New out on DVD/Blu-ray for Tuesday January 22.
End of Watch
Shot documentary-style, this film follows the daily grind of two young police officers in LA who are partners and friends, and what happens when they encounter criminal forces greater than themselves.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, End of Watch is a compelling and harsh look into the lives of LA cops who work in the nasty part of town. They have to deal with all sorts of crazy stuff and the real dregs of society. It's not pretty and I always had a sense of foreboding as to how this story was going to play out.
The film is shot with that hand held style that I normally don't care for too much, but here it is used effectively and gives it somewhat of a kinetic energy that is exciting to witness. There will inevitably be comparisons to the film Training Day with Denzel Washington, but I thought that film was a bit overrated. I preferred End of Watch.
This is a really solid film filled with excellent performances. If you enjoy gritty cop dramas that don't pull any punches then you are definitely going to want to check out End of Watch.
Searching for Sugar Man
This film tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest 70's rock icon who never was. Discovered in a Detroit bar in the late 60's by two celebrated producers struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics, they recorded an album which they believed would secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumours of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon. The film follows the story of two South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation leads them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez.
This amazing and fascinating film is nominated for Best Documentary - Feature Length at this year's Academy Awards and I sincerely hope it wins. It is easily one of the best documentaries that I have seen in awhile and one that is very uplifting and inspiring. It is such an incredible tale that a man with this much talent could be completely unknown in the U.S. and relegated to working as a construction labourer for decades all while in South Africa he has become a revered icon and his fame there is completely unbeknownst to him. This truly is an astounding story and one that I think should be shared. I loved the samples of his music that are played throughout the film as well, he is like a cross between Bob Dylan and Donovan.
An absolutely wonderful film that I highly recommend, I urge everyone to go Searching for Sugar Man. It's a real gem!
Also out this week is the action sci-fi Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, the comedy For a Good Time, Call... with Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller and Justin Long, the action flick Death Race 3: Inferno with Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames, the French romantic comedy Love Lasts Three Years, and the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story.
Blast From the Past
I have come to the end of my lists of my top ten films of every year that I have been watching movies. My top ten of 2012 will be revealed closer to Oscar time when I make my picks and predictions. Here now are my top ten films of 2011.
10. Super 8 - Set in 1979, the film tells the story of a group of teenagers who are filming their own Super 8 movie in a small town when a train derails, unleashing a dangerous entity into their town. J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, TV's Lost) directed this fun science fiction film that is clearly an homage to Steven Spielberg and films of the 70's and 80's like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I love this genre and he did a bang up job of taking me back to my childhood when I would look upon these films with wonder and excitement. This is a really fun and entertaining movie and I sincerely hope that we get more films like it in the future.
9. The Descendants - George Clooney gives a tremendous performance as a land baron trying to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident and is placed on life support. This was one of the best roles of his career thus far and it's a crying shame that he was snubbed for the Best Actor Oscar last year. Directed by Alexander Payne, who has yet to make a movie that I didn't like, The Descendants is a sometimes funny, but often touching and sad tale of a man trying to make sense of a horrible situation. This really is a wonderful, heartwarming film. I loved it!
8. Attack the Block - This ultra-cool British monster movie is about a teenage street gang in London who have to defend themselves from predatory alien invaders. It is the directorial debut of Joe Cornish who worked alongside Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) in order to get this unique and original film off the ground. I would say that it is probably the best debut sci-fi film from a director since Neill Blomkamps's District 9. Attack the Block is a funny, hyper-kinetic thrill ride filled with cool creature effects and plenty of action. This one is a ton of fun and fans of this particular genre need to seek it out immediately. So cool!
7. Moneyball - Baseball is a particular passion of mine and I usually love well done films about America's favourite pastime. Moneyball is one of the best films I've ever seen about the world of baseball. Brad Pitt is excellent as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane who, with a very limited budget, attempted to assemble a competitive team back in 2002 by using a revolutionary means of scouting and analyzing players known as sabermetrics. Jonah Hill is also great in a supporting role as Beane's assistant GM Peter Brand. There were a couple of moments during this film that had me cheering. This is a great film whether you are a baseball geek or not, but it is even better if you do happen to love the game. I loved Moneyball!
6. Incendies - This incredibly powerful Canadian film follows a twin brother and sister as they journey to the Middle-East in order to unravel the mystery of their immigrant mother's life after she dies from a stroke. The majority of the story is told in a series of flashbacks as more and more secrets are revealed. The ending of this film was literally like a punch to the gut when you realize what has occurred. Don't let anyone ruin the ending for you as it is some powerful and disturbing stuff. This is an amazing film that I won't soon forget and I urge any fan of foreign cinema to seek it out. Unbelievable!
5. I Saw the Devil - I am going to warn people right now that this is definitely not a film for everyone. This Korean thriller is a sick, twisted, brutally violent film that is sure to shock some and repulse others. I don't want to reveal a lot about the plot other than to say that it is about a secret service agent's determined hunt for a notorious serial killer. It is filled with loads of tension and suspense and I was absolutely riveted from start to finish, in between my gasps of shock and horror of course. This amazing film was directed by Kim Ji-woon, who just made The Last Stand with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he does a fabulous job creating easily the best serial killer thriller that I have seen in years. If you are not squeamish at all then you just have to seek out I Saw the Devil. *Shudder*
4. Midnight in Paris - This delightful and whimsical tale is one of Woody Allen's best movies in years and was totally deserving of the Oscar it won for Best Original Screenplay. Owen Wilson plays an unfulfilled screenwriter vacationing in Paris who likes to romanticize the past so much that one night he finds himself being magically transported back to the 1920s where he consorts with many of his idols such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter and Ernest Hemingway. I loved everything about this funny and charming film and found it to be wonderful, lighthearted entertainment. I think even non Woody fans can enjoy this one. Check it out!
3. A Separation - This film focuses on an Iranian middle-class couple who separate, and the conflicts that arise when the husband hires a lower-class care worker for his elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. This incredible film took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and it totally deserved it. It literally drops you into these people's lives and culture and is a film that is riveting, dramatic and rife with tension and suspense. A Separation is a film that is morally complex, but also one that is filled with a tremendous amount of humanity and depth. I can't possibly recommend this film enough to anyone who appreciates great cinema and storytelling. I absolutely loved A Separation.
2. Drive - Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks, Drive is a modern day film noir about a stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. I found Drive to be a pulse-pounding and taut thriller, and I appreciated the deliberate pacing of the film that built the tension steadily as the story progressed. Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) did an outstanding job directing Drive with so much style. I love the choices he made visually as well as the great soundtrack which had a retro, 80ish style synth-pop feel to it. Look, the bottom line is that I could probably go on and on about how great this film is but that would get really long winded so I am just going to urge people who really appreciate cinema to add Drive to your must watch list. It's that good!
1. Hugo - This beautifully crafted film from director Martin Scorsese is one of the most magical and poignant family films of the past decade. It is also a passionate love letter to the history of film and captures the magic of the moving image. Hugo tells the story of a curious 12-year-old boy who lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station and the mystery he begins to unravel regarding the identity of a toy shop owner played wonderfully by Ben Kingsley. As a noted film historian, Scorsese clearly connected with the source material and as a cinephile myself, this aspect of the film is what resonated the strongest for me. Hugo is an exhilarating piece of storytelling that further stoked my passion for classic cinema and it is one that I would want to share with anyone who feels the same way. This is an exquisite example of movie making magic. A pure joy!
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