For Colored Girls


Crystal: Part of me knows this is happening but part of me thinks I’m dreaming. Am I awake?

Up until seeing “For Colored Girls”, I had never seen a Tyler Perry film. I’m not a fan of men in fat suits dressed up as women and I’m not really the intended demographic either for that matter. Fortunately, despite the title’s suggestion that this film is for a very specific group of people, its emotional impact should translate to anyone capable of feeling, period. For while the tapestry of tragedy that Perry weaves may be about “colored girls” and should also give any “colored girl” who watches it something to take away from it, it also invites everyone else who sees it to see the world in shades they maybe never have.

“For Colored Girls” is based on a 1975 stage play by Ntosake Shange called For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. In it, a cast of seven African-American women each represent a different color and the qualities that go along with it. They also each bring a different emotional plight to the plot, from abuse to rape to abortion. No, this is not a lighthearted film and the talented cast bare the weight of the material with proud shoulders. My personal favorite would be Kimberly Elise, whose abusive relationship leaves her beautiful face looking like a hollow, heartbroken shell. Perry added an eighth woman to his ensemble (perhaps for good luck) but keeps a key poetic element of the play in place, having each character fall into soliloquy at different intervals. They may all be “colored girls” but there is still a vast range of individuality amongst them and, while grouping together builds bonds between them, it also robs them a little of the painstakingly earned place they’ve made as people. Plus nobody talks like that; it completely stops the action.

Like the lives of the women on the screen, “For Colored Girls”, is far from perfect. Perry has taken on an ambitious project and bits and pieces do manage to get away from him at times. Still, there are several other times when the film’s pace takes on such momentum that it plays like a marathon of hardship, with each woman as a runner, passing a baton of pain from one to the next. Like any race though, the runners lose their stride at times and goes on to find strength they didn’t know they had to make it to the end. For Perry, all his “colored girls” and those watching from the stands, it is an exalting finish that will leave many in tears.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Saw 3D


Gibson: How many bodies?
Rogers: I got enough pieces for four.

“Saw 3D” gets the saws themselves out first thing. Right in the middle of Toronto’s entertainment district, one of the now infamous Jigsaw’s puzzling traps is set. Encased in a glass cube, two hunky gentlemen awake to find themselves bound to an electric saw table, each with a saw pointing directly at their chests. That creepy clown doll rolls out on a tricycle and informs the boys that the girl who lies above them with her own saw pointed directly at her stomach has been playing them both for suckers. The young men must make a choice – continue to be fooled by love and save the girl by pulling her saw towards them, ultimately killing themselves or stick love with a blade right through its guts. And so returns the psychotic killer who is really just championing for good, moral responsibility and appreciation of life.

In all honesty, the only real reason “Saw” is back at all is because it is in 3D. The consistent success of the series came to a pretty screeching halt last year but 3D being all the rage these days, especially in the torture porn genre, Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) replacement killer, Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) couldn’t resist cashing in on those 3D dollars. In what is supposed to be the final chapter, Hoffman is playing with everybody and anybody. His primary trap is set to snare an author (Sean Patrick Flannery) who has written a successful tome about his time in Jigsaw’s trap, who isn’t everything he appears. If he were sincere, of course, Jigsaw wouldn’t have any need for him. This is the finale though so Hoffman is thinking much bigger than that and bringing back the characters you’ve come to know over the years. (I use the words, “characters” and “know” loosely there.) The question becomes whether anyone is able to think even bigger than he is and bring an end to his horrifying games.

I have to come clean, if only to avoid waking up and finding myself dangling from a ceiling by hooks dug deep into my pectoral muscles. I have not seen a “Saw” movie since the first instalment. I did find the film to be inventive, twisted and down right impressive considering its modest means. I figured that every other “Saw” that followed though would just get busy outdoing the traps of the “Saw” that came before. Having now seen “Saw 3D”, I can confirm my suspicions but, under the guidance of director Kevin Greutert, a man who has been with the franchise since the beginning (he edited the first five and directed the last two), the series ender has got plenty of vomit inducing brutality to satisfy anyone looking for that (and the blood and guts fly right at your face in 3D!!). It doesn’t have anything else but that’s not why you go to see “Saw”.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Due Date


Ethan Tremblay: “Two and a Half Men” is the reason I wanted to become an actor – especially the second season.

Todd Phillips has been making male no-brainer comedies for quite some time now, with varied results. In 2008, he finally hit the jackpot, Vegas style, with the international phenomenon “The Hangover”. With that success, he took Zach Galifianakis’s bearded, beer-bellied buffoon and made him a comedy God in the eyes of guys everywhere and, while he was at it, made himself a bonafide player.

To the victor go the spoils and Phillips was certainly spoiled when he bagged everyone’s favorite charmer, Robert Downey Jr., opposite the aforementioned buffoon (Galifianakis) for his buddy road comedy “Due Date”. He’s got the pedigree at his disposal – Downey Jr. doesn’t even have to try to get high-strung, expectant father Peter Highman down and even Galifianakis has been around enough blocks now to inject a little subtlety into his performance as wannabe actor Ethan Tremblay – but, just like so much of Phillips’s past work, the antics are all too often just plain stupid instead of stupidly hilarious. It doesn’t help either that Ethan is so awkward at times that he goes from funny to the dreaded realm of uncomfortable.

To buy into “Due Date”, which has decent laughs but very few uproarious moments, you have to buy the really weak chain of events that sets the premise in motion. Peter ends up on a no-fly list after he and Ethan say words like “terrorist” and “bomb” a little too loud on a plane. Peter’s wife (Michelle Monaghan) is giving birth in a few days so he must get home somehow. With his wallet still on the plane, he must accept the offer to ride with Ethan and his masturbating dog, Sonny. Sure his wife could have certainly bought him a train ticket home on-line, but then we wouldn’t get to see these two polar opposites bond by living through several near-death experiences that wouldn’t have otherwise happened had they not gotten into this mess to begin with. Fortunately, the guys that Phillips is aiming for will buy into anything.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Hereafter


Billy: A life that is all about death is no life at all.

It’s no secret that Clint Eastwood is getting up there in years. He has been churning out films on an almost yearly basis in the last decade as if he is trying to cram as much work as possible into his legacy before he can no longer do so. It seems then a natural choice for Eastwood to take on the afterlife in his adaptation of Peter Morgan’s screenplay “Hereafter”. In many ways, it is one of his most organic works but aside from acknowledging that an afterlife exists, Eastwood is nowhere closer to any insight on the subject.

It is also no secret that I am not a big fan of Eastwood’s work as a director. I find he often oversimplifies the problem and renders complicated scenarios into clichéd lessons about what it means to him to be a good human being. The idea of him tackling something as complicated as the passage between life and death was frightening at first, even if the writing was in Morgan’s hands, “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” scribe. In “Hereafter”, Morgan tells three separate stories about three different people around the world who are dealing with death in different ways. A French reporter (Cécile de France) is recovering from her brush with death; a young boy in England (George McLaren) has just lost his twin brother; and Matt Damon plays a genuine psychic in San Francisco who has retired in hopes of finding a normal life. While all reasonably compelling separately, their plights never come together, which leaves the film feeling cold and detached.

There are moments in “Hereafter” that are genuinely engrossing and memorable, including an opening so intense, I felt I might soon know my own afterlife. Eastwood lets go of his ordinarily tight grasp on the picture to allow its characters to speak for themselves and its often-haunting imagery to be just that. At first, I was pleasantly surprised but then I realized that without Eastwood playing God that there was really no direction in “Hereafter” at all. Subsequently, I wasn’t able to connect with a film about an experience that connects us all.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Nowhere Boy


John: Why couldn’t God make me Elvis?
Julia: Because God was saving you for John Lennon.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of Sam Taylor-Wood’s art firsthand in exhibition. It was stark, cold but yet still emotional and affecting. It was both sad and sexual, making for a challenging experience, to say the least. Still, it was an experience I’m glad I had and one that I am also glad to say, has effectively translated to film in Taylor-Wood’s first feature, “Nowhere Boy”. The images here may be moving in comparison but are just as rich with depth and pain.

This is a story of a young boy in Liverpool, whom you might know as John Lennon. Unless you know Lennon’s history well though, you will not know this story. The film opens with a dream and that classically unmistakable opening chord from The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night rings in the image. That is the last you will hear of anything The Beatles ever sang or recorded for the rest of the film though. This is not that story, not exactly. This story is about a boy, played with surprising charm and strength by relative unknown Aaron Johnson (“Kick-Ass”). This boy wants to put a band together but it proves to be tricky when he is caught between the affections of the aunt who raised him his whole life (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his unstable mother (Anne-Marie Duff) with whom he has just reunited. His name just happens to be Lennon and the band he throws together in a bathroom just happens to be one of the most influential of all time.

We all come from somewhere and if we happen to have been blessed with a little talent or a little genius, then the odds are that the somewhere we came from may not have been so simple a place. Taylor-Wood shows us Lennon’s somewhere and allows us to draw our own conclusions about what made the man that would become a legend rather than do all the drawing for us. There was nothing simple about Lennon’s upbringing. He was kept in the dark until he was an adult and by then, the damage had been done. Fortunately for him and for his fans the world over, that damage became great music.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

It’s Kind of a Funny Story


Craig: I want to kill myself.
Nurse: Fill this out.

I have to begin by saying that “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is not really a funny story at all. In fact, it isn’t even that funny. It tries to be, and on occasion it can be, but the reason it isn’t is pretty simple. It shouldn’t be. This is the story of a supposedly suicidal teenager who checks himself into a mental hospital for fear he won’t be able to hold on much longer. Last I checked clinical depression bordering on suicide wasn’t a laughing matter and mental wards were not warm and fuzzy places where teens could come of age.

When writing/directing team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, first tackled depression and isolation, they gave us the harrowing indie drama “Half Nelson”, which earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a crack-addicted, high school teacher. It was bleak, honest and raw. Just a few short years later though, they have seemingly lost all integrity as artists and their ability to be truthful to their own story and directorial instincts. From the moment Craig (Keir Gilchrist) enters the adult mental ward (the adolescent ward was conveniently undergoing renovations to allow for more implausibility and hopeful hilarity), everything feels false. Despite the fact that Craig’s problems amounts to girl troubles and pressure from his Dad (Jim Gaffigan) to get into the right college, he is admitted for a week. It takes him about a day to realize that his problems are really nothing compared to his new neighbours, allowing for six more days of learning valuable life lessons from adorable and endearing mental patients. They’re crazy, but who isn’t really?

If Craig doesn’t really need to be there, I’m not sure why Boden and Fleck think that their audience will feel any need to be there either. The ensemble do their best to comply, including a surprisingly restrained performance from Zach Galifianakis and a refreshingly vibrant one from /b>Lauren Graham, but ultimately, they look lost, unable to figure out why they’re there too. There is humour in pain and we can be found when we are amongst the most lost but by making light of the dark places these patients go, Boden and Fleck only come off as lost themselves.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Let Me In


Abby: Just so you know, I can’t be your friend.

I have a reasonable amount of sympathy for Matt Reeves, the director of “Let Me In”. He made a perfectly adequate and genuinely authentic remake of Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In”, but there was no way for him to come away from the experience as a winner. Fans of the original, of which there are many, and of which I count myself among more or less, see no reason to mess with success. And so, to appease these fans, Reeves remains as true to the original vision as possible. As well intentioned as this is, it renders “Let Me In” even more pointless as a result.

It begins with a children’s choir singing ominously over a humming that is eerily chilling. It continues with the same slow, quiet pace that allowed the supernatural elements of the original to appear fully natural. Owen and Abby (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz), the American counterparts to Oskar and Eli, meet on what looks like the same jungle gym, in the same courtyard, behind the same low income housing where Oscar and Eli met. He is the same loner kid who gets picked on regularly at school and she is the same little girl, hiding her vampirism from those around her. Both are ostracized and both find understanding in each other. Their relationship, in great part thanks to these two fantastic, young actors, is just as tender and terrifying as Oscar and Eli’s was. Is there any point in retelling the exact same story the exact same way though?

I’m all for remakes; at their best, they can take already brilliant screenplays and reimagine them visually in all new manners, with sometimes all new meanings. At their worst, they are embarrassments that can be so big, they even tarnish the reputation of the original. “Let Me In” falls directly in the middle of this spectrum. As dark and delicious as it can be at times, it never manages to give any reason for its existence other than to make it more accessible for audiences uninterested in subtitles. If you’re going to make a remake, you should have a good reason to do so, perhaps a new take on the subject that makes remaking it relevant. Pandering is not one of these reasons.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps


Gordon Gekko: A fisherman always sees another fisherman coming.

Oliver Stone is reputed to be a controversial film director but that isn’t entirely fair. To be controversial, one must make statements that rock the status quo and potentially encourage progress and change. Stone may have started out his career with more of a bite, but the two-time Oscar winner for directing doesn’t actually have very much to say at this point. Instead, he attaches himself to projects that cannot help but be controversial in nature and allows our already preconceived notions of these subjects to do all the talking for him.

In “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”, Stone revisits one of his most successful films to supposedly reiterate to us what he did in the original “Wall Street”, because clearly, we were not paying close enough attention then. In 1989, investment mogul Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) stepped over everyone he knew for the almighty dollar and ended up going to prison. He was famous for having said that “Greed is good,” but as it turns out, it was pretty bad. So bad that it inspired him to write a book about how greed was going to be the downfall of America. He got rich off that book of course and then Gordon Gekko went on to predict the 2008 economic crisis. If only Stone had made this movie before everything happened. Maybe all of this calamity could have been avoided.

Gordon was released from prison in 2001 to find that no one was waiting for him and the world had continued on without him. Then apparently nothing at all happened for seven years because the story picks back up in 2008. Gordon’s daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan) is now dating a Wall Street up and comer, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf). Together they share a bright future full of possibility and fortune until their financial flooring falls out from underneath them. This new generation of money players is portrayed as reluctant but yet still able to enjoy their wealth and the lifestyle it affords them. Their ideals, nobility and honour, are still intact but this is just an illusion and lucky for all of us, Stone is here to show them that more money means more problems.

The greed that is bringing everyone down in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is exponentially bigger than it has ever been and Stone warns us that we will not survive another financial meltdown like the one that just forced the American government to fork over billions of bailout dollars. Solid performances and some impressive camera work on behalf of Rodrigo Pietro make the experience reasonably entertaining but Stone never lets us forget just how touchy everything is. He preaches of how moral hazard will continue to cripple the market but basically applies the same principals to his own filmmaking. As long as he hides behind the overbearing face of controversy, he will never have to risk anything of his own by actually saying something unpopular himself.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

Catfish


Nev: They didn’t fool me. They just told me things and I didn’t question them. That’s not fooling.

There are still people out there who consider meeting people from the internet to be a pretty dangerous thing. They might not be who they say they are or, worse yet, they could be a serial killer or something equally frightening. I challenge those people to watch the refreshingly brazen documentary, “Catfish”. When they do, they will see a whole other face of danger they had never even contemplated.

Nev Schulman is a New York City based photographer. In 2007, an eight-year-old girl named Abby sent him a painting one day based on one of his photographs. The two connected through her mother, Angela, and a correspondence began that extended past these three to include other family members, including her brother, father and older sister, Megan. Before long, everyone was on everyone else’s Facebook page, wall posts and messages flying back and forth without care. Then something unexpected happened. Nev started to feel something for Megan.

They had never met but through simple online and telephone communications, they began to fall in love. Are they falling in love with each other though or with the idea of falling in love itself? Meeting someone online can be inherently misleading, both in terms of representation and the feelings that come from that. We control what we say and how we say it but so is the other person staring at their screen. And what the experience lacks in intonation and physical gesture, we fill in with whatever we want to see. When Nev and Megan start calling each other “cutie” in their constant text messaging, they mean it, but they don’t really know who they’re saying it to.

Henry Joost and Nev’s brother, Ariel Schulman, documented the experience for “Catfish”, and decided that, in order for the film to feel complete, Nev and Megan would need to meet each other in person. The road this took them down is one you’ll have to experience for yourself. It is just as frightening as it is enlightening about human interaction in this modern world. And perhaps more importantly, Joost and Schulman tackle the topic with poise and respect, instead of taking the sensational approach, which would have been much easier for them. After all, when it comes to meeting people online, you can fault the methods employed if they bother you that much but the desire is the same. You can’t fault people for wanting to find love.

Review by Joseph Bélanger

I’m Still Here


Joaquin Phoenix: You’re going to look back on this and think you’re a fucking idiot.

This is what I get for not sitting down to write reviews as soon as I see the movie. I thought I had a little time to let this one simmer in my head, and there is plenty to let settle, but that just isn’t so. When I first sat to watch Casey Affleck’s directorial debut, a documentary chronicling the self-proclaimed lost years of Joaquin Phoenix entitled “I’m Still Here”, I was completely taken in. I do not mean this to say that I felt duped. I was simply mesmerized by the debauchery and disaster that was unfolding before me. Whether it was real or not was not the point. The point was that it was fascinating.

A couple of years ago, Phoenix, an Academy Award nominated actor, famous for being moody and difficult, announced that he was retiring from acting in order to pursue his new passion, hip-hop. It was announced shortly thereafter that Pheonix’s brother-in-law, Affleck, would be documenting this transition for a film. Then came the rumours that this was all a hoax designed for the purposes of making a mockumentary. The hoax was neither denied nor confirmed and eventually, people just lost interest. Now that the film is being released though, it is no surprise to me that Phoenix has announced his return to acting and Affleck has announced that the film was in fact staged. If they hadn’t, I’m not sure Phoenix would have ever found work again after this film.

Not knowing whether or not Phoenix was putting on an act made watching “I’m Still Here” work on levels I never expected from it. Phoenix presents himself as the brooding actor that no one understands who now wants to break free of the public’s impressions of him, which he feels trapped by. When he struggles to break into the hip-hop world, he gets angry like a little boy who isn’t getting his way. He gripes about how he has dreams and that it isn’t fair that he shouldn’t be able to make them come true as if there aren’t millions of people on the planet who watch their dreams disappear every day. Don’t get me wrong; it is absolutely infuriating to indulge this spoiled dope head but, under the knowing eye of Affleck’s lens, Phoenix is making statements about celebrity that he doesn’t even know he’s making.

Only now we know that he did know exactly what he was saying. According to Affleck, only Phoenix, his agent and he knew that this was being put on. I have not seen the film again through this new perspective but I suspect that it might let all the air out of it. Watching Phoenix disintegrate on screen is at once repulsive but also disheartening. The way Affleck cuts it together, he doesn’t appear to be begging for sympathy but rather begging the question as to how we all got there. After all, it is our celebrity obsessed culture that created this monster. Letting us in on the joke though makes me think “I’m Still Here” might cease to be sharp commentary on a fame obsessed culture and just resort back to being just about Phoenix’s ego.

He will either ruin his career and ability to be a convincing actor after this or he will win an Academy Award.

Review by Joseph Bélanger