The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

10 Best Films of 2020


 The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 rocked the movie industry to its core. Plenty of films slated to release this year, like the Bond picture No Time to Die, were delayed again and again. Cinemas were shut down, then revived, only to be shut down immediately after. Warner Brothers shocked everyone when they announced that the majority of their film slate were to debut digitally on HBO Max. 

The future looks uncertain; there is doubt that the theatre industry will survive much longer as online streaming (Disney+, Netflix) booms. Projects that were in the middle of production, especially those with limited budgets, may never see the light of day. Even if they do, they may not make the same money pre-pandemic. 

On the bright side, film festivals like Toronto Film Festival still ran albeit with a much smaller slate. Despite cinemas being closed, there were still plenty of digital releases that exceeded expectations. I'm hesitant to accept a purely digital film experience, but if digital releases look/feel/sound like the following top ten then I'll be hooked.

10.Weathering With You (Makoto Shinkai)

9. Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson)

8. Ammonite (Francis Lee) 

7.Get the Hell Out (I-Fan Wang) 

6.American Utopia (Spike Lee)

5. Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman) 

4. Shadow in the Cloud (Roseanne Liang)

3. One Night in Miami (Regina King) 

2. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)

1. Nomadland (Chloe Zhao)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Merrily We Go To Hell (1932) Review

Title: Merrily We Go To Hell
Year: 1932
Director: Dorothy Arzner
Country: US
Language: English

Pre-code pictures of the early 1930's often had scandalous titles in order to boost sales at the box office. Merrily We Go To Hell's title was so sensational that theatres refused to screen the film, newspapers refused to publicize it, and church groups sought to boycott it. The papers that did review the title, namely The New York Times,  gave it a mixed reaction. Despite this, the film managed to do well at the box office. 

A drunken newspaperman named Jerry (Fredric March) is rescued from his alcoholic haze by an heiress Joan Prentice (Sylvia Sidney) whose love sobers him up and encourages him to write a play, but he lapses back into dipsomania.

Director Dorothy Arzner was one of the few female directors during the Golden Age of Hollywood. At Paramount Pictures she durected incredibly profitable box office hits as Fashions for Women (1927), Ten Modern Commandments (1927), Get Your Man (1927) and The Wild Party (1929). Her career peaked with with Merrily We Go to Hell, because she was unhampered by the rigidly enforced Hays Code that would be in place starting in 1934. The main reason she would have more difficulty is due to making pictures about women's issues. Adultery, sexism, patriarchy, and other social concerns that no male directors would touch.

During a period of Hollywood where drunks were the driving force of comedies, Merrily We Go to Hell displays a much darker side of drinking. March's character is seen as a destructive agent of chaos, wrecking every relationship in his path. Arzner's sympathies pull us toward Joan, who goes transforms from a naïve enabler into a woman of conviction.

Merrily We Go To Hell is a refreshing feminist change to the Hollywood formula that usually sided with the male, no matter how vile the character was. It was also quite remarkable to see a film of the 30's suggest an open marriage with both partners being bisexual. This is a fine picture that ought to be examined more closely. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Geek 4 Podcast Review

Title: Geek 4
Year(s): 2020- ???
Host. Michael W. Boyce
Country: Canada
Language: English

Geek 4, click HERE for a linkis the latest venture by film professor and academic dean Michael W. Boyce (He has claimed the W is for Wind. I've heard it's William. It's a mystery.) Boyce interviews a caveat of intriguing integral intellectuals who all have one thing in common; they are Geeks 4 something. Geeks 4 Mystery Science Theatre 3000, James Bond, Star Wars, Football etc. There's a good chance you'll find something that fits your interests. 

Geek 4, at its present state, is a 20-40 minute weekly podcast that dives deep into pop culture, nostalgia and the state of general geekery. 

I must admit, this is probably far too early to review the podcast as it's in its beginning stages, but I feel like Boyce has already given us some quality interviews. Dr.Lisa Funnell (@DrLisaFunnell) gave great energy to the show & emphasized the importance of asking more from our entertainment ("James Bond doesn't have to be sexist"). Tara Maslowsky (@TaraMaslowsky) explored grief & demonstrated how fanhood brings people together. DoubleEM Melissa Martin (@DoubleEmMartin) explained the importance of language and history in understanding society and culture. Geek 4 doesn't tread shallow water. 

Though I'd love these nuanced conversations to go longer & I suspect they will as Boyce become more comfortable (or less busy, because he is an academic dean irl) the 20-40 minute length of Geek 4 feels about right. It's about the length of a Twilight Zone episode. Long enough to keep you on your toes, and short enough to keep you coming back for more. 

I'm looking forward to future episodes of this engaging podcast that, at least presently, has a feminist edge to it. Too many podcasts are male guest heavy, I'm glad that Boyce is going in the opposite direction. Geek 4 is a show for those who reflect about & engage with the media they consume.

Get new episodes on apple, stitcher or the link above.

Follow @geek4 & @mwboyce on twitter & instagram.  

Sunday, September 20, 2020

TIFF 2020 Review: Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Title: Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
Year: 2020
Director: Lili Horvat
Country: Hungary
Language: Hungarian

Having seen Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961) earlier in the year, I can confidently say that I am no stranger to weird artsy fartsy European flicks where one person thinks they met, but the other is very confused about the whole ordeal. Directed by Lili Horvat, Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is a weird wild film that will have you scratching your head thinking "what did I just see?" 

Márta (Natassa Stork), a 40-year-old neurosurgeon, falls in love. She leaves her shining American career behind and returns to Budapest to start a new life with the man (Viktor Bedo). But the love of her life claims that they have never met before.

Positioning the story in the same framework as Sylvia Plath's Mad Girl’s Love Song, Horvat's film has a well structured complex script that intelligently dissects themes of memory, temporal deconstruction, time and psychology. It's a fascinating puzzle of a film that drives on suspense & leaves the audience with a sense of awe and wonder. 

The broody exteriors of budapest are gorgeously shot by cinematographer Róbert Maly. The scenes around the city, mainly of Marta following her man, remind me of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Infact the atmosphere of engima entrapped within this picture will make one wonder if this is a similar feature about obsession. Horvat is careful to not reveal to much, and the actress (Stork) does a phenomenal job at making us wonder about if she's a reliable narrator. 

A film like Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is bound to polarize viewers. At Venice the film received high praise; in Toronto not too many people are feeling it. A common criticism is that the ending is too neatly wrapped up, and doesn't satisfy, but I suspect there is more at play. Though I have not seen any other film of Lili Horvat's , based on this picture alone she seems to be a master film-maker. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

TIFF 2020 Review: Pieces of a Woman

Title: Pieces of a Woman
Year: 2020
Director: Kornel Mundruczo
Country: Canada
Language: English

My seventh feature at the Toronto International Film Festival, Pieces of a Woman is part of a trend of TIFF 2020 movies; the title card comes very late into the picture. We see the title immediately after an unbroken 23 minute sequence where Martha (Vanessa Kirby) writhes in pain as she is giving birth at home with her husband Scan (Shia LaBeouf) and midwife (Molly Parker) by her side. It's a distubring, gut-wrenching, heart breaking scene that would deserve an Oscar if it were a short film by itself. 

In this picture,a grieving woman (Vanessa Kirby) embarks on an emotional journey after the loss of her baby.

The first 23 minutes of Pieces of a Woman is phenomenal in regards to direction, camerawork, scripting and acting. Vanessa Kirby should win many awards for her sheer intensity & desire to get across the pain of childbirth. After this Oscar worthy scene, the film skips forwards in time, dropping in on the characters every couple of week. Our cast is always in turmoil, with emotions cranked up to 11. Many scenes come across as a Douglas Sirk  melodrama, bordering on camp. 

The emotions never have time to breathe, at times Pieces of a Woman has the frenetic pacing of an action movie & the fragmented sections always take us to odd locations. One moment we're at a funeral home discussing graves, the next we're at a courtroom setting complete with a last minute change of heart speech. You want to love this film, but you're constantly pushed away by the execution of the material. 

Pieces of a Woman was a worthwhile watch, and is enjoyable if viewed as an over-the-top camp melodrama like Magnificent Obsession & All that Heaven Allows. If viewed without any irony, this film falls quite short past the brilliant opening scene. 

TIFF 2020 Review: David Byrne's American Utopia

Title: American Utopia
Year: 2020
Director: David Byrne 
Country: US
Language: English

Spike Lee is one of my favourite directors and when I heard a film of his would debut at Toronto International Film Festival I jumped at the chance to see it. This will be my seventh feature, one of three in a single day (these festivals can be tiring). The film, hosted by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, is an extravagant concert doc that is both much needed escapism and a reminder that we need to speed up progress on important things like climate change. 

Spike Lee documents the former Talking Heads frontman's brilliant, timely 2019 Broadway show, based on his recent album and tour of the same name.

"The pope don't mean shit to a doooog" Bryne sings more than halfway through the picture. I enjoy concert docs- and this may be my favourite. American Utopia a more scaled down intimate outing than his Stop Making Sense concert directed by Jonathon Demme. It is an incredible treat; eccentric acting, wacky dancing (choreographed by Annie B Parson) and both the host and supporting cast are full of charm and charisma. 

American Utopia is a wild ride that one can escape in, while also being full of messsages about voting (when you leave the broadway show you're given a voter id card) , climate change and the future of America. There is a tribute to the NFL star and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick, and Byrne also does a tremendous cover verson of Janelle Monáe’s Hell You Talmabout. The concert leaves you with plenty to think about, perhaps expanding your own political views. 

David Byrne's spectacle is a concert picture that demands not to be missed. I found myself tremendously enjoying the many hits Bryne sang, leaving a big smile on my face as the film ended. "Burning down the house". People talk about "They don't make pictures like those anymore!." well... they didn't make films like these 30 years ago! 

TIFF 2020 Review: New Order

Title: New Order 
Year: 2020
Director: Michel Franco
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish

The 6th film I've seen digitally from Toronto International Film Festival, Michel Franco's New Order has been the only somewhat polarizing picture between my spouse and I, so far. They found it empty; a lot of flash & shock, but little substance. Whereas I disagreed with their view, but not dramatically. After seeing the heartwarming Summer of 85' and the deliberately paced Nomadland, it was nice (if that's an appropriate word to use)  to see a picture so chaotic. 

In Mexico city a wedding takes place among the wealthy, but stirring within the city is a military coupe that threatens everybody. 

New Order feels like Haneke's Funny Games meets The Purge meets Killing Fields. It's shocking and disturbing; carnage lurks around every corner. It's a thriller about civil disobedience & the rage of the underclass that assaults our psyche with an unpredictable story that never lets up. Playing better as pure horror, rather than drama, this film is fairly unnerving even for those who like this kinda stuff. 

Michel Franco has no problem graphically desplaying the worst of human violence which, admittedly, detracted from the pictures' main message. The mass murder and depravity, some of which I had to skip,  that take centre stage in the second half of the film almost feel like a gorification of violence rather than a condemnation of it. New Order is sometimes too chaotic for its own good & could do with more exposition. 

Though I ultimately did find some enjoyment within the frenzy, this will be my least favourite of TIFF 2020 because of its lack of humanity and compassion. Even the soldiers in Alfonso Cauron's Roma were more sympathetic than these faceless creatures.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

TIFF 2020 Review: Summer of 85'

Title: Summer of 85'
Year: 2020
Director: Francois Ozon
Country: France
Language: French

I have seen a few of Francois Ozon's previous work (I have been meaning to see Frantz for quite some time) and while I've always been impressed, I never felt truly connected to his work. During the Toronto Film Festival of 2020 I decided "go to" a digital screening of Summer of 85 on a whim. Leading up to the screening I've heard mixed reviews, but my initial reaction is astonishment. This is fantastic cinema. I adore this film.

Two men, one named Alexis (Felix Lefebvre) & another named David (Benjamin Voisin) fall in love in a seaside resort in Normandy after Davis rescues Alexis from a capsized boat.

Based on the British 1982 YA novel Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers, Ozon transports the characters to Northern France. Ozon initially makes the picture seem like an obsessive pulp noir thriller, which may have also made a decent film, but I'm glad the picture is ultimately about intense love and intense grief. Summer of 85' is a tender story that tugs at one's heartstrings and gives us a wonderful piece of lgbttq art.

The cinematography, by Hichame Alaouie, is gorgeous. The mise en scene evoke the 80's and the choice of pastel colors remind me of french films before that period, like Jacques Demy's Young Girls of Rocheforte. The score is wonderful; albeit the soul of the picture is its use of Rod Stewart's Sailing which acts very much like Cat Stevens' music did in Harold and Maude, emphasizing a change in the main character.

Though several viewers have said the script can be frustrating and border on formulaic (too similar to Call Me By Your Name) I feel this is a great picture and spoke very deeply to me. Summer of 85 seems like a simple love story, but a great discussion about youth & grief is to be had within this picture. Breathtaking to say the least.

Monday, September 14, 2020

TIFF 2020 Review: One Night in Miami

Title: One Night in Miami 
Year: 2020
Director: Regina King
Country: US
Language: English

Of all the films at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, One Night in Miami was the picture I was looking forward to the most. Four towering African American icons (Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cook & Jim Brown) at varying levels of their fame, in one night, in one room. Sounds like a screenwriters wet dream, but it did actually happen in real life. This is the fourth film I watched digitally from TIFF and perhaps the one I'll enjoy the most. 

Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) , Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) , Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) gather to discuss their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s.

Like most films adapted from a play (Kemp Powers wrote the play) that is set in primarily one location,  dialogue and performances are the driving force. I was impressed by the casting; Kingsley does a remarkable job getting Malcolm X's mannerisms down, moreso than Denzel Washington did in Spike Lee's Malcolm X (1993). Goree gives a physical precense to Ali that is more in-tune with the real man than Will Smith in Ali (2001). 

Though there is little "action", One Night in Miami has an intoxicating centerpiece discussion that drives the importance of African American people's roles in society. Thtough their discussion we understand the conflicts within the Civil Rights Movement and dive into a discourse of toxic masculinity. I appreciate the main internal struggle, which is "What is the obligation of an artist to his society?" 

One can see parallels to the current Black Lives Matter Movement in the struggles of our four main characters. As a white male, I found myself priveleged to be a fly-on-the-wall during these disucssions of great importance. I left the film asking myself many questions "what should I be doing to help black lives matter?" and I feel many audience members will come out feeling the same way. 

TIFF 2020 Review: Shadow in the Cloud

 Title: Shadow in the Cloud 
Year: 2020
Director: Roseanne Liang 
Country: New Zealand 
Language: English

My 3rd of 10 digital films at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the marketing for Roseanne Liang's Shadow in the Cloud initially made me assume this would be a retelling of the famous Twilight Zone story Terror at 20,000 Feet, however many people on twitter proved me wrong as they've claimed it's an "inventive exciting action/horror romp with awesome budget cgi" That was enough to get me hyped!

In this, a female WWII pilot (Chloe Grace Moretz)  traveling with top secret documents on a B-17 Flying Fortress encounters an evil presence on board the flight.

Holy hell! Shadow in the Cloud is a pulpy piece of B-movie gold that would have been a wild ride if it were screened live at Midnight Madness. It's more of a "wtf" did I just see flick than outright horror, with inventive surprises kept me on the edge of my sofa. The fairly short run-time (1hr 23min) ensures its familiar yet ludidrous concept never overstays its welcome. 

"Did she just do that!?" I asked my spouse in disbelief. Moretz unleashes an explosion of feminist fury that Hollywood wishes they could capture. Captain Marvel (2019) was never this badass, not even close. Though Shadow in the Cloud is dripping with gender politics (the #metoo movement could use Liang's storytelling abilities) the gonzo actions scenes, complete with 80's synth, keep it from being preachy. 

Roseanne Liang is a film-maker I definitley will check out again. I admire how crazed, creative and well made this picture is. Shadow in the Cloud is jaw dropping in how unrealistic it is; so fun and campy. I can't wait till more of my friends see it so I can say "DID YOU SEE HOW SHE KICKED SO MUCH ASS??"