Romy Shiller

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

My thesis

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Academic, Drama, Film, Uncategorized on March 23, 2016 at 3:02 pm

My thesis: A critical exploration of cross-dressing and drag in gender performance and camp in contemporary North American drama and film



In Comedy, Film, Romance on November 23, 2015 at 8:30 am


About: [from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia] Trainwreck is a 2015 American romantic comedy film directed by Judd Apatow and written by Amy Schumer. The film stars Schumer and Bill Hader along with an ensemble cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, John Cena and LeBron James.

Plot: Gordon Townsend [Colin Quinn] is telling his two young daughters Amy (Devin Fabry) and Kim (Carly Oudin) that he and their mother are divorcing because monogamy isn’t realistic. Twenty-three years later, Amy [Amy Schumer] is a party girl who drinks too much, smokes weed and sleeps around while dating a gym-addict named Steven [John Cena]

Instead of Titanic you get Trainwreck. The film uses the comparison metaphorically and then throws it away in the recycling bin. I adore that this film opens on a ferry and not a ship. I adore that Schumer recreates Winslet’s “I’m flying” pose. I adore that our lead female reinvents herself and the romantic comedy genre. In a voice-over she says that she hopes the romantic montage is over soon and that it ends like Jonestown [suicide]. Judd Apatow’s involvement means that the tone will be irreverent – and it is.

Judd Apatow tells Variety that he discovered Amy Schumer on the Howard Stern show: I come at everything as a fan. I’m just like a kid who sat in his room and watched Merv Griffin all day long. So every once in a while I’ll hear something and say, “That’s my favorite comedian.”

I was in my car. I was not that familiar with Amy Schumer’s standup. She was talking to Howard Stern, and she was so engaging. She was talking about her dad having MS and what her relationship is like with him. It was very dark and sad, but also very sweet and hilarious and she clearly adores him. I thought, “This is a very unique personality and I’d like to see these stories in movies.”

So, Schumer plays a woman who has many one-night stands and is scared of intimacy. She meets a sports-doctor on a writing assignment and falls in love. She is very unconventional which does make this a unique rom-com.

I think that she resonates with many men and women. Love and intimacy are not perfect things. They’re far from a romantic montage and even if there is a desire for perfection there are, most often, issues to deal with.

Schumer has a difficult time just ‘trusting’ and most of her relationships follow her father’s older warning that ‘monogamy is unrealistic.’ Her initial love-interest played by John Cena leaves her cold and not emotionally attached. She is not monogamous and has many one-night stands. He learns of this and claims that he wanted to marry her. Her response to his distress is that she is too ‘high’ for this conversation. Her ‘reality’ is being high or absent from important moments. She does not live in the present in a way that involves her at all.

When she meets a man who calls after sex she assumes he is insane. He dashes her expectations of casual encounters. This might not be a ‘casual encounter’ after all.

TV World says: Three-time Emmy® nominee Amy Schumer (“Inside Amy Schumer”) stars as a commitment-phobic journalist in Trainwreck, the film Fandango calls “the funniest movie of the year.”

Schumer takes her undeniable talents to the big screen tossing aside rom-com conventions with a timely and outrageously funny portrait of an unapologetically independent career woman whose hard-partying personal life is turned upside down when she meets Mr. Might-Be-Right. Directed and produced by comedy guru Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, “Girls”), Trainwreck UNRATED arrives on Blu-ray™ & DVD with even more hysterical moments, including deleted scenes, gag reel, line-o-rama & more!

I think that part of my fascination with this film is the tension between Schumer’s obvious dislike of the rom-com genre and her performance in a rom-com. She is contextualized but not constrained by the genre. Huh.

Also brilliant is a black and white film within this film. “The Dogwalker” starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei is playing at a movie theatre Schumer attends. It is hysterical, really.

The thing is, the film in theatres was more politically correct and less ‘offensive’ but well edited. The DVD may be closer to the script, but it is less good than the film was in theatres. It was too long and did feel like some stuff needed to be cut. I am truly sorry to say this.

Bill Hader tells Collider that it was hard to play the romantic lead:

You want to get the balance right. I couldn’t be funny, in the way that I am on SNL. You just can’t be that funny, in this movie. I have to see a side in her that she doesn’t even see in herself. I’m in love with her, and I’m accepting of her, in some ways, and not accepting in others. There’s this balance that you have to have. It’s very easy to try to put in a lot of jokes, but it would have ruined the relationship. I feel like, even on the set, Judd probably thought I was going to be funnier. He was like, “Don’t you want to try something?” and I was like, “No, I’m good with just that.”

Hader’s efforts of being realistic pay off. He is a good foil to his wacky love-interest. His earnestness lends credibility to her putting ‘trust’ in him. We do want them to end up together and we root for her to overcome her issues because he is worthy.

Hader is excellent and Schumer witty. My nit picking about certain flaws should not keep you away from the DVD.


In Film, review on November 10, 2015 at 8:44 am

About: [from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia] Spy is a 2015 American action comedy film written and directed by Paul Feig. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, and Jude Law, the film follows the transformation of desk-bound CIA analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy) into a field agent who attempts to foil the black market sale of a suitcase nuke.

Distributed by 20th Century and produced by Feigo Entertainment and Chernin Entertainment, the film was theatrically released on June 5, 2015. Upon release, the film received critical acclaim and has grossed over $236 million worldwide.

Plot: Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a desk-bound CIA analyst guiding her partner Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) on a mission to Varna from a CIA office in the Washington, D.C. area. Fine accidentally kills Tihomir Boyanov without first finding a suitcase nuke whose location is known only to Boyanov. Meanwhile, the agency learns that Boyanov’s daughter Rayna (Rose Byrne) might know the location of her father’s device, so they send Fine to infiltrate her home. However, Rayna shoots Fine dead while Susan watches online. Rayna knows the identities of all the agency’s top agents, including Fine and Rick Ford (Jason Statham). Susan, who is unknown to Rayna, volunteers to become a field agent, and her boss, Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney), agrees. Ford quits in disgust over Susan being chosen for the assignment.

I kind of can’t believe that I didn’t review this film when it came out in theatres. It is on DVD now so I saw it again. Yup. It’s really good. A send-up of the Bond flicks it centres on a woman who a) doesn’t fit the Bond-girl stereotype or spy b) is the epitome of the anti-spy. Even Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) has expectations… she has a spy-name ready ‘in case.’ They do not let her use it. As The Daily Mail notes; She would like a sexy alias, but having been handed a distressingly prosaic one — Carol Jenkins — she is sent to Paris, then Rome and Budapest, where she proves herself unexpectedly adept at grappling with nasty heavies at the tops of high buildings.

Susan Cooper gets a generic name like her ‘actual’ name and her cool spy-gadgets are concealed in hemorrhoid wipes, stool softener and a rape whistle. Her spy-watch has a photo-face of the film Beaches. The film capitalizes on the single, big woman stereotype and then subverts it. Wow.

Her disguises are unglamorous and she is given a short, curled, un-sleek, grey wig to wear. Her second disguise is that of a cat-lady who has pictures of her TEN cats. When she goes ‘rogue’ she dyes her natural hair darker and wears a glamorous black dress. As a plus-sized woman this is significant. She is reframing beauty and glamour for bigger women in general, not just in film.

Susan Cooper’s ‘real’ life mirrors her dowdy disguises. Bradley Fine (Jude Law) gives her a diamond ring box that has a cupcake pendant and not her obvious hope for a ring. He asks her to pick up his dry-cleaning and to fire his gardener.

Writer/Director Paul Feig says in The Mary SueI’m a fan of spy movies, I’m a fan of most of the James Bond movies and Bourne movies. But I think Casino Royale was the biggest influence on me, because it was when James Bond had come back from being silly and over-gadgetry. Bond got pretty crazy for many years, starting with Roger Moore, and those movies are super fun to watch, but I’m a fan of the original books that Fleming wrote, and Bond was a pretty dark character. It wasn’t about the gadgets; it was about him living by his wits.

As The Daily Mail says, this film is sometimes an uproarious, American-flavoured pastiche of the James Bond films, Spy opens with a deliciously daft pre-credits sequence in which CIA super-agent Bradley Fine, confronting a terrorist over the location of a hidden nuclear bomb, loses control of his trigger finger following a sudden onset of hay fever.

Melissa McCarthy acquired movie star fame as the overweight sidekick in the 2011 hit Bridesmaids, which was followed up by Identity Thief and The Heat.

She tells the Daily Mail that to play a CIA field agent in Spy, Melissa McCarthy had to exercise more than her comedy. The 44-year-old actress told Live With Kelly and Michael that she also had to put in some hard hours at the gym.

‘I studied martial arts for two months,’ the Gilmore Girls vet said. ‘Turns out I like doing stunts.’

Susan Cooper guides the Jude Law character initially. The Daily Mail says that through his earpiece, and sophisticated satellite technology, she can guide Fine through most perilous situations. But when he meets his match in the chilly but exquisite form of Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), conspiring in the inevitable plot to hold the world to ransom, it is Cooper herself who must replace him in the field.

He is so Bond. The Guardian notes that while he’s never had the chance to actually play James Bond, despite rumours that he’s been in the running, Jude Law’s turn in Spy shows that he would make a convincingly slick secret agent.

It’s a smallish role for the actor, who has been enjoying a bit of a comeback of late with roles in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dom Hemingway and Black Sea, all suggesting he’s breaking free of his pretty–boy shackles and seeking a more varied set of roles.

Rather like the recent Kingsman: The Secret Service, Paul Feig’s highly entertaining film derives much of its comedy from a combination of everyday life, with its mundane issues and challenges, and the glamorous, dangerous world of international espionage. Thus, a secret agent who needs his antihistamines, and a CIA control room in Virginia afflicted with a serious pest-control problem.

This film is REALLY good! Rent it!


In Fantasy, Film, review on November 10, 2015 at 8:40 am

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.


Director:  Daniel Barnz
Writers:  Daniel Barnz (screenplay), Alex Flinn (novel)
Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens and Mary-Kate Olsen

Okay. I want to be upfront about this. I have a problem with fairytales, especially Beauty and the Beast. I also take issue with certain representations of high school in film.  I find representations of youth that are idealized, unbelievable usually. Maybe another reviewer won’t filter this film through the same sieve.

Plot: A modern-day take on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale where a New York teen is transformed into a hideous monster in order to find true love.

It’s nice for guys in fairytales because they can be ugly but the girl has to be a beauty. Imagine if the Vanessa Hudgens character in this film was ‘ugly’. I don’t think so. (and if you think that Fiona in Shrek breaks this mold think again.) In my article Ogre-Drag I say, Women are often with “less desirable” partners, especially in fairytales. Women are supposed to be good looking. Take Beauty and the Beast, for example. A beautiful woman can be with a beast. She cannot be the beast if he is good looking.”

I’m all for recognizing beauty on the inside but usual depictions of this are flawed (The transformative television show Glee challenges conventional representation). See, if the film simply focused on inner beauty that would be great but gender is at issue here. Not only that, but Vanessa Hudgens resonates with the High School Musical films where teenagers are expected to look a certain way – oh, don’t get me started.

In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I say; “Difference is something that most people avoid. Fitting in becomes a goal. Personally, I think difference is valuable. It is the “same” that irks me. Variation is not the same as inconsistency. One can be incredibly multi-tonal and consistent.” (Shiller, p. 23.)

So, Vanessa Hudgens’ character Lindy says that she prefers substance over style but she doesn’t do the cursing, a witch does.  There is a tradition here.  “Michelle Pfeiffer plays the wicked, ugly witch in Stardust on a quest for beauty and eternal youth.” I do not think that Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) is ugly but Kyle does. So, again, the “ugly” person does the apparently bad thing.

In the traditional fairytale Belle (means ‘beauty’ in French) satisfies her father’s dept by willingly living in a palace governed by a beast. At the end of the story her absence almost kills the beast and she cries upon returning. Realizing that she loves him her tears transform him into a handsome prince. She agrees to marry him.

In this film, Kyle Kingsbury is rich, handsome, and popular. He runs for the president of his high school ’green’ committee but he has no interest in the environment – it will just look good on his transcript. His slogan is ‘embrace the suck’. He says that how you look is proportional to how you are treated. He says that it sucks to be ugly. Kyle is ugly on the inside.

As a mean joke he asks this girl Kendra to a dance he already has a date for. Kendra reveals herself to be a witch and punishes him for his cruelty by condemning him to live as a beast. A girl, Lindy, he met before his transformation falls in love with the “beast.”

Two things interfered with my expectations. First, I thought that the “beast” was hot, and actually better looking than before. See preppy, clean-cut boys are not my thing. I dated someone for two years that looked very much like the beast in this film. Secondly, I identified with the beast in terms of transformation. Now each of these things is worthy of an article but I’ll stay on track – I think.

Okay, back to the first…a good-looking beast. In high-school, if you wear a long black coat, like Neo in The Matrix, you probably have a gun and want to shoot people. If you are different in any way you are shunned.  In many ways this film reinforces that it is better to be the ‘same’ – not fringe.  I wanted the beast to stay as-is but that’s not the fairytale. As in Titanic we know what to expect. The beast goes back to being the pretty-boy. But with a heart to match – he is nice now.

This Beauty and Beast theme is repeated a lot in films in different ways for example, in Titanic it is rich vs. poor. In Tootsie it is the real vs. fake. In City of Angels it is human vs angel. etc.  It might seem harsh and a woman I saw the film with asked me ‘if I could JUST watch a movie’. I guess that critical analysis will always be a part of it. I cannot put myself on hold.

It is hard for me to see this film in a different light. I looked to reviews and found the following: “The film tries desperately to be an homage to the fairytales that came before it. In many ways, it succeeds, but this off-putting hybrid of accepting society, yet deforming it with Aesop Fable logic just doesn’t work. The characters are like viruses attacking an immune system, and as virtuously as the white blood cells fight them off, something never quite feels right.”

There seems to be a problem with this movie. If you like fairytales you still might have an issue with this film. If you idealize high school it follows a prescription but…

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online

Mad Max: Fury Road

In Film, review on September 7, 2015 at 8:36 am

 best mad max


ABOUT: Mad Max: Fury Road is a 2015 Australian post-apocalyptic action film directed, produced, and co-written by George Miller, and the fourth film of Miller’s Mad Max franchise. The first film of the franchise in 30 years, Fury Road stars Tom Hardy as ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky, who replaces Mel Gibson in the title role, along with Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, and Hugh Keayes-Byrne.

The film is set in a future desert wasteland where gasoline and water are scarce commodities, with Max (Hardy) joining forces with Imperator Furiosa (Theron) to flee from cult leader Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) and his army in an armoured tanker truck, which leads to a lengthy road battle. The film had its world premiere on 7 May 2015 at the TCL Chinese Theatre. It began wide theatrical release on 14 May 2015, including an out-of-competition screening at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. Critics have praised the film for its acting, screenplay, action sequences, stunts, and direction.

PLOT: Set in the future after a nuclear war, the world is a desert wasteland and civilization has collapsed. Max, a survivor, is captured by the War Boys, the army of tyrannical cult leader Immortal Joe. Designated a universal blood donor, Max is imprisoned and used as a “blood bag” for the sick War Boy Nux. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa drives her heavily-armored War Rig to collect gasoline. When Furiosa begins driving off route, Joe realizes that his five wives – women specially selected for breeding – are gone. Joe leads his entire army in pursuit of Furiosa, calling on the aid of nearby Gas Town and the Bullet Farm.

This genre is certainly not everybody’s cup of tea. It is a mixture: post-apocalyptic Cirque de Soleil, Heavy-Metal music video, hardcore slice and dice. The world of this film was consistent, visually phenomenal and very entertaining. It was a very good film. The story itself had many layers including girl-power.

I wanted to check it out again, so I waited for the DVD to come out.

In Hit Fix, Charlize Theron says she’s affected by teenage girls love of Furiosa in ‘Fury Road’ which still elicits passionate responses from fans, media and the director’s peers in the movie industry three months after its release. 

One of the most talked about aspects of the film isn’t Max himself (sorry Tom Hardy), but Theron’s raw performance as Furiosa.  The character has inspired many women (including a large contingent of teenage girls) and handicapped viewers as well.

charlizeTheron says, “I think what has really affected me is the word of mouth what you hear from people, especially people with young girls,” It’s really overwhelming and just really nice and really nice when you can have your work translate into that matter.

I keep thinking that Furiosa is the evolution of the type of character played by Linda Hamilton [Sarah Connor] in the Terminator movies [Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)]. Hamilton’s buff arms were a symbol of strength and determination and will. They were revolutionary. Furiosa’s lack of an arm speaks to the same thing. You know, I taught a film course once upon a time, and I would really have used this film to show how certain female characters evolve – I would.

Our lead female character, Furiosa, is a disabled warrior. She has a major ‘flirtation’ with Max. She is represented as desirable and sexy despite her disability. How friggin’ cool is that?

Theron is rumored to be returning as Furiosa in “Mad Max: The Wasteland.”  In the meantime, she’s wrapped Sean Penn’s “The Last Face” with Javier Bardem and reprises her role as Ravenna in “The Huntsman” opposite Chris Hemsworth and Emily Blunt.

tom hardy

Tom Hardy as ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky says; “It was daunting [and] a bit intimidating to step into an iconic character’s role and shoes,” Hardy admitted to ET Online.

When the first Mad Max hit theaters in 1979, it was a fresh-faced Mel Gibson who embodied the post-apocalyptic badass. Gibson would go on to reprise the role in ’81 and ’85 for the film’s sequels, Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome.

Hardy says; “Mel is iconic. And he’s Max, and that’s it, I won’t argue with that, that’s brilliant,” Hardy added. “But on this outing, George has had 30-something years worth of reinvestment in a world that he created. And he asked me to come along and play his Max for him. And I’m not gonna say no, am I?”

Anyhoo, the wives were eye-candy rebels. It is one thing to be labeled a ‘breeder’ and another to own one’s choice to breed. I love the idea of being very sexy and determining when to have sex.

The film had no gay characters or people of colour. Aside from some homo-erotic moments between some males, the relationships were of a heterosexual nature. The film did not break any sexuality rules, which, in my opinion, would have been very revolutionary.

This world is white. Rate Your Music says, [In] the history of heavy metal – white people playing angry music … there’s mostly white male listeners. Don’t get me started…

millerWarner Bros. Director GEORGE MILLER on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

The film was directed and created by George Miller. The Los Angeles Daily News says; When the 70-year-old made the first movie in 1979, he just wanted to make a car-chase film. B-movie fast car/crazy crash-centric movies were fairly common in the late 1970s, including the dystopian future of “Death Race 2000” made in 1975.

“The Japanese saw [the original “Mad Max”] as a samurai film. The French thought of it as a Western on wheels,” says Miller. So when he made “The Road Warrior” in 1981, the apocalyptic world he created “was much more deliberate, more explicit. It was about the oil crisis and wars.”

Since then, the filmmaker has seen “Mad Max” elements in music videos, video games, manga and animation, and, of course, other movies. Coming back to the story — “I was reluctant to let it go” — Miller has been able to go further both in the story and technically.

This film is worth seeing and contained by a specific aesthetic. It is stylish and does not deviate from stereotypes of sexuality or colour. Empowered women and minorities though, rock my world.

The Age of Adaline

In Film, review, Romance on May 14, 2015 at 6:28 pm


ABOUT: The Age of Adaline (also known as simply Adaline) is a 2015 American epic romance fantasy film directed by Lee Toland Krieger and written by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvdor Paskowitz. The film stars Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew, Harrison Ford, and Ellen Burstyn.

Synopsis: Adaline [Blake Lively] is a beautiful young woman who suffers an accident that changes her life forever. She has remained 29 years old for nearly 8 decades. She lives her life running away, not letting anyone get too close to her or know her secret, not letting herself fall in love.

The Guardian comments, Age of Adalineyou should know: this is Harrison Ford’s best performance in 22 years. You have to go all the way back to The Fugitive to find a film that made better use of one of cinema’s bigger icons. That really wasn’t what I was expecting when I went into this mid-budget, gushy fantasy-romance flick. Vulture says, Ford is better than he’s been in ages, and it’s nice to have him back; it’s nice to see him smile again.

Vanity Fair comments, Huisman doesn’t really register beyond being a handsome plot device, but Ford, so improbably turning up in this movie at all, does some of the best work we’ve seen from him in a long while. He approaches his emotional scenes with a rigor usually reserved for his physical acting.

Actually, Harrison Ford was so much better than the rest of the cast, which shows us that really good acting can help a film. I mean the film was sweet, straightforward and nice. The voice-over made me want to strangle someone but apart from that, no violence here. If the film was innovative in any way, I might have liked it. It wasn’t horrible – just bland. Ford had a gravitas and sincerity about him. He was textured and layered. His subtleties revealed so much about his character. Really excellent performance.

Pop Sugar says; Harrison Ford plays an old friend of Adaline’s, and when we flash back to the younger version of his character, William, meeting Adaline, you’ll swear it’s really Harrison Ford 40 years ago. But it’s not — it’s up-and-coming star Anthony Ingruber, who looks and sounds so much like Ford it’s mind-boggling. Turns out, Ingruber has been doing impressions of celebrities on YouTube for years, not limited to just Ford.

Anthony Ingruber is good and probably worth a look-see on Youtube.

The L.A. Times says, Lively has not always received positive notices for her acting. “Gossip Girl” wasn’t exactly a critical darling, and some of the movies she’s been best in — small indies like “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” and “Hick” — weren’t widely seen. But she would like to be taken seriously as an actress — an ambition that became clear with her small role as a Boston hooker opposite Ben Affleck in 2010’s “The Town.”

Unfortunately, I cannot imagine that this film will help her image. She lacked depth, complexity and nuance in this film. After noting Ford’s exquisite performance I kept thinking that another actress might have been a wiser casting choice. Lively is nice to look at but lacks acting chops.

Director Lee Toland Krieger, whose previous films The Vicious Kind and Celeste & Jesse Forever displayed both an elegant sense of atmosphere and focused performances, has fun jumping among the decades, and he does a solid job keeping the tone just playful enough that we don’t ask too many questions of the silly premise.

Collider says about director Lee Toland Krieg; There’s a determined quality to the shot selection, an almost arm’s length remove to the emotional beats of the picture that lends itself to combating its more saccharine impulses.

Yes, the shots are very clean and standard. They mirror the film…very straightforward, nothing controversial or different. While the premise of the film is interesting – no aging – the film itself is not unique at all. The premise of ‘no aging’ is familiar and popular in Vampire and Zombie flicks. There is certainly a precedent for this premise, which is manifest well or not.

I might have wanted an edgier film. Lose the voice over. Show, don’t tell. Make alternate casting choices. See this film if you do not want to be challenged. Actually, you might want to check out Harrison Ford.

Into the Woods and its nominations for the 87th Academy Award

In Fantasy, Film, Mashup, Musical on April 10, 2015 at 8:55 am


ABOUT: Into the Woods is a 2014 American musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Pictures. It is directed by Rob Marshall, and adapted to the screen by James Lapine from his and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award–winning Broadway musical of the same name. It features an ensemble cast that includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, and Johnny Depp. Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales of ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ and ‘Rapunzel,’ the film is a fantasy genre crossover centered on a childless couple, who set out to end a curse placed on them by a vengeful witch.

PLOT: Set in an alternate world of various Grimm fairy tales, the film intertwines the plots of several Grimm fairy tales and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from of ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ and ‘Rapunzel,’ as well as several others. When a Baker and his Wife learn they’ve been cursed childless by a Witch, they must embark into the woods to find the objects required to break the spell and begin a family. The film is tied together to the original story of the baker and his wife, their interaction with the Witch who has placed a curse on them, and their interaction with other storybook characters during their journey. What begins as a lively irreverent fantasy musical eventually becomes a tale about responsibility, the problems and consequences that come from wishes, and the legacy that we leave our children.

If you are like me, you kind of need to dismiss the absurdity of characters breaking into song and fairytales in general. Any bias I might have is left at the door in favour of a legitimate film review. I take my reviews seriously so I really make an effort not to cloud them. My opinions reflect the universe of the film and if that universe is a musical fairytale mashup – so be it.

Are the actors talented? Sure. The cast includes Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, MacKenzie Mauzy, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman, Lilla Crawford, James Corden, Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen, and Emily Blunt.

Can they sing?

Yup. Anna Kendrick is a pop star/actor and Meryl Streep played the lead in the musical-film ‘Mamma Mia.’ Tracey Ullman says, “I know, I was a one hit wonder here in 1984.  ‘They don’t know about us, baby.’  We were talking this morning and Anna [Kendrick] went, ‘You really?  You had a …’  ‘Yeah.  Google me, honey.  I was on top of the pops with Boy George and Duran Duran and U2.  I was with Stiff Records with Elvis Costello back in my day.’  Yeah, I know.  I can carry a tune and I’ve loved singing all the way through my career and in my shows and things.”

There is a huge problem with consistancy though. Given that this is a mashup, I would expect certain anomalies but the inconsistencies are flaws not anomalies. It is fun to see characters from different stories interacting and the emphasis, like the extremely popular animated film ‘Frozen,’ is child empowerment – commendable but unfortunately, I see the flaws. says; Casting actors who don’t identify as singers in musicals is always a gamble, whether it’s on Broadway or the latest film adaptation. Nobody likes it when talent is traded for name recognition…

Sondheim often writes for actors and actresses who can’t sing as strongly as the big Broadway belters. Sure, The Witch was originally played by powerhouse diva and infamous back-phraser Bernadette Peters…

The acting is what counts, and different characters call for different ranges. agrees that Johnny Depp is fine as the Big Bad Wolf but his voice is the weakest of the cast. MacKenzie Mauzy plays Rapunzel but her singing is very limited. Christine Baranski as The Wicked Stepmother is fabulous in that role but her singing just isn’t memorable. Tracey Ullman as Jack’s Mother is great and so is her voice.

Anna Kendrick is so wonderful here I almost forgot she was Cinderella [a compliment]. Lilla Crawford plays Little Red Riding Hood. She played Annie on Broadway and although she is talented, she needs to sing in many different roles because she is recreating Annie here. James Corden is a butcher and is very good here. Chris Pine plays the Prince mockingly. I wish the entire cast did this. Meryl Streep as the Witch is better suited to this role than her role in Mama Mia. I do not imagine that she will get any awards here but you never know. Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s Prince is better than Chris Pine. Sorry. Emily Blunt as the Butcher’s Wife is good but her aspirations are limited to having a child… Daniel Huddlestone as Jack [and the Beanstock] was amazing.

I am disbelieving that I am going to say that many of the themes here are relevant – especially child empowerment, strong female characters and less than ideal, fairy-tale happy endings… Common Sense Media says, A lascivious wolf preys on a young girl, children lose and are separated from their parents, sympathetic characters die, handsome princes aren’t all they appear to be, and there’s no promise of happy ending for anyone. Mashups are a popular contemporary stylistic device and lately there is a flurry of musical film.

Cinderella sings to Little Red Riding Hood near the end, “Witches can be right/Giants can be good/You decide what’s right/You decide what’s good.” The emphasis is not a black and white definition of certain roles. It would be a mistake to view this film as ‘feminist’ though. It’s absolutely not. Most of the female characters are 1 dimensional and most of the feminine quests involve youth, beauty, marriage, children etc.

I did like this film and would recommend it for children and their parents.


87th Academy Awards

Colleen Atwood is nominated for costume design.

Dennis Gassner is nominated for Production Design

Anna Pinnock is nominated for Set Decoration



In Film, review on February 13, 2015 at 9:01 am

Best Actor – Eddie Redmayne [The Theory of Everything]


Best Actress – Patricia Arquette [Boyhood]


Best Director – Alejandro González Iñárritu: Birdman [or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance]


Best Film – Under the Skin


Best Music – “Only Lovers Left Alive” soundtrack


Best Fight Scene – Birdman [or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance]

Best Comic Book Movie –
X-Men: Days of Future Past


Best Horror Movie – Only Lovers Left Alive


Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film – Under the Skin


Best Animated Film – The Lego Movie


Worst Performance – Luke Evans (Fast & Furious 6, Immortals) in “Dracula Untold”


Most WTF Moment – Castration ‘therapy’ in “Imitation Game”


Hero – Stephen Hawking


ROMY SHILLER is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing.Twitter: @RomyShiller
Facebook: Romy Shiller
‘Shiller Articles’ blog: [an archive of older reviews]


Live for Films: The Highs and Lows of 2014

In Film, Team Live For Films on January 1, 2015 at 4:49 am


Phil Edwards: Another year over, another one just begun. I can’t believe Live for Films is 6 years old! Where does the time go?

2014 saw many things happen in the world of film. We lost some great actors as new faces appeared on the silver screen. A Seth Rogen comedy almost started another war and it is not every year you get to say that.

phil edwardsSome of my highlights were the absolute joy of Guardians of the Galaxy, the action of The Raid 2, The Guest, Fury, watching the wonderful Captain America: Winter Soldier make Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. essential viewing, the brief times we saw Godzilla, Rosamund Pike being an absolute psycho and Ben Affleck being an idiot in Gone Girl, Ralph Fiennes and his filthy mouth in The Grand Budapest Hotel, our final journey with Bilbo in The Hobbit and Tom Cruise going all Groundhog Day in Edge of Tomorrow. It was also funny to see how the latter film’s ad people suddenly realise that they should have called it Live, Die, Repeat. Oh, and Live for Films being quoted on the Cheap Thrills poster and blu-ray (thanks to Alan and his great review for an excellent film for that one).

We also interviewed many fantastic people over the past 12 months. Oh, and the brilliant TV shows that we had – True Detective, Arrow, The Flash, Hannibal, Person of Interest and many more. There was also the cool caricature of me (left) by Will Robson.

Lows for me include not getting to see enough films in the year, how staggeringly bad Transcendence was, not enough people going to see Edge of Tomorrow at the cinema, Dracula Untold showhorning in a beginning of Universal’s non-horror shared universe.

However, the biggest low was losing Live for Films’ Holly B to cancer. She will be forever missed.

2015 has many delights for us including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Ant-Man, Bill, The Hateful Eight, Crimson Peak, Chappie and Tomorrowland. There will also be a Live for Films video show thing on the way, with yours truly looking slightly confused as I realise the enormity of it all! Watch for that in the next few months.

That’s enough from me. Without further ado, here are some of the incredibly talented Team Live for Films with their highs and lows of 2014.

Stephen Bowron

stephen bowronHighs: It’s unbelievable that The Lego Movie came out only this year; it was a cultural phenomenon that almost rivalled that of last year’s Frozen and rightfully so. Phil Lord and Chris Miller don’t have any new films on the horizon but with both 22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie out this year I feel my funny bone’s need to be tickled has been sated for now. I expect Gone Girl will be on most peoples’ lists as a movie high this year and that’s undoubtedly because David Fincher’s latest slow-burn is not just a fine film on a practical level but is also one of the best book adaptations I can recall. Finally, the year ended on two more highs as Dumb and Dumber To and close of the Hobbit trilogy proved that we can return to treasured lands and reap shining gold.

Lows: Trans4mers, absolutely. The film itself was a vast improvement on the franchise’s second and third instalments but no Transformers film should ever earn over one billion dollars. Almost as ridiculous as Trans4mers’s gross was the plot of Transcendence and the squandered talent and premise of Muppets Most Wanted (it hurts to think badly of anything with Tina Fey in it). Jonathan Liebesman also had a good go at destroying our childhoods with the abominable TMNT for which makes me all the more excited for his 2016 film, Transformers 5. Last of all, I never saw Adam Sandler’s Blended but something tells me it’s Rotten Tomatoes rating of 14% was well-earned – though, at least he showed us he still has talent, even if he refuses to display it often, with Men, Women and Children.

Alan Simmons

Alan-Simmons2014 has been a cracking filmic year for me. Not just in terms of all the great movies that have come out, but also all the way cool stuff I’ve been able to cover for the site.

So here are not just my Top 5, but my Top 10, plus my Top 5 things I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to do thanks to a site that I love and an Editor who rocks.

Al’s Top 10 Films of 2014

  1. What We Do in the Shadows
  2. Wolfcop
  3. The Sacrament
  4. The Guest
  5. Cheap Thrills
  6. Veronica Mars
  7. Nightcrawler
  8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy

Al’s Top 5 Highlights of Contributing to Live for Films in 2014 

In no particular order:

And do you know what? I don’t know if it’s remembering all this sweet stuff that’s put me in a particularly good mood, or that my post-holidays blood alcohol is still seasonally high, but I’m not going to do a “lows” or a worst five – let’s start the year with nothing but love.

Instead here are my Most Anticipated 5 Films of 2015:

Mad Max: Fury Road – Because Tom Hardy is Max. Because George Miller is back. And because did you see the trailer?!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Because no matter how much I hate the prequels, and because no matter how worried about JJ post-Star Trek Into Darkness I am, I will never not be excited for Star Wars – like everyone – that shit is in my blood, and the teaser got me so excited that I didn’t know if I needed to watch it another ten times in a row or throw up.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Because Joss. Because the Marvel movies are my crack. Because the trailer gives me goosebumps.

Spectre – Because if there’s one franchise that I hold dearer than Star Wars or Marvel it’s Bond, James Bond. Plus aprés-Skyfall, all the pieces are now on the board for what could be the best Bond ever.

The Hateful Eight – Tarantino. Sold.

Adam Truscott

adam truscottHighs:

  • IMAX opening in Chichester. Sod the visuals. Interstellar and Five Armies never sounded so good!
  • Kept my Cineworld cards for 3/4 members of Team Truscott when common sense said get rid. We’ve started using them again, and baby T will start to venture in with us soon.
  • In terms of films: Nightcrawler, Grand Budapest, Raid 2 all gave me what I wanted us a little more.
  • Marvel continue to make us all their bitch. Guardians is a beautiful film… But how good is Winter Soldier? It gets better with every view, IMHO.
  • Days of Future Past wasn’t half bad, either.
  • Gone Girl saving me from reading the book.
  • Everything is awesome.
  • Scorsese and Tarantino still giving me my highlights of 2014. Even if it’s a script reading and not an actual film.
  • Freaking Force Awakens trailer in IMAX. Yes!
  • Realising Boyhood (which I missed and know I’ll love) was available on German eBay.


  • Realising 6 weeks later that Boyhood still wasn’t here from Germany – and is out in the UK in a few weeks. (FML).
  • Missing The Guest on its theatrical run. Livid.
  • Birdman taking what feels like three years to be released.
  • 12A films fucking continuing to have the fucking “F Word” in them. So unnecessary. Fuck you Apes, X-Men, Transformers 4, Interstellar and all other fucking 12As!
  • Films that crashed and burned because audiences are idiots. Edge of Tomorrow, I feel for you Son. Spidey 2 was very harshly treated too. So was TMNT. People need to remind themselves what they’re buying a ticket for in 2015.
  • Lucy deciding to “jump the shark” when everything was looking so positive.
  • Godzilla losing all re-watchability after that honest trailer. So much good. So much bad.
  • 3D getting better but seemingly more irrelevant by the day. Disappointing they’re mastering their craft just as the craze dies down. Tell me Quicksilver’s moment isn’t the standout 3D moment of the year, though?
  • Missing several classics at the cinema as I lose out on time. Blue Ruin, Locke – I’m looking at you.
  • Knowing the world we live in will never allow Keaton an Oscar. Leo-style.

Romy Shiller

romy shillerI have decided to create a TOP 5 LIST instead of ‘highs and lows’ because my ‘low’ will ruffle way too many feathers here. For sure.

  1. Under The Skin
  2. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance]
  3. St. Vincent
  4. The Theory of Everything
  5. Interstellar

Jackson Ball

jackson ballHighs:

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – I declared it as I left the cinema, and I stand by it now: THIS is Wes Anderson’s masterwork. His meticulous visuals are never more stunning, and Ralph Fiennes delivers the comic performance of 2014.
  • Gone Girl – Controversies be damned; this was the stand-out thriller of the year. Fincher’s gift for storytelling, combines with inch-perfect casting creates for one of the most visceral cinema experiences in recent memory.
  • Boyhood – As moving as it is ambitious. Linklater shows the real milestones of childhood by ignoring them entirely, and focusing on those understated transitions we can all relate to. Arquette and Hawke are flawless.
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Easily the most exhilarating blockbuster of the year. Andy Serkis once again smashes our preconceptions of what to expect from motion capture, as Caesar the ape cements himself as one of the most iconic cinematic characters of recent history.


  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – A bigger mess than Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, and nowhere near as funny.
  • Godzilla – Overly-long and Overly-pretentious. This film was devoid of any of the charm or fun that the King of Monsters deserves.

Chris Edwards

posters3 of the best and 2 of the worst films of 2014:

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – This isn’t just my film of the year, it’s one of my all-time favourites. Inspired by the work of Austrian writer Stephan Zweig, director Wes Anderson combined his trademark quirkiness with a sense of pre-war melancholy to create a wonderfully charming and funny world for his characters to thrive. A fantastic achievement.
  • How To Train Your Dragon 2 – Is it too controversial to call this the best CGI animation ever? I’m sure Toy Story and a bunch of other Pixar flics would have something to say about that, but as far as I’m concerned DreamWorks has a winner on its hands with this series. The sequel retains the journal like narration, staying true to Cressida Cowell’s books. At the same time, this is just as creative as the first, conveying traditional family film values in the most heartwarming and visually breathtaking way possible.
  • Gone Girl – I went into the cinema knowing nothing about the film or Gillian Flynn’s novel. I left utterly enthralled, but more importantly, freaked out. With its themes of domestic abuse, misogyny and psychopathy, it’s no wonder Gone Girl was one of the most talked about films of 2014.
  • The Lego Movie – I’ve only seen parts of this film, parts long enough for me to be absolutely baffled at the widespread obsession amongst various age groups. If you’re 13 or younger, fair enough, but anyone older should be grinding their teeth and painstakingly clawing at the armrest while the younger viewer screams ‘everything is awesome’. No it isn’t.
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction – Where to start with Michael Bay. Just when I thought a film about giant, transforming, alien robots couldn’t get any worse he releases this miserable excuse of a thing. If there is an art to smashing CGI polygons together in an orgy of mashed metal and explosions then this is the equivalent of an artist smearing the canvas with his own shit.

Trevor Hogg

This is how I view 2014:

Best Film: The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Worse Film: Scarlet Innocence (Madam Ppang-Deok)
Pleasant Surprise: Guardians of the Galaxy and ’71
Best Visual Effects: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Most Ambitious: Boyhood

Biggest Disappointments: Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi

Looking forward: House of Cards Season 3, Blackhat, Tomorrowland, The Walk

Dreading: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Onward to 2015.

What were your highs and lows of 2014?

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

In Drama, Fantasy, Film, review on December 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm


About: Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a 2014 American black comedy film co-written, produced, and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The film stars Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts.

Plot: Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor who once played the superhero Birdman in three blockbuster movies, before leaving the multi-billion-dollar franchise. More than 20 years after Birdman, Riggan wants to reinvent his career by writing, directing, and starring in a play, an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. The play is produced by Riggan’s best friend/lawyer Jake (Galifianakis), and stars Riggan’s girlfriend Laura (Riseborough), first-time-Broadway-actress Lesley (Watts), and Mike (Norton). Riggan’s daughter Sam (Stone), a recovering drug addict, serves as his spunky, bedraggled assistant. In order to afford Mike as a replacement actor (after Riggan supposedly tries to kill the first actor by causing a spotlight to fall on him during a rehearsal), Riggan refinances a house that should belong to his daughter, Sam, rendering him flat broke. Throughout all of this, Riggan from time to time hears his voice as Birdman either mocking or bolstering him; he also performs small feats of telekinesis and levitation when he is alone.

I liked this film but it is a wee bit pretentious. I am generally a fan of films that push the boundaries of cinema. The thing is, even within difference there is a spectrum of good and bad. Birdman falls right in the middle. I liked that I read the French philosopher Roland Barthes [mentioned in the film], I liked that I knew that a homeless man was reciting Shakespeare, I liked that I knew that some of the drumbeats were ‘diagetic’ but at the same time I was like, so? None of these things were necessary, you didn’t need to recognize any of this – It was more like a wink to those in the know and that, my friends, is pretentious to me.

We review many films here that are action or fantasy or started out in comic books etc. so it is very interesting to see the angst of an actor who made oodles of money in a big action/fantasy blockbuster but who wants to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor.

The story is interesting in that it emphasizes ‘reality.’ These are actors in a drama about actors in a drama. Notions of fantasy vs. reality are underscored by Riggan who played Birdman and might be a superhero or not. Edward Norton, as a Method actor, lives his role. Emma Stone, plays a drug addict, which calls into question her perspective etc.

The behind-the-scenes perspective and wonky personalities of celebrities or actors are priceless really. There is an unflattering commentary on reviewers and journalists. In Time magazine, the director Alejandro Gonzalez claims that the portrayal is not personal but “true to the universe of the film.” He says; … the critic represents what he has been fearing all this time, which is to be judged. And I think that in the theater scene, it’s not a secret that a few people have the power to finish a production. It’s a reality and everyone knows it. It’s almost like a dictatorship, represented by Lindsay Duncan playing a critic who has enormous power and incredible disrespect for what Riggan Thomson represents. She tells him she hates him and what he represents — they are polar opposites. What she says to him is right, and it’s powerful.

Entertainment Weekly says; the 63-year-old actor [Michael Keaton] plays the former star of a superhero franchise, now begging for a comeback. It’s a role that seems custom-crafted for the guy who used to be Batman, and the kind of mesmerizing meta-performance that milks Oscar votes. But Keaton isn’t buying (or selling) that story.

I too thought of the similarities, briefly, but they just didn’t stick. Keaton says, “In terms of the parallels, I’ve never related less to a character than Riggan.” I guess that I resonated with the difference.

Anyhoo, we spend much of the film listening to the voice of Birdman, who is our hero’s inner monologue. This voice is contentious because we don’t know if it really exits apart from Riggan’s imagination. He also displays remarkable physical feats. No one sees these feats and when his manager walks in on one, we still are uncertain about the manager’s perspective. Maybe others are not allowed to witness these feats…

Edward Norton co-stars in “Birdman” as a prima donna actor who joins Riggan’s play as a last minute replacement. Emma Stone plays Riggan’s rehabbed daughter. She is an angry waif with an attitude. They are brilliant.

After seeing that most of the cast, the director and the film have been nominated for many awards, I am in complete agreement.