Dark Places is the latest Hollywood adaptation of a Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) novel. The film explores the life of Libby Day (Charlize Theron), who for twenty five years always assumed her brother Ben (Corey Stoll) murdered her mother and sisters. Now a mysterious club headed up by charming entrepreneur Lyle (Nicholas Hoult) wants to try and prove to her that may not be the case.

Gone Girl went on to be a critical darling and Academy Awards nominee. Dark Places unfortunately isn’t likely to receive the same amount of praise and attention. It isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not a particularly ground breaking one.

There are several reasons for this. The most obvious is the lack of director David Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenwenth. While Fincher has become a master at Hollywood noir cinema, French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner doesn’t display the same kind of confidence. That being said, according to IMDB, Dark Places appears to be his first big-budget Hollywood feature.

What Dark Places certainly isn’t lacking in is star power. With Charlize Theron, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicholas Hoult and Corey Stoll, the film is packed with some of the best A-list talent Hollywood has to offer.

In the 1985 section of the film, Christina Hendricks gives a strong performance as a mother at the end of her rope. Unfortunately sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on Hendricks’s performance because she wears some of the ugliest outfits ever put on camera. Can Hendricks and costume designer Janie Bryant please stay a team forever?

As the lead role of the film, sometimes it felt like Theron, like her character, was hanging around for the paycheck. Plenty of other films have showcased Theron’s talents as an actress, but Libby Day will not go down as one of the great characters of her career. Theron does little in this film except act pissed off.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoult does his best with a pretty thankless role. The character of Lyle has a lot of potential to be interesting, but unfortunately the script never lets him get there. Stoll finds himself in a similar situation as prison inmate Ben. While Dark Places is unlikely to win any awards, but hopefully it can show producers that Hendricks, Hoult and Stoll all deserve bigger, meatier leading roles in future Hollywood productions.

I’ve always been fairly neutral on auteur darling Paul Thomas Anderson. Oh sure, There Will be Blood was pure greatness spread across a crusty kaiser roll; but as longtime readers will remember, I found The Master (or at least, the second half) about as boring as watching paint dry, and without even the fun of any fumes to inhale. So the announcement of a new PT Anderson flick itself doesn’t get my blood running. But Inherent Vice looked fun and entertaining from the trailers, with a strong cast and Anderson’s to-be-expected excellent visual presentation. All of which the film delivered, but rather than merely the wild caper its trailers may have made it out to be, Inherent Vice is also one of the more tightly packed, intelligent, beguiling crime films I’ve seen in a while – a true blue Neo Noir the likes of which hasn’t been seen on screens in years.

Inherent Vice posterJoaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a drug addled private eye in 1970s LA who gets thrown into an ever-deepening labyrinth of crime and corruption when his old flame, Shasta, reappears out of the blue in classic noir fashion. It’s probably been said somewhere that it’s only really noir if the whole thing is kicked off by some leggy dame, who’s nuthin’ but trouble, crossing the hero’s doorstep, and Inherent Vice sticks to that rule. Shasta’s arrival drops Doc into an intensely convoluted criminal conspiracy involving drug smugglers, real estate moguls, police corruption and all that other fun neo-noir fare, with a heavy does of pot-fuelled paranoia to keep things even more interesting.

It’s that convoluted storyline that I think will keep Inherent Vice at arms length for a lot of people, or at least the film’s unwillingless to offer the audience any help in keeping up. Like Beyond the Black Rainbow last week, and Drug War beyond that, Inherent Vice will not offer you any aid in keeping up with the vast conspiracy you’re thrown into. Let your attention wander and you’re bound to miss at least five pieces of crucial information, and God help you if you go for a pee-break. And even just paying attention isn’t enough. There’s a lot of double-speak, implication, and conclusions reached by the characters in the film that aren’t always spelled out in plain English for the audience. I’m not sure how much of this comes from Anderson and the screenwriter intentionally, and how much is that old “adapted from a book” problem where you feel like you’re missing a vital piece or two of the picture if you haven’t read the book in advance. But either way Inherent Vice isn’t what you’d call a “casual” movie. Pay attention, think and maybe you’ll be able to keep up. Maybe.

Inherent Vice Roberts

But even if you get lost, you can at least still enjoy the dynamite performances and visuals. I was bracing myself for Phoenix to go a bit too Johnny Depp, reducing his performance as Doc to a collection of affectations, ticks, one-liners and pratfalls. But while those are all there, he doesn’t let Doc become a caricature. There’s always the sense that there’s more lurking under the surface, and with a performance like this that’s a tricky thing to pull off. Josh Brolin is a deadpan powerhouse, often delivering some of the film’s most memorable lines (I want my “Motto Panecaku!” shirt), and the rotating cast of walk-ons all do fine, even if a lot of them only get one or two scenes tops.

Anderson, as fans have come to expect from him, comes through on his rep for visually breathtaking movies. The framing, camera movements, and general formal qualities are all strong. The image has this nice washed out quality on top of what must have been very colorful sets and costumes, making the film look almost like a comic book left out in the sun or something. There’s also this nice trend of long takes, but not attention grabbing long takes. More the kind that demands that the actors keep on top of their game and keeps the attention without being distracting.

Like a lot, if not all, of Anderson’s movies, I don’t think Inherent Vice is for everyone. But in a film culture that often seems to baby its audience, catering to as many demographics as possible, and treating the audience with kid gloves, it’s refreshing to see a film that dares to demand its audience to pay attention, think, and make connections themselves, rather than watch as the film spells them out. For people willing to acquiesce to this demand, Inherent Vice can be an incredibly rewarding experience if you manage to tease out what’s going on, which admittedly can be pretty damn tricky. I have a feeling I won’t totally “get” it until I’ve seen it at least one or two more times. But even if you can’t quite follow every minutia of the plot, the atmosphere, performances and humor are all more than enough to keep you entertained.

Last summer, women flocked in droves to see members of a bridal party dramatically desecrate a flashy wedding gown, take out their crazy on a chocolate fountain and fart joke their way to the top of the box office. This summer’s runaway film hit with female audiences goes for a complete different type of girl bonding experience that involves watching buff, bare-chested heartthrobs perform a series of coordinated pelvic thrusts before brazenly ripping off their tear-away pants. Welcome to the seedy underbelly of the Florida stripping scene, filtered through the lens of Stephen Soderburgh.

You can practically smell the ball sweat coming off the screen as Channing Tatum, one of Hollywood’s rising stars, reprises a role that he played in real life. He sure has come a long way since flaunting his fancy footwork in Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” video and the “Step Up” franchise. As the titular character, Tatum takes the fresh-faced youngster Alex Pettyfer, affectionately referred to as “The Kid”, under his wing and thrusts him into the spotlight, pun intended. The plot proceeds exactly as you’re predicting it might – before strip club owner (and scene-stealer) Matthew McConaughey can eke out another Wooderson-inspired “alright alright alright”, the Kid gets corrupted and Magic Mike’s whole world goes up in smoke.

While the screening of “Magic Mike” that I attended wasn’t exactly packed with rowdy, ravenous ladies, there were many moments that elicited hoots and hollers from the crowd. Unsurprisingly, there were quite a lot more chuckles at the dance sequences than ooohs and ahhhhs. The film confirmed one of my suspicions about male stripping – it’s clearly a lot more ridiculous than it is sexy.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what about male stripping is so silly. All the elements for arousal are there on paper – subjectively attractive bodies, glistening skin, simulated sex… ok, there’s no way I can even write this without it venturing into Harlequin romance territory.  And while there are some women out there whose panties get a little wet at the aforementioned scenario – approximately one third, if you believe in anthropologist Carole S. Vance’s “One-Third Rule”, which supposes that when an erotic image is presented to a group of women, one-third of them will find it disgusting, one-third will find it ridiculous, and one-third will find it hot – but I regrettably am not one of them.

Another reason why audiences might turn to laughter at the trying-to-be sexy moments is that engaging this seemingly naughty act with a group of friends instills an elementary school level of giddiness attained when skipping school together for the first time. Male strip clubs provide a relatively safe environment for women to play the role of the desirer, whether that makes them uncomfortable or not.

In her interesting review of the film, Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon.com pondered whether male strippers were a bit too in need of being desired, rather than doing the desiring that supposedly turns straight women on. “Men objectifying themselves is feminizing,” she notes, quoting journalist Susannah Breslin, especially when they choose to do so in a traditionally female-dominated industry.


VERTIGO (1958)

Starring: James Stewart and Kim Novak

Written by: Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

128 minutes

Throughout his career film director Alfred Hitchcock was no stranger to the themes of obsession, murder and desire. In Vertigo, (1958) the story of a retired detective with acrophobia who falls in love with the woman he’s been hired to tail; each of these themes were at their most bizarre and overtly sexual. While the film is without a doubt one strange trip, it also happens to be Hitchcock’s masterpiece.

I don’t say masterpiece easily; Hitchcock has many other films that one could argue deserves the top spot (Psycho, Rear Window). It’s not a concrete method for qualifying what makes a film great perhaps, but (most of the time) when it comes to film I don’t want to be mindlessly entertained. I want to be presented with a story that keeps me engaged, that dares to confront me, and most importantly continues to deliver an emotional impact after repeated viewings. Vertigo stands out because after a viewing it lingers much longer in my mind then any other Hitchcock film.

I’m all for actors expanding their range, though at first it is strange to see James Stewart (aka the Tom Hanks of his day) play Johnny “Scottie” Ferguson. When Johnny is obsessively trying to make over shop girl Judy to resemble Madeleine (both women played by Kim Novak) the woman he was tailing who later died, you can’t help but shiver. When watching Vertigo there’s always that part of me that wants Stewart to turn into George Bailey and run home to his one true love Donna Reid. But in the end Stewart’s good guy persona works in his favour because he pulls off the difficult task of portraying a man who is both severely mentally disturbed yet oddly sympathetic.

While Kim Novak is no Grace Kelly or Tippy Hedren, she does share the essential qualities of all Hitchcock women; ethereally beautiful, blonde, and an icy cold demeanour. I’ve read criticism that claims Novak’s performance is too stiff, which I find ridiculous. Just as Wes Anderson makes sure his actors always deliver lines in a deadpan monotone, Hitchcock characters are always stiff and reserved.

I thoroughly enjoy Novak’s performance, even when her make up remains absolutely perfect after jumping in the San Francisco Bay. You can’t help but feel sympathetic for a woman who is so in  love she subjects herself to Johnny’s unhealthy obsessions just so she can be around him. The big twist in the film, which I’m desperate to spoil here but won’t, makes Judy’s decisions even more heartbreaking.

In the end Vertigo is about love, but not the “happily ever after” kind. Rather it is a fascinating and disturbing portrait of love at its most twisted, unfulfilling and sadomasochistic.   While the fake backdrops, cheesy special effects and swelling music  date the film, the complex themes and performances of Vertigo always makes you want to come back for more.



JESSICA: (in a sultry, low voice) Stephanie’s coming over tonight to work on our article on Cinema L’Amour. Thinking about it is getting me a little excited.   The pizza’s in the oven, the salad’s made… ding dong… oops! I forgot to put on a shirt! I hope she likes black lace, wink wink.

While it’s never hard to come up with topics every week   for Friday Film Review, I’ve often made the vow that I would go out more on the town to cover things like the other writers for the site do. After a few failed attempts, this past week I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience a night out with Sex Columnist Jess Klein to go to the historic Montreal porn theater Cinema L’Amour.

The woman at the ticket counter seemed perplexed when a “lesbian couple” (Tuesday night was free for couples) entered the theater. “There’s no women here” she said with her head slightly cocked.

“But there’s women in the movie right?” Jess giggled as she leaned her head into my shoulder.

We were then ushered into the empty couples only section, a roped off portion directly in the middle of the theater. As a couple it seems, you are also part of the show.

The sparsely populated theater was already dark when we walked in. There was a countdown on the screen set to operatic music, and it immediately set the tone for the weird evening that was to come.

At first, you can’t help but look around. From outside it really doesn’t look like anything special. You’ve probably walked passed Cinema L’Amour a thousand times yourself on St-Laurent and not thought twice about it.   Once you pass the florescent lights of the lobby the theater, which was built in 1914, is absolutely gorgeous. The gilded detailing, the balcony (which we debated the entire evening about attempting to sneak up to) makes you dream of what it was like to see movies there in the twenties.

Our  gaze immediately became glued to the screen the moment we started noticing the other patrons. In the age of internet porn, it’s not surprising that the majority of the audience was older men of the balding variety. It felt like every creepy mailman and janitor you’ve ever met in your entire life decided to get together and have a party.

Four minutes before the end of the countdown, the movie started. The movie was a parody of Seinfeld,  a television show from the nineties you may have heard of. This is the film review section of the article after all, and so it must be noted that the production value of the movie was surprisingly excellent.

The sex was so uninteresting that I kept thinking to myself wow, this really looks like Jerry’s apartment. Wow, that guy does a really good soup Nazi impression. I was so bored with the sex honestly that the actors had me more engaged when they were making fun of Seinfeld then when they were having sex with each other.

About half an hour into the movie, our tenure as the sole residents of the couples only section ended. A man lifted the velvet rope, and ushered his girlfriend in. They sat at the end of the same row as us. And that’s when the night really started to get weird.

Intrigued? For part two of Steph and Jess’s Cinema L’Amour adventure, read The Morning After with Jessica Klein.

Love it? Well, come like us on Facebook. More to come tomorrow!

Photo from loyalkng.com

“You know what I love about High School girls’ man?”-David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) in Dazed and Confused


Starring: Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Wiley Wiggins, Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck

Written and Directed by: Richard Linklater

Distributed by: Universal and Gramercy Pictures

103 minutes

People always ask me what my favourite movie is. While I don’t want the column this week to turn into one of Laurence’s rants, I have to say it’s a pretty annoying question. How could one two hour production possibly sum up everything I love about the movies?

My stock answer for when I don’t feel like getting into it is The Shawshank Redemption (1994) (which I have to say is pretty darn close to being the perfect movie). But when I do feel like doing a little ranting of my own, what I tell people is that while its ridiculous to expect me to have one favourite movie,   I can easily pick favourites of specific actors, genres… etc. And when it comes to high school flicks, without a doubt my favourite is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused.

First and foremost, this movie has one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. Music is crucial for many reasons to the success of a movie, and (besides maybe a Martin Scorsese or Wes Anderson movie) I can’t think of any other soundtrack out there that’s better than this one. Like a really great high that comes on slow but strong, the opening shot of a car gliding across the screen as “sweet emotion” blares sucks you in the world of Dazed and Confused and  never lets go.

Owing a lot to  (pre-Star Wars) George Lucas’s  American Graffiti (1973), Dazed and Confused has the same basic story: following various groups of kids (the jocks, the nerds, the pretty girls, the stoners)… as they drive around town with no particular place to go.  It’s not exactly the most revolutionary of movie ideas, but it works so well  because we all remember that point in our lives when you weren’t old enough to get into bars and the reckless behaviour trying to find your own produced good time. I find that not only teen movies but movies in general these days try to be too high-concept. When you have good people involved, reading a phone book can be completely engaging. The music comes in so well when the mood of being young, bored and rebellious is matched with Matthew McConaughey strut his stuff to Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” or have a montage of the school being trashed to “School’s out” by Alice Cooper.

The popular girls at Lee High School

Even though the movie has about 800 people in it, writer/director Linklater’s script along with some very hilarious performances means that there are non-stop memorable characters and moments  throughout the film, which have gone on to become pop culture staples. We all remember McConaughey’s loser who grow up but still hangs around the high school kids, or Rory Cochrane as the most hilarious stoners ever put on film. (Yeah I’m “cool” Slater…)  My all time favourite character though? Queen Bitch supreme Darla Marks played to catty perfection by Indie goddess Parker Posey. Darla is the kind of girl that you hate/love/wanna be friends with so you can bitch about behind her back. All the ‘leads’ (aka those who have more then a few lines) are all well developed, fully realized characters which I love to death.

When I think about the fact that when I was 14/15 I was watching movies like Dazed and Confused and kids my age now are watching movies with Miley Circus, Justin Bieber and those god damn Twilight kids just really makes me sad, and I wonder where people tastes have gone. Oh look at that, I guess this turned into a rant after all :).