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Entries in Night Moves (3)

Sunday
Jun012014

Box Office: Jolie's Star Continues to Shine

Amir with the weekend’s box office report. One of the things that has always fascinated me about Angelina Jolie is how she ranks among the greatest film stars in the world – possibly the biggest female star of this century? – without having ever been in a great film. Her off-screen life makes it really hard not to love her, but on screen, she’s mostly been better than her films, none of which are memorable in any way. Maleficent won’t change that at all, but it has become her biggest debut by a wide margin. Make of that what you will, but it is clear that four years away from the silver screen hasn’t taken the shine off . Will this financial success lend a hand to Unbroken in its chase for Oscars? My guess is that the answer is a yes.

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE
01 MALEFICENT $70 *new* 
02 X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST $32.6 (cum. $162) Review
03 A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST $17 *new* 
04 GODZILLA $12.2 (cum. $174.6) Review & Podcast
05 BLENDED $8.4 (cum. $29.6)
06 NEIGHBORS $7.7 (cum. $128.6) Review & Podcast
07 THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 $3.7 (cum. $192.7)
08 MILLION DOLLAR ARM $3.7 (cum. $28)
09 CHEF $2 new (cum. $6.9)
10 THE OTHER WOMAN $1.4 (cum. $81.1)  

The weekend’s other big opening also had an Oscar connection with the pairing of former host Seth MacFarlane and former winner Charlize Theron at its centre. A Million Ways to Die in the West seemed to be targeting MacFarlane’s demographic though, and it was hard to find anything appealing for the crowd that doesn’t find his brand of crude humour appealing. The promotional material did nothing to prove the opposite and the film crashed with a disappointing $17m at third place behind X-Men. I’m interested to see where he takes his career from here.

On the limited front, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves opened in select cities this weekend. Despite the presence of three recognizable faces, distributor Cinedigm Entertainment has decided against opening the film on more than two screens. It’s a baffling strategy to me, given that the genre elements of the film could have been emphasized in advertising leading to a much bigger opening than $24k but a slower rollout seems to be the plan. Critics are comparing this to Reichardt’s previous films and calling it her weakest. I seem to be in the minority on this one, but I resolutely believe this is the director’s most accomplished work. It made my top ten list of 2013 after I saw it at TIFF. Take my word - watch it!

What did you see this weekend?

Thursday
Apr242014

Tribeca: Eco-Thrills in "Night Moves"

Tribeca coverage with Glenn on the latest from Kelly Reichardt (Meek's Cutoff, Wendy & Lucy)

“Reserved, even by Kelly Reichardt’s standards.” That was the line I used to describe this Portland director’s latest, Night Moves, after its screening at Tribeca. Having premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, it’s understandable that it didn’t make all that much noise in the intermediate months given it’s such a quiet, guarded film despite its eco-thriller roots and name cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. Like all of Reichardt’s films, however, it is that very low-key ingredient that makes it memorable. While it doesn’t soar to the breathtaking heights of Meek’s Cutoff, which just like Night Moves took a genre prone to testosterone-filled violence and twisted it into a elegant mood piece, her latest is a surprisingly thrilling experience even when its director seems to be actively trying to go against those genre instincts.

Eisenberg and Fanning star as Josh and Dena, young environmental activists with an unclear history. He works at an organic farm while she works at a women’s retreat and spa while attending meetings big on ideas but low on execution. Despite not being terribly friendly to one another they are off purchasing a boat and joining Sarsgaard’s Harmon in a location out of the city. The three plan on blowing up a dam that was built to allow people to “play their iPods non-stop” and killed native species in the process. They are environmentalists, but others will call them terrorists. In fact, one of the very best moments in the film is a lingering shot of an armed police guard at a rural farmer’s market. Society has always looked upon the environmentally conscious with a suspicious unease – consider why green political parties can never truly rise up against their more capitalist competition despite most people agreeing that two party systems are corrupt and terrible either way you cut it. Maybe that’s just me getting carried away, however.

What I found so interesting about Night Moves is the way Reichardt handles the thriller elements. She uses silence and performance to spike tension. An extended scene where Dena purchases fertilizer, using her baby-faced (how does she now look younger than her sister Elle?) to manipulate and disarm the garden store employees, casually throwing in a blunt-forced nudge to the sexism that is still alive and well – “You’d sell it to me if I looked like those guys.”  She allows her actors faces to guide the audience. When the detonation occurs, her camera remains tightly focused on Eisenberg, Fanning and Sarsgaard; their reactions being the audience trigger rather than overbearing orchestral demonstrations and pyrotechnics.

This take on the material is to be expected from, say, a film about a woman and her dog or a desolate Oregon Trail western, but I imagine many audiences will bump heads with the way she handles it here. It reminded me a lot of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, choosing to take a somewhat impressionistic approach rather than the sensationalist one that the material could typically result in. I appreciate that and these are always the type of films that tend to stick in my head longer than, say, Zal Batmanglij’s The East from last year. I didn’t too much like the way Fanning’s character devolved, especially given the way the screenplay by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond had developed the feminine elements of the story, but even then the keen eye of Reichardt and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt allow for an overcast beauty throughout.

There’s little here that Reichardt non-devotees will find to sway them, but for me she remains a brilliantly talented name in modern film. I would easily rank her alongside the likes of Aaron Katz (whose Land Ho I reviewed at Sundance and is also playing at Tribeca) and Sofia Coppola as one of the most interesting American voices working in today. Night Moves is reserved, but is grounded in a reality that is more thrilling than most of what Hollywood throws our way.

Friday
Sep202013

Amir's TIFF Roundup, Pt 2: The Good

Amir here, back to finish my TIFF diary. With the bad taste of my previous roundup washed away, it's time to move on to the good stuff. And boy did we have a lot of that.

As a diligent ticket stub collector (I know some of you do that, too) it wasn't hard for me to look back at the previous editions of the festival, put the films side by side and compare this year to past festivals. Without a doubt, my 2013 lineup is the cream of the crop. So strong were the films I watched this year that my TIFF top ten can easily match the quality of any of my year-end top tens. Still, I hesitate to call this a good year for Toronto. TIFF is, by nature, impossible to classify as having a "good" or "bad" year. The festival's gargantuan program offers nearly 300 films and each person's experience hinges entirely on their particular selections. Essentially, every year is a good year for TIFF and every years is also a bad one. It all depends on which tickets you buy.

Yet, the films themselves aren't the only thing that made this festival special for me. The people did, too. Boring as it might be for you to read, I'd be cheating you if I pretended that the cinema was all I had on my mind, that the conversations and the atmosphere didn't affect my experience of the festival. And that's really what makes the whole ordeal worth it. Sure, I watched a few early morning screenings with pins holding my eyes open, but would you pass up on the chance to talk about actresses with Nathaniel and Nick over beer and nachos? Yes, I had to skip a screening I had paid for, but I dare you to find an Iranian cinephile who wouldn't take a dream-come-true interview with Asghar Farhadi over any film. I should have probably given a film its fair due by not watching it hungover, but hey! I got to Karaoke with the two German brothers who made my favourite film of the festival, so that's a win-win in my books. That's not to mention the invaluable friends I've made among journos whom I cherish more than the films I watched. The point is, the standard of films was more consistently great than previous years, but the mood was set just right, too. I'm aware, however, that most of you would rather read about the films than my beer-fuelled adventures, so let's get right to the point.

Starting from the top, the aforementioned German film by Ramon Zurcher, The Strange Little Cat, was the clear highlight for me... [more]

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