Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE, uncut 35mm print

Without any hint of either sarcasm or hyperbole, I declare this to be the cinematic event of the year. Click on the pic below to see it in all its glory - love the subtle changes Vagrancy made to the New York skyline, perfectly tailoring the poster for this very special Toronto screening. See you there.....


on the nature of "blogs"...

Right now, our computers are touching, kind of. I typed into my computer and then sent the information through the telephone wires above the street, presumably to some box, owned by the company that hosts "blogger" and no doubt many others, where it was stored to be accessed by anyone who happen to type in the appropriate code to view this particular blog, which means that as you read this now, you too are (or were) connected to that storage box. What are these boxes, how many of them are there? Will there one day be fields of them, filled with the written history of people's opinions of the 21st century? Or maybe we'll store them vertically, underground. An elevator shaft of hard-drives, storing meticulously every word written by anyone with the most basic computer skills, in perpetuity. Or maybe we'll erase some, save space, after a time limit. Keep us relevent. Every hundred years, maybe less. Or maybe someone will decide, maybe it'll cost money to store information, or maybe, just maybe, everything and more, at the break neck speed of 6 billion people typing away at keyboards, all of it, stored in some new smaller hard-drive. Catalouged by date, place, and genre. Millions of opinions. Millions of individual opinions. And so, looking at one of these boxes, hundreds of years from now, having known nothing of the time before your own life, what could be learned?


Roger that....

I read an article in the NY Times recently about Roger Ebert retiring from TV to concentrate exclusively on writing. Ebert was a pioneer in bringing film criticism to the wider audience television provided. Some argue that this stripped the “art” of criticism of any nuance and subtlety the Pauline Kaels and A.O. Scotts of the world brought to it. According a film one of two thumb directions does seem a little simplistic but perhaps that was the point. It brought discussion about film to the masses, which begs the further question, "Who gives a shit what the masses think?" after all, that’s why they’re called “the masses”. Well, the short answer is film studios do.

Enter Juno. Far and away the most sought after rental at the Film Buff these days, Juno is the perfect Ebert movie, one he described as “just about the best movie of the year”. You can read the whole gushing review here -


Juno is a sweet little movie, undeniably populist and brimming over with a kind of cutesy teen bravado that draws you in and makes you think about puppies. Ebert’s glowing review hides the fact however, that it’s really just a well-done teen comedy, like Meatballs was. Juno isn’t a masterpiece and screenwriter Diablo Cody will not be the next U.S. Poet Laureate. The film’s greatest strength remains its immense marketability, an asset that elevates its stock well out of proportion from its merits as a film. This is what counts in an industry striving for that rare combination of apparent smarts and broad demographic appeal (pun intended). Juno cost just $6.5M to make and made $143M at the box office, nearly twice that of No Country for Old Men, which cost $30M. This is the longer answer to my earlier, slightly rhetorical question, “Who gives a shit what the masses think? You think Ebert gets a taste?

Most of what I write (and much of what I read) comes under the general heading of “film”. I religiously pour over a few periodicals (“Film Comment” and “Cinemascope” being the best of them) and invariably learn something new in almost every issue. I regularly read books on film history, actor and director biographies, books about specific genres and about the business itself. I tend to write about films that I either liked or intensely disliked, but rarely about anything in between. In essence - and unintentionally - I seem to have adopted the very same “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” approach Ebert and the dead guy championed. I also find myself writing about popular film more than I’d like to. Does anyone really need to hear yet another opinion about Juno? Probably not.

It’s tricky to navigate the fundamentally different worlds of popular film and artistic film (in fact so hard that I can’t quite find the right word for the latter – “artistic” not being quite right, but better than any others I can think of) The additional range of genres, periods, origin and topicality adds to the confusion. The CornChowder's reviews of the Albert Lamorisse films were a real breath of fresh air and a reminder to me that these are the kind of films that need championing (as opposed to those releases 10,000 other armchair critics have already spilled ink over). I think I’m going to concentrate on those from now on. Ebert’s got the rest covered, even if he isn’t on the tube anymore.


2 from Lamorisse

Criterion usually releases all the Janus stuff, but for some reason (perhaps because they are shorts?) these two superb films from Albert Lamorisse have been released under the Janus imprint (along with Bill Mason's fantastic Paddle to the Sea), with nary a Criterion logo in sight. Similar to Criterion's Eclipse label, these releases are strictly bare-bones - no special features, making-of mini-docs, director commentaries, lead actor's third cousin's detailed itemization of yesterday's brunch menu - in short, the films are left to stand on their own, and what a duo to pick to do so. And while they are both ostensibly "children's films", they are much greater than that tag often implies - they are universal, and they are essential. Let's begin:

Crin-Blanc (White Mane)
dir: Albert Lamorisse, 1953
The story is simple - a wild horse in an arid region of France is sought by herdsmen, for seemingly no other reason than to show man's power over beast. A young fisherman Folco (Rock Me Amadeus?) also covets the horse, who has been dubbed White Mane, and who is also the alpha-horse of the pack. But Folco's motives are more innocent than that of the herdsmen - he sees the horse as a companion rather than a trophy. There are some pretty heavy themes in this deceptively simple film - issues of desire, greed, jealousy, trust, and above all, love, are all in there, which is precisely why this is the perfect "children's fim" - the antidote to the Wiggles. Instead of treating your little precious like the simpleton that they probably are, speak up to them for once and show them White Mane.

There are some terrific scenes of pure primal beauty - the face off between White Mane and the horse who has usurped the throne in his absence is awesome for its sheer sinew-gnawing ferocity; when White Mane is initially captured by the herdsmen and corralled, the frenzied whipping about of the stallion truly leads you to believe that this is indeed a wild thing, something that cannot be tamed, but that, as we learn later, can indeed be trusted and loved, and that, at the risk of anthropomorphizing, can love in return. We see more of this when Folco is dragged through the marsh and the mud by White Mane who finally slows then stops and stares back at his half-dead would be captor with almost sympathetic eyes; and when, in the simultaneously chilling and heart-rending finale, White Mane and Folco, clinging to each other, disappear into the waves, free at last, forever and ever. There are some truly eternal themes in White Mane, as well as in Lamorisse's next film...

Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon)
dir: Albert Lamorisse, 1956
Lamorisse got his start (much like Kubrick) as a photographer, and this film (and White Mane) really shows off his talent for creating startlingly beautiful, almost painterly, compositions. The Red Balloon is another simple story - a small boy finds a balloon one morning that begins to follow him, or sometimes mischievously desert him - only to return seconds later. That is the catalyst of the movie, which sees the boy on his daily journeys through Paris(?).

Again, as in White Mane, Lamorisse seems to take great joy in taking a simple story and very deliberately keeping it simple - on the surface at least. We run into very similar territory in The Red Balloon as we did in White Mane, thematically at least. In fact, one could be seen as a urbanized remake of a rural classic. In The Red Balloon, we have the boy (see: Folco), the greedy and desirous schoolchildren (see: the herdsmen), and the object of desire, the titular red balloon (see: White Mane). Along the way we also have some lightly comedic digressions into family life (both films), fear, disappointment, and finally, ecstasy.

Interestingly, both films end with the protagonist attaining true happiness through death in the Romeo and Juliet fashion - the choice to die by the side of a true love rather than to live alone in despair. This is less explicit in The Red Balloon than it is in White Mane, but the idea is there - the protagonist carried away in elemental fashion, beyond his control, and clinging with the most innocent, pure and sweet of loves to the one thing that truly makes his heart sing.

Both films come highly, highly recommended - the transfers on the Janus DVDs are pristine. These are films for everyone, for they both are beautiful, sad, and ultimately rapturous. Time well spent.

Interesting fact about Lamorisse - he is the creator of the boardgame Risk. Nerds bow down. Now, back to my fantasy baseball stats....



Buff Employee of the Month...
Ben Johnson


King + Kinski = Leica Reel

Hey friends(least I'd like to think so)
it's late and as usual with my life as an animation student, i'm looking to be up all night.
so excusing my lack of focus and sentence structure here goes.

I've been trying to think about what to contribute to this team effort for a while now
and honestly I can't seem to muster the cynicism it takes to tell the world what I hate about a film just yet...but summer movie season is on it's way and i calling dibs on one or two of those bad boys

in the mean time

I'm new to the Buff, and i'm enjoying the education i get just from being in the environment. Ben Johnson, one of my fellow east enders has so much insight and I'm afraid I'm picking up some of his social habits here and there.
We talk about lot's in between the the minutes between customers and some of our more popular conversations pertain to(in fact if u want to get ben going u just need mention the gov't or) Herzog!

on that note, I recently had an assignment to do for my Storyboard class(I study animation at Sheridan Tech). From that i made a leica reel(pretty much editing it together so that it lives and breaths)

inspired by the likes of MadMax/Road Warrior and of course Herzogs Cobra Verde

I honestly can't get enough of the force of nature that is Kinski, can't tear my eyes away. The man is crazy and his work is genius. I'm slowly getting through our collection and this one here touched me most of all.

My goal in this reel was to give a brief set up to that story we were to develop(See Here) like the opening to lord of the rings, just a jumping off point that sets things up.

The music track(30 seconds to mars) actually pertains to the internal thought of the protagonist, whomever that maybe be, that's up to the audience to decide so listen to the lyrics closely.

Prof. Williamsons conflit/climax excercise(See Here) really came in handy in staging this, it's busy, then calm then crazy then frozen.

Youtube had to mess with the aspect ratio of course

I had fun with this.


for ben


Oscar as an Assassin!

I wouldn’t normally comment on something this obscure, but Hail Mafia! (despite its rather cringe-inducing title) is a really terrific mid-sixties Euro-crime flick that warrants a viewing. It’s not released on legit video or DVD and the Black Vault copy is mediocre at best, but it’s worth a little patience. The director/writer/producer/gaffer/sandwich maker is a guy named Raoul Levy (who offed himself on New Year's Eve 1966, the year of this film’s release). Too bad.

The plot has two hitmen (Henry Silva and JACK KLUGMAN!) flying off to France to waste Eddie Constantine, who is a potential witness in a Senate Investigation into a “construction” company back in the U.S. The weird, static B&W cinematography is coupled with one of the great, unknown jazz scores of any film I’ve ever seen, including Louis Malles’ great Elevator to the Gallows (Miles Davis’s great score).

This is an existential mini-masterpiece about the relationship between two hitmen that begs an audience. Right up your alley, Joe and maybe Kris/Shaun too. I’ll bring it in.

Hail Mafia!


Little Miss Son Shine

Juno will divide its audience into two distinct camps. The first will love the quirky and infinitely cool 16-going-on-30-something protagonist who is versed in both today’s lingo and yesteryear’s pop culture. The other camp will hate how precocious and unflappably hip the whole affair is. Juno is one of those modest comedies that came together in just the right places, with just the right cast, at just the right time, and ended up becoming the 2007 version of the little movie that could. Ignore all the hype and it’s a sweet ride bubbling over with cutesy moments and smart-alecky dialogue. Do 16-year-olds talk like this?… of course not, but a movie about a pregnant 28 year old woman who smokes a pipe would be a documentary about being a grandparent in Arkansas. Think of Juno as a Look Who’s Talking sequel done 15 years after the original and you’re about there.

There has been blood.

On the heals of the critically acclaimed “There Will Be Blood,” I think a journey into where this film spawned from is worth an evening or two.

Here are some works to check out:

1) The Boxer

A beautifully shot film, with better boxing sequences than the Ali documentary, here we see a very tight script brought to life by three of the hardest hitters in the real acting world, Albert Finney, Emily Watson, and of course Daniel Day Lewis.

Does Daniel Day make There Will Be Blood a good film? A fair question, and just as unanswerable with The Boxer.

A perfectly balanced film, that makes a back alley look beautiful.

2) Punch-Drunk Love

This film brought Adam Sandler out of the bowels of Saturday Night channel change extended play to modern quirky actor, which has further tried to have been harnessed by films like Reign Over Me. Paul Thomas Anderson made this film after the very successful ensemble efforts of Boogie Nights and Magnolia and what I expected from Punch-Drunk was yet another huge movie exploiting Adam Sandler’s popularity at the time. Instead we have a smart play on lonely loveliness with a performance from Sandler that is driven by an undercurrent of anger, making you want to smash windows with a hammer and travel thousands of miles to punch someone out.

Punch-Drunk Love is not a perfect film, but is the bulls-eye in why Paul Thomas Anderson will never cease to be comfortable.

3) Radiohead – OK Computer

I never go to the cinema. I hate it. I have no control as to when the idiot behind me decides to scarf popcorn and then ask his girlfriend “what did he say?”, I can’t take cigarette breaks, and I have to leave my house. Fuck you. But I had to see this. I am not sure if the Oscar should have gone to Cinematography because ultimately the stand out shots in this film were essentially some nice sweeping nature picks of the set. But what made the helicopter and crane-shots so intense was the eerie modern composition from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.

Listen to Thom Yorke’s solo album, then pop in Radiohead’s masterpiece OK computer and you will realize how this musical genius takes Yorke’s sucker sentimentalism to the next level, as well as PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood to the tension that it deserves.

It's a Wonderful Wife

Lars and the Real Girl

I was struck by two thoughts when I watched this film, 1) Alexander Payne would have been the natural choice to direct it and 2) it probably wouldn’t have worked if he had. Lars is a gentle, nostalgic, fluff piece that leaves the messier aspects of a story at the door. Interestingly, it’s also where they probably belong. Shaun has already described the plot in detail in his solid post on the film and I agree wholeheartedly with his comment that the film lends itself to varied interpretations.

Upon reflection, Lars and the Real Girl is structured in a way that makes it almost the inverse of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, a vastly misunderstood movie that is in fact one of Capra's most relentlessly gloomy works. While its framing draws on the backward-looking myth of the small town, the film actually reflects a far more realistic and nasty view of contemporary 1947 America. The opposite is true of Lars and the Real Girl where 60 years later, the corrosive effects of modernization have yet to make an appearance in this small, unnamed American town. It is here where Lars and the Real Girl tips its hand. These wholesomely heart-warming townsfolk make Andy Griffith’s Mayberrites look like drug-dealing scumbags by comparison. This moves the entire story, and it is an interesting one, into the realm of fantasy and I think that’s where it belongs. It doesn’t matter that in any real town in North America, Lars would be ostracized and likely beaten to death by drunken wahoos out on a bender, nor does it take away from the films underlying themes of acceptance and that some people in our society need protection, even if it is from themselves.

While I agree with Shaun that the fetishised objectification of Lars’s fuck doll was clearly representative of our contemporary desire for trinkets and gadgetry, I found the larger story, that of the community’s unlikely reaction to Lars’s fantasy, the more interesting part. I think from that perspective the film works on both levels where it might not have if someone like Payne plumbed the story for it’s more lurid aspects. By keeping it decidedly light, they may have made it more interesting.


I guess that rifle is ours now....

So long.....1924-2008

And before you start hating, check this, one of my favourite blogs....

There Was Blood

Daniel Day Lewis channels John Huston (circa 1974’s Chinatown) in P.T. Anderson’s update of Citizen Kane (sans Rosebud). Interesting for the unusually theatrical performance from Lewis, a terrific haunting score, and living up to its hype. I’m going to let this one percolate for a couple of days and then write something brilliant and insightful about it.

I ordered one this morning, her name is Bianca

Lars and the Real Girl

What this film will definitely not fall short of is interpretation. Again with stand out performances coming from both Ryan Gosling and Patricia Clarkson, not to mention the entirely Canadian supporting cast, this is a highly sophisticated comedy that doesn’t stop at just poking fun at the shovel fed genre of romantic comedy, it completely destroys our current state of humanity. The scene where I finally got what this film was trying to do came in the fourth act where Gosling’s character, Lars, is out bowling with a co-worker and three thug looking guys show up to the alley to find out that the lanes are all booked. One of the thug-looking guys recognizes Lars and all three march to his lane. Now if this film were trying to be the drippy drama that I am sure some are going to walk away thinking it was, we would have a predictable turn of events where Lars is bullied and humiliated for the fully public knowledge that he is entirely intoxicated and in love with a sex doll. Instead we have a Big Lebowski meets eighties comedy montage of celebration, including more high-fives in a minute than anyone could do without needing to ice their palms.

With our sense of community being washed down the tubes of cyber space it has become necessary to find individual acceptance and understanding through the vehicle of personifying objects and gadgets. With Lars and the Real Girl we have a completely absurd, almost Ionesco-like, situation where the main character has constructed a delusion and everyone around him plays into it accepting Lars and his plastic girlfriend, to the point where Bianca gets a job, gets her hair done, and starts doing community volunteer work. Where the film turns from utterly stupid to totally brilliant is that it is told as a straight kitchen sink drama, which in turn heightens the need to look deeper into how this movie is trying to make us laugh. With Lars, we are presented with what we are collectively becoming, which is a mass of lonely individuals replacing human contact with plastic loves that we can have total control over, and with the community that Lars lives in, there is a splendid juxtaposition of exactly what were are not, which is caring, nurturing, and ultimately accepting. Here is the key to the comedy. Sadly we end up laughing at our child-like cruelty that we never really leave in the schoolyard. Because the cast does such a wonderful job rooting the absurdity of the film in a realistic style of playing, Lars and the Real Girl seamlessly moves from common drama to high absurdity, leaving the hopefuls pleased and the cynics laughing, which is quietly by ourselves.

The film makes a fascinating statement by presenting a hyperbolic antithesis of what humanity just isn’t. Ultimately a hilarious film that rises high above the Napoleon-Dynamite-Little-Miss-Sunshine fad that has been trying to make the same statement with little success.

I order one this morning, her name is Bianca


May you be in Heaven half an hour...

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Holy shit….. what a movie! This is a dark, nasty, riveting tale that one could easily imagine in the Coen Brother’s hands working as vicious black comedy. Director Sidney Lumet has instead played it lean, mean and without a trace of sentimentality. The acting is controlled and believable with standout performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney. Carter Burwell's score is extraodinary and the script is complex without being convoluted.

The less you know about the plot going in the better. Without giving too much away, two brothers, whose lives are spiraling out of control for different reasons, fashion a harebrained scheme to rob their parent’s suburban jewelry store. Everything goes wrong and through a series of timeline jumps we see the events unfold from several different perspectives. Lumet is back in Gotham territory here (Serpico, Prince of the City, Network) and at 83 years old, has created a spellbinding adaptation of Kelly Masterson’s terrific first screenplay. Masterson is a name we will no doubt hear again if this script is any indication.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is one of those films that ties you up in big knots. The walls close in relentlessly on these poor bastards and you know early on that there’s no way out. I squirmed, fidgeted and grimaced from start to finish watching these characters circle the bowl and loved every second of it. This is a film noir fan’s dream movie. Everybody is fucked and has to pay. It’s the flip side of the American dream baby but what a beautiful nightmare it is. A balls-to-the-wall tragedy of Shakespearian proportions pulled off with confidence and guts. Far and away the toughest film I’ve seen in a long, long time and excellent on every level.


Lions for Lambs

Based on a series of rather tepid reviews from virtually every major critic, I went fairly light on copy depth for Robert Redford’s new film Lions for Lambs. The film has been described by a myriad of respected film reviewers as muddy, weak, stultifying, directionless, filled with didactic talkativeness and a liberal rant in the form of a glib Politics for Dummies. I plowed through most of the 173 external reviews listed on IMDB and couldn’t find more than a handful of positive reviews. Part of the motivation for this exercise was to try and find someone else who saw the same movie I did, but I didn’t have much luck. The most common complaint related to the perception that the film presented its case too simplistically and without an appropriate level of detail. One reviewer found that the arguments divided too neatly across left and right, leaving the subtleties that cut across the political spectrum unacknowledged. There may be truth to that argument.

While the film leaves little doubt as to Redford’s political leanings and perhaps the dialogue and message is a little too obvious, I couldn’t help feeling that the discourse presented here isn’t the very kind of discussion that needs to take place right now. This is a film that poses questions that don’t have clear and obvious answers and I found it thought provoking and oddly hopeful. I also think it’s a damn fine film and if that makes me the odd man out, then so be it.

On to the plot. Three interconnected stories are used to explore the political and social context of the American “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first (and I thought most interesting) involves a professor meeting with a very bright student who has drifted towards apathy and cynicism. Redford explores the difficulties of engaging a generation mired in narcissism that have disconnected from the world around them. The act of imparting wisdom from one generation to another seems to have passed us by and I found this exchange between teacher and student compelling and worthy. The second thread involves a young Republican Congressman (played with great charisma by Tom Cruise) discussing a new military strategy with a seasoned TV report (Meryl Streep). This segment serves to expose corporate media culpability and the dangers of a nation being swept along by the convictions and single-mindedness of its leadership. The third (and weakest) segment is the extension of this military strategy to field operations as seen through the eyes of two young idealists who have enlisted in the U.S. Special Forces.

Taken together, the strength of Lions for Lambs is how it approaches the collapse of American idealism and the colossal failure of its recent politics and policies from several different angles. It doesn’t provide pat answers because there really aren’t any. I may have completely missed the boat here, but I really thought this was an engaging and thoughtful work. I’d love to hear some comments about this one.



Sharkwater (2006)

An environmental wakeup call is the focus of this engaging, though fatally flawed documentary about the decimation of the world’s shark population. Toronto-based supermodel/biologist Rob Stewart spent 5 years cobbling together this film in an effort to expose the tragedy of a species being hunted out of existence to satisfy our apparent need for shark fin soup.

First a comment about the film. It sucks. Stewart is obviously committed to the cause and he’s certainly earnest enough but his Dudley-Doright-in-a-Speedo schtick gets in the way of the film’s intent. If you can picture Michael Moore’s more intrusive doc moments dovetailed with an episode of Baywatch, you begin to get the picture. As with almost all documentaries, the less we see of the filmmaker, the better. Can anyone picture Ken Burns or Errol Morris? No. I could run over either of them on Roncey and wouldn’t know who the hell was screaming under the Saab. Getting in the way of the camera, gets in the way of the story is the lesson here.

More importantly and with all due respect to someone who is trying to make a difference, Sharkwater remains a stunning eye-opener. We humans, in the space of less than twenty years, have virtually wiped out the oldest surviving unchanged creature on earth so we can have….. soup. Think about that for a second. Sharks have lived on this planet for 400 million years and we have reduced their numbers by 90% in less than 2 decades. They’ve survived 5 major extinctions, are twice as old as the earliest dinosaurs and rarely (actually almost never) eat us. If they were smarter, they’d eat every single human that stuck so much as a baby toe in the ocean. Our kind can’t regulate itself so bring on the plague Mother Nature, and be damn quick about it. If we are capable of causing the genocide of an entire species by cutting off their fins so we can have a bowl of fucking soup, then our time here is done. We’ve gotta stop this.

Ignore the Tom Cruise: Marine Biologist elements of Sharkwater and you’re in for a startling and harrowing look at the sick underbelly of a billion dollar black market industry. I’m thinking we should donate all of the revenue from our rentals to one of these foundations. I’d like some input here.