Maman est chez le coiffeur, Léa Pool (2008)

I must be honest and say that I rented this mostly to practice my French—perhaps I had seen an interesting review of it somewhere. The FBW just got a nice little collection of Quebecois films, and I thought I would give one a go, though I have been disappointed in the past by le cinéma de la belle province. This, however, was fantastic. Such a gentle little thing, really captured the melancholy, surreal feelings of childhood. That kind of odd awareness of moments that are to be cause for future nostalgia. Anticipatory nostalgia. Fucking sad too. Certainly a far better film than the majority of new French stuff I’ve seen in the last few years--that goes for Europe too.


Heat (1995) Dir, Michael Mann

so i did it,
i finally watched Heat.
I'm a man now?
Heat was one of those movies that was always around the house when i was growing up.
But to me, even though it had guns on the cover, it looked like a long boring waste of my time. My dad really liked it and told me that I was too young to watch it and if i was just a little patient i would be able to watch it when i was older.
Even then, looking at the cover i thought it a silly notion.
"why the hell is the movie two vhs tapes long?" i thought in my star wars pjs.
who would sit through two vhs tapes worth of a movie?
Instead i just popped in another Indy Jones adventure and jumped on beds acting out the action scenes.

Now that I actually am older, although i didn't get here patiently, i thought maybe it was time to finally sit down to Michael Mann's crime thriller Heat.

I know i'm the last person i know to have seen this and still, i feel my reaction to the film should be known.
well, i loved it. I thought it really was something great. The dialogue is tough and to the point while the characters are real and most of them pretty much completely insane... like real people.
Its running time was barely a bother to this older, somewhat slightly less A.D.D., Dropkick. In fact i think the film would have benefited if it ran some 10 or 20 minutes longer.
What makes the picture is the story arcs of not the two leads, one being Al Pacino (the law or in this case the "heat") and the other Robert De Niro (the crook), but of every secondary character in the picture.
It's played as such an ensemble that Rob and Al seem to fade into the collage and become part of a whole instead of being headliners of the show which makes the film that much better. It's unlike Righteous Kill which is just a film with Rob and Al for the sake of having a film with Rob and Al together.
The central conflict of the film becomes quite clear early on: This film is going to come down between the "heat" and the "crooks", it's going to speed up fiercely into a head on collision that no one will be able to stop.
That is the blue print for almost every run of the mill crime thriller but this one shows the casualties of that clash.
Heat shows us marriages torn apart, the loneliness of a life made up of crime, the balance between duty and morality, suicides, unjustified murder, gambling addictions, etc.
We're shown at least a little bit of every character that opens their mouth. This broadens the scope to give the viewer a landscape that is barely recognizable as action thriller. This is high paced drama.
When "The Dark Knight" was released director Christopher Nolan stated "Heat" as one of his main influences. And it really shows upon viewing "Heat" now after seeing Dark Knight.

The colours chosen here, mostly a myriad of pastel greys showcasing a L.A. that is mostly overcast, is almost identical to the colour scheme of the Dark Knight.
The first heist in "Heat" plays eerily similar to the Jokers' bank break at the opening of DK.
Which is funny because in "Heat" they're stealing from a rich business man played by William Fichtner who in retaliation creates a lot of problems for the group of thieves later on. And in "Dark Knight" the bank manager is played also by William Fichtner who manages to kill one of the Joker's henchmen. Coincidence or obvious reference?

Both films have two huge stars that should be taking the lime light. In "Heat" we as viewers want to see Pacino and De Niro, and in "The Dark Knight" we want to see Batman and the Joker. Yet both films force our time with other minor characters instead of the action we want to see. This fleshes out both of the films and gives them depth and merit.
I still think it's strange that a Batman film has depth. whoa.

anyways, "Heat" reveals that line that is drawn through every human beings heart that divides good and evil; and that both of these ideals can be reversed depending on the positioning of oneself which will undoubtedly always be the "good" side from wherever you're standing. Oh, and the guns sounded cool.
Pick this one up as part of Film Buff West's ongoing Heist Film Fest series.
Terrific, 5 out of 5, 7 carrots, 50 gold stars, 9 songs, 13 dead end lane



Los Cronocrímenes

Timecrimes (2007)

First time Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo's festival darling Timecrimes is an extremely engaging reworking of Primer by way of U-Turn. I'm not going to say anything about the plot because the less you know going in the better the film plays. I watched two science fiction films this weekend, this one and The Day The Earth Stood Still (Klaa2) and find myself once again marveling that quality does not scale with budget. Coincidentally, both films opened the same weekend in December 2008 with Klaa2 grossing $30,480,000 playing on 3560 screens. Timecrimes opened on 2 screens and grossed $4,351. It sort of boggles the mind how the film business works some days. In this example, we have a potential blockbuster costing $80M to make and starring a raft of Hollywood stars and starlets verses a tiny Spanish language art house thriller made for under $2M. From an investment perspective, the blockbuster wins hands down with the final worldwide theatrical tally clocking in at $230M for Klaa2 and $530K for Hector3 (an inside Timecrimes joke... you'll see).

I guess that's why we exist in a way... as a conduit for the little film to find a slightly larger audience. If we looked at the box office and used it exclusively to define what we carried and in what quantity, our purchasing would skew off the rails. We bought 6 Timescrimes for the FBW and probably a couple for the FBE. To mirror the comparative theatrical performance of Klaa2, we'd need 2603 copies in the FBW. We've got 12 (and 2 Blu-Ray). Hindsight may prove that having 6 Timecrimes is four too many, but I don't think we should care. Financially, every single accountant in the world would advise spending the money on 6 extra copies of Klaa2, but interestingly, they would also be wrong because films like Timecrimes is at the very heart of what it is that the Film Buff should, can and hopefully does do. If we do our jobs, films like this one, Let The Right One In, Man on Wire, Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I've Loved You So Long, Ashes of Time, Silent Light, My Winnipeg, Encounters at the End of the World, and yes, even Joe's genre bloodbaths, might just make their way into the hands of an audience that would otherwise not get to see them.

If you are looking for what it is the we offer our customers and by extension our community, you don't have to look any further than this. We also need to remember that our clients and customers are supporting this business model. We aren't saving the world, but in our own little way, we are certainly raising the bar a tad and that's something.



Can I have a really small cone and a smaller movie?

Like clockwork they arrive at the Film Buff at 7:05pm on Friday night with their children in tow for $2 ice cream cones and to re-rent Burn Before Reading, the worst Coen Brothers movie ever. They fell asleep last time they rented it but “love George Clooney and Brad Pitt” It's 7:05 and they've already eaten....supper! In 2 ½ hours they'll be fast asleep at the 46 minute mark of Burn Before Reading, 3 minutes further than their last kick at it.

We are a regular stop in their weekly schedule. They shuffle in, pick the latest mainstream Hollywood flick that the Globe and Mail rated 2 ½ stars, and wander out hoping it wasn't the one they picked last week. Zack and Miri... have we seen that?

Do you have any suggestions? Something light, not black and white, not too arty, not foreign (I don't want to read) and funny..... and not violent...or too quirky... maybe something with George Clooney and Brad Pitt?

How about Burn After Reading?

Seen it.

All of it?

Well, no... Oh, what about that fabulous new vampire movie?

Let the Right One In?.... ya.. it is fabulous.

No... the other one... Twilight.

All rented. Sorry. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to rent Twilight on Roncesvalles, I say, chuckling.

Blank stares.

Another day at the Film Buff.

New Releases

A quick wrap up of the titles recently released to DVD. There have been quite a few. Reviewed films are noted with an (R)

Highly recommended...

Let the Right One In (R)
Milk (R)
Happy-Go-Lucky (R)
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Rachel Getting Married
Frozen River
Quantum of Solace
I've Loved You So Long (R)
Hunger (PAL only) (R)
Slum Dog Millionaire (R)
I Served the King of England
Ashes of Time Redux


Seven Pounds
Synecdoche, New York (R)
Body of Lies
Flash of Genius
Twilight (R)
Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The


The Day the Earth Stood Still (R)
Cadillac Records
What Just Happened? (R)
Taken (PAL only) (R)
Sex Drive (R)
Punisher: War Zone (R)


Soul Men
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Nights in Rodanthe
Miracle at St. Anna
Guitar, The


Punisher: War Zone (2008)

I was inspired by La Spermatozoa's excellent Taken post awhile ago, and knew I had to find my own vengeance-themed movie and review it. Enter Punisher: War Zone. I just finished watching this and decided to do some cursory review scans, only to find incredulously that I am in the minority here in that I LOVED this adaptation of one of Marvel's baddest bad-asses. I felt that I needed to come to the defense of this film, much the same way that I did (in person) of last year's equally brutal and seemingly universally reviled (except to some Burmese rebels), Rambo. Punisher: War Zone, while not the definitive take on the comics anti-hero, is the best adaptation yet. And no, that's NOT just like saying that Faces of Death VI is "the best one yet", or my recent flareup of syphillis is the "best one yet"; there is quite a bit to like in this newest flick...

The Punisher was always one of favourite comic characters as a kid, because he actually scared me, and it seemed like he could kick anyone's ass, even though he had no super-powers. That made him more real to me. He's very simply a vengenace-driven killing machine, a sort of good serial killer. Like a shark. The various comic offshoots and mini-series and one-offs that the Punisher character has been involoved in over the years are many, and I won't go over them here, as they aren't incredibly important to the enjoyment of the film. Here, though, they've thankfully done away with the white boots and gloves and outfitted our Punisher-du-jour with quasi-realistic uber-S.W.A.T. gear and a vast armory. Reprising their roles from the comics are Punisher's weapons supplier/verbal conscience Micro (played with an understated fatalism by Seinfeld's Wayne Knight. . . .? NEWMAN!) and arguably Punisher's greatest foe (along with Kingpin), Billy Rusotti, or Jigsaw (The Wire's Dominic West), who ranges from cartoonishly bombastic to terrifyingly unhinged. A cast of side characters fill in the plot holes, but that's not what we're here for...is it? The Punisher himself is played by icy-exteriored Ray Stevenson, who does the most credible job yet of he, campy Dolph Lundgren and surly fuck Thomas Jane.

I'm not one of those fan-boys that's all "wahhh, they did away with Punisher's white boots and gloves" (this ain't Quadrophenia kiddies) - in fact, I don't even give a fuck that this is a Punisher film at all. They could have just called it "Vigilante" or "Taken", except those are already used...hell, just call it "Guy in Black Fux Shyt Up" or even "Untitled, with Gun". I don't care, what matters is that this is the most rip-snorting, coolly nihilistic, and brutally violent (sometimes shockingly so, in the best way) action films I have seen since Rambo. I need about one of these a year, and just when my adrenaline levels were starting to sink back to normal, this comes along. Perfect. However, this film is between a cock and a hard place in that it can't win with the fans, and it's really not the type of film to get critically lauded in any circles. 'Cept here.

An esteemed colleague got me thinking recently when he mentioned that Dancer in the Dark was a "gut-punch to American society". Well, when Frank Castle literally puts his fist through a mob henchman's face (seriously), and starts laconically tossing out lines like "It's eye for an eye" (when justifying his actions to a cop) and - the best - "Let me put you out of my misery" (right before he tosses a skewered Jigsaw into a fire), I though to myself, "man, this is the sort of film Lars Von Trier wishes he could make". Also, I would love to see a Punisher/Gomorra mash-up. I would do one if I had the technological know-how. If someone decides to do another take on Punisher, I hope it's the Born story, which deals with Frank Castle's Vietnam-era metamorphosis into Punisher. Dark stuff for dark times.

Not that it matters to most out there, but in any case, if you dig brutally violent action films, broodingly vengeful antiheros and/or paintball, I say Punisher: War Zone - WIN.

Gort and Ted's Excellent Adventure

...well not excellent, but not quite as bad as some critics would have you believe. If you ignore the fact that this is a remake of a classic film (perhaps the classic '50s sci-fi), The Day the Earth Stood Still is a modestly engaging end-of-the-world film with one giant problem. Webster. While the original also had a kid in it, the little peckerwood in the update couldn't be more annoying. What is it about cute little black children that directors keep shoving them in movies and TV shows? The pint-sized spawn of Will Smith spends most of the movie acting like a complete pain in the ass. If it was me, I'd have asked Klaatu to take him first... a sacrifice to show we were serious about changing as a race. I couldn't think of a better place to start. This little jackoff makes Gary Coleman and Steve Erkel seem positively adorable.

There have been enough jokes about Jamboree Reeves being perfectly cast as an alien with no emotions and he does an excellent job reigning in his expressive acting range to play Klaatu. All in all he's actually pretty good. Jennifer Connelly looks great as always. Gort is big, mean and indestructible, just like he's supposed to be. The effects are pretty good. The climax is a little dull. The story could have gone in some interesting directions. It doesn't. Connelly isn't naked once. Gort doesn't have a giant robot penis. John Cleese plays the world's smartest man without a hint of irony.

A solid 6 had Gort made the little fuckwit kid explode in the opening scene, reduced to a 3.5 because he doesn't. I searched the DVD settings to see if a children-free cut existed. It doesn't. Ditto for a deleted Gort/Connelly sex scene (a la Requiem for a Dream). I reduced my final score to 2.5 as a result.

OK, I guess it is as bad as the critics said.


The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

Poorly received both critically and at the box office on its release, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a sweeping and comedic late Billy Wilder film with a cracking good (albeit far-fetched) mystery and a slightly different take on Conan Doyle's famous consulting detective. Originally conceived as a 4 part, just under 4 hour film, MGM cut two of the original bits prior to its theatrical release. The entire segment of the film concerning Holmes' first love was cut, but the studio restored 12 minutes of the film for the DVD release. The result is a compromise of sorts with the DVD version clocking in at 125 minutes. As it stands the time seems about right although the original cut (probably long lost) would have been an interesting addition.

Actor Robert Stephens makes Holmes a slightly foppish, melancholy character but he works well as the master detective. Colin Blakely is a humourous but never caricatured Watson. Wilder first wanted Peter O' Toole and Peter Sellers but they aren't missed. The production design is exceptional and opulent. If you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes, this should be on your must see list. Others might enjoy the banter between Holmes and Watson and the old fashioned style and wit of the film. This was to be Wilder's 2nd last film. His final turn in the director's chair came 2 years later with Avanti!.

He was one of the best.


They call me MR 73.

Olivier Marchal’s MR 73 is one of those great foreign films that will never find an audience - at least not in North America. This dazzling French policier didn't receive a theatrical release for the simple reason that it's just too hard boiled for our soft and fuzzy taste in films and that's too bad because MR 73 is the film Michael Mann's been trying to do for 25 years.

The plot is based on a true story and the resulting script is complex and riveting. Daniel Auteuil plays a tough cop racked with guilt and living in an inebriated free fall into the depths of hell. He's never been better and this is THE acting performance of 2008. Forget Mickey Rourke. Forget Sean Penn. Auteuil is simply stunning. Couple that with the grittiest, blackest colour cinematography I've ever seen and what you have is an unheralded piece of modern film making that only a handful of people will ever see, much less appreciate.

I love filmmakers that take chances and aren't afraid to push viewers into really uncomfortable places. MR 73 is one of those rare films. It manages to maintain incredibly dark and atmospheric overtones that add a very distinctive flavor to the film without resorting to the grotesque (granted, there are a couple of exceptions). Auteuil's Louis is a completely broken man who downs endless bottles of cheap scotch to dull the pain enough to get through another day. I was reminded of Eastwood's Unforgiven, a film that MR 73 shares more than a few existential similarities to. Marchal, cinematographer Denis Rouden and Auteuil (along with a stellar supporting cast) have created a nearly perfect modern distillation of film noir.

As you can likely tell, I really liked this one. Director Marchal, obviously a numbers guy, also directed Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu in 36, a terrific film from 2004 but I think he might have upped the ante with this one.

A gem.



I just realised that despite significant mentions on our other academy award hopefuls Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler and The Dark Knight , no-one has yet made comment on Milk. Winner of the best original screenplay and best actor oscar for Sean Penn, this is director Gus Van Sants most mainstream movie to date. I previously watched 'The life and times of Harvey Milk' documentary a couple of months ago (great by the way) as an initiation to the story, but then unfortunately missed the movie in theatres. Since we took delivery of the DVD copies of Milk last week, I thought I might spout off.

This movie really paid off for me on two grounds; the story and it's execution.
I'm a bit of a fan of director Gus Van Sant. He is one of only a handful of directors including Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood that I would actually trust to tell a story like this properly and with sensitivity. Also he has a minimilist film-making style which I prefer to the epic celluloid splurges often associated with the aforementioned directors.

Van Sant is brave and visually arresting. He consistently tackles subjects that would be cheaply exploited by a less mature director and his films for me are an experience to watch. He has an uncanny skill for creating engaging individual characters by really holding the camera close and just letting us watch. I recommend anyone who hasn't seen Elephant or Last days to give these films a chance. His control of tone and pacing draws you right into to the film and makes you appreciate the minute details of each scene. Once he has you comfortable he hits you with the extraordinary, the unusual, the reason he is telling this tale.

I understand that this is a Hollywood big hitter but for me it has kept it's integrity (Good Will Hunting anybody?) and distills an important time and an important message. This is documenting history not a historical document, despite this I imagine the director respectfully sees it as a responsibility to do the Harvey Milk story justice and it is nice to see a life story preserved so artfully. We shouldn't go without mentioning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who actually won the oscar and rebooted the Milk story from a failed previous attempt by Van Sant. The truth and inspiration in this sort of film is really what makes movies worth watching.



The Watchmen Vs. Gran Torino

I've Loved You So Long, Watchmen.
Longer than one ought to,
you taught me that a comic can transcend its various illustrated panels, that a story can go beyond text. You taught me that a graphic novel can have merit. I can stand toe to toe with some one going on about Burroughs, Dickens, Eliot, etc.
I can look them in the eye and say "Moore, Alan Moore. Watchmen, read it. Change your life."
but i can't really say that anymore cause Hollywood had its way with you.
They tied you to a table and had their way with your heart and soul.

Now the film The Watchmen isn't all that bad. I stand quite solitary in the belief that the picture is merely an ok flick.
but an ok flick of one of the greatest stories i've ever read, though undoubtedly the best superhero story of all time, is more a travesty than having a great adaptation or a bad one.
I'd love a bad Watchmen movie. I'd love to watch it and laugh at it and walk away going "these fat cats in the studios have no idea what they're doing" but i can't.
I'd love a great Watchmen movie, to feel that the times were a' changin and mainstream cinema could actually grasp the ideas presented in the story and present them well enough so it could be enjoyed by the initiated and the uninitiated alike.
Yet, this film comes across as a bit of both.
On one hand the film captures the look of the comic completely. the story boards are the panels, and the script the text that fill up the panels except for some minor changes. It's a long, difficult picture just like the book.
On the other hand, what's left out or altered are the most apparent problems with the film. One of the biggest parts of the book that seemed to be left out completely in translation was any inkling of emotion.
I don't think i've ever sat through a 3 hour plus film and feel absolutely nothing for its complete duration. Not to say i wasn't entertained, just that entertainment was strictly superficial.
The picture sure made a hell of a lot of noise and yet i never felt for any of those noises. There was altogether too much and not enough of basically anything to make up a film resembling something.
whoo, there i said it.
I could nit pick this one, but it's nothing you wouldn't be able to find on some other blog or in some paper. It's an entertaining picture, but at this long a run time i would hope it would at least be that.
Like Joe said after leaving the theatre "it was like watching the Cole's notes of the book."

After sitting through the Watchmen twice (yeah i saw it twice. Thought like the book it would be better upon going through it a second time but in fact it had the opposite effect.) i was a little miffed with seeing current films at the cinema.
Then on a whim i decided to watch Clint Eastwood's' Gran Torino at the Bloor Cinema.

What happened after viewing this picture was a complete reversal of the effect Watchmen had on me. This picture had me feeling actual emotions left right and center.
Not to say this is a terrific film, it's not. It like the Watchmen is just ok as well.
But this is double, no scratch that, ten times as fun as Watchmen.
The premise from the trailer had me going.
From what i could tell is that this was a picture about a racist old man with a shotgun asking his new Asian neighbours next door to get off his lawn.
And that's basically what i got.
To say this picture is racist is an understatement. You'll hear every racial slur in the book in this one, except for the really bad ones.
Mostly just old terms from the 50's that Clint is belting out at the beginning and ending of every line.
Yet, no one can argue this little picture doesn't have its heart in the right place and by the end you get a picture calling out everybody, including Caucasians, because of their skin and stereotypes that come along with our skins and lets us all know we all can connect on the basis of having heart, integrity, and strength in this damned world of ours.

The acting by everyone except Clint is pretty bad.
But Clint, although awkward to me at first, really won me over in this picture.
This is his last role and i thought it was a great way to go out, playing an old man trying to accept the changing of the world around him and through that not only does he fully embrace the change but he finds something worth living for in it. He finds meaning again after losing much of what gave him any reason to wake up in the first place.

There is a weird moment at the end when Clint starts belting out a song about Gran Tourinos over the credits that is a bit jarring. but overall i found this completely entertaining through and through. like a chicken skillet cooked all the way through as to not get salmonella unlike Watchmen which was more like fillet Mignon that barely touched the pan.
now that... that's a metaphor right there or is it a simile? Damn university literature courses are good for nothing. it's all theory, nothing practical.. ya know?

Gran Torino has its flaws but this is fun,
as my friend Jessica said while walking out the cinema "i wish Clint Eastwood was in my life right now. I would feel like everything was going to be ok, and then he would call me some racial slur and i would hug him."

In the end there's no contest, if anyone out there is deciding which film they should watch between Watchmen and Gran Torino the answer is a shotgun racist scream in the night "GRANNN TORINO!!!"



Sex Drive

I'm going to flip flop a couple of times during this review for reasons that I hope will become evident. I read some solid reviews about Sex Drive, a raunchy 2008 teen comedy in the American Pie mold and yet it's simply sat on the shelf since it arrived a few weeks ago. I brought a copy home this afternoon and sat down fully expecting another shitty teen shock-comedy in the Judd Apatow vein. Not surprisingly for the most part, that's what I got. The story is a carbon copy of any number of teen virgin comedies from Porky's to American Pie. There's lots of telegraphed political incorrectness, just-legal girls showing their perfect tits, awkward post-pubescent almost-man talk, a sage of sorts, lots of talk about fags and taking it up the bum, etc. etc. It's got Ruder! Cruder! Nuder! written across the DVD case – end of story.

Well, not quite. I stayed with it for about half an hour and started to kind of like it. I could have done with a few less cock and bull jokes and sight gags but the characters started to become just a little bit endearing. It veered off into some completely ridiculous territory (I mean it is called Sex Drive after all) and while not everything works, there were moments that were thoughtful and.... dare I say it, insightful? Probably not. The other piston that was furiously cranking away pretty much the whole film is this....it's a really funny movie. It's not aimed at my demographic to be sure, but unlike Apatow's funereal fart-joke crap, Sex Drive actually made me laugh. A lot.

So I'm stuck. On the one hand, Sex Drive is a overly raunchy teen sex-comedy about driving across America to get laid and on the other, it's rather a good one with good characters and an exceptionally funny script. The problem with Sex Drive is this; it would have been just as funny and way more marketable if they'd left most of the crudeness at the door and done a updated Freaks and Geeks movie. The film that it most reminded me of was Amy Heckerling's 1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a smart film that was rated R 25 years ago but would likely get a G rating today. For it's time it too was a raunchy and crude film but it didn't – well, mostly at least – resort to the toilet humour that pervades teen comedies these days. The Sex Drive DVD comes with two disks, the theatrical cut and an unrated director's cut, but I think the extra disk went the wrong direction. As it stands, even the theatrical cut is just too randy for the tweeny crowd, even though the forbidden fruit of the odd dildo-teen-rom-com makes it a little marketable to that crowd.

I wonder what the studios are thinking some days. The target market for Sex Drive is just too narrow. The filmmakers had a really good project here and buried it in a genre that has very limited appeal outside its sliver of a target market. If they'd stripped out the crass, go-for-the-17-year-old-mentality elements of the script, this film is a home run. It didn't need to be neutered or cut down to 27 minutes to get there either. Most of it would have worked without the stuck-on R-rated bits. As it is, it made exactly $8,402,485 domestically while Superbad, a film not half as good or a tenth as funny made in excess of $120,000,000. If disk 2 in the DVD set was a PG rated version of the film, we couldn't keep it in the store. As it is, we can't rent it because the target market doesn't rent movies. Bummer.


Twilight (2008)

Yeah, I watched it. So what?


Batman vs. Dracula (2005)

Think about it: BATMAN. VERSUS. DRACULA. It doesn't get any better than this. Well of course it does!

Now, let me begin by saying that I'm pretty sure no one (except maybe Kris) is going to watch this, but that still doesn't change that fact that I was quite taken with the animated Batman feature Batman vs. Dracula, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone on here, child or adult. The "film" is certainly neither profound or thought-provoking, but it is incredibly entertaining and retains a wonderfully fast pace throughout its economical 75 minute run-time. Yes, it is ostensibly a "kids" movie, but no more so than Batman Forever/Batman and Robin. If you subjected yourself to those atrocities, you at least owe it to yourself to check this out. A very cool take on the Joker, a darker version of the Penguin than the cartoons usually show, and above all, the Dark Knight versus the Prince of Darkness, a match-up that was bound to happen sooner or later. Virtuoso animation that would make Frank Miller proud, a surprisingly atmospheric score, and some very interesting and often frightening (given the target audience) interpretations of both Batman, Joker and Dracula. Recommended for the open-minded who won't scoff at "children's fare". Fits together quite well with last year's shamefully overlooked Batman: Gotham Knight. Really, how can you not love a cartoon that references both The Shining and Jerry Maguire? BOOM goes the dynamite!

Shiny Happy People

Happy-Go-Lucky is the story of a driving school instructor who sees the world for what it really is, a whithered cesspool of broken dreams, crushed spirits and relentless persecution. His antithesis, a relentlessly cheery primary school teacher whose life is unrealistically filled with childlike optimism and fun, sets out to lift this burden of truth from his shoulders and replace it with a sunny disposition and horseshit sun-will-come-out-tomorrow attitude. Poppy, a walking, talking smiley face represents a sort of one woman joy division where everything she touches turns to roses and lolly pops thus obscuring the fundamental truth that life is nothing more than something to be endured until we really can't face another day, blow our brains all over the bedroom wall and then shit ourselves in a final involuntary act of self-deprecation.

Director Morpheus Leigh has opted for a “happy” solution to our hero's acute awareness dilemma by making Poppy's fake world so fucking infectious as to draw our doomed realist into its pod-like clutches to be farmed for energy by unseen machines. He slowly loses any grip he held on reality, gives up and decides to smoke some distilled Poppy opiate and join the happy club. Fuck it, What's the point? seems to be Leigh's underlaying statement here.

A brave, but utterly hopeless ascent into the world of virtual madness that the ill-informed live in and a film that serves as a possible martial-arts-free alternate to the original Matrix had Neo chosen the blue instead of the red pill. In a final nod to the hopelessness of our modern existence, the one child in Poppy's primary school with any free spirit is emotionally bludgeoned by the Karma Police into believing his natural tenancies to physically dominate those around him is somehow destructive and wrong. Charles Darwin must be rolling in his grave.

This film has much to say if you're willing to listen. In Morpheus Leigh's own words "Remember, all I'm offering is a big fat lie. Nothing more."



Good call Joe/Tom/Kris/Jules' Dad for catching this one. I didn't even know it had been released on this side of the drink. Saxondale is in league with Fawlty Towers, Alan Partridge and The Office in terms of top cringe-comedy from the Beeb ever. This has got cult written all over it. The first episode is an all time comedy classic. Americans just don't seem to know what to do with Steve Coogan (as it turns out "nothing" is the right answer - just let him write and perform his own stuff).

Brilliant. The morning makeup scene is pure genius.

Into the Electric Mist

I've been looking forward to Bertrand Tavernier's Into the Electric Mist starring Tommy Lee Jones (and a stellar cast of supporting actors) since we first ordered it last month. Jones, who has become the go-to actor when a tough and taciturn southern lawman is required, once again shows his professional chops in a variation of a role he's played several times now. Fortunately, he's been able to avoid self-parody by bringing something new to each of his recent sheriff pics. The film is based on a popular series of novels written by James Lee Burke about a Louisiana lawman named Dave Robicheaux.

The film, shot in 2007, was originally slated for a big theatrical release but something happened in the editing of the final picture and the whole thing drifted off into obscurity. It becomes evident about 40 minutes into this direct-to-DVD release why the film couldn't find a distributor. To do the story and characters justice, it would have had to have been about 5 hours long. I did a bit of research on the history of the film and found out that 2 cuts exist, the 102 minute release that we watched and a longer 117 minute version that was slated for its theatrical release. I'm not sure that the extra 15 minutes would have made much difference but the second half of the DVD cut is fatally rushed and contains an out-of-left-field final shot that needs to be ignored (and is not in Tavernier's longer cut). It's too bad that they released the abridged version on DVD.

Notwithstanding the production and distribution problems that undermined this film, there is something of a flawed but compelling film buried in the final result. I would hazard a guess that picking the 6th book in the series was key to the production's troubles. The cast of interesting characters that inhabit Robicheaux's world of bayous and Parishes are obviously richly complex in the novels but here end up simply underwritten. I'm not sure why they didn't start with an earlier novel. Into the Electric Mist reminded me of the 1995 Walter Mosley Easy Rawlins flick Devil in a Blue Dress, another near-miss adaptation of terrific source material.

All that being said, I sat down to write something entirely different about this film and specifically about Tommy Lee Jones. Jones seems to have a nose for finding roles set in middle America. I'm not sure why (or if) this matters but I find each of his recent films fascinating because of the continuity of his everyman characterizations. There is something unique and intriguing about Jones. He serves as a bit of an antidote to the youth-centric blockbuster comic book fare that forms the bulk of Hollywood's output these days. His recent roles in No Country for Old Men, In the Valley of Elah, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and now this film all share a similar haunted, sullen quality that I believe speaks to some larger issues Jones might be articulating about modern American society. I'd go as far as to say that Jones has come to define a kind of neo-western genre where good and evil play out in shades of gray instead of black and white like the westerns of yore. While truth, honour and virtue are harder to define in our ethically diminished modern world, Jones' characters are often still capable of holding the high moral ground and doling out justice when necessary. The characters he embodies are blunted and worn down by facing a world with too many bad guys and too much moral ambiguity. These characters are also often very much alone and alienated from their peers. Having recently watched Taken, the new Liam Neeson revenge flick, I was struck by how much more realistic and effective Jones' run down version of vigilante justice is.

Into the Electric Mist is a film that will, with good reason, fade into obscurity because of its fatal script and pacing flaws but I think it's a valid and worthy film if kept in perspective. It's like a really good cable TV movie, the Tom Selleck Jesse Stone series comes to mind. The fact that it could easily have been a fantastic film and they somehow missed the boat is a crying shame.



Masterpiece Theatre 2


I burned a DVD-R and watched Tom's piece-of-shite film and have it to trade with someone. What do you have Joe? We could trade tomorrow. I assume you FBE clowns can trade amongst yourselves until we've all seen the other's films. Who's got what right now?



New Yorker Films' Dirt Nap

After 43 years New Yorker Films closed its doors last week, the latest victim of the New Depression. What a drag. A whole series of outstanding films from world and indie directors lost their U.S. distribution as a result and while some of these films are available elsewhere (Mongrel carries a handful here, for example) the rest just became a lot harder to find.

It might be worth our while to catalog all our NYF titles and pull those that aren't available elsewhere. According to their website, the hope is that they will find a buyer but in the interim we might want to keep an eye on our NYF titles.


Everyone Needs a Pal

Three DVD's recently arrived from the U.K. prove beyond doubt that having a PAL player is a necessity.

Gomorrah (2008) Directed by Matteo Garrone

War movies and gangster flicks almost by definition tend to glamourize their subjects. There's truth in François Truffaut’s famous statement that you can’t make a war movie without making war look like fun. The glamour may be inadvertent but the results have tended to be the same. The allure of killing and lawlessness is an underlaying (if unintentional) theme of these genres.
Gomorrah is the exception. It succeeds in sucking every ounce of glamour out of gangster life and laying bare the misery and terror of the world’s most fearsome Mafia organization, the Neapolitan Camorra. The film is based on an expose by Roberto Saviano who’s currently under protective detail after receiving death threats from the mob. The film is both astounishing and gut wrenching partly because it lacks the intoxicating presence of a powerful central character. Gomorrah has no Tony Soprano, Tony Montana or Michael Corlone, but rather follows several story lines to their sordid and unhappy conclusions. A grim masterpiece that was passed over by the Oscars for reasons that I don't understand.

Hunger (2008) Directed by Steve McQueen (no not the dead one)

Hunger is the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA volunteer who initiated a 1981 hunger strike to protest his status as a common criminal and not a political prisoner at the Maze prison. This is another harrowing work that focuses less on the larger political context of the Irish conflict and more on the toll it took on the participants. Be warned that this film doesn't flinch or turn away from the incredible horror of watching someone starve to death. Actor Michael Fassbender delivers a haunting performance and a physical transformation reminiscent of Christian Bale's in The Machinist. Not for the squeamish but this is a powerhouse of a film.

Wallander (2008) BBC 3-part series.

Kurt Wallander is a brooding Swedish police detective played in this anglicized version of Henning Mankell's (the son-in-law of Ingmar Bergman) novels by a mesmerizing Kenneth Branagh. The stories are still set in Sweden but everyone has a Brit accent. There are several Swedish film adaptation of Mankell's books and a 2005 TV series but for whatever reason, the Beeb decided to put their own spin on the character. I'm sure glad they did. Branagh is outstanding and the cinematography and overall look of the show is the best I've seen them pull off. Barnagh was made for this role. He's gruff, exhausted and brooding (I'm guessing he took some obvious cues from Stellan Skarsgård's spellbinding turn in Insomnia (1997) because their characters are similar. I gather that the Swedish adaptations are even better and that makes them worth tracking down too.

All three of these DVD's were hugely grim but man o' man worth the effort to be sure.

Riveting stuff.


My Life as a Bat

What a cool movie. It's hard not to call Let the Right One In a horror film but it also hardly feels like one. I read a a few reviews right afterward and found it odd that a number of mainstream critics tended to describe the film as grim (“deadly grim” in Ebert's words) I found it rather the opposite, a sort of heartfelt and giddy coming-of-age black comedy. The gentle romance/friendship between the two young leads was honest and realistic (as far as vampire/mortal love affairs go) and hell... they even end up together.

It will be interesting to compare Let the Right One In with the upcoming releases of Twilight and HBO's True Blood. This one is a winning combination of Nosferatu meets My Life as a Dog by way of Heathers.

A totally easy film to recommend and oddly enough also nearly a perfect tweeny movie. Of course the soulless hyper-protective middle-aged Toronto parent cabal would never allow their trophy children to view such a film and that's too bad.

Great flick.



We're all a bit of a dick, it's the human condition.

We just got this British series in at the East End and it's the best new thing I've seen in quite a while. Not sure how it fell under my radar at first to be honest but I'm glad It found me. It's the perfect antidote to hacky catchphrase comedy or anything filmed in front of a live studio audience.
Steve Coogans previous serieseseses based on his Alan Partridge character are already considered classic British comedy by most and paved his way to a few decent movie roles including his turn as Tony Wilson in the excellent 24 hour party people and most recently Hamlet 2.
This 2 season box set showcases his latest incarnation as Tommy Saxondale, a 50 year old ex roadie come pest controller struggling with his own brimming temper. The tonal scope of this is impressive and the character is so well drawn you really don't know if it's okay to love him. Tommy is wickedly cynical, aggressive, confrontational yet he speaks in a way which I think we all secretly wish we could, frankly and honestly.
Each episode is punctuated with repeated motif scenes which give Coogan parameters to exploit. They're consistently hilarious. Here's Tommy at anger management class:

I have a new hero.

and yes, I said 'tonal scope'. Tom

Transporter Trois!

Ya, sorry about the Synecdoche, New York post a couple of days ago. In retrospect it was a little like discussing the possibility of there being infinite palindromic primes in base 10 with a crew of grade 3 math camp attendees.

In an effort to correct this oversight, I offer last night's Transporter 3 review below.

It...like, rocked. Jason Statham returns as Frank Martin, the intrepid Euro-pizza delivery man with a black Audi 8 series V12 supercar and a hot Ukrainian model/kidnapped tart to take to Budapest and then Bucharest. He kicks ass in a new strip-fighting technique (Jules!), beds the girl (Dropkick!), chases a bad guy on a trick bicycle (Joe!) utters low growly Britisms (Tom!), kills/dispatches all the bad guys and saves the day....oh ya, and goes fishing..... twice.

It's directed by a guy named Olivier Megaton (no shit).

I mean really, possibly the FBE film of the year?

A distinct possibility. I hope you went deep Joe.



Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York is as complex and difficult a film as you're likely to come across. It's divided critics and audiences alike into two distinct camps, the first laying claim that it's an excessively arty, pretentious and plodding piece, and the second who will find it deeply meaningful and thought provoking. Modern film making rarely swerves this close to introspection and many will find it far too uncomfortable for their liking. It should be said that Synecdoche is an uncomfortable film. It's a dissertation on life, death, aging, love, vulnerability, family, passion and understanding – all things that don't have pat answers or easily definable parameters.

It's nearly impossible to describe the film in any meaningful way. The main character, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a neurotic theatre director who over 40 years experiences a series of failed relationships while struggling with an odd assortment of both real and imagined physical and emotional ailments. A financial grant offers him an opportunity to attempt the creation of a great work centered on life, truth and meaning. The work consumes him and I took the second half of the film to be an extension of this ever-expanding creation. Time is compressed in unique and surreal ways masking and distorting the linear throughout Synecdoche and making it difficult to unravel the real from the imagined.

To me, Synecdoche felt closest in spirit to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, a similarly structured and layered film. It's far less flashy than Lynch's work but it makes the same demands of its audience, something that is truly rare in modern escapist filmmaking. The “film-as-entertainment” crowd won't know what to do with this one because it's a film that can't be experienced passively. This is simply not a mainstream movie even though it stars a series of well-known actors and played theatrically in relatively wide release.

I'm guessing that fans of the film were willing to give Kaufman and his troupe of actors a wide enough berth to explore the human condition using a variety of philosophical and story telling techniques. A singular theme running throughout relates to the Cotard Syndrome, a rare neuropsychiatric disorder in which a person holds the delusional belief that he or she is dead, or does not exist. There's enough black humour in Kaufman's writing to name his lead character after the disorder but this fact sheds some light on his intent. It's entirely possible that Hoffman's Caden Cotard is reliving (or reimagining) his life in some distant and disconnected way. The layers and complexity of the film will require multiple viewings to decipher but I wonder whether there's enough meat on its bones to draw people back to the film for a second pass.

Synecdoche, New York is unique and challenging but to be honest, it's also a little exasperating. As a result, I'm hesitant about how and who you might recommend it to. I think people are going to have to come to this one on their own. I'm going to reread Dropkick's review now.



Phase IV at Trash Palace

Short notice, I know, but everyone should check out the incredibly strange looking sci-fi/future-shock/tripper's delight at Trash Palace TONIGHT!!! Aren't hip to the scene? Check the link here or on the sidebar, foo'. Without further ado, Saul Bass' PHASE IV:and BOOOM!

Masterpiece Theatre

OK our 5 films have been selected for the Hidden Masterpieces contest and the viewing has begun.

The films....

Habit (1996) Directed by Larry Fessenden. Shockingly, a revisionist '90s vampire film selected by Joe.

Gambling City (1975) Directed by Sergio Martino. A surprise (perhaps dark horse?) Italian crime pick from Jules.

Little Criminals (1995) Directed by Stephen Surjik. The lone Brit picks an obscure Canadian flick with – apparently – a great soundtrack and coming of age story. The highest rated IMDb selection of the bunch at 7.9

The Elevator Movie (2004) Directed by Zeb Haradon. Dropkick weighs in with a surreal dark comedy in which a man and a woman get stuck in an elevator and are forced to live there for several months. The most recent film entered.

All Night Long (1962) Directed by Basil Deardon. The obvious masterpiece in this lot (and eventual winner, if the rest of these clowns know what's good for them). A brilliant Jazz-infused reworking of Othello chosen by Scott.

The scoring.....

Each of us reviews all the movies except our own and the film with the highest total score takes all.

5 categories are each marked out of 10 a perfect score is therefore 200 points (all 4 reviewers give 10/10 on each of the categories.

Film Quality – A kind of director's mark. The overall quality of the picture in terms of shots, flow, pacing and look. The quality of the print should be disregarded and instead efforts made to rate the director's intent and the final product

Acting – How good is the acting? Are the characters believable and engaging? Is there a standout performance?

Message – Does it have anything to say? Is there a point to it? Is (or was) it relevant? Is (or was) the story fresh, unusual or particularly well-told?

Obscurity – How rare or unknown is it? Does it crop up in any lists or reviews? Has anyone else seen it's merits in the same way you have? If there are many reviews around and/or the film has been named by a critic as a standout film, marks are reduced. If no one's (or very few have) commented on it, the mark is higher.

Masterpiece quotient – Is it? Every film that rates the “masterpiece” label has to have something about it that makes it unique and special. Does the film in question have these qualities?

Bonus scoring....

Jazz quotient - How much Jazz is in the film? Are there Jazz musicians in the cast? (up to 10 bonus points may be given)

Script quotient - How famous is the screenplay? Did someone important pen it? (up to 10 bonus points may be given)

Good luck.



Best Release Slate Ever?

Rachel Getting Married, Milk, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Let the Right One In, Role Models, Happy-Go-Lucky, Cadillac Records , Synecdoche New York, and.... Howard the Duck all release on March 10th....


Big Mister Raincloud

For reasons that have precious little to do with its merits as a film, Taken is an absolutely fascinating experience. About two years ago I wrote about a movie that became a runaway hit partly because it came together in all the right places at exactly the right time. The film - Little Miss Sunshine - was a cutesy fluff piece that, like its 2008 version Juno, hit the theatres and audience right in the centre of the bullseye.

Taken is another of these perfectly timed releases, only the world has descended into economic Armageddon and social chaos in the interim. The result is a movie that allows its 2009 audience to extract some vicarious payback from all those mysterious bastards who made them poor again. This is a revenge tale through and through, bereft of any real moral grounding and quivering under the weigh of its own shaky justifications and ethics. Liam Neeson plays Bryan, a one killing machine in search of his kidnapped (and soon to be white slave) virginal daughter. It plays into an American fear complex that has bad people doing terrible things around every corner and dovetails it into the barking-mad child safety movement that made most of the children in the Western World drooling halfwits whose entire lives are played out in their bedrooms on Facebook and in virtual worlds instead of the real one.

In a nutshell, it's a nearly perfect distillation of middle-aged Western angst.

Taken's real strength as a marketable entity however, remains that this is one itch that you can scratch (perhaps more accurately - scratch out). All of the frustrations associated with feeling helpless in the face of an economy in free fall, bad news on every front and getting old are whisked away in a flurry of deadly karate chops and pistol fire. I lost count of the number of bad guys Neeson dispatches about an hour in.

Taken is a quasi-remake of Death Wish ('74), the Charles Bronson movie that became an overnight sensation in a time not all that dissimilar to ours. It speaks directly to an audience that wants to take control of their circumstances, but can't. It's both vicious and remorseless but it's clearly resonating with movie goers because it's also simple.

I'm here. My daughter's over there. You're in the way. I shoot you. Now you're not.

If only life were this straightforward.

The popularity and excellent reviews this film is enjoying says bad things about us and where we might be headed.


Film Buff Soundtracks: Last week of Feb. 09

Overheard in the Film Buff East this past week and most of the past month was Animal Collectives' newest Lp; Merriweather Post Pavilion

This is the Baltimore avant-garde troupe's ninth album to date. The love this release has been getting reminds me of the buzz they got when their break out record Sung Tungs was released. This isn't a new break through record for the group, this is still very much an Animal Collective record. Every song plays as if three songs were playing over each other at the same time, each one containing their own unique hooks and addictive melodies. Blended together it can sound crude, rash, or just palin like noise.
With the proper ear, however, one can sift through the collage of overlaps and really get the beauty all these different elements make when whole.
The four piece was cut down to three for this release as the lead guitarist , Deakin, took time off from the group for personal reasons.
This led the remaining three to write songs that weren't heavy on guitar. Instead they turned to samplers and other electronic doohickies to compose the album.
The result is a record with barely any of the psych folk songs the band is known for.
The album is rawer and more ethereal than anything they've done.
Whereas when listening to past records i felt like walking with the animals and finding my spirit animal with this release i feel like traveling the universe and finding new species to run the galaxies with.
if there's one album you don't download and actually purchase this month, let this one be it.

Yeah the record kinda makes me feel like this video.



Hated (1994)

Most of us know Todd Phillips as the director of frat-coms Road Trip, Old School and Starsky & Hutch, but there is a different kind of comedy that marks the director's debut film, the compelling and disgusting rock-doc Hated. Enjoyment of the film is not entirely dependent upon your liking (or even knowledge of) GG Allin, but it helps to know what you're getting yourself into prior to the viewing. This is not some Don't Look Back wannabe, but a doc that focuses on one of the most notorious figures in the punk underground. GG was famous for self-mutilation, physical crowd abuse, and defecation (followed by the smearing of said shit on himself and flinging the remains at the crowd) during his shows, which are well-documented here. There is enough poo, blood, vomit and degradation for several lifetimes, but GG and his fans revel in the whole spectacle. And that's exactly what it is (or was). 16 years after his death, the show remains spectacular. Something I was simultaneously repelled and attracted to, and I can only imagine (thankfully - I have no real desire to have my nose broken and possibly contract hep C and e. coli poisoning) the terror and excitement of the adrenaline rush provided by attending one of the live shows. Truly an unmatched visceral rush, I'm sure.

The film follows GG's life in roughly chronological order, from his messed up childhood to his early attempts at starting bands, to his jail time, up to the then-present formation of the Murder Junkies, his band. The band itself is one of the more intriguing aspects of the whole shebang, and they act as the yin to GG's yang. There is no real weirdness there, except for hilarious and well-spoken brother Merle's penchant for fake beards, and drummer Dino's (who seems like he took a wrong turn during a peyote trip) preference for playing in the nude (matching GG's most oft-used stage costume). Other than that, they are relatively low-key, and almost a non-presence during the shows, as everyone is transfixed by the rabid performance of GG. The band merely gives Allin a canvas on which to paint, or more accurately, a toilet in which to shit.

Another cool thing about the film is its investigation of GG's fans - what sort of person is drawn to this type of spectacle? Predictably, perhaps, we see a rogue's gallery of freaks and weirdos, drunks, junkies, angry loners, social outcasts - in short, those who believe, rightfully or not, that there is no place for them in society, and have adopted GG as a kind of leader or god. There is also discussion in the film of GG's visits to and adoration by John Wayne Gacy. To be a fly on the wall during those conversations...

There is also footage of a rather bizarre appearance on Geraldo, and interviews with GG himself, who is visibly worse for wear in latter interviews, years of self-abuse and an increasing dependence on alcohol and heroin having taken their toll. GG was famous for claiming that he was going to kill himself on stage, and probably take a few audience members with him, but, as the doc notes "he died like a rock star, overdosing on heroin." The recently released special edition DVD has some good features, including a very lengthy interview with the present day Merle (still with it) and Dino (who seems like he's gone further down the rabbit hole); however, it was long rumoured and promised that this edition of the film would include footage from the final show, the night GG died. I was kind of morbidly curious, but was let down when the footage was absent. There is additional footage of the funeral, which is, sadly, very ordinary.

An extreme original, in the same way that Charles Manson was, it's cool to see people like GG exist (or existed), kicking against the pricks and with clearly no regard for authority of any kind and with very clear goals. It's also quite comforting to know that they're dead, or behind bars. There will be another GG, though, the world needs, and thus creates one every 20 years or so. Four years to go...
"My mind's a machine gun, my body's the bullets, and the audience is the target" - GG Allin