Guillaume Canet was one of the lead actors in the French film, Les Liens du Sang, before branching off to direct its English adaptation, Blood Ties. The French film is based on a French novel by the same name, written by brothers Bruno and Michel Papet. Translating literally to “blood ties,” we’re invited to examine the bond between brothers Chris (Clive Owen) and Frank (Billy Crudup) as they deal with the public and private aspects of their relationship. Frank, a reputable Brooklyn police officer and Chris, a notorious criminal recently released from prison, are divided in character and at the same time bound to each other by blood.
Blood Ties asks for the audience’s involvement; it challenges us to look beyond the societal roles the characters adhere to in order to uncover a story of the human experience. We’re asked to consider not what the characters do but instead why they do it — not just that the two are brothers, or that one protects while the other destroys, but rather how these qualities have come together and continue to shape their identity.
Though the movie is a tale of brothers, the women’s stories aren’t overlooked. Monica, Chris’s ex-wife, (Marion Cotillard) allows us to see how she struggles with addiction, motherhood, and poverty, while Vanessa (Zoe Saldana), endures racial discrimination. The women are far more gripping to watch, specifically in their rage against the men who have wronged them; however, as their lives are all intertwined, the emphasis must remain on how each affect one another’s individual experiences. —MM
With the Syrian debate raging on, any film about the country should be taken with a grain of salt. Border, based on a true story, dramatizes the escape of two Syrian women to Turkey, fleeing from the soldiers of Assad’s regime and the militia, or shabiha, along the way.
When protagonist Fatima’s husband decides to desert the Syrian army to join the rebels, both she and her sister, Aya, are put in grave danger. With the help of a friend they are halfway to Turkey when they pick up another fugitive: Bilal, an ex-shabiha. Misfortune strikes when the group’s guide dies, and the danger that had only been hinted at previously materializes; Aya is captured by soldiers, leaving Fatima alone with the volatile Bilal.
Despite playing a little with binaries by casting the rebels as the undeniable “good guys,” Border does a good job of presenting the situation in Syria, centering on the human toll. While the film doesn’t explain the political background behind the civil war, it sends a strong message to its audience – we do not want what happened in Iraq to happen in Syria.
A tale of immense courage, hardship and strength, Border is dedicated to all the men, women, and children who have died in Syria. —IP
Richard Ayoade’s latest, The Double, is based on the Dostoevsky novella of the same name. Jesse Eisenberg plays both Simon James, a timid, unassuming worker in a bureaucratic office, and James Simon, his overconfident double. James is the insult to the injury of Simon’s already lonely existence — his arrival phases Simon out of his work, his apartment, and his opportunity for love with Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). In the opening scene, Simon is told, “You’re in my seat,” by a stranger on an otherwise empty subway train, foreshadowing the general displacement he will experience.
The film appropriately combines Dostoevsky’s theme of doppelganger-induced madness with the painful self-deprecation typical of British humour. Disproportionate misfortune rains down on Simon; the film plays out like a nightmare that continually presents frustrating obstacles, the potential of which Ayoade and writing partner Avi Korine explored by answering the question: “How could it get worse?”
This unreal atmosphere is helped by the lack of natural light, with everything shot in a yellowish cast. The presence of archaic, manual technology makes the setting of the film feel like an 80s dystopia. Ayoade claims that his inspiration was the newly-designed town of Milton Keynes, UK, but The Double occupies a strange hybrid place that is both and neither England and/nor North America.
Eisenberg has great success with his two opposing roles, tapping into a widely-felt anxiety of being inexplicably unlikeable, contrasted with the ludicrous acceptance of someone who looks exactly like you. —EF
The F Word
Set in the undeniably romantic city of Toronto, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) are two people struggling to be just “friends,” despite a clear emotional connection. Bonding over everything from the infamous Fool’s Gold Loaf (Elvis Presley’s supposed snack of choice), to the joy of watching The Princess Bride in theatres alone, Chantry and Wallace are a natural pair. But with Ben (Rafe Spall), Chantry’s boyfriend of five years, lurking over their shoulders, Chantry struggles to keep Wallace at a distance, denying that their mutual attraction is pulling them all the closer. When Ben is offered a job in Dublin, Chantry’s confused feelings come to the forefront, forcing her to make a choice, once and for all.
Quirky and witty, The F Word’s script lends a solid foundation for some realistic and organic acting. Wallace and Chantry’s banter often flows so naturally, it seems like half the scenes must have been improvised in the film’s initial stages. While there are no Harry Potter-esque intimations from Radcliffe, his character needs no magic to have a charm of his own. Partnered with Kazan, the two make this film a refreshing take on real-life love. —IP
Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity follows a pair of astronauts — first-time flyer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran space-walker Mike Kawalski (George Clooney) — as emergency strikes while making repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope. What was supposed to be a routine mission turns into a desperate fight for life in an inhospitable environment.
The film progresses with an acute sense of alarm that is amplified by the disorienting visual style, full of wild rotations and jerky movements. This is a rare example of a film where the use of 3D visuals is absolutely essential for the experience, giving the viewer a real sense of what it might be like to be in space, nausea and all.
The action is an almost non-stop visual and mental roller coaster for the 93-minute run-time, which could be overwhelming if not for the relatability of and chemistry between the principal characters. Bullock gives an especially strong performance as her character turns from an emotionally numb grieving mother to someone bravely struggling for survival.
But the real main character of the film is space itself, with stunning shots of Earth and the sprinkling of stars in the distance. Kawalksi says it best in a rare moment of calm: “You’ve got to admit one thing. You can’t beat the view.” —EG
How I Live Now
At first, How I Live Now seems easily reduced to a hybrid of composite elements from The Hunger Games, Atonement, and The Road. However, director Kevin Macdonald’s use of familiar dystopian and romance storylines is far less glaring than any fantasy or sci-fi romance currently popularized by hormone-fuelled teens.
Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is a moody New Yorker whose father sends her to live with her cousins: Piper (Harley Bird), Isaac (Tom Holland), and Eddie (George MacKay). In the green tranquility of the English countryside, the children play, eat, and live together with youthful abandon, unfettered by adult authority.
While their relationship is underdeveloped and hardly believable, Eddie and Daisy fall for each other’s charms, but their adolescent bliss is short-lived. After an atomic bomb detonates in nearby London, a military evacuation squad separates the boys from the girls, leaving Daisy, whose mother died in childbirth, to cultivate her maternal instincts caring for the fairy-like Piper in the wilderness. (We are only afforded a brief glimpse of the terrorists responsible – their motives and identities are never clearly identified).
Her destination may ultimately be Eddie, but it is Daisy’s journey, filmed with shocking imagery and compelling pace, that rescues the film from the simple and shallow label of “dystopian teen romance.”
More scissorhands than sparkling skin, Eddie is a refreshingly Edwardian love interest. Neither heroic nor immortal, he is simply flawed and broken, making for a much better love story than Twilight. —DH
A turbocharged crime caper, Donovan Marsh’s iNumber Number will undoubtedly appeal to audiences who contributed to the runaway success that Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s Viva Riva!, enjoyed at TIFF in 2010. There are enough canted angles, handheld camera shots, and close-ups of sophisticated weaponry in the film to appeal to a widespread action and thriller audience. What makes the film unique, however, is not its rapid-fire editing or its creative reinvention of familiar tropes.
iNumber tackles a host of alarming and topical issues, painting poverty, corruption, and urban despair in blood reds and green-tinged film tints. Its tale of heists, deep undercover police work, and the tenets of morality in the face of homelessness and destitution are at once enshrouded, yet only thinly veiled, by the predictability of the film’s genre. “The country owes us [this money],” its protagonist declares after all his justifications for crime prove too weak to carry. In the face of relentless hardships imposed by individuals and institutional procedures, this is ultimately the line that carries the most weight.
As its director, screenwriter, and editor, Marsh employs a hyperkinetic cutting style, while giving his actors room to flex their abilities. S’dumo Mtshali and Presley Chweneyagae are especially riveting as police partners who gray the lines between good and bad as they involve themselves in shadier dealings. Mtshali arguably carries the picture, which frequently surprises with a number of unexpected artistic tricks (fans of Breaking Bad and The Wire will notice certain flourishes that nod to each of these series). —NG
It has been said that the 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer painted with light. But how did he achieve this characteristic verisimilitude, often described as recording every subtlety of light with photographic precision? Tim’s Vermeer is a documentary directed by Penn & Teller, famous for revealing the tricks of the magic trade with humour, impressive demonstrations, and surprisingly intelligible explanations of optic science.
The titular Tim is Tim Jenison, a Texan inventor and computer software developer. Tim is no artist, but he is out to prove that with lenses, mirrors, and a little paint, you could be Vermeer too! Suspicious of how Vermeer painted the way a camera sees, Jenison theorizes that the famed artist may have actually used a camera (of sorts) — the camera obscura.
To prove his theory, Jenison devises a completely objective method of reproducing the cinematographic quality of Vermeer’s paintings. In a San Antonio workshop, he then sets out to physically reconstruct the subjects and content of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, down to their exact dimensions and design. With incredible patience and acute attention to detail, Jenison sits down to paint every weave of fabric and shaft of light. The process is painstaking, but paced and punctuated with Jenison’s witty anecdotes and co-producer Penn Jillette’s trademark sarcasm.
Tim’s Vermeer is a fine, non-pretentious work. Penn & Teller’s documentary is a true study in detail, historical innovation, photography, and artistry. —DH
You Are Here
Matthew Weiner’s directorial debut, You Are Here, is about a womanizing, pot-smoking weatherman, Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson), and his best friend Ben (Zach Galifianakis), a pot-smoking environmentalist. The men go to Ben’s family’s farm after the death of his father, where Ben learns he has inherited the estate. Nevertheless, according to Weiner, You Are Here is not a “buddy movie,” but a family drama film, and the script is full of metaphorical insults (“You were the squeaky wheel, that’s why you got all the oil,” Ben’s older sister (Amy Poehler) tells him at one point). Weiner, the creator of television’s Mad Men wants everyone to know he’s a literary filmmaker.
Most of the time, though, You Are Here is a formulaic, sweeping-scored rom-com. Steve’s love interest, played by Laura Ramsey, is a nurturer, representing salvation for every male character — including Ben’s deceased father. She is called Angelina (because she’s an angel, get it?) and she teaches the maxim of the film, which states that one should embrace living in the present and not in one’s own head. She is always wearing a dress and holding a broom.
Zach Galifianakis should be recognized for his portrayal of anything other than a purely comedic character — in this case, for playing a person who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But the film’s handling of that issue brings more problems, in its implication that wellness is achieved by taking medication, abandoning vegetarianism, and shaving one’s beard off. However, its weakness is also its strength — a beardless Galifianakis is the only reason to see the movie. —EF