Category Archives: film

Why don’t Canadian films LOOK Canadian? What makes a film truly Canadian?

What do we expect from Canadian movies? I feel like this is a question we Canadians should be asking, but end up overlooking entirely. I’ve brought this up in previous posts, but I’m going to bring it up again because I feel it’s important for us to challenge ourselves as Canadian citizens: Why aren’t we watching Canadian films? Arts contribute a large part in creating a sense of cultural pride, and films are a huge part of that, but how often do we watch our own films? More importantly, why don’t Canadian films LOOK like they’re Canadian? Why are more and more Canadian movies pretending to be American? You guys know what I’m talking about.

In Canadian films, the characters never talk about where they come from or mention where they are going. The very thought of dialogue saying “I’m from Alberta” or “I’m going to Newmarket” never crosses a writer’s mind or if it does the producers will remove it. No one in our films is reading The Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star (in one film, a bundle of newspapers being delivered was turned upside down to avoid revealing its name), no radio announcer is ever to say, “This is the CBC.” The police are seldom identified by their actual uniforms and the cars they use, no politicians are ever mentioned, no hospitals, schools or public buildings are identified, and seldom a maple leaf flag is seen flying. Contrast this with what we see in American and Québec films. Their filmmakers are delighted to be proud of their places and their society and put it naturally on the screen. Montreal lives constantly as do other places in the province used as locations; when people go abroad and say that they are from Canada the usual response is “Oh! From Montreal?” No one ever asks if a Canadian is from Toronto because no one has ever recognized it on the screen, even though they may have seen flashes of it. The CN Tower should be as well-known as the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building, but it is not and the way we hide everything it never will be. Even a silly but outrageously black Vampire comedy from Québec called Karmina gives us a customs inspector saying “Welcome to Canada” and when money changes hands the $5 bill is clearly Canadian, not hidden and not American — as it usually is.

This is quoted from the article titled “Canadian Films: What Are We to Make of Them?” by Gerald Pratley. Actually, 75% of this post will be directly quoted from Pratley, as I think it addresses most of the problems with Canadian films today and gives us a good look at the reality of why the Canadian film industry is lacking identity (and dignity).

Today it is hard to avoid being suffocated in flags and dreary speeches from Ottawa exuding patriotism and telling us what a wonderful country we live in.  Back in the past we let the Americans celebrate their ‘freedom’ four days after Canada Day — we had fish to catch and lakes to swim in, the CBC to listen to, Export A cigarettes to smoke, Maclean’s and the Toronto Star to read — or the daily papers of other cities; and no one twisted themselves into knots wondering who they were and where they were. When therefore, our film producers came on the scene during the fifties they were afraid that such symbols, references and practices, even the people themselves, would be dull subjects to form the basis of profitable movies. Our young independents of those days were left behind, and our English-track producers, the so-called big players, thinking then as they do now, only in terms of the US market, adapted the “international look” — meaning the American look — and stripped away any references to Canada substituting Americanisms instead and passing off Canadian places as being American. This led to a certain amount of public criticism forcing producers to drop overt American references leaving their films to take place in “never-never” lands.

To this day producers are resolutely opposed to making English-speaking Canadian films contain anything that might I’ve away their origin. And have they found success as a result of this in selling their films to the US? Absolutely not, but they never learn and continue to deny us the very trappings of life which make us what we are. The Americans would never sell themselves out as our film and television producers do.

Those moviegoers who do see Canadian pictures must be mystified as to why American players are involved particularly as we have so many good actors of our own who are mostly under-employed.

There are continual complaints being vented by the ‘cultural activists’ (kind of like myself I guess… whoops) about why our films have such a tiny audience. They blame Hollywood for taking up so much screen time leaving us with only 3 per cent. They seem to forget that if the cinemas did not have American films to show they would be forced to close down, putting thousands of employees out of work, because we cannot fill the screens.

There is no joy in creativity for these Canadian producers, no satisfaction in putting Canada on the screen. Their rewards come purely in financial gains. The business of film is one of greed; soulless and without vision, our identity lost and national revelations entirely absent. And now a competitor is on the way in the form of Lionsgate Films of Vancouver. They have announced their intention of making Canadian films; they will no doubt produce films in Canada but it is unlikely they will be about Canada…

Our producers, who are only in film as a business to make money rather than to put their country on the screen, use our small market as a reason to concentrate on pseudo-American films they are certain will show profits from the US market. They seldom do, but producers never learn. To spend more than these sums on a truly Canadian picture is to invite financial loss unless it finds wide public acceptance in this country.

I personally think that what the nonexistent Canadian film industry needs is the right people to make genuinely well done and entertaining Canadian films. If you look over at Québec, they’re not making Wannabe American films, they’re making great Québec  films and people are actually going out to watch them. The Québecers are producing more successful films (financially speaking) because they aren’t pretending to be something they aren’t. And I think it’d be the same deal here in the English-Speaking Canadian provinces, if only there were more producers willing to take a risk. Playing it safe by trying to produce American-like films has always been the demise of the Canadian film industry… We just need the right filmmakers to create genuinely Canadian films that are actually entertaining to watch and that people would want to spend their money on to go see it in theatres.

Maple Syrup does not make a film Canadian. Sticking  a moose in a scene does not make it Canadian. The people of Canada need to be able to relate to these films if we want the people of Canada to be proud to say “This is a Canadian film.” I don’t think I can personally relate to having a moose pass by casually in my backyard.

We do need our films to address the many social issues within Canada, such as the “multicultural” question and the Aboriginals. However, the reason the American film industry is so successful is that it also produces numerous “feel-good” movies that people can relate to. Why don’t we ever see a romantic comedy movie about a couple who live in Toronto? Or a drama based in Vancouver?

So what should we expect to see? Is it too much, too narrow, too parochial, too nationalistic, to then expect that a Canadian film, financed by us, by the state, should be recognizably set in this country and identified as such, written by Canadians, and portrayed by Canadian actors? Many are, but the matter of where they take place is usually blank. The reward of self-recognition among audiences is rare.

What makes a film “Canadian” is not the fact that is was directed by a Canadian, filmed on location in Canada, or that it contains Canadian actors – what makes a film truly worthy of the title “Canadian” is one that is not afraid to reveal that it IS, in fact, Canadian. One that proudly shows off the silhouettes of the Canadian Rockies, the mix of nature and city life in Vancouver, the skyscrapers – the CN tower itself – in Toronto, the european feel of Montreal, The Globe and Mail newspapers, the “Welcome to Canada” sign. A truly Canadian film isn’t hesitant to contain a scene with the Canadian flag itself god damn it.

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The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great Gatsby is rich with spectacle and makes for an incredibly beautiful and emotional film. It’s extravagant characters drive the film with their unattainable and lavish desires: be it an epic love, longing for an idealized lifestyle, or simply to be filthy rich. For Gatsby, it’s all of the above and more.

Based on  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of the same name, the film follows narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Macguire) as he spends a summer in New York. Then there is his pampered and air headed cousin Daisy (Carrey Mulligan); her jackass of a husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton);  and Daisy’s old-flame, the mysterious and ridiculously rich Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby is deeply vulnerable and ruthlessly ambitious. He has created a false reality for himself, making himself appear to the public to be someone he isn’t, resulting in various rumours and stories being made up about him. Moreover, he has projected all he ever does and creates, his life’s goals and ambitions towards his lost love Daisy.

Gatsby has built an empire of excess in her honor: a mansion that boasts legendary parties as seeped in alcohol as they are in affectation in the hopes of luring her into his web. It is in the attainment of her that he believes he can find peace. But there is no peace to be had, because Daisy, like the false version of himself that he presents to the world, is nothing more than a self-created illusion. Carraway calls Gatsby “the most hopeful man he has ever met,” but really Gatsby is willfully blind and dangerously covetous. – Roth Cornet

The film itself is as gorgeous as the cast that populates it. The surrealistically beautiful aesthetic reflects the idea that the dream of the 1920’s never really existed and that the illusion of its “greatness” only served to mask the achingly empty nature of its glut.

At first I really thought the 3D aspect of it ruined the atmosphere and aesthetic of the movie, and that it was completely unnecessary, but as the film went on I realized it never overly detracted from the overall feel. In certain moments it not only supports the aesthetic, but solves the issue of creating a sense of both movement and immersion.

The use of the medium is one more way in which Lurhmann, in his approach, mimics Gatsby’s unrelenting self-indulgence. Our senses are overloaded and inundated with color, movement, sound, music, and text from the source material which has been stretched across the screen and stereoscopically brought forward.  It all moves so fast and yet leaves us feeling so bereft. – Roth Cornet

Like the film’s visual palate, the character’s emotions are heightened. They don’t love in a steady manner; they need with an anguished desperation, ever trying to fill an infinite void.

Yet their suffering never fully lands. We aren’t able to connect with these characters long enough, or deeply enough, to invest in them. Add to that, their hopes are too selfish and too delusional to root for. That sense of disconnect could be read as one of the film’s central criticisms, or it could be read as its primary strength. For, ultimately, Lurhmann perfectly captures the inherently hallow nature of these people and their soulless lives.

Gatsby has built an empire of excess in her honor: a mansion that boasts legendary parties as seeped in alcohol as they are in affectation in the hopes of luring her into his web. It is in the attainment of her that he believes he can find peace. But there is no peace to be had, because Daisy, like the false version of himself that he presents to the world, is nothing more than a self-created illusion. Carraway calls Gatsby “the most hopeful man he has ever met,” but really Gatsby is willfully blind and dangerously covetous.  – Roth Cornet

Fitzgerald’s novel has been notoriously challenging to adapt. The nuance of the tale is difficult to capture on film. The sense of the pulsing life and energy of the era was entirely lost in the 1974’s inert and mopey version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. It’s likely too early to say if Lurhmann’s is the one that cracked the Gatsby code, but he is, in many ways, the perfect director to tackle this story.

As mentioned, his frantic aesthetic is ideally suited to capture the spinning-out-of-control tone. Additionally, the majority of his films center on a pair of star-crossed lovers. He seems interested in characters that are focused entirely on what are, ultimately, unattainable goals and a drive to propel themselves past the restrictions of birth. In many ways, it’s like Lurhmann has been practising his entire career for Gatsby.

The soundtrack. To this film. My god. Many have expressed to me how they think the music should have captured the time era of the film more, but I completely disagree and think the choice of music was brilliant. The anachronistic music and contemporary songs does much more than merely “include” modern audiences. It highlights the timeless lessons of this film. Jay Z was in many ways the perfect musical collaborator for Gatsby. Not only does the soundtrack work as a driving source of propulsion for the story, but the artist’s Big Pimpin’ is the contemporary metaphor for all that Gatsby stood for: chest pounding, posing, newly moneyed showboating and rampant, substance-less overindulgence.

The performances in this film were fantastic, the strongest being Mulligan’s and DiCaprio’s by far.

Ultimately, this film, like Gatsby himself, visually embodies American excess. And yet Gatsby, the character and the film, is stunning – a seductive thing of beauty.
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Why have we played Host & Mistress to so many Hollywood big boys? Why don’t Canadians watch their own films?

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Imagine if Canada created a Hollywood North. Indeed, Canada’s first response to the primacy of Hollywood was creating a Hollywood North; it’s just that Hollywood in the States received a head start. Many of us are quick to call Canadian films “amateur”, but in reality several Canadian filmmakers excel at creating incredible films. D.W. Griffith, an American director best known for the film Birth of a Nation, once said, “You in Canada should not be dependent on either the United States or Great Britain. You should have your own films and exchange them with those of other countries. You can make them just as well in Toronto as in New York.” Then why are we so quick to assume that Canadian films are amateur? Why don’t Canadians watch Canadian films?

It was with no small amount of sadness that I watched the mini drama that unfolded over Ben Affleck’s Academy Award winning speech for Argo. For those who are unaware, former Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, expected and ultimately received some mention of Canada’s role in the story Affleck was telling. When Affleck did mention Canada there was a good deal of cheering on Twitter from Canadians (‘OMG, he said Canada!‘). What it all meant to me was that Canada still has little culture of our own. We are still looking outside of our borders for legitimacy. This is true to varying degrees throughout the arts, but is especially true in the case of film.

           The film industry in Canada is a multi-billion dollar industry employing more than 100,000 people, with foreign production accounting for a large part of that. Still Canada seems to have a surplus of film talent, including many Academy Award winners and we do make films domestically – quite a lot of them actually. The problem is that while Canadians cheer when Ben Affleck says Canada, they do not know or care about Canadian film.

For those of you who live in the suburbs, don’t you ever wonder why there are next to no Canadian films being screened at local movie theatres chains? Living in Mississauga myself, I have yet to see a single Canadian movie played locally. The theatres in Mississauga, as well as those in the nearby suburbs, show only those productions coming from American, and occasionally from British, studios. To see a Canadian film, people in the suburbs have to make an hour long commute to Toronto, spending even more money on bus tickets. It’s difficult enough as it is for those living in the suburbs, but I can only imagine the struggle someone in a rural area would have to go through to commute to see the work of their fellow citizens – it must be nearly impossible. As a result, young people are growing up on a foreign entertainment industry that dominates their own country. With all these problems, you’d wonder what was wrong with the Canadian film industry…

The answer is nothing. Canada’s film industry produces several fantastic films a year. However, there may be outside factors playing into the fact that not many Canadians watch their own films. Being aware of how Hollywood got a head start would probably help us understand why Canada fell behind in the production of films and why American films dominate. Canada was slow in entering the film industry for several reasons. At the time when Hollywood was rising, there were no large cities in Canada. This meant that there was no audience for their films. Then no one wanted to invest money into Canadian films. Canadians have been known to be more careful with their money; it’s the Americans who are the risk-takers. Lastly, there existed no national live theatre yet, like Stratford.

If you think about the average budget for an American film, roughly 120 to 200 million dollars, and compare it to the amount Telefilm Canada distributes amongst numerous Canadians directors annually, 110 million dollars, you can see why it’s a much harder task to create a Canadian film. On top of this, the American film studios spend several millions of dollars on advertising their films, which is a huge advantage because it gets a large amount of people to actually watch their films. Unfortunately, since Canadian movies do not have that advantage, most Canadians go simply unaware of the Canadian films that do exist so they will not go and see it.

The American film industry also received a huge head start and advantage because of the world wars – European film studios were bombed during the wars, so American films filled the gap. American film studios gain access to a lot more money, and especially in these days since they hold the reigns on these huge corporations such as Time Warner, Sony, and others controlling much of the media, they obtain the extra money needed to spend on advertising. The U.S. enjoys a huge cultural influence market and has a large population– so mass amounts of people paid to go see the American movies and that meant that the studios rained money again to make bigger movies. Their diverse culture has also always been a big advantage to them, seeing as they had to make more accessible movies with simple plots and universal themes, and this attracted a wide variety of people, especially immigrants (the magic of American films is simply that they make films that everyone can relate to). Last, and most importantly, is that the Hollywood studios were organized into the Major Motion Picture Association and that means they work together to promote their films, to set up American movie chains in other countries and to distribute their films globally.

So it’s not so much that Canadian films aren’t well done, or that Canadians are simply uninterested in their own films – it’s more than that. The much larger institution backing this up, making sure the American movies are globally dominating the film industry, is to blame. When it comes down to the actual films that Canada is making, they are incredibly well done. Every year, Canadian films find a spot in Oscar nominations. Not amateur at all.

“From the Americans’ perspective, this is a huge market and they don’t want to give it up,” says Lindsay Gaughn of Dynamics Professional Videosystems. The company, in which he works in the sales department, is based in Mississauga, Ontario, one of the few Canadian film distributors. Gaughn points his finger at the ownership of that industry. “It depends on the distribution systems. Right now it seems to be controlled south of the border.” In fact, he notes that American companies control 95% of film distribution in Canada. Without Canadian films being distributed to theatres, its unlikely that many will specifically request them.

Matthew Ridell, a Ryerson student like myself, says he’s never seen a Canadian movie. “I don’t think people are informed enough to think ‘I want to see this movie because it’s Canadian and it interests me.’ Ridell feels that as long as advertising and publicity of such films are low, “I don’t think it’s ever going to work.” Another Ryerson student, Sara Marks, says she can’t recall ever seeing a full length Canadian feature film either. She thinks Canada is destined to do poorly in film because the population isn’t densely concentrated. In other countries, showing movies in a few urban centres would make them available to nearly the entire population. “If we send them [Canadian movies] over to Britain, the European market is huge. With Canada, it’s a bit hard because we’re so widely spread out.” She believes that Canadian content rulings, such as those imposed on radio and television stations, might be helpful. However, Marks can’t see the industry watchdog, the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission), having the money to expand its operations. “Like the National Film Board, their funding has been going down. It’s not really fair, but with health care going down it only makes sense to cut that too.”

Gaughn reminds us that the Canadian predicament is not seen in most other nations. “In certain countries like France they have a strict policy,” Gaughn notes, in reference to national content restrictions. He also gives some support to the notion of Canadian content regulations. This might force the cinemas to do the work to pick up a greater number of Canadian films, Marks thinks.

He finds Canada’s current method of dealing with low national content federal funding for certain films ineffective. Gaughn sees Telefilm, the federal agency that dispenses funding, as a biased and exclusionary method of promoting film. “The problem with publicly funded films,” he says, “is that they are invariably safe and unchallenging. The downside is that you don’t get good films.” Gaughn believes that the industry should be more market driven, with funding incentives given to films that seem capable of making money. “I think Bruce MacDonald made his first film, Roadkill, with very little public funding,” he says.

But Gaughn can’t see a political move to improve the chances of Canadian films anytime soon. And he can’t see any American acceptance of such a move. U.S. companies make a large amount of money in Canada, and tend to consider it part of their domestic market. “They won’t give up their golden egg without a fight,” he says.

The main problem is that it’s hard to persuade Canadians to watch their own films. In Peter Howell’s Toronto Star article, he states, “We Canadians enjoy making fun of how mild and self-deprecating we are on the world stage, but it’s a pity that many of us actually believe the joke. Nowhere is this defeatist attitude more evident than in our collective approach to our country’s films.” He goes on to talk about how Martin Knelman reported the facts and arguments of Starlight seeking CRTC muscle to force big cable operators Rogers, Shaw and Bell into providing the newcomer first-tier channel status. This sought-after “mandatory carriage” ruling, which the CRTC will consider in late April, would cost each Canadian cable subscriber just 45 cents per month on his or her bill. The money would also be used to fund between eight to 12 new features per year. “I think the idea is good and necessary (so does the Star) to support, promote and develop a domestic film industry that is forever in the shadow of the Hollywood giants. Yet the cable biggies are opposing it, for reasons succinctly described as “greed and control.”

It’s rather disheartening to see these prominent Canadians having to do a sales job to convince their fellow Canucks that the country’s films are worth watching. (I should note at this point that it’s mostly English Canadians who require the persuading, since Quebecers loyally support their province’s French-language productions.)

The irony of it all is that moviegoers outside Canada don’t require arm-twisting to see our movies. Canadian productions are actually gaining in popularity in the U.S. and overseas. There’s no stigma attached to them outside our borders.

You can see this at the Academy Awards, as mentioned above, where Canadian movies have landed a coveted Best Foreign Language Film nomination the past three years running: Rebelle this year, Monsieur Lazhar in 2012 and Incendies in 2011. This is over and above the regular love the Academy shows our NFB, which over the years has received 72 Oscar nominations, with 12 wins.

So what’s going on Canada? Everyone else is watching our films except us. Weird, eh?

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Here is a list of great films you probably thought weren’t Canadian but are:

Mama (2013) directed by Andres Muschietti

Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006) directed by Eric Canuel

Chloe (2009) directed by Atom Egoyan

One Week (2008) directed by Michael McGowan

Childstar (2004) directed by Don McKellar

Juno (2007) directed by Jason Reitman

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) directed by Edgar Wright

Passchendaele (2008) directed by Paul Gross

If you call yourself Canadian, you should go watch them.

 

PS: And isn’t it funny how so many American films are shot in Vancouver and Toronto? I’ll be writing more on this topic soon, so stay tuned…

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Les Miserables (2012)

I’m going to be 100% honest here. I hate musicals. I don’t like when I’m watching a movie, and I get so into the story, and then out of left field someone starts singing and then a few others start singing and next thing you know everyone is all singing along to the same song that so happens to relate perfectly with what’s going on and all dancing to the exact same choreography and… just no. I hate musicals. Always have. Always will –

Scratch that. I don’t know if it’s because Les Miserables is the exception or what, but I thoroughly enjoyed this film… and the ENTIRE film is a musical.

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Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption-a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever. In December 2012, the world’s longest-running musical brings its power to the big screen in Tom Hooper’s sweeping and spectacular interpretation of Victor Hugo’s epic tale. – (C) Universal

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Les Miserables is a true work of art and there are so many aspects as to why that is.

The music. Straight off the bat, this film couldn’t have possibly been as incredible as it was if the music wasn’t on par. The music sets the entire tone, feel, and atmosphere of the movie and – well, it’s a musical.

The cinematography was wonderfully done overall with absolutely breathtaking images.

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The story. It’s the story of Les Mesirables by Victor Hugo so there’s no question that the story was something special. I personally believe the best stories are the kind that make you feel something, and I mean truly and fully cause you to experience a deep human emotion. Les Mesirables does exactly this.

And last but most certainly not least, the acting. Was. Impeccable.

Hugh Jackman – Magnificent.

Anne Hathaway – Incredible.

Amanda Seyfried – Wondrous.

Eddie Redmayne – Fantastic.

Samantha Barkes – Wow.

Helena Bonham Carter – She’s Helena Bonham Carter.

Sasha Baron Cohen – Awesome.

The entire cast – Ridiculous. Ly. Perfect.

Wait, rewind. Minus Russel Crowe. I’m just going to have to call him out on it – he’s not that great. Worse actually. He kind of sucks. He can sing, I’ll give him that. But I didn’t feel anything when he was on screen. I understand his character is supposed to be an emotionless man but he was still supposed to be the villain and villains are expected (to some degree) to leave an impression on the audience as this terrible monster or what have you. Everytime Crowe was on screen, I got bored. And actually yawned. He stuck out like a sore thumb within this cast.

Harsh, I know. But it’s the sad truth.

Overall though, Les Miserables is a true work of art and an outstanding achievement in cinema!

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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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Everyone of us is a little fucked up mentally. But Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) are two crazy people (quite literally) who are in weird situations. Pat has lost everything – his house, his job, his wife. He’s moved back in with his parents (played by Jacki Weaver and Robert DeNiro.) And he’s vowed to turn his life around and do anything to get his wife back. Then when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with troubles of her own, things get even weirder. And complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll return the favour. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond grows between them, and silver linings appear in both their lives. ‘

Actors Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence deserve a round of applause for their incredible performances in this movie. They both play people who have mental disabilities, albeit different kinds, and they do it convincingly. Cooper is the film’s greatest surprise – he evinces his character’s manic episodes with just the right amount of panic, fear and stress without ever overplaying his hand. However, it’s Lawrence’s turn that’ll have you talking as you exit the theatre. The young actress plays her character with an engaging aggressiveness that lets her dominate every scene she’s in, whether she’s wildly charging out of the side of the screen while Pat is on a run or shutting down Pat Sr. when he suggests that she is “bad juju” for the Eagles.

David O. Russel’s direction reflects the film’s themes and tones perfectly. He mixes tones brilliantly, and is able to orchestrate emotions with soft and jagged camera movement. Throughout the film he makes a point of having the camera come rushing up to actors until its right in their faces. It’s sometimes disorienting, but it creates an atmosphere for the movie and makes you feel as though you’re watching the story through the eyes of the characters.

There’s a thin line to walk when crafting a comedy film revolving around mental illness, to be sure. Going about it in the wrong way could not only result in something insensitive, but also foolish and overdone. But Russel didn’t let that happen.

Silver Linings Playbook is probably one of the most romantic modern films I’ve seen. The plot has a unique outlook, with interesting characters, it’s never overdone and it most definitely is not a typical love story. It has a subtle quirkiness to it that makes it seem that much more real and raw.

What I love most about this film: In the end, they fall “crazy in love” with each other. Get it?

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Gangster Squad (2013)

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Gangster Squad is set in Los Angeles, 1949. Ruthless, mob king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) takes over and runs the show in this town. He reaps the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes and – if everything goes his way – every wire bet placed west of Chicago. And he does this all with not only the help of his own paid goons, but also with the police and politicians under his control. It’s enough to intimidate the bravest, most street-hardened cops around… except for the secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together and decide to stop at nothing to destroy Cohen. This movie is action-packed and full of beautiful scenes of a film noirish Los Angeles.

The atmosphere of the film – the cinematography was stupendous. The overall “film-noir-in-colour” theme was perfect. But what made the movie wasn’t just the cinematography and costumes and old school cars.

The plotline was filled with action, surprise, romance (between Jerry and Grace) -and the whole “good vs. evil” theme which was carried out perfectly at the story’s climax in the scene where Sgt. O’Mara and Mickey Cohen wrestle it out with their bare fists. No guns. (Interesting when considering the fact that the entire movie had gun shooting in every other scene). The transitional cuts and scenes are smooth and well done, making the movie flow perfectly. Clever, witty, and funny lines throughout the film keep the audience laughing and rooting for the kick-ass Gangster Squad cops.

Let’s move over to one of my personal favourite aspects of film watching. Observing the actors. Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and the extraordinary Sean Penn. These three right here, demonstrated what it really means to act. Josh Brolin plays the perfect hero cop, who would much rather burn down a pile of dirty money than pocket a dollar. He acts perfectly as the macho Sergeant. Ryan Gosling’s acting in this film was also really incredible – he was able to pull off a completely different character, complete with mannerisms and speaking ticks, beautifully.

But Holy F****** Shit. Sean Penn steals the god damn spotlight from everyone in this movie. He makes the audience feel intimidated, anxious, and uncomfortable every time he appears on screen with his droopy, uninterested, and condescending facial expressions. He forces the audience to absolutely and entirely loathe him. Penn doesn’t just have an angry face – he has the face of a cold-stone killer in this movie. He portrays an ultimately evil character, and he pulls it off brilliantly. And his bursts of angry violence are totally believable because they’re done so well.

In my opinion, the man deserves yet another Oscar. That’s just my opinion, sure, but watch the movie and we’ll see if you’ll see it differently.

Fantastic acting. Fantastic action. Fantastic plotline. Brilliant and truly entertaining movie.

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Hans Zimmer – Inception Music Analysis

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The movie Inception directed by Christopher Nolan, uses music almost throughout the entire film. There is not one scene where background music is not utilized to enhance the atmosphere or tone of the story. Hans Zimmer’s original scores in Inception are consistently adding to the feel of the film, in which without the music outlining the story, the movie would be lacking a powerful reaction from the audience.

Inception does not contain any long periods of absolutely no musical score. In every scene there is some sort of music in the background, whether it be soft and slow, or loud and fast, there is quite often music in the background while the characters are going about their actions and storyline. In the opening scene of the film, there is loud and unsettling music at the very beginning, but then as soon as the scene cuts to the waves on a beach, the music gets much softer, creating a more peaceful affect.

Another scene in which the music is utilized is in one of the beginning scenes, where Cobb and Mal are first shown speaking to one another on the balcony of a ship. As the viewer watches them, they receive no background information of the characters as of yet, or that this woman is Cobb’s deceased wife portrayed as a shadow in a dream. But the background music is present, hinting to the viewers – with a romantic slow and sad melody – that these two characters are past lovers.

Music is quite prevalent throughout the entirety of Inception. It is heard throughout every scene – while characters are talking about certain aspects of the “dream world,” throughout scenes where there is no dialogue, or while characters are doing the most simplest of actions such as walking urgently through a hallway with a gun in their hand (Cobb walking around with a gun seems small, but cue music and the viewer feels a sense of urgency in his strides now). Music is in the background often, which gives an “epic” feel to every small gesture. What may have appeared insignificant is enhanced and highlighted as very significant when the music comes on.

The music in Inception outlines the plot, and uses the mickey-mousing technique quite often. A great example of this in the movie is when Cobb has to escape from the men who are chasing after him with guns trying to kill him. The music is at first extremely fast, sounds very urgent, and the audience can feel the danger that might reach Cobb if he does not run fast enough. And then when Cobb finds a café to hide in, the music gets softer which suggests that Cobb is temporarily safe, but still with that sense of urgency with the fast playing strings suggesting that there is still danger in the men finding him. When the men find him, the music returns to being louder and faster. And then when he gets into the car with Saito and is finally safe from the enemies, the music completely dies down altogether.

Another example of the mickey-mousing technique being utilized is in the scene where Arthur is explaining to Ariadne all the tricks to building a dream, and in particular when he is describing the paradoxical staircase. In this specific moment the music creates a sense of wonderment and leaves the audience with a sense of awe. Then, as Arthur is telling Ariadne that Cobb’s wife is dead, the music slows down almost to a complete stop, which in a way outlines Ariadne’s shock.

Later on in the film, when Ariadne is prying into Cobb’s dream, the music is slow and quiet, and almost romantic as she watches Mal and Cobb talking and caressing each other. As soon as Mall realizes Ariadne is invading the dream, and Mal abruptly turns her head, the music reveals an incredibly sudden, loud and dissonant screech – this gives the audience the exact feelings of being caught that Ariadne experiences in this moment.

Music is also used in the film to create a certain feel or to manipulate a particular emotion within the audience. In the scene near the ending of the film where the dream is collapsing, Cobb and Mal are shown lying on the ground, as Mal was shot and dying, caressing each other. As they speak, the music is extremely soft, slow, and altogether romantic. But this cue insinuates sad less as Cobb repeats, “I have to let you go” over and over. The music also suggests an evolution or change within the character, and encourages a sense of dynamic in Cobb, as if he is finally waking up from his dream.

Another use of music within Inception is for the creation of suspense. You can feel when the characters are fearful or hesitant through the music, just like when Mal threatens to kill Arthur. There are many other instances where the music creates suspense. Take, for instance, when Cobb recognizes the bridge Ariadne conjures up, and the music comes on and it creates an eerie yet urgent feeling, which hints that something is wrong. Or when the antagonist, Robert, realizes he is in a dream, and Cobb realizes he has been caught, the music comes on and it creates an eerie feeling or tone, which invokes a feeling of suspense. The music always gets faster or increases in dynamics which makes it more “epic” sounding as the urgency becomes heightened and the dream starts collapsing on them, leaving the audience in suspense, as they do not know what will happen.

In the final scene, when Cobb finally wakes up from the dream, he is back in the plane and the music starts off slow, as if expressing he has come to the realization that he is finally awake, and survived the dream successfully, having accomplished the work of inception. As he approaches customs at the airport, the music falls almost completely silent, and it is so soft that it creates suspense for the viewers, as they do not know whether or not customs will let Cobb through. When the man working at customs finally says, “Welcome home Mr. Cobb,” the music adds in strings to symbolize success, not only in passing through customs, but for reaching the climax of his journey. This is the climax of the film because Cobb’s entire motive for attempting the impossible tasks of inception was so that Saito would help him get through customs so he could finally go back home to his children. So the music adds a sense of excitement for the audience.

As Cobb walks on, the music increases in dynamics, creating an epic tone to the scene, which adds in even more suspense than ever. When he spins his totem to see if he is dreaming and finally sets his eyes on his kids, the music becomes extremely soft and slow. The music here shows the tenderness of this moment. Then the music gets extremely suspenseful just as the camera is moving in on the totem and cuts off right before we see if the totem has fallen or not. The music here creates a sense of wonderment, as the audience is left pondering about whether or not the whole scene was just a dream.

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