Archive for January, 2015


Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 3.08.51 PMRichard’s “Canada AM” reviews for “Project Almanac,” “Wild Card” and “Black or White.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!

Why January is no longer the dumping ground for terrible movies

PROJECT ALMANACBy Richard Crouse – Metro Canada

Traditional wisdom has it that January is a dumping ground for bad movies.

“Everyone is broke after shelling out for Christmas presents,” the studios say. “The weather is crappy and anyone leaving the house is going to the gym instead of the movies,” complain the suits.

That’s why clunkers like One for the Money, a Katherine Heigl crime drama with a two per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating and Season of the Witch — which saw Nicolas Cage go all medieval on the forces of evil and strain his credibility as an actor — made the lives of critics and audiences miserable on long, cold winter nights in bygone Januarys. Why waste good movies when no one was likely to go?

Years ago studios threw the odd quality film into the January mix — Traffic, Good Will Hunting, Before Sunrise, Dr. Strangelove and Silence of the Lambs—but every good movie like Matinee (92 per cent on RT) was balanced out with a stinker like Body of Evidence and its paltry six per cent rating.

There is still that yin and yang as last week’s releases of The Boy Next Door and Mortdecai (two movies that will decorate Worst Of the Year lists) proves, but the tide seems to be changing. Perhaps that’s why Project Almanac, a time-travel drama from producer Michael Bay, moved from a prime July release date to the barren January slate. Surely Bay, as savvy a player as Hollywood has, wouldn’t allow his movie to be tossed out with the trash.

The reason given for the schedule move was that Bay himself wanted to sprinkle some of his Transformers’ fairy dust to pump up the film’s appeal to young audiences. But it’s also apparent that a micro-budget movie like Project Almanac, even with Bay’s name attached, could get lost in a summer filled with large-scale offerings like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, so why not release in a less crowded, but increasingly profitable field?

What used to be a time to fill screens with borderline cheesefests has become a viable month to release a movie.

Last year big crowds braved the polar vortex to help the Kevin Hart comedy Ride Along set a January opening record. This year the Oscar-nominated Selma and Still Alice have opened wide in a month usually reserved for Golden Raspberry winners. Perhaps the biggest story of 2015 so far is the success of Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle biopic, American Sniper, which has raked in upwards of $170 million in just two weeks. The success of that film is as strong an indicator as Hollywood needs that January is no longer a no-go zone.

Great Digital Film Festival brings film favourites back to the big screen

4a_photo_filmfest-500x281By , QMI Agency

“Monster Squad holds up, and the thing I like about it is it’s emblematic of what teen movies were like in the ‘80s – a little bit rough around the edges, not politically correct, but a lot of fun. Kind of like The Goonies.”

Even the movies that seem new-ish are a time travel experience, Crouse says. “Pan’s Labyrinth and the Kill Bill movies, I was like, ‘These are really recent. And then I realized as you get older, 10 years ago seems like a week ago.

“With Pan’s Labyrinth, we shot an interview with Guillermo del Toro that will run before screenings of it – his vision, his insecurities and how he was sorry he was that he had wasted everybody’s time and money. I think that was the movie that made him feel like a filmmaker. When it was done, he realized he’d made something beautiful and artful.

“The beauty of this festival is you get to revisit these things in the proper way. I think people will really like Darkman. And the younger audience, a lot of them won’t have been born when Dick Tracy came out. And I think they’ll find it pretty cool…” READ THE WHOLE THING HERE! Great Digital Film Festival comes to London

greatdigital2015_RGB-450x253By Dale Carruthers, The London Free Press

Tech-savvy movie-goers can also interact in real time with film critic Richard Crouse by tweeting their questions and reactions using the hashtag #GDFF2015.

“Seeing stuff on the big screen is my preferred way of watching a movie,” said Crouse, who is also a co-programmer for the festival. “I don’t care how big your television is, how much Surround Sound you have. I like sitting with other people, hearing them laugh and cry in response to what they’re seeing on the screen.” READ THE WHOLE THING HERE!

Digital film fest brings favourite blockbusters back to big screen

killbill-jpgBy Michael D. Reid / Times Colonist

Another is a pre-show in which Crouse goes behind the scenes to explore the history of selected films, including a recorded conversation with Guillermo Del Toro before the Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) screening.

“The word masterpiece is thrown around rather casually these days, but in the case of Pan’s Labyrinth, I think it applies,” Crouse says.

“It’s a dark adult fairy tale set against the backdrop of the Second World War, creating a contemporary fable that is emotionally complex and as satisfying as the age-old fairy tales that inspired it…” READ THE WHOLE THING HERE!

BLACK OR WHITE: 3 STARS. “gives Costner some of his best on-screen moments in years.”

costnerblackandwhite“Black Or White” gives Kevin Costner several of his best on-screen moments in years. The opening scene, the aftermath of a car accident, is hardcore, touching and real and a late movie courtroom showdown is powerful stuff but memories of those great sequences are tainted by a weak ending that saps much of the movie’s power.

Costner is Elliot, a recent widower and caretaker of his granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell). His daughter, Eloise’s mom, died in childbirth and the father (André Holland) is not in the picture. Elliot is grief stricken and frequently drunk so the girl’s paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), tries to get custody with the help of her brother, lawyer Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie). The ensuing custody battle raises questions of loyalty, race, compassion and good intentions.

Director and writer Mike Binder swings for the fences here but instead forfeits the game. His script tackles issues of race and of privilege but shrouds them in a cloak of melodrama. Race becomes a major issue during the custody trial but the film doesn’t add anything to the discourse. Instead it plays the drama broad, taking a safe route (THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS HERE) that leaves issues hanging, reducing everything to black or white with little nuance.

Costner, however, hasn’t been this good in years. He’s a believable drunk with the look of a man who has weathered tragedy but hasn’t given up. A bent-but-not-broken spirit oozes off him and a stronger script might have placed his name on more than a few Best Actor lists.

The other end of the spectrum is Octavia Spencer. The Academy Award winner is a feisty presence, bringing fire and empathy to her scenes.

The supporting cast, including Mackie, Holland and Estell all do good work as well, bringing both drama and humour to a story that needs both to be effective. It’s a shame that an ending that feels pat and sentimental undermines all this good work.

PROJECT ALMANAC: 3 STARS. “zippy Y.A. sci fi with equal parts brains and heart.”

project-almanac-videos-546b71783d0b5“Project Almanac” has a lot going against it. It’s a found footage movie with loads of nausea inducing wobbly cam, characters who deliver cheeseball lines like, “So you’re telling me dad left a time machine in the basement?” and an over-played climax that drags on too long but it gets one crucial thing right. And that’s enough to earn a recommend for young sci fi enthusiasts.

Boy genius David Raskin (Jonny Weston) inherited his smarts from his late father, an engineer who was working on a top-secret project at the time of his death. Buried away in the basement are the schematics for a time machine David and his best friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner), under the constant camera surveillance of sister Christina (Ginny Gardner), discover and build.

After a few test runs they do what every teenage boy would do; they allow the most popular girl in school (Sofia Black-D’Elia) to talk them into taking a big risk with the new machine and use themselves as guinea pigs. It’s the power of the pretty girl to influence and shape the actions of teenage boys, and the movie gets this absolutely correct.

Do they use the machine to go back and kill Hitler? Nope. Save JFK? Nuh-uh. They do what young guys would do. They party at Lollapalooza, use their unique powers to get even with bullies and rig the lottery so they can win big, buy Ferraris and “hire Kim Kardashian to have my babies.” They may be geniuses but they are still concerned with the stuff of youth—girls and being popular—not changing the world.

The movie takes a serious turn in the last third when reality skews and the consequences of time travel become apparent. David must take things into his own hands, but even then, as sentiment and sci fi match and mingle, the movie doesn’t lose track of its teen origins.

Part “Groundhog Day,” part “Project X,” “Project Almanac” has all the annoying traits of found footage movies—“You’re getting all this, right?”—and screams out for a tripod, but for the most part is a zippy young adult sci fi story with equal parts brains and heart.

WILD CARD: 2 STARS. “most the action takes place in his head, behind dead eyes.”

Wild+Card+Movie+(4)If angst is your thing, the new Jason Statham remake of the 1986 Burt Reynolds’ thriller “Heat,” may be for you. Sure, he also kills a man with a spoon, but unlike other fast-moving movies in Statham’s repertoire, here most the action takes place in his head, behind dead eyes.

Statham is Nick Wild, an Elmore Leonard-esque character working as a bodyguard/thug-for-hire in Las Vegas. He is the trademarked Statham “troubled loner” character, a man with a murky past who “doesn’t rest his head on the same pillow twice.” When his friend, call girl Holly (Dominik García-Lorido) is attacked by some very bad people at the Golden Nugget—“Tough place,” says Nick, “even the showgirls can rip a phonebook in half.”—and left for dead Nick is drawn into a dangerous game of revenge. Job done he may finally be able to leave Vegas for good, but bad luck and bad guys just might get in the way.

“Wild Card” could easily have been retitled “The Art of the Montage.” Take out the slow motion, the montages and the slow motion montages and you’d be looking at a twenty minute running time. Director Simon West, who worked with Statham on “The Expendables 2” and “The Mechanic,” never met a pastiche he didn’t love.

They slow down the action, although to be fair, there isn’t much action to hold back. This is a study of obsession, of gambling, of putting it all on the line, but most of all it is a study of Statham making angsty faces while ruminating on the “creeping virus” of Las Vegas. He’s broody and only pushed into action a couple of times during the 92 minute running time. In those scenes we get what we pay for—Statham getting medieval on bad guys—the rest of the time we get an insider’s up-close-and-personal look at what Statham looks like when he’s sleepy.

“Wild Card” could have been an interesting look at the downside of Las Vegas life. Or it could have been a kick-butt action movie. As it is, it is neither.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: 3 STARS. “the real tension comes from the fraught atmosphere.”

3040151-poster-p-2-created-the-moody-gritty-feel-of-a-most-violent-yearDon’t let the title fool you. “A Most Violent Year” doesn’t have fight scenes, much gunfire or even a Steven Seagal cameo. The violence implied in the title refers to the time. Set in 1981 New York, statistically one of the most brutal years in the city’s history, it’s really the story of a man trying to sidestep violence and grab the American Dream by the tail.

Oscar Isaac is Abel Morales, a young man in an old and dangerous game—the oil business. His distribution business is successful and about to expand, but there are problems. An aggressive city attorney (David Oyelowo) is sniffing around his finances while someone—a business rival perhaps—is systematically hijacking his trucks. Each time a truck loaded with oil disappears it erodes his bottom line and puts his dream of a waterfront distribution depot further out of reach. At home the violence and corruption of the times seeps into his personal life as his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) the daughter of a Brooklyn gangster, gets restless.

Director J.C. Chandor is unafraid to take his time telling this story. Some will find his deliberately paced film a bore, others a slow burn. He concentrates on the characters, not the situations, putting Abel’s honesty and entrepreneurial spirit front and center. Much time is given to overcoming setbacks through sheer strength of will. His iron resolve is the character’s cornerstone, and much dialogue is devoted to it, but Isaac’s nicely delivered, understated performance keeps it from becoming repetitive.

The fireworks (such that they are) come later when Abel is at the end of his rope. Chastain (in a far more interesting performance than her work in “Interstellar”) on one side, corruption and violence on the other, the film pushes Abel, building to a satisfying climax. Still, Chandor doesn’t allow “A Most Violent Year” to live up to its name. A truck chase is pulse racing and a sub-plot about driver traumatized by a hijacking adds a hint of character-driven action, but the real tension comes from the fraught atmosphere Chandor creates with ruthless efficiency behind the camera and the restrained performances in front of it.