Tuesday, June 30, 2015

NXNE Film Review - Diamond Tongues

The daily struggles of unnamed film extras who's names appear towards the end of film credits or not at all are the focus of directors Pavan  Moondi and Brian Robertson's film Diamond Tongues. The Actors, writers, producer/directors take public transit or walk to auditions, meet with their agents and talk up projects that they are in, badmouth the ones that are not and through around industry buzz words like sides and reel as they meet each other on the street, small time industry events or in local bars. The films central character Edith Welland (Leah Goldstein) first appears on screen out front of a building as the film crew packs away equipment at the end of a shoot. She talks about how the cast and crew of this film were like family but the crew have no idea that she was in the production then Edith proudly explains that she played the Angry Customer. 

Edith best friend Nick (Nick Flanagan) is working on the second most popular Canadian television show Dog Husband that has just been picked up for another year. As they are in conversation Edith immediately begins to tear down the show talking about how dumb the title is starting the theme of undercutting that is prevalent throughout the film.  Being a poor struggling actor means you need a roommate to share the bills.  Edith's is Clare (Leah Wildman) a fellow actor who is running lines for a play that's about to open Happier for All of Us.  Our protagonist is vocally supportive of her room mate but from her facial expressions its clear she is hoping that the play fails. The last main piece of Edith's world is her attempt to cope with the recent break up with her boyfriend of 2 years Ben played by the film's writer Adam Gurfinkel. Edith called off the relationship to focus on her career but she constantly talks about him, fellow actors she meets in her travels ask how he's doing putting his presence always near the top of mind.

Garfunkel crafts an offbeat script for this film.  It is obvious that he is very familiar with this world all the way to the sleazy older Acting School teacher that is willing to waive the exorbitant fee for a
a cute actress that will pay him a little extra attention. The dialogue between the actors is very believable. The viewer would think that an actor would do whatever they could to promote themselves and sell their brand. While on the other hand outwardly wishing fellow colleagues the best but hoping that they do not succeed. However Edith takes the second part of this scenario to a special place.  She gives colleagues projects 1 star on IMDB logging in nightly before she goes to bed. She tears down posters of her roommates play as she encounters them on utility poles around the city. She shows up at auditions as a not successful call back, hangs around the receptionist picks a name that was not crossed out and says that she is that person back for her second read. Making her clearly a candidate for the most unlikeable lead character of the year.

Leah Goldstein grows on you in the role of Edith.  Her uneven deliver of the lines and search for tonal range early in the film takes some getting used to but Goldstein shines with her non verbal expressions as she uses these traits to project her true feelings of colleagues successes and projects while on the surface she is smiling, nodding and appearing to be supportive.  Nick Flanagan plays the other large role as Edith's best friend Nick. Flanagan hurls the insults back and forth with Edith and at one point remarks that they are only friends because no one else would be friends with either of them.

Diamond Tongues is a unique take on a mundane, small, destined for failure community who in many instances have to take other jobs to keep their acting careers alive. The production shows this world at its raw cutthroat lowest with no expectation of a feel good redemption at the end of the journey.  It is a film I can recommend

*** Out of 4

Diamond Tongues | Pavan Moondi / Brian Robertson | Canada | 2015 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Auditions, Extra, Play, Roommate, Agent, Writer/Producer, Toronto, Public Transportation, Ex-Boyfriend.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is an outsider in high school that has figured out a system to get though to higher education. He does not join any of the cliques but will engage members of the various high school cliques jumping in on short conversations to orbit on the perimeter of every group.  The only place he does not venture is the cafeteria Greg calls it a war zone, chaos and the waring factions of the Middle East all rolled up into one. Greg spends his lunch hour in the office of his favourite teacher Mr. McCarthy (Jim Bernthal) along with his "co-worker" Earl Jackson (RJ Cyler) who is really his best friend but Greg does not want to admit that he has any friends.

Greg's detached high school life is going well until his mother (Connie Britton) sends him to visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke) a friend he was closer to in grade school who has just been diagnosed with advanced cancer. Greg goes reluctant at first but begins to enjoy the time he spends hanging out with Rachel. Greg and Earl make parody films and though encouragement of popular girl  Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) start to make a film for Rachel.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon film based on Jesse Andrew's book and screenplay finds a new angle to tell a high school based tale. The subject matter is dire as evidence by the title but the dialogue is rich and the characters well developed to bring humour tenderness tension and sorrow to the production. Gomez- Rejon keeps the camera moving to produce several different visual levels to the film. On particularly highly charged scene is shot from a very low angle with one character in the foreground while the other stands behind. Another where Rachel, Greg and Earl go for ice cream is one of the lighter passages in the film and shot totally opposite employing a crane from up on high.

The film has a couple of running gags that work well.  The first is Greg narration of the proceeding overt opening each new chapter with This is the part where... One might think that this could get annoying or tiresome but it really works mainly due to Greg's understated flat and somewhat perpetually uninterested tone. The other are the Greg and Earl mini movies. They are mainly knock off of classic cinema in the style of European documentary that Greg's dad (Nick Offerman) introduced pair to in their youth. The films with titles like A Sockwork Orange, My Dinner with Andre the Giant and 2:48 Cowboy (Instead of Midnight) are laugh out loud funny just on the titles alone but the bonus of seeing Greg and Earl dressed up as these iconic screen characters adds to the hilarity. Other titles in the collected works include Grumpy Cul-de Sacs a send up of Gomez- Rejon's mentor Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Senior Citizen Kane. The shorts are shown as little snippets sprinkled thought the film.

Casting director Angela Demo helped gather a strong ensemble cast. Connie Britton and Molly Shannon both take the non traditional approach to the their roles as mothers of Greg and Rachel respectively. Thomas Mann shines in the role of Greg. He is the central focus of the film and maintains the detached uninvolved persona through most of the production but shifts gears seamlessly for two key emotional encounters with each of the other title characters. RT Cyler makes his major screen debut as Earl. At the outset his character seems to be nothing out of the ordinary until he makes the point of showing Greg the importance of his relationship with Rachel. British Actress Olivia Clark know for her work on Bates Motel makes brings an edge to the role of the seriously ill high school student.  Clark is at her strongest when she makes a stand on how she wants to handle her treatment. Jim Berthal continues his streak of very strong roes as Greg and Earl's favourite teacher Mr. Murphy ending most classes and encounters with students in the halls with the mantra Respect the Research.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a high school film with a strong emotional side. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon draws out solid performances from his cast and the screenplay allows several light and funny moments despite the inherent sad and draining storyline the viewer will expect given the title. The interaction between the characters and quirks of the plot make the production a film that will appeal to kids and adults alike. It is a film that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Me and earl and the Dying Girl | Alfonso Gomez- Rejon | U.S.A. | 2015| 105 Minutes.

Tags: High School , Cliques,  Fitting In, Survival, Cancer, Friendship, Cafeteria, Francesca, Mini-Movie.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Film Review - Spy

The film opens with MI6 type agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) at a high end cocktail party in search of his target.  He finds the mark Tihomir Boyanov (Raad Rawi) in the basement of the home and confronts him. The exchange begins as it would in any other spy movie then hits the first twist of the film that puts Fine in a bind needing to escape directed by his trusty Desk Analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) back in the vermin infested basement at Langley. Soon the mission is revealed: find the nuclear bomb that was in the possession of Boyanov and stop one of his two underbosses his daughter Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) or Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale) from selling it on the open market.  The next twist: Boyanov's group knows that the C.I.A. are coming and have the names and faces of all of the key agents. They therefore need someone with knowledge of the case, classification and the training background to take on the mission. Susan Cooper steps forward to fill the role.

Director Paul Feig teams up with Melissa McCarthy on their third outing with Spy following box office success with Bridesmaids and The Heat. The film is written and directed by Feig who once again shows that comedy which is tougher to do than many expect is a genre that fits his sweet spot. The film has several laugh out loud moments plus even more scenes where the audience does not know if they should laugh, groan or be mildly offended. The script has several sleek hand to hand combat scenes, shootouts plus a new angle on the action film car chase. The sound department contributed greatly to the production which is key in a good action film.

Assistant C.I.A. Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) sends Cooper on the mission but has a habit of giving her loser undercover identities. A single mother of 4 in Paris, a Mary Kay sales wiz with 10 cats in Rome. All identities are accompanied by the obligatory bad wardrobe and even worse wig. Even the gadget scene finds Cooper assigned with inglorious weapons  hidden in pills, ointments and wraps for bodily ailments.  But once in the field Cooper's instincts are solid and she is effective despite being opposed by over the way over the top tough guy agent Rick Ford (Jason Stratham) who has gone rogue in an attempt to track down the bomb himself and expects Cooper to screw up the mission at every turn.

Melissa McCarthy shows off her full comedic range in the film. At the outset of the film she's an intelligent, quick thinking Desk Analyst deftly supporting Agent Bradley Fine. In her personal life she's meek, lacks confidence and has been taught for years by friends and family to blend into the background and to give up on her hopes and dreams. However as she gains her footing in the field she proves to be an asset to the agency highly competent in fighting, shooting, assertiveness, vehicle skills and hyper aggressive when the moment demands. In one sequence she actually makes the henchman of one of her targets cry following a verbal assault. Rose Byrne does her best and is almost successful in stealing the film as the daughter and underboss of the Boyanov organization. She taunts the C.I.A. acts like a royal central european princess and cannot remember anyones name within a second of learning it or of someone that has worked for her family for years. Jason Stratham is also strong as the testosterone driven Rick Ford. He has been in every dangerous situation at least twice and flourished every time. His macho act is on full display as he describes how he knows that he is immune to 27 different types of poison haven taken them all at once with no ill effect. Look for Miranda Hart, Chummy from Call the Midwife in a memorable supporting role as Nancy B. Artingstall Susan Cooper's best friend, confidant and Desk Analyst once she enters the field.

Paul Feig continues to show that he is the leading comedic director working today with Spy. The film is a solid mix of comedy and action. The entire cast is pleasing with many taking their first real shot at comedy trusting the Feig McCarthy combination. The story has the right amount of turns and surprises that would put it in line with any good spy tale. It's a film that will appeal to a wide audience and one that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of Four.

Spy | Paul Feig | 2015 | U.S.A. | 120 Minutes.

Tags: Espionage, C.I.A., Alias, Nuclear Bomb, Paris, Rome, Budapest, Field Agent, C.I.A. Desk Analyst, 50 Cent.