INTERVIEW: Debra Granik, director of Stray Dog

If you don’t think someone fresh off an Oscar nomination would spend five years to follow her critically acclaimed fictional narrative with the first feature-length documentary of her career, you don’t know Debra Granik. When I interviewed her back in 2010 in support of Winter’s Bone, she was already talking about documentary observation as being key to her work. After all, that movie and her debut Down to the Bone both utilized real people from the towns in which she filmed for visual and contextual authenticity. One of those locals—Ronnie…

Read More

REVIEW: Stray Dog [2015]

“It’s veterans helping veterans. Who else do we got?” Five years after writer/director Debra Granik‘s sophomore effort Winter’s Bone earned four Oscars nominations including Best Picture, she returns to the big screen with a documentary spawned from her experience filming in Missouri. Far from a novice to the genre-she lensed a documentary called Thunder in Guyana before making her feature length debut Down to the Bone-it may still seem strange she’d follow an acclaimed work of fiction with an uncensored look at an old Vietnam War vet. But as she’d…

Read More

REVIEW: Beneath the Harvest Sky [2014]

“I’ll figure it out” A movie doesn’t always have to be one hundred percent unique to prove effective if those involved propel it above cliché through authenticity. Writer/directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly‘s Beneath the Harvest Sky is a prime example, seemingly familiar from frame one and yet still resonate. You have your down-on-its-luck town on the Maine/Canadian border, its thick-as-thieves high school friends (one a bruiser the world dismisses, the other a kid with promise) planning a post-graduate escape, and the rampant drug trade threatening to consume them both…

Read More

Picking Winners at the 86th Annual Academy Awards

The Oscars are generally quite boring, since we often know well in advance what is going to win Best Picture, Director, etc. But this year? Not so much. Sure, there are heavy favorites — see below. But it is entirely possible there will be some real surprises. Of course, I could be completely wrong. But if I am, hopefully Bill Altreuter and Jared Mobarak will be right. And away we go … —Chris Best ActorBruce Dern: NebraskaChiwetel Ejiofor: 12 Years a SlaveMatthew McConaughey: Dallas Buyers ClubLeonardo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall StreetChristian Bale: American Hustle…

Read More

REVIEW: Out of the Furnace [2013]

“Let me make this right” I think Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace has been given a bad rap by the critical world. It’s slow, laborious, and perhaps not possessed with the freshest of plots, but there is still a palpable power driving it forward courtesy of fantastic performances and a starkly authentic depiction of a forsaken region not unlike Winter’s Bone’s Ozarks. Whether it’s the gradual shutdown of a blue-collar Braddock, PA way beyond its prime in today’s America or the backwoods justice of a lawless portion of New…

Read More

TIFF13 REVIEW: 2013 Short Cuts Canada Programmes

Programme 1 A far cry from the documentary short Joda—a visual letter to Jafar Panahi—that was included in the TIFF Short Cuts Canada Programme last year, graphic designer turned filmmaker Theodore Ushev’s Gloria Victoria is all about the visceral and aural capabilities of film without something as unnecessary as words. Full of sumptuous textured layers formed by sketch drawings, Russian Constructivist elements, what I believe were faces from Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, and more, the rising crescendo of Shostakovich’s “Invasion” from Symphony No. 7 helps spur on an emotive war in…

Read More

Picking Winners at the 85th Annual Academy Awards

Supporting Actress:Amy Adams: The MasterSally Field: LincolnAnne Hathaway: Les MisérablesHelen Hunt: The SessionsJacki Weaver: Silver Linings Playbook William Altreuter: It often seems to me that the Best Supporting categories are where the most interesting things are to be found in the Academy Award nominations, and this year is proving me right. What we often get—especially with Best Actress in a Supporting Role—are performances that really carry the movie, even though we tend not to notice. We also get actresses showing us what they can do against type, and that display of craft and professionalism is frequently rewarded. The…

Read More

TIFF12 REVIEW: Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

“Is that song really playing?” I know it’s misguided, but my interest in David O. Russell films kind of ended after The Fighter. This was a guy who used to pave his own path with challenging material and comedies that made you think. It’s not even that I disliked his true-life boxing tale—actually I loved it. But where was the eccentricity? Where was the promise of subversive insanity that his sadly unfinished Nailed possessed? He showed he had the skills for the big time and I’m ecstatic he now has…

Read More

REVIEW: The Hunger Games [2012]

“Thank you for your consideration” Underdogs thrive on the ability to retain hope in a world forever shoving them into a corner without the reality of upward mobility or a true chance at overall social change. When they start to believe their numbers can actually overcome that adversity, however, the ruling class must take notice and ready for a fight they may not win. Rebellion will forever be a threat whether one has been squashed in the past or not since you can only kick the underprivileged masses down so…

Read More

REVIEW: X-Men: First Class [2011]

“Mutant and proud” The new world order begins and sides are chosen as Matthew Vaughn—five years late—finally gets his crack at the world of Marvel mutants. X-Men: First Class arrives to tell us the origins of what we’ve seen in the original trilogy, retreating back into the 40s, paralleling of the Holocaust with the world’s inevitable reaction to a new breed of evolution and how the oppressed become the oppressors to survive. It’s a very fine line between good and evil, right and wrong, retribution and revenge. Charles Xavier hones…

Read More

The 83rd Oscars recap through tweets …

@jaredmobarak • Oscar time … congrats to The King’s Speech … why bother with the show when everyone thinks they know the winner? The 83rd Annual Academy Awards ceremony was quite possibly its worst incarnation the past decade. And things finally seemed to be going the right way. Hugh Jackman was fun; Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were lukewarm, but the show was fun; and Neil Patrick Harris is Neil Patrick Harris. NPH can do no wrong. Much in that vein, I thought the pairing of James Franco and Anne…

Read More