Question of the Week: What’s your current cinematic obsession?

ob·ses·sion
əbˈseSHən/

  • the state of being obsessed with someone or something.
  • an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.

Ok this is not just another excuse to talk about Toby Stephens… as if I needed one, ahah. Seriously though, my weekly question is usually inspired by something that’s been on my mind. Well, I think you all know what or specifically who that is 😉

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My long-lifeless tumblr’s been set ablaze again

Men like Toby ought to come with a warning label similar to those cigarette boxes: Dangerous, highly-addictive content. Proceed with caution. I have a bit of an obsessive streak in me. I don’t drink nor do drugs, seems that my *drug* of choice is British actors 😛

Surely I’m not the only one, I mean tumblr is pretty much filled with obsessive people, ahah. It doesn’t have to be a person, it can be a TV show/movie/game, whatever. I know Sati’s been engrossed with Game of Thrones and Keith with the noir classic Casablanca. It doesn’t happen very often for me, well not THIS intense anyway, so when that happens I sort of relish in it. Fortunately with Toby, he’s covered pretty much every medium, theater, TV, movies and radio, and he’s a delight to watch as well as listen to. It’s funny how a new-found crush/craze adds an extra spring in your step, which helps me cope with this dreadful faux-Spring weather (complete with SNOW people!!).


So fess up folks, what/who are you obsessing about right now? And what started it all?

FlixChatter Review: The Railway Man (2013)

AshleyBanner

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This may sound harsh, but I’m growing tired of WWII films that have a singular focus on the Nazis and Jews. There have been so many wonderful films successfully depicting the horror and tragedy that befell the Jews, but at the same time, there are so many untold stories from different perspectives that are worth being shared. This is one of those stories. The Railway Man is a film about Eric Lomax, a British Army Signals Engineer, who was captured as a prisoner of war and tortured at a Japanese labor camp during World War II. In Lomax’s later life, he discovers his torturer is still alive and sets out to confront him. The film switches between Lomax’s present day (1980s) and his past at the camp (1942).

I went in to this screening not really knowing much about the film. As the opening credits started to roll, we were informed The Railway Man was based on true events and an autobiography of the same name. The film opens on a train crossing a bridge and a young soldier, who looks out of time, as we hear Colin Firth’s voiceover reciting a nursery rhyme. As it turns out, it was a limerick of Lomax’s own creation:

“At the beginning of time the clock struck one. Then dropped the dew and the clock struck two. From the dew grew a tree and the clock struck three. The tree made a door and the clock struck four. Man came alive and the clock struck five. Count not; waste not, the years on the clock. Behold I stand at the door and knock.”

The director, Jonathan Teplitzky (Burning Man), cuts from the railroad tracks to a dark and confusing scene of Colin Firth lying on the floor, twitching and shaking in what appears to be paralyzing terror. This rhyme reappears several times throughout the film, and is used as a way for Lomax to ground himself during his episodes, in addition to Lomax’s ironic affinity for trains.

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I must say, I think this is the darkest role I’ve seen Colin Firth (Lomax) portray. While he’s experiencing an episode, he looks calm and collected on the outside but unexpectedly lashes out.  And his eyes are filled with such intense and varied emotions: love, malice and fear. However, we do see his tender side, as Patti (Kidman) pulls him back to reality. She truly is his anchor throughout the entire film. Honestly, I was both surprised and impressed by Firth’s performance. This was the most animated I’ve seen him in a role, especially during the flashback episodes.

Jeremy Irvine (Young Lomax) is no stranger to delivering moving performances as a soldier. My first encounter with Irvine was in War Horse and I am embarrassed to admit, I completely forgot who he was. However, his performance in The Railway Man is something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. At first introduction, it seems Lomax was relatively untouched by the war. However, after the British surrender to the Japanese, his life changes forever. 

Fair warning, the torture scenes are very intense and involve water boarding, cramped bamboo cages, starvation, and regular beatings with bamboo logs. After viewing the film, I learned Irvine actually became ill after taking too much water. As his time as a POW lengthened, you could see Lomax’s (Irvine) body start to deteriorate. He grows overly thin, and his body is constantly broken down and beaten. Somehow, through it all, he still manages to keep some semblance of his old life intact. He’s bright, imaginative and a true hero. And to the far right is a shot of the actual young Eric Lomax. They could be twins!

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I was underwhelmed by Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Patti Lomax. For some reason I found the way she tried to comfort Eric as patronizing and more selfish to her own end: “I want my husband back!” It also didn’t help that Teplitzky didn’t really show any scenes of them trying to work through his PTSD. There’s just a few glimpses of Lomax (Firth) shutting down or rearranging rooms Patti (Kidman) had decorated, but nothing where they really address his symptoms head on. Patti instead goes to Finlay, (Stellan Skarsgård) for answers about Lomax’s past.

Generally speaking, the film felt a bit confused. At times, it was gearing up to be a really great historical drama, and then it abruptly switched and felt more like a horror film (and I’m not referring just to the torture scenes). Maybe this was Teplitzky’s interpretation of what living with PTSD feels like. Although, as a viewer, whenever Lomax (Firth) appeared on screen I felt my flight or fight reflex take over. I never knew if I should cringe or go about my regularly scheduled viewing. Additionally, I wish we could’ve seen more of Lomax’s (Irvine) life after he was liberated from the POW camp. There seemed to be such a discrepancy between Irvine’s outlook as opposed to Firth’s. It leads the viewer to believe Lomax’s symptoms developed over time, along with his bitterness, which I’m not entirely sure was the case.

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The Railway Man is a very intense film and touches on dark material.  Even though the torture took place nearly 70 years ago, eerily enough, it hits close to home (think Zero Dark Thirty). However, the overall message is really quite beautiful. After everything Lomax endured, he rose above the atrocities he faced and forgave Takashi Nagase. What’s even more uplifting is Lomax and Nagase ended up becoming great friends. Here’s a picture of the real Eric Lomax and Takashi Nagase. Eric Lomax passed away in 2012 as the film was in post-production. This truly was an incredible story, and it’s definitely worth a watch.

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PostByAshley


Thoughts on The Railway Man? Would love to hear what you think!

Weekend Roundup: Leap Year, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond & a whole lot of Toby Stephens

If someone were to ask me, “What did you do this weekend?” Well, the short answer would be “Toby Stephens.” Ahah, well ok so it came out wrong, didn’t it? I meant, my weekend pretty much consisted of watching/listening/tumblr-ing about him, my long-lifeless tumblr has been set ablaze now by Toby’s fiery charisma.

I did manage to fit in a few movies… one of which is Some Like It Hot, a Billy Wilder classic that I mistakenly thought it’s one of my Blind Spot list.

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Oh well, the good thing is I finally watch that movie as it’s a lot of fun, but the bad part is that my Blind Spot post is going to be late. I’ll just have to post a double review next month then.

As for the other two movies I saw, here’s my quick thoughts on them:

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I really don’t know what came over my hubby and I that made me want to rent Leap Year. Well my friend Ashley and I were talking about Matthew Goode earlier in the week but I wasn’t intending to watch the movie this weekend. In any case, it turns out to be such a dud. For some odd reason, iTunes listed the Rotten Tomatoes rating as 100%, which was so surprising to us to see a rom-com got a high rating but as it turns out, the real RT rating is 21%!!! Ok so I don’t always agree with the critics but this movie is everything I dislike about today’s rom-com: vapid, banal, clichéd and immensely unfunny. There’s nothing romantic nor funny about this movie, gah!

The whole thing revolves around a girl who flew from Boston all the way to Ireland to propose to her cardiologist boyfriend on leap year. Of course along the way she falls for someone else [yawn] Amy Adams‘ cute-as-a-button charm might’ve worked for Enchanted but here she comes across as dimwitted and shallow as her character is supposed to be. Goode seems bored throughout the whole movie and can’t say I blame him, his talent is utterly wasted here anyway. Right from the start, everything about the plot is so contrived that even the slight 1 hr 41 min running time was such a drug all the way to its predictable conclusion. I doubt even Toby Stephens could save this movie for me, though it’d probably make it a million times more watchable 😉

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We actually wanted to check out this one after we saw Captain America 2. Funny how Chris Evans often mention in interviews how bad his movies are, ahah. Well, this one is actually not horrible, but not exactly good either. Set in the 1920s, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is a societal drama about a rebellious Memphis débutante Fisher Willow who can’t stand the suffocating Southern tradition and the narrow-minded people surrounding her. Bryce Dallas Howard looks the part and she’s pretty believable in the role. Evans play the handsome but penniless suitor Fisher hired, passing him up as an upper-class suitor to her friends. He seems ill-suited for the part despite his best effort, not to mention his touch-and-go Southern accent, ahah.

The screenplay was apparently written by Tennessee Williams himself back in 1980, not sure why it took 28 years for the film to finally got released. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is the only Williams’ work I’ve seen so far and this one definitely not as memorable, but the story is mildly intriguing. I just didn’t find Fisher’s journey as particularly engaging, the most memorable part is actually Howard’s scene with a dying woman played by Ellen Burstyn. There is an odd lighting technique during this scene where the whole room suddenly dimmed out and a spotlight appears on top of the two characters conversing on the bed. That’s really strange to see a technique used on a stage performance, not sure what that’s all about. Overall it’s not a complete waste as Leap Year, so I’d still recommend it if you’re a fan of Tennessee Williams.


Falling Madly…

Well, in case you missed my tribute from last week, I’ve been struck with a seemingly-incurable Toby-itis. Hence there’ll be a heck of a lot more Toby Stephens for the unforeseeable future 😉

I watched a myriad of Toby clips on Youtube, he’s had such a varied career, even starring in a Bollywood movie called The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey where he’s sporting a Scottish brogue AND actually spoke Hindi.I’m not talking about a couple of sentences here, but he held multiple conversations with the Bollywood actors throughout the movie! My admiration for him just went through the roof!

The two clips I watched most were Jane Eyre 2006 and Black Sails, though both are period pieces, the roles couldn’t be more different from each other. And that’s what amazes me about his chameleonic quality.

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This interview on his role as talking about his role of Mr. Rochester has broken the record as the vid I’ve watched the most in a single weekend. Don’t ask me how many times, I’ve lost count already… This interview on his role as Rochester in Jane Eyre 2006 has broken the record as the vid I’ve watched the most in a single weekend. Don’t ask me how many times, I’ve lost count already…

Thank goodness for youtube where I get most of my Toby watching as it’s really tough to get access to most of his previous work. I’ve ordered a few dvds but it’ll take a week before those get here. I never thought I’d say this either but THANK YOU Michael Bay for hiring Toby as Captain Flint in Black Sails. Thank goodness for youtube where I get most of my Toby watching as it’s really tough to get access to most of his previous work. I’ve ordered a few dvds but it’ll take a week before I got my hands on those, so I had to turn to youtube to get my Toby fix.

Toby_Flint_BlackSailsI never thought I’d say this either but THANK YOU Michael Bay for hiring Toby as Captain Flint in Black Sails.


So that was my weekend. What did YOU watch folks, anything good?

MSPIFF14 Reviews: The Double & The Last of Robin Hood

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Review by Josh P.

The-Double-PosterThe Double follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg, who plays against type and is award-worthy superb), a meek man unrecognizable to his co-workers, one of whom is the girl of his dreams, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska, terrific). Early in the film, Simon’s bleak life takes two unhappy turns. First, he witnesses a suicide, and then his doppelgänger, James Simon (also Eisenberg, this time playing to type), begins working at the same company, doing a similar job. James is more likable and confident than Simon, meaning he is more successful, despite being less qualified. 

Writer/director Richard Ayoade’s film isn’t exactly scary, and might not even qualify as creepy. Nor is it commonly laugh out loud funny or emotionally impacting. Plus, it is at least somewhat derivative, obviously resembling Brazil (1985), amongst other movies. At times, as when Simon says things like, ‘But I used to exist. I mean I exist. I’m standing right here,’ it is even reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s best work. By rights, then, The Double, should fail to register, should fade from memory, should be just another conceptually interesting science fiction movie unable to maximize its potential. 

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Thankfully, it is more than that, owing mostly to Ayoade’s fantastic production design. The film’s thematic and narrative content is dark, and so is The Double’s color palette. Here we see mostly browns and grays, with some whites mixed in; the retro computers; the televisions; the characters’ costumes; interior and exterior doors; most walls; tables; desks; and so forth. Because much of the imagery is borderline dull, the few times we see bright color (consider James’ unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt), we know something significant will soon happen. Or, at the very least, that the image is meaningful to Simon.

The movie’s retro technology and set pieces are as effective as its color palette. From the box televisions, to the copy machines with dial controls, to the small screen computers, the technology helps solidify The Double’s setting and enhance its atmosphere. Its set pieces do the same: apartments are very small, and bigger rooms are mostly filled by complicated piping connected to aforementioned machines. Before long we begin to understand Simon’s world, to feel his claustrophobia and lack of entertainment, not to mention his social disconnectedness.

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Ayoade, in other words, effectively immerses us in Simon’s reality, thereby making us care about the character and causing dread when the protagonist’s life goes horribly wrong. It doesn’t matter, in other words, that the director keeps us at psychological and emotional distance from Simon. We empathize with the character anyway. 

Which is why The Double is thematically resonant and intellectually intriguing, the sort of movie that will keep viewers thinking, even days after seeing it. What does this picture say about an individuals’ place in society? About confidence? Identity? Relationships? And more? 

Thematic power is not The Double’s only strength. The cast is terrific. Moreover, the central characters are developed well, and Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine’s dialogue is witty. Finally, the film is funny enough to always entertain. Simply put, The Double is very good.

4.5 out of 5 reels

JJamesReviews


The Last of Robin Hood

Review by Ruth M.

TheLastOfRobinHoodposterThough the title refers to the role Errol Flynn’s best known for, this film is more about his last girlfriend, Beverly Aadland. She was only 15 years old when the legendary swashbuckler and reputable lothario made his conquest. He saw her going into Warner Bros studios, looking much older than what she actually was in her form-fitting red dress. The wide-eyed teen starlet inevitably and immediately fell for the Australian actor, but she really didn’t have much choice in the matter, given Flynn’s persistence and her own mother practically pimping her in order to *assist* her career. I can’t remember if the film said something about Flynn still being married to Patrice Wymore, but I found that out after the film.

This is really a sad story, not to mention creepy. Kevin Kline who played Flynn was 67 and Dakota Fanning as Beverly was 19 when they made the film, so the age gap between them is even bigger (47 years apart as opposed to 33). But what’s even creepier is how Beverly’s mother Florence (Susan Sarandon) not only encouraged the affair, but also willingly became the third wheel as they travel together. Her own marriage crumbled as her husband vehemently disagreed with what Florence did to their own daughter, and sensibly, he didn’t think Beverly really had talents for showbiz anyway.

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And so, the 90-min film pretty much follow the three of them travel from L.A., New York, Africa, even Cuba where Flynn made a pro-Castro propaganda movie starring Beverly. It’s amusing to get a glimpse how Old Hollywood operated back then, well specifically, how a notorious Golden Age movie star lived. There’s a brief scene where Flynn tried to convince Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella) to cast her alongside him in Lolita. But they soon realize that the affair didn’t really do much for Beverly’s career. The film paints a devastating picture of the ruthless desire for fame and the price people pay to achieve it. It’s not an in-depth biopic, nor a particularly emotional one either, as I barely connect with any of the characters.

All three main characters are such tragic figures in their own right, though I don’t quite have an emotional connection with any of them. I feel for Beverly the most, yet she isn’t exactly blameless in all of this. Though it seemed that Flynn genuinely cared for her, their relationship wasn’t always smooth. It lasted for merely two years when the alcoholic Flynn died suddenly of a heart attack. Seemed that beneath the devil-may-care facade, even Flynn knew that death was looming.

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The real Erroll Flynn & Kline in the role

I feel like this story is perhaps more suited for a TV movie or something in terms of its production quality. I think the performances are good, both Kline and Fanning are pretty committed to the role, and Kline’s resemblance to the older Flynn is pretty uncanny. Sarandon plays the ruthless and fame-hungry Florence convincingly, up until the end she still sought attention when she spoke to the tabloid about the whole affair. Despite Beverly’s insistence that she dropped the book deal, her book was still published.

If you’re a big fan of Errol Flynn this should be an interesting movie to rent. Even if you aren’t [like me, as I haven’t seen any of his movies], surely you have heard of him. It’s a pretty stylish film by Richard GlatzerWash Westmoreland, I think they managed to capture the era quite well. Just don’t expect anything profound or poignant, it’s merely amusing for me, but falls short from being a truly engaging biopic.

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What do you think of these two films? 

An appreciation + belated birthday tribute to Toby Stephens

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Ok, here we go again. Some of you who follow me on Twitter might’ve already known about my new crush but I want to make it official here that I’ve been suffering from Toby-itis. This kind of *infection* happens once in a blue moon… the last time this happened was with Gregory Peck nearly three years ago. With Toby, it appears to be a slo-burn kind of crush as I’ve noticed him a while ago and have always liked him on and off… but ever since The Machine, this casual admiration has turned into a full-blown obsession. Well, since he just turned 45 a few days ago on April 21, this post doubles as a belated birthday tribute for my new crush.

Yes, it seems I have a type… like most of my crushes, the London-born Toby is drop dead gorgeous, massively talented, incredibly versatile yet sadly VERY underrated… plus he’s both an eye + ear candy… Toby’s smooth voice is absolutely to-die-for. He definitely would’ve made my top 10 actors with smoothest voice list. I LOVE this fan-made vid that highlights my sentiment perfectly:

Though he has a lot in common with my other crushes, there’s a lot of *firsts* with my crushing on Toby…

  • He’s the first red-head I’ve ever had a crush on… but with those glass-cut cheekbones, his freckles are downright adorable.TobyStephensHotRedHead
  • First actor whose mother I’m actually a huge fan of… Dame Maggie Smith, one of my three favorite British Dames. His dad is the late Sir Robert Stephens.
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    Toby with mum Maggie Smith backstage after a Coriolanus play
  • He’s also the first living actor I have a crush on who’s married with little kids. In fact he’s been married for 14 years which in this entertainment business is pretty impressive!

You know you’ve got it bad when you’ve practically watched every clip of him posted on youtube, scoured every tumblr on said actor, read every single interview you could find… and still you can’t get enough. Oh and my tumblr is on fire once again 😉 I don’t drink so this must be what being intoxicated feels like. I finally ordered three Toby dvds from Amazon today: Jane Eyre (2006), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996) and Cambridge Spies (2003). Can’t wait to watch ’em all!

I’ve always loved actors with theater background and Toby attended LAMDA and has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In fact, back in 1994, he won the Sir John Gielgud Prize for Best Actor and the Ian Charleson Award for playing Coriolanus at RSC. [per IMDb] I stumbled upon this clip of an RSC workshop where young Toby (who resembled Tom Hardy a bit then) did a reading with a bunch of famous actors, see how many of them you can spot in this video. It’s always fun to think about the career trajectory of these actors.

How do I love Toby? Let me count the ways …

Oh where do I start? Words fail me to describe how I feel about him right now. I’m having heart palpitations every time I watch him, whether he’s being goofy, intense, sad, angry … he’s always magnetic.

I think the word most apt to use here is awe. I’m in awe of Toby’s sheer screen presence and incredible versatility. Of course I say that about a lot of actors I like but some actors seem to suit a certain genre more than anything, but Toby seems comfortable playing ANY role, whether it’s comedy, drama, action adventure, he always fits right in effortlessly. I think even the most famous Hollywood actors of today aren’t remotely as versatile. Oh and he can master any accent too, as you can see in a couple of clips below, his American accent is quite flawless.

The more I watch his performances, the more I think ‘why isn’t he more famous??’ just like I always say about Richard Armitage. But at the same time, I admire him for being a working actor, an artist who cares about his craft rather than clamoring for the fame and fortune.

SmilingTobyHe tells the DailyMail: I’d like to keep it at the “I’ve seen you in something, not sure what” level. Having a life and being grounded is really important to me. In this business, especially for guys, you can become so obsessed with where you’re at and where you think you should be that you get angry and screwed-up, and forget to value what you have.’

Beautiful AND sensible. That is quite a rarity in this business.

This year alone, he’s juggling theater work in Noël Coward’s Private Lives with Anna Chancellor on London’s West End. Oh how I’d love to see this live, his comic timing is impeccable!

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That same year he also portrayed Captain Flint in STARZ’s series Black Sails, a role that combines tremendous physicality to do the action stunts as well as dramatic chops.

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My colleague was the first one who told me about this show and though it’s not really my cup of tea, I’ve been watching clips of the show. I’ve never seen him so battered, bruised and covered in blood, yet I can’t take my eyes off him. I love how the show’s lighting made his green eyes sparkle against his pale, freckled skin.

Highlighting some of my favorite Toby performances

 

It pains me that most people only know him as the Bond baddie Gustav Graves (he’s the youngest actor to play a Bond villain) in the worst possible Bond movie ever, Die Another Day. I mean, Gustav is supposedly a Korean who’s been genetically grafted into being a Caucasian. Say what?? Even Toby himself said how exceedingly silly that role was, and how he had to *disappear* from Hollywood for a few years as he’s only getting offered villain-y roles.

So in case you’ve never heard of him or only seen him in a couple of things, I’d like for you to acquaint yourself with Toby’s amazing body of work. Here are just a small sampling of his multifaceted career in both TV and movies:

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Jay Gatsby – The Great Gatsby (2000)

Ok so I’m not crazy about this adaptation but at least it didn’t put me to sleep like the 1974 version with Robert Redford. Toby certainly has dashing, refined but enigmatic charm, more swoon-worthy than Leo any day. I only wish they don’t have him grinning too much here. As much as I love his beautiful teeth, it just gets creepy after a while. Still, Toby is never NOT fun to watch and I enjoy listening to his flawless American accent. Paul Rudd is pretty decent too as Nick Caraway.

Mr. Rochester – Jane Eyre (2006)

My pal Becky is laughing at me as I used to have a very different opinion on his performance as Rochester in Jane Eyre, as I’m so partial to Dalton’s portrayal, but now I’ve fallen for his passionate and decidedly more sexual take of the character. I couldn’t decide which scene I should include here, there are way too many highlights, but I find Toby’s voice so intoxicating in this very scene where he explains the story of his Parisian mistress Céline Varens.

“You do not know how it feels to the very beat of someone’s heart within one’s breast …” The way he looks at Jane… and THAT voice… it’s a potent combination if there ever was one.

Prince John – Robin Hood (2009)

The only character who manages to avert my eyes away from Richard Armitage’s Guy of Gisborne. Now, if you know me at all, that is quite something. It’s funny but I’d be watching the exact same Robin Hood clips but this time I couldn’t take my eyes off the deliciously hammy, caddish Prince John. Toby at his naughtiest best.

Frank Arlington – Strike Back (2010)

It’s amusing to see Toby and Andrew Lincoln are now stars of American cable shows. I sure hope Black Sails will have as huge following as The Walking Dead and that it will bring him more opportunities in Hollywood. Toby’s talent needs to be seen, people!! Erm, in any case, Toby’s sporting American accent once again, as a CIA agent no less.

Detective Jack Armstrong – Vexed (BBC Two – 2010-2012)

I LOVE LOVE his goofball performance as the lazy, immature and irreverent cop. The show itself reminds me of Moonlighting with all the bantering between him and his clearly-superior female partner. It’s too bad there are only two seasons, I could watch this all day! Lucy Punch is great in the first season, too bad she didn’t stay on for the second. But Toby is a hoot, he’s really the only reason to watch the show for me.

… and finally, here’s a clip from The Machine (2013) that I’ve already reviewed here. First time I saw him in a sci-fi but again he fits the role of a mad-but-compassionate scientist perfectly. Once again he plays another tortured soul like Gatsby and Rochester, which is definitely his specialty.

I could go on and on… as right now all I want to watch and talk about is Toby. Thanks for letting me indulge on my new crush. I better just stop here … I can always blog about him again in the future 😀


So, what do you think of Toby Stephens? What movie/TV series did you like him in?

MSPIFF14 Reviews: Proxy and The Animal Project

Happy Wednesday everyone! Ok, we’re down to the last two batches of MSPIFF reviews. Today we’ve got two from Josh  from JJames Reviews.

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PROXY

Review by Josh P.

Proxy-PosterProxy begins with Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen), who is nine months pregnant, at an ultrasound appointment, talking to a technician (Shayla Hardy). Rasmussen’s stunningly removed vocal and facial affect tells us that Esther is, at the very least, depressed. Co-writer/director Zach Parker’s decisions are just as unsettling. For instance, Esther’s pregnancy belly is shaped oddly; the sonogram never looks like a fully formed baby; the technician’s conversation is bizarre; and so forth. Everything about the opening scene tells us that something is wrong, foreshadowing the next development, when someone with skinny legs and a red sweatshirt brutally attacks Esther. The mother survives, but the baby does not, and so begins a series of off-putting conversations, culminating in Esther meeting Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins) at a support group. The two women form a friendship, but their relationship is complicated by a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, Patrick (Joe Swanberg), Anika (Kristina Klebe), Peyton (Xavier Parker) and Melanie’s own mental instability. 

In the early going, Proxy is atmospherically mind-bending, featuring considerable tension that causes confusion without frustration. It helps that the two featured characters, and the actors who play them, are compelling. Esther and Melanie are disturbed but still interesting, especially Esther, whose mental illness we do not understand until it’s too late.

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Throughout, Parker’s artistic decisions—including a slow-motion sequence and an odd fantasy in the picture’s climax—build tension. Rasmussen’s entrancing performance helps just as much. In her hands, Esther might be a psychopath, a broken victim or something in between. 

Unfortunately, Proxy does not sustain such quality, largely because many of the twists make Melanie less believable, but mostly because Patrick and Anika are not as interesting as Esther and her new friend. Swanberg plays Patrick with, more or less, a single facial expression, one that makes a would-be complex character decidedly one-note. As such, whenever Proxy focuses on him, it suffers. Ditto that for Anika, though for different reasons. Klebe’s performance is fine, but the character she plays is poorly written, so poorly that Anika is archetypal, unexplained and unbelievable. 

Parker and Donner’s portrayal of women doesn’t help either. The three primary females are, to varying degrees, insane, and the minor characters are either insensitive or weak.  Would I call Proxy sexist? Probably not, but, at the least, I can understand why some (including Slant magazine) have. And, whether or not the film is biased, such characterization means we never genuinely empathize with any of these characters. In turn, we never feel Proxy’s would be emotion (I am aware that Slant’s review makes this point, as well).

For all of that, Proxy remains interesting enough to warrant a tepid recommendation, if only because, it does successfully buy our interest. We want to know what will happen next.

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2.5 out of 5 reels


The Animal Project

Review by Josh P.

The-Animal-Project-PosterWhat with simple focus on a small acting class, The Animal Project is not the most complex movie at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, but it is nonetheless a solid, character-driven dramedy.

In centering her Canadian film on Leo (Aaron Poole), a father, widower and acting teacher, writer/director Ingrid Veninger wisely chooses a complex and likable protagonist. Leo contends with considerable baggage, not the least of which is a positive but strained relationship with his eighteen-year-old son, Sam (Jacob Switzer), and muddled interaction with one of his students, Saul (Joey Klein). Eventually, Leo devises a plan to challenge his students by having them dress up in costumes and walk around town, offering free hugs to people they meet. 

That is, more or less, the extent of The Animal Project’s plot, which is why it proves meritorious that Veninger develops some interesting characters. Leo, Sam and Saul are all multidimensional. Even better, Leo and Sam’s father-son relationship forms a terrific emotional core, one that produces several moments of intense feeling, both when the two argue and when they reconcile. 

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The relationship between Leo and Saul, however, is less skillfully written. Though Leo probably is not gay, the two men share odd, underexplored sexual tension. Even by the end of the movie, we do not fully understand how these two men relate, or why they do so. Perhaps that is why The Animal Project is best when it focuses on Sam or Leo.

Or maybe it’s because the rest of the acting class characters are all undeveloped. Of them, Pippa (Jessica Greco) is the best, but that’s mostly because she’s intimately connected to both Leo and Sam. Ray (Emmanuel Kabongo) is worst. Alice (Hannah Cheesman), Jason (Jonathon Sousa), and Mira (Sarena Parmar) fall somewhere in the middle. In the end, even Pippa is underwritten, which means none of the secondary characters resonate, and The Animal Project stumbles every time it focuses on one of them, which it does semi-frequently. The film probably would have been better if it had been less ensemble and placed greater priority on Leo, Sam and Saul. 

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Still, The Animal Project is far from bad in its current form. With several laugh-out-loud funny moments and terrific acting performances all around (especially from Poole, Switzer, Klein and Greco), it is entertaining and occasionally moving. Not to mention worth viewing. 

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3 out of 5 reels

JJamesReviews


What do you think of these two films? Intriguing enough for you?

Question of the Week: Which films with great ensemble cast that fail to deliver?

It really pains me that the movie that *inspired* me for this edition of Question of the Week is one I’ve actually been looking forward to for some time. When I first blogged about it in January 2013, I was super duper excited about the cast. The movie is called The Deadly Game in the UK, complete with an even cheesier poster. I much prefer the Paul Shipper version on below right, if only the film itself is even half as intriguing.

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I never thought a British thriller starring Gabriel Byrne, Rufus Sewell AND Toby Stephens be so insufferably dreary. Even the actors look bored here, only Rufus seems to be having a bit more fun than the rest. My hubby actually fell asleep halfway through and I didn’t bother waking him up. If it weren’t for these three of my favorite Brits, well four if you count London which is practically a character in itself, I would’ve turned it off within 10 minutes. I don’t really feel like reviewing it, but I agree with these reviewers:

All Things to All Men is the latest attempt to make a British Michael Mann-style crime epic based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what Michael Mann actually does as a filmmaker. – The Scotsman

“Despite Sewell’s laconic ruthlessness, Stephens’s steely taciturnity and Byrne’s world-weary arrogance, there’s an all-round lack of conviction.”Radio Times

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Now this one sums my feelings exactly:

“[George Isaac’s] dizzying array of double-dealing gangsters, cops, hoodlums and hit men seem to be weirdly obsessed with taking in the sights. Issac describes his film as “a love letter to London”. Seriously, they should just get a room.”

So the only *character* that’s not wasted is London, but even so, the setting seems has no purpose. There’s a great shot of Stephens inside the London Eye but all he does is take a phone call! There is really no reason to have that scene shot there other than for pure visual spectacle. It’s a shame really, this could’ve been so much better and more gripping when you’ve got THIS kind of talents involved. It made me think of other movies that didn’t deliver despite the great cast, in fact you could say the cast is completely wasted. And I’m talking terrible films here, not just middling. Just from the past couple of years alone, we’ve got Gangster Squad, Now You See Me, The Monuments Men. Fortunately I skipped some of those Love, Actually copycats like Valentine’s Day or New York, I Love You (which I turned off after about 5 minutes). Oh and I avoided Movie 43 like the plague, I mean I don’t think ANY actor could’ve possibly saved such a movie.


So now your turn… what’s the worst movie(s) you saw with a great ensemble cast?