Prisoners (2013)

PrisonersReleased: September 20, 2013. Directed by: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard. Runtime: 153 min.

Thought-provoking and engaging, “Prisoners” represents a type of film that I I love. It asks the question: What would you do if your child was kidnapped? What lengths would you go to get them back?

Thanksgiving for the Dover and Birch families start out like any other, but takes a horrifying turn after dinner. When a young daughter is taken from each family (Anna from the Dover clan, Eliza from the Birches), it is hell on earth. They call the police and, later, the RV their children were playing by is found. After a suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is released by police because he has the IQ of a ten year-old, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) must take matters into his own hands. He is convinced this man has kidnapped his daughter and her friend.

Meanwhile, the lead detective, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is following leads and attempting to find the girls before time runs out. Dover is doing the same, but with a different form of vigilante justice.

As an ethical exploration, “Prisoners” is fascinating. As a kidnapper-revenge crime story, it’s dark and complex; if predictable at times. There are plot twists upon plot twists, but many are “Ooooh, I shoulda known.” It is an enthralling ride, either way.

The ethical questions raised throughout are how far would you go to get your kids back? It’s a story about parental instincts, but the mothers take backseat roles in the film. Viola Davis portays Nancy Birch, who learns of the drastic plan Keller has hatched later on. Maria Bello, who plays Grace Dover, has the smallest amount of screen time out of the primary cast, as she is popping insomnia pills like they are M&M’s throughout the movie.

So, to many, it might seem as if the film is predominantly about fatherly instincts. Hugh Jackman’s character (Keller Dover) represents the desperation of fathers who will be the backbone behind a drastic plan, and wish to see it through to the end as to see his baby girl again. Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch) is the father who is a bit more reluctant to going to these illegal heights at seeing his child again. Most fathers will go through this plan, but he just represents the fathers who will be a bit more heartbroken about it… But won’t stop it. Personally, my fatherly instincts might be a bit more akin towards Howard’s.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Loki is the only main male character who doesn’t have a child. He represents the rational law-man, who’s fighting for what’s right. His heart goes into this case, as well. This situation is intense for him, but it’d be much scarier if he had children. His contribution to the story is leading the case; but Keller thinks he could be doing his job a helluva lot better.

Those of us in the audience without children, can understand the lengths Keller and Franklin would go through to get their children back. It’s unsettling and heartbreakingly shocking. What is a heartbreaking aspect to it is that, even though we might not be the one doing the beating, all humans with a heart will go to these lengths to see their child again. This is what makes these characters so real. The only unrealistic part of the film is the recurring cop cliché of who the hell needs back-up or partners?

The Controversial Oscar Nominee Squad Beating On A Villain (that’s what I like to call them) aspect of the film makes us sympathize with a potential villain. Paul Dano plays the softly-spoken Alex Jones, a suspect in the case – and a character who will keep you guessing on how much he knows about the girls’ disappearance. Another memorable performance is from Alex Jones’ aunt, Holly Jones, portrayed by Melissa Leo in a nearly unrecognisable role.

Writer Aaron Guzikowski knows what solid storytelling is all about, and director Denis Villeneuve knows how to create a intricate and dark atmosphere, coupled with great imagery. It seems as if he’s been taking a tip or two from David Fincher; as this feels as intense as “Zodiac” in more than a few scenes; making me think of this as one of the more suspenseful films of recent memory. Villeneuve also knows how to get incredible performances out of his talented cast.

No matter how small the performances of those involved, they are emotionally involving and, most importantly, believable. Gyllenhaal is great as Detective Loki, relentless and powerful in his pursuit of the girls. He continues to play a believable detective. Jackman’s emotions are believable because many fathers will react the way he does. His mind is focused on seeing his daughter again, and the way he remains strong under this extraordinary pressure, and how he breaks down under his desperation is heartbreaking. He is one of the only people staying strong when others are crumbling. Jackman is phenomenal because he pours his heart and soul into this film. There might just be another Oscar nomination for Jackman on the way.

What is impressive about the movie is its truly emotional impactful story. It’s engaging in so many ways. There’s a lot of power when a movie can be simultaneously terrifying and heartbreaking. It’s phenomenal at 153 minutes, but I wonder how much better it would be if it were about ten minutes shorter. It’s a really fascinating puzzle to piece together, that’s certain. Unforgettable and hard to watch; the ethical debates people will have about this film is what cinema is all about.

Score95/100

Advertisements

Box Office Predictions: September 27-29

I’ll start off with “Baggage Claim,” one of the four major theatrical releases of the weekend. It’s coming to the lowest amount of theatres of the bunch (1800), but it could make a decent amount of money this weekend. These sort-of generic romantic comedies are usually popular with the African American crowd, but the only familiar cast member in the trailer is Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond”). And Tyler Perry isn’t involved with the project, which can be a good or a bad thing with these types of movies. Since they’re usually modest hits, and films similar to this open at $10.2 million, I’ll go around there – even though I’ve only seen one trailer for this. This could hit $10 million, but I think it will miss it – so my prediction is $9.3 million.

Another film coming out this weekend is Ron Howard’s “Rush,” which has garnered a lot of buzz, and it was released to five theatres last weekend (earning $187 thousand) in order to create stronger word-of-mouth. While NASCAR is very popular in the U.S. (I don’t get what’s so interesting about drivers making left turns), Formula One racing hasn’t really broken out. It sounds like an interesting biography, so I’ll give this one a shot. So will others interested in any sort-of racing, and maybe those who like Chris Hemsworth. Similar movies open at $10.28 million. My prediction is $11.5 million.

It seems that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut “Don Jon” will be a modest hit. I’m pretty excited for it. People love their JGL, but I have a feeling this will have a hard R-rating, so teens won’t be able to sneak into this so well. The subject matter (the main character’s a porn addict) might not let it appeal to the masses; but the trailers have been good. I think it looks like a very funny movie. It might make a decent date movie for couples, as well. It’s coming to 2200 theatres this weekend, and similar movies open to $12.2 million, so my prediction for this is $10.8 million.

The big dog to beat (and no one has a chance of beating it) is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” a sequel coming four years after the original. The original actually isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I can see how kids would love this stuff. With its aggressive marketing campaign, this has positioned itself to become the biggest September opening ever; and the number it would have to beat is $42.52 million, the record held by last year’s “Hotel Transylvania.” And it would have to beat $40.2 million, held by “Insidious Chapter 2” for nearly two weeks now, to become the second biggest opener of September. Movies similar to this open at about $42.6 million. The original is a pretty good movie that was liked by both audiences (7.0 rating on IMDb score) and critics (it’s 87% fresh), earning $30.3 million in its opening weekend, $124.87 in its domestic run, and $243 million worldwide. Right now, I can see this opening right on par with “The Croods” – so my prediction is $44.7 million.

 

Here’s how I see the Top 10:
1. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2”: $44.7m
2. “Prisoners”: $14.6m (Review coming soon)
3. “Rush”: $11.5m
4. “Don Jon”: $10.8m
5. “Baggage Claim”: $9.3m
6. “Insidious Chapter 2”: $8.63m
7. “Instructions Not Included”: $4.75m
8. “The Family”: $4.2m
9. “We’re the Millers“: $4.1m
10. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”: $3.35m

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsReleased: September 18, 2009. Directed by: Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Starring: Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Bruce Campbell. Runtime: 90 min.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” is, I’ll admit, much better than I thought it would be. I had no interest in seeing it when it was initially released, because it sounded a bit too silly for my tastes. But then I realized the guys who are behind this movie, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, directed one of my favourite action comedies of the last few years, “21 Jump Street.”

So, I thought I’d give it a shot since it was playing on television. And, if I get the chance to see the sequel, I can – because now I’ve seen the original. The premise is simple, adapted from an apparently beloved children’s story written by Judi Barrett. I’m not sure if it’s a good adaptation or not, but the basic ‘I wanna be something!’ character arc is present.

The main character, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), has been inventing unsucessful, but sorta awesome, things all of his life – and that’s his dream, to be a revered inventor. His father (James Caan) disapproves of the choice, as he doesn’t understand his son as well as his late wife did.

He finally gets his shot with a machine that turns water into any kind-of food that you desire. He manages to inadvertantly launch his machine into rain clouds, after a run-in with the law, and it rains cheeseburgers. This puts the island below the ‘A’ of Atlantic Ocean on the map; even though the town was previously known for its sardines, until everyone realized they are gross. The mayor of the  town (voiced by Bruce Campbell) sees this as an opportunity to make Swallow Falls a real tourist hot spot; so he aggressively urges Flint to make it rain three meals a day. The news reporter, Sam Sparks (Anna Farris) who is in town, becomes a weather girl and takes advantage of this weather phenomenon.

While the delicious food makes the townspeople happy, the excessive use of the machine can dangerously mutate the food, but the shady mayor ignores Flint’s pleas to make it stop; by telling him the whole town loves him. As expected, chaos ensues – on the day when spaghetti and meatballs are the main course.

The premise is effectively simple, and allows really colourful scenery to happen. I like the animation a lot, even though the character design for Flint makes him look like an odd type of bird. The character design for the acrobatic police officer Earl Devereaux is truly clever. He is voiced by Mr. T, and he has a T-shaped bald spot. Bill Hader, Anna Faris and even James Caan aren’t particularly memorable. It’s a good thing that Mr. T, Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris and the purposefully irrtating Andy Samberg are there, because they balance out the voicework and make it better. Neil Patrick Harris plays the role of a scene-stealing monkey named Steve, who can speak through the invention of Flint’s. This film is silly and fun for the kids, and there’s enough clever humour to keep older folk mildly entertained.

Score70/100

TIFF 2013 Review: Canopy

canopy 5“Canopy” is a World War Two film set during the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942. The film follows an Australian fighter pilot who is shot out of his plane, and wakes up in the treetops, suspended by his parachute. He must set out on a perilous journey to find sanctuary in this foreign jungle. Thankfully, he eventually finds a companion, a Chinese soldier who is also lost. They must join forces to make it out of this jungle alive.

This is a type of movie that people would see for the art of it, and not the sheer entertainment. But by god, it deserves to be seen. It’s an effective experience, if a flawed one. Disappointingly, some may find their attention wandering during the feature. This is only in some scenes, so it usually does a good job of maintaining the viewer’s attention. The feature is led by a tiny cast. Seng, the Chinese soldier, is portrayed by Tzu-yi Mo. He assists with carrying the film, and he is fairly memorable.

canopy_04Khan Chittenden, whose character is an Australian fighter pilot named Jim, is called to carry the film the most. He does an admirable job. There’s power in his silent performance – he acts well with his eyes and actions. He leaves an impression with what he must do, because it is definitely more challenging to act with little dialogue. For much of the film, it is only him and his thoughts – and the thought of putting oneself into the shoes of this man, is terrifying. He is vulnerable in this unfamiliar jungle, and only keeps going because it is his survival instinct. His performance is realistic and believable.

Aaron Wilson is also a star of the film as director. He may be behind the camera, but he controls this set and he creates a well-written story. It must be challenging to write a story with little dialogue. I only remember there being about less than ten words in English, all near the end; and other words in a foreign language that we could not understand. I think the way he does it is effective. When a foreign language is spoken, there are no subtitles. Jim does not understand what these people are saying, so why should we? The experience is enhanced because of this. These two people who are trying to survive must get over the language barrier and communicate. canopy_03

I like the way Wilson goes about handling this story. I learn from the Q/A after the film that, through research, he found that soldiers don’t remember conversations, but all of the sounds in the unfamiliar land and the actions they made. That is why there is such little dialogue. I’d never thought of that experience would deem true for a soldier, but it seems like a true thought after one thinks about it. It’s an innovative way to go about a film like this. I haven’t seen anything like it before. The characters are simply characterized. They are both soldiers fighting for their lives. It is confirmed that Jim has a family back home, but for Seng, it can be assumed. This film’s characterization is far from conventional. This shows the strong influence war has on humanity, and the impact it will leave on a person. This is a nearly wordless experience, but hardly a silent film.

canopy_02There are constant sounds from off-stage. Gun shots, explosions, twigs snapping, people approaching, which causes a state of panic. The sound design, landscapes, imagery and cinematography are phenomenal. It’s some of the best so far this year, and the surroundings Stefan Duscio shows on-screen are gorgeous. Dialogue takes a back-seat to the focus of sound design. In one scene, Jim is walking around in the jungle (like he does for most of the 80 minutes), and we are looking down on the forest. Audiences might have to look for him for a few seconds before they find him making his way through the terrain. I imagine that is how Jim feels throughout, but it takes him much longer to find any sort-of destination, in this terrifying jungle. That is effective. The two central performances, direction, writing, sound design and cinematography and photography are the film’s best aspects.

CanopyMany will have re-adjust their expectations for this experience, because it is so different. Whoever might be expecting a thriller might be disappointed. It’s heavier on the natural drama than it is on thrills, but has a controlled level of suspense.

This is a technically impressive experience. Some might find themselves bored at times, but it’s usually quite engaging. This experience shows that a story could be effectively told through sounds. There is not many other films like this, and especially not WWII features. It is memorable because it is so different and unique. Both Aaron Wilson and Khan Chittenden have bright futures ahead of them. I learn from Wilson that he has a film that has dialogue is on the way, so I will anticipate that one. Much like the sounds of war that soldiers remember for awhile, this feature leaves a lasting impression, right up to the final shot. Definitely see it, because it isn’t time-consuming and it’s quite an experience.

Score83/100

Getaway (2013)

GetawayReleased: August 30, 2013. Directed by: Courtney Solomon. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight. Runtime: 90 min.

I like a good action movie as much as the next movie critic. But that’s the key word: good. A good action film, “Getaway” is not.

After former race car driver Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) comes home to find his wife missing, he gets a phone call from a mysterious villain who informs him to go to a parking garage to retrieve a fast car.

From there, the Voice gives him random orders, to wreak havoc on the streets, so man on the other end would know he is willing to do just about anything to get his wife back. The orders are rather ludicrous, “smash into whatever you can,” “drive on the skating rink.” At one of the stops, a young girl attempts to steal the car, and she turns out to be the owner of it. She is portrayed by Selena Gomez, the film’s appeal for teenage girls.

Getaway1The Mysterious Villain’s motivation is, of course, personal gain, because, what else would it be? He states in his bad European accent that there is something at a bank and he “needs it.” Apparently, kidnapping someone and sending their loved one on a crazy mission to retrieve them is all the craze in Europe these days. This specific setting is a town called Sofia, Bulgaria; I think. The storytelling is kind enough to flash the name of the town two or three times, but that’s still not enough to make it memorable without research.

Ethan Hawke, as the former race-car driver, is sent on a set of missions; only about 40 per cent of which feel like they have purpose, or advance the story in any way. Many are random, only there to keep the action going. At least the “Fast and Furious” franchise has the courtesy to step out of the driver’s seat, throw around amusing banter between the characters, and have some character and plot development. Those movies are lots of fun, this one just steals from better films – and doesn’t try to put a spin on them. This just rarely stops for a single minute to try create a wholly coherent story, or have good character development. Selena Gomez plays a character who is billed as The Kid. She doesn’t even have a character’s name! Hawke’s character is likable enough for the viewer to care that he gets his wife back, because he’s an okay guy placed in a crappy situation; but every viewer already knows how it ends… So how does that make the film suspenseful?

Gomez and Hawke carry the film, but only with adequate performances; so that’s saying, they’re not particularly memorable. Nor is the film as a whole. Everything about this is lacklustre. Jon Voight literally phones in his performance as the villain, sporting a bad European accent. His character is The Voice.

That is compelling character development, right there. When an actioner is this generic and uninteresting, there is little fun to be had. Sure, it never stops. Sure, it’s never mind-numbingly boring, because something is always happening. But when the action is so repetitive, the experience isn’t compelling or notable.

When a movie can make me derisively laugh at its lame dialogue, I can’t take it seriously. There is a point where Brent is driving (as usual), and he’s saying something along the lines of, “I want to see my wife!” And the villain asks, “You want to see your wife again, right? Then do what I say!” Naw, man, that’s not why he just said “Let me see my wife” about three times in a row. (This is a scene from the movie, but I know I didn’t get it word for word. I’ll have to start bringing a notepad to screenings.)

If you are an audience member who is attending this film for a pulse-pounding, full-throttle, pedal to the metal, non-stop actioner, you shouldn’t be disappointed. But, with unoriginal fast-paced actioners like this; I like it to be fun, and not just the conventional mess this turns out to be. It’s a 90-minute chase movie, where cops chase Magna, Selena Gomez whines and begs to be let go, more cops chase Magna, cops crash because Magna’s just too fast and he has mad skills. The filmmakers put that on a loop, and pray audience members aren’t intelligent enough to notice. This time, they couldn’t getaway with it.

Score: 38/100

Box Office Predictions: Sept. 20-22

Battle of the YearI don’t know what “Battle of the Year” is doing in theatres at this point in time, after dance films are so past their prime. And this looks way generic and familiar. Movies similar to this open at $11.06 million. “Magic Mike” is the highest-grossing dance film with a $113.7 million domestic run (and its opening was $39.127 million). For generic dance flicks, “Step Up” is the highest-grossing with $65.3 million in its domestic run. “Step Up 4” made $11 million in its opening with no big stars, but it had the benefit of being part of a franchise. But this one isn’t part of a franchise. Chris Brown is in it, and so is Josh Peck, but Peck hasn’t really broken out in the film industry quite yet. Nor is he a bankable actor. A few cons of this movie is that it had hardly any marketing campaign; it only has a bit over 104,000 likes (as of Sept. 17) on its Facebook page, and it has only registered 1138 tweets, with a 3:1 positive to negative ratio (as of Sept. 17). I think this will be seen by some over the weekend, because apparently some teens like to watch the same generic (3D) dance flick over and over and over again. It’s a ‘Wait for Cable’ type-of movie for me, if anything. My prediction for this is $7.3 million.

Prisoners“Prisoners” looks freaking awesome. Generally, crime movies are hit-and-miss at the box office, but I think this one will be a modest hit. Similar films to this open at $16.05 million. This is star-packed and has a great-sounding story. One of the main reasons I think it’ll do really well because it is one of the runner-ups of the Blackberry People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. That means it’s good, and it is one of September’s only releases that has Oscar potential. The long-term legs for this one should be great. My prediction for it is $21.8 million.

 

Here’s how I see the Top 10:
1. “Prisoners”: $21.8m
2. “Insidious Chapter 2”: $18.06m
3. “Battle of the Year”: $7.3m
4. “The Family”: $6.875m
5. “Riddick”: $4.1m
6. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”: $3.94m
7. “We’re the Millers”: $3.85
8. “Instructions Not Included”: $2.98m
9. “Planes”: $2.5m
10. “The Wizard of Oz 3D”: $2.28m

TIFF13 Review: The Sacrament

sacrament_01Ti West sends his movie regulars into an isolated village called Eden Parish. Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley) sister has been missing for six months, but out of the blue, he receives a mysterious letter from her (Amy Seimetz). It tells him to take an airplane to somewhere, where there will be a helicopter to bring him to the undisclosed location. He decides to bring a few colleagues along, who work for a  journalism company called Vice. Vice practices immersion journalism, a style in which the journalist immerses themselves in a situation and with the people involved, and the final product usually focuses on the experience, not the writer themself. AJ Bowen portrays the main journalist, Sam, while Joe Swanberg portrays Joe, the camera man for much of the film.

Once there, they are plunged into a situation straight out of a horror film, and real-life; as they find themselves fighting for their lives after the leader of the commune, known as Father (Gene Jones), instigates a mass suicide.

sacrament_02Father wants to protect his people from threats of capitalism and materialism, and all the other things of America that threaten their way of life. Father has a way of getting into the heads of those who are in his presence, even Sam during an interview, in one of the film’s best but bewildering moments. The interview is quick and hard to absorb completely, and I think that’s the point. It feels like The Father really does have a way of getting into peoples’ thoughts. It is easier for him to get into the thoughts of his people. He asks them to give up their worldly possessions to fund his vision. He goes around as a church and picks up people for his cause, where he makes them work and sleep deprives them and easily brainwashes most.

This is Ti West’s modernized way he sees how the events of the infamous events at Jonestown unfolded. Father is the stand-in for the infamous Jim Jones, who led one of the largest mass suicides in history back in 1978. This is an interesting subject for a feature film. It’s slow but it feels like an expert’s interpretation of something that fascinates many, and it features a great finale. The sheer meaning of Jonestown is hard to portray, because one can’t fully understand, but West sure portrays the facts of it well. He has a great understanding of suicide cults.

sacrament_03 (1)This isn’t pitched as a found-footage film, but as a documentary. These events are both terrifying and told with great realism. It is also all the more terrifying that it is so realistic, and that it has actually happened – and not just something from someone’s mind. It’s a solid premise. There is enough shock value to keep many, well, shocked. It has the intelligence of a documentary film, and the sheer suspense of a great horror film. It is often hard to watch as well, but it’s a great food-for-thought flick, and it leaves an impact on people’s memory. The ending is predictable, but some won’t be able to predict the insane way in which the events do happen. As someone who is fascinated by the events that unfolded at Jonestown, and as a lover of horror films, I can say this is a great ride, and an interesting look at the depths of religious fanaticism.

Score85/100