Movie Review: The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

A scene from “The Lego Movie”. Courtesy Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

I spent a good part of my childhood creating and building objects out of Lego: Vehicles I dreamt of driving, buildings and houses I imagined living in, and other random things I could come up with while playing on my bedroom floor. The possibilities of what one can do with those colourful bricks are endless, and I made sure I tested every combination possible. The Lego Movie takes those childhood memories and turns them into a reality. An awesome, spectacular reality.

Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) is a regular, simple Lego man who follows his instructions and does what he’s supposed to do day in and out in the city of Bricksburg. Then he falls into a hole and wakes up with a strange object glued to his back.

The object, he discovers, is the “Piece of Resistance” and it’s needed to stop the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), the controlling ruler of the Lego universe who will go to great lengths to keep everything perfect. Emmet is joined by a team of “Master Builders” willing to help him on his heroic journey, unless Lord Business catches him first.

There have been many Lego-themed, straight-to-DVD movies, videogames, and TV shows, and while some of them are very good, nothing has come close to capturing the true feeling of playing with Lego as The Lego Movie did. It could be that instead of strictly going the computer animated route, the filmmakers incorporated a traditional stop-motion look and even used real Lego bricks in the making of the film. And it looks absolutely brilliant, especially in 3-D.

Writer-director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were responsible for the great adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, infused the script with enough twists and turns to give The Matrix a run for its money. This is not a watered-down kids flick. Yes, kids will love it (my 6-year-old is still going on about it), but this is a smart, inspired production that goes beyond all expectations of what a movie based on Lego could be.

Towards the end there’s a moment that totally changed the dynamic of the entire film and made me realize I was watching something truly unique. The Lego Movie is a near cinematic masterpiece and I can’t wait to experience it again.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2

A scene from Despicable Me 2. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

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When the first Despicable Me came out in 2010 it felt fresh and put new life into the family-friendly animated film genre that had started to get stale. After endless amounts of films cheering for the good guy, we were all of a sudden rooting for the bad guy and actually wanted him to succeed in stealing the moon to be the most evil villain in the world. It was fun and exciting. Despicable Me 2 is unfortunately not as original as the first, but it is equally entertaining.

Gru (Steve Carell), who is out of the villain game raising his three adopted girls and working on a line of jams and jellies, is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help find a criminal mastermind with plans to create evil creatures and take over the world. He’s partnered with an agent named Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and must go undercover in a mall to stop them before it’s too late.

While the plot is not that groundbreaking, the script is loaded with gags and one-liners that Carell and Wiig pull off perfectly. The film never feels dull and is a continuous laughfest. This is largely thanks to the addition of Benjamin Bratt as Eduardo, the owner of a Mexican restaurant in the mall. I’ve never considered Bratt a funny guy, but he really puts it on here and makes me want to hear him do more characters like this. Steve Coogan and Ken Jeong work well too, but both are highly underused.

I honestly dread 3D films these days, but the use of it in Despicable Me 2 is great. There are a few gags such as bubbles floating around, which the kids in the audience went nuts for, but for the most part it is used to help the glorious animation look even more stunning. And just like the first, the animation and colour palette is truly wonderful.

Of course, the only opinion that matters is that of my six-year-old son, who screened the film with me. He was so excited to see it he couldn’t sleep the night before. When the credits rolled he immediately wanted to know when we could see it again because to him, it was the most amazing thing ever. And how can anyone argue with that?

4/5 stars

Rated G
Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt
Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

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Movie Review: Skyfall

Skyfall

A scene from ‘Skyfall’. Courtesy Sony Pictures.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

I have to get something off my chest; I’m not a fan of James Bond. There, I said it. I have enjoyed some of the films and find them mildly entertaining, but I feel the character is a joke and I don’t anticipate or ever get excited for the next Bond film. Especially when it’s the 23rd film in the series. But with Skyfall being directed by Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for American Beauty, I was much more interested in seeing it.

As a disclaimer I need to let you know that I did indeed miss the first 10 minutes of the movie, which I later found out had no connection to the rest of the plot. I arrived just in time to see James Bond (Daniel Craig) fall off a train to his ‘death’ and catch the iconic opening sequence, this time with Adele handling the theme song. As for the rest of the film, it’s full of action, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, solid acting, and one of the greatest Bond villains ever.

This is Craig’s third time out as Bond and he really does own the character now. I honestly can’t think of another actor working these days who could fill this role as well as he does. He’s got style and charm and yet is tough enough that he makes his action scenes look believable. And the greatest thing about Craig’s Bond is that he allows the character to show his flaws, which makes him much more relatable than the previous incarnations.

The true standout in Skyfall is Javier Bardem as the bad guy. He did something I never thought he could do and that was be more creepy than his character in No Country For Old Men. He’s pure evil in this role and I felt very uneasy when he was on screen and had a hard time shaking his image afterwards. It’s a truly magnificent performance.

With the studio bringing in a director like Mendes this will hopefully open the doors for other top filmmakers to get a crack at the franchise. It’d be hard to top Skyfall, but wouldn’t it be wild to see where someone like Quentin Tarantino or Joss Whedon would take it next?

Whether you’re a Bond fanatic or just a fan of solid action films,Skyfall will not disappoint. It even made me excited for the next film.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph

A scene from “Wreck-It Ralph”. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

As a child of the ’80s who grew up on Nintendo and Atari and spent a lot of time at the local arcade wasting my allowance, I have been highly anticipating Wreck-It Ralph for months and expected nothing but great things from it. Well, game on! It exceeded what I wanted to get out of it and is an amazing, original film that absolutely blew me away and was the most fun I’ve had at the theatre all year.

Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) is the bad guy in Fix-It Felix, a popular game that has been a mainstay of the arcade for 30 years. His job is to destroy a building as Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer) rebuilds it and saves the people inside of it before throwing Ralph off the roof and winning a gold medal. After doing this for three decades Ralph is tired of being the bad guy and decides to jump to a game he can be the hero in. With him missing from Fix-It Felix though, the game appears broken in the real world and risks being unplugged for good.

Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, and directed by Rich Moore,Wreck-It Ralph is highly innovative in the way it blends real video game characters into its world. One of the best scenes is where Ralph attends Bad-Anon, an Alcoholics Anonymous type meeting for video game villains, and is joined by the ghost from Pac-Man, M. Bison and Zangief from Street Fighter, Bowser from Super Mario Bros., Dr. Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog, and a few other recognizable baddies. Sonic, Q-Bert, and many other classic game characters also make an appearance and should get anyone over 28 giddy to see them on screen.

Reilly and McBrayer really fit their characters perfectly and it would be hard to imagine anyone else voicing them. Sarah Silverman as Vanellope Von Schweetz, a glitch in the colourful kart racing game Sugar Rush, Jane Lynch as the tough-as-nails Sgt. Calhoun from the HALO-esque Hero’s Duty, and Alan Tudyk as King Candy, also from Sugar Rush, are all perfectly cast too and really get to play it up.

The animation is bright and colourful and is jaw-dropping at times it’s so awesome. The 3-D is used extremely well and is better than any other animated film I’ve seen this year, too. The score is also worth mentioning as it’s a nice mix of old and new and incorporates some 8-bit nostalgia along with the sound of newer electronic music, such as Skrillex. It works and really wowed me.

No question, I loved Wreck-It Ralph and highly recommend it. But my 5-year-old loved it even more and is making me take him to see it again this weekend. And probably again a few more times after that.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Interview: Robert Zemeckis talks ‘Flight’

Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington on the set of Flight

(L to R) Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington on the set of ‘Flight’, from Paramount Pictures. © 2012 Paramount Pictures. Photo credit: Robert Zuckerman. All Rights Reserved.

This interview was originally posted on Criticize This!

From the Back to the Future trilogy to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump, Robert Zemeckis is one of the most visionary and influential filmmakers of the last 30 years. He’s crafted numerous memorable characters and created pop culture phenomenons, and is up there with the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for defining an entire generation through his filmography.

Always on the cutting edge of technology, Zemeckis took a few years off from making live action films in order to focus on motion capture, a technique that allows filmmakers to direct real actors as their movements are being captured and animated. The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol all used this method to mix reviews, with most critics complaining the characters appeared hollow.

Returning to live action with Flight, starring Denzel Washington as a pilot with a drug and alcohol problem being blamed for a horrific plane crash, Zemeckis makes it known he has not lost his touch and proves once again what a great director he is. It’s intense and exciting, and if you weren’t scared of flying before, you will be after.

Criticize This! spoke with Zemeckis about the film, what his views on remakes are, and where he sees Hollywood going in the future. Read our Q&A below.

Flight is an R rated thriller aimed at adults, something of a rarity these days. Were you influenced by films of the ‘60s and ‘70s when setting out to make it?

They don’t make movies like this anymore. They just don’t. I was influenced by everything.  I watched a lot of movies that were made before I was born. Once in awhile I’ll find myself designing a shot and I’ll be able to say “This is like that scene that Coppola did in The Godfather.” But as far as finding some sort of watershed movie as a style, I can’t put my finger on that.

For the last few years you’ve been working solely in animation and motion capture. Why back to live action for Flight?

I never swore off live action, but I do love the digital cinema. I think we’re in this digital stew and I think at some point it will gel into moving images and they’re not going to be categorized anymore, it will all be virtual. But right now everyone tries to keep everything separate. It was the screenplay which I thought was magnificent and it shouldn’t be a digital movie, it should be live action.

What made you cast Denzel in this role?

You can’t not watch Denzel. He has that great gravitas. Anything he plays in  you can’t take your eyes off him. You like him and you want to like him. He’s charming.

How much training did Denzel go through to get the pilot part down?

I don’t know how many hours he spent in a simulator. He wanted to know where all the controls are. You have to know that to perform. The hardest thing for any actor doing a pilot is the jargon. When an actor works, they present the line because they understand its meaning in the scene and when you’re talking in airplane jargon… it’s like doing a scene phonetically without understanding what you’re saying. And then talking jargon on the radio and then to the co-pilot, that’s much harder than speaking with a whole lot of people who are speaking English.

The plane crashes in Flight and Castaway are both devastatingly real. As a pilot yourself, does making these scenes ever affect you?

The pilot part keeps it from being hokey. You know what the guys on the radio are supposed to sound like and you know where the controls are and what they do. As in any action sequence, you have to give it a mini story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but we have technical advisors. We would write the scenes and have people debunk them, tell us why this or that wouldn’t work. In this case, if you invert the airplane it will fly but the engines won’t last. The engines will burn up, put that in the movie. There is just a lot of immersion and you get yourself a lot of fodder for dinner conversation.

Flight deals a lot with morality and trust. Did you and the cast discuss that side of the film often?

Endlessly. The whole movie is about morality. That’s what attracted me to it. Every single character and incident has moral ambiguity, yet it’s dramatic. Conventional wisdom says if the villain’s not wearing a black hat and the hero isn’t wearing a white hat, there can’t be drama. You have to know who the good guys are. This obviously flies in the face of that. It worked on those levels. All the characters are broken and the most fascinating character is the Don Cheadle character who’s trying to get Denzel off the charges. You could write a whole dissertation on that. It’s kind of terrifying.

Your filmography has covered a lot of ground. Are you easily bored and Is there a genre you have yet to work in?

Restless might be the right word [laughs]. I haven’t done a musical. I think I would be bored doing the same type of film over and over. I guess I don’t want to keep doing the same type of film.

Any young filmmakers interest you?

There are a couple guys. Here’s what I’m waiting for though. I’m waiting for someone to redefine the art form. I’m looking for the guy out there — hopefully they’re out there — who is going to say “This is what we have to do now”. I don’t like the idea that the old guys are still making the movies.

When do you think the art form was last redefined?

The ‘70s. That’s when there was an old guard and all of a sudden some young guys came along and that’s what I grew up on. And the films were all good. We need another golden era.

Back to the Future, Romancing the Stone, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? have all been mentioned as potential films getting remade. What are your thoughts on remakes and would you rather do a sequel than see one of your films remade?

The only remakes you should make are of really bad movies, and then you can make them better. Why would anyone remake The Godfather? That’s like the Psycho remake. How do you do that? How? I decided not to do Yellow Submarine because I don’t want to do a remake. It would have been great, that’s a movie that should have been made using digital cinema and 3-D. Audiences have a love-hate relationship with sequels. They want them but they don’t. I would do a sequel to Roger Rabbit though. I would use hand-drawn and cell animation so it would look the same. Not computers.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know. I’ve never signed on to do a movie while I’m still making a movie and I consider publicity to be still making the movie. I get the movie done, get it out and start seeing what the landscape looks like. That flies in the face of conventional Hollywood wisdom, which says you’re supposed to build bridges in front of you before they burn them behind you. But I don’t care. I’m afraid I would react to what I just did. I wouldn’t have a clear mind.

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 4

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

By now most people know what to expect from the Paranormal Activity films, and Paranormal Activity 4 is more of the same. Lots of scenes of quiet, empty rooms, a few jump scares, and not much in way of a story. But this is more about the experience and just like the other films, PA4 is a lot of fun to watch, especially in a theatre full of screaming people.

Continuing from where the second part ended, Katie and her nephew Hunter are still missing. Cut to a suburban neighbourhood with a nice, normal family who have a weird boy lingering around their house. One thing leads to another and soon the weird boy is living with them. Then strange things begin to happen and… well, that’s about all I can say unless you want me to spoil it.

I really enjoyed where directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman took Paranormal Activity 3 and was hoping this one would stray a bit and offer up something unique. Unfortunately, it seems they just went through the same motions as the first and second film and kept to the formula. While I enjoyed this one more than the first, it’s not even close to the second or third in terms of being well executed or remotely believable (the cameras recording it all really make no sense this time around).

What is better about PA4 is the acting. Kathryn Newton, who plays the daughter of the new family being terrorized, is outstanding in her role. She’s funny, sells the fear she’s supposed to be feeling, and is all around great to watch. As her best friend, Matt Shively does a great job too and is equally stellar in his part. I hope to see more of them in normal roles down the road.

If you expect something different than the previous films, or analyze every detail of it, you’ll probably be disappointed with PA4. If you go in wanting to be scared and freaked out though, and let yourself get absorbed into it, the film delivers.

Rating: *** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation

A scene from ‘Silent Hill: Revelation’. Courtesy eOne Films.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

Silent Hill is one of the scariest, most cinematic video game series around and I was genuinely excited to see what Hollywood would unleash when they decided to adapt it into a movie back in 2006. For a film that should have been completely chilling, like the games, it failed on all fronts and bored more often than it scared. When the sequel was announced it looked more like the Silent Hill movie I wanted to see the first time around. Did I get what I wanted? Sadly, no. I got a 90-minute Marilyn Manson-esque music video that made my brain hurt.

Sharon or Heather or Alessa (or whatever they want to call the little girl from the first movie this time) is now a teen on the run with her dad. She escaped Silent Hill and the creepy people that live there will do whatever it takes to get her back. When her dad goes missing, she packs up and heads there to find him only to end up in a never ending nightmare of madness.

Michael J. Bassett is a hack director, but a good hack director. His last film, Soloman Kane, was quite a wild ride and showed a lot of promise. With Silent Hill: Revelation he tries hard to be shocking and pushes aside story, good performances, and anything else worth getting behind. It’s as if he set the movie up as a selection of bizarre scenes and stitched them together however he felt. That said, this is one of the most atmospheric films I’ve seen in some time and the set design, visual effects, and use of 3D is all very well done.

As far as acting goes, Adelaide Clemens does a half decent job in the lead and is very likable. Everyone else should be ashamed of themselves. Kit Harington appears to be channeling John Travolta in Grease with his terrible attempt and Sean Bean, Carrie-Anne Moss, Malcolm McDowell, and Deborah Kara Unger are all laughably horrendous. Why are they in this film in the first place? Just killing time, collecting a paycheque?

Silent Hill: Revelation might be cool to look at, but it’s overall annoying and doesn’t offer up anything truly horrific. Stay home and watch a real horror movie, like A Nightmare on Elm St., and save your money for something better than this junk.

Rating: ** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie
A scene from ‘Frankenweenie’. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

From the very first beautiful black and white frame of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie I was completely absorbed into the stop-motion world Burton had brought to fruition and was glued to it in awe like a 12-year-old watching their first monster movie. It’s dark and morbid and references campy B-movies from the past, but it’s also one of the most visually mind-blowing experiences to sit through and is by far Burton’s best film to date.

Victor Frankenstein is a smart, imaginative boy who makes 8mm movies, knows a lot about science, and spends most of his time with his dog Sparky. When Sparky is run over and killed by a car, Victor is devastated and can’t live with himself. He gets the idea to bring Sparky back from the dead, and succeeds. His friends at school find out and soon everyone is bringing all sorts of animals back to life. One thing leads to another, and the entire town finds itself under attack by wild zombie pets.

Burton originally made Frankenweenie as a short film during his early days as a Disney animator and has wanted to make a feature version of it ever since. This is his baby and every detail of it, from the story to the character and set design, has all been meticulously crafted. There are many aspects of his previous films incorporated too, and if you’re a true Burton aficionado you’ll get a kick out of finding all the hidden references.

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The black and white image might not appeal to everyone, but the contrast it has over colour really highlights the detail of the characters and the sets and is a real treat for the viewer. The 3-D works well too. This is unlike any other animated film we’ve seen and shows just what can be done with stop-motion.

Danny Elfman always seems to do his best work on Burton films and his score here is a true delight and acts almost as a tribute to classic monster movies in itself. It stands on its own and would be a great listen even without the movie, which is a true testament to how great it is.

Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short both voice multiple characters, including Victor’s parents, and really get to show off their comedic range. Winona Ryder is perfect as the girl next door, Elsa Van Helsing, and Martin Landau is hilarious as Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski. The only voice I wasn’t that impressed with was Charlie Tahan as Victor. He does grow on you, but it felt very uninspired and weak.

It should be noted that I took my 5-year-old to see Frankenweenie with me and it was a bit too scary for him at times and he had a lot of questions about death afterwards. Unless you’re prepared to deal with that I’d say eight and up is probably fine. Adults will connect with the film more than young kids anyway, as that is who Burton was making this for.

Whether you’re a fan of the horror genre, a fan of animation, or a fan of Tim Burton, Frankenweenie is a film you’ll fall in love with and cherish for years to come. Get out to see it as soon as you can.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Interview: Emily Blunt talks ‘Looper’

Emily Blunt - Looper

Emily Blunt in a scene from ‘Looper’. Courtesy Alliance Films.

This interview was originally posted on Criticize This!

In Rian Johnson’s critically-acclaimed sci-fi thriller Looper, Emily Blunt plays Sara, a tough-as-nails woman living on a farm in the middle of nowhere trying to protect her special son. And although her character doesn’t appear on screen until the midway point, the entire dynamic of the film shifts and it becomes something so much bigger and more exciting when she does.

Blunt is at the top of her game in Looper and steals every scene she’s in with both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. In the end she delivers the best performance of her career so far and deserves a lot of accolades for her part. Criticize This! caught up with Blunt on the day Looper had its world premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Read our Q&A below.

What was it that initially drew you to the film and the character?

The script. It was just such a singular voice. It wasn’t derivative of anything I’d ever read and I was rather stunned by it. About 20 pages in, even before I got to my character, I called my agent and was like, ‘You need to get me into this film right now!’ I think my agent knows I don’t react like that often to a script. I finished it and REALLY wanted to be in the movie once I discovered this rather ambiguous, complex character.

How was it working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that makeup?

When I first met him no one had told me he was wearing the prosthetics. So I went into his trailer and I couldn’t understand why he had looked nothing like I had previously imagined. I talked to him for about 20-minutes and the whole time I thought maybe I was talking to the wrong person. And then I came out and everyone was like, ‘What do you think of the prosthetics?’ And I was like, ‘My god! That’s what it was!’ I guess that’s a credit to the makeup department.

Sara is a much different character than we’re used to seeing you play.

It is quite a different character for me. The way she looks, the way she is, the way she talks… that was part of the appeal of the character to me. I was so moved by the script and the relationship she has with her child. I’ve got to credit [Pierce Gagnon], the little boy who was cast as Cid, with why those scenes are so potent and loaded and moving. It was a real find discovering him and they searched high and low across the country to cast that part. I read with three other actors and the thing that differentiated him from the others was that he really understood that he was playing a character and he’s only 5-years-old. He’d do these spooky and intense scenes and then he’d go goof off.

Did you relate to her at all?

No one can break your heart like your family and no one can panic you like your family. My mom and dad have had so many sleepless nights out of fear for us… and there’s four of us! And they still go through it. I understood the fierce protection and her guilt in how she was before she arrived at the farm. There’s a certain amount of self-punishment that goes on with this character. I related to that and also to the tenderness of it and the bond that they have is so loaded and complex and he has her wrapped around his finger.

Is it a different mentality for you getting into an accent and do you find it hard to drop after using it for so long on set?

I prepared for it and worked on the accent for about a month beforehand with this amazing dialect coach Liz Himelstein, who teaches all of us Brits how to talk American. I decided to focus the accent and Rian and I decided it would be a Kansas one. Then I listened to a lot of people from Kansas, specifically Chris Cooper because I love his voice and think he has a very melancholy, emotional voice. But then on set I would try to stay in the accent to not confuse Pierce. And it was quite sad when I met him about two months after we finished shooting Looper. We were both filming in North Carolina and I called his mom to see if we could all get together for dinner and I was speaking in my normal voice and he was scared and weirded out by it and I felt really sad. And you could see his little brain was trying to compute why I sounded so weird.

Rian has a reputation of being collaborative. Did you have much say in building your character?

That’s the greatest thing about Rian is that he’s not precious at all about his dialogue. And obviously the script was so brilliant that there was no need to add or enhance anything. It was so evocative and the words were so exciting. He’s always interested in what you bring to a scene or an attitude or the reasons why you played a line the way you did and he doesn’t straightjacket you in to what he had previously imagined the scene being like. His notes are incredibly specific and I couldn’t have asked for more from a director. He’s very sure of himself and that’s what you want as an actor.

How tough was that wood-chopping scene for you to do?

This nice prop man on the movie came and delivered logs to my Los Angeles home. And they brought some axes and showed me how to chop the wood. And I practiced because I didn’t want her to be chopping wood like a sissy. Not only is she someone outside working every day, but she also is taking out frustration on this poor log. But when you shoot a scene over and over and over again… Rian said when he was editing the scene he was just winching because by the end of it I had thrown my shoulder out and I tweaked my back. That was the hardest scene for sure.

You’ve  covered such a wide range of genres in your career already. Is there one you haven’t done yet or a type of role you’d still like to play?

I’d like to be in a western. A really cool western. Obviously the Coen Bros. just did it with True Grit, and that would have been so cool to be in a Coen Bros. western. I like riding horses, but I don’t want to be the damsel in distress. I want to be the one with a gun on the horse.

Would you ever consider writing or directing a film yourself?

I don’t think so. John [Krasinski, her husband] has just been doing it and it’s been extraordinary watching him discover this new side that he’s capable of. And his movie is amazing. I’ve seen what goes into it and I knew he could do it, but I don’t think it’s something I have the fire in the belly yet for.

You’re starring in Arthur Newman this year as well. Can you talk about your role in that at all?

Arthur Newman is the polar opposite of Looper. Colin Firth and I are playing a couple of very unhappy social misfits who are trying to escape their previous identities. I think it’s a very strange, beautiful film about trying to find your place in the world. I think all of us at one point have wanted to escape and that’s what this film is a study of. It’s the most unconventional love story you’ll ever see.

Since you’ve been working in the industry have you noticed a diversity of parts for women?

I probably speak for a lot of actresses in that we get really sick of reading parts that are written for a certain gender as opposed to a character. You read a lot of parts and you think, ‘Okay, so I’m playing the girl who is at home wagging her finger and is also compassionate and emotional simply because she’s the girl.’ Don’t write me as a girl, just write me as a character. There’s still a ways to go for that in the business. One in four parts are for women, which is a pretty big gap. The thing I’ve been excited about is that certain films I’ve been a part of that are female heavy and are directed towards females, like The Devil Wears Prada or Sunshine Cleaning, are great female roles that have been universally enjoyed. I think there needs to be more films like that.

What do you do for fun when you’re not filming?

I love to cook. That’s the real passion. Obsessive Food Network watching goes on in my house. I have to be dragged from indoors sometimes cause I could watch the Food Network all day. I just love to cook and I’ve always loved it so any excuse to have a boozy dinner party is welcomed.

Movie Review: The Master

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was my most anticipated film at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Not only because I’ve been a huge fan of Anderson’s work since his breakout film, Boogie Nights, back in 1997, but because I had heard nothing but praise for it from everyone who saw it. So when I got a ticket to the public screening on the last night of the fest I was overly excited and, needless to say, my expectations were beyond reasonable.

It’s the end World War II and Naval officer Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is being sent home. With poor social skills and an appetite for alcohol mixed with paint thinner, Freddie doesn’t fit into the post-war world and is struggling to find his place. On one of his drunken escapades he boards a ship late at night and meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an author and pseudo preacher. Dodd is a charmer and a drinker, and Freddie is soon swept into his cult-like group “The Cause” and becomes his top follower and close friend.

Whether it’s Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, or Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Anderson has a way of getting actors to deliver a performance as if it’s their last. The Master is no exception. Hoffman’s eloquent and passionate portrayal of a man who truly believes he is as powerful as he claims is gripping and exciting to watch. Phoenix, who went off the rails and ditched acting a few years ago, returns with a powerful, almost biographical, depiction of a disturbed man lost in the world. Amy Adams also gives an outstanding performance as Mrs. Dodd, and it would be shocking if the three of them don’t get Oscar nominations for their work.

Another highlight of the film was Jonny Greenwood’s jarring score. This is one of the best pieces of music ever put to film. It’s very front and centre and actually helps move the story forward instead of just being in the background. It takes the entire viewing experience of The Master to another level and is sure to be studied by film and music scholars for years to come.

If you’ve followed The Master in the news at all you will know it was shot in 70mm and should be viewed in a theatre that projects it in its native format, which I did at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. To my dismay I couldn’t see a big difference between it and a regular 35mm film though. That’s not to say it didn’t look amazing, because it did and Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography is gorgeous. But it didn’t shock my being the way I had anticipated it would. Maybe if I saw it again in a regular theatre I would appreciate it more in 70mm.

While there are many other things about The Master to get excited over and discuss, I found I didn’t love it the way I thought I would and I definitely didn’t connect to it the way I have with Anderson’s previous films. Yet, there is something so seductive about it that it’s hard not to be mesmerized and enthralled by it. I’m sure with time I’ll come to cherish it more and even consider it a masterpiece. Either way, it’s a solid cinematic experience and you need to see it to judge for yourself.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)