Pawel Pawlikowski’s’ ‘Ida’ (pronounced Eeda), a compact masterpiece that takes place in Poland in 1962, is about a woman who learns, days before taking her vows at a convent, that she is a Jew.

We see the plain features of this young novice named Anna (a superb performance by first-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska) as she cleans the face of the statue of Christ with a small brush; her wide eyes capable of immense kindness. Raised in an orphanage from infancy, with no knowledge of her past, Anna is stunned to learn from the Mother Superior that she has an aunt named Wanda Gruz (played with supreme confidence by Agata Kulesza). Wanda is her only living relative who drops the bomb on her (“So, you’re a Jewish nun”).

Anna’s real name, her aunt tells her, is Ida Lebenstein. She is told that her Jewish parents were casualties of World War II. The two women (one as indignant as the other is composed) seek answers to some difficult questions: Who killed her parents? Where are they buried? Family history and natural history intertwine with the nature of faith.

Credit Mr. Pawlikowski who co-wrote the screenplay with Rebecca Lenkiewicz for having the courage to deliver the big reveal at the start of a relatively short picture (running time of 80 minutes including end-credits) – such a storytelling approach, in theory, would appear to diminish dramatic impact, but not here. I would argue that it is heightened. If only because it triggers the journey that follows; make it journeys – concrete as well as spiritual through this haunted, threatening landscape. This is a world filled with pain, violence, and guilt. ‘Ida’ is both a road movie and a detective story. In some ways, this journey reminded me of Denis Villeneuve’s excellent ‘Incendies’, a film that explored similar subjects and in which every scene was permeated by a creeping sense of dread.

I’ve been talking about this movie to friends since last Friday’s screening. As most aren’t familiar with the title, I’m often asked, “What’s it about?” The plot can be summarized in a few sentences; and though the central quest is imperative to the film’s narrative, it’s not what I think about first when recalling how I felt watching ‘Ida’. It is the more the quiet, individual moments; the observations and the moods. Little is stated directly; we infer from offhand remarks, and subtle suggestions.

What’s also distinctive about the picture is the look of it – I was enthralled by it visually. ‘Ida’ is beautifully photographed; shot in inky black-and-white, deployed almost entirely in static long shots, and contained within a narrow frame that is almost square with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. This is an appropriate visual aesthetic given the characters’ initial black-and-white conceptions of the world. The film was shot digitally by Ryszard Lenczeski and Lukasz Zal. Much of the story unfolds towards the bottom of the frame with ample space above their heads; an unusual filmmaking choice that maintains its distance, never assuming access to the inner lives of its characters. This calls attention to the physical spaces occupied by these characters; they seem small and alone, lost in this world, or maybe scaled in accordance with a divine presence.

But most importantly, you’re wrapped up in this story – you care about Anna’s (Ida’s) fate. She has spent her whole life in a sheltered space until a terrifying truth is revealed; but it is her determination to learn everything she can about her lost family in the company of her aunt (who is also a lost soul). Whatever passion Walda once possessed as an exemplary communist, and a former state prosecutor has been replaced with cynicism; she is filled with self-loathing. Chain smoking, drinking heavily, and bedding random men, she is the polar opposite of her niece (Wanda is the atheist, Ida is the believer; Wanda is a citizen of the world, Ida is sheltered; Wanda is the sinner, Ida is the saint). She does want Ida to have at least a taste of life before taking her final vows.

The ultimate question may be whether Ida stays out in the world or returns as Anna, but it certainly not the only one. What a world- provocative and harrowing in equal measure. There is so much feeling here, and the fact that this is a return home for the filmmaker (who was born in Poland but grew up in Great Britain) makes me believe that this movie must have come from a personal place. Thrilling, haunting, original, and masterfully accomplished, ‘Ida’ is one of the best films of the year. QED.


Just last summer, Seth Rogen was smoking a joint with Jay Baruchel before having to content with the apparent end of the world in ‘This Is The End’. In ‘Neighbors’, he is ‘Grumpy Old Man’. Well, relative to Zac Efron. I feel Rogen’s pain; we’re in the same age range but I can’t keep up with these young folks. Nor do I really want to.

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne who gets to use her own Australian accent for once) are new parents who miss their former hard-partying ways that are now an afterthought due to the presence of their baby girl, Stella. She is bored at home, and he gets stoned at work. In a hilarious scene, Mac and Kelly are pumped for a night on the town to prove they still have it; the process of getting ready exhausts them and they pass out. On the bright side, they live in a good neighbourhood and are excited about meeting whoever might move in next door. 

To their shock, it turns out to be the Delta Si fraternity from the local college. They want to keep things under control, but they are also desirous of returning, if momentarily, to their former lifestyle. So, they spend one night partying with frat prez Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron – yes ladies, he is shirtless throughout most of the film; oh, those chiseled abs), and other frat members. Teddy takes the notion of brotherhood far too seriously; he knows he is a good looking dude and uses that to his advantage – he could turn on the charm and sweet talk himself out of any sticky situation. He is the sort of person you want to feel contempt for. But, then you find yourself defending him and telling people “Once you get to know him…he’s not so bad.”

The night ends with Teddy making Mac promise to call him before the police should things get too loud or out of hand. But, when that happens the following night, and no one next door is responsive, Mac and Kelly do call the police. A bond has been broken and the bromance is about to go terribly wrong. Then, the war breaks out. Soon enough, Teddy and his frat boys start pulling pranks on the couple. Mac and Kelly retaliate, thus escalating the tension between the neighbors – back and forth it goes.

Some of the hijinks are absurd: the entire frat dresses up as various Robert De Niro characters and ridicules the Randers (“Hey, you lookin’ at me?”), or the frat stealing air bags from the Randers’ car. But, when Teddy gets really sneaky, the Randers’ go even lower – Kelly helms a multipart mission to break apart the Delta Psi from the inside. This involves setting the stage for Teddy’s best friend Pete (Dave Franco) to hook up with Teddy’s girlfriend. This is the movie’s best scene but there is also something I hated about it. I loved that this scene gave Rose Byrne the opportunity to break from the tightly would characters she used to play, let loose, and just run with this inspired bit of lunacy. It made me wish that a big, broad comedy would be made just for her. I also applaud the writers for not making her the stereotypically nagging wife, and for making her fluent in cursing. As for what doesn’t work with this scene, well, Teddy’s girlfriend character disappears from the movie entirely at this point and was just used a plot device. Aside from Rose Byrne, none of the female characters are developed.

But, maybe I shouldn’t bring logic into a movie such as this. If you give the plot a moment’s thought, you may ask yourself why none of the other neighbors are calling the cops on the frat boys about their blaring music and fireworks. These events rival the central party in ‘Project X’.  How are they not on the nightly news? And a fight scene between Mac and Teddy involving plaster casts previously modeled by the frat members’ junk is just plain gross. There is also an ill-advised joke about baby HIV, and a breastfeeding gag that will have some audience members cringing. But, God help me, I laughed. 

Zac Efron is good here. In my review of ‘That Awkward Moment, I said he has potential but is struggling to find the right vehicle to propel him from ‘High School Musical’ teen into a grown-up movie star. With ‘Neighbors’, he continues to distance himself from that persona and I just admired how he was able to make fun of his image. But, he is also able to find the darker side of his character; the balance between strange intensity and tenacious juvenility is great. Throughout the film, Zac Efron’s body is so perfect, it’s a sight gag, and Seth Rogen’s body is so Seth Rogen-y, it’s a sight gag. And Rogen, too, continues to show maturity (as he did in ‘Take This Waltz’, ‘50/50’, and yes, even ‘The Guilt Trip’), in spite of all the penis jokes.

 ‘Neighbors’ knows exactly what it is: a tasteless, raunchy, hard-R-rated comedy. Maybe even a little more. In between these outrageous pranks, there is a nugget of truth. You reach a point where you’re ready for responsibility, but you don’t want to be lame and boring. I liked this aspect of the picture more than I did the revenge-fueled mayhem. 

Still, I’d say the laugh ratio is about 50%, but that’s pretty good. There is a lot of stoopid stuff here, but some of that stoopid stuff made me laugh hard, which means ‘Neighbors’ is good enough to earn a recommendation. QED.

The Other Woman

The Other Woman’ was directed by Nick Cassavetes, son of filmmaker John Cassavetes. John should have been a better father. This will be on my list of the 10 worst films of 2014. I was shocked. I’m not sure I knew what to expect going in but I certainly didn’t anticipate this to be the laugh-free entertainment dead-zone that is. And yet, I’m giving it 1 star. Why? I suppose the camera was in focus.

‘The Other Woman’ was #1 at the box office last weekend, surpassing the highly popular and well received ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’. Here’s hoping word of mouth gets this out of theaters quickly. 

Cameron Diaz plays Carly, a hard-charging Manhattan attorney who finally believes she is leaving the dating scene when she meets the seemingly perfect guy. His name is Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a successful businessman and entrepreneur. Even at his least glamorous, he would still make the cover of GQ magazine. He spends his weeks in the city and his weekends at his home in Connecticut. For some reason, this doesn’t sound alarming to either Carly or her sassy secretary, Lydia (Nicki Manaj). Carly has “cleared the bench” as she puts it for Mark (i.e. the point when you terminate all other candidates when you believe you’ve found the right one). Carly is in for a shock when she goes to Mark’s house in the suburbs to surprise him and discovers he has a wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). Carly is wearing hot pants and twirling a toilet plunger like a baton – at this point, she realizes she is the title character of this terrible movie (and this reveal is handled in the most unbelievably cartoonish way).

Kate tracks Carly down and the two form an unlikely friendship. Presumably, they believe they can draw strength from each other due to their vast differences. Whatever. The two really bond when they discover that Mark has been cheating on both of them with the young, gorgeous, Amber (Kate Upton). The three women seek revenge on the man who is cheating on all of them. 

 Compositions are mostly blank spaces; interior spaces consist mostly of grey and white, giving this film a sort of low-budget indie feel; surprising, given that the budget for this film is $40 million. 

You know you’re in trouble when the best thing about the movie is Nicky Manaj (and only because she gets to say “Selfish people live forever”). Leslie Mann is a talented actress; when hasn’t she been hilarious? Her character here must be clinically insane. When Kate learns Mark is having an affair, she acts like a lunatic – a hysterical basket case who gets drunk in public and vomits into her purse, shows up at Carly’s office and makes the most inappropriate remarks, and just whimpers and cries most the time. At one point, her character acknowledges that she needs to go to “brain camp”. I nodded in agreement (if only such a thing existed). Slapstick doesn’t appear to be Ms. Mann’s thing here; there are some big, desperate attempts at laughter, but they all fall flat.

Even worse is Kate Upton’s performance – the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model murders every single line of dialogue; she makes Rosie Huntington-Whiteley from ‘Transformers 3’ seem like Meryl Streep in comparison. When we see her running down the beach in a teeny-weeny white bikini in slow-motion, we get a sense of what her audition process must have been like. She is only here to provide jiggling eye candy to the male viewers suckered into seeing this. 

In what universe would Kate and Carly ever be friends? Was this supposed to be a feminist revenge fantasy? Consider for a moment their attempts at revenge (all of which are completely juvenile) – dropping laxatives in Nick’s drinks, dumping hair removal cream into his shampoo, and dosing him with estrogen.

At one point, in the middle of a Carly’s Manhattan apartment, a Great Dane has a bowel movement, which we get to see in excruciating detail. The shit in the movie is fake. The shit that is the movie is real. There is a GoodLife Fitness right next to the Cineplex Yonge/Dundas theater I saw this movie in – I should have rushed there for a shower long before the “What Became of These Characters” final montage.  Stupid. Lazy. Haphazardly assembled. I’m embarrassed for everyone involved. QED.