Double Feature: Embers (2015) & Free Birds (2013)

Next up in the double feature quite a mix. First is a 2015 independent drama called Embers, which I’ve heard nothing about before but post-apocalyptic sort of stories appeal to me so I wanted to check it out out of curiosity. Second is probably one I should’ve watched in October for Canadian Thanksgiving however, what the heck, right? We have 2013 animated film, Free Birds.

Let’s go!

Embers (2015)

Embers

Director and co-writer: Claire Carré

Cast: Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernandez, Tucker Smallwood, Karl Glusman, Silvan Friedman

After a global neurological epidemic, those who remain search for meaning and connection in a world without memory. – IMDB

Its hard to pinpoint where Embers falls. In one sense, it talks about a world that actually would be pretty scary and it looks at both spectrums of living in a post-apocalyptic world where you create new memories every single day or even more frequent than that and really not knowing anything. Isn’t that what some of us would hope for? Complete bliss from all knowledge? You wouldn’t remember your problems a few hours later but then you also wouldn’t have that long lasting human relationship because you wouldn’t even be able to build or think about those fleeting moments, let alone remember them. Is it emptiness or bliss in that case? However, on the other side of the spectrum is the quarantined who do remember but they don’t have the freedom to live outside the routine. They have memories but they are merely surviving and not really living.

Embers

 

Embers takes on various perspectives from its scattered characters in this area. There’s a young child wandering aimlessly, a teacher who is researching something endlessly, these two meet and they form a bond as one of the endearing moments is him teaching the child how to ride a bike. There is a couple who is together but then their lack of retaining memories separates them. There is an angry rebellious young guy who runs around wreaking havoc to be caught up in something more but not retaining that memory helps him to not even know what happened just moments or hours ago.

With that said, Embers has some decent performances and some nice moments and the shots and setting are filmed very nicely, however, the story itself is disjointed. Is it to match the world that they have created or maybe the story just skims the surface too much to have a resounding feeling? There is some thought-provoking depth that you can see but it never feels enough to feel immersed into the movie.

Free Birds (2013)

Free Birds

Director: Jimmy Hayward

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Dan Fogler, Amy Poehler, George Takei, Keith David

Two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history – and get turkey off the holiday menu for good. – IMDB

Free Birds is the perfect example of how some movies just don’t work and have no humor because its not my thing. However, according to the 17% Rotten Tomatoes score, I’m actually not the only one. First off, the voice acting here is fine as expected with Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson and Amy Poehler at the helms. Its really the content of what this is and the jokes and dialogue that doesn’t work for me. In many levels, it was just really dumb. I have a peculiar humor so sometimes things like this just aren’t my cup of tea. I turned on Free Birds has background while I was working on something and its all so weird and feels rather unoriginal.

 

Turkeys going back in time to stop turkeys from turning into a tradition for Thanksgiving dinner seems a little odd. There might be some chuckles here and there but for the most part, I spent a lot of time just hoping it would end because it felt really boring and uninspired. I’m going to keep this short. It didn’t grab my attention all that much and the premise isn’t all that interesting to me. Its rare I feel so indifferent about animated films. I guess it was bound to happen eventually, right?

Have you seen Embers and/or Free Birds?
What are you thoughts?

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Double Feature: Southpaw (2015) & Miss Sloane (2016)

Welcome to the next double feature. I rented Southpaw and Miss Sloane on discount on Play Store last month. Two very different films and two very different feelings about it however both heavily reliant on their main character.

Southpaw (2015)

Southpaw

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Oona Lawrence, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris

Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Wills to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services. – IMDB

If there is one word to describe Southpaw, it would be disappointing. It isn’t particularly a bad film as the performances were great. Rachel McAdams did great for what it was. Jake Gyllenhaal was fantastic and I absolutely love Forest Whitaker who is an underrated actor. The girl who played the daughter was Oona Lawrence and that arc was decent.

However, the flaw lies in the fact that Southpaw is pretty much another Rocky story in many instances and we already had Creed recently that was much more engaging. It didn’t help that Southpaw was a little too dramatic at parts but never made it feel very exciting to watch. Seeing the stellar cast being in this uninspired script truly was a lackluster experience.

Miss Sloane (2016)

miss sloane

Director: John Madden

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Lithgow, Jake Lacy

In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. But when taking on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds winning may come at too high a price. – IMDB

Miss Sloane was a movie that I went in with no idea of what the premise is. I have heard good things about it and I have enjoyed Jessica Chastain. Miss Sloane is such a vibrant character wrapped up in a tough and ruthless shell. She is strong and strategic in all her plans and for all the reasons, it makes us wonder on what she has under her sleeve even in the most desperate of situations but it is what makes her compelling to watch.

Miss Sloane, just as the title implies, is truly based on Jessica Chastain and how she takes on the role and she did an outstanding job. As we navigate through her way of life and the little things, while she isn’t exactly a character you would cheer for because of her lack of ethics and morals in some of her decisions, every part whether planned or not comes into play and that gives full credit for the screenwriters doing a fine job at giving it a good pacing that keeps everything moving and finding a balance to learn just enough about Miss Sloane and keeping enough to make everything make sense and surprise when it falls into place.

While Miss Sloane isn’t typically the movie that I would watch, I’m glad that I did because it was absolutely awesome. Gripping, compelling and full of twists and turns around every corner. This one is a must see.

Have you seen Southpaw and/or Miss Sloane?

Fantasia Festival 2017: Bushwick (2017)

Bushwick (2017)

bushwick

Director: Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott

Cast: Brittany Snow, Dave Bautista, Angelic Zambrana, Christian Navarro, Arturo Castro

When a Texas military force invades their Brooklyn neighborhood, 20-year-old Lucy and war veteran Stupe must depend on each other to survive. – IMDB

Bushwick sets in an intriguing scenario if the southern states would be persuaded by Texas to join in to overturn the government. Their plan is to use insurgence to forcefully takeover unwilling cities. Their next target to get the Northern states was to make a small city of Bushwick located in New York. As the insurgence starts, we fall on scene with Lucy, played by Brittany Snow on her way to her grandmother’s house to introduce her boyfriend. It doesn’t take long before they head out and realize that something is very wrong and separated from her boyfriend almost immediately from the start, she has to avert danger. Luckily, circumstances lead her to meet Stupe, an ex-Marine who knows everything she doesn’t about survival and has a few guns to protect as well and who reluctantly agrees to take her to her destination, while trying to figure out what actually is going on.

Bushwick is a tight and tense ride. While the subtext is the insurgence from the private military force which terrifies the city itself and is the centre of all the danger, the best part of it all is truly the unlikely team in Lucy and Stupe. Together, the character development here and how they bond together throughout the film which is really only set over a few hours was compelling and engaging. One of the best parts of Bushwick is how they chose to film it. It has somewhat of a found footage way even though it isn’t. The start of the film is the best example as they choose to begin using the angle of the helicopters scanning the city from above. However, the best parts is how it chooses to follow the characters. We never seem to follow them directly in back but in fact, it chooses to go watch their feet as they scurry from location to location. It creates a sense of suspense as the camera plays with what we can see and in turn allowing us to be shocked just as the character by the unknown situations ahead.

Lucy and Stupe are two very different people. In fact, the story focuses on their story while not making it too dramatic and keeping it with the action. In fact, it focuses more on the situation at hand and how they work together to get themselves out. Because of this, there may be a difference in tone throughout the movie. While it may seem to make us wonder how serious to take Bushwick, it is well-timed and particularly makes Lucy’s character more believable when she makes some silly decisions in the beginning that may end up having serious consequences. As the movie moves along, their character growth and the value of their team is what will keep it intriguing as they see what this insurgence has caused the people around them especially the reason why a small town like Bushwick was targetted. Brittany Snow and Dave Bautista pull out some of their best acting in this one and delivers two great performances.

Talking about the reason of why Bushwick is chosen make this film seems like an obvious social commentary of sorts. It reflects perhaps the disagreements and wars about the values and beliefs of Northern and Southern states in America. However, the more prominent one is the fact that Bushwick represents a lower class multicultural community which seems like they are disjointed because of that and make them an easier target. However, surprisingly the film takes a turn of how the city’s different groups each may react differently to the insurgence but still survival may just bring everyone together. Going deeper into the message this may convey will enter spoiler territory so we’ll refrain.

To be honest, Bushwick is an interesting premise and it does take the path of some contrived moments. There may even be some predictable happenings that are meant to shock however, it also succeeds in creating an engaging experience by delivering characters such as Lucy and Stupe that make us want to cheer for them to get out of this ordeal. There are quiet and dramatic moments to help see a deeper side of the characters as well as endearing bonding moments, added in with a few comedic moments to slice through the tension a little. All of these moments tie in very well together. There is no doubt in the end that this is meant to be taken with a serious tone and for the most part everything fits together for an action and suspenseful watch through Bushwick. Its not so much about the politics of it all as it is about survival. Just for the performances and the premise and setting, Bushwick is worth a watch.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Better Watch Out (2017)

Better Watch Out (2017)

better watch out

Director: Chris Peckover

Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Dacre Montgomery, Aleks Mikic, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Warburton

On a quiet suburban street, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it’s far from a normal home invasion. – IMDB

Home invasion films have been done to death. Honestly, there have been some hits in the last few years but its been a while that we have been thoroughly impressed. Maybe the exception would be Hush. This year’s Fantasia brings us the Canadian premiere of a home invasion film with a Home Alone twist previously called Safe Neighborhood but recently retitled Better Watch Out. It is directed by Chris Peckover who also was attending the festival to present his film. A perfect addition to the Festival as it fit perfectly in the Christmas in July theme. To further explain the Home Alone point, this features a boy and his babysitter as their Christmas night just got a lot more ominous as they realize that the house is being invaded.

Better Watch Out is a fantastic twist on the home invasion concept. It keeps up well with the intensity while offering more than enough laugh out loud black comedy moments. If surprises you with its characters who truly show off their true nature to stay alive. Its a fun ride with so many unexpected moments and what you probably won’t usually see with this one. The cast is also full of familiar faces. In a shorter role but done so well are the parents played by Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton. They bring in a fun performance full of laughs and witty remarks. The big performances here are however with Luke, the twelve year old son played by Levi Miller (recently in Pan) who has a crush on his seventeen year old babysitter, Ashley played by Olivia DeJonge (recently in The Visit). In true John Hughes love that Chris Peckover talked about afterwards, this was where we saw a lot of awkward teen comedy as the early moments saw Lucas trying to get attention.

It is hard to talk about this one without ruining your experience so lets just say that Better Watch Out does a great job at executing the twist and then letting everything fall apart and come together. While some parts do get a little overboard, there is so much to love in the dialogue and the intensity, the black comedy and the clever characters and twists that makes this one a must-see. You’ll be surprised over and over again and when you finish this, you may want to go back and figure out those details you missed the first time around. Better Watch Out is a home invasion movie but also a perfect addition to the non-traditional Christmas movie that will make you want to watch over and over again because its not only fun but so incredibly clever. This one is a must-see!

Better Watch Out will be in theatres in October on limited release and will land online some time in December.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Short Films Roundup

Fantasia Festival 2017 is full of short films. They may appear paired up with a feature film or maybe in a themed collection of films. There are so many great themes this year however, we only managed to catch these four. Let’s take a break from the full length features to take a look at these four short films: Breaker, For A Good Time, Call…, Sleazy Pete and The Naughty List.

Breaker (2017)

Breaker

Director & writer: Philippe McKie

Cast: Arisa Hanzawa, Kazuya Shimizu, Yuka Tomatsu

In tomorrow’s Tokyo, the technologically-enhanced body of a young mercenary hacker is overrun by a sentient data weapon. Wanted, the parasitic A.I becomes her only ally as she is chased across the city by those seeking to salvage it. – IMDB

Colorful, electric, creepy underground, pumping music and a future world that technology is so advanced that your brain is the main computer via a chip. Breaker shows what it is like to be hacked. Curiosity killed the cat or in this case, leads this breaker into a danger as she is hacked in a chase. With likes of upcoming games of Observer releasing with what seems like a similar idea and Illuminae and the idea that technology really has no borders, but is that a good or a bad thing? Breaker is eleven minutes of chase that somehow manages to use that short screen time to show us this future and successfully engage us into the A.I. and the hacker’s relationship for the few minutes that is reliant on an instant trust to hopefully make their escape.

One of the earlier short films to screen before Vampire Cleanup Department and it works so well to create a quirky yet intense and engaging chase that takes a few minutes to make us question the A.I.’s intentions and how it will all end.

For a Good Time, Call… (2017)

For a Good Time, Call

Director: Izzy Lee

Cast: Sean Carmichael, Diana Porter, Tristan Risk

A man who uploads a homemade sex video taken in secret gets more than he bargained for when he makes a pit stop. – Fantasia Festival

For A Good Time, Call… is an interesting short film. Running at 11 minutes, the short takes us into a place that we know our main character here is a scumbag. Maybe a lot of people do shoot homemade sex videos for fun however he did do it without consent and this causes a fallout with the girl unsurprisingly who wishes him to have something bad. Suffice to say that, as he walks into a bathroom at his pit stop, we can wonder whether he is high and imagining things or if there is something that is there. Here’s where the film picks up its pace with creepy noises and a secluded feeling as wonder what will happen. There’s something more this man and he’s definitely not a good person but what is lurking in the bathroom and what does it want from him? For a Good Time, Call… has its creepy moments and much of it happens off screen as we always see the reaction first before the actual thing, utilizing the fact that our imagination is always more powerful than what the object of fear usually is.

Sleazy Pete (2017)

Sleazy Pete

Director and writer: Frank Appache

A proto-apocalyptic tale where crime, sleaze and violence are king: we spend a night with sleazy Pete, and his new sidekick. – Fantasia Festival

There aren’t really lot of words to describe Sleazy Pete. For those that love 80s gory horror, this one is definitely for you. There’s a deliberate feeling to every action, some cheesy fakenss to the practical effects and oh so much blood. In fact, in the eleven minutes of runtime, its said that they used 55 gallons of fake blood. In true 80’s B-movie, this one ticks all the boxes you love. As well as character like Sleazy Pete who is a priest that twists the meaning of “Love Thy Neighbor” a little and in turns uses this as a means to kill the homeless while having a lot of other acts that fit right in with this new world that is full of crime, sleaze and violence. Sleazy Pete is one to check out for a quick 80’s B-horror fun time.

The Naughty List (2016)

The Naughty List

Director and writer: Paul Campion

Cast: Mac Elsey, Sebastian Knapp, Vincenzo Nicoli

On Christmas Eve, two American mobsters come face to face with Santa Claus, and discover what it really takes to get on the Naughty or Nice list. – IMDB

Paired perfectly with Better Watch Out, The Naughty List is a Christmas short film where two mobsters are in hiding. One believes in Santa and one doesn’t. When Santa shows up, the question is whether this man in a furry red and white suit is the real deal. The Naughty List is a really great time. Its all about laughs from the moment we see these silly mobsters till when Santa enters and how he does and the entire conversation. Everything is comedic and done so well. Its all about the laugh out loud moments and this one has so many of them.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Friendly Beast (2017)

Friendly Beast (2017)

Friendly Beast

Director and writer: Gabriela Amaral Almeida

Cast: Luciana Paes, Murilo Benicio, Irandhir Santos, Camila Morgado, Humberto Carrao, Ariclenes Barroso

 For the small audience that got to see the World Premiere of Portuguese thriller Friendly Beast, this was as the director calls it “another animal”. Friendly Beast takes place in a small restaurant as it nears closing and last minute customers are there along with the owner, a waitress and a chef. As tension within the restaurant staff with the owner and even its customers build, two armed robbers burst in. This sets the stage as the owner now peels off his friendly smiling face and counteracts in his own way. On the surface, Friendly Beast is an intense thriller that sees two key characters find who they are, both oppressed of what they truly want whether they know it or not. Under this is many tones about control in general to man and woman’s power in relationships, different races and social class clashes. Gabriela Amaral Almeida, presented this debut piece and told the audience that this script was stemmed from anger and frustration from the director and writer of Friendly Beast as Brazil’s political changes stunted her progress with another project. While she explains that the film has undertones of highlighting the Brazilian culture and politics, for those unfamiliar with Brazil politics, there are still many other themes to explore.

Friendly Beast is an intriguing piece to talk about. Mostly because there is so much care and detail at how the entire script is staged. Yes, this movie is carefully staged so that each room creates a different tone and atmosphere. This becomes an important element to understanding the character development. Friendly Beast is a one setting movie and yet because of how the rooms are used, it feels like there is much more space and meaning. For example, the dining room is where everything is put on a facade. It is falsely pretty but as the space becomes more disordered throughout the movie, the characters have also changed to be more outwardly on being themselves while in contrast, the washroom is a private closed space and its where the most real feelings are released in hiding.

There is no doubt that Friendly Beast is about its characters in all their motions and quietness and words. Every move is rehearsed and calculated to fully express what that scene wants to show its audience. In fact, the two main characters here are familiar faces. Murilo Benicio, who plays restaurant owner Inacio, is a renowned actor in the Brazil film industry. Luciana Paes, who plays Sara the waitress, was recently in Netflix Original series 3%. Both of them deliver incredibly engaging roles that even in their most quiet moments create tension. It makes the audience experience various phases and we soon realize that the performances reflect a great script put together to give each moment in this 90+ minutes importance. Some scenes will challenge you and others will literally make you feel uneasy and that also has to do with the sound design and the soundtrack.

There are times when directors talk about what they are trying to portray in their piece and it is a far-fetched idea that doesn’t get executed well. Gabriela Amaral Almeida and Friendly Beast is definitely not the case. If you see this movie (which you should), take the time to see between those lines and see the story she is trying to tell. Take a close look at what she has staged and let the building quiet tension grab you. And when Friendly Beast ends, it may very well sit on your mind afterwards.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

valerian and the city of a thousand planets

Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Dan DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Sam Spruell, Kris Wu, John Goodman, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna

A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe. – IMDB

Adapted from a French comic series titled Valerian and Laureline, Luc Besson’s latest piece takes us on a sci-fi adventure to Alpha, the City of a Thousand Planets where we follow the adventures of two young agents and partners, Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline. Luc Besson heading back to a sci-fi premise and seemingly calling back to The Fifth Element days is an endearing thought. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a visually stunning adventure full of new aliens and characters to discover, perhaps more so for those that have not read the source material. While filled with great performances what does let  down the overall experience is the story itself being adventurous and fun but slightly predictable.

The performances here focus mostly on Cara Delevingne’s Laureline and Dan DeHaan’s Valerian. As a team, they work together well and while on missions, there is a friction and conflict they have as Laureline fights for her recognition and importance. While some of their dialogue feels cheesy and oddly out of place, they have a certain chemistry that helps in certain ways. It adds in some laughs here and there and their bickering while overused in movies does help ease in some relaxing moments between the action. There are some bigger names here as well such as Clive Owen as the Commander who gets taken by an alien race that was deemed to have been destroyed. While not a huge role, he excelled at commanding his scene. What is also a nice face to see here is Kris Wu, a young actor that appeared earlier this year in XXX:The Return of Xander Cage, who gives a good performance while in a supporting role as well. Aside from that, Ethan Hawke has a cameo role that draws similarities to Jack Sparrow’s free spirit and this leads to Rihanna who is really showing off as a performer more than she is an actress as she dazzles us with a beautiful on-stage transformational dance which is followed shortly after with an emotional scene that falls short from its intentions.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets does lack depth in its story. Perhaps the length of over two hours did more harm than good, as there was a certain level of suspense in the beginning however, the ending became increasingly predictable. What does make this flick worth your time is how Luc Besson brings this world to life in every single way. The City of a Thousand Planets is fascinating to discover at every corner and the effects are done incredibly well. While some may complain about the drawback of having too much CGI, this is a strength in creating this fictional fantasy world. The action and technology here makes those moments feel like we are immersed in great adventures as Valerian and Laureline go on their own mission. It almost feels like we are in a video game. The best example is when Valerian’s gun can shoot platforms as he vaults through a gap with all these fantastical creatures that are both beautiful and dangerous simultaneously.

Overall, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has its flaws. It is meant to be a popcorn flick that will dazzle its audience visually with its beautiful and mesmerizing world along with its action-packed sequences. There is no doubt that this one has decent cast that delivers even with a story that lacks depth however it is a fun and entertaining flick.