Monday Movies: Blue is the Warmest Color and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Blue's raw, honest storytelling trumps explicit sex scenes; Jack Ryan couldn't recruit a shadow of an original screenwriting team

Naked Heart

Although some people who don’t often attend subtitled art films will be drawn to Blue Is The Warmest Color because of the notoriety surrounding its protracted and explicit sex scenes, they may be turned on by something rather different: immersion in one of the most affecting and emotionally resonant coming-of-age stories in recent years. Newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos stars as a 15-year-old teenager also named Adele, an ordinary girl who feels “inauthentic” when she starts a relationship with a handsome boy at her school. Then she finds herself profoundly attracted to a 20-something woman named Emma (Lea Seydoux), a worldly art student with blue hair and a circle of bohemian friends.

After an initially diffident courtship the two fall madly in love and Blue proceeds to chronicle their day-to-day existence with a naturalism that gradually envelops the viewer. From awkward “meeting the family” scenes to much later sequences where Adele has become a teacher, mundane reality is persuasively captured. But it’s the rapport between the two actors that is most memorable. The film spans a decade and runs for three hours, but it never drags as Adele and Emma work through a passionate and emotional love affair where a difference in age and life experience ultimately presents challenges that can’t be kissed away.

Despite being the big news at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival – the film’s director and the two female leads were, uniquely, all awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or – Blue was more recently ignored by the Golden Globes and received no Oscar nominations at all. It is a harsh snub for a film that is notably raw, authentic, honest, and intensely real. Indeed, the performance by Exarchopoulos in particular is nothing less than extraordinary. Easily one of the best films of last year, Blue is must-see viewing for followers of serious cinema.

Rating: ★★★★

(Blue Is The Warmest Color runs Tues.-Sat., Jan. 28-Feb. 1 at UVic’s Cinecenta).

Spy Jinks

Techno-thriller author Tom Clancy may have died, but his hero lives on in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, an “origins” tale by two scriptwriters who are helping maintain the lucrative Clancy movie franchise. The resulting spy caper, which shows the young Jack making the jump from CIA analyst to kick-ass field agent, is sleek but decidedly formulaic.

Handsome and blue-eyed Chris Pine (Star Trek) stars as the intrepid Jack, who is working undercover on Wall Street. He gets more than he bargained for when his firm’s big Russian partner seems to be up to no good and Jack jets over to Moscow to investigate. After surviving an assassination attempt, he meets with sinister oligarch Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). This leads to Jack combining forces with his CIA handler (Kevin Costner) for a stealthy evening raid. Things don’t exactly go as planned, but even as the bullets are flying they at least get what they came for: news that a plot to launch a terror attack as a prelude to destroying the American economy kicks off in just 18 hours. Cue the cavalry!

Shadow boasts two set pieces, neither all that memorable: the (rather improbable) raid on Cherevin’s tower is like something out of a TV episode of Mission Impossible, while the climactic drive-like-hell-to-get-the-bomb-out-of-Manhattan sequence was already done less than a year ago. But they at least get half-marks for casting Keira Knightley as Jack’s girlfriend and letting her be a little bit more than just a damsel in distress. With Putin brutally in control of a Russia that seems ever more like Mordor, now does seem like a good time to revive old Cold War hostilities. All Hollywood needs is a better script.

Rating: ★★1/2

(Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit continues at SilverCity & Westshore).

Film OPENING

INEQUALITY FOR ALL -(Vic) The economically devastating impact of the ever-widening income gap in the United States is the subject of a documentary that follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he examines the implications of this growing threat to the middle class.

I, FRANKENSTEIN -(SilverCity/Westshore) Aaron Eckhart stars in a special effects-driven fantasy thriller about how Mary Shelley’s legendary monster becomes mankind’s saviour as two demonic clans wage war on earth. With Bill Nighy.

★★★½ DALLAS BUYERS CLUB -(Odeon) Matthew McConaughey has latterly gone from laughing stock to leading actor, and is currently an Oscar fave for his role in this true-life 1980s-era story of Ron Woodroof, a redneck, homophobic rodeo rider from Texas who finds out he has contracted AIDS from wild living. Given only weeks to live, Woodroof finds out about the experimental drug AZT and comes alive as a drug-smuggling AIDS activist, helping not just himself but many other sufferers. Co-star Jared Leto is also nominated, for best supporting actor.

★★★★ 12 YEARS A SLAVE -(Odeon) This harrowing, true-life tale of a free black man in 1840s America who was kidnapped and sold into slavery is this year’s Oscar front runner. Directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Brad Pitt.

 

CONTINUING

★★★½ AMERICAN HUSTLE -(Odeon/SilverCity/Landmark Uni 4) David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) looks good to be collecting Oscar Gold for this screwball crime dramedy, loosely based on the 1970s Abscam scandal, when an FBI sting ensnared a bunch of congressman on corruption charges. This devil’s brew of messy emotions and sneaky double-crosses features a great cast that includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence.

★ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES -(Westshore) The comedic adventures of delusional, sexist, and highly self-regarding newsman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) move from 1970s San Diego to the advent of cable news in 1980s New York. The cast includes Harrison Ford, Paul Rudd, Vince Vaughn, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kristen Wiig, and Christina Applegate. As I staggered out of this gratingly unfunny bomb I was reassured to hear someone in front of me declare, “That was the stupidest, piece-of-s%@t movie I’ve ever seen.” Amen.

★★½ AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY -(Odeon/Landmark Uni 4) A wildly dysfunctional family has an acrimonious, often venomous reunion after a funeral. Meryl Streep acts up a storm as the family matriarch, but all the shrieking and anger and emotional messiness doesn’t have much of a point. The great cast includes Chris Cooper, Sam  Shepard, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, and Dermot Mulroney.

DEVIL’S DUE -(SilverCity) A pregnancy takes a turn to the dark side in this critically-derided horror flick about demonic possession.

FROZEN -(SilverCity/Westshore) As a prelude to winter comes this appealing Disney animated tale about a brave woman who sets out to rescue a kingdom trapped in eternal winter. Some of the other characters include a goofy snowman and his reindeer buddy. Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.

★★★½ GRAVITY -(Odeon) Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a harrowing, brilliantly-executed thriller about two astronauts aboard a space station who survive an accident only to find themselves drifting helplessly through space, with little hope of rescue or survival. Oscar loves this movie!

★★★HER -(Odeon) Most critics have loved the latest from the incomparably weird Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely writer who develops an intensely intimate relationship with his computer’s Siri-like operating system (voiced with beguiling sexiness by Scarlett Johansson). See review in the monthly Monday Magazine.

★★★THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG -(SilverCity/Westshore) Peter Jackson delivers three hours of fast-paced entertainment in this exciting, combat-filled and often funny account of Bilbo, Gandalf, and a bevy of bearded dwarves as they confront that terrifying, gold-hoarding dragon named Smaug (voiced by the suddenly ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch).

 

★★½ THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE -(SilverCity) In the middle movie of this dystopic future-world trilogy for teens, the oddly-named Katniss Everdeen (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence) gets caught up in some deadly schemings after a rebellion outrages Panem’s despotic ruler (Donald Sutherland). This is predictable stuff, but boy is it popular!

★★½ JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT -(SilverCity/Westshore) A young Jack Ryan (Chris Pine, ***Star Trek) has to upshift from covert CIA analyst to kick-ass field agent in this high-octane thriller about a Russian plot to destroy the U.S. economy as part of a terrorist attack. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and co-starring Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, and Colm Feore. See review.

THE NUT JOB -(SilverCity/Westshore) So-so reviews have greeted this animated romp about a curmudgeonly squirrel who gets banished from his park and has to learn to survive in the big city — so watch out, Maury’s Nut Store! With the vocal talents of Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, and Will Arnett.

★★★½ PHILOMENA -(Landmark Cinema 4) Oscar-nomination speculation is already swirling around Judi Dench for her performance as a woman who was forced to give up her out-of-wedlock child 50 years ago and is now determined to track him down. This surprisingly funny dramedy co-stars Steve Coogan and is directed by the great Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen).

★★★LONE SURVIVOR -(SilverCity/Westshore) The title is a bit of a spoiler, but this true-life account of four SEALs dropped into Taliban territory in Afghanistan on a very dangerous mission is kinetic and stunningly brutal. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster.

★★RIDE ALONG -(SilverCity) The jokes are raunchy and predictable in this action comedy about a fast-talking security guard who joins his cop brother-in-law-to-be on a ride along in order to prove himself worthy of marrying the man’s sister. With Ice Cube and Kevin Hart.

★★★ SAVING MR. BANKS -(Westshore/Landmark Uni 4)  Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are both delightful in this entertaining, true-life tale of the struggle Walt Disney had to convince the uptight English author of Mary Poppins to allow him to make her beloved children’s book into a movie.

★★★½ THE WOLF OF WALL STREET -(Odeon/SilverCity) Revered director Martin Scorsese reunites with Leonardo DiCaprio for this electrifyingly debauched, true-life tale of Jordan Belfort, a sleazy Wall Street stockbroker at the centre of a massive financial scandal in the 1990s. With Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, and Jon Favreau.

IMAX

GREAT WHITE SHARK -(Fri.-Thurs., 10 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, 5 pm) The ocean’s most iconic predator gets star billing in a documentary exploring the myth and the reality of the great white shark and the scientists who study it.

★★★ HIDDEN UNIVERSE -(11 am, 2 pm, 4 pm: Fri.-Thurs.) Travel to the farthest reaches of the visible universe courtesy of the world’s most amazing telescopes.

★★½ HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE -(Fri.-Thurs., 7 pm) n the middle movie of this dystopic future-world trilogy for teens, the oddly-named Katniss Everdeen (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence) gets caught up in some deadly schemings after a rebellion outrages Panem’s despotic ruler (Donald Sutherland). This is predictable stuff, but boy is it popular!

★★★ SPACE JUNK -(noon, 6 pm) Hundreds of tons of junk are orbiting above the planet, and this fascinating doc tells you why you need to know about it.

SCREENINGS

MOVIE MONDAY – screens In search of Blind Joe Death. Legendary folk guitarist John Fahey is profiled in this documentary, which includes interviews and performance and archival footage. Although called a “primitive,” Fahey was a profound and almost mystical performer who explored everything from Delta blues to New Orleans jazz in his seminal recordings.  6:30 pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.

MUSIC MOVIE WEDNESDAY -screens Under African Skies, which chronicles Paul Simon’s return to South Africa for a historic reunion concert 25 years after the release of his landmark Graceland album. 7:00 pm WEDNESDAY in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.

CINECENTA

Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365. cinecenta.com.

★★ LAST VEGAS -(Fri.-Sat., Jan. 14-25: 3:00, 7:00, 9:10) Four sixty-something pals head to Las Vegas for a last, very predictable, hurrah. The geriatric laughs are generated by Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.

★★★½ THE PRINCESS BRIDE -(Sat.-Sun., Jan. 25-26: 1:00 matinee) Rob Reiner’s spoofy and funny homage to fairy tales is a classic.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS -(Sun., Jan. 26: 3:00, 7:00, 9:10 & Mon., Jan. 27: 7:00, 9:10) This “brash, bristling, highly watchable film” (Salon) stars Daniel Radcliffe as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg during his heady college days. His group of cultural anarchists includes William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston).

★★★★ BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR -(Tues.-Thurs., Jan. 28-30: 7:00) This much-lauded French drama is the absorbing coming-of-age story of a high school girl who has an intense affair with a 20-something woman. Although notorious for its explicit sex scenes, the reason to see this film is for the fantastic acting of the two leads (who were both awarded top prize at Cannes). See review.

THE VIC THEATRE

The Vic Theatre is located at 808 Douglas Street. Info: thevic.ca

INEQUALITY FOR ALL -(Fri.-Thurs. Jan. 24-30: 7:00) The economically devastating impact of the ever-widening income gap in the United States is the subject of a documentary that follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he examines the implications of this growing threat to the middle class.

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