Hi everyone. I can't really manage more than 3 sentences on any one film, so no wordy critiques from me for now. I think I take after my mum, she can't manage more than 2 to 3 words on a film review but for me it's just as accurate. For example, here is what she said about Danny Boyles 'Sunshine'.

"Sunshine? Don't bother." - Linda Rochester 2008

Amazing I know.

We all know from experience that the majority of films are okay at best. My glass is half empty but it seems you can polish a turd after all. That's why we do marathons, it makes the most of the 'world' within the film and the characters become really well established. It's immersive even if it's not all that.

We've all done the sequels sessions, The Terminators, Aliens, Back to the future, Matrices and even Lord of the wasted 9 hours. I think me and Kris might get some smack and pringles and do the robocops soon. I'm saving the mind alterers for part 3. It's practically self-flagellation, I don't know why we do it but we do.

Then there's the directors marathons. Tarantino, Fincher, Wes Anderson and the Coens all offer pretty hellishly good weekend escapes. As if that's not enough these pesky TV series are getting quite distracting, no? I still haven't found a spare month to get started on The Wire but that black hole is an inevitable destination I will find myself and Mr. Noodle cosily snuggled up in sometime soon.

Ultimately though, the shows get cancelled and we're left feeling empty and for all of our time what do we have to show for it? We were entertained? This is where documentaries and biopics come in and can really broaden us, get us to experience another reality and generally educate us. We can travel and see things we would never see. Sure, it's all to be taken with a pinch of salt. It's movies. The fun really begins when you get on the end of one of these what I will call 'threads'.
That's a little film journey, a bunch of films connected in one or a variety of ways. Some obscure, some less so. I'd love to hear about your journeys and the links that carved out your path. I would even follow in your footsteps my brave pioneers! Here are a few of my recent wanderings.

Joy Division (documentary) -> 24 Hour Party People -> Control

If you give a nugget about music you should enjoy this little sesh. Choose your own order, you could call it a New Order if you like. Turbopuns! I'd watch the good vibes of '24 hour..' last actually. This lot can't really fail to entertain and inform and you get three looks at the same people and places that created the Manchester 'scene' at that time. Go get Madchestered. Dope!

My kid could paint that -> Who the f**k is Jackson Pollock -> Pollock -> Paintball next month

Vaguely related in the realm of splattered paint 'My Kid...' (documentary) is the story of Marla Olmstead, an apparent child prodigy who's paintings start to gain real interest in the art world. The tone quickly becomes teeth grindingly awkward as rumours that Marlas father has 'manipulated' her paintings start to hold some water. Eeek.

'Who the...' (documentary) doesn't feature the big J.P. at all but is the rather amusing and semi-tragic tale of a middle aged lady truckdriver who once bought a $5 painting at a thrift store in her home state of California. Turns out it might be a genuine Pollock and she heads out to get the painting authenticated. At the end of the film she has some evidence to support her claims but still no certificate, she is offered $9 million for the painting and turns it down. Mental. TRIVIA TIME! This is the same painting that was displayed in a gallery in The Beach in Torontos far superior east end this week and someone tried to rob it. The saga continues.

Pollock (2000) was Ed Harris' directorial debut and aswell as playing the big grump himself I must say it is a fair effort. It is an engaging and sad portrait of the man and his work and I really enjoyed this film.

I was so inspired by all this throwing pigments about that next month I am going paintballing for my birthday, you should come. I can't wait to shoot Joe til he screams like a macaque monkey on hot sand.

Overnight -> The Boondock Saints -> (Upon Release)All Saints day

I totally missed '...Saints'. when it was first released so watched it recently after first checking out 'Overnight'. This is the documentary following Troy Duffy the writer/director of the movie in question beginning at the point he has sold his first screenplay to Miramax. Sounds like a dream come true but this film demonstrates the galactic ego of Mr Duffy and his subsequent decline in Hollywood. It's amazing and painful to watch. It gets to the point of him basically getting run out of town and he eventually made it to Toronto to shoot the movie.
It's become a bit of a cult classic and you can kind of see why. The standout performance comes from Willem Dafoe as closet homocop super detective Smecker and a strangely memorable performance from David Della Rocco as 'The Funnyman', anyone seen him since? The sequel is currently shooting around Toronto and due sometime in 2009. I'll be there with crossed fingers.

Some future threads to look out for?
- Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot (Docu) -> Valkyrie (The movie!)
- The Life and times of Harvey Milk (Docu) -> Milk (Gus Van Sants promising new Penn driven nugget)

See you soon, Tom over t' east an that.


What's Happenin' My Manalan?

The Happening

2008 might become to be known as a year renowned for a re-birth in (North!) American environmental consciousness with the victory of president elect Barack Obama, who has made no secret of his plans to mitigate the tax breaks given to Shell oil and other world-destroying international conglomerates, and the national recognition of ‘global warming (warnings?)’ as a legitimate cause. M. Night Shamanana pays lip service to the movement with his film The Happening. Perhaps it was his intention to become Hollywood’s token ‘we’re so progressive on social issues’ movie of the year (re: ‘Crash’). This film, however, will be remembered, at best, as Sarah Palin’s principal information source for her comments on global warming. It takes the 'Al' out of 'Al Gore'. The film pivots from Mark Wahlberg’s performance, who suffers from ‘lost child syndrome’ the entire time, always confused and posing line after line of dialogue as questions. But you can’t blame the guy or the character he plays, when the movie is absent of any plot-line or meaning; his confusion mirrors the viewers as they both realize there’s no content here at all. Not even the legendary ‘Shammy Twist’ at the end! Basically what ‘happens’ is 91 minutes of people committing mass-suicide because the earth has had it with the humans. Early in the film, when a seriously cracked out green-house hermit man talks about plants talking to each other and defending themselves, I 'naturally' dismissed him as a token ‘crazy country bumpkin’ type. But he is the prophet here; the ‘environment’ systematically breaks into human craniums and presses the ‘self-destruct’ button hidden in the depths of all our brains. If your searching for a top five selection for a movie to appear in subsequent episodes of ‘Mystery Science Theater 6000’ here’s your man; if you’re looking for anything else look far, far away.


Zeitgeist: Addendum (2008)

This movie had loads of interest and requests at the store this summer. I've finally sat down to watch it today and I have to wonder if the interest stems from genuine belief and interest in the ideas that the documentary proposes, or if it's simply because the film is anti-Christianity/war/America-in-general, all that stuff we just love to hate.
I enjoyed the first chapter of the film, which discusses the Jesus myth in relation to pagan religions, and more fascinatingly (to me) how the story of Jesus might just be a personification of phenomenon regarding the sun, constellations and the equinox. It is a very fascination proposition and was presented very tangibly, however, it was also presented as fact. The film completely ignores the possibility of any other explanation of the Christian religion, and, more importantly when discussing how religion effects politics, it completely ignores the importance of why Christianity rules the nation, the history of the church itself rather than the religion. Choosing instead to focus on the stupidity of belief in Jesus, rather than discussing the much more prevalent point of belief in the church, two things which, although intimately connected, are not at all one in the same. This was somewhat of a running motif with this movie - using very understandable visuals and presenting information as absolute fact so that the story it tells is quite compelling when truthfully the way in which the film presents evidence is just as deceptive as the people are of the groups and actions it is obviously against.
The historical aspects of the film are interesting. The creator does well to give historical information, much of which I admit that I did not know, that itself is quite interesting and does, in fact have connection with the modern events he is discussing. However, the modern issues which it addresses are presented biasedly, to say the least. Skimming over details and never addressing any counter-arguments would never fly in an academic paper, I don't see why, just because something is on film and not paper, it should be passable in this instance. And I don't see how, morally, making a film in this deceptive manner makes someone any better than a government who the creator claims does the same thing, and that he is so abhorrently against.


Antonio Gaudi (1984)

The last two years have been very good to Japanese art-house darling Hiroshi Teshigahara. Unfortunately, he's been dead for the last eight.

Until July of 2007, the name Hiroshi Teshigahara meant nothing to me. However, that month Criterion released a superb trilogy of films (Face of Another, Woman in the Dunes, Pitfall) by the Japanese director. It was then that I realized what I had been missing. I watched the three films rabidly and pored over the special features and the bonus disc included in the set. Still, I wanted more.

In March of this year, Criterion again stepped up to bat and released another long out of print Teshigahara classic, Antonio Gaudi. While not as essential a work as the former three, it is nonetheless a playful and contemplative film that does justice to both Gaudi's sculpture and architecture, but also - and perhaps more pointedly - it distills Teshigahara's filmic vision down to its essence.

In viewing this film, I realized that this was the perfect pairing of director and subject, however unlikely that may seem for those familiar with both artists' work. Although Teshigahara and Gaudi reside at opposite stylistic poles, and come from incredibly different artistic backgrounds, the clinical - not cold - eye of the director lingers over the sensual, simultaneously earthy and alien forms of the architect, and we feel that we are exploring new ground. The long takes and slow pans that Teshigahara employs force the viewer to see what the director wants us to see - perhaps the perfect example of the power of cinema to hold and arrest the gaze of the audience. Teshigahara approaches the works of Gaudi with a reverential eye, and not only highlights the stunning forms, but also goes on to create his own sort of art. By showing in close up the sinewy and undulating forms of Gaudi's work, he removes them from their immediate context and renders them abstract, forcing us to reconsider not only what we are seeing directly on screen, but its place within the larger work.

Teshigahara's preference for narrating a film with imagery rather than dialogue is again on display here. In fact, the few brief instances of a character speaking in the film are rather jarring. The end goal of both architect and filmmaker is to speak through images and forms, light and shadow, solid and void - in this sense, Teshigahara, like Gaudi, succeeds wonderfully. And by contrasting certain scenes at the film's outset - Spain's deeply religious rooting is shown through church frescoes and sculptures, and Spaniards dancing in the town square, eating, working, dealing in the market and generally going about their daily lives shows the secular way of life - Teshigahara effectively describes a cultural background rich in both the sacred and the profane, the cultural background which deeply influenced the work of Gaudi.

Throughout Antonio Gaudi, we see many recurring visual motifs, such as the spiraling, shifting, snaking shapes that so entranced Teshigahara as well as the entomologist (played by Eiji Okada) in Woman in the Dunes. The director seems genuinely captivated by the architecture as would be any tourist, and even though we have seen the buildings before, whether in pictures or on-site, Teshigahara's wonder of discovery translates beautifully and we feel as if we are seeing Gaudi for the first time. Teshigahara's is a foreign eye discovering and revelling in the forms that surround him. If you also keep in mind the difference of the Japanese and Spanish artistic traditions, Teshigahara's austere, minimalist filmmaking compostions layered over Gaudi's everything-in-the-mix aesthetic is all the more impressive. Imagine John Cage or Philip Glass recording an album of Beck songs and you see where this could have gone terribly wrong.

And speaking of music (what a segue), the film's otherworldly score that sounds like it could have been created by Herzog faves Popul Vuh mixes with classical compositions to set up the works on display. There is often a sense that we are being taken on a guided tour of a spaceship, or through one of the many rooms in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

I began wondering, about 60 hypnotic and awe-filled minutes into the film, why exactly is it that we are drawn to architecture? Not only Gaudi, but, to use an example with more currency and relevance to us, why have the newly finished ROM and AGO structures caused so much hoopla in town? Is it the superstar architects themselves? Is it simply that we like to look at pretty things, and consequently feel better about ourselves for living in a more "beautiful" city? Bragging rights? I came to realize that Gaudi's work, and as the utmost extension of that, architecture, sculpture and art, allow me, personally, to see and touch mankind's capacity for creation and desire to dream. In gazing upon these finished structures, these living dreams, we can see and feel those fleeting intangibles, the manifestion of which eludes all but a tiny portion of us. Teshigahara's film allowed me to realize that, and I am grateful for the experience.


Going down? (the rabbit hole?) Dropkick gets stuck in Elevator Movie

Elevator Movie is the directorial debut from Zeb Haradon. A film about two people trapped in an elevator.


that's it.

Elevator movie starts as an awkward character comedy shot in black and white with absolutely no budget. A perverted man and a recently born again Christian woman find themselves stuck in an elevator. Soon after finding that pressing the buttons over and over, using the intercom, and trying to pry the doors open results in nothing but frustration they decide to accept their fates until help must eventually show up. Luckily the woman was on her way home from the grocery store so they have supplies to last. After a few hours they decide to open up the coffee grounds and use the can as a lavatory.
Still, the hours pass and they soon realize they'll have to sleep in the elevator. The two wake up to find the food they had eaten the day before has been replenished in the grocery bag. Even the coffee grounds are now sealed away in the tin they had been using for their personal wastes.

This is where the film starts to smirk at you and slowly draws you in closer and closer until you can't breath.
If you are claustrophobic i wouldn't recommend this film. It's all shot in the confines of the elevator and the black and white film really adds to making you feel trapped inside that space.
Several times during the film i would blink my eyes and shake my head as if coming out of some hypnotic trance, it felt like I was there too with these two silently observing.

The film is an awkwardly dialogue driven comedy but when you finally give into the picture and its characters that is same moment when you start to notice the cable above you is being cut slowly.

The film free falls into the surreal and you're unable to shake out of it. Like a bad dream everything loses itself and becomes irrational. You look to the people around you to acknowledge the madness but they don't. They go along with every illogical event shaping around you and that's when you're truly trapped in that elevator.

People looking for a new Eraserhead or a polished independent comedy will have to take the stairs. This is less-than-no budget film making done right. The sound, editing, and even the acting will keep most from being able to enjoy this.

I gave this one a good day to sink in before making up my mind on it, but i think i knew this one was something special when during the hilarious ending moments of the film my brain jolted and i jumped up clapping. It seems that a few months ago i had dreamnt the ending of Elevator Movie. It was a happy but frightening moment that pushed me further into the belief that the film had a hex on me.

Debut directorial efforts like Zeb Haradon (who also wrote and acts as the man trapped in the elevator) gives us here is rare nowadays. This one may go unnoticed doomed to rot in the obscurity of other independent surreal films, but hopefully with a little luck this picture can pick up steam so we can see more efforts by Zeb. I would put this one beside The American Astronaut which is quickly becoming a cult classic right before our Film Buffed eyes, if it's not already considered one. Recommended and we don't stop, from the window to the wall, we be representin' and recommendin' fools!

good day old sports, K-PAX

Red (2008)

What a surprise this film was. I first picked up Red because I have great respect and admiration for Brian Cox and I also noticed that it has the curious distinction of being birected by Trygve Allister Diesen (?) and Lucky McKee (see what I did there?), whose May, Sick Girl and, to a lesser extent, The Woods, are, to me, three genre standouts from the past half dozen years.

Showing the same kind of sensitivity to his lead character as he had done in May, McKee really creates empathy for Cox's Avery Ludlow, an aging widower who simply wants to finish off his life enjoying the few simple pleasures he has left - his house, his general store, and his old dog, Red. All that changes one fateful day down at the ol' fishin' hole; Avery is enjoying a serene day by the water when three boys appear out of the woods, carrying with them a sense of unease and growing menace. For no good reason, the most petulant and brash of the boys fatally shoots Red. Ludlow is shattered, and soon after does some simple detective work and tracks down the boy, goes to his home and tells his father the gruesome details of the killing. The father and local rich guy Mr. McCormack (Tom Sizemore) assholishly disbelieves the story, and after asking his son Danny a few questions to which snide answers are given, dismisses Ludlow's claims as fiction.

With that as a starting point, the film begins to explore some fairly weighty issues, including vengeance, justice, the nature of truth, and how quickly things can spiral out of control when reasonable and rational human interaction is thrown by the wayside.

While some of the scenes suffer from local-theatre-company level acting, what really carries the film is the terrific script (based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, who has seen films adapted from two of his other novels - the brutal The Lost, and the harrowing and tough to watch The Girl Next Door) and Cox's stellar performance. The film really is kind of a one man show, a character study, and Cox delivers a terrifically subtle, nuanced, and heartbreaking performance. I find if my emotional reaction to a character is simply centred around one feeling, then the character is a sketch rather than a portrait. In this case, I felt only hatred toward Sizemore and Noel Fisher's despicable like-father/like-son duo. Unfortunately, these characterizations are closer to caricature than archetype, but they do serve a purpose - they set up the layered performance by Cox, giving him a framework in which to respond and react. Cox's seven minute monologue in which he describes one terrifying night which lead to the dissolution of his family is nothing short of riveting.

Even the film's title, Red, has many layers. Ostensibly about the slaughtered dog, the title also references the bloodshed throughout the film and the blind rage that motivates many of the characters' actions. The theme is also formally reinforced, as many of the fades in the film are not fades to black, but to blood red.

A simple, unobtrusive rustic acoustic score also punctuates scenes of harmony and violence, and the interplay between how the music works with each is intriguing.

Also look for a small role by Robert Englund, who seems to be in every genre film these days. Talk about a major career renaissance...kind of.

The film also appealed to me on a personal level - just when I was ready to give in, I heard Ludlow claim something to the effect of "never stop fighting, because the second you do, that's when the world rolls right over on you". I realized then and there that my daily battles with double wide strollers, farting/barking dogs, screaming minitards, and spaced out parents whose surface zen belies the tortorous innerquisiting "why, oh why didn't he pull out early?" - all within the confines of a video store, mind you - are not in vain...never, ever let the spark die.

Red is a small film, one that many will undoubtedly pass over in favour of bigger, more recognizable titles. Those that do skip Red, though, will be doing themselves a disservice. What we have here is an intelligent film that is both thought-provoking and a demands a visceral response in the viewer. Red is not a masterpiece, nor is it without flaw; but while it likely won't make many "Best of 2008" lists, it is, in my eyes, a minor gem that should not be missed.


Dark Knight Review by Jonathan Lethem

Here's the link, in case you haven't already read it:
Lethem Dark Knight Review


TransSiberian (2008)

It has been extremely exciting to watch Brad Anderson metamorphose from a fluffy RomCom meat-grinder into a full fledged "director" - one whose work has become, over the course of his last three films, more that of an auteur than that of a Hollywood also-ran. In the interest of full disclosure, no, I haven't seen Next Stop Wonderland or Happy Accidents, and while I'm sure they are charming films in their own right, they are not why I remain a fan of Anderson. However, his work on Session 9 (still one of the creepiest and most effective chillers of the past decade), the stark and cerebral The Machinist, and now, TransSiberian, shows incredible growth.

I can't seem to find any external reviews of TransSiberian without some kind of reference to Hitchcock, or to the film being "Hitchcockian", and while that may seem a bit of a stretch, it's not entirely off base - not to mention the fact that I twice slipped "cock" into the last sentence without anyone batting an eye.

The tension builds from the first frame, when we see Ben Kingsley, drawing more from his experiences with Jonathan Glazer than from those with Richard Attenborough. In fact, every character is superbly layered in this film, from Kingsley to Eduardo Noriega (reprising a much similar role to the one he played in Alejandro Amenabar's Tesis), to Woody Harrelson's totally wacky and hilarious country bumpkin-cum-jaded anti-hero Roy. There is no black and white here, just a whole lot of grey, resulting in the kind of moral combat in which a certain British director revelled...

So we come full circle, and while the student has yet to surpass the master, the vibe is definitely there and with each scene there is another turn of the screw. Finally, an "old school" adult thriller that refuses to pander to the audience or take the easy way out. Even after the seemingly tidy ending, this one keeps you guessing, and, as the best thrillers should, just slightly uneasy. As Kris is so fond of doing, I'll compare this to the spawn of a few other films - let's say a threesome between "A Simple Plan", "Midnight Express" and one of either "Silver Streak" or "Narrow Margin" (take your pick). Good show, and I look forward to seeing what Anderson does next.