Author: Neil Mathieson

Review: Loving

In 1958 Richard Loving, a white man, married Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman, and they were arrested for their union. Interracial marriage was illegal in the commonwealth of Virginia and a judge ordered them to leave the state or face jail time. Richard and Mildred then packed their bags and left the only home they ever knew. Years later, during the civil rights movement, they were approached by the ACLU to appeal the ruling. Mildred and especially Richard were hesitant. They lived a quiet little life and were anxious to put it in jeopardy. They wanted to protect their love which was now going to be used to change the US constitution. Loving, by director Jeff Nichols, is a moving depiction of this frighteningly recent true story. Richard, stoically portrayed by Joel Edgerton, and Mildred, played radiantly by Ruth Negga embody the reticent couple at the center of the Supreme Court case. We are introduced to them just before their marriage in the lush Virginia countryside. Richard is a blue collar brick layer who races cars in his spare time with Mildred’s brothers. After buying a plot of land he proposes and takes Mildred to Washington, DC for the wedding. The movie then spans the next decade as their marriage attempts to survive the racist laws of the 1960s. Loving is also a significant tonal shift for Jeff Nichols. His previous films, Mud...

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Review: Off the Rails

If you have ever been on the New York City subway in the past twenty years, you might have been riding in a stolen vehicle. In Off the Rails we are introduced to Darius McCullum, a resident of Queens NY, who has spent half of his adult life in prison for impersonating MTA officers. He has been incarcerated over twenty-five times and illegally operated countless buses and trains. Darius is now fifty years old and still has an obsessive compulsion to operate NY transit vehicles. A compulsion that is ultimately linked to him being diagnosed with Asperger’s. The first time Darius was arrested he was fifteen and had illegally assumed control of a subway car. He had dutifully made all the scheduled stops, taking the train through its lower Manhattan route. Darius’ actions are not motivated by any sense of mayhem or maliciousness. On the contrary, his love of the subway is tied to a desire to serve the public. He sees himself as a superhero of sorts. His power being an encyclopedic knowledge of the transit system and its operations. Unfortunately his history of arrests caused the MTA to continuously deny him employment. Sadly, unable to find work as a felon, Darius would often have to stay in halfway houses between incarcerations. The story in itself is fascinating, but director Adam Irving brilliantly broadens Off the Rails. He takes it from a quirky character study and makes it into a greater conversation about mental health. It calls into...

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TIFF 2016 Review: Gaza Surf Club

Hollowed out by war Gaza sits precariously between Egypt and Israel. It is small strip of land home to some 1.85 million people weary from years of conflict. In Gaza “There is no hope” one man tells the camera. The Gaza Surf Club combats this cynicism by grabbing their boards and heading to the Mediterranean. There, against the backdrop of the dilapidated skyline of Gaza, they find respite from the shore. Ibrahim, a hustling 23-year-old and avid surfer, is desperate to forge a new life. He plans to leave Gaza and head to Hawaii to work as a surfboard maker. However,  he will first have to overcome the obstacles of his home. Sabah, a 15-year-old girl, also struggles to exercise her passion for surfing. In Gaza, surfing is not considered an appropriate activity for a young girl. The premise’s eccentricity is a winning recipe that co-directors Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine execute well. They capture Gaza beautifully by accentuating the dynamic faces of its people, its vivid pink skies, and desert sand hues. They find photographic splendour even in its dereliction. The elegant framing mixed with a light directorial touch creates an authentic atmosphere in Gaza Surf Club. Nothing feels over produced. Ibrahim is filmed simply in the routine of life; surfing, hanging with friends, and at work. Here a minimalist and humanistic approach is the most effective one. While the film features surfers...

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TIFF 2016 Review: Beauties of the Night

In the early 1900s, America had The Ziegfeld Follies and Germany had the cabaret. These were hugely popular and lavish acts revolving around a particular entertainer, the showgirl. While time relegated showgirls largely to vaudevillian eye-candy, in Mexico they were the pinnacle of feminine entertainment in the ’70s and ’80s. The stars of those shows in Mexico have all grown older, but they still maintain a beauty and vitality that many of us can only hope to have in our own golden years. In Beauties of the Night, director Maria José Cuevas uses archival footage mixed with present day interviews to introduce us to these lavish Mexican showgirls and their personal histories. We learn they are in fact multi-talented performers; singing, dancing, acting, and for Olga Breeskin, even violin playing. They were icons that built a career off the foundation of their sensual beauty. For them, being a showgirl was no act. Their persona on stage is intrinsically tied to their personal  identity. An identity they continue to have an unwavering devotion too decades later. The film’s style is loose and fun as you bounce from personality to personality. However, its looseness also causes it to lose momentum. It doesn’t allow itself the time and investigation of character to build something memorable. There are plenty of interesting pieces but they don’t add up to enough....

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Review: Warcraft

I have to admit I did not enter Warcraft with as much objectivity as usual. I had a strong sense of apprehension about the next two hours. I had seen the trailers, heard the buzz and dreaded another long drawn out multi-million dollar train wreck. Large movies that don’t work are painful. It’s like watching someone strip gears in an expensive sports car and Director Duncan Jones was given the keys to this behemoth vehicle. Warcraft, based on an incredibly popular video game of the same title, is the first installment of what its creators hope will be a successful franchise. Taking place in a medieval fantasy universe, Orcs, Humans, and Wizards battle for control of their land. The orcs world, Draenor, is dying and the orc Gul’dan decides to lead his people out of it. Gul’dan is empowered by a dark magic called Fel which murderously requires draining life in order to sustain it. He plans to take the orcs to Azeroth, which is already inhabited by humans. In Azeroth, Anduin (Travis Fimmel) commands the human military. To defend against the Orcs he must garner the help of the powerful wizard Medivh (Ben Foster). Once the sides are set, what unfurls is a rampage of clanging swords, pulsating spells, and thumping Orcs. Thankfully Warcraft was nowhere near as bad as I feared. Playing out in IMAX 3D, I was pleasantly surprised with quality...

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I got a friend in Jesus: Hollywood’s success in Christian entertainment

Picture yourself as a movie studio executive sitting in the board room about to be pitched. The film you are hearing about is not a comedy, nor does it have a glimpse of action. There is not a shred of nudity or sexual content and it is not expressly a movie aimed towards children. The project is based on a successful book but the story is about a young girl that overcomes a fatal illness, hardly a topic that draws crowds. The film would star Jennifer Garner who, while ubiquitous in pop culture, is not regarded as a box-office draw. It is not a film that will be marketed on late night talk shows and in between timeouts during March Madness. In fact the film will forgo the traditional expense of marketing with the mainstream media and won’t cater to capture the coveted coastal urban audiences. Would you greenlight it? Now as this executive you might say no, but someone said yes and despite its inconspicuousness in traditional spheres of media and marketing, Miracles from Heaven, is set for a $15M opening with an estimated $70M theatrical run and a frugal $13M cost of production. [Miracles from Heaven has since gone on to reach $69M theatrically worldwide at the time of publishing] This isn’t the first of its kind either. In an age when box office profits are more...

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Hot Docs 2016 Review: Mully

If you’re looking to infuse a little hope into your life, Scott Haze’s biographical documentary Mully has it in abundance. It is the rags to riches tale of Charles Mully, a Kenyan who amassed an empire only to sell it all in an act of charity. Born into a small village, Mully, was the son of a drunken and abusive father. One morning he awoke to find his family gone. Ostensibly an adolescent orphan he was forced to live on the streets and beg for food. He found faith and purpose in Christianity when he stopped to hear a sermon at a parish. This new faith gave him the confidence to walk to bustling Nairobi in search of work. There, he was given shelter by a kindly household and allowed to work on the grounds. He judiciously saved his earnings to buy a van and start a taxi service. One car became an entire fleet and the company Mullyways. Mully’s enterprise rapidly expanded into real estate, insurance and a monopoly on eastern oil transports. Married with eight children and a profitable consortium, Mully had attained unimaginable success. He had built a future for himself and his family from nothing. However, after getting his car stolen by street boys, as he had once been, he decided to change everything. He sells his businesses and spend his nights taking orphans off...

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