The Gift – Movie Review
Rating: C+ (Above Average)[youtube id=”I3IiZU9JBuE” width=”620″ height=”360″]
It’s easy to see the inspiration in Joel Edgerton’s direction of The Gift as he clearly wants to craft a thriller that gets under one’s skin and we’re not sure who to align ourselves with. However, his screenplay ends up with characters who are obvious and thinly written with some plot developments reaching the point of absurdity. There are occasional moments that feel suspenseful and then we get scenes that feature the usual clichés of the genre. There’s not a lot under the surface and that creates an experience that borders on dullness most of the time. The Gift feels like the sort of film that would have certainly found itself under heavy rotation in the late television hours of HBO during the late 1990s.
Even though The Gift tries to set up the characters as different than we might initially expect, their personalities can be seen from a mile away. Jason Bateman’s Simon already comes off as a slimy individual with no positive traits. He’s a terrible person with little to root for and the film portrays this side of him as a shocking revelation. His wife Robyn is portrayed as kindly and the few attempts to show a hidden layer of depth and guilt are superficial at best. The main antagonist Gordon has the most basic motivation and while Joel Edgerton does a solid job of giving off a creepy vibe, there’s not much character development and there’s never a lack of suspicion. We’re eventually left with a dull set of characters who fit specific archetypes and this lessens some of the suspense in the story.
Edgerton does showcase some prowess in his direction. Some scenes have an eerie quality to them and he and director of photography Eduard Grau have a strong understanding of how to use lighting in darkly lit settings. The use of sound is also expertly handled during the climax as more things are revealed and he does seem aware of what is unsettling to the audience. Some parts are obvious, but a couple of sequences do bring some tension and surprise. On a couple of occasions, Edgerton throws in a jump-scare, which will always be one of the cheapest horror tricks in the book. Some symbolic images early on will also clearly make appearances later, which is made more predictable when entire passages of dialogue are dedicated to them.
Surprisingly, the most interesting scenes in The Gift involve the inner-workplace politics with Simon attempting to grab a promotion. Gordon plays little to no role in those scenes and it looks like another film hidden within the walls of this thriller. It’s a solid little short film about the extreme steps some will take to climb the corporate ladder and Edgerton also inserts some sly references to the increasing number of young billionaires in the world. Simon is despicable and irredeemable with Jason Bateman going into obvious theatrics, but these scenes do a better job of delving into his personality than the ones he shares with Robyn and Gordon. It’s a better film that’s beneath a sadly middle-of-the-road thriller.
Joel Edgerton does show a lot of promise as a director, even if this feature-length debut effort is rather spotty. There are moments of inspiration and he clearly shows an understanding of camera and aesthetic. The story he’s crafted is simply one filled with obvious contrivances and scenes that occasionally drag the film down. It seems to disguise proper character development under the guise of moral ambiguity and it doesn’t entirely stick. Nonetheless, The Gift is a noble attempt and with a stronger script and more carefully paced editing, there could certainly have been a solid thriller here. It says a lot about a director’s abilities, when even a mediocre result can elicit plenty of curiousity in what a budding filmmaker will produce next.
Review By: Stefan Ellison
VELD 2015 – Let’s Get to the Point
Is the electronic festival scene in Southern Ontario cursed?
Let’s face it, it’s been an unlucky year for Electronic fans across southern Ontario. First it rained hard at Go Hard, while Everafter in Kitchener looked like it had been hit by a monsoon. Bestival got very wet on day one and Digital Dreams slipped into a nightmare because of inclement weather forcing a 50% refund to festival goers who made plans months in advance. Though the lineup at the inaugural Wayhome festival was excellent, the electronic acts were few and far between. Add to that the recent cancellation of Toronto Frosh Festival and expectations were high for VELD 2015.
Day 1 seemed to be going well until a thunderstorm warning forced a one hour set by DJ Deadsilence around 4:00pm.
“We need you to step back 15 ft (from the stage). There’s lightening in the area, we just need you to back up, it’s for your own safety,” said a voice from the stage.
The one hour hiccup quietly turned into a two hour delay by the time the storm passed. This divided festival goers into two schools of thought as party goers clashed with spiritual anarchists.
“I’m pretty upset, it’s been two hours. Fuck it, I’m not very happy to be honest. I had to save up to buy this ticket man, I worked and I worked. I could have went and paid for a nice prostitute for the best hour of my life instead.” Said one party goer we spoke with.
Eventually, the silence lifted and with ‘the show must go on mentality’ concert producers INK and Live Nation flipped the switch back on.
With Nicky Romero on the main stage and Kill The Noise in the tent, it didn’t take long for fans to forget about DJ DeadSilence’s sexy set. After throwing down a decent show, Romero took time to interact with fans near the stage, while Aoki threw cake and played the best of Celine Dion with ‘My Heart Will Go On’.
— The Scene Magazine (@thescenemag) August 2, 2015
Soon the silent set seemed like a distant fog in the memories of the bacchanalian mollied out mob of 30,000, as the night drew to a close with memorable performances from A$AP Rocky, Borgore, and Deadmau5. – See our TOP 5 SETS FROM VELD 2015 – After day 1, peoples spirits on social media were as high as some concert goers had literally been earlier in the day.
First day of veld wrecked me???? Time for day 2!!! See you there!????
— Raving Taco (@TacoRavingtaco) August 2, 2015
Thanks veld! That was fun. 🙂 — deadmau5 (@deadmau5) August 2, 2015
With the weather network predicting a great weekend earlier in the week, it seemed like nothing could stop Day 2 from being one for the books.
— The Weather Network (@weathernetwork) July 30, 2015
The day started with strong sets from Mark Oliver and Dzeko Torres. As the day warmed up, so did Chocolate Puma and Oliver Heldens, giving memorable performances which had the crowd ready to rave all night long.
But soon the party was over. At approximately 5:00pm the festival stopped due to the threat of an oncoming storm. Some people accepted their fate while others sat frozen wondering how long set two from DJ #DeadSilence would last. There was of course a handful of idiots who threw objects at the stage and yelled “bullshit” and other creative profanities at the empty stage, as stage crew and security dodged the oncoming assault.
Tens of thousands of ‘half way there’ party goers spilled out onto the suburb streets surrounding Downsview Park. Some took to social media while others were poised to make their own makeshift parties in parking lots and under bridges.
VELD Day 2 just got cancelled and there’s 50,000+ people running around Toronto cracked out on molly
— Toronto Rave Nation (@TORaveNation) August 2, 2015
Some people accepted the outcome while others demanded a refund and for two days, people used social media to express their regret for an unsatisfactory experience. It took 48 hrs before VELD released an official statement via its social media platforms.
Another 18 hrs passed before a resolution was given.
Some angry patrons amped it up a few notches online:
The resolution: a 40% refund.
VELD will be issuing a 40% refund to all customers who purchased tickets directly from Ticketmaster.ca and authorized points of sale. — VELD Music Festival (@VELDFest) August 5, 2015
While it wasn’t as generous as the slightly larger Digital Dreams refund, it looks as though the mighty INK and their Titanic of an electronic festival may have avoided a PR catastrophe for now. However, any attempt to monopolize, was one with good intentions at best. For now, the Southern Ontario festival market (the fourth largest in North America) still remains as unpredictable and wide open as the wild wild west.
More on VELD 2015:
Ricki and the Flash – Movie Review
Rating: B (Good)[youtube id=”JIYaVgcN-d8″ width=”620″ height=”360″]
Sometimes looking at the credits gives a good idea of when a movie might rise above its genre and storyline. Ricki and the Flash could have been an overly sentimental family drama that poured syrup more than develop its characters. However, with Jonathan Demme at the helm and the always reliable Diablo Cody writing the screenplay, this becomes a solid film which allows the protagonists to drive the plot and create our investment. The script also allows Meryl Streep to play a character that doesn’t involve putting on an accent for the week or crafting an over-the-top persona. It’s a human story containing the necessary roller coasters that come with life.
Diablo Cody’s screenplay is smart to not dial back the harsher elements of the story, including Ricki’s daughter dealing with a disastrous divorce. When it drops a bombshell early on, this is not done for cheap audience sympathy and rather to develop the characters and work them through the pains of this situation. Yet Cody also knows when to be appropriately subtle, including when examining why the marriage between Ricki and her husband fell apart. We get a sense of why it happened without the need to tell us, but it never turns Kevin Kline’s Pete nor his new wife into antagonists. Ricki is a complicated lead and it’s a character that the film has the tricky task of making sympathetic. How do you get the audience to root for a mother who walked out on her children and rarely looked back? This film succeeds, mainly because everyone is aware of her flaws, including Ricki herself.
Cody’s sense of humour is evident throughout portions of the film with Ricki readjusting to Midwestern life and dealing with the hassle of air travel. She also has some strong camaraderie with Rick Springfield’s Greg, though like the family dynamic, the film does not bottle the pain coming from their pairing. The heart of Ricki and the Flash is ultimately the title protagonist’s relationship with her daughter. The heartbreak, but also the good memories come flooding back upon their reunion and there’s a genuine connection between the two. This could be attributed to Meryl Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer playing the role of her on-screen offspring, but other films with lesser scripts have made members of the same acting family look like complete strangers.
Meryl Streep gives one of her better recent performances, showcasing the subtlety we had come to expect during her classic ‘70s and ‘80s era. She never goes overboard with Ricki’s more flashy eccentricities and her emotional scenes are effectively acted. Streep sings through a good majority of the film and while a couple of the performances could have been cut, she showcases a stronger stage presence in this film than she did in Into the Woods and certainly Mamma Mia. It’s also great to see Streep and Kevin Kline reunite, making one wish they had co-starred in far more films over the years. Mamie Gummer also shows promise in being a solid actress away from her mother’s shadow.
Ricki and the Flash is the sort of smaller studio picture that deserves more attention during the heated and crowded summer months. It tells a solid human story with the necessary quirks that come when extended relatives come together and it’s elevated by a very good script. Meryl Streep has been looked upon lately as an actress who gets nominated for awards for doing anything, but this is a performance that highlights a lot of her strengths. Pairing Streep with Diablo Cody’s dialogue and Jonathan Demme’s direction was a smart move that has resulted in a film with the necessary heart without going overboard. This is certainly a film that will play in rotation on the W Network for years, but it deserves to be seen.
Review By: Stefan Ellison
Saturday, August 1, 2015
The festival continues and so do the ear splitting buzz of air horns. The weather started out much nicer, a cool breeze with some cloud cover, foreshadowing the impending rain.
It was announced last minute that Action Bronson could not make it and Narcy with Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) would be replacing him in the lineup. Bronson tweeted, “I’m hoping one day to be let into Canada (because I did no wrong) so I can make it up to my fans who have been with me since the beginning.” Followed by a rallying tweet: “Montreal, Toronto START A FUCKING PETITION TO HAVE ME COME PLAY IF U REALLY WANT ME!!!!” Mos Def appeared on stage the night before with A Tribe Called Red so there is some speculation as to how last minute it actually was.
The Arkells played early on at the main stage plateau to a fresh-legged, red-eyed and bushy tailed crowd. The reception was admirable for the Hamilton boys and they definitely revved everyone’s engines for the day. Later, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals played a soulful set from the Riviere Stage to a crowd that was all too ready for them. The set started off with Harper solo on a lap guitar and escalated from there. The Innocent Criminals are a tight and well-rounded band that can read each other easily. They had a friendly and lively stage presence and the sounds of intricate bass lines mixed wonderfully with shouts and cheers from the crowd. Ben Harper can really rock out while sitting down.
Oliver Heldens conducted an overcast rave at the Piknik Electronik Stage that had all the children dancing. Rave music is the disco of my generation, twenty years from now you will all be wondering, “why did I even like that?” On my way to and from the stage, and just walking around during the day, I noticed that a lot more people seem to be getting taken away by paramedics or seeking medical attention than the first day.
This year Osheaga had to make a point of banning native headdresses as a fashion after controversies throughout the music festival scene last summer. They seem to have been replaced by the time-tested flower crown, as girls were hoisted up onto shoulders. If you ask me, and I’m aware you didn’t but still you’re reading this which means that you are at least interested in what I have to say, but “flower power” loses some of its zeal if its being manufactured and sold in an H&M storefront.
Over at the Vallee and Verte stages respectfully, Alvvays and Nas entertained the masses. Both sets were very similar if not identical to their Bluesfest performances in Ottawa at the beginning of the month. However, Nas really had a much bigger crowd and right as he was getting into the heat of his set the rain started. Sorry did I say rain? I meant to say monsoon. It rained so hard, sending everyone not equipped with a poncho into the woods looking for shelter under the trees. As festival workers were walking around selling thin sheets of plastic for ten bucks a pop, it was a highway robbery. But the rain failed to slow Nas or his crowd down, rather pumping them up even more. And the Mos Def made his second cameo of the festival busting out an impressive freestyle on stage with Nas.
As people navigated the muddy grounds, the rain slowed to a halt and everyone scavenged for any piece of dry land that they could find. Patrick Watson held the attention of the festival from the Riviere Stage with an extremely impressive set musically. He started alone ripping up a grand piano and ended with almost a full orchestra and choir on stage with him. Watson showed off his vocal range incredibly while harmonizing with a steel guitar.
Next up, Weezer. Now I have seen Weezer play many festivals before, the first time I covered them was Bluesfest a few years back, and I must say that their set at Osheaga was definitely the best I have seen them. The geek rockers came out to a fired up crowd, as they were definitely one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend. Rocking their iconic guitars, Rivers Cuomo’s covered in stickers like he was seventeen, though barely cracking a smile through the entire set. Cuomo’s performance was flashier than previous shows I have seen, in a good way. He had more fun with vocal parts and guitar solos. But while he brought his A game, his kids stole the show. Cuomo’s toddler aged daughter came out to and played piano in the song “Perfect Situation” and then his son rocked an inflatable guitar by his dad during “Back to the Shack” winning over the crowd as easily as if he had rigged a carnival game. How cool would it be if your dad was in Weezer? Their set ended, and the crowd went through the natural motion of calling the band back for an encore. They played “Buddy Holly” and ended with that thing where the whole band goes nuts banging away on the drum kit, excellent.
Fireworks marked the sky and the crowd grew restless for their second day’s main stage headliner, Kendrick Lamar. His performance was crowd rising but ultimately morally deficient. Especially compared to Nas, whose message is inspiring. He’s clearly a very popular artist with the kids these days, and while he acted humbled but I almost did not buy it, it was recited, you can see from our review of Lamar at WayHome he did the classic artist [insert your city here] speech, I know I’m being hard on the guy, but if Lamar is not careful he’ll find himself on the Kanye West side of the entertainer line, and the world needs another one of those like it needs another stupid reality TV show. Despite the shallow lyrics, Lamar had everyone within earshot dancing and (unfortunately) singing along, as their clothes and spirits were finally about dry. The “bad bitches” in the crowd clearly needed to express their appreciation for his art in a more… flashing their breasts kind of way. Lamar’s backing band was killer and his guitarist on point with the funk. Then, almost expectedly at this point, who did appear? None other than Mos Def! All in all it was undoubtedly a good show, but I said of the first night’s headliner, Florence and the Machine, that if she was the future of pop music I would be satisfied, Lamar’s popularity makes me fear for a world of bad bitches.
And the beautiful dichotomy of over-produced and under-appreciated music continues for one more day.
Shaun the Sheep Movie – Movie Review
Rating: A- (Great)[youtube id=”_Ub1XldP7Yc” width=”620″ height=”360″]
There are few animation studios as consistently strong as Aardman Animation. They have yet to make a project that is underwhelming and lacking in wit. This could be a case of the intense patience in working with stop-motion plastacene causing them to work even harder on the story, but their few computer animated efforts are also very good. With Shaun the Sheep Movie, directors/writers Mark Burton and Richard Starzak have crafted a very funny ode to silent films with humour that’s both intelligent and universal. Almost every frame is filled with delightful sight gags and pantomime acting from the animators.
It’s probably not surprising that Shaun the Sheep Movie is this charming and funny. He made a memorable impression in the Wallace & Gromit short film A Close Shave and his long-running television series is a delight. A lot of the story in the film is presented through the physical and visual, rather than the verbal. There is almost a Chaplin-esque feel to the way Burton and Starzak directs a lot of the set-pieces. Shaun’s animation deserves to be commended in how the animators know precisely when to have him on all fours or standing on his hind legs. These little decisions are all done because the plot requires it and then the appropriate joke is born out of these situations. Each sheep is animated differently and it’s easy to tell each one apart. Even the farmer, who mostly communicates with the occasional grunt, is given a full story-arc and development when away from his flock.
The humour is classic British wit with plenty of gags proving unpredictable, which results in heftier laughs. Each set-piece works as not only an elaborate and uproarious bit of comedy, but advances the story, too. There is not a single superfluous scene in the entirety of Shaun the Sheep Movie. The physical comedy works, because there are layers to the humour and it’s not simply pratfalls. Yet there are also simple gags that work exceptionally well, with a scene in an animal containment unit that gives even the bit part creatures personality and something funny to do. Each joke has a pay-off that makes the entire gag worthwhile and the timing to reach that is carefully orchestrated. Yet, despite the attention to detail in making sure the gags work, there is not an over-researched feel to them. Thus the characters become more than just little plastacene models, but actual believable figures in this English town and countryside.
One of the more pleasant aspects of Shaun the Sheep is its innocence and lack of cynicism. Shaun keeps an optimistic attitude even as things are at their lowest and that’s an admirable quality in a protagonist. He’s separated from the rest of the sheep a lot of the time, but the screenplay finds funny things for them to do, with the smallest one becoming a stand-out character. Bitzer the farm dog’s own escapades are similarly humourous with the animators choosing the perfect reactions to the chaos that ensues. There are also small details in the background that easily elicit smiles, even something as simple as a Blue Peter pin on Shaun’s bag. The imperfections that occasionally come with stop-motion animation also adds to the film’s warmness when one sees fingerprints on the characters.
There is endless charm to Shaun the Sheep Movie, which is never surprising with the creative team involved. This is a glorious return to silent films and does an even better job than Minions of giving a character accustomed to bit roles a big feature-length starring vehicle. It does not simply rely on cuteness to get by and thus gives the final film a universal appeal. The comedy featured in this film is the sort that will travel to any age and any region with Mark Burton and Richard Starzak having a clear understanding of what almost everyone enjoys without feeling the need to pander. Shaun the Sheep Movie is a legitimately smart and witty film that understands how to build jokes upon jokes. Yet there’s a sweetness underneath that makes this more than just a basic gag fest. It is certainly one of the more endearing treats of the summer season that actually has more character development, excitement and joy than a lot of the big-budget blockbuster spectacles we’ve seen this year.
Review By: Stefan Ellison