Will Smith plays an expert con-man with an attractive young protégé in the comedy Focus. Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) is a seasoned grifter, who learned everything that he knows from his father, with the key to his cons being to never lose focus of the mark. One night Nicky meets an attractive young woman named Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), who he catches in the middle of an attempt to con him. Impressed with his skills, Margot wants Nicky to become her mentor, which he reluctantly agrees to. However, things get complicated once the two start being attracted to each other, since it’s not a good idea to become emotionally involved with someone in this business.
From filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson (Force of Nature) comes this meditation on the torrential rains of India. Beginning around June of every year, the annual monsoons decent upon India. This incomparably vast weather system affects the country in multiple different ways, including being India’s primary source of water for drinking and farming. Over the course of the monsoon season, meteorologists will examine it, bookies will take bets on the arrival of rainfall, and families living below sea level will have to adjust their living conditions for this force of nature.
Fans of Star Trek are now in mourning, as it is being reported that Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83. Nimoy is of course best known for playing Mr. Spock on the original 1966-69 television series, a role which he reprised in eight feature films (including the two recent films by J.J. Abrams). Nimoy was also a cast member of the original Mission: Impossible television series for its fourth and fifth seasons and also had a recurring role as the mysterious Dr. William Bell on J.J. Abrams’ television series Fringe.
The 87th annual Academy Awards are now in the history books. The big winner of the night was Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which ended up winning 4 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu. The other frontrunner Boyhood ended up being practically shut out, with its only award going to the expected Best Supporting Actress win for Patricia Arquette. There were no surprises in the other acting categories, except for those who expected Michael Keaton to win over Eddie Redmayne.
Even though the awards were a bit all over the place this year, I still had a pretty decent result of getting 14 out of 24 predictions correct. I would have got 15 if I made the smart choice and predicted Birdman for Best Picture, since all the signs were pointing to that. However, I just didn’t have the heart to make it my prediction, since I love Boyhood so much. Even though I ranked Birdman number 3 on my Top Films of 2014, and will likely be getting the film on blu-ray within the week, it just doesn’t feel right that this was the film that ended up winning Best Picture.
The day has finally come for the 87th annual Academy Awards. For the third year in a row, I will be watching the Oscars on the big screen at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, which has always been a fun time. This has been a difficult year to differentiate between films I want to win and films that probably will win. Even though Boyhood was the early frontrunner in the Oscar race, there has been some unexpected momentum by Birdman, which ended up winning most of the guild awards. It will definitely make for a nail biter of a night.
Ryan Reynolds plays a man struggling with his schizophrenia in the dark comedy The Voices. Jerry (Reynolds) is a good natured guy, who works in a factory and has a crush on his co-worker Fiona (Gemma Arterton). However, the problem is that Jerry hears voices, which he perceives as coming from his cat Mr. Whiskers and his dog Bosko, who tell him to ignore the advice of his psychiatrist Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver) and not take his medication. When Fiona stands Jerry up on a date, to go out with her co-workers Lisa (Anna Kendrick) and Alison (Ella Smith), it brings out a dark side of Jerry’s personality.
The most simple description of The Voices is that it is about a man, who perceives himself to be a good guy, but it quickly turns out that he is far from one. The film is a dark comedy, with heavy emphasis on the dark. There is some nasty and messed up stuff on display over the course of this film, even though Jerry’s deluded view of his life sugar coats his actions.
The 87th Academy Awards will be happening tomorrow evening. I already have my predictions ready, which I’ll post tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I thought that I would once again link to all my reviews of the nominated films. This year I managed to see most of the films in the major categories, with me only missing a couple. I hope you enjoy this refresh of the nominated films.
From this point forward, the majority of this yearlong celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Toronto International Film Festival will be made up of winners the festival’s People’s Choice Award. The award, which in recent years has helped to kick off Oscar buzz for the winners, was introduced at the third edition of the Festival of Festivals in 1978, in which the inaugural winner was Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends. The film focuses on an aspiring photographer in New York named Susan Weinblatt (Melanie Mayron). Susan is quite close friends with her roommate Anne Munroe (Anita Skinner), but things change when Anne marries a man named Martin (Bob Balaban) and moves out. Susan is left to learn how to deal with living alone, while also struggling to get her photography noticed.
From director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) comes this adaptation of the spy comic book series “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Harry Hart (Colin Firth), code name Galahad, is a member of an independently operated spy agency known as the Kingsmen. When an agent codenamed Lancelot is killed in the line of duty, candidates are rounded up to be his replacement, with Harry choosing Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton), the son of a former member of the Kingsmen seventeen years earlier. As Eggsy trains to be a Kingsman, under the tutelage of Merlin (Mark Strong), the organisation begins investigating a sinister plan by internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).
From co-directors Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) comes this mockumentary about a group of vampires living together. A documentary crew follows 379 year old Viago (Taika Waititi), 183 year old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and 862 year old Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) as they live together in modern Wellington, New Zealand. The three vampires’ lives get more complicated when their 8000 year old Nosferatu-like flatmate Petyr (Ben Fransham) turns their intended victim Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a new vampire, who begins to show the three the ways of the modern world.
The vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows is structured as if it were a real documentary about a group of vampires living together. This includes the difficulties that a vampire faces in the modern world, which includes not being able to enter bars, without being invited in by the bouncer.
The news has come out that New Line Cinema has picked up the remake rights for the New Zealand-made horror-comedy Housebound. The film, which was the opening film at Toronto After Dark last year (and won three of the festival’s awards), tells the story of a rebellious woman, who is placed under house arrest in her parent’s house, which is apparently haunted. The planned remake by New Line will be produced by the original’s director Gerard Johnstone.
From the The Wachowskis (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) comes the sci-fi epic Jupiter Ascending. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a woman who lives a pretty unremarkable life, which includes a job of cleaning toilets. Jupiter encounters a genetically engineered interplanetary warrior named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who informs her that humanity’s true origins come from a distant planet and that Jupiter has the same gene sequence as the former matriarch of the royal House of Abrasax, which make Jupiter the inheritor of the Earth. Jupiter finds herself in the middle of a war for inheritance between the matriarch’s three children, the eldest of which Balem (Eddie Redmayne) will do anything to keep the Earth as his own.
The history behind one of the most popular Chinese-American dishes is explored in The Search for General Tso. The sweet and spicy dish “General Tso’s Chicken” has become one of the most popular items on Chinese take-out menus all across North America. However, the question has to be asked “Who was General Tso and why is there a chicken dish named after him?” The Search for General Tso sets out to answer this question and, in doing so, explores the evolution of Chinese-American cuisine, where traditional Chinese recipes were adapted to meet American tastes.
ABCs of Death 2
Out now on DVD and blu-ray is ABCs of Death 2, in which 26 filmmakers present 26 ways to die. As with the first film, each of the filmmakers were given creative freedom to create a short segment corresponding to the letter of the alphabet they were assigned, with each ending in a highly creative and often gory death. Some of the filmmakers contributing to the second volume of the ABCS of Death include Rodney Ascher (Room 237), Alexandre Bustillo (Inside), Julian Gilbey (A Lonely Place to Die), E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills), Aharon Keshales (Big Bad Wolves), Steven Kostanski (Manborg), Juan Martínez Moreno (Game of Werewolves), Vincenzo Natali (Cube), Jerome Sable (Stage Fright), and Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary).
Julianne Moore plays a 50 year old woman suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease in the drama Still Alice. Alice Howland (Moore) is an esteemed linguistics professor at Columbia University, who has recently celebrated her 50th birthday. Alice begins to forget small details about her life and decides to get tested by a neurologist, where it is revealed that she has a rare genetic form of early onset Alzheimer's disease. With the support of her husband John (Alec Baldwin) and children Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish), and Lydia (Kristen Stewart), Alice learns to cope with this condition, as her memories begin to fade away.
Still Alice is a drama that is adapted from the 2007 novel by Lisa Genova. Out of all the various types of neurological diseases, Alzheimer's is quite likely one of the most tough to cope with. There is nothing worse for an individual than having a lifetime’s worth of memories fade away. It is presumably worse for someone with early onset Alzheimer's, since getting this disease at a young age would be particularly frustrating for both the individual and their family.
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain star in this drama about the struggles of a man trying to project his business. New York City, 1981 is considered to be one of the most dangerous years in the city’s history. Abel Morales (Isaac) is businessman, who runs the “Standard Heating Oil” company with his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain). Abel just put down a deposit for a new terminal, for which he has thirty days to pay in full. However, a wrench in thrown into Abel’s plans for the company, as District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) starts an investigation about possible criminal activity, which scares off investors. With him facing the additional problem of his fuel trucks being hijacked, Abel must make some difficult decisions to protect what he has built for himself.