12.31.2009

Run! Bitch Run! (2009)

When it was announced that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would be teaming up to produce an action packed double feature of mayhem, gore and sleaze, fanboys went apeshit, speculating who would do what, which director's segment would be better, and generally getting worked up into a Y-front moistening frenzy.  DVD distributors, seeing this golden opportunity, dug deep into the vaults and pulled out every possible forgotten piece of Z-grade trash ever committed to celluloid - and often having the most tenuous of connections to the "exploitation" genre - and marketed them as "GRINDHOUSE", the word often appearing in big, bold letters on the box, dwarfing the film's actual title.  You may not have noticed it, but for followers of the horror/cult/sleaze world, it was kind of a big deal.

It has now been nearly three years since the Tarantino/Rodriguez "collabo", and it's safe to say that "grindhouse" has "jumped the shark", has had all the life sucked out of its wheezing corpse.  So, you can imagine my surprise when this turned up on the shelves of the FBE last week.  A new (non-Nick Zedd) film still mining the exploitation genre...

Run! Bitch Run! is a low-budget exploitation film in the truest sense of the word.  Blood, boobs and bad acting are all on display here.  The story has two barely legal Catholic schoolgirls (names forgotten, doesn't matter) on the road hawking bibles for their school.  One is fun-loving and wants to forget their mission from god and go dance; the other is straight-laced and insists that they must sell all the bibles in order to get back to school sooner.  Well, after one pointless scene too many (in which that hideous kid that plays Michael Myers aged 8 in Rob Zombie's Halloween reboot shows up), our two Little Red Riding Hoods stumble across the domain of local pimp, murderer, and dope dealer (can you have one without the other two?) Lobo Loco, or Loco Lobo - whatever, CRAZY WOLF! - who has just finished shooting one of his charges in the neck after she tried to steal some of his powduh.  The girls are brought inside by LL's stuttering sidekick and the party-girl is promptly stripped and raped.  Then LL and the stutterer and another of LL's "employees" with overt lesbo-leanings take goodie two shoes into the woods and play a perverted game of hide and seek, in which she is allowed about 30 seconds to run (during which the nasty three shout the titular phrase on repeat), after which LL chases her down and, if caught, will rape her.  OF COURSE he catches her, proceeds to rape, then one-ups himself by having his way with her via the butt of his hunting knife, leaving her covered in blood, barely alive and numb to the prospect of living.  Like an affair in an elevator, wrong on a number of levels.  LL returns to the other two, starts getting frisky with the dyke and sends the stutterer to finish off our poor heroine.  Well, he gets to her and strips her, but upon seeing her rosary, becomes mesmerized, a time she uses to escape - but OH SHIT! she slips and falls down a hill, bludgeoning her head on a rock.  JAYZUS, someone remind this girl not to buy a lottery ticket.  Stutterer leaves her there, assuming she's dead, and returns to LL with the news that he killed her...Later, now, she wakes up, naked in a daze, and the "film"makers spend far too much time showing her stumbling around in the woods - seriously close to 5 minutes of fades and cuts of her blundering through the forest, nude, natch.  I guess she is found(?) by some good Samaritan, because next we see of her, she's in the hospital - oh WAIT! - there was a scene of a car approaching someone lying on the road - guess that was her.  So a kindly (and might I add buxom) young nurse cares for her, but she wakes up, steals a nurse's uni and a scalpel, and goes on the hunt.  Long story short - she tracks down Stutterer at a dive bar and blows him away while he's taking a shit; goes back to LL's to find the hooker and, after a brief struggle, stabs her through the hand(!) and then cuts off her head; then she confronts LL, who we see in flagrante delicto with THE NURSE! and our heroine takes an 18-inch machete and stabs LL right in the ol' asshole.  Repeatedly.  Then she walks out to her car and puts a gun to her head, pulls that trigger, and...scene!  PHEW!  Breathe...

While I was watching the film, I couldn't believe how bad it was.  Full disclosure: I did watch half of the thing on 2x fast forward, so I probably missed much of the director's intended subtlety.  Thing is, I keep thinking about it a day later, and I think that's because here is a rare example of an actual exploitation film.  This isn't a sheep in wolf's clothing Hollywood production, but an honest to goodness exploiter that wears its immense debts to such classics of the small but potent "raped female revenge" subgenre like I Spit On Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman), Last House on the Left (kinda), Ms .45, and Thriller: A Cruel Picture proudly on its sleeve.  However, mimicking those great pictures does not a good film make, and RBR is far from a good film.  It wasn't even particularly entertaining.  But I am happy to see that straight-up (not send-up) versions of these films are being made.  I probably wouldn't recommend this to anyone, but I can't say that I feel cheated for having watched it - it produced this post, didn't it?  The closest thing we have to "pornography" in the shop, and the only other person who I can see giving this a look is the east end's living legend (in his own mind) and fellow degenerate Daul Dozhke.  HEY YOU MANZZZZ!!!!!

In a way, the DVD is the perfect format for these types of films; in the 70s, the "grindhouse" cinemas that lined NYC's 42nd St (and more than a few on our very own Yonge St.) were the perfect venue for midnight wanderers, compulsive masturbators, casual whores, exploding hobos and lovers of the fiendish images projected onto the screen.  Today, those same social groups find themselves with nary a theatre to pass out/shit themselves/get drunk or stoned in after midnight, and are forced back into their cardboard boxes where they are conveniently greeted by a stack of DVDs bearing labels like Severin, Blue Underground, Code Red, and RBR's publisher, Vicious Circle Films.  It is the small screen that is the present day grindhouse, and as sad as it is that we can no longer enjoy these wonderful films in the stately (if shabby) movie houses of yore, it sure is nice to be able to find a seat that isn't lacquered in bodily fluids.  Someone else's, that is.

Ken Russell's Dance of the Seven Veils

If you are in any way like me (and may the god in whom I don't believe help you if you are), you love Ken Russell.  You probably watched with interest (and some disappointment) the fairly recent Ken Russell at the BBC box set.  The disappointment likely stemmed from the fact that the long-rumoured to be included but shelved at the 11th hour Dance of the Seven Veils was nowhere to be found.  Well, the 1970 film that the British government doesn't want you to see has turned up in segments on Youtube.  The provocative and controversial director's take on the life of composer Richard Strauss is now available to watch, but watch it while you can - you never know when Big Brother might pull the plug.  Here's part one (the other parts can be found on the Youtube sidebar):

Huge tip o' the cap to Tim Lucas - and you should all read his original post on the film - for the find.

12.30.2009

It is entertainment my dear Watson - Sherlock Holmes (2009)

When I first saw trailers for Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes I was more than a little unenthusiastic. Recently Mr. Ritchie hasn't necessarily been "kicking out the jams" since Snatch. In fact all of his films since have been downright abysmal. Let's hope his abilities as a film director were only sapped by his ex-wife because Holmes is a surprisingly massively entertaining effort.

The film certainly isn't for everyone, i would suspect fans of the usual incarnations of Sherlock on film will be severly dissapointed. I am neither a Holmes fan in books, TV, or film (except The Great Mouse Detective). I vaguely know the character, I know Watson, I know who Irene Adler is, and i know who Moriarty is. It is with that knowledge I walked into Sherlock Holmes not expecting much.

The idea of the great detective portrayed as an action hero can seem absurd but Robert Downey Jr. makes it work. Sure, Holmes is excellent at fisticuffs but when you watch Downey playing the detective between the explosions and shoot outs you can see a character he has made up in his head. Usually it is what is between the lines that makes Downey's take so entertaining to watch, if you keep your eye on him when others are talking you'll notice he's usually staring at different objects in the room. You get a sense he's observing things everyone else is overlooking and that sense feels like a great pay off by the end when Sherlock unravels the mystery by going back through the film chronologically deducing logically the riddle of the case. Actions that seemed like nervous ticks or Downey just being plain weird actually turn out to be Holmes solving the case.
Thankfully the script here is heavy on action and smarts. If you can't accept Holmes as a stuntman then you'll miss out completely on the many riddles the film has to share. Nearing the end i was worried the film would go somewhere i didn't want it to but Sherlock makes quick work of every loose end leaving you more than just satisfied but also completely entertained. Guy Ritchie makes great use of his usual directorial style here. I didn't think the two would mesh well but he uses his stylistic methods sparingly thankfully making it not feel like "Snatch Holmes". That being said however there are some great camera tricks, some terrific use of slow motion photography, and some truly excellent audio work that makes the film unique.

I also have to say that i feel this is some of Jude Law's best work. As Doctor Watson, Law plays an intelligent and loyal counterpart to Holmes. Law's Watson is also a formidable fighter as here he was an ex-soldier in the Afghan wars but again between all the action is another terrific take on the character. I had my doubts that Law would be able stand outside of Downey's shadow but he does it here effortlessly. Watching the two together going over a crime scene or taking out the baddies is nothing short of popcorn movie gold. The best scenes of the film are between Watson and Downey as they play out a seemingly lovers quarrel. In fact the subplot of Watson getting engaged and moving out of 221B Baker Street and the effect that is having on the relationship between Holmes and Watson is the most engaging element of the story.
Unfortunately these two behemoths cast their shadows over the rest of cast. Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler is completely competent but she just can't hold a candle to the other two personalities overtaking the film. And as for the villianous Lord Blackwell played by Andy Garcia... oh sorry i meant Mark Strong, the two big characters make what should be a terrifying baddie into a fumbling bully.

I deduce that this film is highly entertaining. I'm talking Star Trek levels of entertainment. This is the kinda film you don't take home to mother but rather a film you go out dancing with and buy drinks.
If you're an old fan of Holmes this may not be your cup of tea but for those willing to be entertained you could do much worse than this neatly packaged well acted and completely satisfying picture.

12.29.2009

Your Complete Guide to Saving Movie Theatre Seats

If everyone read THIS and abided by the rules, I am convinced the world would be a more loving place.  I really don't give a shit if your four friends from Barrie are "just on the 400, north of Steeles", and that, "they'll, like, be here in, like, 10 minutes (after the movie is set to begin)" - those seats are free...

12.23.2009

Beginning the day after Halloween (sometimes earlier) - and like it or not - I am buffeted about the head with the sights, sounds, and sales of Christmas.  Most people are fine with this, blindly groping for a plethora of gifts they give not out of love but out of obligation, mindlessly humming along to the soporific strains of pop-starlet-x-du jour's rendition of "White Christmas".  Well, I certainly can't deny that, for all my horror-film-loving, black-metal-listening leanings, I don't get a bit caught up in the season.  The season of light, of love, of hope; of family, old friendships made new, eggnog around the roaring fire and cheerful carols around a table of baked goods.  My film watching reflects this trend - my softening, if you will - and I always manage to catch It's a Wonderful Life on a tinsel-lit Christmas eve in the warmth of my parents' home in Victorian Dundas.  Similarly, the Rankin and Bass specials, Charlie Brown's Christmas, A Christmas Carol are all viewed with round, smiling faces, breaks taken to shuffle back to the kitchen for another pewter horn of mulled cider.  I'm sure your Christmas is the same.  But this year, I wanted to let you in on a little secret, a secret film, one which makes the holidays even brighter, brings families closer together, and which is destined to become a seasonal classic, taking its rightful place beside Alister Sim's crooked teeth in the Christmas Hall of Fame.  Yes, ladies and gentilhommes, that film is:

Best known for his Oscar award-winning documentary Man on Wire, James Marsh is the director of this slightly lesser lauded film, not quite documentary, not quite drama, sort of a recreation of events.  I think, however, it should be elevated in status above its award-winning sibling - it is an incredibly unusual film, gorgeously shot, perfectly scored, and dealing with some very strange, very macabre events.

Marsh uses Michael Lesy's controversial 1973 book of the same name as his jumping off point.  The book, which collected newspaper articles and period photographs from the town of Black River Falls, WI, circa the late-1800s, focuses mainly on the hardships of (mainly Scandinavian and German) settler life in the small city.  Marsh goes one further and sets out to recreate the landscape and events chronicled in the newspaper articles, and the film grows increasingly stranger in both subject matter and style as it wears on.

Shot in rich, starkly contrasting black and white, the film's look recalls certain Ansel Adams photos or the work of Alfred Stieglitz.  It is the dramatization of the town's descent into hell that ultimately gives the film its power - this is not simply a monotone voiceover paired with photographic stills, but a living breathing past, a dark past.  Accompanying the reenactments, Ian Holm skillfully intones the narrative while we see a variety of people performing unspeakable acts, and the overall effect is chilling and riveting.  Children kill innocent adults without remorse; a schoolteacher is addicted to vandalism and cocaine; men murder their wives, then themselves; mothers drown their children; a woman is buried alive, while in a trance, and the coffin is opened to a most grisly discovery; a once-famous European opera star begins having visions of ghosts and dark forces before being admitted into the insane asylum, and on, and on...


There are also colour inserts that show present day Black River Falls, a place that is so ordinary it is beyond sad.  Clearly the filmmakers are showing the mundane existence of the present day citizens to highlight the insanity of the past.  I wonder if the kind of hysteria that occurred in Black River Falls was mirrored in the rest of the country's rural areas at the same time, or if the madness, murder and mayhem was restricted to this particularly idyllic setting?

The film is wholly unique and really deserves to be seen.  So, um, see it.  Yule love it.

12.22.2009

Avatar

A reviewer from the Chicago Reader has compared the impact of Avatar's Hollywood “movie magic” to that of audiences seeing King Kong for the first time in 1933. In terms of visuals and special effects, I'd have to agree full-heartedly. Aside from the fact that I was sitting far too close to the 6 story Imax screen with funny goggles on my head – I was blown away by the decadent eye candy. Planet Pandora is detailed, rich and often mesmerizing, particularly when we are flying around floating mountains on a huge pterodactyl-like creatures. The one complaint (re: Kendall) about the visuals is that The Na'vi (10 foot tall blue aboriginals) look too fake. In my opinion this comes down to the fact that no one has figured out how to make skin look authentic, particularly when the camera is at close quarters. So the Na'vi look like they are wearing skin tight blue wet suits on their lanky frames. This doesn't bother me that much, maybe because it gets as close to real as CGI can possibly come to bringing to life blue aliens. At the heart of the story is a cheesy romance between Jake Sully, a wheel-chair bound ex-marine who controls a Na'vi/Humanoid avatar and a real Na'vi princess (Hollywood's first BLUE princess! Hey diversity!). They bond while she teaches Sully the Na'vi way of life – which consists of hunting, tracking, killing and riding other animals, despite the sentimental environmentalism written into the film. This romance lends to the sweeping, epic tone of the film, again reminding us of the King Kong effect.


Both films try to highlight the brutality of Humans when confronted with what they don't understand (i.e. Alien lifeforms). King Kong makes this claim with far better accuracy than Avatar, however. There is a very conflicted, very human, way people deal with the imax screen-sized ape in King Kong. It is viewed with awe and fear and respected for its awesome presence, but is ultimately exploited by the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans. Of course, it cannot be contained any easier than a hurricane can, and in the end must be destroyed. King Kong is an animal, it acts on instinct and when defending himself is capable of destruction on a Godzilla-like scale. But it is also an ape, and thus smarter than most creatures, only a step or two below human consciousness – the proof being that it is capable of something in the arena of love. Kong's death is sad – humanity killed the ape. But there is also the sense that we acted not on entirely evil pretences, but that we wanted to show the world something spectacular. In my opinion the quest to show Kong to the world was not done purely in terms of crass commercialism (although I can't deny there is traces of that), but rather that seeing Kong produced a humbling, almost reverential reaction in audiences.


In Avatar, the Na'vi are very similar to aboriginal, hunter-gatherer cultures. They are flawless – a spiritual, ritualistic, proud and united people. Humanity is represented by the colonial forces of a thuggish military and a few tree-hugging scientists. The military wants access to a mineral deposit that sits below the Na'vi city – the Na'vi refuse to leave their homes, and so the military pledges to wipe them out if the scientists and their avatar-program cannot find a 'diplomatic solution'. The cartoon-like colonel refers to the Na'vi as savages and tree-monkeys – basically the same racist attitudes that plagued European settlers in North America. The environmentalist scientists view the Na'vi with a naive and sentimental attitude – idealizing them as perfect organisms at peace with the world around them. We are expected to think the same. I digress; All in all it is a very 2-D plot and script, pasted together with politically-correct environmentalist rhetoric. Avatar would have been far better off as a simple showcase for Pandora – think a Planet Earth type feature of an imagined world.


Cameron put all his effort, craft and film-making experience in creating the world of Pandora, while hiring the script writers of Wall-E, 9, and Fern Gully. It seems that every fantasy picture these days has to show that humanity on the whole is completely blind to their ongoing rape of the natural world – to serve as biting political wake-up calls to the general public. Please. You guys are wearing dull dentures. The story is much more complicated than that. The solution is not to become a hunter-gatherer population along the Amazon or someplace 'exotic'. BUT! Aside from the films underlying 'message', it is a blast to watch. It is one of the few pictures where i have sat slack-jawed and at the edge of my seat, revelling in 'movie magic'. Go see it to feel like I did as a kid watching dinosaurs come to life in Jurassic Park, or how my scrappy 1933 Brooklyn child avatar would have watched King Kong almost 80 years ago.

Defining the hipster comedy - a look at Away We Go and Up in the Air

Lately I've been trying to steer clear from dramedies that look like Away We Go and Up in the Air; middle of the road films packaged neatly for the thinking moviegoer who doesn't like to be challenged.
What exactly is this breed of film? After finishing Away We Go a fellow viewer stated they didn't like the film, and that they don't really enjoy "hipster comedies" like it. The term hipster comedy has been rattling around my brain since. How does one define what makes a hipster comedy when there are already so many conflicting views on what makes something "hipster" and what people find funny?

Googleing hipster comedy is no help, you get people who argue that "hipster comedy" is that intentionally dumbed-down style of comedy that's taken the internet by storm and is slowly carving out a niche with television audiences and film-goers alike. Troupes such as The Lonely Island, Tim and Eric, Flight of the Conchords, Demetri Martin, and Zach Galfinakis fall into this camp.

While still, others say hipster comedies were born out of Woody Allen's pictures and continue today in the form of movies such as Sideways, Garden State, Little Miss Sunshine, any Wes Anderson movie, anything with Michael Cera in it.

For the sake of argument i'll go with the latter definition of the term; these are simple films that are subtly funny and have a shit load of Elliot Smith or Velvet Underground on the soundtrack.
Films such as these can feel bland, predictable, redundant, pretentious, alienating, offensive etc. They can also be great flicks, either way they're the easiest kind of movie to recommend to that customer who wants that vanzilla flavoured film ("something funny, not stupid funny. Nothing heavy, but not too light and it has to be in English... I don't feel like reading tonight").

Away We Go had much hyperbole surrounding it due to the writing duties. Dave Eggers and his wife Vandela Vida are both considered "hipster writers" (don't ask) and as this is their first stab at script writing many were eager to see if their styles of writing would translate on film. Directorial duties went to Sam Mendes who is no stranger to the comedy de la hipster (American Beauty), and with John Krasinski (of the American Office) and Maya Rudolph (a popular SNL alumni) top billed this should have been a flannel wearing, beard donning, cream in your tight jeans affair.
The film follows a young 30 something couple (Burt and Verona) who are expecting a baby. The couple travel to various locales around North America visiting old friends in search for that perfect family home. Every stop they make sees the couple encountering more and more despicable characters; like Burt's self centered parents, Verona's insane ex-coworker, and their hippie college friend. These characters that they encounter are so exaggerated and absurd in an otherwise subtle film that watching the couple become annoyed doesn't give us the effect that that they are in fact saner or "above it" as the film wants you to. The exaggerated characters give rise to a few chuckles but ultimately end up feeling forced and too loud for a film that benefits from subtlety.
When the film is what it is suppose to be (a depiction of the psychological impact having a baby has on people) it soars.
In the last act the couple meet two people who are not exaggerated and have tragic tales of human life to convey and this is where the film becomes the most intriguing. It's just too bad it's already over by this point.
For what it is worth, Away We Go managed to score more laughs out of me then i had expected but then again i didn't expect much. Just a shame Maya Rudolph felt like a lost comedic opportunity.

However, my expectations were high for Jason Reitman's Up in the Air. Reitman has found commercial success with previous efforts such as the fantastic Thank Your For Smoking and Juno.
Earlier this year while Up in the Air was on the festival circuit it was being heralded as the best film of 2009 and won almost every top critic or festival award it was nominated for. This led me to believe that Up in the Air, which at first glance seemed like your run of the mill dramedy, was something truly special buried underneath a seemingly deceitful facade of mediocrity.
Unfortunately Up in the Air is well written, perfectly cast , and superbly photographed the only thing it is not is different.
There is nothing about Up in the Air that feels refreshing, for the most part the film feels recycled much like the oxygen in an airplane cabin.
Not to say Up in the Air is not a "great" film because it is, it just did not stand up next to my greater expectations.
The film follows Ryan Bingham (played by the always incorrigible George Clooney) who loves his job, it's a field of work that sees Ryan traveling around the country (U.S.A.) firing employees for employers who can not stomach it themselves. On the side Ryan also gives motivational speeches that are mostly about relying only on yourself and considering most other human beings dead weight.
When his way of life is threatened by new blood in his company suggesting firing people from laptops via webcams, which would ultimately mean Ryan would be grounded in one location, he is faced with the reality of his life; he has no friends, is losing touch with his family, and has an ugly apartment. Ryan realizes he must change his life to find a happiness he can feel grounded in.
The film from there does what it does quite well, only it feels very predictable minus the abrupt ending that is starting to feel like a staple now in dramatic comedies.
So similar in tone did the conclusion of Up in the Air felt to Sideways that i walked out making a comment about how the film was basically "Sideways on a Plane".

I assume the term "Hipster Comedy" can basically be used for any comedy that is not your mainstream affair. Although even that statement rings false as at one time everything coming from the Apatow camp was considered by some as "Hipster Comedy".
Both of these films focus on people in the middle of crisis, existentially and emotionally. People on the brink of something that will change their lives forever and how one deals with that. It is possible that a film can be both comedic and dramatic and not be considered "hipster" and films such as those focus on people coming to terms with things greater than themselves.
For the films i have mentioned (Wes Anderson films, Woody Allen films, Sideways, Garden State, Away We Go, Up in the Air) the characters in these films never leave the arena of self. Their introspective journeys never lead them to conclusions that would involve any one else but themselves, which may be why the abrupt ending is becoming the top choice for these type of films. The characters in these films are never fixed or redeemed.

Take Allen's Manhattan, the end scene is Allen running across Manhattan begging the young girl he had dumped earlier in the movie for a second chance. This does not come across as romantic but rather it feels desperate and before we can see what happens with the two the film ends. We know that over the course of the film Allen's character has learned absolutely nothing.
In Sideways Paul Gimatti drinks a bottle of wine by himself, eats a burger, and goes to see a woman that liked him but he pushed away. This should also feel like a romantic ending, yet the protagonist only does this because he feels there is nowhere else to go after he sees his ex-wife happy with another man. The gesture feels desperate and maybe that's what hipster comedies are. Desperate gestures, people grasping at straws, character studies on people who never realize a greater sense of self and the people around them.

That or it is all the Elliot Smith/sappy folk/Starbucks drivel that is heavily featured on the films soundtracks.

-Dropkick.

12.21.2009

It Might Get Loud (2009)



I am not a musician and don't know much about the theoretical side of music, nor do I know much about the technical side of music; but, as Lux Interior intoned on The Cramps' I Ain't Nuthin' But a Gorehound, "I don't know about art but I know what I like".  I like this film.  It's not a rallying cry for would-be eco-warriors just looking for an excuse to break free of their Yorkville shackles, nor is it about a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction oddball.  But it is about something which almost everyone has heard, and which still captivates and lures to this day - the electric guitar.

Doc-man Davis Guggenheim (The First Year, An Inconvenient Truth) gathers three diverse, iconic guitarists spanning three generations and encapsulating three very different playing styles and lets them loose.  Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, U2's The Edge, and The White Stripes' Jack White gather and simply talk about their approach to the instrument, their influences, and the future they see for their instrument.  And they play.  Throughout, Guggenheim frames each person's onscreen presence with anecdotal clips and archival footage.  Well done, overall.

This isn't groundbreaking or IMPORTANT STUFF, but what it IS is a powerful, groovy, sometimes visually and aurally inventive doc that'll have you cranking the volume and bobbing your head.  Not to say that it is merely a fluff piece, but I'm sure there are "better" ways to spend 90 minutes.  But then again, there usually always are.  Sometimes, however, you don't want to bludgeoned over the head by "political" docs dealing with issues that, in reality, carry far more nuanced feelings and complex issues than the films would have you believe.  Sometimes you don't want to watch a film that you'll feel guilty for disagreeing with.  Sometimes you just want to watch a film that'll make your soul sing, and will bring a smile to your face.  So you watch It Might Get Loud.

So, what draws people to the guitar?  I'm not sure the film answers that question, but it doesn't seem to matter.  What matters is that this is an instrument that endures and continues to capture the imagination of fans and artists alike.  As Page says about the guitar at one point, "whether I took it on or it took me on, I don't know.  The jury's out on that.  But I don't care.  I just really, really enjoyed it".  I could say the same of the film.  Guggenheim keeps the whole thing from becoming a self-indulgent wankfest and while it never becomes quite as transcendent as some guitar work that reaches in and grabs hold of your heart, it comes close.  And you'll hear Death Is This Communion with a new ear.  If you get nothing else from it, you have to admit that Jimmy Page is one cool, cool cat.  This is a good one.  Check it.

12.18.2009

12.17.2009

Big River Man (2009)

Opens Friday at the Royal.

Anyone else as excited as I am to see this? American trailer (from the official site), and UK trailer here:


(apologies to Graham for post-blocking)

Graham's year-endtravaganza

Best of the year (ordered best to less best)

1. Hunger (McQueen): directorial debut by video and installation artist Steve McQueen, a brutal picture about the prison conditions of IRA members in the 1980s, including a hunger strike led by figurehead Bobby Sands. Haunting, raw and very moving work of art.

2. 12 (Mikhalkov): A Russian interpretation of 12 Angry Men. Great performances, great writing. Introduces a really interesting Balkan-Russian political element to one of my favourite plays.

3. Bronson (Refn): Another “true story” prison flick, this time about England’s most violent prisoner, who took on the alias of Charles Bronson. A spectacle in every sense of the word. Fantastic performance by Tom Hardy. Great soundtrack too, if that matters.

4. Moon (Jones): Sam Roberts in an outstanding performance. Borrows a bit from Kubrick’s 2001, but not in an obnoxious way. Some of the most convincing “effects” I’ve seen from a Hollywood film lately, on a very small budget (Michael Bay take note, if you can put the blow aside for long enough). A spooky, touching, melancholy picture.

5. Drag Me to Hell (Raimi): Solid horror flick, like they should be. Scariest silk hanky ever. A cute lead always helps too.

6. In the Loop (Iannucci): I had no interest in this one, as the previews did not do it justice. But on Sporgey’s recommendation I had a look, and I’m glad I did. The foulest, funniest thing I saw this year.

7. Moscow, Belguim (Van Rompaey): A romantic comedy that actually doesn’t make me lose hope in humanity. Really sweet film.

8. Star Trek (Abrams): Just a good time.

90+ minutes I won’t get back (ordered mediocre to worst)

1. Sin Nombre (Fukunaga): Okay, but forgettable. So much so I don’t even remember enough to give a plot summary.

2. Gomorrah (Garrone): Not horrible, but a disappointment, as I was really excited about it. Felt like it was trying to be a political film, but I had trouble engaging with that side of it. Definitely did a good job of subverting the idealized, heroic picture of Italian mafia seen in a lot of Hollywood flicks.

3. Taking Woodstock (Lee): I like Ang Lee. There is something very admirable about the diverse subject matter he has been willing to take on. But this one was a boring, sentimental dud. Too bad.

4. Food, Inc. (Kenner): Anti-capitalist documentaries have become a capitalist industry among themselves. This one is better than some, but still that feeling of preaching to the converted. Monsanto, bad. Documentary filmmakers, good. Eat your veggies and shut the fuck up.

5. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood): Ho-hum.

6. Notorious (Tillman): I can’t say I’m surprised that this one stunk. I’m surprised I even gave it a shot, but it was recommended to me. About as boring as Biggie’s music was.

7. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Bay): I know it was made for 15 year old boys, but even they must tire of seeing relentless CGI explosions for 3 hours. And the high-cost effects weren’t even good. There was so much shiny crap all over the place that two robots were indistinguishable as soon as they started wrestling. Not to mention the “homie” (read: black) transformers who can’t read.

8. Surveillance (Lynch): David Lynch’s kid, but talent does not run in the family. BOR-ING. Oooh, but there’s a plot twist at the end. Ground-breaking!


***Honourable mentions: Ballast, District 9, The Hangover, Dead Snow, Big Man Japan, Tyson

12.14.2009

Mann, Where are we?

Public Enemies directed by Michael Mann


By all accounts, Public Enemies should have been a good, maybe even great movie. It had all the requisite components; big stars, a top-notch director, a great bit of fabled Americana to work with and enough money to pull off a proper recreation of the period. With all this going for it, it came as a bit of a surprise that Public Enemies turned out to be .....well, boring actually. I don't mean boring as in “dull” but rather boring as in “forgettable”. Ten minutes after the credits rolled I couldn't remember more than a couple of scenes. The whole thing felt disconnected and unfocused, something I'd never have guessed a Michael Mann production would.

I kicked around what might have gone wrong and came up with a few possibilities. The script meanders around and doesn't develop any of the characters beyond Depp's Dillinger (and to a lesser degree Bale's FBI agent Melvyn Purvis). The love interest played by Marion Cotillard shows up for a few scenes to do what women do in these movies; fall in love with the bad guy, cry, say things like "Don't do it Johnny" and then cry some more. Depp isn't a favourite of mine but he holds his own as Dillinger and if anything underplays his character a tad much. I saw Bale back to back (in this and the new Terminator movie) and find he increasingly grates on me with each new plum role he lands. Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover is the lone standout in the crowd. Everyone else is uninteresting because their roles are either underwritten or ended up on the cutting room floor.

The weak script is a minor problem made exponentially worse by something that dawned on me toward the end of the movie. Public Enemies is shot on HD video (not film) and I think that might be the source of the problem. For whatever reason, Mann chose to shoot much of the film in extreme closeup (probably because the HD camera allowed it), but it often seems pressed too far into the scenes. For about half the movie, the camera seems jammed right up in the character's faces and as a result the environment they're in ends up cropped and off-screen. This odd framing makes it difficult to place the unfolding events in any geographic or spacial context and the scenes seem like loosely connected set pieces rather than part of anything whole. I scoured reviews of Public Enemies to see if anyone else found the camera work intrusive but couldn't find it specifically mentioned. Maybe it's just me.

Michael Mann is a director that has traditionally infused a fairly unique style into his work. Music and cinematography are integral to most Mann productions and it doesn't always work. Heat, arguably his most accomplished film, is an example where he was firing on all cylinders and the result was spectacular. Ali and Miami Vice (the 2006 movie) are examples where that might not have been the case (although truth be told, I quite liked Miami Vice). Public Enemies is thematically closest to Heat in terms of story and characterization so I thought I'd look around to try and find examples of some stills from both films that might illustrate this theory.

The following two stills demonstrate the framing differences in a showcase set-piece from each film. The first is from the bank robbery in Heat, a close up of Pacino in a firefight with De Niro's gang. It's framed to include a city bus, a couple of cars and the muzzle flash from Pacino's gun and places the action in some context. It's the middle of the day, in an urban centre and very much in an open public space. The second still showing Depp in a similar scene from Public Enemies is drained of dramatic tension because all we see is Depp's face. Where the hell is he? Is anyone around? The whole film suffers from dozens of these close-cropped shots and it began to feel like watching a football game with the camera constantly isolated in a close up on the quarterback. It's endlessly frustrating because we never get to see the whole field.






The second two stills show the meeting of the two leads from each film. The Pacino/De Niro meeting in the restaurant from Heat is brilliantly shot. It alternates between closeups and wide shots of the two lead characters and the cat and mouse game they're playing. The framing of the wide shots once again defines the setting spatially. The meeting in Public Enemies between Purvis and Dillinger (which by the way never happened) is shot with this convoluted medium focus that once again removes any texture and boundaries from the scene.



I rarely get all that jazzed about how a movie is shot but Public Enemies lost all sense of flow for me because the “where” kept getting lost. The aforementioned bank robbery in Heat works because we know where everyone is (trapped on the street) and where they have to get to (past the cops). It's exhilarating because we can almost feel what it might be like to be in the middle of this fire-fight. It's chaotic, terrifying and full of adrenaline. One of the big shoot-outs in Public Enemies on the other hand, takes place at a lodge in the woods at night and it doesn't work because, like the football analogy above, you can't get a handle on where anyone is. It too is chaotic but there's no tension because the opposing teams aren't lined up in any discernible way. As a result, it ends up just being noisy and confusing.

Public Enemies is Heat turned up to, in the words of Nigel from Spinal Tap, “Eleven.... because it's louder” Everything is a little bit bigger, a little more stylized and a lot less engaging. It seems a perfect metaphor for what's wrong with Hollywood filmmaking these days. It's got too much of everything and not enough of anything that matters.

Sporgey

12.12.2009

Chi Bi (2008/2009) aka Red Cliff Parts I & II

An abridged version of John Woo's massive Chi Bi (Red Cliff) released theatrically in North America a few weeks back to generally mixed reviews. Apparently, Woo had always intended to recut the 2 films released in China last year (Red Cliff and Red Cliff II, both with 2+ hour running times) into a single 2 ½ version for its North American theatrical release. While the shortened film garnered some positive reviews, it sounds as though the narrative thread might have got lost in the shuffle. Completely by coincidence, I happened to pick up the originals Red Cliff and Red Cliff II on Region 8 (OK for Boats and Airplanes accordingly to Joe) Blu-Ray in Chinatown around the same time. I watched (rewatched actually, I'd seen bootlegs of both parts last year, but the quality of the prints were a little suspect) and the finale last night.


OK …. a little background.

John Woo, for those not familiar with his work is a Hong Kong director with two certified masterpieces to his name, The Killer from 1989 and Hard Boiled from a couple of years later. He moved to Hollywood and delivered two more good ones, the vastly underrated Broken Arrow in '96 (mea culpa: I watched this a little stoned and it may not be as amazing as I recall) and Face-Off the following year. He then directed Mission Impossible 2 and after that drifted off the Hollywood A-list (ending up working on, of all things, video games). His return to China to undertake the massive Red Cliff project was highly anticipated by his considerable fan base and I don't think they'll be disappointed. I'm uncertain if I'd call Red Cliff an unqualified success, but it's certainly entertaining. I also think it would be wise to skip the American recut and just watch the original DVD editions instead (when we get them, that is).

The Films...

Red Cliff I and II are big-ass movies - “huge” in fact. They sport a cast of about 25 main characters, gigantic sets, tens of thousands of extras, battles rivaling Jackson's LOTR trilogy and have their source in the stories of the Three Kingdoms, the Chinese equivalent of the King Arthur legend. In a nutshell, the plot involves a massive army from the North invading two smaller kingdoms from the South, who are forced into an alliance to defend themselves. At $80M, it's the most expensive Asian-financed movie ever (and incidentally cost about the same as a Sandra Bullock direct-to-video rom-com does).

There's something rather old-fashioned about Woo's style of story telling and I don't know how well it will play with the uber-nihilist, hyper-post-modern, bludgeon-me-with-irony Inglourious Basterds set. Red Cliff has moments that border on corny and Woo concentrates much of the dramatic arc on ancient codes of military conduct, chivalry, honour and, much like the FBE back street boys, misty-eyed brother-in-arms man-love stuff. In more than a few ways (tone, to cite a big one) Red Cliff is reminiscent of an old duster (albeit one with a much larger budget and significantly more Asians) and as a result, I'm not sure if these films will find their bearings (or an audience) on this side of the Pacific. Red Cliff is at once a little out-of-sync with the cinematic times (and by extension the youngsters who tend to search out this kind of material) and yet it's possibly too foreign for the oldsters who might like it's themes.

A hard-to-recommend and yet extremely worthy film that needs about 20 minutes to let you decide if it's the best action/adventure/epic you've seen in a decade or whether you want to shut it off and rewatch a few It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes.

A strange one.

Sporgey

12.09.2009

Terminator: Salvation (2009)

Films that garner this much publicity and media attention will often go unmentioned on The Film Buff Blog and rightfully so. We're digging for something you didn't already know about. Today is different.
It's rare I feel a movie merits any defense, but the buzz around :Salvation has been so damn negative, I just have to balance the debate. The truth is, this film has fallen victim to a PR blunder and then dare I say it, a bit of general ignorance. First of all Bale's notorious on-set outburst sent his career and this movie into PR purgatory. To add to that, the director calls himself simply 'McG' and directed Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle. On paper this is clearly all very bad. Before you know it, people who have never even watched it have labelled it a bad movie and that attitude proliferates until it becomes the status quo.
Who wasn't ready to jump on the hate-wagon? I know I was and I'm a big fan of the Terminator. In the wake of the frankly atrocious Terminator 3: Rise of the machines I was dreading the further disappointment that part 4 would surely bring to what would signal the burial of a franchise.
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Once I finally got around to watching the film I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Let's face it, if you go into this thinking of the Terminator glory day you will quickly become aware that you are both disappointed and an idiot. Times have changed and CGI has a lot to answer for. Put in the context of Transformers, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Knowing, G.I. Joe, and even the incredible hype machine Watchmen, Terminator is just more enjoyable. Then again put next to Moon, Star Trek and District 9 and it starts feeling a bit Michael Bay. Future classic it isn't, but it is decent and Terminator fans shouldn't be dissappointed.
Yes, the pacing is stilted and Bale is a bit flat but it's not enough to kill the momentum of some of the best action sequences this year. The Terminators are genuinely frightening again and the grimey scenery meshes well with dirty cgi models and animatronics, even CG Arnie's cameo is pretty cool. I'm going to be controversial now. It's not because I think it's a better film because overall it's not, but the important thing is, I enjoyed it more than Star Trek. Which shows maybe there is life in the old dog yet and as the rights for Terminator go up for sale this month, I secretly hope so.

12.08.2009

Pubic Enemas

Hey....

Nobody's mentioned Michael Mann's newly released Public Enemies yet. Has anybody else seen it? I'm dying to talk about it but have held off because I didn't want to toss any spoilers out there.

Any takers?

S

12.07.2009

The Cove (2009) - Documentary

Welcome to Taiji, Japan. "The little town with the really big secret".
Immediately, The Cove siphons you in with an articulate visual language blending stock video, interviews, CGI, aerial footage and hidden cameras. Dark vignettes of infra-red lit stealth divers rushing and creeping, haunt the opening sequence.
An establishing chapter quotes the statistic of 23,000 dolphins killed each year before the film zeroes in on the personal story of Ric O’Barry, dolphin trainer turned anti-captivity activist. We are briefly informed of the who, what and whys' as the film uncovers a deeper conspiracy within the food industry.
Next is ushered in the development of the films main focus; The formation of a team whose mission it is to infiltrate and expose the truth of what goes on in 'the cove', Taiji. The apparent slaughtering ground for thousands of dolphins each year. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse as the team scheme to outwit the local authorities and fishermen to get the footage they want.
The Cove is a fine piece of sensationalist documentary making, it is tense and totally entertaining. People will love this film. However, upon analysis the film can seem a little unfocused. Are we dismayed that another country kills animals to eat? Are we appalled that they are risking poisoning the population with mercury? Are we impressed by the guerrilla style film-making on display? Do we just want to see the guy who trained Flipper play Rambo? I think the inclusion of all of these things attempt to distract from the question; What is the real difference between them and us?
I'm a skeptic by nature and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm also no stranger to the documentary form and it's enigmatic power to manipulate and convince. By this point I am acutely sensitive to the craft of documentary being exploited by environmentalists and politicians and find it a bit offensive. The Cove skirts dangerously close to this line and I'm worried the message falls apart under the weight of cheap thrills. It's is an honest film but as the credits roll and the images of blood-red water saturate your brain you can't help but feel the film reduces to very little. An educational exercise jazzed up with life stories and campaign footage. A film about film-making. The revelation that they kill lots of dolphins is made in the first minute, with the rest of the film biding time before they show us it. The dramatic sections in the cove compromise the poignancy of the film in order to make it totally accessible to a wide audience.
What remains here is a powerful and entertaining film that will expose a large audience to an uncomfortable truth and that is surely a positive thing.
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In conclusion, I have one word to throw at The Cove and it's soon-to-be-shocked-and-dismayed audience. Cows. Dolphin slaughter statistics pale in comparison to that of cows and although that's another film entirely, I shudder at the thought of some latte slurping yuppies getting righteous about dolphin slaughter as they tuck into their Sunday steak. Better again, Darfur? Burma? You get my point. I don't want to detract from the message of this film(even though the whole thing smacks of redundancy), I just wish we could all be nice to animals so we could focus our efforts on looking after us humans.
Merry Christmas - Miss Toronto 2009.

Creepy Christmas

These were all from last year, but I just stumbled across them now - a short animated video for each day in December, each one slightly unnerving and, well, creepy.  Play catch up, then follow along every day through the month. I've watched the first three already (they're short - like 2-3 minutes each) and thought they may be of interest to fans of the weird, the innovative, and the just plain cool side of film.  Think Svankmajer, Rankin and Bass meeting up for afternoon blood tea and red string.

12.06.2009

It's only TV but I like it.


It's recently come to my attention that no-one is really renting The Mentalist. Instead it seems they're choosing to clamber helplessly over copies of Mad Men and The Wire week after week whilst pulling faces at me because... it's always rented. And whilst I'm in no doubt the aforementioned series' are of a superior quality, this show is fun.

The Mentalist (aka Dexter-lite) is perfectly crafted episodic whodunnits presented with enough tension and twists to push the raging house-fire in your kitchen down your list of priorities. It's addictive, charming and entertaining. Watching it more often than you do now will probably be a good thing.

12.05.2009

The End of The Year End Review

Many thanks to all those who contributed to the Year End Review. It's finally coming together and looks good. Some editing left to do - I need to add another K to Nikki's name for example, but otherwise, it's there, all 22506 words of it. Additional thanks to Joe and Nick for their ongoing assistance editing this monster

I just finished the following (and final) piece for the Review tonight, ending on a satisfying high note.


Steer Well Clear of this Dude

This year's Bad Karma Award goes to one Nicholas Mets, who, last Christmas (Boxing Day to be exact) signed up at the Film Buff West, rented all of our Disney Herbie the Love Bug movies and never brought them back. If you happen to know this piece of work, you'd be wise to avoid standing right next to him because someday, somewhere, somehow the cosmic balance will be restored and Mr. Mets is gonna have to pay..... and pay big.

When they finally thaw out Walt and rebuild him like a Terminator, I'm gonna tell him all about you Mets. Count on it.

12.03.2009

Surely they could have found a better title.

I opened the order box today to discover this DVD spine staring back at me and just about had a kfuc'in heart attack. What's her friend's names?.... Kcok? & Knob?

12.02.2009

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

When it comes to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs , one question eclipses all others: Is it the best film ever made?
For years, I have avoided writing a review of this movie, intimidated perhaps by its immense reputation. Having missed the 1987 fiftieth anniversary revival, I had only seen Snow White on the small screen and it didn't seem right somehow to discuss a picture of this magnitude without viewing it at least once in the manner originally envisioned. Well, some five years after I started writing reviews (real nick: ???), the opportunity arose at a screening at Disneyland, Orlando. This review is the result of that screening.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been lauded as the greatest motion picture to come out of America during the Disney golden era (or any era, for that matter). It also represents the pinnacle of Walt Disney's film making career. For, although Walt lived for more than forty years following the release of Snow White, he never succeeded in recapturing the brilliance or fulfilling the promise of this feature. Some maintain that his cut of Dumbo was more powerful, but the studio took the film away from him, slashing more than 40 minutes of footage. And, while Walts' other Fairytale movies such as Lady and the Tramp contain elements of brilliance, they are not on the same level as Snow White. It has been argued, most forcefully in the 1996 documentary, The Battle Over Seven Dwarfs, that Snow White not only started Walts' career, but nearly ended it.
As a film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a powerful dramatic tale about the uses and abuses of wealth and power. It's a classic American tragedy about a dwarf of great passion, vision, and greed, who pushes himself until he brings ruins to himself and all around him [What the hell? Which dwarf?]. Of course, the production aspect that makes Snow White so memorable is Walt's landmark cinematography. In fact, it's impossible to have a serious discussion about this film without mentioning this element.
The movie is a visual masterpiece, a kaleidoscope of daring angles and breathtaking images that had never been attempted before, and has never been equaled since. Disney perfected a deep-focus technique that allowed him to draw backgrounds with as many bright colours as foregrounds (note the scene where White's parents discuss her future while, as seen through the window, Dopey plays outside in the snow). There's also an extremely effective low-angle shot late in the film where Snow trashes Dopey's room. If any other film has come close to the near-perfect artistry of this one, I haven't seen it. Anyone foolishly wondering how Disney animated images could be superior to film need only to watch the first few frames of Snow White to understand. Not only is it impossible to envision this picture in live action, the very thought is blasphemous.
There's no doubt that Snow White was far ahead of its time. Uncompromising, unsentimental drama of this sort was not in vogue during an era that was better known for titles like Bambi and Peter Pan (which beat out Snow for best picture).
All of this brings me back to the question that I opened the review with: Is Snow White and the seven dwarfs the best movie ever made? Many critics would argue "yes" without pause, but my enthusiasm is more restrained. While I acknowledge that Snow White is a seminal masterpiece, I don't think it's the greatest motion picture of all time [Yes I Do]. Even so, there's no denying the debt that the movie industry owes to Walt and his finest feature. Motion picture archives and collections across the world would be poorer without copies of this film, which will forever be recognized as a defining example of American cinema.

12.01.2009

Up (2009)

Up is, like, soooooooooooo, so, so great.

Che: parts one and two (2008)

Steven Soderbergh's four and a half hour film Che is in every sense of the word an epic. However, it's not without its faults.

Biopics are a strange breed and most of them tend to follow the same bland outline. Starting from upbringing (usually when the subject is a child), then goes on to the subjects initial renown or success, their fall from grace, and then their climb back to the top resulting in either death or success (for examples of this watch Ray/Walk the Line , Milk, Ali, Man on the Moon, Private Parts... and so on and so forth ad nauseum). Not to say that the tried and true formula is always boring or that a biopic can't also be a well made piece of film-making (Control), it's just more times than not Hollywood churns out these "paint by numbers" bio films banking on their subjects popularity to make a good profit and maybe an Oscar nod or two.
Now enter Che, by the looks of it Che would seem to break the formula with its long running time and one could assume that you would walk out of a close to five hour picture with a richer knowledge of Che Guevara. I can't say i walked out knowing more than i already knew about the man, but this wasn't that kind of film either. It's an honest portrait of the man, naturally paced and beautifully shot.

When looking at the two parts separately Che: Part One - The Argentine is surprisingly superior to Part Two - Guerrilla. The first film has Soderbergh's usual directorial quirks (odd music montages, jump cuts to future or past events, multiple story-lines) all over it while the second is a quiet, linear, slow paced retelling of events.
The first part focuses on the Cuban revolution inter-spliced with a recreation of Che's visit to the U.N. in 1964.
The second is about Che's failed attempt to spread the revolution in Bolivia. Obviously the content in the second part is harder to watch because it is essentially watching a great man fail for two hours but that's not what made it inferior to the first part.
For one, Guerrilla feels painfully drawn out. Not much happens as the film lurches towards the inevitable conclusion (which is probably the best part of Guerrilla). Stylistically the film feels much different than the first forcing the viewer to switch gears and watch a much more subtle film. Still, Guerrilla has its own haunting beauty to it that makes it a fine counterpart.
My biggest qualm with the films is the content that's on display... or the lack thereof. I personally wanted to see a dramatization of the revolution toppling Bastilla's government but the first film ends as Che is about to enter Havana and then the second begins 10 years later as Che is preparing to leave for Bolivia. Also there is virtually nothing about the man before the revolution, but i guess we have Motorcylcle Diaries for that.

All in all, a very impressive epic that is haunting and superbly delivered. Benicio deserves an Oscar for his work here, he becomes Che.
Keep your eyes open for an odd Matt Damon cameo (he speaks in Spanish the whole time... playing a Bolivian).
Strange how nowadays Che's face is sold on t-shirts and mugs to generate money for social structures he spent his life trying to topple. huh.
Great watch, highly recommend - especially the first film.


December!

Phew!  What a whirlwind "November Noir" was, a flurry of brilliant posts coming almost non-stop from our resident Noird (TM), La Sprenza.  See what happens, folks, when you get a month's free reign and the captive audience of all four readers?  This past month's noir-centric posts certainly rivaled the horror coverage that peppered the blog from mid-Sept. through Oct.  BUT - that was from a team of several dedicated viewers all pushing toward the same goal, whereas this past month has been a solo publishing juggernaut, the lone genius, if you will.  Put it this way - Sept./Oct. was kinda like The Beatles AND George Martin, and November was like Brian Wilson.

ANYWAYYYYY - a new month, a new look (lest the casual reader think that all this golldarn blog covers is noir)...  Let's get back at it (assuming y'all ain't reviewed out from that year end book thing).  Looking forward to 12 different reviews of Up from Kendall alone...

11.29.2009

It's come to this......

An excerpt from the upcoming Year End Review....

Mandatory Universal Public Pooping Education & Toilet Training (M.U.P.P.E.T.T.) legislation needs to be tabled immediately. Every over day the washroom at the Film Buff is totally decimated by some otherwise normal-looking bum-bandit. It's like a poo-abattoir, or the set of a German porno at the end of a long day of shooting. Doesn't anyone know how to take a simple shit these days? I swear to God.... it's mind-boggling... and it's not just children or the homeless either.

The first stage in our proposed M.U.P.P.E.T.T. program would be a class in trip planning. Prior to leaving the house, a quick check to see if you need to take a massive dump is considered. It's part of a simple 2-step training program. Do I need to go number 1?, followed immediately, and more importantly by, Do I need to go Number 2? If the answer is “Yes” to either question, go to your own household bathroom and stay there until the answer to both questions in definitely “No”. Then, and only then, go out and get your groceries.

Followup refresher courses are also available in adult ass-aiming techniques, how to wipe using less than 14 yards of TP, basic and advanced/multiple flushing, and how to use a standard toggle switch to activate the exhaust fan. A easy-to-follow, fold-out instruction booklet showing typical washroom fixtures and their various uses (sinks, the shiny metal things the water comes out of, which one is hot, the low one with the bigger hole and only cold water is where you put your bum, etc., etc.) will be available early in 2010.

We recognize that children are less capable in this area than adults, but seriously, please take a look that they didn't wipe their tiny bums on the wall after the inevitable shit storm that only occurs when you're out and about. If this doesn't get better, we're going to triple the price of ice cream cones until it does.

Comprende, mierda-locos?

11.28.2009

Kris, You're Fi..... Ah, never mind.

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds was going to be the topic of my closing remarks for the Review, but after having written and rewritten it half a dozen times, it just wasn't working. Instead I'm going to continue berating Kendall for having the most popular movie of the 2 months “Up” sitting at her house for two fucking weeks....

The final draft of the closing remarks follows. Having invested about 15 hours writing it, I need to put it somewhere to justify all that wasted effort. Sounding all the word noises out was exhausting....

A fair bit of ink has been spilled about Inglourious Basterds in this in this issue of the Review. It's on at least half of the staff's top ten lists and their associated reviews are positively glowing. I'm the odd/old man out, being one of the very few people around here who wasn't completely over the moon about it. Firstly, I understand why it's on so many of these top ten lists. Tarantino is a savvy modern film maker who has managed to plug into the essence of the modern film fan's expectations and has consistently delivered the goods.

While none of us around here are film critics in any professional capacity, most of us have seen more films than is likely healthy. Because of this shared interest/obsession, we often discuss the film industry and cinema in general citing our favourite this and our favourite that. I'm beginning to think that film criticism is often the process about finding the most impressive sounding words to justify your personal likes and dislikes and pretending that the final result is somehow objective. Our tastes change over the years depending on our station in life, what we've experienced and how we've been shaped by those experiences. I think Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds is the kind of film that focuses attention on the generational divide that inevitably comes to separate young adults from middle-aged ones like me.

Tarantino's films contain cultural references that are almost always front and centre. His successful reworking of various cinematic motifs is the result of his keen eye for pop-kitsch, his sense of rhythm and a deep understanding of the various pulp movie genres he's drawing on. Part of the joy of watching a Tarantino film is piecing together which films, music and cultural cul-de-sacs he's riffing from this time. The results have ranged from the slickly humourous Reservoir Dogs to the genre-specific Kill Bills to the fairly traditional Jackie Brown and the nearly perfect distillation of '70s cool, Pulp Fiction. As often happens with one-note directors (even the extremely accomplished ones like Tarantino), the creative well can run dry. The hook loses it's freshness and projects begin to seem repetitive. After all, no director is Death Proof.

Inglourious Basterds therefore seemed a sensible choice of period and subject matter for a Tarantino film because it had the potential to push the film maker into new cinematic territory. His chief preoccupation up to this point has been the movies of the '70s (and maybe more specifically, updating and reworking the iconic individual characters from those movies, spinning some groovy tracks and making them his own). After a particularly well-staged opening sequence where German actor Christoph Waltz delivers a tour-de-force performance as the German colonel and legendary "Jew hunter" Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds seemed, at least momentarily, like a complete departure for Tarantino. I was intrigued to say the least. Unfortunately, the film quickly reverts to predictable Tarantino form and stays there for another 2 ½ interminable hours.

Those that share Tarantino's obsessions with cinema, music and ritualized violence will enjoy Inglourious Basterds, which undoubtedly possesses more than its share of quality moments. Finest by far is Waltz, who appears in that fabulous opening sequence, confronting a French dairy farmer whom he suspects of harboring a fugitive Jewish family. As he drinks a glass of the farmer's milk, Waltz's Landa is the personification of evil - a smiling, menacing almost playful evil that sent shivers down my spine. He is one of the great bad guys in cinematic history. This first scene turns out to be the template for much of what follows - people talking followed by explosions of brutal and graphic violence. What's more, it ends with the movie's most problematic poser, a gesture that is completely out of keeping with Landa's character, but without which the movie would have nowhere to go. He lets the girl get away.

At the risk of pouring over the details of the final 2 hours of plot, Inglourious Basterds is little more than an adult fairy tale. In Tarantino's defense, he announces his intentions right out of the gates in a title that reads, "Once upon a time in . . . Nazi-Occupied France." There are enough moments of sadistic violence peppered throughout the film to satisfy and reward the Kill Bill crowd, who just can't get enough of guts, gore and torture. There are enough film references in Inglourious Basterds that it often feels like a tutorial in prewar German cinema history. Actors channel everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Trevor Howard but in the end Inglourious Basterds feels less like bold revisionism than an exercise in lurid revenge fantasy. Death by Cinema. Film as weapon. Jewish Apache Ninjas. As usual, Tarantino wears his self-serving symbolism on his sleeve but this time he's elevated himself to the role of Director as Avenging God. It grew tiresome quickly. Our cream puff generation would last about 30 seconds in a real WW2 firefight and everyone knows it.

I find it curious that my coworkers are so enamored with this film. Admittedly, part of my problem with Inglourious Basterds is its flashes of brutal violence and I'd hazard a guess that most of our crew is far more desensitized to graphic screen gore than I am. I also have a distinct dislike for films where the violence is gratuitous and sadistic, which I think it is in this film. I'll further admit that I find Tarantino's cartoon treatment of World War II a little distasteful and a lot insensitive. The main theme of this issue of the Review has been how juvenile and youth-centric films have come to dominate mainstream film making. I believe films like Inglourious Basterds are the other side of that same coin. It doesn't really matter that Inglourious Basterds is poorly plotted and unnecessarily fragmented because that's not what's actually wrong with it. Some didn't find that to be the case so that too, is a subjective observation... a matter of taste. Acts of screen sadism need victims - and more importantly - victims nobody gives two shits about. Nazis and robots work best these days. Distasteful? Sure, but again not the essence of the problem at the core of films like this one.

No it's something entirely more esoteric, more a function of our time than anything else because you see, at it's core my real problem with Tarantino's film is... it isn't actually about anything. It's all window dressing, an all-icing cake and as a result, it ends up feeling frivolous and trivial. It isn't about World War II or the people it affected. In fact it isn't about people or their problems at all. What it really is.... is a movie about other movies. Tarantino isn't interested in telling an authentic or believable story in Inglourious Basterds so much as using World War II as a gigantic set piece for his ongoing movie recycling project.

That isn't to say that Inglourious Basterds isn't an achievement because cinematically, it's a grand and accomplished piece of film making. It has several outstanding performances, loads of technical bravado and occasional bursts of inspiration. In the end however, Tarantino comes off a little like the Wizard of Oz because it's all veneer..... all sizzle and no steak (I'm running out of metaphors here, but you get the drift). If you doubt how integral the human experience is to film, watch Flame and Citron (aka Flaming Lemons, as a customer asked Tom for it yesterday), a true story about two Danish Resistance fighters set in Copenhagen during the last year of the war. It's a small Danish production with interesting plot parallels to Ingourious Basterds, worthy of a look - if for no other reason than to see the price paid by people who really did kill Nazis.

Strangely enough, another film that comes to mind is First Blood. First Blood is a revenge fantasy too and while the sequels quickly got a bit off track, I think the first film shares some thematic territory with Inglourious Basterds. Stallone's film was much maligned when it first came out but part of the reason it became (and has stayed) so popular was that the story resonated with the audience. People could relate to it. It was about the alienation felt by ex-soldiers returned from the Vietnam War at the hands of a society that had abandoned them. It was about the problems inherent with reintegrating warriors into a peaceful society. It was an acknowledgment of that rejection, an expression of the dereliction of society's responsibilities to those who went to war on their behalf. All this social dialogue was stuffed into a modestly-budgeted pure action film with precious little to gain by doing so..... except a grain of authenticity and a reason to be. I challenge anyone to find something as real or worthy in a comparable action picture today.

So in the end, I'm not sure whether I've fallen into the trap of simply superimposing my personal prejudices and tastes on Inglourious Basterds or whether I have made a modest case for it being another example of how inconsequential mainstream fare has become these days. Have we lost our collective ability to synthesize and articulate real issues through the cinematic experience or has my perspective changed to the point that I want more out of the investment than 2½ hours of escapism? In the words of the great wit Oscar Levant, “Behind the phony tinsel of Hollywood lies the real tinsel”. I recognize that we all need to occasionally lose ourselves in the banal to duck the drudgery of our daily existence but I wonder what the world would look like if that's all the average film goer consumed. I don't think we'll have to wait long to find out.

or maybe, I just didn't "get" it.


S

11.25.2009

Review Update II

If anyone was wondering, the editorial slant of the 2009 Review is drifting in this direction.

Sporgey

Review Update.

Thanks all for getting your drafts to me. Some great stuff and interesting perspectives seem to be taking shape. Editing to make it all fit may involve altering, trimming and/or cutting some bits here and there but your contributions are definitely going to make it a more well-rounded read. Looking toward Monday November 30th as a date to have the completed pieces in.

Once again, nice work.

Sporgey

11.22.2009

Review pages

Obviously I need to re-phrase the "I need your drafts" post from last week.

Your Xmas bonuses are dependent on me getting them very very soon.

Tom and Niki have provided theirs but as for the rest of you.....

Zilch.

Kendall responded by saying she was too busy watching Up over and over again for 13 days.

S

11.21.2009

Tangy No Garlic



There is nothing you can write that accurately summarizes the experience of enduring Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control. It's aimless and yet seems to be heading somewhere, pointless and yet contemplative (for some weird reason, I kept wondering if we had any dill pickles left in the fridge. I didn't want any, I just wanted to know that if I did, they were there), beautiful yet vapid, vinegary and yet crisp. I regret the 116 minutes it took to watch it and yet I'm not unhappy that I've seen it. It's the cinematic equivalent of setting your clock ahead two hours. I broke for a smoke about an hour in and checked the fridge for any Bick's garlic baby dills, but couldn't see any. I was almost certain we'd picked some up a couple of weeks back. One of the small skinny jars. It's a big fridge.... maybe too big.

The pickle mystery unsolved, I returned to the film and rejoined the stoic Isaach De Bankole on his silent Spanish travelogue. He was getting another secret message in a matchbox, this time from John Hurt. Strange, pickles are just little cucumbers and yet I've only even seen the bigger variety, never the little guys. Do they sell those little bastards I wonder? Bankole changes his cool suit whenever he gets to a new station. They're kinda like vegetable veal when you think about it – tiny baby cucumbers. It's a little sad. We assume the Spanish journey will end with an assassination or something like that. By the time the naked girl is dead, I'm driven mad with trying to remember what might have happened to that jar of Bicks.

I murmured out loud whether they might be in the pantry. Donna stirs and asks me what I'd said.

“Nothing.... I'll be right back”. I jump up and scamper down to check the pantry.

There they were! Behind the olive oil. I bring it down and note that the label says they're “Tangy, No Garlic”

Fuck...... I hate Tangy No Garlic. At least they're baby dills and not those giant fuckers.

I race back upstairs to rejoin the movie and arrive just in time for Bill Murray...... I lean over and ask Donna if she meant to get Tangy No Garlic pickles.

She just looks at me. “What?!? she says ...a little annoyed.

I mention that I much prefer the garlic ones.

….Just so she knows for next time.

Bill gets garroted.

Happy Birthday

to this life:

It is 24.