in 3-D, and that’s the first big hurdle for the viewer to overcome. The quality of the 3-D is quite inferior to what we’ve recently become accustomed to. The images seem to consist of flat 2-D planes, and it was both annoying and unconvincing. I didn’t find out the reason for this until after I’d seen the movie. I later learned that Burton shot the movie in 2-D, then “dimensionalized” it in post-production. Well, after we’ve been enchanted by the immersive visuals of Avatar, this half-baked approach to 3-D seems second-rate. The problem is, there are enough parallels between Alice and Avatar that one can’t help but compare them. Both movies take place in fantasy worlds populated by bizarre creatures. At one point in Alice there are even little fluffy seeds that float down through the air, just like the seeds from the Tree of Souls in Avatar, but less magical. Once you’ve seen the bright lights of Pandora, it’s hard to go back to the cool, diorama-like visuals of a world that, from the costumes to the curlicues, seems generically Burton-esque. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, November 6, 2009 at 5:14 PM - 4 Comments
Now that the November winds are blowing and the nights are getting longer, it’s time to fly away. To go anywhere, as long as it’s elsewhere and there’s a glow of magic to warm the heart. Magic—in Hollywood, they like to think they can manufacture the stuff. But it’s not that simple. This week I’m looking at three very different films that deal in magic. But only one of them really makes me believe it. It’s also the smallest of the three and, believe it or not, it’s a documentary—Inside Hana’s Suitcase, which is beautifully directed by Canadian filmmaker Larry Weinstein, is a real-life fable about lost child of the Holocaust, a miraculous film that draws hope and inspiration from horrific tragedy. The other two movies are the A Christmas Carol, a 3D opus starring Jim Carrey as virtually every character in the cast, and The Men Who Stare at Goats, an off-kilter comedy starring George Clooney as a U.S. solider trained in para-normal powers. A Christmas Carol, directed by Robert Zemeckis is the weekend’s designated blockbuster, and although it has some of my colleagues dancing an early Xmas jig, it left me cold. But then I wasn’t especially fond of Forrest Gump either. My humbug response to A Christmas Carol appears in this week’s magazine, and you can read it by clicking on: Everybody wants a piece of Scrooge.
The Men Who Stare at Goats
This may be a George Clooney movie. But it’s not the George Clooney movie. Because this fall there are two, both having premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The other is Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, which is not out until December. And there are also two George Clooneys, at least. There’s Serious George, the shrewd professional who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. You find him movies like The Good German and Michael Clayton. Then there’s Uncurious George, the know-it-all goofball who pops up in Coen brothers pictures like O Brother Where Art Thou and Burn After Reading—an idiot who thinks he’s a rocket surgeon. Both of Clooney’s new movies are comedies, up to a point, and both are based on books. The Goats picture is an outlandish zany farce about guy trying to walk through walls, although it’s inspired by a true story; Up in the Air is a serious comedy about the world we live in, although it’s fiction.
And here’s the thing. If you’re going to see just one George Clooney movie this fall, you should wait for Up in the Air. It’s by far the better film; and it’s the one for which he’s guaranteed to get an Oscar nomination. Which doesn’t mean Men Who Stare at Goats isn’t worth a look, if you’ve some free time, and free money, and you don’t want to wait for the video. Hmmm. Talk about damning with faint praise. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 15, 2009 at 10:12 AM - 5 Comments
Although novelist Dan Brown wrote Angels and Demons before The Da Vinci Code, the movie version is being launched as a sequel to the Da Vinci blockbuster of 2007. The same formula is in place, along with the same director (Ron Howard) and the same star (Tom Hanks). So it would be reasonable to expect that the second movie would suck as much as the first, if not more so. Well, surprise, surprise. Angels and Demons is better than The Da Vinci Code. Which isn’t saying much. But even though the plot is as farfetched and formulaic as Da Vinci’s, there’s a lot more going on. Da Vinci was an ecclesiastical mystery that unwrapped its narrative as a series of expositions. In other words, there was very little action, aside from the grisly bit of violence in the opening scene. No action, no drama. So the filmmakers had to rely on gimmicky set pieces like that chase scene in a smart car. And the film was really just a snakes-and-ladders tour of churches and cathedrals. Angels and Demons is another Old World travelogue, a movie that will no doubt provide a template for a entire subset of the tourist industry, if it hasn’t done so already. But the story does have action, quite a lot of it. It’s a serial killer mystery, and although it’s hopelessly pedestrian, it’s never boring. Plus it takes place against the backdrop of a Pope’s death and a power struggle to replace him.
Tom Hanks is back as Robert Langdon, the Indiana Jones of symbology. The actor’s wry wit has a little more room to move this time around, as if he’s playing off, and playing down, the mythic stature gained by his character in the first movie. And he has another French demoiselle to tag along for the ride, in this case a physicist played by Ayelet Zurer. The plot is more akin to a James Bond or Mission Impossible flick than to the last Dan Brown movie. It hinges on a ticking time bomb of anti-matter that has been stolen from a particle physics facility, and is hidden somewhere in the touristic maze of architecture. The device will level the Vatican plus much of Rome if it goes off. The Illumnati, a secret society of science lovers avenging a history of Vatican persecution, are the bad guys. Continue…