"Tokyo Tribe, never ever die!" Oh my goodness, this movie is totally insane, wacky, absurd and terrible in every way, but so so so awesome. Do you remember those kind of crazy cult films you'd find in the back of a video store, only one copy on VHS, that you'd lose your shit over discovering and would have to tell your friends about and the next thing you'd know the entire high school would be into this crazy film. Sion Sono's Tokyo Tribe is one of those films, the kind that is really bad in every way, but also insanely awesome in every way. Love it, hate it, it's a can't-believe-this-is-real experience that feels a bit like The Warriors meets You Got Served, even though it's really unlike anything else. Holy sh*t I love this movie, even as bad as it is.
When it comes to action movies, the good ones seems to be few and far between nowadays. Not only do they lack interesting characters and coherent stories, but the action just sucks, it's never good, it's shot poorly. Thus I must admit that it is completely refreshing to come across an awesome action movie that delivers, yet doesn't try to over deliver. John Wick starring Keanu Reeves as John Wick is the latest movie to join the pantheon of great modern action movies (in the last 10 years), including The Raid 2, Kick-Ass, Crank, Shoot 'Em Up, Wanted (just a few that came to mind while watching this). It's nearly perfect, and is the kind of pure action I've missed. Just a man, his guns, endless henchman, and tons and tons of headshots. Oh yes.
We may have a winner for this year's foreign-language, horror film that's allowed to push the envelope in all the right ways. Cub (or Welp in its native country of Belgium) comes to us from first-time feature director Jonas Govaerts, who has crafted a canny yet unsettling slasher film for a whole new wave of horror fans. Disturbing from the outset, Cub delves deep into the human psyche, satisfactorily delivering violent and sexual tropes you might expect. It all gets splashed with a fresh coat of paint courtesy of some extremely atmospheric tone and a no-nonsense attitude in its vividness. Put succinctly, it's not for the casual camper.
There's not a lot more you can do with the Nazi zombie premise, right? Fortunately, that's not a question Tommy Wirkola bothered to ask. The Norwegian writer/director blazed into the genre scene with his 2009 insta-cult hit, Dead Snow, a film whose basis cries out to be loved by horror fans "in the know." Its black-humor attitude and ultra-gore paving the way for it to be crowned the new Evil Dead. If Dead Snow is Wirkola's Evil Dead, Dead Snow 2 is definitely his Army of Darkness. A wild, often hilarious romp that casually tip-toes between genres, it takes its own mythos and expands them into something truly awesome.
The ups and downs of filmmaker Kevin Smith's career would certainly not discount the strangeness of his latest film, Tusk, a body sci-fi/horror/comedy. The weird premise he and SModcast co-host Scott Mosier developed on the fly seems in Smith's stoner wheelhouse. It comes off, however, like a half-baked comedy, a flatly crafted horror feature, and a dully-paced, sometimes amateurish film that never lives up to the high points of what the writer/director has given us in the past. Nothing about Tusk gels well, all the more shameful when taken into consideration how much potential there is in its marijuana-induced design.
What do we do? How do we get out? Sometimes I love going into a film without knowing anything about it, without knowing about or having read the book, without knowing the plot aside from whatever glimpses have appeared in trailers. Usually, if the film is compelling, and everything is laid out in a coherent way that builds properly, this can lead to an incredible experience involving suspense wrapped around mystery. The Maze Runner is an awesome, suspenseful movie that shows how easily a director can step up and compare to other "big" adaptations by focusing on telling a good story. I must admit that I haven't read the book and went into this fresh, but it was still a fully entertaining and engaging experience. Wes Ball is the real deal.
"What is light without dark?" Every once in a while I come across something so unique, so refreshing, so exciting to watch that as soon as the lights come up I immediately want to start raving and telling others about it. This is one of those films, and I hope I can bring some additional attention to it. Thanks to a tip on Twitter from filmmaker @DarrenAronofsky, I caught an Icelandic film called Life in a Fishbowl, from director Baldvin Zophoníasson, an ensemble feature premiering at the Toronto Film Festival. Amidst all the darkness, death, stress, and horribleness in this world, here is a story that finally has some optimism to it.
Tom Hardy tackles yet another awkwardly-spoken eccentric (with something of a dark edge) in The Drop, and, once again he hits the role hard. That is to say, he owns it, and the crime drama elevates to something endlessly watchable with every line he speaks and every twitch his eye gives. With a screenplay from novelist Dennis Lehane and execution in guile from director Michaël R. Roskam, The Drop delivers a powderkeg of subtle intensity, suspenseful in all that it does and doesn't do. Though Hardy shines past every distinct aspect the film brings, the solid drama sprinkled with a dusting of violence makes for a fine thriller.
In the last decade, John Travolta hasn't really done much work that stands out. He's either a menacing villain who doesn't amount to much, a wacky goofball, or some other weird character that just doesn't seem to work. Finally, after all this time, he's in a role where he can really prove himself again and it's a fine film, with an excellent script and solid performances all-around. From a screenplay by Richard D'Ovidio, the film is titled The Forger, directed by Philip Martin (Emmy-winning TV director making his feature debut). It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival where I randomly caught a screening, despite not knowing anything about it or the director going in. I was thoroughly entertained and mostly impressed by the film's dialogue.
As a die-hard Studio Ghibli fanboy, I always feel like I'm way behind when I finally see the latest film they originally released a year ago in Japan. But I'm so glad I finally caught up with Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya, originally released in Japan in November of 2013, but just now making its way to North America thanks to the Toronto Film Festival. I'm even happier I saw the original version with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles, the way it was meant to be seen, rather than the dubbed version coming up for the US. It's a wonderful film, incredibly charming and so much fun to watch. Of course, the animation is remarkably beautiful, unlike anything I've seen before - hand-animated to look like old watercolor scrolls.
This year there seems to be a number of outstanding films about the struggles of the most intelligent people in recent history. At the Telluride Film Festival, I was blown away by The Imitation Game (read my review), which told the story of English mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, who was medically castrated for homosexuality after helping crack the Nazi’s Enigma code during WWII. At the Toronto Film Festival, I was just as impressed with The Theory of Everything, which tells the story of English cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who lost control of the his muscles in his body due to motor neurone disease, yet still wowed the world with his mind. The Theory of Everything has some issues, but is still a very powerful film.
Ever since first seeing Searching for Bobby Fischer when I was a young kid, I've been intrigued by chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer and the very odd life he lived. While a few other films have been made about him, or the brilliant game(s) of chess he played, I haven't come across too much that has covered his life or dramatized it in a way that has provided this much depth. The latest film from Edward Zwick (of Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance), titled Pawn Sacrifice, was once in the works with David Fincher at the helm, and stars Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer telling his life story from young chess prodigy to grandmaster and world champion. It's a solid reexamination of an eccentric historic figure.
What did I just see?! Beloved/hated filmmaker Kevin Smith has returned to the Toronto Film Festival this year to premiere his latest film Tusk at midnight, an unlike-anything-else creation straight out of the mind of Kevin Smith, and it's ridiculous. By now most people are familiar with the cult horror Human Centipede, where a sick doctor surgically links humans to create a disgusting "human centipede". But what if some sick individual wanted to create a walrus out of human? Is that man funny, or interesting, or totally insane? How about a bit of everything. Tusk is cult horror comedy done right, with silliness creeping around every corner.
"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives." This is where we live, all of us, on this pale blue dot floating in the Milky Way. Jason Reitman's latest film, Men, Women & Children adapted from Chad Kultgen's novel of the same name, is framed within the context of Carl Sagan's timeless quote called "Pale Blue Dot" and the Voyager spacecrafts that we launched in 1977. Men, Women & Children is Reitman's most sensitive work yet, a deeply moving, sensual film about all of us on this planet. I've been a fan of Reitman for a longtime, and still love his early work, but he seems to keep getting more mature with every film he makes.