First Spin: Adele, “25” {Review}

via NME.com

If you go into 25, Adele’s new album, hoping for another 21, you will be severely disappointed.

The third (and apparently final) entry into Adele’s age-centric discography is its own unique entity that reflects a critical turning point in the famed singer’s life: adulthood. Not the adulthood of legal ages or fresh college grads, but the adulthood that encroaches with responsibility, overcoming identity crises, maturing relationships and in Adele’s case, parenthood, global success and Grammy-winning, Oscar-winning, record-smashing achievements. On this album, her narrative is a bittersweet, nostalgia-heavy farewell to the recklessness, amusements, love and heartache of days past, a journey that purposely departs from the tumultuous and into newer, possibly greener pastures.

Between “When We Were Young” (co-written by Canadian Tobias Jesso Jr.), the uptempo gospel “River Lea” and the forlorn retrospective “Million Years Ago”, that story isn’t too hard to find; in fact, in many ways, it feels like a circular journey to the  yesteryears of 19, the debut that brought “Hometown Glory” and “Chasing Pavements“. This time, it’s more about coming to terms with the wishes of what could have been and the things that are.

Part of the wonder of 25 is that there are several moments in Adele’s confrontational journey disguised as radio hits and platforms for stadium sing-a-longs. The belting lead single “Hello”, a magnet for Lionel Richie memes and break up text messages, is one example; the snappy, Max Martin (pop studio king; he’s worked with everyone from NSYNC* to Backstreet Boys to Katy Perry)-produced “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”, is another; and lest we forget the Bruno Mars-co-written ballad “All I Ask”, where Adele sings “It matters how this ends/Cause what if I never love again?”

The other part of this album’s wonder is that there are so many beautifully-constructed  moments that openly welcome Adele’s new emotional era. Sonically, “Water Under the Bridge” and “Remedy” rely on 90s-tinged production and structure, ultimately driven by Adele’s triumphant vocals to deliver the epic quality we’ve come to hope for from her.  The latter particularly swells with unconditional love, one that bursts and seeps via earworm “Sweetest Devotion”, produced by 21 headmaster Paul Epworth. Between that and “I Miss You” (also produced by Epworth), Adele carves new levels of depth that 21, in all its emotional complexities, did not quite get to in the same way.

Yet, the assurance, vulnerability and growth that 21 displayed, especially in comparison to 19, continues to thrive on 25, just on another plane. This album exists because it maintains that same level of self-actualization that 21 showcased, but it does so in a period of Adele’s life that demands differently of her. It’s really an incredible representation of those who are negotiating this space between regret and acceptance,  who are experiencing tectonic shifts self-perception and who are welcoming the days to come with a clearer heart. This is identifiable for so many, particular to this age or not.

And so no, 25 is not 21. It doesn’t need to be, because we’ve learned how to mourn, cope and survive. Now we need to learn how to move on.

**

Overall Rating: 9/10 Favourite Songs: “I Miss You”, “Sweetest Devotion”, “River Lea” and “Hello”

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The Overload: WTF – Missy Elliott’s Back, I Hated Spectre and Snowpiercer as a TV Show?!

Missy Elliott’s Triumphant Return With WTF (Where They From)

I grew up during the rise and peak of Missy Elliott’s career, which were years of genre-bending hip-hop, feminism, ADIDAS contracts and some of the best dancing in music videos for that time.  Yesterday, Missy Elliott returned with the Pharrell-featured “WTF (Where They From)” and a video for the new song, which have everything that make Missy’s music as iconic as it is: cheeky rhymes, infectious beat, funky outfits and well, Missy. Welcome back!!

Update: Master of None is fantastic!

I wrote in last week’s post about my excitement for Aziz Ansari’s new show, Master of None, and now after binging it, I can truly say that it is a fantastic show. It poses a lot of questions and conversations surrounding minority representation, feminism, modern romance (not Aziz’s book, though I’m sure there’s cross-over points) and the immigrant experience in a really poignant, hilarious and heartwarming way. There are a lot of interesting conversations coming out of the show, particularly from Ansari, who has remained quiet on many of the issues that the show tackles for so long. I am going to write a full review, but I can confirm that episode two, “Parents”, is not just scarily accurate, but it’s also the most insightful episode for me on a personal level.

Pop Stars Battle: One Direction vs. Justin Bieber(But Make Way For Alessia Cara)

Today is a big day for Beliebers and Directioners and the pacifist middle group, Belieboners (erm, Directbers?) because both are releasing new albums at a critical point in their respective careers. However, I would like to turn your attention to up-and-comer nineteen year-old Alessia Cara, a fellow Canuck and Ontario-dweller who just dropped her debut album, Know-It-All. It’s a solid debut that captures the exact awkward, innocent, dramatic and joyful moments of the years between adolescence and adulthood, and probably a record that will gain significant momentum in the months to come.

A Few Thoughts About Spectre (Slight Spoilers Ahead)

  • The first forty minutes are very well done, and then things become an odd patchwork of plots and ideas that attempts to tie all of the Daniel Craig-starring Bond films together, but fail.
  • The opening credits sequence is gorgeous and now all I do is listen to Sam Smith’s “The Writing’s On The Wall”.
  • When is the James Bond x H&M collection coming out?
  • In many movies, a villain that posts pictures of deceased characters might come off as creepy, but here it’s just so, so lame.
  • Monica Bellucci is a stunner.
  • I don’t feel wrong about my overall opinion of this movie (which is that I hate it) because my dad, a lifetime James Bond fan and viewer of mindless action films, also hated it.

Snowpiercer Is Becoming a TV Show

Snowpiercer is a Korean sci-fi dystopian film that came out in North America last year about a train that circles the Earth with the remaining survivors during an endless Ice Age. It’s a fantastic film with some great choreographed fight-scenes and intriguing plot. It was reported earlier this week that the film is being adapted for television and will be executive produced by the director, Bong Joon-Ho. The first of many questions: how many seasons can this show last on a train?

Julia Roberts, Meet Julia Roberts

Because who could fathom there being more than one Julia Roberts in the world.

Film Review: Spotlight

Spotlight is one of the best films of the year, and that’s because it does the exact same thing that its characters do: it tells the story right.

Helmed by director Tom McCarthy (The Cobbler, The Visitor), Spotlight is not a snappy, glorified recollection of The Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic child sex abuse scandal in Massachusetts. Its an honest, persistent, and tonally consistent film driven by the dual objective of accurately recounting the true procedural events that led to The Boston Globe’s revealing 2003 story and honouring investigative journalism.

Michael Keaton at the TIFF premiere of Spotlight (photo by me)

Rachel McAdams at the TIFF premiere of Spotlight (photo by me)

“Spotlight” is the name of the investigative team at The Boston Globe that uncovered the story. That team, along with other key personalities, are reflected in a heavy all-star cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schrieber and Billy Crudup). There aren’t many “big” performance moments for anyone in this cast; instead, their work is subtle and complexly layered, and its that balance that helps drive the delivery in this film. The success of this is, of course, underscored by McCarthy and Josh Singer (Fringe, The Fifth Estate) script which operates in a very linear, sensical and ongoing way. Some movie-goers might find this gradual, honed-focus approach to be lacklustre, but McCarthy and co. didn’t set out to make that kind of film.

Spotlight pays a wonderful tribute to the real-life team, and other journalists around the world, who dedicate their every effort to finding the truth. It is a cinematic achievement wrought with integrity in every facet, and the kind of film I wish I could see more of when I go to the theatre.

I attended a screening of Spotlight at the this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Spotlight releases in Toronto and Vancouver on November 13th and will have a nation-wide release on November 20th from eOne Films. 

Balmain x H&M: I Lined Up (Too Late), I Bought Nothing and I Learned Something

I’ll be the first one to tell you that while I like and appreciate fashion, I’m usually one to hold out for deals and flash sales rather than spend money on pieces that I may wear religiously for a season and then drop them in the next; I struggle with justifying the expense (and yes, I know, quality over quantity, invest smartly, pick staples, etc) but I will occasionally indulge if I am really interested.

To be clear: I was fairly interested in the H&M x Balmain (a French designer house) collection. The world was also very interested in the H&M x Balmain collection, which launched today in-store at 8 a.m.

When I heard that some people lined up for the retail launch for more than forty-eight (48!) hours, I didn’t have high hopes, but I thought “Hey Mehek, lack of high hopes does not mean no hope!” and so I woke up at 4:30am, put on quasi-straight eyeliner and shimmied my way to Yorkdale Mall where I proceeded to stand in a line for four hours. That means compared to some of the more dedicated variety of fashion nerds, I was there for 1/12 of the time that they were.

H&M promised wristbands for advanced access to the H&M x Balmain collection to the first 420 people, who in groups of thirty people, would be let in for a total of ten minutes of shopping. I was in the 450s (and there must’ve been an additional 200 people behind me), so it should really come as no surprise to you that my hope dwindled, but was not completely blown away because the staff suggested that should there be enough product, they would provide additional wristbands to those beyond the initial 420.

Cool. I’ll hang out for another two hours as the exhaustion chills set in just to watch group by group exit Yorkdale with their chic Instagrammable-boasting shopping bags, look on as they casually stroll to their vehicles, champions in their own right, to open their car trunks and begin reselling their just-purchased items at triple the cost. This is an unfortunate part: we cannot really control what people do with their purchase after their transaction, and there will be buyers willing to dish out dollars for these pieces.

As you can imagine, many people who actually got in did not have any intention of buying anything in particular: they just bought whatever they could, because they could. They bought A LOT of it, so much so that menswear sold out within the 100-150, and the women’s stock began to run low by the mid 200s.

Least to say, the line up I was in dissolved pretty fast.

The sentiment of thousands across the world after the Balmain x H&M launch

The sentiment of thousands across the world after the Balmain x H&M launch

Balmain x H&M display at Yorkdale Mall

Balmain x H&M display at Yorkdale Mall

While I feel like all those arm stretches and lunges I did were completely unnecessary because I didn’t actually get to shop the collection (save for the one remaining bandeau I saw around noon, which I could not justify spending $30 on), I actually found this experience to be quite enlightening. For one, I can now confirm that those obsessed with fashion are just as passionate and dorky as the fans I’ve encountered at movie premieres, concerts and book launches. For another, I now know what the true price(s) of fashion is: your sanity. Sleep. For one individual, it was their jacket, which they left behind on their lawn chair.

Finally, I understand why every year people are so frustrated with the H&M collaboration shopping experiences. It’s not the polite staff or relatively seamless organization (at least, at my location.) It isn’t the price points. It’s the underlying unfairness in allowing unlimited purchases from anyone with a wristband.

I’m not speaking about myself because I was not in that initial pool of 420 people and thus my chances were inevitably slim. However, if a company promises wristbands and product access for those 420 people, then there should be something available for these people to actually purchase. A guy who lined up for seventeen hours should have a shot at purchasing something. Forecasting should be better. Items should be restocked. There should be a cap on items (and not this two pieces per clothing item rule that H&M implemented – a real, overall cap of how many items you can purchase in total.)

Jourdan Dunn, Olivier Rousteig and Kendall Jenner in Balmain x H&M via hm.com

It’s also important to note that this seems to be H&M’s most successful collaboration yet. With Kardashian Balmain endorsements overflowing from each sister’s Instagram accounts, lead designer Olivier Rousteig’s social media and social circle, superstar models and a heavy publicity cycle, the H&M x Balmain sale was poised for a higher turnout than previous years.  It is so well-recognized amongst younger markets with the disposable income and possibly the desire to be like their Kendall-Kylie counterparts.

If one of the strategic objectives of these collaborations is to make high fashion accessible, then it should also be available to those who are promised an opportunity to purchase it. I hope that at some point H&M will take this under review because if they continue to have smash collaborations like this with such a reach, they will need to reconsider their delivery strategy. It may also help to improve their online shopping as their servers were unable to handle all of the people.

The Overload: North West Says No, Adele Says Hello and Phil Collins Hates Retirement

Welcome to The Overload, my new weekly post where I share pieces of by-now stale pop culture things and news, reheat and comment  on it for your reading pleasure every Friday! On this week’s edition…

NEXT TIME I’M AT BALLET, PLEASE NO PHOTOS

via Giphy/Nylon Magazine

On this episode of Dance Moms: Hollywood, North West took her mother’s advice to heart, put on her big girl Chanel tutu, had herself dragged across a parking lot and told the photographers to stop taking photos en route to her class. I wish I had that much confidence at three. And that tutu.

IT FOLLOWS: A WEIRD-GOOD HORROR MOVIE

I finally had the chance to watch the universally-adored It Follows and man, was it unnervingly weird and kind of kitschy because it drew on classic horror movie characteristics…but it is successfully creepy. Like, I turned off the lights and went to bed and for the first time in about fifteen years, I actually felt scared of the dark creepy. It’s on Netflix Canada for your viewing pleasure, just in time for Halloween.

HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE 

I’m here reporting from the other side to tell you I’m sorry for Adele breaking your YouTube record, Taylor Swift. Except I’m not, because 1) It’s Adele. 2) The video is directed by a Canadian named Xavier Dolan, and how could that be a bad thing 3)Excessive tissue use be damned, I do love this song (though admittedly, am still oddly underwhelmed by it, probably because it could easily be converted into a cheesy 80s ballad.) Also it’s been a week of hearing it/watching parodies/dubsmash videos/references so at least I can say that I’ve tried (and succeeded) to not get tired of this song.

JURASSIC WORLD VS. JURASSIC PARK TRILOGY

It’s no secret that I loved Jurassic World, mainly because of how nostalgia-inducing it was. To further emphasize that (and maybe further anger those who hated the reboot), someone named Pablo Fernandez created a video to compare Jurassic World to the original trilogy. Nothing will beat the original film (and in my books, The Lost World) but you can’t help but be a little amazed about what a dinosaur can accomplish in a wide shot across three decades.

TAKE A LOOK AT PHIL NOW (BECAUSE HE’S COMING BACK)

Phil Collins announced this week that he’s coming out of retirement to release a new album and go on tour. If you were born after 2000, Phil Collins is actress Lilly Collins’ dad and makes the kind of music that would probably make you groan. Well I groaned when I heard him as a 90s baby, so our generations aren’t totally disconnected, but I promise you liking this news will be cool in about twenty years so just do it!

THE WALKING DEAD RENEWED FOR SEASON 7 

via iOS9.com

Duh. But given how great/heartbreaking/anxiety-inducing this season has been so far, my genuine excitement might be stronger than my escalation of commitment with this show. And my tolerance for intestines falling out of bodies.

 

Film Review: Truth

via ComingSoon.net

Even on paper, any potential Truth had as a substantial commentary on journalism is squashed by the bias inherent to the film adaptation of a book by the story’s focal journalist-in-question, former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes. In 2005, Mapes and CBS anchor Dan Rathers broadcasted an investigative piece showcasing documents indicating that then-President Bush did not actually fulfil military obligations as he previously claimed. The documents were obtained from Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett, and though efforts were made, there was little authentication and confirmation that these documents were valid.

Within hours of the broadcast, Mapes and Rathers’ story was being tracked and refuted by online commentators, bloggers, and eventually by other networks and publications, mainly based on the authenticity of the documents and the reliability of Bill Burkett and other testimonials. This prompted CBS to open an investigation into the journalistic process, where they eventually determed that the documents were forged, causing Mapes and Rathers to lose their jobs. It’s actually an interesting moment in American journalism, one that I was unaware of at the time as a whee little highschooler; but given that Truth‘s inspiration comes from Mapes own telling in her novel Truth and Duty, it feels innately skewed towards Mapes’ intentions and defence.

Cate Blanchett (Blue JasmineCarol) is completely engaging and fierce as Mapes; she is easily the strongest quality of the film. Another would be her fantastic chemistry with Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), which is convincing enough to make you believe in their veteran capabilities as journalists and why their real-life counterparts were so staunch in their commitment to their work’s integrity, which draws some sympathy towards their story. By way of their performances, the audience can deconstruct some pieces of conversation surrounding the intersecting lines of due diligence, technology and journalism in today’s world, but it never comes to full fruition because the film, for the most part, zeroes in on Mapes career fallout rather than the entire scenario as a case study.

Truth is a snappy drama that is abuzz from the get-go and quickly falls into its polished, dramatic descent with a supporting cast of familiar faces (Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Olsen, Topher Grace). It is a smooth directorial debut from screenwriter James Vanderbilt (ZodiacIndependence Day: Resurgence), but not quite sleek enough to fall into the whimsically cool category nor striking enough to be a much talked about film in 2015; it is mainly just a resurrected defence.

I screened Truth at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Truth will be released across Canada this Friday, October 30th 2015.

 

 

 

 

Film Review: Room

via ComingSoon.net

It’s challenging to discuss the film’s story without spoiling it at its midpoint, so consider this your warning for any reveals ahead. You can skip to the bottom for some tidbits from the Q&A with director Lenny Abrahamson at TIFF. I also advise that when you go to see this movie that you bring tissues; perhaps a box, since your neighbour may not be as savvy as you. 

***

Room, an adaptation of Canadian author Emma Donoghue’s international bestseller of the same name, is a remarkable and heart shattering film whose two volumes of storytelling rest on leading stars Brie Larson (Short Term 12, 21 Jump Street) and Jacob Tremblay (The Smurfs 2). Their stunningly emotive howings both individually and together as protagonists Ma/Joy and Jack drive this story of trauma and survival.

Jack is like many kids; he likes to play, he likes to pretend, he likes to watch television and on most days, he likes to hang out with his mom. But does all of those things in Room – a shed that he was born and brought up in for his entire life, which is his whole world. His mother, Joy, knows otherwise; at the age of seventeen, she was abducted by a man named Old Nick and kept under lock and key for seven years in Room, clothed, fed, sexually and emotionally abused and impregnated by her captor. When Jack turns five, Joy decides it is time to plot an escape, but to do so, she must reveal the world Jack knows nothing of and prepare him for what could be their only chance to survive.

The first half of the film falls on this thriller-escape story, and result shouldn’t be surprising: Joy and Jack do make it out of Room alive. The second half deeply explores what it means to survive. Survival isn’t just about physically leaving a situation behind; it is also about navigating the emotional and mental trauma tied so firmly to such experiences. Some may be surprised by that tonal shift, but it is necessary in order to see the emotional arc progress.

In Room, the journey is propelled by the love between a mother and child, which is why the organic chemistry between Larson and Tremblay is so poignant. The unconditional love is the lifeline to a very disturbing and horrific experience, breathing motive and reason into both of their characters. Together, Larson and Tremblay prove to be a strong core of the movie; apart, they are strikingly strong, vulnerable and capturing.

Larson is a talent that’s been bubbling on the precipice of success for several years now, but this truly is her best performance to date. As Joy, Larson navigates her depression, PTSD and loss of adolescence in the face of assimilating back into the world with such complexity and honesty that it will be bewildering if she falls short in this upcoming awards season. Eight year-old Tremblay shows incredible depth in a role that demands innocence as much as it does maturity. I think people will be surprised by how much of an impact he has in this film, especially as we see him slowly explore his new world.

The fact that the movie nails down these two characters, their respective experiences and the relationship so well may be a testament to director Lenny Abrahamson’s faithfulness to Donoghue’s book; he did frequently collaborate with the author throughout the adaptation process. I say that as someone who hasn’t read the book, but I cannot imagine how readers may feel differently upon seeing the film because it is as emotionally evocative as fans of the source material made it out to be. The intimacy extends to the production as well; the first half was filmed in a 10×15 foot room in a Toronto studio.

Having won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, Room is already a hit with audiences on the festival circuit and for plenty of reason, too: it is truthful, layered, emotionally-driven story with some of the best performances I’ve seen this whole year. That won’t be easy to contain.

***

TIFF15 Q&A with Lenny Abrahamson Bits

  • When filming in the 10×15 foot room, they were always within the space and Lenny regular shot from the bath tub in the room
  • There was a huge search and open call to find an actor who could play Jake. They needed to find someone old enough to believe he can do the amazing things that he could do and also not see through the mythology of the story and be able to enter the scenes completely. Brie assisted with the search.
  • Jacob Tremblay wanted to be an actor as young as two years old, and believes that this was an easy film to make. He found that the music makes you feel scared.
  • Abrahamson was drawn to the story because it felt like a poem to his own children. He was interested in how to make a film with two distinct parts and how to preserve that journey.
  • Brie and Jacob spent a lot of time together in the room connecting with one another and spoke a lot about Star Wars.
  • The cinematography was approached with an inflected style by Danny Cohen (note: you’ll also see his work in the upcoming The Danish Girl which is absolutely beautiful)
  • Some of the challenges in the adaptation process included balancing the double image between Jack’s perception and the reality of the situation; adapting the novel in the second half because it is shaped differently; and creating a forward motion and tension.

Room will be released in Canada this Friday, October 23rd by A24 Films. 

Film Review: The Final Girls

IMG_3732

Director and cast of The Final Girls at TIFF15’s Midnight Madness

80s nostalgia is apparently a thing these days and running rampant in pop culture (most prominently is Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens), but few are nailing it with such a fantastic sense of irony as The Final Girls, a horror-comedy homage to slasher flicks of Halloween past directed by Todd Stauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas).

The Final Girls (referring to the last surviving girl who beats the villain in a horror movie) stars Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) as Max, daughter of scream queen actress Nancy (Malin Åkerman, 27 Dresses) who passed away in a car accident. Years later, Max attends an anniversary screening of her mother’s claim-to-fame film Camp Bloodbath with her high school friends and peers. A fire wreaks havoc at the event and Max, in an effort to save her friends, cuts through the movie theatre screen to escape.

When Max and her friends jump through the hole, they end up in the actual film Camp Bloodbath, allowing Max to reunite with her mother and the rest of the cast of the film. With the threat of the Camp Bloodbath plot and the legendary Billy Murphy, a former camp kid seeking murderous revenge, Max must work with her mother, her friends and the rest of the characters of Camp Bloodbath to survive.

The Final Girls works because it never takes itself too seriously, even with the reunion between Max and her mother. It instead weaves that subplot amongst the several hilarious slasher flick tropes to play off more as a tribute to the highly revered genre with some semblance of an emotional grounding . That said, you’ll probably only enjoy it to the same extent that you can take its camp-y (pun intended) ways; from the hair to the humour,ch-ch-ah-ahs and John Carpenter-esque production, there’s a lot that may make you groan. It helps that a stacked cast of popular and young faces, including Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries), Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games), Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), Adam Devine (Pitch Perfect) and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) are completely committed to the ridiculous ride and possess enough self-awareness to ensure that The Final Girls doesn’t try to convince you of much more than what it intends to be: an endearing, occasionally corny and well-intended celebration of the scary films that many of us grew up on.

I screened The Final Girls at TIFF this year. The Final Girls is now out in select theatres across North America.

Film Review: Sicario

Tension is the byproduct of nearly  element in Sicario, which in execution could have been disastrous or gimmicky if not for Denis Villeneuve (EnemyPrisoners)’s masterful ability to yield it. It’s the type of tension that will drive you to the literal edge of your seat; it’s the type of tension that makes Sicario brilliantly live up to the thriller genre, and one of the best films of the year.

Told through the perspective of FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt, The Edge of TomorrowInto the Woods),  Sicario (which means “hitman”)is about a secretive American operation to take down the leader of a Mexican cartel. Recruited by senior agent Matt (Josh Brolin, Avengers: Age of UltronNo Country for Old Men) and a man named Alejandro (Benicio del Toro, TrafficGuardians of the Galaxy), Kate is placed in the operation without much knowledge about the actual case. As she slowly unravels details, her sense of morality is challenged by the ambiguity of the situation and her coworkers.

A combination of Emily Blunt’s finesse with action scenes, physical toughness and vulnerability make Kate a strong female character to experience this very problematic world in throughout the film. It elevates the entire suspenseful journey screenwriter Tyler Sheridan (who you may recall as the morally confused Detective Hale on Sons of Anarchy) built when you have a focal point that acknowledges when the line between right and wrong is being crossed. By contrast, del Toro and Brolin carry out a slick sense of confidence and masculinity in their secretive ways; for the former, it is covert and understated, and for the latter, it is more traditional. While these three performances are equally essential and balanced, del Toro, both individually and in his chemistry with Blunt, is quietly pointed and unnerving.

While discussing this film in vague terms and overviews might seem fruitless, it is almost necessary in order to let the film speak for itself and to get the full effect of Villeneuve’s impeccable direction. With the assistance of frequent collaborator/cinematographer Roger Deakins, he crafts these visually dramatic scenes not by aimlessly throwing images for a cheap shock factor, but by using the dry American suburbs, deserts and the city of Juárez to drive that sense of an unknowing danger. Everything in this film is designed to make you feel an urgency creeping up on you, without any sense of what you actually want to rush towards. That tone is only furthered by a heightened and eerie score from Jóhann Jóhannsson (who won an Academy Award for his work on The Theory of Everything earlier this year), which will loudly follow you, along with everything else, when you leave the theatre.

That is why the tension is so critical to the actual film’s success; where many other films fall through upon the climax and conclusion, Sicario continues the momentum into the very last minute of the story. Its consistency doesn’t suffer by a lifeless objective of making the tension last for the sake of it; it feels purposeful to the very end.

I screened Sicario at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Sicario is currently out on limited release in North America before going wide on October 2nd. 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Ranking the 18 Films I Saw at #TIFF15

It’s been a crazy near-two weeks at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but I managed to cram in eighteen films in between red carpet photo ops (Days 3, 5, 6 and 7), volunteer shifts and this wondrous thing called sleep. There are tons I missed out on (I’m still upset I couldn’t fit Brooklyn in) but I’m quite happy with my overall choices and grateful for the freebies that came my way from the incredibly generous and kind people I met.

I’ll be posting full reviews in the coming days and weeks of each of these films, but until then, here is my ranking of the eighteen films that I watched at this year’s festival:

18. Mississippi Grind

Strong performances from Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn can’t save this film about two quasi-drunk gambling buddies who go on a road trip where eventually, nothing else happens.

17. I Saw the Light

A biopic on famed country singer Hank Williams paves the way for pure dynamite from leads Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen that never quite explodes due to the overly linear, repetitive and exhausted plot.

16.  The Man Who Knew Infinity

An interesting tale in the realm of The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game where the central plot and friendship, hinged on a developed Dev Patel and Jeremony Irons, overshadows any potential for genius, historically and creatively.

15. The Final Girls

A camp-y (pun intended) horror-comedy film that, if taken lightly, is pretty great; if taken seriously, will probably be amidst your worst nightmares of the genre.

14. Freeheld

The true story at the core of this film is a powerful reminder of the struggles and sacrifices in the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality. Ellen Page and Michael Shannon are the standouts in an otherwise mediocre-made film.

13. Colonia

The intriguing part of this story is the actual historical existence of Colonia Dignidad, an isolated community run on religious extremities and the host for torturing people in Chile. For those looking for Emma Watson’s next great role, you may want to look elsewhere. Still, the story is enough to keep your interest, especially in the climatic ending.

12. Anomalisa

via nerdist.com

An incredibly detailed and beautifully made stop-motion film directed by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). I was a little lost in the last act, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first two-thirds of the film.

11. Mr.Right

via Indiewire

A really ridiculous plot births some occasionally overdone comedic performances from Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell, but all-in-all some great fun.

10. Truth

Cate Blanchett once again proves her chameleon ways in her incredible performance as former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes. A true story that explores the politics of reporting occasionally feels sensationalized but still, enjoyable.

9. Demolition

Everything is a metaphor in Jean-Marc Vallée’s follow-up to Wild, and while there are only so many times you can take the imagery, Jake Gyllenhaal makes it all worthwhile.

8. Dheepan

A beautifully made-film that depicts the immigrant experience for a Sri Lankan family who escapes the civil war in their home country and settles in France. My points of contention with this film lie in the specific context that is used to tell this story, but I enjoyed the filmmaking and acting.

7.  Trumbo

Bryan Cranston is the snappy, witty and at-times frustrating Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood screenplay writer who is imprisoned and later placed on the Hollywood blacklist due to his belief in communism. An interesting look at the impact of Cold War politics on Hollywood, Trumbo is funny and entertaining with some great feature work from Cranston.

6.  The Danish Girl

Academy-award winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) returns with an impeccably produced The Danish Girl. Besides gorgeous cinematography and another strong effort made by Eddie Redmayne, star Alicia Vikander is the real treat in this film.

5. Room

Room is full of Canadian connections; the story comes from the book by London, ON-native Emma Donoghue, it was filmed in Toronto, and most importantly, eight year-old star Jacob Tremblay who is an absolute gem in the heartbreaking story, is from Vancouver. The chemistry between him and star Brie Larson guides this film to your gut. Winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Bring the tissues.

4. The Lobster

A dystopian film ridiculous in all the right ways, The Lobster is exactly the type of off-beat comedy that you would expect it to be and is so successfully hilarious.

3. Angry Indian Goddesses 

I’ve been waiting nearly my whole life for a film that tackles Indian women not in terms of stereotypes or Bollywood portrayals,  but in their authentic, diverse, colourful and wild ways. Angry Indian Goddesses is hilarious, charming, feminist, occasionally disjointed but a wonderful tale of what it means to be a woman. Runner-up to the People’s Choice Awards

2. Sicario

The phrase “edge of your seat” has never been more applicable to me than while watching Emily Blunt get sent into a deep, covert operation dealing with drug cartels. The combination of Blunt and Benicio Del Toro’s impeccable performances, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s eerie score and Montreal-native Denis Villeneuve’s masterful directing make Sicario one of the best cinematic adventures of the year.

1. Spotlight

The understated performances of an all-star cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber) guide the shocking story uncovering a mass scandal of child sexual abuse amongst Catholic priests in Boston. The integrity in the storytelling is a real tribute to the value of investigative journalism. Keep an eye out for this to sweep this year’s award season.