Finished. Movies Reviewed: Amy, Self/Less, Big Game

dd21159d-2ec4-4d3b-9897-8ee5302d052bHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

People talk about closure as if finishing is always a good thing. But is it? This week I’m looking three movies. There’s a documentary about a young singer whose life came to an untimely finish; an action/thriller about a rich man who wants to delay his ultimate finish; and an action/adventure about a President in trouble who seeks help from a boy… who is Finnish.

Amy

Dir: Asif Kapadia

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1 born in North London and dead by the age of 27. This was just four years ago. A new documentary fills in the missing years of her heartbreaking story. It concentrates on her music, her family, her friends and her lovers.

Amy was the daughter of a cabby and a pharmacist who divorced when she was still young. Extremely talented, she was sent to a prestigious music academy but was kicked out by age 16. She recorded her first album by age 20. Her voice was a throwback to some of the great American Jazz singers. Her look was also retro – dramatic and sensuous, with big hair, heavy black eyeliner. And she had an outspoken manner and working class accent, which set her apart from the carefully groomed and managed commercial bands.

33063f6d-9987-4fc2-806b-518679da09cbAccording to the film, she behaved sexually “like a man” – had lots of lovers and did it for the pleasure of it. She experimented with drugs while hanging in Camden nightclubs. At one of these clubs – prophetically called “Trash” — she first met Blake. He became her on-again, off-again lover and future husband, and many blame him for her growing dependence on drugs. . And while all this was going on her career was taking off. Her albums went multi-platinum in the UK and around the world.

Her instant stardom brought the bad side, too. The London press is notorious for its voracious appetite; it chews up the newly famous, and spits out their husks. The paparazzi follow their every move pasting lurid and intensely personal pics on the front pages of tabloids. She was in and out of ef490e32-30fb-44cc-b875-0b93ceca52d6rehab clinics, after collapsing onstage. And eventually it all proved too much and her body just gave out. (Doctors blame bulimia with excessive alcohol.)

This is a great, heartbreaking and extremely intimate documentary, shot with cel phones, voice mail recordings and tons of archival grainy photos and footage. And it features her music, along with the lyrics projected on the screen. It’s accessible both to die-hard fans and the merely curious. But is this film as exploitative as the tabloids it documents? No. Even though it shows Amy’s good and bad sides, it is sympathetic not accusatory..

Still10Self/Less

Dir: Tarsem Singh

Damian (Ben Kingsley) is a self-made real estate kingpin in New York City. He thinks money can buy anything, and he lives a life of luxury: a penthouse suite with elaborate, gold-inlaid doors and massive wooden furniture. When there’s a difficult situation, he just pulls out a wad of cash. But he has a problem that money can’t solve: he’s dying. And then he discovers a secret corporation where a Still7scientist, Dr Albright (Matthew Goode: “Finn” from The Good Wife) promises him immortality, in exchange for Big Bucks. The only catch? He has to pretend to die, leaving his old life behind. In exchange, they’ll give him a brand new – and much younger – body, freshly-made in a laboratory tank.

He agrees, and before you know it, Ben Kingskey’s soul passes into Ryan Reynolds’ body. And his past self — his heavy New York accent, his mannerisms, his personality — all disappear. Now he has a new home in

S_05989-2.cr2New Orleans, flashy clothes, a new best friend, and more beautiful women than he can shake a stick at. But there’s a problem.  Turns out, his body wasn’t made in a laboratory at all, it’s a real person! And the body’s memories keep coming back to life. So Damian investigates, and meets up with his body’s wife Marguerite  (Natalie Martinez) and a daughter.

But as soon as the lab folks find out he knows their secret — despite the millions Damian paid them — they all have to die. Luckily his body still remembers its special ops fight skills — it’s up to him to fight for strangers Still9who knew the body he’s living in. Who will win the ultimate  showdown – Damian? Or the laboratory?

This movie makes no sense at all. It starts out good, but soon loses its point, and reports to shootouts and showdowns to keep you interested.

I love the “body swap” genre – films like Freaky Friday, All of Me and  Face/Off. Even The Change Up, (Reynolds’ comedy from last year) wasn’t bad. Alas, in this one, Reynolds is bland, generic and unadventurous. He doesn’t even pretend to show the enormous gaps between Ben Kingsley’s Damian and himself.

He may be nice-looking and likeable, but he’s just a meat puppet.

Big Game_00200.NEFBig Game

Dir: Jalmari Helander

Oskari (Onni Tommila) is a 13-year-old in Northern Finland. As part of the Sami coming-of-age ritual (the Sami are an indigenous people living in Europe’s Far North) he has 24 hours to prove his manhood as a hunter and bring back a reindeer. He’s a brave kid but he’s unskilled with his bow and arrow and doubts his own self-worth.

But in the woods after an explosion he comes across a metal space pod. And inside is the US president (Samuel L Jackson)! An evil billionaire terrorist, with the help of some White House insiders, has shot down Air Force 1. He did it as a lark, not for any ideological reason. And now he’s Big Game_00181.NEFout hunting “big game” — the President himself. So young Oskari has to prove his mettle by guiding him to safety and fending off all the bad guys in the process.

Believe it or not, this kids’ movie is really good. It’s quirky, surprising and funny. I had zero expectations coming in, but something clicked when I realized this is another film by Finnish Director Helander (Rare Exports about Santa Big Game - Onni Tommila (Oskari) and Samuel L. Jackson (the President) in Big GameClause as a primeval demon), which also starred Tommila). It’s not disneyish at all. Big Game has blood and guts, a gritty feel and a twisted sensibility, all of which make it delightful.

Self/Less, Big Game and Amy all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening tonight is Tangerine with a special screening with Trans Pride activist Christin Milloy and sex work activist Catherine Brockhurst to lead a discussion. Also  on now is the Buster Keaton festival, with a live piano player. Go to robertbrucemusic.com for more information.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Northwest. Movies reviewed: Amy, Rear Window, Testament of Youth PLUS NXNE

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Movies, Mystery, Thriller, UK, War, Women, WWI by CulturalMining.com on June 19, 2015

North. Movies reviewed- Amy, Rear Window, Testament to Youth

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s summertime here in the great white north, so I thought I’d talk about Northern films playing in Toronto. This week, there’s a Memoir of WWI set in North Western Europe, a classic voyeuristic suspense-thriller by the director of North By Northwest; and a documentary playing at NXNE.

4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1-1Amy
Dir: Asif Kapadia 

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was born in North London and dead by the age of 27. A new documentary fills in the missing years with grainy camera footage, voicemail messages, TV appearances, studio sessions and private snapshots. It follows her precipitously quick rise to stardom and all that goes with it. And London’s voracious, cannibalistic journo-papparazi who dog her every step. This is an excellent documentary of an artist killed by fame.

(Capsule review.)

AnW2N3_RW_Stewart_Kelly_2_o3_8642515_1433452249Rear Window
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

It’s 1954. LB “Jeff” Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a news photographer for Life Magazine. He lives out of a suitcase in exotic locales in search of the ultimate cover story. But now, with a broken leg, he’s holed up in his inaccessible apartment that’s not friendly to wheelchairs. He’s visited in the daytime by Stella (Thelma Ritter) a plain talking nurse, and in the evening by his high-society girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly). Between visits he stares longingly out his back window at the array of apartments visible just across a courtyard. There’s a newlywed couple, a frustrated musician, a miss lonelyhearts looking for love, a busty single woman, and a travelling salesman with his bed-ridden wife. He’s the ultimate voyeur, witnessing the drama of countless lives displayed just out of his reach. But when he thinks he sees a crime, he feels impotent that there’s nothing he can do to help. And after his old pal the cop refuses to get involved in local squabbles, he enlists Stella and Lisa to launch potentially dangerous investigations that he watches through his rear window. Is it real, or just a man’s overactive imagination.

Rear Window is a fantastic classic Hitchcock movie that captures the frenetic overpopulated American city life in the 50s. It’s filmed with an unusual point of view. We see everything the way Jeff does, through his window looking at the rooms across the street. With so much of our time now spent staring at windows (meaning screens) Rear Window predates our voyeuristic digital lives by half a century.

IMG_0585.CR2Testament of Youth
Dir: James Kent

It’s 100 years ago in rural England. Teenaged Vera (Alicia Vikander) lives with her brother Edward (Taron EDGErton) and her mum and dad who made a small fortune in paper mills.

She’s smart, educated, creative and multilingual. She writes poetry. Vera is a twentieth century woman with a mind of her own, ready to explore the world. But the world isn’t ready for her – they treat women as silly and frivolous who shouldn’t waste their time studying at university. Just find a husband, her parents tell her, that’s what women are there for.

And she’s not at a loss for suitors. Young Victor (Colin Morgan) likes her a lot, but she thinks of him as just

IMG_2115.CR2a sweet boy. She thinks Roland (Kit Harrington) is a persistent pest (though they do fall in love eventually) Her musically inclined brother Edward and his best friend complete the quartet of young men in her life, and she spends time with all of them keeping up her end of discussions.

Vera is stubborn and driven woman and after a great struggle she lands a place at Oxford, a huge accomplishment at the time when women couldn’t even vote. But no sooner does she start to study when WWI breaks out and all four of the young men in her life rush to join the army for King and country. She wants to do her part too and signs up as a nurse, one of the few professions open to women. But war is not quick and it’s not easy. She ends up at makeshift medical camps in France where she sees death, disease and despair everywhere, on both sides. Who will survive this war, who will die and what will they learn from it all?

IMG_2464.CR2There’s some great acting in this movie, including Vikander – she played a sexy robot in Ex Machina, and the two parts couldn’t be more different. But Testament of Youth is based on the classic memoir which gives a rare female Point of View of WWI. So it doesn’t have a movie’s traditional compact story line. It’s plodding and episodic. It felt like a miniseries – a good one maybe with notable actors and high production values – but not one that’s very exciting or gripping or heartbreaking. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t blow me away, either.

Testament of Youth opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Hitchcock’s Rear Window is screening in July as part of the series Technicolor Dreams. Go to tiff.net for the schedule. And Amy, along with films like Diamond Tongues and short films from Austin texas curated by Jonathan Demme, are all playing at NXNE films now through Sunday night: go to nxne.com for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

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