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Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday's Top 5... Army of One Movies

#5: First Blood

Rambo. It is now a name synonymous not only with combat, but with one man taking on everyone in sight all on his own. There are four Rambo movies to choose from, but First Blood is the best received by a wide margin (87% on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to the next highest - 2008's Rambo - at 37%), even if First Blood: Part II inspired one of my favourite Pauline Kael quotes when she described it as "like a tank sitting in your lap and firing at you."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Canadian Film Review: The Grand Seduction (2014)

* * *

Director: Don McKellar
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch

Films like The Grand Seduction are projects that are engineered to please. They don't take chances, they offer no innovations, but they demonstrate the simple pleasures of the familiar. You know from the beginning just how the film will end, and you know more or less completely how it will get there, so its success or failure hinges on whether it can charm you into thinking that you want to listen to a story that you've already been told. In that respect, Don McKellar's The Grand Seduction is a success even if, in the grand scheme of things, it's a minor work as likely to be remembered after the fact with some affection as it is to fade from memory completely. I'm sure it seems like I'm damning the film with faint praise, but I actually did rather enjoy it. It's a sincere story, told in relaxed fashion, and it knows how to make the most of the innate likeability of its cast and its setting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ten Years Later... Alfie (2004)

On this day in 2004

Director: Charles Shyer
Starring: Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei, Sienna Miller, Nia Long, Omar Epps

2004 was going to be the year of Jude Law. After breaking through in 1999 with his supporting turn in The Talented Mr. Ripley (and earning his first Oscar nomination in the process), Law's appearances in film were fairly sporadic, with him starring in just one film a year (save for 2001, when he had a leading role in Enemy at the Gates and a supporting role in A.I. Artificial Intelligence) until 2004 when, coming off his second Oscar nomination (for Cold Mountain), he would have 6 films in theaters. The films and his roles varied from being part of the ensemble in the would-be prestige film Closer, playing the lead in the would-be special effect game changer Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, providing voice work as the narrator in the would-be franchise starting Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, playing a cameo role in The Aviator, being part of the ensemble in David O. Russsell's least appreciated film I Heart Huckabees, and playing the lead in the deeply unnecessary and ultimately ill-conceived remake of the 1960s classic Alfie. That Law's big year is probably best remembered for a joke Chris Rock made at the Oscars and Sean Penn's snitty, on-air response, probably says it all about the collective success of his various performances in 2004.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Fury (2014)

* * *

Director: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LeBeouf

For much of its running time David Ayer's Fury plays like the best movie Sam Peckinpah never made. A WWII movie about the blood and the mud, rather than ideals and the honor inherent in fighting the last good war, Ayer's film is like a punch to the gut as it builds one scene of brutality atop another. This is a story of unrelenting ugliness where circumstances have made violence, in all its forms, as natural to the characters as breathing, and it unfolds in an unromanticized fashion - at least until the end, when it finally and fully surrenders to war movie cliches and conventions. To be sure, those conventions are present even from the beginning, but it's only at the end when the story seems to find itself at the mercy of those tropes. Still, despite the stock (and arguably weak) ending, Fury is a solid movie, possessed of the visceral intensity of a film like Saving Private Ryan, even if it lacks that kind of grand scale ambition.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Don't Look Now (1973)

* * * *

Director: Nicholas Roeg
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie

Don't Look Now is one of the most dread-filled movies ever made. A shadow hangs over it from the first to the last, and every scene has a palpable sense that the other shoe is about to drop. A psychological horror thriller about the lingering effects of grief, this adaptation of a short story by Daphne du Maurier is a deeply creepy and deeply effective movie that has influenced filmmakers far and wide since its release in 1973. It's taken me a while to catch up this this film, which is now considered a modern classic, and what struck me about it (aside from the fact of how good it is) is how the elements that made it controversial in 1973 still stand out now. Often it's difficult, so many years later (in this case forty), to see why something would have once caused such heated debate, but the frankness of Nicholas Roeg's film remains somewhat out of the ordinary. Don't Look Now would still be a compelling film even if that frankness had become muted by time, but the fact that it remains so sharp helps give the film a greater sense of timelessness than it would otherwise have.