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?


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.



Review Update II

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


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.



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.....


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



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.


In space no one can hear you scream

The Review


I was wondering how we were doing with our year-end reviews? If I could get a draft (it doesn't have to be perfect or complete, just to get us started on layout), that'd be helpful.

Email me what you've got.



The Girlfriend Experience

Centered around porn-star Sasha Grey as the ‘sophisticated’ high-end escort Chelsea, Soderbergh takes a look at wealthy young adults living frivolous and uncertain lives in Manhattan. Grey has been given a ton of love for her performance, but there has been a back-handed undertone of surprise in the critical responses, a sense that she is ‘great(..for a porn star)’. I think the film-makers and a few of the supporting cast members try and bolster her presence in the film and generate ideas about the escort business; at times this works, but in the end she comes across as ho-hum and bone-dry. At one point in the movie, a sleazy porn blogger writes a negative review of Chelsea’s talents, describing her as cold and clammy to the touch - and although it is set up as a low-handed blow, it isn’t hard to imagine as the truth. In fact, the film as a whole comes across as very cold - it’s focus isn’t on the complications or politics of sex/passion-as-job, but rather a surface commentary on an independent worker in the escort business. There are no sex scenes (aside from the killer last scene, where a Hasidic Jew gets off via a half naked hug) but rather a few long conversations spliced together. The topics center around the marketing of Chelsea’s services (trying to increase her ‘rate’ and make her website pop up on google) and the boundaries between practitioner and client (and how her boyfriend Chris (annoying as hell) fits into that dynamic). Soderburgh also throws in a few topical issues such as the McCain/Obama presidential election and the free-falling economy. A few scenes hit the mark, but even the best left me wanting more. For example, there is a recurring conversation between Chelsea and a middle-aged reporter having lunch during an ‘appointment’. The reporter asks a lot of personal and interesting questions, most of them regarding how emotions come into play while offering a great ‘girlfriend experience’. If Chelsea had articulated the answers to his questions, the scene would have been a real investigation into a world and mindset not often heard from - but Chelsea answers most of the questions curtly, if at all, making it clear that he is over-stepping his boundaries. I think the flaw of TGE is that Chelsea, and her gym-trainer boyfriend, are at their core pretty uninteresting people. All in all, Soderburgh crafted a great base on which to go into some really cool and untraveled spaces, but ultimately got whisky dick and only grazed the surface.

Redefining the Indie

Ink (2009)

I'm not sure if anyone else has caught Ink yet but be prepared to..... Christ, I don't know what to say.... be confounded?, stunned?, blown away? Imagine what the result might look like if lavish '90s smut director Andrew Blake (a director whose work I'm rather familiar with) was hired to remake Terry Gilliam's Brazil on a budget of $10,000 with summer stock actors and a camcorder and you start to get a sense of what Ink is. It's shot on DV, sporting such a distinctly pornography "look" that I expected everyone to take off their clothes and start boinking each other in soft-focus-super-slow-mo about 3 minutes in. At about the 5 minute mark (to that point disappointingly smut-free), I toyed with the idea of turning it off, but decided instead to stick it out for another 10 minutes. Somewhere during this opening 15 minutes, Ink hooked me and I found myself getting more and more engrossed by its completely unique visual style, until I could tear my eyes off it (much like Blake's seminal/semenal 1997 film, Unleashed, the Citizen Kane of porn, but that's a topic for another post).

Over the last 5 or 10 years, an “indie” picture has come to mean something quite different than it did before that. These days, they tend to be stylistically threadbare, dialogue-heavy, conversational pieces where earnest 20 and 30-somethings discuss their latest must-have iPhone apps, 12 oz. mocha-latte's and life with equal vigor, much like I imagine hanging out at Cherry Bomb might feel like. Ink director (and producer, writer, musical score composer, boom mic operator and in all likelihood the guy who bought pizza and beer during the shoot) Jamin Winans has taken the “indie” film, thrown it over a sofa and thoroughly violated it, a Sunshine Cleaning of a very different sort if you will. Ink redefines “indie” so completely that the old indie is now just “mainstream without superheroes”. What remains to be seen is if he can find an audience for what might be a completely new cinematic style and extend that vision to show what indies are truly capably of. Ink raises the bar in ways I didn't think was even possible anymore.

Instead of getting into the film's intricate plot complexities and utterly unique vision, I'd rather focus on how to “watchInk, because I think it's important. Firstly, you need to forgive its bare-budget cinematic veneer and instead consider just how mind-blowing the linkage between the plot and the visuals are. The look and cinematography of the film is pure genius. While it draws inspiration from the likes of Dark City, the aforementioned Brazil, and the Matrix re-imagined as a high school drama production, Ink maintains a visual palette all its own. Don't expect the effects to look like they do in The Watchmen, because they don't. The film drifts a little in the middle and borders on cloying when the good witch explains the rules of the dream world to the junior bimbette at the centre of the story. This is the nature of innovation; not everything works and you have to give a little more latitude to the film maker than we're use to.

Even with these qualifiers, Ink is a stunner, far from perfect but even further from conventional and that makes it worthy of attention. It's a late entry on my 2009 top ten, its inclusion based almost entirely on the sheer tenacity of Winan's vision. If you want to see something that you've never seen before, Ink is your movie. Prediction..... Kendall and Kris will hate it and Joe and Tom will love it, but it's so unusual, I could have that completely backwards. I'd love to hear some feedback on this one, unless you all hate it in which case you're all fired.


Waltz with Bashir

I was going to post my extended Ballast and Ink reviews tonight but noticed that Tom had just posted on 3 films so I'll wait until tomorrow and give his excellent posts some time on Page 1. Instead, I thought I'd add a very short review on Waltz with Bashir which I brought home for the 31st time to finally watch tonight

..... and then didn't.


The Thin Blue Line (1988)

The 1975 police homicide case of Randall Adams Vs David Harris conceals a compelling story. The investigation and consequential trial is recollected here by the concerned officers, lawyers and witnesses as well as the two defendants themselves, complete with conflicting statements. This is one dark film, essentially airing the justice system's mistreatment of the case. The events are depicted here using dynamic almost lyrical pacing and a twisting, tension bound structure. Mixing interviews, reconstructed scenes, filmic excerpts and the real documentary evidence from the case, no dark corners are left unexplored or questions left unasked. I've come to expect nothing less from documentary film-maker Errol Morris who always delivers us to new and strange places with the most satisfying of conclusions. Unafraid to cut away from the dialogue Morris tells a documentary like a master of storytelling would tell fiction. The Philip Glass orchestral score helps blur the line between documentary and drama without ever feeling exploitative or trivialising of the real events. A final blow is held onto until the final minutes when you realise, *BAM!* he's done it again. Amazing! This one is going to linger in my mind for days.

Helvetica (2007) & Objectified (2009)

Quick, grab your ironic Himmler spectacles and a latte! It's time for designers to rant in these, two similar documentaries from director Gary Hustwit. Helvetica looks at typography specifically focusing on the films eponymous typeface while Objectified takes a broader scope to product design.

Meditating on a typeface for an hour and a half sounds almost like a joke. An exercise in monotony. After all, this is the typeface you see at the hospital, on street signs and over the door of Urban Outfitters; the most prolific distributor of Toronto's hipster uniform. It's the wallpaper of the world and has never garnered a second thought from most of us. This is the cool thing about this film, it is uncovering things you never noticed were there. The real question is now you know, do you care?

Objectified clarifies the ideological stances of the design professional as we find ourselves at the inevitable destination of Apple inc. the holy grail of contemporary design and then god forbid, Ikea (Oh escapism!). It covers issues of sustainability and ethics through cars, mobile phones, chairs, toothbrushes, blah etc. The most enduring concept of all is simple and is that people need to demand design that works for them, as opposed to designs and products making them feel inadequate. Seems like common sense, but then again so does putting down your mobile phone whilst making public transactions and we know that doesn't happen.

If you really want to get into the spirit of things, the presentation of these films might optimistically be described as minimalist and functional. But a film isn't the same as in iPod is it? The truth is, so many 'talking heads' does get dry and the films real world references provide just enough illustration to lubricate you for the duration.

For design students these films will be a fun distillation of their industry and it gives everyone an interesting second take at the world we have created. For the most part though, I for one am just as happy taking most man-made objects for granted. The designers themselves say good design should just work and not be distracting. These films are so cold and whilst not being totally devoid of structure, there is not much to care about. This simple fact leaves them feeling less like celluloid cool and more like suddenly becoming aware of the cold clammy hand of consumer culture touching you inappropriately. And that I wouldn't recommend to anyone but the most devoted of fans.



hi guys. i'm hear.


You didn't think I was gonna let this one slip by, did you?


While I like being alone.....

One of these is a trailer for the movie Tulpan (2008) and one is a still showing Kazakhstan's tree... or it could be the other way around too. I'm not sure. Sorry, the tree one is the trailer. I'm pretty sure I saw it move. My mistake.

A critically lauded ethnographic drama set on the Kazakhstan Steppe – a godforsaken landscape of wind, dust, camels, goats and 8 people, all of whom are in the movie. This is a beautifully realized epic landscape film, a sweetly comic coming-of-age story and a lyrical work of social realism... just like every single other ethnographic drama I've ever seen.

No wonder the Mongol hordes swept across Asia and conquered half the known world. The other choice was staying put in that arid shithole without a gun to blow your brains out. Based on Tulpan, I'd have to bet that Mars has more going on than the Southern Kazakhstan Steppe.

Strike one highly acclaimed movie from the year end review list...

Mars, incidently...



Eddie and the Losers

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) has long been one of my favourite films, but for some reason, it was never released on video until Criterion (bless their souls) dusted it off and quietly issued it earlier this year. Director Peter Yates and screenwriter Paul Monash adapt a very fine novel by George V. Higgins and hand it off to one of the best casts in cinematic history. Everyone in this film is pitch perfect.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the story of a small-time, hard-luck Boston crook due to start serving time in a few weeks. A hangdog Robert Mitchum underplays the role with such precision that you quickly forget that you're watching one of cinema's most iconic actors... no mean feat and a testament to Mitchum's acting prowess. A palpable sense of doom hangs over Eddie from the opening frame Рhe just isn't going to be able to cut it in prison and this fact compels his every move. The clock is ticking and his remaining hours of freedom are quickly melting away. In this regard, the film's plot structure shares some thematic similarities with Rudolph Mat̩'s excellent 1950 Noir, D.O.A. but whereas the central character in Mat̩'s film is racing against time to save himself, Eddie Coyle is resigned to his fate. The result is a unique look at the inevitable - the audience quickly comes to understand that Coyle can't escape this fate and his actions aren't the central focus of the story. What The Friends of Eddie Coyle offers instead, is a rare, unflinching and realistic glimpse deep into a flawed character's soul. Coyle is a protagonist whose past choices have led him to this point in time and one assumes, if given the opportunity to do it all over again, he'd likely end up in exactly the same place.

This is a hard film to label with anything other than the Noir moniker, but at its core The Friends of Eddie Coyle has more in common with John Huston's Alphabet City or Robert Mulligan's tragically under-appreciated The Nickle Ride than it does with say, Chinatown. It's a gritty '70s loser-drama mired in realism rather than existentialism like most films in the Noir canon. As a result, it stands nearly alone amongst films in the neo-Noir tradition, at once similar and yet distinctly removed from the Noir style.

It's an overused noun but The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a true masterpiece, a work of extraordinary skill and an artistic achievement of the highest order. The cast is filled with stellar character actors who couldn't catch a cold in Hollywood today. The script is more a compression of the novel than an adaptation in any traditional sense. The only misstep might be Dave Gruisin's overwrought score which seems at odds with the rest of the picture. It's also one of the only things the film makers added that didn't have its source in Higgin's original novel. If ever a film didn't need a score at all, this is it.

While it's true that they “don't make them like this anymore” it's also true that they never did. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a unique film that got lost and remains so. It might be the ultimate cult movie, revered by it's small fan base and nearly unknown to everyone else

...and that's just fine by me.


In the Loop


In The Loop, Armando Ianucci's big screen quasi-adaptation of his own BBC political satire The Thick of It, is a thing of pure genius and a testament to the power and effectiveness of outstanding writing and a keen awareness of society's ebbs and floes. It's a nearly perfect melding of Wag The Dog, Dr. Strangelove and The Office, if you can imagine such a beast. The plot involves an off-the-cuff remark made during a radio interview by a junior government minister that quickly spins out of control launching he and his aides head-first into an escalating international (read: American) buildup toward war in the Middle East.

The star of the film is undoubtedly the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker (played to perfection by Scottish actor, Peter Capaldi), a sort of governmental attack dog who bullies and verbally pistol-whips the Prime Minister's underlings into holding the party line and doing what they're told. No one can swear quite like Capaldi. He is a one-man profanity factory and he is hilarious. There is an absolute embarrassment of quotable lines in the loop, so many in fact that it would take several viewings just to catch them all. It's a film that's 100% dialogue coming at you at 200 miles an hour. Frankly, it's a little exhausting trying to keep up but worthy of your complete attention.

In The Loop got me thinking that modern satire has turned a corner and might be better now than it ever was. It used to be tough to satirize the strictly buttoned-down and earnest news media and political elite. They were the source of important utterances and almost above ridicule. Exceptions existed back in the old days of course (Python, SNL and SCTV to name a few) but when The Onion News Network webcasts do it these days, it works mostly because they play it so straight. It's not that comedy writing is necessarily better, more that the mainstream media isn't as unassailable as they once were. Their product has become so clownish and ludicrous over the past ten or fifteen years, that exposing those traits for what they are works best when you simply copy them. I'd have to guess that In The Loop is ONN's political equivalent. The reason it seems so disturbingly humourous is its less-than-faint familiarity. One could easily imagine that this is exactly what the inner workings of politic parties of every stripe feels like, circa 2009. Like The Onion does with big media, Ianucci simply tweaks the present day political chicanery that we hear and read about every day and regurgitates it on the screen, almost verbatim.

As our society continues to morph into something as yet unidentifiable but clearly different, the cherished estates of yore are increasingly coming under attack. The First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the elite) and the Fourth Estate (the press) are regularly lambasted and thoroughly discounted by an increasingly vocal Third Estate (the commoners, aka you and me). In The Loop plugs into this present-day elitist deconstruction with great success, and appears to have no qualms suggesting that the entire political system is fundamentally... in the words of Malcolm Tucker....


Hats off to all involved for a job well done.

Guys - Kris tweeted this to me while waiting backstage for his big scene.  Thought I'd share.
Being around you makes me want to briefly stop compulsively checking all forms of digital communication


Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (2006)

Just who is Scott Walker?  Women who were cooking pineapple hams and doing the house cleaning in the '60s have a very specific image of him as the panty-moistening dreamboat of MOR specialists The Walker Brothers; those that came of age while dodging spitballs from Johnny Rotten will recall being urged onto Walker's back catalogue through the proselytizing of Julian Cope; readers of Brit avant-music mag The Wire may have stumbled across references to the enigmatic artist in its pages; casual hipsters who cry and cuddle during Wes Anderson's stiflingly earnest moving pictures caught a brief sonic glimpse on The Life Aquatic soundtrack which included the short Walker composition from which this particular doc takes its name; and David Lynch fans: wondering what the maestro might do next?  If you can, imagine something even more nightmarish, surreal and impenetrable than Inland Empire, and you'll find a clue and something of an audio equivalent in Walker's latest album, 2006's The Drift.

If that serves to complicate the original question further, so be it.  Scott Walker seems to be defined by what he isn't rather than by what he is - the language for that doesn't quite exist yet.  Scott Walker: 30 Century Man is a fascinating portrait of a man who went from near-Beatles fame in the '60s to a self-imposed exile for a near 20 year period, returning to release some of the darkest, harshest, but strangely beautiful work ever recorded.  The rare interviews with Walker in the film serve to edify his process, but not necessarily the music itself.  This is important, because the onus is still placed on the viewer/listener to impart their own meaning into his dense, troubling lyrics.

In an age where 99% of all pop music is created to placate, coddle, massage the listener's mind into a state of wonderful numbness, Walker's sounds rip the lollipop out of your mouth, shove you into a black pit and force you to confront your own demons, Helen Keller-style, but without the whole deaf thing.  This makes many people uncomfortable; after all, who wouldn't prefer to be led by the hand, to be told, "It's going to be fine"?  The imagery of his lyrics is so bold and almost painterly (Francis Bacon, not Robert Bateman), that they can at times be literally jarring.  Who wants that?  Not one unnamed and unapproachable ex-Monday night co-worker, who hated it when I played him a snippet of Farmer In The City from Walker's essential Tilt.  I felt my inner Jack Nicholson rising to shout, "You can't handle the truth!", but instead calmly made him a tea, sat him in front of his console, and, with a pat on the head and some helpful reassurance that he would certainly solve this round of Fantastic Contraption, slunk away and pressed play on the cream-clad iPod, the saccharine jangle of the first chords of some anonymous Z-side from Oingo Boingo seeping from the subwoofer....

I digress.

The DVD will be a tough recommend: Walker fans likely had a copy on pre-order 6 months before it was released, and the rest of the music-doc loving world falls into two camps: those that want Rolling Stones: Shine A Light, and those that want Wilco: I Am Trying To Gobble Your Knob.  However, I'll keep flogging this one, if only to wake people up to the fact that there is still some supremely good music being created, and hey, isn't it cool that Scott actually had a guy in the studio punching a side of beef for a sound on The Drift?

In the film, Walker is likened to Eliot, Beckett, and Joyce, and read his lyrics over and over enough times and the comparison isn't such a stretch.  Call him pretentious, call him a genius, call him a pioneer, a modern day Captain Beefheart, the anti-Brian Wilson; or call him, as Brian Eno does, "not only the most important modern composer, but also the most important modern poet".  Hell, call him Scott Walker: 30 Century Man - it's as ambiguous and exact a descriptor you're bound to come across.  If you're still on the fence, you must have missed those names.  A must watch; a must listen.  Just don't expect an easy go of it; it's dark music for dark times.

This is in my top 10 of the year.

Is this like the Huey Lewis thing again?

The older, more out of touch, less relevant and dottier I get, the more I rely on people like Nick, Joe, Kris, Tom and Kendall to keep me current(ish). Even new movies that have some buzz drift on by as I stare out with dead eyes at a world that's passing me by. I fake “getting it” most of the time convincing the witless fairly effectively, but knowing all the while that most of you see right through me. I've stopped pretending with Joe and Nick and hope that they'll humour me long enough to make my escape to my moated castle redoubt in Owen Sound. Kendall puts up with me and Tom just doesn't understand how the ultra-cool Film Buff could possibly have had its genesis in a middle-aged lunatic that grabs his (Tom's) ass every shift. It stopped being funny months ago and has turned the corner toward creepy.... for both of us. Kris lives in a world I neither understand nor care to, being the consummate modern, urban techno-munnications expert of my small circle of regular contacts. His world is so of-the-vapid-moment and mine so of-a-nonexistent-past that we basically cancel each other out. He slices my head off with a smart phone laser just after I bash his skull in with a rock tied to the end of a heavy stick ...metaphorically that is.

One of my ongoing faux-hipster-charades is to scope out Joe's KRK delivery for the FBE each week, then order most of it for the FBW and pretend that I knew about them all along. Sometimes, if something's particularly cool, I just steal it out of Joe's order and put it in the FBW box and feign ignorance. Nick says and writes things like “def” that aren't real words but mean that same thing as their longer, former spellings. I'm working on peppering my verbal comm with these shorter versions.

This week I opened my conduit-to-film-hipness's FBE order box to discover this inside...

This is film No. 8 in the “Love Comes Softly” series and I'm uncertain what to make of it. Is it so square that it's hip like say.... '50s Broadway show-tunes are once again or is this a sign that a new, softer, queerer Joe is emerging? Is Patty Duke cool again.... or more accurately, for the first time? The rest of the order seemed normal (Joe-normal, that is). It had “Raw Meat” and “The Devil”, a banned 1972 Polish film about Jakub who, “goes insane and becomes a mass murderer” (from the blurb on the back of the box, a description, incidentally, that works for most of the films he orders). It also had, “From the creators of Kiltro”, Mirageman – starring Marko Zaror aka “The Latin Dragon”. I shit you not. (I took this one for the FBW, by the way).

One of these things is not like the others but I'll be damned if I can figure out which one it is. I'm flummoxed. The obvious choice, Love Finds a Home, is just too fucking weird not to belong to Joe's absurd purchase choices. About a year ago, just after I gave him the FBE store to play with like a train set, he reamed me out for not letting him order what he wanted, fearing the place would become a Rogers and they'd all have to wear little red shirts. Well, you have to admit that your fears were unfounded. The FBE catalog is now so off-the-wall only Jules understands it completely.



I didn't know much about the man behind the Kid Dynamite persona of Mike Tyson's heyday. Since around 1990 things have turned sour for Mike, you could say he's fallen victim to bad P.R. what with the ear-biting and rape convictions, not to mention his string of defeats to lesser fighters. This documentary rewinds and unflinchingly tells all from his humble beginnings in Brooklyn through his successes, excesses and controversies.

It's an Icarus story if you will, Tyson is arguably the greatest boxing talent of all time but he peaked too soon and lost discipline. He's a simple man and you really need to be taken back to square one to appreciate who he is and what he has achieved. He is no longer the self proclaimed 'animal' he once was and he's not afraid to talk about his fears and discuss his vulnerabilities. This film was both touching and inspiring and about as far from a fairy tale as it gets. Tyson's story is about as real as it gets and although there are times that the style of editing gets a bit dreamlike and distracting, it's overall a great story to tell and it's thoroughly thoughtful and revealing. This story plays much like a real life The Wrestler. Funny at times and sad in many places, my favourite documentary of the year so far.

Now If I can only get my hands on a copy of Anvil! The story of Anvil. Damn customers.

Deathrow Gameshow (1987)

Welcome to 'Live or Die', the wildly popular TV game show where death row inmates are given a second chance as contestants in the game where freedom is at stake and live executions are the booby prize.

I'm a big fan of the whole 'death game' premise, mixing a sci-fi aesthetic with a lampooning of the media ticks all the boxes for my acne ridden demographic. It's a niche loosely populated by a swathe of favourites from Japans take on Lord of the flies Battle Royale, Schwarzennegers golden era staple The Running Man and the chronically cheap Roger Corman cult classic Death Race 2000 amongst many others.

This whole premise begs of ethical dilemmas and current day analogy. However,
Death Row Game-show hails from the same B-movie school of schooling as Death Race 2000. It's crass, sexist, sensationalist and gratuitous. It's not really here to be critiqued, rather washed down with a toofer of Lakeport and a grab bag of cheetos, buddy.

The simple plot clumsily zig zags along lubricated with distasteful one-liners, Kenny G bass licks and excessive use of Ray Bans. There are boobs and chuckles a plenty and the whole thing looks like a Devo video.

Tantalising highlights include 'the dance of the seven boners' performed live on stage to an audience of one; A poor old geezer with his eyes clamped open and his jebend in some sort of electrocution device. One twitch from him and it's all over! Also, the Lust Vs Hunger dilemma! Will the prisoner released after 15 years of solitary confinement choose to eat the roast chicken or be drawn to the beautiful girl? Ofcourse, he just shags the chicken. Golden.

Well, you get the idea. Best not to take this one too seriously, enjoy with impaired friends at 6am.

The League of Gentlemen - Series 1,2 and 3.

If you work at The Buff I've most likely hassled or coerced you in some way due to my love for this show.
"Imma let you finish, but this was one of the best shows of all time, OF ALL TIME"
Having targeted the staff enough, this review is aimed squarely at the customers looking for some really strong and unique comedy. I have never really understood why The League of Gentlemen isn't more well known than it is. Even in England it seems to have been displaced in the public's memory by the catchphrases of the highly derivative Little Britain. The League is a cut above. Well written, well acted and well produced. It is just about the darkest comedy I've ever seen and incorporates many conventions of the horror genre into a totally unique format. The fictional village of Royston Vasey is the home of our cast of characters all played convincingly by the 3 same actors. The 3 series' progress like albums from great bands, changing direction, getting darker and even getting conceptual by the third series. Essential viewing for anyone comfortable with the dark side, forever hold my peace!

Happy to be T-Ode


The Review

Buff People......

Good response to the proposed format so I think we'll go with it. Go to this page 2009 movies to see the movies we've added this year. It's not 100% accurate and I may have missed a few but it gives us a start point.

A couple of points raised – 1) Is it the year in DVD or the year in film?.... don't think it matters terribly but we are a DVD store so let's err to things on or coming soon to DVD. 2) The titles chosen don't have to be 2009 releases necessarily. Make up a section of titles you saw for the first time and really liked or something along those lines. Again, erring to this year's DVD releases is preferred, but not essential. 3) The proposed sections (top ten, 5 disappointments, etc.) were just rough guidelines. If you want to make up different ones, feel free. Put your personal stamp on your spread, but remember your Mother will want to read it so don't get too carried away.

You have your assignments.... make me proud(er).



Year End Review Format.....

Buff People.....

I've been bashing around the idea of a two page spread for everyone who wants to contribute to the Year End Review and struck upon the following format as a suggested way to make it consistant. The mag will be the same size as the last one (the bigger format) and I'm picturing a 2 page spread with reviews, pictures, etc for each person. If someone only has time to do a single page, that works too. I'm counting on Joe, Kris, Nick, Kendall, Donna, Tom and myself and hoping for Nikki, Jules, Graham and whoever else wants to throw their two cents worth in.

I've started mine and included some candidates in the sections below. We need them by the end of November.

The Year in Film – your take on 2009 (mini-blurb doesn't have to be long winded)

Top ten (with reviews if you want)

Il Divo
A Christmas Tale
Star Trek
District 9
Drag Me to Hell
MR 73
Let the Right One In
Friends of Eddie Coyle

5 Runners up (without reviews)

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
Life on Mars
I've Loved You So Long
The Wrestler

5 Guilty Pleasures (with explanation)

The Mentalist S1
The IT Crowd S1
Mighty Boosh S 1
Jesse Stone

5 Disappointments (and why)

True Blood
Brothers Bloom
Inglorious Basterds

5 I'm Looking forward to (and why)

Public Enemies

Best Customer Story (something nice, only if you can think of some example)

Worst Customer Story (why it's hard to love the humans)



A Noir Primer

I've been rethinking my Film Noir posting plan for this month and think I'll back up a little and focus on a more accessible “introduction to” approach with these first few entries. I regularly catch myself these days presuming that everyone has seen the “big” films of the past whereas, in reality, there are literally hundreds I haven't seen myself. Once you get into an area or genre that you are familiar with, it's very easy to get carried away digging into its dark recesses and pulling out the obscure and marginal while skipping over the obvious pictures that set the tone for the entire oeuvre in the first place. Toward that end, this post will be about the origins of the Noir cycle, it's early examples and how, (or maybe more-to-the-point, why), I came to love them.

At the risk of repeating the opening paragraph in every essay ever written about Film Noir, it's probably worth noting that Noir isn't a genre in the same way that say, Comedy is. It's rather a loose description of a style of film making with significant overlap into the drama, thriller, crime and mystery genres. Because it doesn't have a clear definition, the Film Noir moniker has been attached to countless movies that share stylistic elements of the original cycle, but little else. While it becomes difficult to nail down exactly what qualifies a movie as Film Noir, I think it's easiest to think of them in relatively simplistic terms. I've decided to reduce the qualifiers to a three relatively consistent factors: 1) Noirs have a “look”, tied to the cinematography and cinematographers working in Hollywood during and after the 2nd World War. 2) Noirs have a “theme” associated with the alienation and existential disconnect of men recovering from the war and trying to reintegrate with a society that changed while they were fighting overseas and, 3) Noirs have a “morality” where choices and the consequences of those choices, however unintentional, need to be faced and overcome by a flawed protagonist.

The “Look” of Noir
There are reams of dull film grad papers devoted to Film Noir's unique look but for the sake of this primer, it's probably easiest to consider that Hollywood directors and cinematographers of the day, working with miniscule budgets and on very tight schedules, took some creative license to spice up their films. Using odd-angle camera work and high-contrast lighting to cover the fact that the set was built that afternoon and would have to stand in for 4 of the 5 interior scenes on their shooting schedule, they managed to make films that looked more expensive than they were.

Noir “Themes”
Probably the most important single element of the cycle is the recurring theme of alienation that pervades Film Noir. Often made by displaced Europeans (Lang, Wilder, Siodmak, Curtiz) adapting American pulp crime novels from the era and placing those stories in a post-war setting was a recipe for a thematic and visual consistency that in retrospect become known as the Film Noir “style”. I think that the ubiquitous “Femme Fatale” regularly associated with Noir is perhaps a unconscious manifestation of the threat returning servicemen felt from women empowered by the war-time necessity to undertake factory work and traditionally male roles in American society. This theory dovetails with the alienation themes faced by the typical Noir protagonist. The world had indeed changed almost overnight.

Noir “Morality”
The Noir protagonist regularly faces a simple moral choice early in the story. A seemingly minor dalliance or ethical shortcut sets in motion a series of unforeseen events that further entangle him until he becomes trapped by circumstance and unable to backtrack. A simple and seemingly innocuous moment of weakness seals his fate and like quicksand, the more he struggles, the worse it becomes.

Something happened when these three elements came together and a cross-section of the best films of the era regularly contains a hugely disproportionate number of Film Noirs. Perhaps it was the fact that these films were “about” something. Perhaps audiences found the stories relevant and adult in ways that hadn't existed before. For whatever reason, these small B-movies continue to resonate with audiences fifty years later, a testament to their uniqueness and the creativity of their architects.

In 1944, seven movies that have come to represent the semi-official start of the classic Noir period were released in quick succession – Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, Edward Dmytryk's Murder My Sweet, Otto Preminger's Laura, Robert Siodmak's Phantom Lady and Christmas Holiday, Howard Hawks' To Have or Have Not and Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window. This is as good a place to start as any, but if you had to pick one make it Double Indemnity. I don't consider Laura or To Have or Have Not to be true Noirs but they certainly share early elements of the style. My favourite is Murder My Sweet. The Woman in the Window with Edward G. Robinson is the most fun. Phantom Lady and Christmas Holiday aren't on DVD but are in the FBW Black Vault.

A little long winded but the Noir canon is a rewarding one if you dig into it. Another way to approach the cycle is to work backwards from Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958), the final acknowledged masterpiece of the Film Noir classic period.



A Month of Noir

November Noir... It has a nice postman-always-rings-twice to it. As we put two interminable months of horror posts behind us, I'm tempted to suggest that November remain a sort of free for all, open to anything (except horror) that catches someone's attention. I think I'll concentrate on Noirs, but would rather not force the issue on the likes of the recently muted Tiny Tom or any others (like Graham, for example) who are uninterested in the greatest film style movement in cinematic history.

Two recently released collections might include all you need to get a healthy dose of the Noir-style blues during your post-Halloween letdown phase.

Columbia's 1st Film Noir Collection is a gem containing 5 excellent examples of the cycle, 4 of which have never been on video before. The Big Heat, Five Against the House, Murder by Contract, The Lineup, The Sniper...... Wow. Talk about making a splash their first time out. After an impromptu Noir Nerd convention held yesterday afternoon at the FBE, I lent the Columbia set to charter member Charles Bruce-Thompson III for a week, so you can't watch any of these until he brings them back, a sort of get out of jail free card that will allow Joe to watch his new Night of the Creeps DVD when it arrives from Amazon on Monday morning.

But I digress.....

Arguably, the best film in the set, Fritz Lang's The Big Heat, shouldn't be. It was an A picture and I'm guessing Columbia stuck this one in to give the set a bit of name recognition. A far better choice would have been Lang's lessor known Human Desire (1954) or something like Jacques Tourneur's excellent, but nearly forgotten Nightfall (1957), both Columbia catalog titles from around the same time. A minor complaint on a great package.

I'm going to skip The Big Heat and concentrate instead on the 4 other films contained in Columbia's box set over the next several posts. They all come from later in the cycle than most of the Noirs released to DVD in past Warner and Fox collections. Lessor Film Noir from the 1950's happens to be a personal favourite and both Murder by Contract and The Lineup have been longtime cult hits in my book.

From Columbia's Film Noir Collection, Volume 1: The Sniper (1952)

The Sniper directed by Edward Dymtryk, no stranger to the Noir style himself, offers up one of the first definitive modern examples of the serial killer film. It's level-headed and non-sensational, centering on a dry-cleaning deliverman's deep-seated resentment and murderous intent towards women. Though the origins of his psychosis remain somewhat uncertain, we're led to believe that he's the byproduct of an abusive childhood. While variations on this story have been done countless times since, The Sniper was one of the first to extend the thematic tone of earlier films like Fritz Lang's M and put a definitively modern spin on it. The Sniper has one of the cycle's most disturbing murder scenes involving a glass display case and, even 50 years later, remains an engrossing and frightening look at the tortured mind of a serial killer. It's perhaps a tad dry by today's standards and in my book the least interesting of the films contained in this set but The Sniper influenced so many subsequent films (including Dirty Harry and Taxi Driver, to name a couple) that it's inclusion here is both necessary and worthwhile from an historical perspective.

The second recent DVD box set worthy of note is Sony's excellent Sam Fuller collection. 4 early Fuller Noir classics are included in the 7 movie set including Shockproof, Underworld U.S.A., The Crimson Kimono and another favourite of mine, Scandal Sheet. Fuller, for those that aren't familiar with him started as a newspaper crime beat reporter before moving into screenplays and then to directing. His earliest films often centre around the press and while his output grew incrementally more bizarre with each passing decade (until by the '70s, only the French considered him a major talent), these earlier examples of Fullers work are all topnotch crime drama's in the Noir tradition.

From Sony's Samuel Fuller Collection: Scandal Sheet (1952).

The film rights for the story that ultimately became Scandal Sheet (The Dark Page, a novel written by Fuller in 1944) was originally bought by none other than Howard Hawks and was slated to be an A-picture with names like Bogart and Cary Grant bandied about as possible leads. The project never got off the ground and years later, Columbia brought the script from Hawks (for 6 times the $15G's he paid for it originally) and gave it to one of their best B-Noir directors, Phil Karlson to have a go at. Karlson made a strange casting choice with Broderick Crawford in the lead role but it turned out to be gold. Crawford is stellar and it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the part now. John Derek, a vastly underrated actor and the always dependable Harry Morgan round out a very good cast. The Donna Reed character is admittedly annoying and her role over-written but the producers obviously felt the film needed a moral compass character and stuffed Reed with a bit of a dud role with not much to work with. The story involves a newspaper editor's past catching up with him and an accident death that he tries to hide from the authorities. Saying much more would spoil the plot suffice it to say that what unfolds is a sort of inverse Double Indemnity if you could imagine Walter Nuff trying to investigate Edward G.'s character.

There are some interesting parallels between the films in these two box sets too. Hollywood was a much smaller place back in the '50s than we might imagine it to be. Phil Karlson directs both Scandal Sheet and Five Against the House from the Columbia set. Oscar-winning cinematographer Burnett Guffey lensed one from each set, The Sniper and Scandal Sheet (along with Nightfall, Night Editor, The Reckless Moment and In a Lonely Place among many others). He's amongst the best and least-celebrated of the Noir cinematographers, right up there with James Wong Howe and John Alton). Don Siegel, the director of Dirty Harry obviously drew some ideas from Dymtryk's The Sniper, directed The Lineup from the Columbia set. The overlap and connections between these two collections makes for some fascinating comparatives and anecdotes.

Next Post...... Murder by Contract and Shockproof and a real surprise unrelated to these two collections Black Widow (1954) from a 2008 Fox release that I just got around to watching last night. Joe – order a copy for the FBE if you don't have it. It's great.