Jeune & Jolie

Young & Beautiful (2013), a provocative new French film by director François Ozon, Swimming Pool (2003) and Potiche (2010), that explores our universal obsession with youth and sex, is a coming of age tale about seventeen year old Isabelle (Marine Vacth) from middle-class divorced parents, who is drawn into a world of prostitution with elderly male clients. 

North American and English cinema tends to be uncomfortable with nudity and explicit sex acts within a family setting; American Beauty (1999) and Fish Tank (2009) come to mind as examples of taboo subject matter that did not sit well with audiences. So we are taken aback by the more open attitudes toward nudity and sexuality in European and especially French cinema, regarding it as exploitation at best and pornography at worst rather than art. 

In the opening scenes of Young & Beautiful we see Isabelle as a normal teenager on vacation with her family at a summer beach resort. She wants to have her first sex experience with a boy, but when she finally decides the time is right and is disappointed by her lack of emotional connection, she begins a journey of self-discovery that will alienate her from her family and friends. 

As with the recent Cannes winner Blue is the Warmest Color (2013), there are some explicit sex scenes, but here there is a disturbing sense of unease and danger as the inexperienced Isabelle, so young and naïve, finds herself alone and vulnerable with men much older than her.

Driven by a desire for acceptance and independence, she is proud that she’s taken her first steps into new adult world where her youth and beauty are highly valued and admired. Using her newly found sexual power and mature look, she eventually finds herself becoming an in-demand prostitute with a wealthy clientele of older men looking for discrete sex.

The film is a fascinating study into modern social issues surrounding sex, adolescence and family responsibilities in contemporary European society. Isabelle’s ability to emotionally disconnect from the people she has sexual relations with, allows her to continue meeting her rich clients in high end hotel rooms without imposing any moral judgments on herself.

She seems to enjoy her new found identity and acceptance into this mysterious world of power and wealth as we follow Isabelle navigating a precarious course between her relationship with her younger brother and family life at home, her class mates at school, and her secret rendezvous as a high class call girl, as if it’s just a normal part of her new life.

The film is stylishly depicted with stunning photography and natural performances in authentic Paris locations. There is a voyeurism that comes across from following this striking young girl around through her daily routine and we are drawn in by the contrast and contradiction of a seemingly normal teenager’s life and the darker world of men’s sexual fantasies.

American reaction to this film is often to question the director’s motives or intentions for making such a film, but they seem to be unaware or discount the cultural disparity of French society. French cinema and François Ozon in particular tends to be more adventurous with sexual politics and family issues.

Eventually Isabelle’s secret world comes crashing down as she discovers her vulnerability and those of her clients and family. Her inability to deal with, or even see the dangers of her double life, takes her to a place she was not prepared for as she must now face the consequences. 

JP

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), a reboot of the phenomenally successful Planet of the Apes saga (1968 - 1973) that included five movies, a TV series, an animated series and a merchandising bonanza, is a worthy Apes story that improves on its predecessor with a humanist socio-political message and a strong anti-gun stance. 

On the edge of a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, ape leader Ceasar’s band of intelligent simians is surviving the only way they know how, by hunting and living in the forest, whereas humans are quickly declining in numbers and desperately clinging to life in small pockets around the globe.

The filmmakers have once again made a smart suspenseful film that’s dedicated to the emotional life of the characters and respects the spirit of the original thought provoking films.

It’s a precarious time for both humans and apes, taking place ten years after the previous film, it’s a time where mankind has all but disappeared from the earth which now looks like the History channel’s Life after People series with buildings and streets in ruins, decaying and slowly being reclaimed by wilderness. A time between the decline of humanity and the rise of the Apes who will eventually emerge as the dominant species on the planet.

After a virus has wiped out most of the human population except for a few who have a genetic immunity, Ceasar’s ape colony has grown in numbers and living in a lush ape-topian forest canopy, experimenting with the beginnings of language and a moral code of ethics that may eventually lift them out of their primitive past.  “Ape shall not kill Ape” 

The look of the apes in this film has been refined to such an unparalleled level of realism and is so convincing that the character of Caesar is completely captivating as a being caught between two worlds but not totally belonging in either. All the ape characters are unique and interact seamlessly with the humans.

Caesar has distinguished himself as a strong, natural leader and role model for the burgeoning ape colony, and the evolved apes have managed to live in peace until they accidentally come in contact with a group of armed human survivors bent on winning back what was lost. 

Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, has become somewhat of a cult legend among sci-fi and fantasy fans for being the go-to-guy for motion capture characters like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 - 2003), King Kong in King Kong (2005), Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin (2011), a consultant on Godzilla (2014) and gives a mesmerizing performance here as the brooding simian leader who now also has the responsibility of raising a family of his own.

The desperate band of humans bring with them an arsenal of weaponry and are eager to repair a hydro electrical power generator that will restore some much needed human conveniences. But the generators that need repair are in ape controlled territory and the apes are not about to trust the humans or allow them anywhere near their families, knowing all too well their racist, selfish and destructive tendencies. 

This theme has been a constant throughout the Apes saga from the very beginning. It was the destructive and war like nature of man that caused his destruction and lead to the domination of apes in the original films and it continues to be a prominent theme here in the latest installment of the popular saga. There are some striking parallels here especially with the final film of the original saga, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

One sympathetic human, Malcolm, slowly befriends Caesar, appealing to his sense of brotherhood and cooperation for mutual benefit.  But joining forces with the humans doesn’t sit well with the rest of the ape clan, particularly one of Caesars’s most loyal apes, Koba, who holds a strong grudge and mistrust of humans after being subjected to inhumane laboratory experiments.

The mistrust of human motives is well founded more often than not, and the epic struggle between two tribes begins….again.

JP

Guardians of the Galaxy

Yes it’s true, Guardians of the Galaxy, the new film franchise based on the Marvel comic series of the same name, is as cool as it sounds. A ragtag collection of cosmic misfits careening through space by the seat of their pants, in a retro western space adventure set to classic 80s rock tunes.

It’s been an exceptional year so far for Sci-fi adventure films with excellent summer fare such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But none are filled with as much cheeky fun as Guardians of the Galaxy.

Space junker Peter Quill, abducted from earth when he was just a boy, is the Jack Sparrow of a band of space pirates, who goes in search of fame and fortune by scavenging rare valuable artifacts. Flying a stolen space ship and carrying among his worldly possessions a Sony Walkman he had with him when he was abducted, he’s a fun loving loner with a difficult back story.

The MacGuffin that brings all the various heroes and villains together from different parts of a not so faraway galaxy is a mysterious orb that gives whoever possesses it, if they’re strong enough to withstand its destructive power, the ability to destroy an entire planet; a sort of Ring of Power in the shape of a miniature Death Star if you will.

Quill gets more than he bargained for after finding the orb when he suddenly finds himself the target of a number of galactic warriors, bounty hunters, and straight up evil megalomaniacs. Everyone is after the orb for different reasons but Quill just wants to make a quick buck and has no idea of its true potential.

If all this sounds suspiciously familiar, just look at the poster art for the film and it should trigger memories of another famous Sci-fi franchise that exploded onto screens back in 1977. This could actually be the film that the original Star Wars fans were hoping for back in 1999 when the first prequel, The Phantom Menace (1999), hit theaters to disappointed fan boy groans.

Among those who are quick on Quill’s tale is a green female warrior assassin Gamora, who is the adopted daughter of an evil leader Thanos, seeking revenge on a peaceful planet, a duo of bounty hunters comprising a genetically modified genius raccoon Rocket, a walking talking tree who has created his own language with only three words by calling himself Groot, and a hulking mass of muscle with little brains but lots of heart called Drax the Destroyer.

The amount of characters and names can be a little daunting at first and the villains are of the standard and one dimensional kind, but the movie’s energy and enthusiasm more than makes up for this. It’s really about the creation of a unique band of brothers, all outcasts who have lost their own families and eventually find in each other what they have lost. 

I was told that director James Gunn behind such films as Super (2010), and the writers of this film put all of their hearts and souls into the making of this film and it clearly shows in the loving touches evidenced by the movie’s rocking tunes, an array of strange but charming characters, a great sense of humor, comic dialogue and heartfelt storyline.

This movie is fun for the whole family and is filled with so much visual detail that it will definitely stand up to multiple viewings. With future installments on the way I’m looking forward to spending more time with these funny flawed heroes.

JP

Boyhood

According to Webster’s, the word nostalgia comes from the Greek words nostos, meaning return home, and algos, meaning pain or grief. For the cast of Boyhood, home and by extension family seems to be exactly that; an elusive goal and a place fraught with grief, despite the best of intentions by estranged parents.

A boy’s eye view of the world and a remarkable nostalgic coming of age film about childhood, and parenthood by the Texas based director Richard Linklater, who brought us Dazed and Confused (1993), School of Rock (2003) and Bernie (2011), Boyhood is an unflinching portrait of a millennial family as they struggle with divorce and the demands of everyday life. 

Six year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grows up with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and his divorced mother (Patricia Arquette) in middleclass Texas towns, as mom struggles to keep the family together and financially afloat. He sees his father (Ethan Hawke) every other weekend and must suffer his mother’s boyfriends, who they move in with for a time until the relationship sours and they are forced to relocate and start anew. 

Visually, the film is a montage of moments and events in Mason’s life from his perspective that eventually grow into more than the sum of its parts. We see time passing through Mason’s growth, and it’s fascinating to see him slowly maturing throughout the film. I think Boyhood may be the first nostalgia film for the Harry Potter generation. 

What makes this film unique is the way it was made; using the same cast members over a period of 12 years from 2002 - 2013, and revisiting them every couple of years to tell an intimate drama in a documentary style. It’s kind of an American version of the Michael Apted’s 7UP series, where the film makers followed a group of British boys and girls, asking them questions about their lives, and then revisiting them every seven years to track their progress. In Boyhood we literally see Mason and his sister grow to adulthood and their divorced parents grow into middle age as they go through the varying stages of life while keeping up with a rapidly changing digital world.

At times Boyhood feels similar to other nostalgia films like American Graffiti (1973), about 1960s California teens celebrating one last night before graduating and moving on to college, Linkater’s own Dazed and Confused (1993), about graduating kids in the 1970s, or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), which followed a trio of high school students reflecting on life while skipping a day of school in the 1980s. 

This is the kind of film that can only be made if the director has an extremely close relationship with his main cast members, which obviously Mr. Linklater does.  He is proving to be a gifted voice of a generation, adept at being able to find the most iconic moments and adding appropriate era defining songs and pop culture references, creating a sort of time warp that allows us to relive the past for a short time.

The film is full of candid and moving milestone moments that are so typical of a boy’s life growing up in suburban middle class America; learning to live with your annoying older sister, being teased and bullied in school, getting excited about the bra section of a shopping catalog, trying to fit in with the in crowd, dealing with teachers and step parents, changing schools and making new friends, graduation ceremonies etc.

Not afraid to show the ugly and awkward truth, the story and many situations are universal and the film is so captivatingly real and unsettling to watch at times that it’s like looking at someone’s private home videos, except that we continue to see what happens after the camera is turned off.

It's a mesmerizing microcosm of typical experiences young people encounter at a particular time and place in history and everything that influences them and makes them who they are as they find their own identity.

JP

The Apu Trilogy

Satyajit Ray is to India what Akira Kurosawa is to Japan or Vittorio De Sica to Italy. His films are so poetically evocative and stunningly photographed; told with such immediacy and assuredness, he is truly a master of the art form and clearly this trilogy is a labor of love.

He was clearly influenced by rampant social change occurring in India around the 1920s, the socially conscious Italian neorealist cinema of De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D. (1952), as well as the minimalist cinematic art of Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). 

For many years Mr. Ray’s films were unavailable to western audiences or even Indian audiences outside Bengal, and only known to European art-house cinephiles, but now they are finally being restored and shown in retrospectives of Satyajit’s body of work across North America, including at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. 

These tales tell a powerful sweeping story of a Bengali boy named Apu and his family struggling through life as he grows to adulthood, and are enthralling masterpieces worth every effort to locate and watch at your earliest convenience. Newly restored, these prints and many others will eventually be available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD. I recommend anyone to start their journey of discovery with these three wonderful gems.

Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) (1955), Satyajit Ray’ first film in the Apu trilogy, that began his career as a filmmaker has everything you could want from a movie. A generational coming of age saga, it contains an entire, fully realized, complete microcosm of human experience and culture. 

Apu is born of poor Bengali parents who also have a teenage daughter Durga. The father is a priest frequently away looking for work to make enough money to support his young family and his elderly mother who live in the ruined remains of a dilapidated ancestral forest dwelling.

The mother has her hands full feeding and raising her young son and daughter, who are, as children often are, playful and mischievous, while dealing with the village gossip about their lack of means.

I had heard great things about these films as they are very highly regarded in the world of international cinema and frequently considered among the all-time greatest films, but I was not prepared for such a true, authentic and honest vision; laying bare the tragic realities and every day struggles of a poor Bengali family scraping out a meager living in an isolated village among the bamboo groves.  

Apu and his sister’s carefree childhood is short lived however. During one of the father’s lengthy trips, tragedy strikes with uncommon ferocity that will leave a lasting effect on the young impressionable Apu. But his troubles are only beginning as the family is forced to relocate, leaving everything behind.

This is realist cinema in the tradition of De Sica and Kurosawa, but also art at the highest level. This film has made me a believer and fan of Mr. Ray’s films. He has captured with this film, a sensitivity and quality of artistic expression that transcends the medium.

Filmed with stunning natural beauty using authentic locations and non-professional actors, we are totally immersed in the lives of these characters and their world. The path through the bamboo forest, the fields where women toil, the monsoons, the beads, the snake, and the ominous train passing like a spirit serpent across the horizon; all are unforgettable magical images and characters that make a lasting impression. 

Written and directed by Mr. Ray and based on the novels of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, this is an epic saga that’s as intimately observed as it is powerfully told, following our young hero’s progress along with that of the country itself. His future, connected with that of India, is always somewhere on the horizon beyond the fields and groves. You can hear it creeping ever closer like a train that steams ahead relentlessly.

Aparajito (The Unvanquished) (1956) Being the second part in this mesmerizing and enriching trilogy, it feels like a spiritual experience. The story is so simple but told with such clarity and sensitivity, that it feels timeless and universal. 

The time is 1920 as the British Empire is transforming the Indian landscape with industry and progress and affecting every aspect of life. Villages are being consumed by ever growing cities and not everyone will be able or willing to adapt to the changes. 

This film chronicles Apu’s education as we follow him into adolescence. Apu’s family now lives in a city by the Ganges River, where his father has found work as a Brahmin preaching on the steps of the great river.

But tragedy and poverty continues to dog Apu as his family is forced to move back to a small village in the country. Eventually, when Apu is old enough, he goes off to college in Calcutta on a scholarship and finds a job at a printing press. There he finds lodging while studying and making new friends, but his mother, alone and isolated in the village, suffers while longing for word or visits from him.

These are tumultuous tragic tales that remind us how cruel and fragile life can be, which also reflect in many ways the life of the author and filmmaker. All three films and this one in particular warns us how quickly and suddenly everything we hold dear can be taken away.

Filmed in authentic locations around Calcutta’s streets and the Ganges River, it’s a transporting and rapturous experience.

Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) (1959) In this third part of the Apu trilogy, we follow Apu as an adult trying to write his first novel while also searching for work to pay for his apartment in Calcutta. Starting his own family is the furthest thing from his mind until serendipitous circumstances lead him to meet the girl he will fall in love with.

Apu is invited to a wedding by his friend who may have a job for him, and finds himself in an extraordinary strange but lucky situation. When later his son is born, Apu must endure still more overwhelming tragedy before he can find happiness.

There is a constant theme running throughout the trilogy of oppressive lack of money, and struggling to make ends meet while pursuing a creative and spiritual life. In the first film it’s the father who travels far and wide to find ways to support the family, in the second film it falls to the practical mother to keep the family going and in the third it is Apu himself who must support himself and his new wife.

This final film is a tragic love story that brings the saga full circle. A generation has passed and the country, as well as its people, have transformed but not without much suffering and loss. These powerful tales have taken us on a sweeping journey of epic proportions that will resonate deeply with all who experience them.

JP

Edge of Tomorrow

Earth is being overrun by an aggressive alien force that has traveled light years across the galaxy to find a habitable planet. In the process of Terra-forming Earth, they are wiping out humanity faster than we can learn how to fight them while turning the earth into a desert wasteland for habitation by an alien species known as Mimics.

A heavy-metal fusion of Battle L.A. (2011) meets Source Code (2011); Edge of Tomorrow is a repeating time loop story set in a futuristic earth at war with alien invaders. We follow William Cage (Tom Cruise), a public relations officer who has never been in combat, as he tries to make sense of the extraordinary events he is thrown into.

Based on the 2004 Japanese military science fiction novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, this story of an ordinary soldier’s unlikely relationship with a saber wielding, full metal female super warrior, while confronted with surreal circumstances, is very much in the vein of renowned Sci-fi author Philip Dick. 

To defend against this threat to all life on earth, the nations of the world have come together to form a United Defense Force (UDF) consisting of various armies from around the world. Cage is asked to cover the war on the front lines but refuses for fear of being killed. Ironically, not only is he killed but keeps getting killed again and again.

Tom Cruise has lately become fond of Sci-fi action films with a message and plenty of visual style. This is his fourth Sci-fi thriller since Minority Report (2001), War of the Worlds (2005) and Oblivion (2013). All are smart, innovative, thought provoking films that are packed with plenty of action and futuristic hardware, following one man’s personal journey to save himself and the earth from destruction.

By pure coincidence, Cage inadvertently taps into the alien’s powers of manipulating the future by resetting time to a point in the past. He must now find a way to use this alien time loop he’s trapped in, to help his squad of Jacket jockeys fighting with the aid of exo-skeleton suits called ‘Jackets’, that give them super human speed and strength on the battle field, to win the war against the Mimics and escape the time loop.

Not unlike Run Lola Run (1998), and Source Code (2011), excellent films that explored how small changes in our behavior can have big consequences in our fates, this film similarly explores the fate of a soldier who is caught in a single day that resets itself every time he dies. If you’ve ever played a difficult video game that keeps killing you before you can win or reach the ultimate prize, then you will have an idea of what this film is like.

In this case, Cage, living a video game nightmare, is the only one aware of the time loop and actually remembers everything he learns from previous days before dying, thereby avoiding the same mistakes and taking himself further into the future each time. Die enough times while learning enough tricks in a world that keeps resetting itself and you will eventually triumph over your enemies. 

Taking inspiration from the W.W. II Allied landings on the shores of Normandy, the film starts as a grungy and gritty ‘in-the-trenches’ war film from a grunt’s point of view as Cage is literally dropped onto the hellish front lines of battle. The experience is appropriately shocking, horrifying and exhilarating to watch.

As the mystery of what Cage is experiencing begins to unfold, with the help of a tough but attractive Special Forces soldier, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), recently seen in such Sci-fi mind benders as The Adjustment Bureau (2011) and Looper (2012), who seems to have extreme abilities and experience beyond her years, the film evolves into a decoding of the alien strategy to find its weak point and the search to destroy it.

The action is relentless, even becoming absurdly and darkly humorous at times, but in the end, as in all video games, one eventually runs out of lives and then it’s time to see how far your training will take you in a game that wants to kill you at every turn.

JP

Maleficent

Following the trend of live action re-imaginings of Disney’s classic fairy tales such as Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), now comes Maleficent, a totally re-tooled version of Sleeping Beauty (1959) that’s told completely from the never seen perspective of the evil villainess, Maleficent, in the classic animated film.

The world is divided in two; the ordinary familiar human world and the enchanted world of strange supernatural creatures called the Moors. Visually, the two worlds are juxtaposed with the human world a vast manicured tapestry of fields and fences with neatly corralled domestic livestock; a safe and orderly world. 

The Moors, on the other hand, is a wildly dark mysterious thick forest of free flowing rivers, trees, roots and rocks where all manner of mysterious magical creatures reside. Protecting this magical realm from the greedy and ambitious humans is a pure hearted fairy, who grows up to be a beautiful woman with majestic wings that allow her to travel with the speed and grace of an Eagle.

It’s a risky move by Disney to go with such a departure from the original film with a much darker and adult story, which still manages to exist in the same world as the well-loved original but where the characters are not what they seem at first.

One day she meets a curious human boy, Stefan, lost in the Moors after attempting to steal a rare gem stone. She is kind to Stefan and shows him the way out while also showing him the error of his deed. Over time they continue to meet on the edge of both their worlds and become close friends.

Be prepared for a visually spectacular film that faithfully captures the fantasy elements of the original tale but shows us a whole new side of the story never seen before. I have to give credit to Disney for not just doing a straight remake but trying to create something fresh and new while building on the original concepts.

Eventually, while growing into adulthood, Stefan falls prey to the greed and ambition of his human nature and betrays the love and friendship he has developed with his fairy loved one.

Angelina Jolie steals the show here with here sensitive and superb performance easily holding our attention against all the visual effects. Showing her character’s back story, we see now that she is not the evil person we all thought she was. Sleeping Beauty’s character, played by Elle Fanning, has been relegated to a secondary role here.

The betrayal plunges Maleficent into a deep sorrow and hatred for the man she once loved. Realizing that their love was only and illusion, she places a curse on his new born child that can never be broken accept by true love’s kiss.

Digital advances have revolutionized our film making industry to the point now where nothing is too fantastic to make real on the screen. Magic and myth in fairy tales used to be the domain of children’s books and drawings, but today anything we can imagine can be realized in full cinematic splendor.

The human story here is compelling enough to keep us engaged throughout some of the more enchanting flights of fancy in the film. It’s a timeless tale worthy of the fairy tale genre and will entertain both children and adults.

JP

The Grand Seduction

In the small harbor village of Tickle Head, Newfoundland, the plight of a proud dwindling fishing community, who have long ago lost their traditional way of life, are now living a miserable and unsatisfying existence on welfare.

An English Canadian remake of a French Canadian film called Seducing Dr. Lewis (2003); The Grand Seduction does a surprisingly deft job of telling a moving and heartfelt tale of hope and optimism with a combination of humor and poignant reflection.

Coming from a proud tradition of sea farers, the small community is slowly dying and the few remaining residents are determined to do what is necessary to keep their way of life.

The film is reminiscent in many respects of the sleeper hit of 1983 Local Hero, about a Scottish coastal village that is being courted by a big Oil Company that wants to build a refinery on their land and sends a scout to get a sense of the locals.

The way the people from this coastal fishing cove go about reinventing themselves is often both desperate and hilarious but the film maintains a truthfulness that keeps the story believable at all times.

The Grand Seduction is also an elaborate hoax or lie perpetrated by the local mayor (Brendan Gleeson) to get an oil company to build a repurposing facility in their town and create much needed jobs. There are a number of requirements that stand as hurdles in their path to prosperity. One of which is that they must have a doctor living permanently in their town. 

But to get this doctor they must somehow convince a young naïve plastic surgeon (Taylor Kitsch) from the big city to spend a month in their remote run down collection of shacks and make him believe that it’s the best place on earth to live. Not an easy task by any means.

Coming off two big blockbuster films that performed disastrously at the box office, John Carter (2012) and Battleship (2012), Taylor Kitsch has finally found a fun, meaningful project grounded in character and emotionally satisfying.

Armed with knowledge from a tapped phone line about his private life and tastes, the town’s people come up with all manner of unorthodox ways to impress the doctor and make their village more attractive; a makeover in the form of a beautification project and a new found enthusiasm for the doctor’s favorite sport, cricket.

The breathtaking windswept rocky sea side locations of Newfoundland’s harbors and inlets make for an authentic experience where one can imagine the hardships that many of these small communities have endured. There is a sense of loss and hopelessness in the older generation as friends and family have moved away to other places in search of jobs.

As the young city doctor falls prey to their seemingly well-meaning lies and manipulations, the town seems to be willing to go to almost any length to secure their future. Naturally, he is seduced by the simple charms and warm inviting way of life as they eagerly welcome him as one of their own. But for how long can they keep up the charade?

English Canadian cinema has so often disappointed me in the past, but I am pleased to say that this charming Canadian gem is far better than I imagined. 

JP

Only Lovers Left Alive

Independent avant-garde film maker Jim Jarmusch has created an unusually intoxicating film experience that’s a philosophical meditation and a vampire family drama which plays at times like a dramatic version of The Adams Family and also like a moody art film. 

An 18th century immortal vampire couple, Adam and Eve, are trying to live a reclusive, private and somewhat stable life while working on and enjoying their artistic passions in our contemporary world. 

A kind of In the Mood for Love with Vampires, this is a contemplative and dreamy film about how the living past has disappeared into obscurity and mystery. Like Wong Kar wai’s film In the Mood for Love (2000), Only Lovers is a dark mood piece about nocturnal drifters passing through empty abandoned places that were once great and beautiful.

Adam is a musician from the 18th century who, never growing old, has evolved along with the times and now collects vintage guitars and lives in a boarded up old house in an abandoned part of Detroit, clandestinely influencing the underground music scene. 

The movie shows us a vampire’s eye view of the world. We never see daylight and Adam and Eve are always on the prowl for fresh blood supplies. They have loads of cash and are able to find the blood they need to sustain their existence by secretly purchasing donated blood from hospitals and doctors.

There is a circular theme of eternal life and life cycles. Having acquired ancient knowledge over the hundreds of years that they’ve lived, they are very much attached to the past and still revere the ancient traditions and technologies, tinkering and mixing them with newer gadgets to create strange but functional hybrids to serve their own purposes.

Eve is a reader and lover of poetry and philosophy living in an apartment in Tangiers, Morocco, which is where English Elizabethan era playwright and dramatist Christopher Marlow also lives. The movie uses the conceit that it was Marlowe who was the real talent behind the famous plays credited to William Shakespeare. 

When Eve senses Adam’s suicidal depression, she quickly books a flight to Detroit to be with him, and their age old love and respect for each other is immediately apparent. Going out for evening drives, they reminiscing about the past and the human ‘zombies’ they once knew.

The lovers have their own unique counter culture style and the interesting thing is that we get to see our world through the eyes of people who have lived in it longer than anyone alive today. People who have experienced human history as no one else could and still retain some of its ancient traditions and knowledge that has been lost to us. 

It begs the question: What would our ancestors, were they still alive, make of this world we are now living in that they helped to create? It’s an interesting question that this movie touches on.

Visually, the film is artfully and poetically realized through authentic eerie location photography in the narrow nighttime alley ways of Tangiers and the vast empty urban streets and abandoned parking lots of Detroit. The film feels so random and truthful that one never doubts the reality of the places and situations.

Seven years in the making, this rare film is one of the most satisfying I’ve ever seen and kept me totally immersed in its strange reality. Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam are perfectly cast and are mesmerizing as the long lived night dwellers obsessed with art, music and love.

Only Lovers Left Alive is sure to become a cult favorite with fans of the vampire genre and of Jarmusch’s genre bending films.

JP

Godzilla

The new Godzilla movie takes the iconic amphibious monster hero back to its Japanese roots, rising up from the depths just when humanity needs him most.

During the 1950s atomic age government nuclear testing in the Pacific, a massive ancient creature lying dormant on the ocean floor is awakened.

Unlike Cloverfield (2008) or The Host (2006), there seems to be a lack of any visual style except in the monster sequences, in fact parts of the film look downright low budget. The human story in particular looks almost like a 50s TV show with bad lighting and fake sets standing in for Japan. 

The best visuals are saved for the creature sequences. It seems most of the budget was spent on the creature effects and it shows. Gareth Edwards' excellent previous film Monsters (2010) was visually more impressive and realistic while dealing with the human story much better using wonderfully natural performances.

When a pair of M.U.T.O.s, (massive unidentified terrestrial organism), prehistoric parasites that can also fly and feed off nuclear energy start mating, using San Francisco and Las Vegas as a breeding ground, Godzilla responds to the threat that we humans are ill prepared to deal with.

Unlike other American disaster films where we follow multiple story lines and characters from differing back grounds and social status, this Godzilla film focuses on one middle class family keeping the story simple enough to follow, but if that story and its characters fails to keep one’s attention it could be disastrous. 

The first half of this film flirts dangerously close with uninteresting and clichéd characters in predictable situations mined from previous iterations of the monster disaster genre like Jurassic Park (1993), War of the Worlds (2005), Godzilla (1998), and Pacific Rim (2013).

It isn’t until the last hour of the film that Godzilla comes alive with a fascinating collage of classic hero shots when Godzilla literally steps into the frame like a lone gun slinger coming to mankind’s rescue with a King Kong like determination that hints at a higher intelligence and purpose.

This year being the 60th anniversary of the franchise, this Legendary/Warner Bros. reboot of Godzilla is a bit of a homage to the original 1954 Japanese film Gojira that started it all, including the monster’s look and behavior. 

The original was a symbol of post atomic age fears and Godzilla has been resurrected here and can now be seen to serve a post 9/11 age of similar fears. There is a sequence in the film that harkens back to the search and rescue of survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings by fire fighters working together with civilians.

But the film also plays on global environmental fears of our destructive influence on the planet with the increase in global warming and Tsunamis wiping out coastal cities around the world.

This new bad ass Godzilla is more than just a destructive force, he has a personality and seems to exude a melancholic sadness from carrying the weight of the world on its shoulders. Like an aging tired gunfighter who is forced out of retirement to settle one more conflict, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Godzilla is a great introduction into the genre for a younger audience and if you’re an older fan of, and are familiar with the Japanese Godzilla films and creature disaster genre in general, this film will not disappoint. Enjoy the apocalyptic city smashing mayhem.

JP

Sorcerer - Trucks of Doom

Somewhere in the jungles of South America, in a squalid tropical slum for migrants who risk their lives working on a dangerous nearby oil rig owned by an American corporation, is where criminal fugitives of the world gather to escape the law.

Highly underrated, Sorcerer (1977) is evocative of such action adventure classics as Apocalypse Now (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). It’s a gripping, relentless and fatalistic film about hard men struggling for survival against machine, nature and each other.

Visually, it’s steeped in grungy sweat dripping, mud encrusted imagery that immerses the viewer in a rough predatory world of desperate outlaws in hiding. Filmed in actual Jungle locations, the raw gritty visual details look completely authentic.

The local watering hole canteen is where some unlikely and unsavory characters cross paths; a hit man from Vera Cuz, a terrorist from Jerusalem, a corrupt business tycoon from Paris, and a mobster from New Jersey. They all have their secret reasons for being there, which are outlined in the first half of the film. They are men from all walks of life who end up in one of the poorest and remote regions on earth.

Now beautifully restored, this harrowing suspenseful adventure set in real locations around the world is a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic French film The Wages of Fear (1953), which was a big hit in Europe in its own time and was based on the novel ‘Le Salaire de la Peur’ by Georges Arnaud. 

This remake by William Friedkin, who also directed The Exorcist (1973), The French Connection (1971) and Killer Joe (2011) is every bit as engaging and has lost none of its nail biting suspense, even improving on the original in many ways. 

The excitement really starts rolling when the call goes out from the oil company for skilled drivers to transport a deadly load of nitroglycerin in modified scrap trucks through 200 miles of treacherous jungle terrain. If they can make it to a blazing oil well fire without blowing themselves up in the process, they will be well rewarded. 

There’s an eerie synthesized soundtrack by Tangerine Dream throughout the action sequences that gives the movie that same cold fatalistic edgy feeling that Blade Runner (1982) had. For me it brought to mind the aesthetic soundscape of movies like Taxi Driver (1976), typical of the era it was made in.

The odds are heavily against the drivers as the volatile payload is contained in 6 deteriorating boxes that are so unstable that the slightest impact could blow a crater the size of a small town. The cobbled together trucks take on a personality of their own as they slog through the dense tropical forest like predatory metal beasts.

One of the last great films to come out of the new independent Hollywood that emerged after the old studio system collapsed, Sorcerer was the victim of bad timing when it first arrived in theaters and was sadly overlooked during the unexpected Sci-fi juggernaut that was the Star Wars (1977) phenomenon, which had opened in theatres just a month before and was still playing to packed houses for years afterward.

This newly digitally re-mastered classic, which will be available on Blu-ray and DVD April 22, 2014, may finally give this unnoticed film the attention it deserves. Don’t miss it.

JP

The Lunchbox

This delightful thought provoking film is sure to satisfy your craving for socially relevant Indian cinema. You won’t find any musical numbers or melodramatic love stories here. Much like the excellent Mumbai’s King (2012), the film makers are showing us a more gritty genuine and un-romanticized side of India.

This charming gentle film follows Saajan (Irrfan Khan), an aloof widower about to retire from his office job, and Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a lonely neglected housewife trying to rekindle her marriage by cooking traditional Indian dishes with spices and love.

Ritesh Batra’s unique first feature film is a quiet sensitive love story set against the backdrop of Mumbai’s dabbawallahs, or lunchbox wallas, as they pick up and deliver hot lunches prepared by the wives of office workers to their husbands working in the city. 

Mumbai’s daily lunchbox delivery system is so complex and reliable that it’s been studied by Oxford scholars and is estimated to be so accurate that dabbawallas make less than one mistake in 6 million deliveries.

Office loner and widower Saajan is a bit of an anti-social scrooge when we first meet him.  When introduced to a new employee and asked to train him to take his place before his retirement, he uses his reputation as a cold uncaring stoic to avoid him. 

The film features a fascinating look at the daily routine of Mumbai’s dabbahwallas while going about their job of gathering lunch pails from various residences and cycling, walking and taking trains across the city to office districts personally delivering each lunch to their respective destinations, returning the empty lunchboxes to their homes in the afternoon.

When Saajan’s lunchbox arrives at his workplace he’s surprised at the sudden improvement in the quality of his food, which he orders from a street side eatery. What he doesn’t realize is that he has been getting Ila’s home prepared meal meant for her husband. 

Irrfan Khan’s subtle stone face expressions have quietly been making a huge impact in Western cinema over the past few years with roles in some of my favorite highly acclaimed films like Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012).

We get to watch as Ila prepares her aromatic home cooked food while seeking sage advice about the ingredients of love from her upstairs neighbor. She communicates her feelings through her recipes and something begins to stir inside Saajan, who starts communicating with this mysterious house wife through notes he leaves in the empty lunch bag. 

Much of the story is communicated through non-verbal facial expressions and body gestures, which gives the feeling of being witness to very private and intimate moments where no dialogue is necessary to see exactly what’s going through their minds. 

As they start to open up to each other about their feelings and frustrations, the notes get longer and Saajan slowly starts to become more compassionate to his new replacement.

The Lunchbox is a meditative study in loneliness in one of the world’s most densely populated cities and shows us that people who crave love and affection will find it when they are willing to open their hearts to it.

JP

Tim's Vermeer

What if the 17th century Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer, renowned as one of the greatest artists in the world, was actually a fraud who was perhaps not an artist at all but a very talented tinkerer and manipulator of light?

In his documentary Tim's Vermeer, Tim Jenison has taken this extraordinary idea - that’s been kept secret for 350 years - and put his extensive talents as an inventor and technologist to convincing use in order to prove that hypothesis. 

It’s not exactly a secret among art historians that Vermeer may have used optical tools popular at the time to create his near photographic quality paintings. But Jenison had the tools and the know-how, not to mention the dedication, to set out on an eight year journey to put this argument to rest. He found compelling evidence that, in fact, Vermeer did use primitive types of devices called a Camera Obscura to aid him in creating his masterpieces.

The film is a chronicle of Jenison's painstaking efforts to make the most compelling case to prove Vermeer's use of optical tools by attempting to recreate one of his paintings using the exact same techniques and materials that would have been used and were readily available to artists in Holland at that time. 

Jenison’s astonishing revelations, while on this obsessive adventure, makes for a fascinating documentary about not only techniques used by 17th century artists but also little known historical and scientific facts and details about painting, how our eyes see light, optics and the art world in general.

Tim's Vermeer was produced and directed by the magician duo Penn and Teller, who have a long-standing friendship with Jenison. I was just as drawn into the mystery as Tim was, as he tries to answer intriguing questions about how this artist worked and the conditions in which he created his masterpieces.

The only real evidence that exists today is the paintings themselves, which are actually documents revealing the effects of optical materials in very subtle ways. The way that Jenison discovers these clues is by actually recreating one of Vermeer’s paintings using those very same optical techniques. But he goes much further than that, making and mixing the paint from scratch using the same tools and materials that were used Vermeer's time.

The results are truly astonishing, especially when you realize that Tim Jenison is not a painter or an artist. This documentary has to be seen to be believed and you will be amazed. It puts the artist Vermeer and his work in a whole new light and should force the art world and historians to reexamine these paintings.

If it turns out to be true, which seems to be very much the case, Vermeer was practically painting a projected image in front of him using mirrors and lenses, so that it was possible to match light and color with striking precision. Once you know the technique, this can be achieved by anyone with enough patience and the inclination. Vermeer's paintings can be seen not only as art, but as precursors to the photograph.

Whether or not you are convinced by Tim Jenison's intriguing theories, this documentary will open viewer’s eyes to the stunning creations of two people living hundreds of years apart, who both dedicated their lives to give us the truest vision of the world around them. 

JP

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie might well be the most fun you’ll have at the movies this winter. That was certainly the case with the enthusiastic audience I enjoyed watching it with consisting of as many adults as children.

This is not your parents Lego. This is the new improved think-outside-the-box Lego.  No longer just square bricks that you can build into square buildings, these Legos are for a new generation and the movie goes to fantastic unconventional lengths to show us just how far Lego has evolved.

In the Lego world Emmet is an ordinary construction guy who just wants to fit in and be everyone’s friend. But his eagerness to please is not making him any friends, until a wizard, voiced by Morgan Freeman, tells him that he is the one Master Builder foretold by the prophesy who will save the universe.

Lego can now do anything you can think of but besides the great new advances being made at Lego, the movie is also a wonderful computer animated invention of its own. Its visual style is an eye popping sugar rush of colors and shapes.

Emmet wants to believe that he is special, so he goes on a quest to prove that he is the one who can save the world from the clutches of Lord Business, who is trying to keep the world straight and conventional, where everyone follows strict rules without any strange new wonkiness.

The wacky humor is hilarious with our ordinary generic worker hero, Emmet, in the classic underdog role a la Frodo or Neo from the Matrix. The theme of creativity vs. conformity, instruction manuals versus imagination, rigidity versus change and freedom are universal and especially relevant today in our constantly changing world. 

There is a mix of many popular franchises from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings, and a slew of other pop culture characters including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. The star studded voice cast includes Liam Neeson, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, and Johan Hill to name a few.

During Emmet’s heroic journey his mission is to take the mystical ‘Piece of Resistance’, find the all-powerful destructive Lord Business and somehow use it to defeat him.  Along the way he gathers a rag tag group of followers who all want to help him and all have their own unique creative ideas and abilities that will play a role in the final showdown.

The film’s creative spirit and humor is infectious and the breakneck non-stop action keeps the fun and the Lego blocks flying at a dizzying pace. 

Visually and emotionally this is the kind of movie that could have been made by PIXAR in their early days and is reminiscent of the recent animated film Wreck-It Ralph (2012), with its collection of characters from different popular video games past and present and its visually distinct themed lands.

Besides being a long advertisement for Lego, The Lego Movie captures the childhood joy of playing and inventing goofy fun toys that can be transformed into anything the imagination can conjure up and will appeal to the inner child in us all, where everything is awesome.

JP

Captain Phillips

The pirate infested waters off the coast of Somalia have been and continue to be the focus of much media attention with the kidnapping of civilians and hijacking of merchant ships by Somali warlords, who force desperate local gangs of fishermen to board unsuspecting vessels and hold them at gun point until their ransom demands are met.

In 2011 there were 176 confirmed piracy attacks in the region. Captain Phillips is based on the true story of Richard Phillips, an experienced and competent captain of an American cargo ship being pursued by ruthless gun-toting pirates in 2009, desperately intent on seizing the biggest potential payload ever attempted.

Paul Greengrass puts us right in the middle of the crisis as we follow armed coastal fishing villagers out to sea and witness their strategic attempts to hijack vulnerable ships, taking us deep into the mindset of the pirates. 

One of the most visually exciting directors of our time, known for pushing the envelope of authenticity and creating some of the most realistic action films of recent years, Paul Greengrass has kept us in thrall and in the tight grip of his ever probing camera with crisis films like Bloody Sunday (2002), United 93 (2006), Green Zone (2010) and the best of the Bourne films The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). 

After taking control of the ship, the hijackers take the crew hostage and make for the Somali coastline to secure their booty, but when the American navy gets wind of the attack they set a bold plan into action and the race is on to rescue the crew before they can reach their destination.

Two things are for sure, Paul Greengrass can’t make a bad movie and Tom Hanks is one of the most dedicated actors when it comes to authentic details. Together they make an unbeatable team the likes of which we haven’t seen since Tom paired with Ron Howard to make Apollo 13 (1995), or Paul Greengrass paired with Matt Damon in the Bourne series.

As the Navy closes in on the pirates who are making for their home base, the captain offers himself up as hostage in exchange for the lives of his crew members. But the question remains, how can the pirates be successfully eliminated without risking the life of Captain Phillips? The captain and crew however have some tricks up their own sleeves to foil their captors. But they must work together if they are to survive this ordeal.

Tom Hanks is known for keeping it real and giving a sincere true-to-life performance by closely collaborating with the actual people involved with the events of the film. His passion and admiration for the astronauts of Apollo 13 produced one of the most accurate film portrayals of an iconic world renowned event with dialogue and events recreated from actual NASA mission footage.

As educational as it is suspenseful to watch, it’s no surprise that under the direction of these towering talents Captain Phillips succeeds in bringing the full scale of these harrowing events to life with genuine emotional impact. 

Also watch the excellent Danish film A Hijacking (2012) which was also released last year and tells the true story of a pirate hijacking of a Danish cargo ship. 

JP