Average User Score: 6.0Sep 19, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Kevin Smith, whose repeated threats in recent years of permanently exiting the world of filmmaking have taken on the dubious credibility of retirement announcements from, say, most classic rock bands, has apparently found his creative mojo once again with the batsh*t crazy Tusk. Smith's previous film, 2011's Red State, was justifiably poorly received by critics and audiences, souring him even further on the filmmaking process. Then in 2013, a bizarre discussion on an episode of Smith's SModcast podcast hastily inspired him to write and direct Tusk, a high-concept movie (in more ways than one, I'm sure) that can be summarized with one sentence: Los Angeles podcaster visits Manitoba and gets kidnapped by a lunatic who turns him into a walrus. Still with me? Smith, during the film's second TIFF screening I attended after its world premiere the night before, joked that he had reached the point in his career where "I don't give a fu*k anymore", but just because Smith has reached a bitter crossroads in his career that's resulted in quite literally one of the worst movie experiences I've ever sat through doesn't mean you should also be subjected to the man's lack of impulse control.
Two main things drew me to Tusk: 1) I was a modest fan of most of Smith's work (which you probably can't tell from the contempt being leveled at him in this review, but that just speaks to the permanently scarring effects of this abomination) and 2) the film is mostly set in Manitoba and promised plenty of Canadian references and jokes. The humour, like almost everything else in Tusk, never works, however. I can count on one hand the number of times I laughed during the film and I was surprised, frankly, that Smith, a man with both a sharp wit and an extensive knowledge of this country (as he'll gladly point out any chance he gets about the latter), stooped to such lazy and predictable jokes about not loving hockey and the word "aboot". Johnny Depp shows up briefly to chew scenery as Guy Lapointe, a quirky Quebec detective constructed entirely of French-Canadian stereotypes that become tiresome very quickly. For further evidence of the film's humour deficiency, the name of the comedy podcast hosted by protagonist Wallace Bryton (played by Justin Long, who goes heavy on the douchebaggery) and his sidekick, Teddy (played by The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment), is "The Not-See Party", whose theme finds the hosts making fun of people they've read about or seen on the internet. That kind of half-assed and witless screenwriting also extends to key plot points, like the one that conveniently allows Wallace to contact his friends after being kidnapped by the deranged Howard Howe (played by Michael Parks, who's decent performance is the only thing remotely redeemable about the movie). I could go on about how the supposed big payoff of seeing Wallace transformed into a walrus disappoints mightily with shoddy special effects (the sight of him is slightly disturbing, but not Human Centipede-level disturbing), or how the tease of some much-needed action at the movie's end is practically over before it begins, or how the dreadful final scene provided a fitting end to this turd of a film…but I'm sure you've gotten my point. As I write this, I've gotten six days of distance from watching Tusk and having to revisit it for this review has genuinely made me feel, well, annoyed.
That annoyance was felt during the screening, too, as a packed audience heavy on Smith fanboys and fangirls at the sizable Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto inexplicably laughed and cheered throughout the movie. Normally I stick around for festival Q & A sessions, but as the credits rolled and Tusk was met with rapturous applause, I couldn't head for the exits quickly enough to get as far away as possible from Kevin Smith and anyone who thought his latest film was worthy of such adoration. And fair warning: Smith has two more films in the pipeline that'll complete what he's calling his "True North Trilogy". Yoga Hosers is currently shooting and centres around the pair of surly teenage girl convenience store clerks (played by Smith's and Depp's daughters) that get about five minutes of forgettable screen time in Tusk, to be followed by a Jaws-inspired movie about a killer moose. God help us all.
Average User Score: 8.1Oct 7, 2013While the narrative component is disjointed and a slightly annoying interruption between scenes of Metallica doing what they do best, as wellWhile the narrative component is disjointed and a slightly annoying interruption between scenes of Metallica doing what they do best, as well as those live portions not being quite as immersive as the experience I had watching U2's spectacular U23D live film, Metallica Through The Never is still a must-see for fans. Between the big screen presentation, phenomenal sound mix, and a properly loud volume level, it's unquestionably the next best thing to attending an actual Metallica show. … Expand
Average User Score: 8.1Oct 26, 2012"Impressive". That's the best description I could come up with after being asked about my thoughts on Cloud Atlas immediately following the"Impressive". That's the best description I could come up with after being asked about my thoughts on Cloud Atlas immediately following the film's second-ever public screening in September at TIFF. This may be one the most ambitious and epic films I've ever seen, demanding rapt attention from viewers as they're taken on a two hour and forty three minute odyssey that spans the globe over 500 years and hopscotches between numerous interwoven storylines that incorporates just about every film genre available, featuring actors playing several different roles each. Cloud Atlas is based on British author David Mitchell's best-selling 2004 novel and was a huge challenge for the filmmakers to adapt and finance (its estimated budget of over $100 million also makes it the most expensive independent film ever made). The architects of this beautifully twisted madness are directors/writers/producers Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and The Matrix's Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana (Lana was Larry until a gender transition that was completed about five years ago). The Wachowskis, notoriously press shy, were surprisingly on hand (along with Tykwer) to introduce the film's second screening the morning after its star-studded TIFF world premiere on September 8th. A movie this expansive should have a large cast, considering how many characters appear - not so in this case, though. Principal actors Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and Xun Zhou each take on multiple roles that plays loose and fast with the actors' ages, races, and genders (Susan Sarandon, Keith David, James D'Arcy, and Doona Bae also have smaller roles). Having so many dimensions to explore with all of their characters must have been acting nirvana for this lot. For the most part, they pull off the various requirements of the roles, many of which require a significant amount of prosthetics and makeup. Several of the roles were so well disguised that I was completely clueless that a certain actor had played the role until the end credits visually made some of the big reveals. Sticking around until the end is an absolute necessity for Cloud Atlas - the oohs and ahhs from the theatre audience as they discovered who actually played some of the parts was a wonderfully unique filmgoing experience for me. For all of the positive aspects that the race bending and gender bending idea brings to the film, there is the distinct whiff of gimmick attached to it. Things do get a little silly when you have Weaving seemingly playing an Asian character whose makeup produces more of a Vulcan look (which may have been intentional on the filmmakers' part), as well as in full drag playing a Nurse Ratched-like character. The latter obviously has parallels to Lana Wachowski's own life and although the nurse character provides some decent laughs, I was a little hung up on how it seemed one of the character's main functions was to generate laughs purely based on the surreal sight of Weaving playing one truly ugly looking woman. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it. Weaving does provide one of Cloud Atlas' most memorable roles, as the seriously creepy Old Georgie, who terrorizes one of Hanks' many characters. Hanks does some of the best work I've ever seen from him, playing four different characters that range from an unscrupulous doctor in the 1800s to going far against type with maybe the film's standout character, a modern-day thuggish British writer named Dermot Hoggins who gets the ultimate revenge on a critic for a bad review. Berry is excellent with her main roles playing an ambitious reporter in 1970s San Francisco and a political figurehead (from what I could grasp) aligned with one of Hanks' characters in the far future, in one of the film's few storylines that doesn't quite work. Also great is Broadbent as both a composer and playing a man tricked into living in a retirement home, who provides the film's best comic relief. The weighty Cloud Atlas themes of interconnectedness, philosophy, reincarnation, oppression, and destiny, along with the film's highly challenging pace and complex non-linear storytelling construct will prove daunting to many - I was certainly lost a number of times. This is the type of daring film that demands multiple viewings to completely grasp the filmmakers' grand scope and there's nothing wrong with a little audaciousness from Hollywood once in a while. Even with a big-name cast, it'll be very interesting to see how the otherwise difficult-to-market Cloud Atlas will fare at the box office come late October.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.6Oct 19, 2012The Sessions, starring John Hawkes (Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Helen Hunt, is probably the best film I've seen so farThe Sessions, starring John Hawkes (Winter's Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Helen Hunt, is probably the best film I've seen so far this year. Originally titled The Surrogate when it played at the Sundance Film Festival in January and took home a couple of awards, Hawkes plays real-life writer Mark O'Brien, who was confined to a gurney or iron lung for most of his life due to polio. The plot is fairly straightforward: the combination of a lifetime mostly devoid of any intimacy and an upcoming writing job on the sex lives of the disabled leads the 38-year-old O'Brien to hire a sex surrogate named Cheryl (played by Hunt) to help him lose his virginity, with guidance coming from his local priest (played by William H. Macy).
Hawkes is a revelation, delivering a graceful and affecting performance with essentially no physicality, as he spends the entire film flat on his back and relying almost entirely on his facial performance and voice, which he affects with a slightly nasally tone. Based on his work here, I believe I'll have to go back and revisit the Oscar-nominated performance he gave in Winter's Bone, a film that bored me so much that I bailed out of it about three quarters of the way through. His Mark character is a warm, wickedly funny charmer that will quickly win viewers over (and not out of sympathy for his disability). Occasional voice-overs where Hawkes reads selections of O'Brien's poetry (it's not remotely as painful as it might sound) nicely provide some thoughtful extra insight into his worldview, mostly involving the topic of love. The path leading up to his decision to hire the surrogate introduces us to Macy's fantastic Father Brendan character, who gives Mark his blessing and becomes a source of counsel, friendship, and laughs throughout the rest of the film. Mark also gets encouragement from his two caregivers, including one played in an excellent supporting performance from Moon Bloodgood. Hunt, who has appeared less onscreen in recent years to focus more on directing and theatre work, matches Hawkes' standout work step-for-step, instilling a dignity and compassion to Cheryl as she educates Mark in the ways of physical intimacy. Those teachings tastefully deconstruct the act of sex and all the awkwardness and uncertainty that goes along with it (she also bravely appears completely nude quite a few times). Slivers of Cheryl's home life with her son and husband (played by Adam Arkin) offer just enough of a look into her own growing conflict, which I won't spoil here. Director/writer Ben Lewin, a polio survivor himself, has crafted one of those rare knockout cinematic pieces of work that'll hit you about halfway through watching just how special it is. His efforts and a number of first-rate performances should easily succeed in winning your deep emotional investment in The Sessions, which treats a potentially fragile subject with an admirable maturity and a surprisingly pleasant amount of disarming humour.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.3Jun 15, 2012"Lynn Shelton"...get used to hearing the name of the Seattle-based writer/director/producer/actor, because if her newest work is any"Lynn Shelton"...get used to hearing the name of the Seattle-based writer/director/producer/actor, because if her newest work is any indication, she's got a very bright filmmaking career ahead of her. Her fourth film and the follow-up to 2009's acclaimed Humpday, Your Sister's Sister is one of the smartest, most engaging relationship dramas (laced with charming humour) I've ever seen. Yes, it's that good.
The story doesn't exactly jump off the page, perhaps reading as the type of standard chick flick material that audiences have seen over and over again, with a subdued tone and pace that some viewers might find challenging. The magic in the film lies with the honesty and naturalism that Shelton derives from her characters and their interplay, delivered by equally outstanding performances from the three leads who improvised about 75% of their words. Emily Blunt plays Iris, the best friend of Jack (played by Mark Duplass) and the former girlfriend of Jack's brother, who died roughly a year before the movie begins. Jack, who's unemployed, just can't seem to get out of his mourning funk, so Iris encourages him (practically forces him, actually) to spend some time at her father's cabin on an island in Puget Sound. Jack takes her up on the offer and, upon arriving at the remote cabin, finds a houseguest already there. That would be Hannah, Iris' sister (played by Rosemary DeWitt), who is also seeking a little solitude to clear her head after just ending a seven year lesbian relationship. Mix a bottle of tequila with some bad judgement and the pair end up having awkward sex. The following day, Iris unexpectedly shows up, thus setting in motion the complex triangular dynamic that forms the core of the film.
Blunt, DeWitt, and Duplass have an immediate, winning chemistry with each other and they'd better. Aside from its first fifteen or so minutes, the film almost exclusively features just the three actors on screen and most of that time is spent within the four cabin walls, which gives the film a very intimate theatrical feel. DeWitt and Blunt, in particular, find a familiarity and comfort with one another that successfully sells us on their sisterhood, despite the curious fact that Iris has an English accent and Hannah an American one. I loved that Shelton holds off on revealing the reason for the accent discrepancy until well into the film, as the puzzling detail just kind of hangs there in an intriguing and only mildly nagging way. It might seem like an odd creative choice on Shelton's part, but it actually stems from the fact that Rachel Weisz, a Brit, was originally supposed to play Hannah before pulling out at the last minute. DeWitt, usually one of the best things in anything I've ever seen her in (especially her work on Showtime's United States Of Tara), deserves even more credit for her performance, considering the lack of preparation she had before jumping into the movie's lean twelve day shooting schedule. Along with Shelton's work, another major revelation taken from the film is Duplass, who I'd never heard of. He proves more than capable of handling the movie's demanding dramatic material, while also demonstrating a real flair for its comedic requirements via his goofy charm. And it turns out that like his director, Duplass also writes, directs, and produces films with his brother, Jay. Their latest movie, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, premiered at last year's TIFF.
The film's soundtrack deserves special mention. Composed by Vince Smith (who handled all aspects of sound recording and design on this production), it meshes nicely with Shelton's visuals featuring the scenic Pacific Northwest, and his score plays a key role during an extended montage sequence at the end of the movie that has next to no dialogue. The sequence is a bit of a gamble on Shelton's part, but it's nicely put together and doesn't sap the film's momentum as the story comes to its conclusion.
Hopefully, a movie this quiet and clever can find an audience amidst the clatter of the studio tentpole offerings. Those who do discover it will be treated to a film that wasn't just the best thing I saw at last year's Toronto film festival, but the best film I saw all year.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.2Apr 13, 2012Hit So Hard explores the former Hole drummer's career and struggles with addiction, set partially against the backdrop of the rise and fall ofHit So Hard explores the former Hole drummer's career and struggles with addiction, set partially against the backdrop of the rise and fall of the Seattle grunge scene. Director P. David Ebersole combines interviews with Schemel filmed over a period of several years with archival footage, much of it shot by the drummer herself. Ebersole also features extensive interviews with Schemel's former Hole bandmates Courtney Love (lead singer/guitarist), Melissa Auf der Maur (bassist), and Eric Erlandson (guitarist). The entertaining interview segments with the notoriously unpredictable Love show her at various points talking with her mouth full, sitting with her legs splayed over the arms of the chair she's in, and generally just coming across as a train wreck. These portions scream out for Love to get her own feature-length documentary treatment. Devout Hole fans will likely find much to enjoy in the wealth of behind-the-scenes footage of the band, most of which has never been seen before. For the rest of us, however, it isn't terribly revealing, offering up the standard music visual document of mundane life in the recording studio and on the road in a variety of bus, backstage, and hotel room settings (there's also some decent live footage). One of the subjects Schemel's video camera captured is Kurt Cobain; she stayed at the residence he and Love shared for an extended period, and we see the Nirvana frontman in some private moments with his newborn daughter, as well as singing and playing an acoustic guitar during a brief snippet. These scenes aren't particularly interesting and will only hold some value for Nirvana disciples. Schemel joined Hole in 1992 and spent six years with the group, playing only on their lauded Live Through This album. The sections discussing the difficult recording sessions for its followup, Celebrity Skin, are some of the film's most interesting, as we find out that all of Schemel's parts were replaced by a studio drummer (although she is credited in the album's liner notes). Despite battling a drug addiction at the time, Schemel maintains her playing was fine and that producer Michael Beinhorn played head games with her, ultimately turning the rest of the band against her (Beinhorn has a history of difficulties working with drummers). After quitting the band, Schemel descended further into drug addiction, unable to heed the cautionary tales of friends Cobain and original Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff (who fatally overdosed a couple of months after Cobain's suicide). By the end of the 90s, Schemel's heroin, crystal meth, and crack habits had left her homeless and turning tricks for drug money. I found it interesting that whether by choice or not, Ebersole's film doesn't include any interviews with either of the surviving members of Nirvana, nor anyone from the other two biggest 90s Seattle bands, Soundgarden or Pearl Jam. A small collection of other 90s alt-rock contemporaries are interviewed, including Veruca Salt's Nina Gordon, Luscious Jackson's Kate Schellenbach, and Roddy Bottum from Faith No More and Imperial Teen. Ebersole also expands the doc's focal point to probe the role of women drummers in rock history, although the fact that two of the principals interviewed are the drummers from The Go-Go's and The Bangles doesn't add much musical credibility to the discussion, quite frankly. In my eyes, a glaringly obvious omission to any discussion of women in rock, particularly because they're actually from Seattle, are Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson. Through Schemel's own experience as a lesbian in the music industry, Ebersole also briefly explores the history of gay women in rock and the adversity they've faced. The documentary's biggest negative is that it fails to present a fully-formed picture of the drummer's post-Hole life. Schemel recounts calling Love for financial help while homeless, but there's no sense or indication from the interviews with Love, Erlandson, or Auf der Maur of whether or not any of them currently have a relationship with her and it would have been nice if Ebersole had defined this crucial element. Also, as he tells it, Schemel essentially abandoned any serious pursuits in the music industry after getting her life straightened out, but the director fails to mention her work with Juliette And The Licks, Imperial Teen, and two further collaborations with Love. Schemel's story should make for a more compelling viewing experience than Hit So Hard delivers. The highly likeable musician's colourful and harrowing tale make her a primo documentary subject, but the film's incompleteness undermines the end result.… Expand
Average User Score: 3.4Apr 6, 2012This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Hands down, 'The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)' is the most vile and unsettling film I've ever seen, and I am by no means a prude. You can't say I wasn't warned - its predecessor, 'The Human Centipede (First Sequence)', upped the ante in the torture porn genre with a premise involving a mad scientist who abducts three people and surgically sews them mouth-to-anus with each other, leaving the trio with just one digestive tract. Where the hell do you go from there? Apparently, a lot further. Despite my normal disinterest in these Saw-type of movies (and horrors in general), the first 'Human Centipede' had a twisted, novel concept that made for an interesting movie, but not a terribly well-done one. Still, there was just enough there to plant the seeds of interest as to where Dutch filmmaker Tom Six would take its followup. Ohhh, that my scarred eyes could now unsee what perverse sickness Six hath cinematically wrought.
The only good thing I can say about 'The Human Centipede 2' is the on-the-nose casting of screen newcomer Laurence R. Harvey, a 50ish British performance artist. Both Harvey and his "Martin" character are the epitome of creepiness, with bulging eyes, greasy hair, bad teeth, and obese body. And as if his physical repugnance wasn't enough, Martin is also saddled with an asthmatic wheeze, some sort of mental handicap stemming from every kind of abuse from his now-incarcerated father, and a lifetime of emotional abuse from his constantly nagging mother, who he still lives with in a dingy London flat. It's the sort of character background composition that feels right off a "damaged movie character 101" checklist. Harvey has zero heavy lifting to do as far as remembering dialogue - he speaks no words, only grunting, whimpering, and occasionally cackling maniacally. Martin works as a security guard at a parking garage, where he occupies his time by watching 'The Human Centipede' over and over on his laptop. Yes, that first time around was apparently just a movie; Six's meta concept isn't nearly as clever as he'd probably like to think it is, though. Eventually, Martin snaps and actually starts implementing the movie's ideas, which he's been studiously detailing in a scrapbook. The goal? To "Frankenstein" together a human centipede made up of four times as many people as was seen in the inspirational source. The parking garage acts as a victim supply pipeline - a handful of the guinea pigs are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but most of them are unpleasant people who rub Martin the wrong way. As an extension of the meta concept, one of the victims includes actress Ashlynn Yennie, who appeared in the first film and plays herself here. I genuinely felt sorry for her, as she once again ends up naked on screen with her mouth sewn to someone else's **** Ms. Yennie, please fire your agent.
'The Human Centipede 2' made headlines upon its theatrical release last year when it was banned in Australia and the UK (one of only 11 films ever to be banned by British film censors in the last 100 years). Six must have been ecstatic at the free marketing boost the controversy generated for the movie, which was always intended to primarily be a home video release. 32 cuts totalling 2:37 eventually allowed it to be released on DVD, Blu-ray, and video-on-demand in the U.K. The version I saw had all the gore included, including highly disturbing scenes involving a character pleasuring himself with sandpaper, teeth being knocked out with a hammer, scatological trauma, and a birth scene that goes for a payoff so unbelievably wretched you won't believe it. Six is unable to rein in his button-pushing instincts, leaving 'The Human Centipede 2' as little more than an orgy of sadism that can't disguise the fact it's also really just a super-sized copy of the original. The filmmaker also makes the questionable decision to present the movie in black and white, presumably aiming for a measure of artistic credibility. And God help us all - 'The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)' is now in pre-production.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.7Apr 6, 2012Considering the treasure trove of weirdness and fascinating material that a massive event like San Diego's annual Comic-Con offers up, it'sConsidering the treasure trove of weirdness and fascinating material that a massive event like San Diego's annual Comic-Con offers up, it's surprising the convention hasn't received the feature-length documentary treatment until now. Director Morgan Spurlock's 'Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope' revolves around the 2010 convention, exploring the evolution of Comic-Con from its origin as an event for hardcore comic book enthusiasts to one that now relegates the actual comic book aspect to the background, with much more of an emphasis put on general pop culture content such as movies, TV, books, toys, and video games. Along with some of the film's high profile producers (Joss Whedon, Harry Knowles, and the unfailingly cheerful Stan Lee), numerous other celebs and artists like Frank Miller, Matt Groening, Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith, and Kenneth Branagh weigh in with their take on the convention. The documentary had a companion coffee table book released in July and is Spurlock's second feature this year after 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold'.
Incorporated into the probing of the convention's history and relevance are the individual stories of a handful of Comic-Con attendees. There's the two amateur comic book artists looking for their big break into the business, who are willing to endure harsh criticisms of their portfolios from professionals and the sting of rejection. Then there's the couple who met at the previous year's convention, with the boyfriend hilariously attempting to break free from the clingy grip of his girlfriend in order to pick up the engagement ring ('Lord Of The Rings' themed, naturally) he'll present to her when he proposes during the convention panel featuring filmmaker Kevin Smith. Chuck, the crusty owner of America's largest comics retailer, Mile High Comics, struggles with a decision to sell one of his ultra-rare issues to pay off some debts and generally frets about how his sales at the convention are going. Another man seeks his Holy Grail of toys for his collection, a limited edition figure of Marvel Comics' Galactus character. Finally, there's Holly, an aspiring costume designer for whom a two minute appearance on stage at the Comic-Con masquerade event is the biggest moment of the year. Her and a small group of friends dress up as characters from the 'Mass Effect' video game.
Clearly, with so many examples of arrested development from these folks, there's plenty of opportunity for ridicule here. I mean, what's not to laugh at in a scenario involving a grown, married man who pursues a toy with unwavering conviction? Laughing at, and not with, these people is an inevitable by-product of such fanatical behaviour, but the viewer also can't help but develop some level of respect for the passion and focus the characters demonstrate towards their obsessions, despite the pummelling their individual levels of cool take. As a hardcore fan of U2 and Bruce Springsteen who has, on a number of occasions, spent anywhere from twelve to sixteen hours at a time waiting in general admission lineups at their concerts and gotten puzzled looks from most people when I tell them about it, let me just say that on some level I can relate to these Comic-Con eccentrics.
Despite the interesting subject matter, Spurlock's documentary feels flat and just never achieves liftoff. He has a lot of balls to juggle with the numerous paths the film follows, but many of them lead to unfulfilling conclusions and an uneven movie. I've seen nearly all of his previous film and television work and thoroughly enjoyed all of it and Spurlock, like fellow documentarians Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield, has always taken an active on screen and narrative role in his projects. Here, the charismatic filmmaker barely appears in the film and provides no narration. Perhaps there's a connection, perhaps not.… Expand