Monday, August 26, 2013

One Chapter Ends...Another One Begins


Today marks the end of a lengthy, and I would say very unexpected, journey. After seven years it is time to close the door on this little film blog known as Big Thoughts from a Small Mind. While I have loved every minute of being able to engage in film discussions with so many of the knowledgeable readers who frequent this site, it was time for a change. Fortunately, just because one chapter ends it does not mean another one cannot begin. You can still read our thoughts on all things film over at our new site:

Cinema Axis

What prompted the change? Well to be honest I have been thinking about this for over a year now. It just took some time to finally push forward and realize the idea. The primary reason was that I wanted the site to better reflect what the blog had become. For the last few years it has not been only thoughts from my “small mind”, but thoughts from various personalities and voices. There came a point a few years back where I decided that it would be more interesting to have different voices sharing their thoughts on film rather than just my own. It is a decision I am glad I made and I still embrace that philosophy today. As film bloggers we tend to start out, be it consciously or not, striving for personal glory. However, the websites that always fascinate me most are the ones where various people come together through their love of film.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

TIFF Announces Masters and Discovery Titles


The 38th Toronto International Film Festival® announced the films in the Masters programme, which highlights the work of the world’s most compelling cinematic creators. The programme features a diverse collection of new films including world premieres from Quebecois directors Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires and Finnish filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo; and North American premieres by Jia Zhangke, Jafar Panahi, Kim Ki-duk, Edgar Rietz and Claire Denis.

Masters

A Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding) Jia Zhangke, China/Japan North American Premiere
An angry miner, enraged by the corruption of his village leaders, takes action. A rootless migrant discovers the infinite possibilities that owning a firearm can offer. A pretty receptionist working in a sauna is pushed to the limit when a wealthy client assaults her. A young factory worker goes from one discouraging job to the next, only to face increasingly degrading circumstances. Four people, four different provinces.

Abuse of Weakness (Abus de Faiblesse) Catherine Breillat, France/Belgium/Germany World Premiere An extraordinary collaboration between two legends of French cinema, Catherine Breillat’s brutally candid autobiographical drama stars Isabelle Huppert as a stroke-afflicted filmmaker manipulated by a notorious con man.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Before Midnight


Up until now there has always been an unattainable element of romantic fantasy that flowed throughout Richard Linklater’s Before series. Although I got swept away in following the budding romance between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in 1995’s Before Sunrise, there was a part of the seventeen year-old version of myself that felt “this could only happen in the movies.” The idea of meeting that special someone by chance on the train and spending one gloriously romantic day, in Europe of all places, seemed like an unattainable dream. Several years later, when the 2004 sequel Before Sunset was released, I found myself back in the comfortably romantic world of the pair. They were both a little older, but still as engaging and interesting as the first time I encountered them on screen. However, there was still a small element of Jesse and Céline’s beautiful relationship that still felt a bit inaccessible in the “real world.”

While it may have taken 18 years, Linklater’s latest film, Before Midnight, finally hit home in the most unexpected way. Now much older myself, I am in a place in my life where the lives of Céline and Jesse are no longer the impossible dream. In fact the reality is, aside from the exotic location of the film’s setting, I am living many of their experiences right now. Jesse and Céline no longer reside in that world where you can just drop everything for the chance of finding that one true love. The real world has crashed in on them and they must now learn how to survive amongst the demands of having a family, juggling careers, and trying to remain true to their individual passions.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Second Opinion: Elysium


Director Neill Blomkamp makes his long anticipated return to the screen with his second feature Elysium. Sci-Fi fans have waited, not so patiently, for a follow up to his first feature the visually stunning and unique District 9. Blomkamp, a graduate of Vancouver Film schools 3D Animation and Visual Effects program, has a seamless method of combining special effects and live acting that continues in Elysium. Blomkamp’s eye for robot construction, in this film in particular, is unmatched.

Dystopian Earth in the year 2154 is overrun by population, disease and lawlessness. Robots are both the police and parole officers on Earth. They show no favoritism and cannot be influenced or corrupted. The rich inhabit a space station in the sky, known as Elysium, filled with lush green fields, beautiful homes and the top technological and scientific achievements. They have devices, resembling a cross between a tanning bed and an MRI machine, which can eliminate diseases within a couple of minutes.

The story centers around Max (Matt Damon), a former car thief who is on parole and working on the line in a plant that makes robots. After an accident on the job, Max takes a contract from his old underworld contacts in exchange for a ticket to Elysium to cure the malady he contracted at the plant. The job does not go as planned and the strike team is intercepted by an earth based team of disavowed agents. However, Max does get information from the target that turns out to be more important than his sponsors could have expected.

The best part and worst part of the film are interrelated. There are no arcs in the story, therefore, the characters do not grow from the first time you see them on screen until the last act. This hinders the audience’s ability to develop interest in any of the characters. Scenes essentially bleed into each other almost like a random series of sequences all connected by chance. A good example of this is the sequence that starts with Max confronting a police robot while lining up for a bus. The confrontation ends with a broken wrist which leads to a reunion with Frey (Alice Braga) at the hospital. Frey is his childhood soulmate who has a daughter in the last stages of leukemia. Max’s job on the line is threatened by this detour to the hospital. The fear of losing his factory job leads Max to take a risk at work that causes his illness and ultimately his nothing to lose attitude. Although these events present the shell of the plot, there is very little character development that takes place in any of these moments or any others in the film for that matter.

Visually dazzling in scope, depth and detail, Elysium does have a fair bit that works well. It is a film that will especially appeal to sci-fi fans that are interested in the integration between humans and robots in a future society. However, those looking for a strong story, featuring characters that change and grow, will be disappointed as the film falls short. As a result, it is not a film that I can recommend.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

TIFF Announces Additional Titles


Featuring new films by Sean Durkin, James Franco, Patrice Leconte, Hayao Miyazaki, Fred Schepisi, Kevin Macdonald and Johnnie To

The Toronto International Film Festival® has announced the addition of 3 Galas and 19 Special Presentations to the 2013 Festival programme, including a further 12 World Premieres. Representing countries from around the world, the Gala and Special Presentations programmes offer a lineup of diverse titles and genres.

Toronto audiences will be among the first to screen films by directors Fred Schepisi, Alberto Arvelo, Reha Erdem, Dexter Fletcher, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, Megan Griffiths, Arnaud Larrieu and Jean-Marie Larrieu, Kevin Macdonald, Arie Posin, Charlie Stratton, Nils Tavernier and John Turturro.

GALAS

Blood Ties Guillaume Canet, France/USA North American Premiere
New York, 1974. 50-year-old Chris has just been released on good behavior after spending several years in prison. Waiting for him reluctantly outside the prison gates is his younger brother, Frank, a cop with a bright future. Chris and Frank have always been different, yet blood ties are the ones that bind. Starring Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts and James Caan.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blind Spot: The Omega Man


When it comes to science fiction, I have always been more drawn to works that have a sense of realism to them. Do not get me wrong, I can appreciate ships that go into warp drive and sabers made of light just as much as the next guy. However, it is the fiction that is the most plausible, or at least seemingly so, that truly makes my mind race. This is one of the reasons why The Omega Man is another of the pleasant discoveries in this ongoing Blind Spot Series.

Based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (remade again in 2007 starring Will Smith), Boris Sagal’s film is a cautionary tale of the evils that mankind can unleash on each other through our overreliance on science and technology. The film takes place in 1977, two years after the world’s population has been decimated as a result of the biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China. Thanks to an experimental vaccine Col. Robert Neville (Charlton Heston), a military scientist, is the last remaining human on earth...or so he thinks. Neville spends his days roaming the deserted streets of Los Angeles gathering supplies and trying his best to remain sane within the isolation. Although the loneliness plays tricks on his mind, it is far more tolerable then what occurs when the sun goes down.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Elysium


There is nothing more frustrating than a film that has a lot to say, but is never quite sure how to best say it. Elysium is a perfect example of this as it is a film at odds with itself. In his much anticipated follow-up to the Academy Award nominated film District 9, director Neill Blomkamp continues his socially conscious brand of science fiction on a larger scale. This time around Blomkamp tackles issues such as classism, immigration, and most importantly the American health care system. However, unlike his last effort, Elysium cannot sustain itself under the weight of its own watered down ideology.

If there has been one downside to the reverberations from the Occupy Movement that dominated the media back in 2011, it is the impact it has had on cinema. Though there will always be those who have and those who want, Elysium seems to exploit this in the most egregious ways. In the world of the film, villains no longer need to have a motive or, in some cases, be criminally insane. In fact, the only thing that you need to be viewed as evil is money and lots of it. It is this lazy sort of logic, coupled with the fact that the last act turns into a comic book film, that makes Elysium such a maddening experience.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Prince Avalanche


David Gordon Green cannot win. He has always been a director who is drawn to projects that inspire him, which does not always sit well with his critics. After making critically praised films such as George Washington and All the Real Girls, Green opted to move into the realm of studio comedy. Spending the last few years making critically panned, and at times commercial flops such as Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter, many were starting to question if Green would ever get back to the type of filmmaking that made him so intriguing in the first place?

Well judging by his latest film Prince Avalanche, the speculation can end as Green shows he is still a strong filmmaker. While there is no doubt that he will continue to follow the beat of his own drum, it is rather refreshing to see Green invigorated again to tackle slightly more challenging work than his recent comedies. Of course there will still be those who will walk away from his film expecting more.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

TIFF Announces Powerful Canadian Lineup

Enemy

The Toronto International Film Festival® unveils a lineup of Canadian features packed with world premieres ranging from first features from the brave new First Nations voice of Jeff Barnaby and audacious artists Seth Scriver and Shayne Ehman, to Canadian indie icon Bruce McDonald and the always provocative work of Denis Villeneuve, Michael Dowse, Jennifer Baichwal with Edward Burtynsky, Bruce Sweeney, Robert Lepage with Pedro Pires, Peter Stebbings and Ingrid Veninger. North American premieres include the latest from Xavier Dolan, Bruce LaBruce, Richie Mehta and Louise Archambault. Here is the stellar list of Canadian films that will be screening at the festival this year:

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

Enemy Denis Villeneuve, Canada/Spain World Premiere
Based on The Double by Nobel Laureate José Saramago, this film explores the troubled psyche of a man who is torn between his mistress and his wife. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a brilliant performance as both Adam and Anthony — a man and his double — engaged in a lethal and erotic battle.

The F Word Michael Dowse, Canada/Ireland World Premiere
When Wallace meets Chantry, it could be love at first sight… except she lives with her long-term boyfriend. And so Wallace, acting with both best intentions — and maybe a little denial — discovers the dirtiest word in romance: friends. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver and TIFF Rising Star Megan Park.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Mud


In the Arkansas Delta the deadliest people are not the strangers who hideout on deserted islands. Nor are they the bounty hunters lurking in broad daylight hoping to catch sight of their prey. The most dangerous people are in fact women.

When looking at all the males featured in Jeff Nichols’ latest film Mud, they all have something in common. Each of them is suffering from pain caused by the women they loved. Even those mourning for loved ones can pinpoint their grief back to the actions of a particular female. Despite the sullen view that some of the characters possess, Mud is far from a misogynistic film. Instead, it is a rich character study of men who are broken and, in some cases, are in desperate need of healing.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Spring Breakers


Hustle & Flow's Djay had it all wrong. It is not "hard out here for a pimp", but rather the real hardship is being part of the entitlement generation. At least that is what films like The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers have taught us this year. If we are to believe the characters in Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, living an ordinary life is a fate almost as bad as death itself.

Think about it. Dealing with going to college and having parents who are concerned about your well-being sounds downright dreadful. Fortunately, there is a cure from the drudgery of everyday life. A utopian paradise known as spring break where heaven and earth meet. It is a spiritual place where one can truly find themselves. Well that is how life-long friends, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) see it at least. Drowning in the boredom of life at college, the girls are willing to do anything, even if it is criminal, to ensure that their spring break is the best ever.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A Hijacking (Kapringen)


A Danish cargo ship, the MV Rozen, is in the Indian Ocean heading for Mumbai with a sparse collection of sailors aboard. Director Tobias Lindholm, whose script for the film The Hunt helped to garner a best actor nod for Mads Mikkelsen at the Cannes Film Festival last year, uses the ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek) to introduce the audience to the ship’s layout and crew. Unbeknownst to Mikkel, and rest of the crew, this trip will not be a routine voyage. They are about to endure the most harrowing ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates who will hijack their vessel.

Their only chance for survival comes not at sea, but in the boardroom. Peter Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), the CEO of the company that owns the ship, is a top negotiator in the world of business. However, Ludvigsen soon realizes that he knows nothing about dealing with terrorists. Bringing in specialist Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) to assist him, the pair must ensure that they take all the necessary steps to handle such a delicate situation. This includes working through each step of the process and not being rattled by either the psychological ploys used by the pirates, or the pressures family members of the crew are placing on the company.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Blind Spot: Pickpocket


It was bound to happen eventually, the blind spot streak had been too good of late. I just did not expect it to be this film. I am referring to that moment when you come across a film, that is highly praised by critics and fellow bloggers that just leaves you a little cold. To be honest, Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket was a film I was looking forward to the most in this year’s batch of Blind Spot Series titles. The unanimous accolades had me pumped to finally dive into the works of Bresson. I will be the first to admit that maybe I set the bar too high prior to seeing the film.

There is also a very good chance that the film simply caught me on an off day. I was coming off my second viewing of Only God Forgives, so I was already in a cold place going into the film. Though the more I think about, my mood was not that different from the protagonist in Bresson’s film. Michel (Martin LaSalle) exudes a cold selfishness that permeates the film. This might be one of the reasons why I was more fascinated with Michel’s profession rather than the man himself.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Wolverine


Considering I dedicated a whole post to lamenting about people being more focused on discussing the stinger in the end credits of The Wolverine rather than the film, it only seems right that I adhere to my own advice and try to turn the conversation back to the film itself. After spending the last few months immersing myself in all things Wolverine, both the films and the comics, to prepare for my Comix Asylum article (available now…shameless plug over), I feared I might have suffered from Wolverine overdose prior to seeing James Mangold’s The Wolverine. Yet here I stand relatively eager to follow everyone’s favourite surly mutant on a few more adventures.

This is quite a contrast to where I was after watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine a few years ago. The big difference is that you can tell early on in this film that everyone involved had a hunger to get it right this time around. You can especially see it in the intensity of Hugh Jackman’s performance. Despite being his sixth outing playing the Wolverine character, he arguably delivers his best work in the role to date. This is the version of the character that fans have wanted to see for years. Despite some very rocky moments in the latter half, more on that in a minute, the film exceeded my meager expectations on several levels.