The Martian

From visionary director Ridley Scott - Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), and Prometheus (2012), comes the latest in the Astronaut in jeopardy genre that’s lately been gaining velocity, The Martian

Realistic space exploration films featuring isolated astronauts in life threatening situations have been around for years but were always considered to be cerebral speculative procedurals, of interest only to the hard-core Sci-fi fans. But with the success of films like Apollo 13 (1995) Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014) with their visually innovative spectacular images, and suspenseful scientifically accurate stories, astronaut films have become much more entertaining and popular.

A bold blend of Apollo 13 (1995) and Cast Away (2000), The Martian follows Mark Watney (Matt Damon), a stranded astronaut on an uninhabited planet Mars, some 401 million kilometers from earth, trying to survive long enough using only his wits and his considerable science knowledge, until he can find a way to communicate with NASA and come up with a plan to get home.

Mark is presumed dead during the evacuation of their Ares III site after a storm forced the crew to abort their mission and return home. When Mark discovers he is not dead, he quickly realizes that even if his crew and NASA knew he was alive, it would take four years for another mission to reach him, by which time he would have starved to death long before that, assuming that he doesn’t die by any number of grizzly means that could expose him to the hostile Martian environment killing him instantly.

The Martian puts the science back into Sci-fi. It’s all about the science of surviving in space and the suspense of living in a place where small miscalculations can result in catastrophic accidents. We are constantly reminded that doing the math right can save your life. But above and beyond the math and science, you still need the courage and conviction to take risks.

Mark is seriously in danger of dying the longer he stays on Mars, but he has a healthy sense of humor which helps him get through some of his most difficult ordeals and keeps us interested in him and his predicament. As the obstacles mount his chances of survival quickly diminish. Not only is his food supply running out but he has to make his own water and oxygen, which are all in limited supply.

Based on the novel by Andy Weir, which started as a self-published e-novel, The Martian is quite a complex technical read, presumably limiting its audience to the hard-core Sci-fi fans. But the humanity of the story and characters is so compelling, it actually reached a far wider readership than anticipated and was eventually bought by a publisher and picked up for adaptation into a major Hollywood film.

This film has it all; a risky complex mission to Mars in jeopardy, space travel, science, suspense, a great ensemble cast of actors and a brilliant director at the helm, all coming together to give heart to this triumphant epic story of survival that’s inspirational and educational. 

If you choose to see The Martian on a big screen in 3D, prepare to be blown away.



Sicario is a powerful well written and visceral depiction of the horrors and ambiguities of America’s war on drugs that harkens back to similarly excellent films in the Mexican drug war genre like Miss Bala (2011) and Traffic (2000).

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a fearless young female FBI agent, who wants to make a difference but is growing frustrated by the system. She volunteers to help a black-ops mission that promises to find and stop the people at the top, responsible for the terror and deaths on both sides of the border.

What Kate soon learns is that no one is playing by the rules anymore and in order to catch the kind of rabid individuals for whom life and brutality go hand in hand, she may have to give up everything she believes in. One mysterious brooding character on the team played by Benicio del Toro tells her; “You will not survive here. You are not a wolf. This is the land of wolves now.” 

French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013), is at the top of his game with this latest crime thriller about Mexican drug cartels and the war on drugs that continues to claim the lives of thousands of innocent people. 

The lawless desert wasteland between the US and Mexican border is scarred with corpses both human and vehicular. Nothing lives there for long and aerial vistas of this devastated no man’s land look like satellite images of an alien planet, testament to the changing landscape that has resulted from the increasing violence of the drug war.

Sicario, which means hit man in Mexico, gives us a searing sense of unease that we know something evil is lurking beneath the surface unseen, like the pulse-pounding opening sequence in which a police raid on a seemingly normal house from the outside hides horrific bone-chilling secrets on the inside.

Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) who head the black-ops team are tasked with stirring up enough chaos and fear to flush out some of the bigger fish that will lead them to the men who are orchestrating the violence from the top.

Visually striking and authentic looking in every way as filmed by master cinematographer Roger Deakins, Sicario is haunting in its disturbing depiction of a dark underground world of death and fear as seen through the eyes of Emily Blunt’s relatively new agent who has many questions that cannot be easily answered.

The paralyzing suspense is palpable as we follow Kate deeper into hostile territory and we’re constantly kept in the dark about who can be trusted and who is operating with their own agenda.

This is an in-your-face hard hitting action drama that pulls no punches as it executes its objective by any means available. The film asks difficult questions about how far we are willing to go to make a difference and how far will we follow the path that may lead us astray and destroy our own moral compass.

Watch for Denis Villeneuve’s next collaboration with Roger Deakins, which is reported to be the much anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s cult classic Sci-fi film Blade Runner (1982), scheduled for release in 2017.



With today’s headlines filled with stories of mass migrations of people from Libya pouring into Europe, leaving their homelands to find a better life, we would do well to remember the story of our own ancestors who once faced similar journeys and prospects when they came to America by the boatful from their ancestral lands in Europe.

Based on the award winning historical novel by Irish author Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn is director John Crowley’s beautifully told, if traditionally staged epic film adaptation of this captivating coming-of-age tale that follows a journey across the sea to a new world.  

Brooklyn focuses on an Irish girl in her early twenties, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who lives with her widowed mother and older sister in the town of Enniscorthy, Ireland. At a time when work is extremely scarce, Eilis grows frustrated with her prospects in this small town existence and the mentality of its folk, especially the young men who all dress the same and just want to get drunk.

Visually, the production is sparing and conservatively filmed but well researched and beautifully costumed with 50s fashion. The real strength of the film though is in its powerful heartfelt performances and tightly focused story of Eilis Lacey, exquisitely performed by Saoirse Ronan from Hanna (2011), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

Encouraged by her sister and a local Catholic priest who has sponsored her and arranged for a job waiting for her, Eilis reluctantly agrees to venture out and board a boat headed for New York City, leaving behind the only family she has. After a difficult journey she arrives in a strange new land of modern ideas and a large community of Irish workers. 

While staying in a boarding house for Irish women, she starts working for a high-end department store as a sales clerk but becomes increasingly unhappy and homesick until she meets a charming young Italian-American plumber who is totally taken with her. Their relationship grows as she takes night classes to become an accountant, when she gets devastating news from back home that forces her to return.

What she finds upon returning to her hometown in Ireland is that she is treated very differently now. Having grown into a woman with experience from abroad she now has many more prospects than she did before but some things have not changed. Eilis must now make a life changing decision that will determine her future happiness and identity.

The film delves into strong themes of letting go of our past and embracing the uncertain future. Poignant themes of identity are touched upon and the struggles we face when torn between two places and two communities, and the frightening prospect of deciding where we belong and what we want. 

Deciding between our responsibility to ancestral family or the excitement and possibilities of a new modern life, Eilis’ predicament is universally relatable and will tug at the heartstrings. As many of our own ancestors must have done, she must make the difficult decision to return to her old life and family in Ireland for good or embrace a new one in an exciting but uncertain new world far away across the sea.

Brooklyn is an emotionally satisfying straight forward old fashioned romantic film that manages to leave a lasting impression without any fancy editing or camera effects. A must see.


This Changes Everything

This Changes Everything is a powerful passionate new Canadian climate change documentary made by people who don’t like climate change documentaries, and asks the question, “Why don’t we like these kinds of movies? “

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s new documentary answers this question by telling us that it’s because we are often told that climate change is caused due to our greedy selfish human nature. That’s just the way we are so we can’t change it. But what if climate change is due to something else? What if it’s due to a story we’ve been lead to believe is true but isn’t. That, we can change.

They argue against the long and commonly held belief that the earth is a machine to be used, shaped and dominated by people. And that the current political/economic model of continued unsustainable growth and deregulation, which gives Corporations free reign to extract resources out of the earth at any cost to land and people, is linked directly to our current climate crisis and only benefits the few at the top of that system.

Five years in the making, the film shows the devastating struggles by people on the front lines whose lands and livelihoods are directly affected by today’s global economic policies and make convincing connections between our unsustainable destructive economic system and the rapidly changing climate.

The filmmakers take us to all corners of the earth where similar stories are playing out, of regular folks living in rural communities who are forced to go to extraordinary length and risking their lives to protect their families and stop brutal practices inflicted on them by their governments and multi-national corporations. 

Greek villagers living on generations-old pristine unspoiled paradise are being forced to abandon their way of life by a Canadian gold mining company who wants to completely annihilate it by constructing toxic chemical plants with bulldozers and drilling equipment.

Indigenous people in Alberta and elsewhere are being killed and forced off the land they subsist on, despite ages old treaties that promise the land will be protected and can be used only by them. There are many more examples of ever increasing violence against people and the effect these government and corporate practices are having on our environment all over the world.

The film also points to positive ways we can change these practices and continue to provide secure jobs for people by putting our efforts into safe renewable energy and technology that has already been successful in other countries. But greedy governments won’t adopt these ways on their own. They need people to demand change. 

The film shows examples of communities that, after rising up and long struggles, have been successful in bringing attention to their plight and have affected change in their government’s short sighted policies. Many communities have now created local governments that have their best interest at heart with the power to stop these global companies from taking over and destroying their land and homes.

This is an important eye-opening film that deals with issues that affect everyone and is well worth seeing. It should be shown in schools everywhere. As someone in the films says “it’s not just an Indian issue. If you drink water and breathe air, it will affect you.”

Premiering soon at the TIFF Toronto International Film Festival, make sure you take the opportunity to watch it when it comes in theaters later this year.


The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?)

You will fall in love with The Second Mother, a charming honest and hilarious Brazilian drama. Regina Casé – from the award winning film Me You Them (2000), is a hoot as a gruff lovable nanny working for a wealthy middle upper class family. 

When her estranged teenaged daughter comes to stay with her at the home of her employer where she works to search for an apartment in the city of São Paulo while studying for the entrance exam to a prestigious school, a tense social drama begins to unfold, exposing the social divide between generations with comic results.

The Second Mother accurately reflects our current social media obsessed society with a keen observant eye that allows us to see the absurd humor in our unconscious behavior. The film is a scaled down modern version of Downton Abbey, showing us the vast psychological disparity between the servant class and the household’s wealthy family.

While revealing conflicting class values, filmmaker Anna Muylaert gives us a sensitive truthful story of a mother who must come to terms with her guilt and angry teenage daughter who she hasn’t seen in ten years while working far away from her family.

Regina Casé’s performance as Val the nanny is so convincing and charming that she dominates the screen with her large spontaneous personality and exuberant energy. She clearly enjoys her work and loves the family she works for, but she knows her place and has no illusions about her station in life as a servant. 

She knows her limits but that’s not to say she doesn’t enjoy being around the things she can never have. To Val this is just the natural way of life and she just feels lucky to be trusted enough to be a part of the lives of such grand wealthy people.

When Val’s daughter Jéssica arrives for a short stay, her employers are more than happy to accommodate her seeing how happy it will make Val. But Val’s world is quickly turned upside down when it becomes shockingly clear that Jéssica has no such illusions about life that her mother was born with. 

Jéssica has much bigger ambitions than her mother and her attitude is that if she studies hard she will have the same opportunities in life as anyone. She thinks it perfectly normal to be treated as an equal guest in the house regardless of her mother’s employment as a house maid.

It’s fascinating and entertaining to observe the tense conflicts between mother and daughter as well as how the wealthy employer, who wants to seem gracious but also preserve the status quo, suddenly feeling threatened by the less fortunate but more determined and expressive lower class guest.

This movie is well worth seeing for its amusing social commentary and its wonderful ensemble performances which won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting for its two lead actors at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The film also won the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Brazilian cinema has steadily been gaining world attention with such powerful, insightful and artful contemporary films as The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (2008), Neighboring Sounds (2012) and Brazilian Western (2013).


American Ultra

American Ultra is a sweet tender puppy that becomes Cujo the raging killer dog. It’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) meets Jason Bourne with the ultra-violent tactics of The Raid: Redemption (2011). 

With the recent slew of spy films, this is a refreshing humorous comic book take on the military sleeper agent experiment gone rogue film. A Cohen Brothers Raising Arizona (1987) inspired take on secret agent films.

It’s a hilarious and unexpectedly touching love story about a young pot smoking couple, Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) who are trying to make their relationship work despite the personal issues that threaten to keep them from maturing and fulfilling their dreams. 

Mike is an imaginative nerdy timid guy who leads a mundane dull existence while living out his fantasies through his drawings of a comic ape astronaut superhero called Apollo Ape. His girlfriend encourages him to come out of his shell and wants him to succeed at something he loves doing.

But Mike struggles with a panic disorder that prevents him from traveling outside of his small town existence. Wanting more for himself and Phoebe he decides to take her on a trip to Hawaii but is unable to go through with it when he has a panic attack at the airport.

He wants to make it up to her by proposing marriage but can’t decide on the right moment because, unknown to him, he suddenly becomes the target of a top secret government operation to eliminate him from existence.

American Ultra is destined to be a cult classic with moments of delicate romance and reflection punctuated by sudden absurdly funny action and violence. Throughout the mayhem the film never loses sight of the couples’ relationship problems. 

We are treated to typical arguments between two people who love each other and we want to see their relationship succeed against seemingly overwhelming odds, when Mike’s alter-ego is activated by a hypnotic password he receives from a customer in the store where he works.

The film is done in a way that feels perfectly logical, as if this could happen to anyone and Mike has no idea what is happening to him or why. As the bad guys relentlessly come after him, the humor never lets up as the crisis explodes around them. 

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are brilliantly funny and convincing, playing it totally straight as the confused couple at the center of the storm while the supporting cast of John Leguizamo, Topher Grace and Tony Hill are enjoyable to watch in their over-the-top performances.

Some of The Raid: Redemption inspired graphic violence using everyday household items as weapons adds to the bizarre hilarity of the situations and keeps us on the edge of our seats. The cast and the filmmakers were clearly having a great time making this film and it shows.

This is a fun action packed movie if you don’t take your spy films too seriously and would make a great double bill with Raising Arizona, with which it shares many comic elements.


Marriage Italian Style

Virtuoso director and actor Vittorio De Sica, who crafted such all-time Italian neorealist classics as Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D. (1952), using keenly observed melodramatic Italian behavior and characters, pulls us into a hilarious darkly comic story in 1960s Italy. 

When Filumena (Sophia Loren) has collapsed on the Neapolitan bakery floor where she works and is rushed off through the streets of Naples by a distraught close-knit community of supporters, they call for the shop owner who is also her lover, Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni). While seemingly on her death bed, she asks him to summon the priest. Worried that she may die, Domenico now reflects on their turbulent love affair. So begins Marriage Italian Style (1964), now in a gorgeous newly restored 4K print.

De Sica has subtly shaded this classic romantic comedy with a strong humanist message. Its potent and honest observations about how the wealthy, who feel superior and entitled, getting away with unethical behavior, ignoring society’s moral code and looking down on those less educated while treating them with disdain, is still relevant today.  

The story of a wealthy vain businessman, Domenico, and a beautiful illiterate country girl, Filumena, is pure operatic romance. When they first meet in a brothel during a W.W. II air raid in German occupied Italy, it’s a tender moment heightened by fear and danger that they will never forget. After the war they meet again and become occasional lovers while she continues to work as a prostitute. Eventually she convinces him to buy her an apartment so she can leave the sex trade and he puts her to work in his bakery as she becomes his mistress. 

When years later she catches on that the man she loves is about to marry someone else and is using her while continuing to have younger lovers, she, backed by supporters, schemes a revenge plot that will trick him into marrying her. But when the plot fails she reveals to him that she’s had three kids that he never knew about.

Fearing another trick, he refuses to believe her story and callously sends her away after annulling the marriage. But soon he becomes curious about her children and discovers that one of them is his son, but Filumena will not tell him which one for fear of alienating the other two children. She believes they must be treated equally and he must accept all or none if he wants to be with her.

Based on the 1946 play Filumena Marturano by celebrated Italian poet, author, playwright and actor Eduardo de Filippo, the message becomes clear; all children must be equally loved by their parents who often unfairly favor one with privileges not extended to the others. This dictum can also be applied to the treatment of people in general under the law, the state and by people like the conceited Domenico. 

Power and money corrupts absolutely. It’s an age-old problem that no one is immune to no matter how charming they may seem. But the power of the Italian matriarch to keep moral and family ties strong under the most difficult circumstance eventually triumphs over the selfish male ego. 

Marriage Italian Style masterfully blends plenty of playful humor between one of the greatest onscreen chemistries of Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni with cutting political critique, achieving a stimulating memorable film experience. 

The final scenes are poetically depicted and precise. Finally taking responsibility, inspired by her strength and moral convictions, Domenico’s eyes and mind have opened and he agrees wholeheartedly to do the right thing.



AMY, Asif Kapadia’s devastating new documentary about UK’s silky voiced, troubled jazz diva Amy Winehouse is a revealing eye opener and disturbing look at a genuine natural born talent.  

The first revelation when watching the story of Amy unfold, is when we realize the truly extraordinary musical ability coming out of this happy spontaneous teenage girl from a broken home with big eyes and a broad smile.

Amy was gifted with not only a soulful sultry voice but music just seems to radiate from her body. Whatever came into her head manifested itself spontaneously into natural poetic lyrics that seemed to be coming out of a much older and seasoned professional.

The public was instantly turned on to her haunting smoky voice and soulful lyrics which were deeply affecting and mirrored the struggles in her personal life. Watching Amy as she grows as an artist and gains in fame, it seemed she was living a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare.

The second shocking revelation from watching this documentary is how fast Amy descends into a downward spiral due to her extremely obsessive personality and volatile emotional issues, reacting strongly to problems that start to surface in her dysfunctional relationships with her father and boyfriend. 

The very traits that made her such an exceptional artist are the same traits that also brought about her self-destruction. As the money train continued to gain velocity, no one, including the people closest to her, was willing or able to put on the brakes when a crash seemed imminent. 

Powerful and heartbreaking, this is a must-see documentary that gives insight into a huge vocal talent and how our toxic dollar driven, celebrity obsessed society allowed such a young vulnerable life to be cut short in such an untimely and uncaring manner. She was like a modern day Mozart who was unaware of the effect her genuine creative ability had on people and was taken aback by the overwhelming reaction of the media and her fans. 

Even if you’ve never heard of Amy Winehouse, you will be captivated by this authentic passionate young gem caught in a turbulent sea of bad influences. Her father Mitch, who abandoned her mother after a longtime affair with another woman when Amy was very young, and her cocaine addicted boyfriend Blake were among her biggest influences; both were getting a free ride on the runaway success of Amy’s early albums and were blind to Amy’s emotional needs and psychological problems.

British born director Asif Kapadia, who also produced the celebrated documentary SENNA (2010) about Brazilian Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna, and grew up in the same North London area where Amy lived, insisted on full creative control over the project. 

With access to some very personal and intimate archival footage of Amy he skillfully blends interview footage of her friends and family into a visually innovative chronicle of the deeply troubled singer/song writer as she rises from fun loving local prodigy to an international sensation. 

Amy like Ayrton was a singular talent, a mesmerizing young sensitive individual who could live no other way than where her heart and ability lead her. Their greatest strength also became their greatest weakness. They both died tragically. Amy was a great loss and her voice will live on in her songs but there are important lessons to be learned here about the negative effects of too much fame too soon.


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This is the review that tells you about a new film that doesn’t suck. In fact it’s exceptionally good, but where do I start? Do I tell you about the Sundance Film Festival awards it has won (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award) and the enthusiastic audience responses, or should I just tell you to go see it and be wonderfully surprised and moved?

It’s true that judging by the title, the film will make you smile, feel like laughing and sad at the same time. This assessment is not far off, in fact beneath all the funny feel-good stuff lays a raw honesty and intense personal experience that strikes deep into the heart.

Greg Gains played by Thomas Mann, a teenager with commitment issues, narrates the story of the worst time of his life, and the best. He’s an awkward kid who dreads high school social life and tries his best to blend in without being noticed. 

Living with his parents on the outskirts of sub-urban Pittsburgh, Greg is raised on a diet of obscure foreign films thanks to his eccentric father. When his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with Leukemia, Greg’s mother nags and guilts him into spending time with her to show that he is not the insensitive anti-social creep that he pretends to be.

When he’s not avoiding people, Greg and his buddy Earl (RJ Cyler) secretly make horrible parodies of classic films for their own enjoyment. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a festival favorite because it makes reference to so many classic foreign films. Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982), a documentary about the making of Werner Herzog's jungle epic Fitzcarraldo (1982) is especially singled out with hilarious effect. 

Like the kids in Son of Rambow (2007), Greg and Earl enjoy making fun of their favorite cult classics by videotaping themselves with improvised costumes and dialogue. And like Oliver Tate in Submarine (2010) Greg finds himself ill prepared to deals with the distress of spending a lot of time with a girl and dealing with emotional issues relating to death and terminal illness.

Gradually, as Greg and Rachel spend more time together, even through the chemo treatments, their clumsy friendship grows. Reluctantly Greg and Earl decide to put their film making talents to use to produce a movie for Rachel in hopes that it will make her, if not better, at least temporarily forget about her dire situation. But making the film proves more difficult than expected as Greg must now confront his feelings for Rachel.

Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews who also wrote the screenplay, this charming coming-of-age tale with a powerful message has a truthful voice that feels authentic, relevant and in touch with current adolescence.

The sometimes unusual framing by Korean cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung emphasizes the awkwardness and the uncomfortable situations the characters find themselves in.

In the competent skillful hands of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who has worked as a second unit director for films including Babel (2006), assisting celebrated directors such as Martin Scorsese and Alejandro González Iñárritu, he elevates the quirky coming-of-age comedy material to unexpected level of emotional depth and insight. 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl marks the arrival of a major new talent in cinema. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has put his considerable talent and heart into a personal film experience not to be missed and is already garnering Oscar buzz.


Clouds of Sils Maria / While We're Young

As our generation ages so also are the filmmakers and actors from that generation, who are becoming pre-occupied with making films that reflect on the state of our lives as we grapple with our changing bodies and the world around us. 

Two films of note that deal with our need to stay in touch with our ever changing society while also dealing with the ever pressing sense of our legacy and the limited time available to achieve our ambitions, are Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) and While We’re Young (2015).

Both of these excellent films are about aging artists struggling with the loss of their fading youth and careers. In both stories the aging artists, a well-known film actress in Clouds of Sils Maria and a documentary filmmaker in While We’re Young, are working on difficult late career projects and become bogged down with doubts while striving to recover a sense of excitement and joy they seem to have lost over the years. 

In each case they reach for the advice and influence of much younger people to try and understand the current trends in culture and revive their sense of passion for their own projects. At first this strategy seems to work, giving them a new sense of exuberance and vitality. 

While We're Young:
In the case of Noah Bombauch’s While We’re Young, Josh and his wife Cornelia, played by Ben Stiller – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) and Naomi Watts – Birdman (2014), try to reinvent themselves while under the influence of a younger 20 something couple Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver – Tracks (2014), This is Where I Leave You (2014) and Amanda Seyfried – Mama Mia! (2008), who are into all things vintage. 

While the middle aged childless couple try to stay relevant with their latest electronic gadgets, the younger couple are obsessed with doing things the old fashioned way, discovering with fascination the music and old-school tech of the 70s and 80s, which of course is ironic since these are the very things our middle aged couple have discarded over the years as new improved tech has come to replaced them, but they now become nostalgic when faced with a blast from their past. 

They are drawn into the lives of their new hipster friends, joining them for fun spontaneous events around New York City that are decidedly non-digital and lament the loss of a simpler way of life. It’s like a Woody Allen film lamenting how much the world has changed from life not so long ago since the digital age changed everything with instant knowledge at our fingertips, but a lack of face to face human interactions. 

While We’re Young is a pleasing and poignant comedy in equal measure, and a welcome return to Ben Stiller’s more subdued and earnest roles like the one he played in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but still retaining his trademark humor that relishes in awkward situations.

Clouds of Sils Maria:
In Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) a celebrated actress Maria Enders, played by Juliette Binoche – Chocolat (2000), Godzilla (2014), relies on her young assistant Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart – Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), to find new relevance and inspiration in a role from a play that launched her career in her youth. 

At first she dismisses the idea but Valentine eventually convinces Maria to revisit the play performing an older character suited to her current age opposite the young character that made her famous so many years earlier.

It’s a thoughtful and intimate behind the scenes look at the philosophical preparation and the tedious rehearsal process involved in building a character leading up to a convincing performance on stage. 

Maria discovers that playing this older person strikes a little too close to home and is proving more challenging than she was prepared to deal with. She must now come to terms with her past, reliving the memories of an earlier time in her life while finding new meaning in the play and in her own life. 

The film also exposes some of the crazy and annoying situations that celebrities must contend with while being hounded by paparazzi, making it difficult to maintain a semblance of a normal life. 

Kristen Stuart is superb and gives such a natural subtle performance that she draws us in and transfixes us with her every word and gesture. She is the first American actress to have won France’s prestigious Cesar Award for her supporting role in this film.

Clouds of Sils Maria and While We’re Young are intriguing studies into the new challenges facing our generation, not only artists and filmmakers, but all of us who feel time and life slipping away, and how we will face the future while reconciling with our past.


MAD MAX: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is a shock wave of heavy metal madness for a new generation of rock n roll action junkies. This high octane road rage from the director of Happy Feet (2006) will blast you back into your seat with its sheer brutal assault on the senses.

George Miller, Aussie writer and director of the original Mad Max trilogy (1979 – 1985), shifts the franchise into a pulse pounding, Kodo drumming, gear grinding adrenalin rush, and eye-popping spectacle that grabs you by the retinas and drags you under its monster wheels. 

It’s a visceral stunt laden ride through the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max. A hyper relentless race for freedom and survival with the mother of all monster truck chases through dunes of hell. An operatic desert storm with visually arresting vehicles and Cirque du Soleil feats filtered through the hot orange hue of wind swept dust and sand. 

In a vast desert wasteland of warring tribes, the story of a ruthless greedy dictator, Immortan Joe, who controls the water in the desert and keeps it to himself, doling out only just enough for his parched population of devoted cult zombies, runs along the same lines as Gore Verbinski’s road runner animated movie Rango (2011). But that is where the similarities to Rango end.

The archetypal characters require no back story or explanation.  We instantly recognize them and their roles are obvious. One of Immortan Joe’s best drivers, Imperator Furiosa played by Charlize Theron, tasked with transporting a fuel tanker to a nearby industrial complex, decides to make a run for freedom and breaks from the convoy into the open desert where she believes a green Valhalla exists.

Before you can say ‘What a lovely day’ the entire colony is after her, including various tribal desert dwellers on motorcycles and dune buggies whose territories they are passing through. Max, played by Tom Hardy, who is captured by the cult leader Joe’s freak followers at the start of the film, is strapped to the front of one of their vehicles as they pursue the renegade Furiosa.

Unknown to everyone is the revelation during the ensuing chase that Furiosa is carrying something far more valuable than just fuel. The stakes have just been raised.

The prickly pleasure of Mad Max comes out of its innovative deviant mix of retro vehicular scrap and flaming lethal weaponry fused together haphazardly into the strangest collection of hostile souped-up war machines not seen driving through desert wasteland since the invasion of Iraq by US troops. Its beauty is in its relentless momentum of outrageous action and enthusiasm for sheer anarchist mayhem.

It’s the kind of movie you don’t need to bring your brain to; just strap yourself in and let the experience blast over your eyes and ears. Think of it as one long glorious epic Sapporo (Japanese beer) commercial fuel injected with The Canonball Run (1981) on steroids.

If you were a fan of the original films this one definitely takes it to the next level of kick-ass action and motor stunts. The thunderous music score by Junkie XL is overwhelming but then that’s the whole point. The entire movie is so turbo charged that there is nothing subtle about it.

This is the kind of extravagant spectacle that’s worth watching on a big IMAX screen in 3D. So go big or go home.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller, in addition to directing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, also plays Walter Mitty, the likeable anonymous everyman living a routine humdrum existence while daydreaming his way through life for fear of actually living it. That is until the LIFE magazine he works for decides to undergo a major restructuring, adapting to a new digital world that caters to a growing online market. 

Based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, it’s a timeless classic that’s as relevant today as it ever was. The circumstances have been updated for a modern audience and given a more optimistic feel-good ending, but the story hasn’t lost its overall power and appeal.

Ben Stiller, While We’re Young (2015), Night at the Museum (2006), Zoolander (2001), is well suited to the role of the overly imaginative office clerk who lives in his mind more so than in the real world. Even online dating is a terrifying prospect and while building his online profile, Walter is dismayed when he realizes he has never done anything or been anywhere. All the adventures he had planned early in his life had come to nothing.

Visually the film is fun and playful, giving full expression of the more fantastical elements of Walter’s heroic fantasies. But in addition to the seamless digital action on display the film also takes us to actual naturally breathtaking locations around Iceland where much of the film was shot.

The magazine’s longtime adventurous globetrotting photographer, played by Sean Penn, who still clings to old-school techniques to capture his iconic images, has entrusted Walter with the negatives of his quintessential photo that will be the cover of the final printed issue. 

The company executives, who tease and make fun of Walter for his odd behavior of zoning out when in a day dream, threaten to fire him when the negative for the magazine cover goes missing. He must now go on a daring mission to find it by tracking down the elusive photographer who is somewhere in the rugged volcanic terrain of Iceland or maybe it’s Greenland.

With a great deal of humor and Ben Stiller’s hilarious trademark awkwardness, the film is both entertaining and poignant as the timeless theme of striking out and facing our fears while living life to the fullest, as corny as it may sound, still works it’s inspirational magic.

Inspired by his affection for a girl who also works at the magazine, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) recently from The Skeleton Twins (2014), Walter gradually learns to overcome his fears and manages to muster enough courage to get onto a plane and head for the unknown. His day dreams eventually lessen as he begins living them.

This heartwarming film was clearly a labor of love for the filmmakers who have instilled the beautifully shot movie with a strikingly whimsical visual design; from the sterile cool steely monochromatic look of the office spaces and New York City towers, to the scenic barren panoramic landscapes of Iceland.

For those not familiar with the book, I encourage anyone to rediscover this cautionary tale of the consequences of not allowing yourself to live up to your full potential. As the film tells us; Stop dreaming, start living.


The Anniversary

A Toronto couple, Teresa (Deborah Hay) and Sam (Ben Carlson) reaching middle age with nothing but disappointment to show for their 20 year relationship, come to a breaking point on their 20th wedding anniversary when Sam decides to take a jog and never returns.

The Anniversary is an absorbing chamber piece that takes place during one night in a downtown Toronto home where Teresa has invited a few of her family and friends for a dinner party while undergoing a personal crisis due to her husband having walked out on her exactly one year ago.

Toronto based Canadian actress/writer and director Valerie Buhagiar known for such films as Adriatico My Love (2011) Expecting (2002), Highway 61 (1991) and Road Kill (1989), and having directed many short films, has just completed her first feature length film as director. The Anniversary was made on a meager budget in ten days during a cold Toronto December, and is a well-crafted quirky slice-of-life drama that has many off beat comic moments. 

Unable to move on from the mysterious disappearance of her husband, Teresa withdraws suffering from loneliness and depression. But she continues to hold out hope that one day he will return, perhaps even tonight. “He just needed a break”

The theme of loss and hope is prevalent as all the guests at the party seem to have lost something and are disappointed with who they have become. We wonder if Sam will return as we learn more details about the couple’s relationship through a varied group of characters who all have their own interpretation of the unexpected walk out, and are dealing with the crisis in their own way. 

The film explores underlying questions of relationships and marriages, and society’s expectations, but feels much lighter due to the ensemble cast’s often humorous and awkward interactions. The characters are well written, each having a life of their own and feels at times like an intervention support group with people of varying ages and backgrounds.

There is a middle aged business man Carl (Colin Mochrie), who has hopes of stepping in as Teresa’s boyfriend, next is Teresa’s gruff mother who wants to put some sense into her daughter, a lonely middle aged singer who had an affair with Teresa’s husband, there’s Teresa’s son Nicky who has withdrawn into his world of rap music and art, a university art student who had worked with Sam, and a neighborhood security guard who is also looking to court Teresa.

The atmosphere is thick with a simmering crisis where everyone is in denial and there is no consensus on reality or truth. Everyone seems to be in a state of limbo, waiting for something to be resolved or a moment of clarity so they can move on with their lives. 

The performances of the ensemble cast generally feel spontaneous and improvised making for some amusing moments and writer-director Buhagiar skillfully imbues the film with a gentle charm using music by local artists like Manteca, Michele McAdorey, Mary Margaret O’hara, and Lyne Tremblay helping give the film an alluring and hopeful quality.