The Film Buff Blog Is Dead. Long Live The Film Buff Blog.

As of now, all posts/reviews/commentary will take place over at the mother site, where the blog has been integrated for a cleaner look and a better user interface.  So, while a stray post may rarely pop up here, you should consider this blog effectively dead, and head to thefilmbuff.com for all future musings.  Please adjust your bookmarks accordingly.

Windy City Heat (2003)

Having taken some time to re-watch and ruminate over Windy City Heat (I’ve seen it four times and counting), explaining the enduring appeal of it is still tricky. First of all, it’s funny. It’s blindingly funny. It’s tip a cow then kick a duck up the arse funny. It’s also fantastically original in it’s conception and treads heavily where few might dare to tread at all.
The mark in this; possibly the most elaborate prank ever, is the fabulous Perry Caravello. Arrogant, sexist, homophobic and gullible. He is hilariously short tempered yet naive and lovable. Our catalysts and instigators are Don and Mole who according to the film have been messing with Perry for over a decade now.
The setup is to have Perry, an aspiring actor and comedian in Hollywood, audition for a part in a film and win it. They go on to shoot the actual film over the course of a week, only it’s all part of the setup and every scene is just another opportunity to provoke Perry’s wrath while the cameras are rolling. There is physical comedy, humiliation, and provocation. It’s great.
When watching the film you will recognise names and faces. The in-jokes are endless. Perry gets none of the references. I do get twinges of pity for Perry as he falls for joke upon joke. Half the jokes are just to sell or justify a previous joke or fabrication. Some of the setups seem so contrived that it’s hard to believe anyone would fall for it, but Perry sees no problems.
It’s humour is maybe a little cruel and sadistic in spirit, which in turn provokes thought on edgy comedy as an elaborate web of ethical dilemmas. Fortunately, any uncomfortable doubts about what you’re watching are put to bed when you understand the relationship of Perry with Don and Mole. Perry is working, making some money and gaining the fame his so craves. Though it’s clear someone like Perry can be (and has been!) taken advantage of in a town like Hollywood, I’d go as far to say Perry is protected by Don and Mole and there’s obviously some affection there.
The underlying fascination of WCH has percolated to the depths of my subconscious and left me quite frankly, obsessed. If there were ever a film cult I was part of than this is it. It is continued now with the excellent ongoing podcast (The Big Three podcast) and the unfolding drama and windups over facebook and other online forums.
WCH triumphs where a film like I’m still here totally failed.
There is no holier than thou Hollywood smugness. It is well planned and improvised and thick with gags from the most base to the marvellously subtle. It runs hand in hand with An idiot abroad as the most hilarious and startlingly real tragi-comedy out there. Comedy on film is often about levity and escapism but on the other end of that spectrum lies WCH, something that’s real and engaging, provocative and most importantly, deeply and lastingly funny.


A year in Jules.

Working with Jules this year at The Film Buff East has been an experience and a privilege. At some point i decided that the things he said could not be kept a secret and I started writing it all down. Here is a quick recap of some of my favourite moments from this year for those of you less fortunate than myself. - Tom

"Dude, if you were as intense as me when you worked you'd make a mess too...
in fact, that would be a cool thing to say at a job interview. What do I do? Me? I'm intense" - Jules

Jules - "Dude, will you bring me an allen key in to work tomorrow for my bike?"
Me - "Don't you own an allen key?"
Jules - "Yeah okay, I'll bring mine in"

Jules - "I saw that midget actor the other day in a bar on Danforth"
Me - "Oh yeah? Which one?"
Jules - "He was in The Station Agent"
Me - "Oh, and Living in Oblivion too right?"
Jules - "Yeah, and In Bruges"
...Me - "Yeah? I don't remember him in In Bruges"
Jules - "He played the midget guy"

"Oh yeah, they're like shits on flies" - Jules

‎"I'm not from England so I have no idea what 'Midsomer night's murders' is." - Jules

‎"The thing about the Iron Man movies is that guy was so well cast, yeah, Cuban Downing Jr or whatever, he was perfect" - Jules

"That movie Red Riding:1974, yeah, they shot that on sixteen millilitre" - Jules

Joe - "Ya know, Tom might be getting deported in a few weeks"
Jules - "Dude, I get all his shifts okay?"

Saw Jules tonight looking up "Specific Kites" on the computer at the video store, turns out there was a customer looking for "Pacific Heights", Jules was "helping" her find it.

"Dude you've got to watch this video all about Halloween costumes for infeminated children" - Jules

Jules: "I HATE Portland. I'm never going there."
Me: "Have you ever been?"
Jules: "No."

"Actually, my Auntie and Uncle live in the coastal mountains in Oregon, yeah, they keep a cows, sheep and a whole bunch of pork" - Jules

"When I was 8 or 9 I had this wart problem.... dude you better not be writing this down" - Jules

Jules - "Ah, rocket candies for Halloween? I suggested that last year and everyone laughed. Dude, all my life I've had people ridicule my ideas only to rip them off later"
Me - "Like what?"
Jules - "Those bonus keys higher up the neck in guitar hero........and now giving out those rocket candies at Halloween"

"...just because she had a slightly darker complexity and slanty eyes" - Jules

"Yesterday... no....tomorrowday" - Jules

"Dude, let's head out stairs" - Jules

"Can you say 'lipsticked, double dipped dick' 5 times quickly?" - Jules

"Chicks man seriously, you don't know how many times they've said to me 'I wish I had those lips', seriously you don't even know" - Jules

Jules - (excited) "I'm going to Montreal tomorrow!!!)
Me - "Hang on, yesterday you said 'Shit I've got to go to Montreal'"
Jules - "Well, I've started to feel differently about it"

‎"Don't you just wanna watch this movie? It says 'five women, one weekend, too many lies' ooh sizzling. Five hours of women being passive aggressive to each other" - Jules

"Guess what I just bought the lactose intolerant guy for secret Santa...... Cheese" - Jules

Jules - *pointing at the computer* "Check out these before and after photos of Corey Haim"
Me - "Oh yeah, I worked with him a couple of years ago"
Jules - "Before or after he died? No wait"

Customer - "Do you have the series Sherlock on dvd?"
Jules - "Sherlocks?"
Customer - "Errrr... yeah"
Jules - "It's actually just called Sherlock"



I've often wondered what it was about Austrian thriller Revanche that made it stay with me over the last few months. I have these images always haunting me. The colour of the woods and the reflections on the water. The eerie atmosphere as he stalks his target on an early morning jog. The long scenes of wood-chopping where we can nearly hear the pop and sizzle of emotional overload.
Was it the overwhelming sense of hope amongst desperation that hooked me? Or that this feeling was so quickly whipped away and in it's place we find a deep pit of remorse.
The key to these shuddering recollections lies in the nature of the revenge that is taken and in the nature of our main character Alex. The horror's all lie in the potentials, the "What if" scenarios and in the lingering sense of being on the brink of something much, much worse. Was it an exercise in power and control that I couldn't quite understand or the taboo of viewing pregnancy as a burden, a punishment? We're left to speculate about the plan and the revenge without clues.
Revanche is a film of contradiction, in one sense the most pure of romances. The idea that a man would go to any lengths, do anything, in order to rescue his lover and himself from their desperate circumstances. When the rug is pulled from under his feet he loses everything, he is reminded of what he left behind. His surviving family, his father and a whole world of time in which to take revenge and readdress the balance. However, from the very start we are unsure as to what is right. It ends with a compulsion, an uncontrollable urge to just ruin the romance of another person's life, even without them having knowledge of it. The smug assurance that he has ruined, has one-upped and has taken something away from his enemy, as low and sneaky as it is, must be some sort of satisfaction for him. And off he walks into the sunset, embittered, venomous yet contented by the seemingly aimless destruction.
In the wake of the film remain so many questions and ambiguities aswell as a penetrating sense of loneliness coming from a film deliberately and completely stripped of glamour. It is this, when characters in film directly reflect the way life really works, that really demonstrates the power of the screen. To feel like you've lived it, and to take something away to ponder for so long. The overall effect is the most provocative of any film I've seen this year.


Repo Men!

There are so many ideas coursing through this sci-fi/action/black comedy/thriller it's hard to know when it succeeds and when it stumbles. The story follows two dystopian repo men, who collect artificial body parts from people who aren't up to date on their payments. That is to say, they track down the carrier and surgically remove the mechanical organ (anything from proshetic limbs to imitation hearts), leaving the poor sucker bleeding on the ground. And all with a grin on their faces. There is good chemistry between the two leads, Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, and together they bring a crunchy dark humour to a very grisly profession. The comedic slant is mostly present during the first half of the film, and it saves the picture from being to staunch and depressing out of the gates. The inspiration for its Fahrenheit 451-esque twist on the repo man profession, is clearly the current state of American health care and pharmaceuticals. In the beginning of the film, the repossessed body parts seem to be necessary synthetic replacements – the victims are simply too afford poor them. They require the artificial aids to live or at least live comfortably. As the story goes on, it becomes apparent that 'The Union' (the creepy corporation which has a monopoly on the mechanical organ business), pushes and sells its products similar to the way pharmaceutical companies push drugs today. Due to a leap in technology, The Union can easily create an improved, no, a perfect version of every body part except the brain. As a result, people are spiralling into debt to become bigger (well, probably smaller), faster and stronger than they would naturally. What is a very simple idea becomes a sweeping indictment on not just health care, but many scary modern trends including reckless spending, aesthetic-obsessed celebrity culture, corporate monopolies, the empowerment of advertisers and general apathy. Whew. And how does the film mine all these ideas? With a minority-report riffing extended chase sequence, where Jude Law becomes hunted by his former employer for an artificial heart he can't afford. In other words, it does very little with a very fascinating dystopian world. At the same time, I'm only disappointed in retrospect. The action-oriented second half is polished, thrilling and engaging in it's own way. Even the ending, which despite employing a cheap narrative trick for a 'it was all a dream' style conclusion, actually works.

Repo Men is similar to sci-fi actioners like Robocop or Starship Troopers, films that have political motivations but would rather blow stuff up than pontificate on social ills. It probably has the most in common with District 9 which is similarly afflicted with bi-polar disorder, beginning with soaring rhetoric and ending like a transformers film. It's surprising then that while Disctrict 9 received across-the board beaming reviews (a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes), Repo Men is universally scorned (21%!). Based on those figures I feel like this will sound like heresy, but I think Repo Men is the marginally better film. The ideas it unpacks are conveyed with more brutality and precision than in District 9 (which is, contrary to popular belief, not about Apartheid but on modern South Africa (re: Sporgey's review)) and it has more fun doing so. There are no fuzzy pixar moments between CGI creatures either. But I digress. Both are great examples of a sci-fi renaissance of the last few years (others being Moon, 2012, Star Trek and Cloverfield) and would make a terrific double bill.

For a film that has more swagger and points of interest in it's soon-to-be repossessed pinky finger than say Avatar, yet the critics have relegated Repo Men to the bargain bin - which is a shame. Even if you hate it, it can fill a conversation or two. My vote for Hollywood underdog film of the year.

Michael Caine is on the war path...

So, Mike Chung is currently helping me locate display cases around the store as we are currently in the process of pulling some less popular titles from the shelves and archiving them.
I was after a 2000 Michael Caine film called Shiner and was having a bit of difficulty trying to locate this particular case.

Mike had a go with it as he was shelving the returns. He asked me what the display box looks like and i looked it up online.
I try to describe the image i've pulled up over IMDB when i notice Mike is holding a copy of Harry Brown in his hands.

"It looks... exactly like the case you're holding."

It's like a god damn Twilight Zone episode up in here...

Jesus Christ!

First the new blog picture... moments later, my eyes scan down to a box with Facebook links.

"...jesuschrist".... was my reaction to both.

On a Sunday no less.

I'm going to bed.



So where are my reviews people?

No reviews... no party. Nothing yet... nada... claims that I've been forwarded a few but an empty email tray.

Remember when Graham sent his list last year, just after we published?

Wonder what he's doing now?



Maybe not entirely relevant to film...

... but I love these posters.

The Town (2010) and The American (2010)

There are typically two kinds of films that fall into the category of “crime drama”. The first, the action-oriented thriller relies on momentum. The lead character is thrust into action, normally the result of some threat leveled against him or his loved ones by circumstances or forces beyond his control. The second kind is a rarer bird, the psychological crime drama, where plot and character are the focus rather than action, automatic weapons and car chases. Action-thrillers are more common these days because they adhere to certain formulaic consistencies that appeal to the typical contemporary film audience. Plot-and-character driven psychological crime dramas are not currently in vogue because they tend to be more complex and cerebral than mainstream here-we-are-now-entertain-us film audiences are willing to consider. Most critics prefer the first kind too - they're easier to write about.

Two excellent examples, one from each camp find coincidental release in December – Ben Affleck's Boston-set heist film The Town and Anton Corbijn's The American starring George Clooney. If you'll bear with me a few moments here, I'd like to break down some statistics for each film. Both were released theatrically in September 2010, The Town on 2861 screens and The American on 2823 screens. Affleck's film went on to gross $91M, received a 94% fresh rating on Rottentomatoes and a 7.9/10 rating on IMDb. The American grossed only $35M, despite starring the biggest actor on the planet, got tagged with a mediocre 65% RT score and scored a numbingly-average 6.7/10 on IMDb. By all empirical measures, one would assume The Town to be the better picture..... and they'd be wrong... sort of.

The American is an existential work of art. The Town is an well-crafted thriller. They may share the same “crime drama” label, but you'd be hard-pressed to find two more radically different treatments of the crime genre than these two.

The Town is Ben Affleck's second film as a director, his first being the excellent Gone Baby Gone from a couple of years ago. The Town is a nicely done film. Possibly because both started as actors, Affleck reigns from the Clint Eastwood school of directing. Like Eastwood, Affleck has a natural, craftsman-like feel for movie-making. His action scenes are well-staged, easy to follow and tight. The editing is clean and efficient, the camera focused and steady, long shots are there when called for and closeups only when necessary. Affleck's style is the polar-opposite of some like Paul Greengrass, of the epileptic-seizure school of filmmaking. For lack of a better term, Affleck is director in the classic style of Hollywood movie makers, and I mean that in a completely positive way.

As for the plot of The Town, it too is well-crafted. What it perhaps lacks in depth is more-than-made-up-for by some nicely drawn performances from a posse of A-list name-actors, among them.. Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite, a cameo by Chris Cooper, Affleck himself in the lead and Rebecca Hall. Ben Affleck actually wore three hats in this production, sharing a screenwriting credit as well. I've got nothing but good things to say about The Town because it is a very good example of an old-school Hollywood crime thriller. People will like it because it adheres to the formula. It's the kind of film that presses the right audience buttons at the right times.

The American is an entirely different story... and in more ways than one. It's Jean-Pierre Melville to The Town's John Frankenheimer, Le Carre in place of Fleming, existential instead of visceral, Euro-flavoured as opposed to Affleck's Mom and Applematic-weapons Americana. It occupies headspace and not just the eyes and ears. It will bore 90% of the audience to sleep and enthrall the remaining 10%, who won't want it to end. It is a near-masterpiece of precise, controlled pacing and astute direction. Clooney has rarely been better and this might be the first role where his character isn't all that easy to like. He seems to enjoy these kinds of roles and has played variations on them in Syriana, Michael Clayton and to a lesser degree, again... in more ways than one, last year's shite-flight, Up in the Air.

This is also Anton Corbijn's second feature, his excellent debut being the 2007 film Control, about the lead singer of Joy Division. He's even better this time out. Corbijn imbues The American with a moody emptiness reminiscent of films like Antonioni's The Passenger. The score is sparse and haunting, the cinematography austere, crisp and minimalist. The film starts in Sweden and ends up in Castel del Monte in Italy, where most of the story is set. The setting is part of the film, almost a character in Corbijn's hands. It's as mysterious and dangerous as Clooney's impenetrable Mr. Butterfly, or Jack, or Edward or whatever the hell his name is.

What people won't like about this film is it doesn't follow the formula. Much remains unresolved and unexplained. Motivations, histories and reasons aren't spelled out in minute detail. In this way, it shares territory with last year's The Limits of Control, but without the frustration and slightness of story that marred Jarmusch's effort. Most will find the pacing of The American glacial. It's the kind of film that doesn't press any buttons, at least not in any obvious way. It's a movie that lingers in your mind, the way a Melville film might.

We received The Town today and The American releases on December 28th, so we'll hopefully have it by next week. When the inevitable recommendation question is asked over the holidays, push The Town and save The American for those few people who might appreciate it. Clooney's presence will move it out the door anyways ...and I'll bet you dollars to donuts that 90% of those that rent The American won't like it. I fell asleep... is what you'll likely hear.

...and if you're wondering Joe, Uptown did indeed take the Rita Collection tonight, after I took the sticker off her face and repositioned a new one. Asshole.