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Category: Movies

Film Critics: You’re Doing it Wrong

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I wonder how many decisions go into making a movie? A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand …..more? Casting alone would present a thousand questions with multiple outcomes. Just to make it a little more complicated; let’s introduce a well established canon with a built in fan-base, but at the same time try to branch out and create something altogether new. Oh ya, and there is also potentially billions of dollars riding on the decisions you make. I think those last few factors may have some influence on the way you go about things. So what do you do?

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

You go out and make Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Rogue One a Star Wars story,……. then you market the crap out of all the decisions you made, then collectively hold your breath and see what the fans think, and then check your receipts, and then … maybe see what the critics are saying. So what are the critics saying? In the case of the two movies mentioned above: the consensus for both of them is that ‘they are both at home in the universes they inhabit with a welcome cast of new characters that create an enjoyable chapter to expand their canons but are not without their flaws’. Highly serviceable to borderline satisfactory. Wow brings a tear to the eye!

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As of this moment we have yet to create the perfect blockbuster movie that satisfies everyone. The reason being; there are too many specified factions to appease. How do you cater to the hardcore fans and the uninitiated simultaneously? They both require two different things that often run in direct opposition to one another. Now that we reaffirm all our own beliefs and opinions on social media, we can pick and choose the reviews that suit our experiences. If you want a nostalgia based Easter-egg laced review you’ll get it for the nod and wink crowd. If you’re more into the opportunity missed, what I would have done differently review, they’re multiplying like rabbits. If middle of the road, should I spend my money on this is more to your liking than just glance at the overall percentages or box office receipts.

A few things that need to be considered: what do you want to get out of the movie going experience? We all want to be entertained, ideally through our heads and our hearts but how high are our standards? Is anything short of (insert your favourite movie here) passable. Can a movie even come close to the character development and long range storytelling that we are spoiled with in the Golden Age of television? How much ownership do we have to these worlds and why do we take our entertainment so personally?

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Everyone’s a critic, myself included. I watched both films discussed and was happy with the results. The kid in me was tapping myself on the shoulder exclaiming “did you see what they did there?” more times than my inner critic poking me in the back saying”did you see what they did there?”.  I will probably get the DVD’s when they come out (because I’m a Philistine that loves dated technology) and watch them over and over high-fiving my inner child the whole time. Mission accomplished.

How’s that for a review?

The Revenant Review

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There are parts of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant I like and parts I like less. There are some truly unforgettable sequences in this sprawling tale of a broken Hugh Glass’s will to survive, along with a few elements that detract more than compliment. The Oscar buzz surrounding this one is thick, especially for its star Leonardo Dicaprio. Does his performance deserve it? He physically went through hell for this role; from wading into freezing rivers, crawling and dragging himself across a frozen landscape, eating raw buffalo meat and so on. For his commitment and what he endured I think he earned it. Was it the best piece of acting he’s ever done, hard to say? The academy has a way of awarding people for their past achievements through their current projects and at this point Leo is due. If he doesn’t win, then the ‘what do I have to do to impress these people? I ate raw buffalo meat for god’s sake!’ comments would come fast and furious.

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Why exactly did Leo and the rest of the crew put themselves through such extreme circumstances? For art? Art has a weird way of gaining access to things that other human endeavors seem to be shut out of. A big caveat it seems to hang its hat on is the nobility of suffering. If this is the case, then The Revenant is of the 10 gallon persuasion. The film is based partially on the true life story of Hugh Glass who was a fur-trapper in the early 19th century. The real story goes: that in 1823, deep in the wilderness, while out setting traps he was attacked and mauled badly by a Grizzly bear protecting her cubs. Hugh Glass was severely injured and unable to travel. The rest of his hunting party needed to continue on so they left two men to take care of him and bury him when he passed. The two men left with this task were John Fitzgerald (played by a brilliant Tom Hardy in the movie) and a younger gentleman (Will Poulter). The two men assuming Glass was on death’s door pack up and abandon him but Mr. Glass had other plans. This is enough story, but then Hollywood tries to spin its magic and that’s where things go south. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t go into details, but all the magic embellishments kind of distract from what could have been a brilliant movie.

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The movie is flawed, but definitely worth seeing, especially on the big screen. There are two reasons to see this film: 1.the landscape captured in natural light is absolutely gorgeous, 2. the bear attack sequence is one of the most visceral terrifying bits of film making in recent memory.

4/5

Films about Art IV: Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict

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Marcel Duchamp was her art adviser, Max Ernst was one of her husbands, she once got drunk with James Joyce, she lived in Paris in the 20’s during the golden age along with the Fitzgeralds and the Josephine Bakers, Man Ray took her picture, Samuel Beckett was one her many lovers, her father went down on the Titanic, she was the first to show: Hoffman, Rothko and Pollock at her New York gallery Art of the Century, she referred to one of the great architectural triumphs of the 20th century as her ‘uncle’s garage’; Peggy Guggenheim’s life reads like a who’s who of artistic spoils and the new documentary Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict   by Lisa Immordino Vreeland gives us a small glimpse into this extraordinary woman’s life.

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If you’ve ever been to Venice then chances are you may have visited her wonderful museum there. The walls within house one of the finest collections of Modern Art to be found in any place. She collected Magrittes, Miros, Picassos, Ernsts, and so on and so on. The majority of her collecting took place in an eight year window during and shortly after WWII. She stayed in Paris to last possible minute before the Nazis arrived to ensure her artwork made it out safely along with procuring some last minute deals in the process.

Vreeland’s documentary does a wonderful job showcasing her collection and painting the backdrop of her life but in the end I felt no closer to really understanding the woman. A few talking heads like Marina Abramovic and even Robert DeNiro (she collected his parent’s paintings) weigh in on her, but everything veers towards her reputation rather than her true self. Even an audio interview with Peggy that runs throughout the film doesn’t really give you any insight into her motivations and place in history especially pertaining to some very rich topics.

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Peggy Guggenheim was in the right place at the right time and clever enough to know it. She had very forward attitudes towards art and sex, which I believe can be very threatening to some.  Many tried to marginalize her but she persevered through it all. The film gives us a brief glimpse into what it was like to have been there at the time surrounded by some of the biggest names in history through the eyes of someone who lived it, and that is worth the price of admission.

3.5/5

 

 

Top 3 posts of 2015

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These were the 3 most viewed posts on holditnow in 2015.

Birdman: “a thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) slowly unravels like a sweater caught on a nail. Birdman unspools relentlessly through a continuous maze of backstage corridors and  claustrophobic dressing rooms of a Broadway theatre that could easily stand in for the mythological labyrinth of Minos. Michael Keaton is Riggan Thomas, who is Birdman; who may have or may not have been Icarus. Birdman reads like a Fable. Birdman felt more like a performance than a movie. While watching Birdman, I didn’t want it to end, right up until it did.

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Pinkie and the Blue Boy

It’s the classic boy meets girl story. Married by a curator/collector in 1927 resulting in a relationship cemented by sentimentalism; Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy 1770 and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie 1794 have been eternally entwined in the  collective consciousness of the wigs and keys crowd since the early twentieth century. They are the subjects of endless reproductions, porcelain figurines, commemorative plates and all manner of kitsch. Two youths betrothed to one another by the place they shared on a museum wall. The girl in pink and the boy in blue; how perfect is that?

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Van Gogh vs Picasso

Van Gogh and Picasso are two of the most recognizable names on the planet. Countless books and millions of words have been devoted to their lives and work. Their art changed the way people see the world around them. This fact is no small feet and these men were 2 in 107,602,707,791There weren’t billions of people waiting in line for  Picasso Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris in Toronto or for Van Gogh: Up Close in Ottawa but at times it felt like there was. The big names bring the big crowds. For me this is a mixed blessing. I love the fact that people are going en masse to experience art and taking the time to truly look at things but it can make viewing the art troublesome. This summer has been a spoils of riches for the art going public, with two blockbuster shows just four hours away from one another. So, this past week I made my pilgrimage to spend time with two of the icons of western art.

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Happy New Year and see you in 2016.

 

Star Wars The Force Awakens Review

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*Very Minor Spoilers*

This will be a brief review, with a more in depth one to follow after more people have had a chance to see the film and a real discussion can take place about the story and where our heroes (old and new) have found themselves.

I’ll start by saying; I am a huge fan of the franchise and love it warts and all. It’s partially because of those warts that I have such affection for it. In preparation for tonight’s screening, I went back and watched the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back this week, but ran out of time before I could see Jedi. I have to say nostalgia goggles do play tricks on the mind. In some ways the original movies play like a series of wonderful vignettes sloppily taped together with their slips showing the whole time. The longer you stare the larger the holes are, but the more times you watch, the more inconsequential the gaps become. We don’t care about the gaps because we just want to see Han’s ‘the cat that ate the canary’ grin or Luke whining about not being able ‘to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters’.

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There are a few moments in The Force Awakens that make you cringe slightly on your first watch, but that you know after repeated viewings will be little pieces of anticipated dialogue. An example that comes to mind is when Finn (Jon Boyega)  looks up at the sky and sees an X-Wing flown by Poe (Oscar Isaac) and says something like ‘That pilot sure can fly!’ Only in a Star Wars movie could a character say something so awkwardly obvious and some how come off kind of endearing. Daisy Ridly (Rey) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) steal the show and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren delivers a villain with a back story worth watching.  This chapter is definitely a return to form warts and all, that will make you want to see it again and again.

You had me at “in a galaxy far far away…” .

Related: Star Wars in the Age of Social Media

 

Leo, Marty and The Devil in the White City

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Resurrected from development limbo; it was just announced that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were teaming up again to bring Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City to the big screen. So on this occasion, I thought I’d revisit 3 posts that feature our 3 main players.

A must read for anyone interested in everything Chicago, Architecture, History or Serial Killers. The true life events will fascinate and repulse you in equal measures. My full review here. The Devil in the White City Book Review

THE GREAT GATSBY

Before Leo will sink his teeth into the monster that is HH Holmes, he wore the suit of Fitzgerald’s consummate chameleon playboy. Baz Luhrmann turns up the Jay-Z and inspires prom themes for the next 3 years. My review here.

The Greatness of Gatsby 

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Last but not least,the best way to describe this next post about paintings found in movies is all in its title:

I like this one: One dog goes one way and the other goes the other.”

Amy : Movie Review

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Asif Kapadia’s moving documentary Amyabout the short tragic life and career of Amy Winehouse will surely break your heart. On the eve of the 4th anniversary of her death (July 23rd 2011) we can only stop and think what could have been, how could have it all gone differently? Amy does a great job of introducing us to the person behind the persona. She felt like someone you grew up with, “a sweet girl who could tell a blue joke.” The film shows that she was driven on a path to succeed and self-destruct. In the end, she was the architect of her own life and death.

amy-winehouse-documentary-trailer-1By using archival footage, personal correspondence and interviews with the people that were closest to her; Kapadia’s film shows a portrait of an artist that comes from humble beginnings and then is devoured by the gears of fame. The sense you get is Amy never sought stardom, she only wanted to make music. She would have been happier singing to a few hundred people in a smokey jazz bar than headlining the Glastonbury Festival. Her gift for lyrics and her charisma, along with her voice (oh that voice) made her remaining relatively obscure an impossibility. Her fate was sealed the minute she stepped up to the mike and the world heard her sing. The incomparable Tony Bennett (who makes an appearance in the film) compares her voice to that of Ella or Billie. Amy Winehouse was just getting started when the booze, drugs and a toxic marriage steered her off course. The success of Rehab skyrocketed her to the unbelievable scrutiny of the press. Everywhere she went she was greeted with a blitzkrieg of flashbulbs and every miss-step became tabloid fodder. The film puts you into claustrophobic situations where the press feel so oppressive and alienating. Unfortunately this resulted in Amy retreating into more and more substances which ultimately took her life.

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But before our hearts are broken, they are filled with some pretty sweet music. Many songs get their proper due along with their lyrics. Back in 2007, I had the privilege to see Amy Winehouse live. She performed in a small club with The Dap Kings. She was at that moment in a good place and delivered on the promise of being the next Ella or Billie.

We can still ask,What could have been?” Amy was always going to be Amy, and the world both benefited by this and was devastated by it.

4/5

Intelligent Humor

ih_010 Last night while flipping through the channels I stumbled upon the Disney movie Big Hero 6 . I quickly got sucked in and before I knew it the story of Hiro and his friends whizzed by in a dazzling array of visuals and set pieces -and then the credits were rolling. As I was about to flip the channel a name on the screen unlocked a rumbling of a memory from a lifetime ago. The name was that of the director: Chris WilliamsWhy was that name so familiar to me? Was the Big Hero 6 Chris Williams the same Chris Williams who is the creator of one of my all time favourite comic strips: Intelligent Humor? Turns out he is, and now the universe makes a little more sense. ih_054 If you haven’t heard of Intelligent Humor, don’t worry it’s kind of obscure. The strip ran in the early nineties in the University of Waterloo’s student run newspaper. I was an art student there at the time and from the first read you could tell something extraordinary was at work. The strip combined absurdest humour with an underlying pop culture surrealism. Intelligent Humor is to Big Hero 6 what Life in Hell is to The Simpsons. It is an early look into the work of an artist that will go on to do big things.

You can check out the Intelligent Humor archive HERE with over 60 strips.

Star Wars in the Age of Social Media

sw-tfa-teaser-2-02-700x292One of my earliest, most vivid memories of childhood: was exiting the 7 o’clock showing of Star Wars and being astounded that it was still light out as we left the theater. It felt like I had been away for a very long time and had traveled great distances and the harsh light of reality momentarily threw me. My six year old brain experienced total immersion and I was hooked. Another vivid memory I have of my childhood is when my father mistakenly took me to see Bladerunner when I was 11; he thought it was a new Star Wars movie because of the Harrison Ford connection. That threw me as well, but in a totally exciting (what did I just watch?) way – love you dad.

StarWarsMoviePoster1977I went to see Star Wars another 3 times that summer and felt transported every single time. The year was 1977 and there was nothing remotely similar to it in either tone or scope. When it was released, science fiction was a very niche market and Lucas himself believed it wouldn’t have much staying power. 2 years earlier Lucas’ friend Steven Speilberg had invented the summer blockbuster with Jaws but no one could have anticipated what Star Wars would become and that kids like me would go see this thing again and again. All said and told,over the course of my life; I’ve probably seen the film close to a 100 times, with the lion’s share occurring in my youth from an old VHS copy, taped from a television broadcast. The tape finally wore out but my fondness never did.

A70-2036A few years went by after the initial rush and along came The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and they did not disappoint. A few more years went by and Episodes 1-3 happened and they did disappoint. People were really upset; blaming George Lucas for ruining their childhoods. They criticized that the characters were one dimensional, the acting wooden and the dialogue -just terrible. On that last point, all dialogue in Star Wars movies is terrible, it’s kind of part of their appeal. Lucas would be the first to admit that. He revealed recently that he actually constructed them more like silent films; where the visuals heavily out-way the spoken words. Another huge sticking point with fans was; gone were the practical effects and in was the CGI. Episodes 1-3 didn’t feel real enough. I personally missed puppet Yoda (from Empire not Phantom Menace).

Star_Wars_Episode_1_The_Phantom_MenaceEpisodes 1-3 had no other course but to disappoint. The movie landscape had changed drastically since 1983 and nothing could live up to the hype. This was also pre-Facebook, pre-Youtube, pre-Twitter hype. The original trilogy worked best because it looked lived in. Things looked beaten up. Luke said it best in the original film when he first lays eyes on the Millenium Falcon: “What a piece of junk!” As a kid I was confused by this statement, because in my brain I was thinking that’s the coolest thing I’d ever seen. In Episode 1 everything was way too shiny. The other thing that really let people down was the design; the original three are full of really original cool looking things and characters. Stormtroopers just look good, the spacecraft look like hot rods, Darth Vader is iconic menace and so on. The newer films got a few things right like Darth Maul and the two sided lightsaber but all those CGI droids and  alien races -just lame. Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 had proven CGI could work in a film when used strategically but when the band is more focused on the the fireworks than the music, things start to breakdown. Lucas was too in love with the technology. All these things didn’t prevent these movies from making a ton of money and introducing a whole new generation to Star Wars.

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Fast forward to this past Thursday and the 2nd Force Awakens trailer hits the internet. Three days later and it has been viewed over 40 million times, tweeted countless times and added roughly 2 billion dollars to Disney stock value. Hey no pressure. Reading all the content that has been generated over these 119 seconds and two things are certain: people are excited and people are optimistic but nervous they’ll get burned again. Star Wars in the age of social media is an all together different beast than all its predecessors. We are eight months away from its release and the demand is relentless. We live in an instant gratification society where super heroes rule the cinema and our news cycle is 24 hours of instantaneous updates. We consume so much content on a daily basis from multiple sources that our tolerance for cultural pollution has eroded our critical filter. We’re so supersaturated, that things no longer move us. The sentiment that I’m picking up online is that people want to be moved again, feel like a kid again and feel the shock of the new again.  The funny thing is that the shock of the new will come by returning to the old: familiar characters, practical effects and hopefully an emotional core at the heart of it. No real information about the story has surfaced but so far they got the design right, things look cool again. Part of the movie going experience in the age of social media is the power of anticipation and conjecture. Entertaining theories and predictions is just as much fun as consuming the actual artifact. We get to participate in the process in a very minor way and in our hearts we hope our voices have some effect. The Force Awakens has been molded by the sins of our fathers. JJ Abrams is well aware of the tidal wave of fan criticism that was levied on Episodes 1-3 and that helped inform his vision for the new film. Is this how social media really works? Can it help preserve and alter our cultural sacred cows?

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One thing’s for sure, social media will dissect everything surrounding this film up to and after its release. Some will love it and some will be disappointed. Can it possibly live up to the nostalgia machine, or can it evolve and become something new again? I know personally I can’t wait for the lights to go down and hear that familiar John Williams score. Will it transport me back to my youth? Hard to say, my pre-internet brain says possibly, and my post-internet brain says -it’s not the destination, but the getting there, that’s half the fun.

Films about Art III: Art and Craft

artandcraft_4_custom-a90eff7d7e3e8d07f22e9b14309964bdff637f5a-s800-c85With a little bit of coffee, some pre-cut boards from Lowe’s (‘The Home Depot closed, but Lowe’s is just as good I guess.’) some coloured pencils, paint, photocopies and a priest’s outfit, you too could possibly have your artwork accepted into the collections of some the most prestigious art institutes in North America. It’s been working for Mark Landis for the past 25 years (the priest thing is new- last couple of years). He’s passed off his copies of Picassos, Watteaus, Signacs and even Charles Shultzs into the hands of curators from Illinois to California. In a lot of cases, they’re passed right back, but every once in a while they find their way in. I guess it would be hard to say ‘no’ when someone offers you something worth potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing. See that’s the catch, Mark Landis never asks for a penny; all his transactions are donations. He concocts some elaborate back story about a late sister (never existed) and exclaims that she wanted it to go to the public….. yadda yadda yadda. He has aged the pieces (that’s where the coffee comes in) and faked the providence (auction records, purchase history) and off he goes.

9306764519_6b2c1cebac_mMark has been copying things since he was a kid, and he’s pretty good at it. He also has a few other things going for him that enable him to be successful in his con. For starters, he is the most unassuming person you could ever encounter; no one would suspect this meek soft spoken older gentleman (sometimes priest) was up to something. The other huge factor is that when it comes to forgeries; human nature wants us to believe it’s the real thing. You would think the opposite would be true; that if something is too good to be true than it probably isn’t, but all you need are a few details that seem legit and the seeds of plausibility can grow. No one wants to pass on what could be like winning the lottery. The forger’s greatest asset is our willingness to believe. One last thing that gives Mark Landis an edge for pulling this off is his pension for mischief.

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The film Art and Craft  does a nice job of introducing the viewer to Mr. Landis. He lives in a small cluttered apartment that belonged to his late mother, he has dealt with mental illness his whole life and he really doesn’t reveal what his motivations are. He would rather talk about the influence old television shows and movies have had on his world view than art or trying to fool people. The forgeries are just something he likes to do while watching television and the whole act just gets him out of the house once in a while. Where the documentary falters is in the depiction of the cat and mouse game of how he was discovered and a third act where they mount an exhibit of his work. It doesn’t seem like it would have been too difficult to expose the work as fake. Mark Landis isn’t a master forger by any stretch, he painted over top of photocopies in some cases, uses distressed Walmart frames in others and if you leaned in, you could literally smell the coffee. The fascinating thing about that is: Mark Landis would be the first person to admit it. He does just enough to make it look believable a first glance but the minute you scratch the surface it falls apart.

tumblr_nc3x0mMKlB1tix2hoo1_500In the end, the film’s not great but I liked spending time with Mr. Landis and I hope he never ends up in jail for his actions (because he doesn’t accept money, technically he hasn’t committed any crime) and hey, we all need hobbies.

3.5/5