The Age of Adaline


Gone are the days when you could depend on a bad film being poorly made. ‘The Age of Adaline’ is lavishly shot in greens and browns making the city of San Francisco appear like a character of its own. It has lofty ambitions of turning its romantic story into a meditation of love and time, a twinkly score, a stunning Blake Lively who is able to pull off period costumes and contemporary apparel, and a deeply affecting performance by Harrison Ford.

What went wrong? Well, let me start by describing the plot. Adaline (Blake Lively) is a 107-year-old woman. Yes, you read that right. She hasn’t aged in appearance since was 29 years-old. She falls in love with Ellis (Michiel Huisman who looks like a young Eric Bana) and things get complicated because she knows she won’t be able to grow old with him. The director is Lee Toland Kreiger. His debut in 2012 ‘Jesse and Celeste Forever’ effectively dissected the details of a complicated relationship. Not here.

The laughable voice-over narration attempts to provide a scientific explanation for these farfetched events which is just one of the film’s many narrative miscalculations. I don’t know why the screenplay felt the need to spell things out for us, but it takes us out of the fairy tale and brings us back to reality making these already absurd moments seem even more ludicrous.

Being in a state of permanent jejunity freaks out Adaline, and understandably so. She looks like the granddaughter of her own daughter. But, rather than pursuing medical attention she chooses to be a drifter. She moves from location to location with a new identity and when she bumps into someone from the past with a perplexed look on their face, she attributes her youthful qualities to a Parisian anti-aging cream.

Now, if you’ve been given the gift (or curse) of agelessness and you’re ostensibly immune to any sort of ailment, wouldn’t you want to share your story in the belief that it could lead to a major medical discovery? How selfish of her. And, in the event you become romantically involved with someone, would you conceal these details about yourself knowing that withholding such information will result in you having to disappear on this person at some point?

Adaline’s forbearance goes out the window after spending time with Ellis. It isn’t long before she agrees to meet his parents for their 40th anniversary party and this is where the narrative introduces an unwelcome and ill-advised plot twist that derails the entire picture. Let’s just say that Adaline has a history with Ellis’ father (Harrison Ford) that bears some resemblance to what she shares with Ellis. Does this not sound icky to you? I almost described Ford as an innocent bystander, but no, he, along with all the other cast members, had the advantage of reading the screenplay prior to production.

I expect ‘Age of Ultron’ (i.e. the upcoming ‘Avengers’ movie) to be more plausible than ‘The Age of Adaline’. In order for a movie such as this to succeed, it has to transport the viewer beyond skepticism on a wave of pellucid feeling. Instead, you’re left to suffocate in sentimental, deathless nonsense. This made me want to bump every movie I’ve seen in 2015 by ½ a star. What a load of crap this was. Should you choose to seek this film out, and I don’t recommend you do, see it with a good group of friends after you’ve each consumed a bottle of wine – in your inebriated state, accompanied by non-stop giggles, ‘The Age of Adaline’ might function as a 4-star experience. Unfortunately, I saw it sober, and can only award it a very generous 1-star. QED.

True Story

True Story


For some reason, Fox Searchlight screened ‘True Story’ on Thursday night (just before the opening release date). I usually wait a couple of days for the movie to marinate in my mind before writing anything about it, but I don’t have the luxury of time for this one.

‘True Story’ is a non-fiction account of a publicly disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) who hopes for career redemption while writing a book about Christian Longo (James Franco), a man who has been accused of killing his entire family.

I didn’t find this to be anything more than a serious acting exercise for two comedic actors – both of whom are very good. The standout is James Franco, whose character is deliberately impenetrable – Franco plays him tauntingly in a nuanced performance. Hill delivers good work but the character as constructed is problematic – Finkel can’t break out of Longo’s spell and the audience discovers the truth long before he does; it’s hard to root for the redemption of a character so easily swindled. Had Finkel been presented as untrustworthy and if his motivations were ambiguous, we might have had something to get involved in.

Felicity Jones, a fine actress, is completely underused here as Finkel’s supportive wife. The screenplay doesn’t even hint at a relationship between those two, and she isn’t given anything to do apart from a scene that comes completely out of left field. The script also fails to give this story a sense of place; I had to stare into the license plate of a vehicle to realize where the setting was. You would think that Finkel would engage Longo’s lawyer, but the screenplay only inserts the lawyer in the courtroom scenes.

First-time feature filmmaker Rupert Goold doesn’t have a good handle on the material. Goold wants this to be a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and a commentary about journalistic reporting and truth. Simultaneously overcooked and underdeveloped, the movie spends its near 100 minute runtime trying to figure out what it’s about; it ends up being unfocused, boring, and unconvincing. Prior to the end credits, we are informed by a block of text that Finkel and Longo still meet on a monthly basis. Given the film’s version of events and the terminality of their last on-screen encounter, this is beyond absurd. For a picture so concerned about truth, ‘True Story’ rings entirely false. QED.

Furious 7



‘The Fast and the Furious’ series has grown into something I couldn’t have possibly anticipated when I saw the first film back in the summer of 2001. Admittedly, it took me a while to come around to this series. When I saw ‘Fast Five’, I knew I was in and I’ve been with the series ever since. To paraphrase something I said in my review of ‘Fast & Furious 6’, this is a franchise that doesn’t abide by Newton’s Laws of Motion or The Laws of Diminishing Returns – it’s designed to make your jaw drop, and steal your breath.

By the time I’ve written this review (10 p.m. on April 15th, 2015), ‘Furious 7’ will have grossed $262.5 million domestically and $548 million overseas. Many of you have already seen this movie. Those of you who plan on seeing ‘Furious 7’ don’t need a rundown of the plot, so I won’t bother with a synopsis in this review. At this point, you know what to expect of the series.

If you think you have seen it all by 2015, you have not. Two cars veer into perfect parallel formation as a body slips from the window of one car through the window of the other. Cars are dropped out of planes. An armored car tumbles down a mountain. Two characters drive head-on to each other multiple times and crawl out of the shambles for a mano a mano. A character shatters his arm cast by flexing his muscles.

In 2013, Paul Walker died before production of ‘Furious 7’ was finished. His work was completed by his two brothers as stand-ins and digital wizardry and yet he appears to be a fully integrated component of the narrative. I couldn’t tell the real Paul Walker from the digital conglomerate (though there were instances towards the end where the camera shoots him from behind). The biggest laugh I had in ‘Furious 7’ involved Walker’s character revving the engine of what turns out to be a minivan that then travels a distance of approximately 2 feet. He wasn’t a great actor but these movies didn’t require that of him or any of the other cast members. What they lack in actorly import they more than compensate for in charisma; they have a lived-in comfort with each other. The screenplay unremittingly mentions family and loyalty and these characters are completely believable as one.

Thrown into the mix is Jason Statham playing the brother of the villain from ‘Fast and Furious 6’ (seeing The Rock slam him through a glass coffee table generated thunderous applause), and Kurt Russell as the covert operations lead. There is also Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Nathalie Emmnuel among many others. Its international audience is kept in mind and they are strapped in.

Part of the plot involves rescuing a hacker who has invented a global tracking device called The God’s Eye. Last year ‘Captain America: The Winter Solider’ also tackled the subject of surveillance-based weaponry and was clear about its ethical stance towards it. It’s a topic of the now – our right to privacy and the fears we have of government agencies mining our private data. ‘Furious 7’ doesn’t have delusions of grandeur; the God’s eye is used as a device and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Few action movies achieve this level of inventiveness in the stunt work. The series moves from one film to the next with the goal of outperforming the absurd heights established by its predecessor in terms of gargantuan-scale action. Take a look at Vin Deisel’s and Paul Walker’s faces as they fly through all three of the Jumeirah at Etihad towers. Their look is likely to match yours. The most elaborate set piece in a contemporary action film would only rank as the fifth or sixth most impressive set piece in this picture.

When it was announced that James Wan would be sitting in the director’s chair previously occupied by Justin Lin for the last nine years, I had my concerns. I wasn’t sure if the man behind the slow-burn camerawork of ‘Saw’, ‘Death Sentence’, ‘Insidious’, and ‘The Conjuring’ would be “fast” enough for this franchise. He has mastered all the visual elements involved in generating suspense. For all the sped up kinetics, there’s rarely any disorder; the action unfolds coherently. The camera angles are wide enough to register the cars (puns always intended) and bodies in the frame.

‘Furious 7’ speeds up to deliver spectacular thrills and slows down for touching moments. I certainly wasn’t expecting the film’s final moments to leave a lump in my throat. The series may continue without Paul Walker. But, if this really is the end, all involved are bowing out on the highest note possible. ‘Furious 7’ is going to be hard to top as the *most* movie of 2015 – it was the perfect sendoff for Walker. QED.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter



Joel and Ethan Coen’s ‘Fargo’ was one of the best films of 1990s. The FX series ‘Fargo’ was easily the best new television show of 2014. And now ‘Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter’, the movie about the movie ‘Fargo’ is one of the best films of 2015.

First, let me tell you the story of Takako Konishi. Wikipedia informs that she was a 28-year-old office worker at a travel agency from Japan who was found dead in a field outside Detroit Lakes, Minnesota in 2001. The media stated that she died trying to locate the missing money hidden by Steve Buscemi’s character from the film ‘Fargo’ because of the “This is based on a true story” opening title card. An investigation, however, revealed that Konishi had been depressed after losing her job, and had come to Minneapolis because it was a place she had previously met her lover, a married American businessman. Konishi’s suicide was more likely related to the affair and not the briefcase full of cash.

The mystery had been solved, but independent filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner were fascinated with the urban legend surrounding her death and opted to reimagine this astounding story as an epic journey. David and Nathan co-wrote the script, and David directed the picture.

I didn’t know the story of Takoko Konishi prior to seeing the film. There wasn’t an opening title card explaining the real-life events that transpired. I didn’t know what to expect going in but certainly not an experience this breathtaking. Intense. Beautiful. Sad. Haunting.

The bleak tone is set from the opening frame – we see Kumiko (Oscar-nominee Rinko Kikuchi) plodding along the waterfront in a red hoodie. Her explorative inclination leads her into a dark cave where she finds a VHS tape of the movie ‘Fargo’ in a fissure. It might have been my copy she stumbled upon.

She pops the VHS tape into her VCR and the tracking is off the charts but she is able to barely make out the opening title card, which indicates the film was based on a true story. As far as I know, none of it was true. But, Kumiko doesn’t know that. She sketches a map outlining the wired fences, the distance between posts, the exact location of the briefcase, and it is littered with numerical values that probably don’t mean anything. To say this becomes her obsession is an understatement.

Kumiko’s biggest challenge at work appears to be a decision about whether or not she should spit in her boss’ morning tea. She bumps into an old friend on the street and is completely unable to maintain a conversation. Phone conversations with her mother are limited to binary yes/no responses. The only thing she seems to demonstrate any affection for is her pet rabbit. And though a lot of this had me laughing, there is unquestionably sadness to it all.

Rinko Kikuchi is excellent. This isn’t an over-the-top freak show performance. This is a template example of minimalist self-containment; her intense, wary glare speaks volumes. You can barely hear her speak, especially when the Octopus Project’s somber score kicks in. She doesn’t speak so much as whisper. A friend of mine commented on my Letterboxd noting this as a fault of the film. I think it is intentional. What she says isn’t as important as what she is feeling, and we are able to sense what she is thinking behind those brooding eyes. Kumiko might be dispirited. She might be lonely. But, a connection to another person is something she is unlikely to experience.

And so she goes on this quest where she is able to completely shut out all of the people she had been forced to contend with previously. “I am like a Spanish Conquistador. Recently, I’ve learned of untold riches deep in the Americas.”

From the moment she arrives in Minnesota, things go horribly wrong. The Greyhound bus breaks down and rather than choosing to wait with the other passengers for the next bus to arrive, she wanders off on foot along the side of a highway in whiteout conditions. Credit cinematographer Sean Porter for creating such a foreboding landscape – one that is as threatening and estranged to us as it is to Kumiko.

Every person she encounters in Minnesota is wonderful. They genuinely want to help her. They give her shelter, food, and clothes. When she explains her reason for wanting to visit Fargo, no one laughs at her. They benignantly try to talk her out of it. They try to explain the difference between a documentary and a feature film. Nothing doing. This makes her even more tenacious and as a result she becomes more closed-in. But the film doesn’t judge her either. Her gaze locked into the ground, she sees what eludes us. The filmmakers extend warmth and empathy towards their characters.

The Zellner’s unclassifiable film can be seen could very well be an allegory on the solitariness of film fandom, especially home viewing which is devoid of the communal experience one derives from being in a movie theater with a crowded audience. Fact? Fiction? Which is the more interesting of the two?

I should note that some members in the audience I saw it with were vocal about their dismissal of the ending, which I won’t spoil for you other than to say I don’t think it’s meant to be taken at face value. It is a Coen Brothers ending. QED.

It Follows



Back in 2010, I attended a film festival in Chicago and came across a great film by David Robert Mitchell called ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover’. Unfortunately, my 4-star review of that wonderful picture never got to see the light of day because the movie did not end up getting a theatrical release anywhere in Canada. ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover’ was Mr. Mitchell’s directorial debut – a beautiful and intimate coming-of-age story. ‘It Follows’ is his sophomore effort, and even though this is a horror story (an ingenious one), he is able to take what worked so well in his previous film and superimpose it over this one.

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a teenager who has this very strange sexual encounter with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). How strange? Once they are finished, he uses chloroform to render her unconscious, ties her to a wheelchair in a decrepit building at night, and informs her that he has infected her with some sort of supernatural curse (a slow-moving shapeshifting entity that can be anyone she knows as well as strangers – living or dead). It, whatever it is, will relentlessly try to kill her and if it succeeds, he becomes the next target. She would have to sleep with someone else in order to pass on the curse.

I realize I’ve made this sound like an AIDS metaphor. I don’t think that is what the movie is going for. You can interpret it however you want. One thing is for certain: the movie does not condemn her for being in control of her own sexuality – it is very empowering to her in a lot of ways.

The sense of dread in ‘It Follows’ is palpable right from the get-go. Let’s talk about the opening. With the help of cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, Mr. Mitchell opens the picture with some virtuoso camerawork which showcases his gift as a widescreen visual artist: a long, 360-degree take of a scared young woman running out of the front door of her home, following her down the street, following her back to her driveway as she hops in her car and drives away. With the exception of some perfunctory exchanges she has with her neighbors, this entire section is essentially wordless. And we are enamored right from the start. The 360 degree pans and long takes have us scanning the frame for what follows.

I wasn’t exactly scared by ‘It Follows’ but there is something indisputably unsettling about it. We can’t always see what Jay sees but when we do the bumbling images are bizarrely disarrayed, almost zombie-like. Mr. Mitchell’s leisurely tone is counterpoised with a screechy, jarring, and off-putting (in a good way) electronic score by Disasterpeace that puts us on edge from the moment we hear it. There are echoes of John Carpenter to be found here, particularly ‘Halloween’.

‘It Follows’ couldn’t be more different from ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover’ in terms of plot and yet the tone feels just as restrained and the pacing just as deliberate. This is one of the most hypnotic and suspenseful horror movies I have seen in a long time, and I know I said the same thing about ‘The Babadook’. We may very well be in the midst of a bona-fide horror boom. There aren’t many jump scares but it is heavy on atmospherics – the film quietly builds, generating tension organically. And like ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover’ this is a movie that could have taken place at nearly any point in time at any place and that is part of what makes it so mesmerizing. It isn’t until about two-thirds into the film when we discover that this takes place in suburban Detroit. And I don’t even know exactly when this story takes place – it could be the 1970s or it could be now; it occupies a unique semi-retro world. Interior spaces suggest a bygone era: the big television sets with cathode ray tubes, the wood paneling in the house, the terrible flowery wallpaper. A character is seen reading a book from a compact case of some sort – it isn’t an Apple device, that is for sure.

The movie works as well as it does because it keeps us at arm’s length. You won’t get an explanation of what “it” is. How did Hugh know the rules of this thing given that it was passed onto him by a random girl at a bar?

As I mentioned before, I don’t think the titular “it” in ‘It Follows’ is an AIDS metaphor. It could be representative of the sexual and social fears of transitioning from a teenager to adulthood. The shapeshifting “it” ranges in age, gender, size, and beauty. It could be about Detroit and the widespread fear of a crime-ridden city that now consists of failed businesses and declining property values. Maybe that is why the teens’ parents are almost never in sight.And in that sense, is it about America? All the things that made this once promising city have passed and now the next city (whatever it is) is next.

Or maybe I have gone off the deep end with this one. But isn’t that what great films do? Interpretations will vary but see it to find out where you land. And rent ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover’ after. I can’t wait to see what David Robert Mitchell comes up with next. QED.