12.29.2010

The Film Buff Blog Is Dead. Long Live The Film Buff Blog.

As of now, all posts/reviews/commentary will take place over at the mother site, where the blog has been integrated for a cleaner look and a better user interface.  So, while a stray post may rarely pop up here, you should consider this blog effectively dead, and head to thefilmbuff.com for all future musings.  Please adjust your bookmarks accordingly.

Windy City Heat (2003)

Having taken some time to re-watch and ruminate over Windy City Heat (I’ve seen it four times and counting), explaining the enduring appeal of it is still tricky. First of all, it’s funny. It’s blindingly funny. It’s tip a cow then kick a duck up the arse funny. It’s also fantastically original in it’s conception and treads heavily where few might dare to tread at all.
The mark in this; possibly the most elaborate prank ever, is the fabulous Perry Caravello. Arrogant, sexist, homophobic and gullible. He is hilariously short tempered yet naive and lovable. Our catalysts and instigators are Don and Mole who according to the film have been messing with Perry for over a decade now.
The setup is to have Perry, an aspiring actor and comedian in Hollywood, audition for a part in a film and win it. They go on to shoot the actual film over the course of a week, only it’s all part of the setup and every scene is just another opportunity to provoke Perry’s wrath while the cameras are rolling. There is physical comedy, humiliation, and provocation. It’s great.
When watching the film you will recognise names and faces. The in-jokes are endless. Perry gets none of the references. I do get twinges of pity for Perry as he falls for joke upon joke. Half the jokes are just to sell or justify a previous joke or fabrication. Some of the setups seem so contrived that it’s hard to believe anyone would fall for it, but Perry sees no problems.
It’s humour is maybe a little cruel and sadistic in spirit, which in turn provokes thought on edgy comedy as an elaborate web of ethical dilemmas. Fortunately, any uncomfortable doubts about what you’re watching are put to bed when you understand the relationship of Perry with Don and Mole. Perry is working, making some money and gaining the fame his so craves. Though it’s clear someone like Perry can be (and has been!) taken advantage of in a town like Hollywood, I’d go as far to say Perry is protected by Don and Mole and there’s obviously some affection there.
The underlying fascination of WCH has percolated to the depths of my subconscious and left me quite frankly, obsessed. If there were ever a film cult I was part of than this is it. It is continued now with the excellent ongoing podcast (The Big Three podcast) and the unfolding drama and windups over facebook and other online forums.
WCH triumphs where a film like I’m still here totally failed.
There is no holier than thou Hollywood smugness. It is well planned and improvised and thick with gags from the most base to the marvellously subtle. It runs hand in hand with An idiot abroad as the most hilarious and startlingly real tragi-comedy out there. Comedy on film is often about levity and escapism but on the other end of that spectrum lies WCH, something that’s real and engaging, provocative and most importantly, deeply and lastingly funny.

12.26.2010

A year in Jules.

Working with Jules this year at The Film Buff East has been an experience and a privilege. At some point i decided that the things he said could not be kept a secret and I started writing it all down. Here is a quick recap of some of my favourite moments from this year for those of you less fortunate than myself. - Tom

"Dude, if you were as intense as me when you worked you'd make a mess too...
in fact, that would be a cool thing to say at a job interview. What do I do? Me? I'm intense" - Jules

Jules - "Dude, will you bring me an allen key in to work tomorrow for my bike?"
Me - "Don't you own an allen key?"
Jules - "Yeah okay, I'll bring mine in"

Jules - "I saw that midget actor the other day in a bar on Danforth"
Me - "Oh yeah? Which one?"
Jules - "He was in The Station Agent"
Me - "Oh, and Living in Oblivion too right?"
Jules - "Yeah, and In Bruges"
...Me - "Yeah? I don't remember him in In Bruges"
Jules - "He played the midget guy"

"Oh yeah, they're like shits on flies" - Jules

‎"I'm not from England so I have no idea what 'Midsomer night's murders' is." - Jules

‎"The thing about the Iron Man movies is that guy was so well cast, yeah, Cuban Downing Jr or whatever, he was perfect" - Jules

"That movie Red Riding:1974, yeah, they shot that on sixteen millilitre" - Jules

Joe - "Ya know, Tom might be getting deported in a few weeks"
Jules - "Dude, I get all his shifts okay?"

Saw Jules tonight looking up "Specific Kites" on the computer at the video store, turns out there was a customer looking for "Pacific Heights", Jules was "helping" her find it.

"Dude you've got to watch this video all about Halloween costumes for infeminated children" - Jules

Jules: "I HATE Portland. I'm never going there."
Me: "Have you ever been?"
Jules: "No."

"Actually, my Auntie and Uncle live in the coastal mountains in Oregon, yeah, they keep a cows, sheep and a whole bunch of pork" - Jules

"When I was 8 or 9 I had this wart problem.... dude you better not be writing this down" - Jules

Jules - "Ah, rocket candies for Halloween? I suggested that last year and everyone laughed. Dude, all my life I've had people ridicule my ideas only to rip them off later"
Me - "Like what?"
Jules - "Those bonus keys higher up the neck in guitar hero........and now giving out those rocket candies at Halloween"

"...just because she had a slightly darker complexity and slanty eyes" - Jules

"Yesterday... no....tomorrowday" - Jules

"Dude, let's head out stairs" - Jules

"Can you say 'lipsticked, double dipped dick' 5 times quickly?" - Jules

"Chicks man seriously, you don't know how many times they've said to me 'I wish I had those lips', seriously you don't even know" - Jules

Jules - (excited) "I'm going to Montreal tomorrow!!!)
Me - "Hang on, yesterday you said 'Shit I've got to go to Montreal'"
Jules - "Well, I've started to feel differently about it"

‎"Don't you just wanna watch this movie? It says 'five women, one weekend, too many lies' ooh sizzling. Five hours of women being passive aggressive to each other" - Jules

"Guess what I just bought the lactose intolerant guy for secret Santa...... Cheese" - Jules

Jules - *pointing at the computer* "Check out these before and after photos of Corey Haim"
Me - "Oh yeah, I worked with him a couple of years ago"
Jules - "Before or after he died? No wait"

Customer - "Do you have the series Sherlock on dvd?"
Jules - "Sherlocks?"
Customer - "Errrr... yeah"
Jules - "It's actually just called Sherlock"

12.16.2010

Revanche.

I've often wondered what it was about Austrian thriller Revanche that made it stay with me over the last few months. I have these images always haunting me. The colour of the woods and the reflections on the water. The eerie atmosphere as he stalks his target on an early morning jog. The long scenes of wood-chopping where we can nearly hear the pop and sizzle of emotional overload.
Was it the overwhelming sense of hope amongst desperation that hooked me? Or that this feeling was so quickly whipped away and in it's place we find a deep pit of remorse.
The key to these shuddering recollections lies in the nature of the revenge that is taken and in the nature of our main character Alex. The horror's all lie in the potentials, the "What if" scenarios and in the lingering sense of being on the brink of something much, much worse. Was it an exercise in power and control that I couldn't quite understand or the taboo of viewing pregnancy as a burden, a punishment? We're left to speculate about the plan and the revenge without clues.
Revanche is a film of contradiction, in one sense the most pure of romances. The idea that a man would go to any lengths, do anything, in order to rescue his lover and himself from their desperate circumstances. When the rug is pulled from under his feet he loses everything, he is reminded of what he left behind. His surviving family, his father and a whole world of time in which to take revenge and readdress the balance. However, from the very start we are unsure as to what is right. It ends with a compulsion, an uncontrollable urge to just ruin the romance of another person's life, even without them having knowledge of it. The smug assurance that he has ruined, has one-upped and has taken something away from his enemy, as low and sneaky as it is, must be some sort of satisfaction for him. And off he walks into the sunset, embittered, venomous yet contented by the seemingly aimless destruction.
In the wake of the film remain so many questions and ambiguities aswell as a penetrating sense of loneliness coming from a film deliberately and completely stripped of glamour. It is this, when characters in film directly reflect the way life really works, that really demonstrates the power of the screen. To feel like you've lived it, and to take something away to ponder for so long. The overall effect is the most provocative of any film I've seen this year.

12.13.2010

Repo Men!

There are so many ideas coursing through this sci-fi/action/black comedy/thriller it's hard to know when it succeeds and when it stumbles. The story follows two dystopian repo men, who collect artificial body parts from people who aren't up to date on their payments. That is to say, they track down the carrier and surgically remove the mechanical organ (anything from proshetic limbs to imitation hearts), leaving the poor sucker bleeding on the ground. And all with a grin on their faces. There is good chemistry between the two leads, Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, and together they bring a crunchy dark humour to a very grisly profession. The comedic slant is mostly present during the first half of the film, and it saves the picture from being to staunch and depressing out of the gates. The inspiration for its Fahrenheit 451-esque twist on the repo man profession, is clearly the current state of American health care and pharmaceuticals. In the beginning of the film, the repossessed body parts seem to be necessary synthetic replacements – the victims are simply too afford poor them. They require the artificial aids to live or at least live comfortably. As the story goes on, it becomes apparent that 'The Union' (the creepy corporation which has a monopoly on the mechanical organ business), pushes and sells its products similar to the way pharmaceutical companies push drugs today. Due to a leap in technology, The Union can easily create an improved, no, a perfect version of every body part except the brain. As a result, people are spiralling into debt to become bigger (well, probably smaller), faster and stronger than they would naturally. What is a very simple idea becomes a sweeping indictment on not just health care, but many scary modern trends including reckless spending, aesthetic-obsessed celebrity culture, corporate monopolies, the empowerment of advertisers and general apathy. Whew. And how does the film mine all these ideas? With a minority-report riffing extended chase sequence, where Jude Law becomes hunted by his former employer for an artificial heart he can't afford. In other words, it does very little with a very fascinating dystopian world. At the same time, I'm only disappointed in retrospect. The action-oriented second half is polished, thrilling and engaging in it's own way. Even the ending, which despite employing a cheap narrative trick for a 'it was all a dream' style conclusion, actually works.

Repo Men is similar to sci-fi actioners like Robocop or Starship Troopers, films that have political motivations but would rather blow stuff up than pontificate on social ills. It probably has the most in common with District 9 which is similarly afflicted with bi-polar disorder, beginning with soaring rhetoric and ending like a transformers film. It's surprising then that while Disctrict 9 received across-the board beaming reviews (a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes), Repo Men is universally scorned (21%!). Based on those figures I feel like this will sound like heresy, but I think Repo Men is the marginally better film. The ideas it unpacks are conveyed with more brutality and precision than in District 9 (which is, contrary to popular belief, not about Apartheid but on modern South Africa (re: Sporgey's review)) and it has more fun doing so. There are no fuzzy pixar moments between CGI creatures either. But I digress. Both are great examples of a sci-fi renaissance of the last few years (others being Moon, 2012, Star Trek and Cloverfield) and would make a terrific double bill.

For a film that has more swagger and points of interest in it's soon-to-be repossessed pinky finger than say Avatar, yet the critics have relegated Repo Men to the bargain bin - which is a shame. Even if you hate it, it can fill a conversation or two. My vote for Hollywood underdog film of the year.

Michael Caine is on the war path...

So, Mike Chung is currently helping me locate display cases around the store as we are currently in the process of pulling some less popular titles from the shelves and archiving them.
I was after a 2000 Michael Caine film called Shiner and was having a bit of difficulty trying to locate this particular case.

Mike had a go with it as he was shelving the returns. He asked me what the display box looks like and i looked it up online.
I try to describe the image i've pulled up over IMDB when i notice Mike is holding a copy of Harry Brown in his hands.

"It looks... exactly like the case you're holding."


It's like a god damn Twilight Zone episode up in here...

Jesus Christ!

First the new blog picture... moments later, my eyes scan down to a box with Facebook links.

"...jesuschrist".... was my reaction to both.

On a Sunday no less.

I'm going to bed.

S

12.12.2010

So where are my reviews people?

No reviews... no party. Nothing yet... nada... claims that I've been forwarded a few but an empty email tray.

Remember when Graham sent his list last year, just after we published?

Wonder what he's doing now?

S

12.11.2010

Maybe not entirely relevant to film...

... but I love these posters.

The Town (2010) and The American (2010)

There are typically two kinds of films that fall into the category of “crime drama”. The first, the action-oriented thriller relies on momentum. The lead character is thrust into action, normally the result of some threat leveled against him or his loved ones by circumstances or forces beyond his control. The second kind is a rarer bird, the psychological crime drama, where plot and character are the focus rather than action, automatic weapons and car chases. Action-thrillers are more common these days because they adhere to certain formulaic consistencies that appeal to the typical contemporary film audience. Plot-and-character driven psychological crime dramas are not currently in vogue because they tend to be more complex and cerebral than mainstream here-we-are-now-entertain-us film audiences are willing to consider. Most critics prefer the first kind too - they're easier to write about.

Two excellent examples, one from each camp find coincidental release in December – Ben Affleck's Boston-set heist film The Town and Anton Corbijn's The American starring George Clooney. If you'll bear with me a few moments here, I'd like to break down some statistics for each film. Both were released theatrically in September 2010, The Town on 2861 screens and The American on 2823 screens. Affleck's film went on to gross $91M, received a 94% fresh rating on Rottentomatoes and a 7.9/10 rating on IMDb. The American grossed only $35M, despite starring the biggest actor on the planet, got tagged with a mediocre 65% RT score and scored a numbingly-average 6.7/10 on IMDb. By all empirical measures, one would assume The Town to be the better picture..... and they'd be wrong... sort of.

The American is an existential work of art. The Town is an well-crafted thriller. They may share the same “crime drama” label, but you'd be hard-pressed to find two more radically different treatments of the crime genre than these two.

The Town is Ben Affleck's second film as a director, his first being the excellent Gone Baby Gone from a couple of years ago. The Town is a nicely done film. Possibly because both started as actors, Affleck reigns from the Clint Eastwood school of directing. Like Eastwood, Affleck has a natural, craftsman-like feel for movie-making. His action scenes are well-staged, easy to follow and tight. The editing is clean and efficient, the camera focused and steady, long shots are there when called for and closeups only when necessary. Affleck's style is the polar-opposite of some like Paul Greengrass, of the epileptic-seizure school of filmmaking. For lack of a better term, Affleck is director in the classic style of Hollywood movie makers, and I mean that in a completely positive way.

As for the plot of The Town, it too is well-crafted. What it perhaps lacks in depth is more-than-made-up-for by some nicely drawn performances from a posse of A-list name-actors, among them.. Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite, a cameo by Chris Cooper, Affleck himself in the lead and Rebecca Hall. Ben Affleck actually wore three hats in this production, sharing a screenwriting credit as well. I've got nothing but good things to say about The Town because it is a very good example of an old-school Hollywood crime thriller. People will like it because it adheres to the formula. It's the kind of film that presses the right audience buttons at the right times.

The American is an entirely different story... and in more ways than one. It's Jean-Pierre Melville to The Town's John Frankenheimer, Le Carre in place of Fleming, existential instead of visceral, Euro-flavoured as opposed to Affleck's Mom and Applematic-weapons Americana. It occupies headspace and not just the eyes and ears. It will bore 90% of the audience to sleep and enthrall the remaining 10%, who won't want it to end. It is a near-masterpiece of precise, controlled pacing and astute direction. Clooney has rarely been better and this might be the first role where his character isn't all that easy to like. He seems to enjoy these kinds of roles and has played variations on them in Syriana, Michael Clayton and to a lesser degree, again... in more ways than one, last year's shite-flight, Up in the Air.

This is also Anton Corbijn's second feature, his excellent debut being the 2007 film Control, about the lead singer of Joy Division. He's even better this time out. Corbijn imbues The American with a moody emptiness reminiscent of films like Antonioni's The Passenger. The score is sparse and haunting, the cinematography austere, crisp and minimalist. The film starts in Sweden and ends up in Castel del Monte in Italy, where most of the story is set. The setting is part of the film, almost a character in Corbijn's hands. It's as mysterious and dangerous as Clooney's impenetrable Mr. Butterfly, or Jack, or Edward or whatever the hell his name is.

What people won't like about this film is it doesn't follow the formula. Much remains unresolved and unexplained. Motivations, histories and reasons aren't spelled out in minute detail. In this way, it shares territory with last year's The Limits of Control, but without the frustration and slightness of story that marred Jarmusch's effort. Most will find the pacing of The American glacial. It's the kind of film that doesn't press any buttons, at least not in any obvious way. It's a movie that lingers in your mind, the way a Melville film might.

We received The Town today and The American releases on December 28th, so we'll hopefully have it by next week. When the inevitable recommendation question is asked over the holidays, push The Town and save The American for those few people who might appreciate it. Clooney's presence will move it out the door anyways ...and I'll bet you dollars to donuts that 90% of those that rent The American won't like it. I fell asleep... is what you'll likely hear.

...and if you're wondering Joe, Uptown did indeed take the Rita Collection tonight, after I took the sticker off her face and repositioned a new one. Asshole.



S

12.10.2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Werner Herzog’s best feature films have a tradition of lunatic heroes being driven to self-destruction by their obsessions and The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, is his lunatic-masterpiece. It is far and away my favourite film of the year (perhaps the decade), despite the fact that I understand why most people won’t like it. To me, it is a film that represents just everything that cinema can be: thrilling, funny, clever, surprising, innovative and engaging. It’s also a film that requires a nearly-unhealthy knowledge about the genre it’s riffing on …and therein lays its greatest strength (and weakness). It simply doesn’t play to an audience reared on post-1990 mainstream film. It won’t mean anything to the the Dark Knight crowd. It’s a murderous, metaphysical farce that would have Heath Ledger’s creepy Joker as the protagonist and the Batman as the bad guy. People’s 2010 moral compasses just won’t know what to make of a film where a low-life scumbag, drifting towards an implosion entirely of his own making, is saved (and to a lesser extent, perhaps even redeemed), by a mixture of cunning and blind luck.

As a life-long fan of film noir, Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant is perhaps the ultimate comic deconstruction of a normally deadly-serious genre. It’s a stoner noir, but not in the Big Lebowski mold. Instead of playing with noir tropes and characters like the Coens did, Herzog finds his lunatic-muse in Nicholas Cage’s mercurial performance and then drops him into a relatively-straightforward thriller. There is little in the way of suspense and no mystery as to who killed the Senegalese family at the centre of the plot. Furthermore, the plot doesn’t even contain any specific or ironic twists. The key to enjoying this film resides in understanding that Herzog had no intention of shooting a conventional, naturalistic thriller, even though it may look like one on the surface. This is a bizarre conceptual reworking of the standard neo-noir thriller as seen through the eyes of a madman. It is neither a remake of, nor a sequel to, Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992), which starred Harvey Keitel as a psychopathic cop. The linkage between the films ends at sharing a leading character who is a corrupt, drug-addicted police lieutenant and a title. The two projects go off in totally different directions after that.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a film that belongs to Nicholas Cage. In spite of the fact that Cage’s career has been marred by some pretty sketchy performances, he’s absolutely in the zone here. In the immediate aftermath of watching the film, I wasn’t sure whether I’d just been witness to the worst or the best performance of the year. I settled on the later after several days of trying to get Cage out of my head. I couldn’t. I still can't. I also couldn’t think of another contemporary actor who might have located a core of likability within so despicable a character. Cage does. He somehow makes you cheer for his loathsome Terence McDonagh, even while he’s stealing heroin, crack and whatever else he can get his hands on, ripping off clients of his prostitute girlfriend or pointing a loaded gun at some poor old granny in a wheelchair. He spends 80% of the movie in various states of drug-addled paranoia, hallucinates a pair of iguanas that only he (and the audience) can see, and shoots baleful glances at them throughout a scene when they start singing Engelbert Humperdinck’s Please Release Me. And as the noose tightens and all the preceding egregious acts of utterly-vile behavior start to collapse in upon him, the story takes a left turn and delivers as wonderfully bizarre a finale that ever graced a final reel.

Over the last 35-odd years, I’ve watched somewhere around 600 proto, classic, neo, quasi and pretend film noirs and I’ve never seen one that ended like The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. I suppose every now and then we all come across a movie (or a book) that feels like it was specifically written for us ...and this one felt like that for me. Having tracked down and watched nearly every surviving existential crime drama since D.W. Griffith’s 1912 Musketeers of Pig Alley, The Bad Lieutenant seems like the period at the end of the sentence, bringing closure to a long personal journey vicariously taken through film into the black soul of the human condition.

Maybe it’s time to move on.

Sporgey

12.08.2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)


For me, family films are relegated to a completely different form of entertainment. When someone tells me that the latest Pixar offering is the best film of the year it's hard to hold back my laughter. Not to say Pixar films are subpar, I loved the hell out of Toy Story 3, it's just nowhere in the same universe as say Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans.

The Harry Potter films are a strange breed because i for one can not relegate them to a different form of entertainment. I take them as full on adventure films that I compare toe to toe with any non-family feature. I didn't always feel this way, in fact I once looked down upon the franchise as an overloved fantasy drivel fest that turned witches and wizards into children who say silly words like "Hogwarts" and have stupid names like "Dumbledore". It was Lord of the Rings for a select sect of our East end costumers if anything.

It wasn't until years later that I came across (shit... i'm doing it again aren't I? I don't have an obsession with him... really) Roger Ebert's review of the first Potter film where he went on to say that the film joined the pantheon of classic adventure films such as Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Wizard of Oz that i reconsidered my initial thoughts on Harry Potter.

Earlier this year I sat down to the first film with a complete open mind and just like that i was lost in a different world. I hadn't felt something remotely similar to it since when I first watched Star Wars at 4 years old. I quickly ate up the six films we have in stock but my hunger for boy wizard flesh did not subside, then Kendall handed me off the books. Reading a series of 7 books, the majority of which hit closely or over the 700 page mark, seemed daunting. I started in March and was finished all of them by June.

What separates these films from other kid's fantasy films is the immense and fantastic adult cast made up of some of the finest British actors ever. They take to their roles with such dedication and seriousness. The caliber of perfomance from the likes of Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Kenneth Brannagh, Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, and Brendan Gleeson (just to name a small few) is one not usually seen in the realm of family entertainment. This grounds the films with merit and stops them from ever becoming completely exclusive to children.

I'm not trying to say a Harry Potter film deserves to clean up at the Academy Awards or anything, just that being dismissive of these films and books should not be ones gut reaction as it was once mine. There's actual substance here waiting for those willing to let their imaginations run away with them.

The franchise is finally reaching its eventual conclusion and of course, Warner Bros. panicking over losing its biggest franchise has decided to split the last story into two parts. The first of which was recently released into cinemas and that i finally found the time to check out.

This is the Harry Potter film i want to show to non-believers. It's dark (figuratively and literally), sad, long, complex, and has no ending whatsoever. It completely embraces the mature tone of the book it was based on and delivers a surprisingly accurate retelling of the story.
In what makes up the first half of the book and this film, we follow Harry, Ron, and Hermonie, on the run from the dark lord Voldemort who has taken over the wizarding world. With a very vague idea of what they can do to stop the villain the trio travels the vast British landscape, moving from camp to camp while trying to figure out what to do. The psychological weight of their dilemma takes its toll on the trio and it isn't long before they start to break down. Their strife is painted as one similar to those surviving an end of the world type of scenario and it's only going to be so long until the hordes catch up with them.

Trading in the usual location of a wizarding school is instead beautiful photography of various locales around Britian, at times making things feel more Middle-Earth than boy wizard.
The film is relentless and you'll find yourself wondering when the heroes are going to catch a break and thankfully they never do. This is mean stuff. This is the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise and I couldn't be happier with it.

While i doubt highly I'll convince those who could care less for Harry Potter to actually see this film (or read this review for that matter) I will still contest that it's one hell of a ride that's definitely worth getting to if you have yet to see the other films... although those are great too.

12.07.2010

Reviews Needed

Need brief reviews for the following films by the end of this week. Anyone care to assist?

* Antichrist

* Art & Copy

* Art of the Steal

* Baseball: The Tenth Inning

* A Christmas Carol!

* Cold Souls

* Fubar 2

* House of the Devil

* How to Train Your Dragon

* Mother

* Repo Men

* Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

* September Issue

* White Ribbon

* Wild Hunt
 
S

12.04.2010

Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

SPOILER ALERT! Don't Read This If You Haven't Seen The Film Yet!


About 15 minutes after watching (and thoroughly enjoying) Exit Through The Gift Shop, it dawned on me that I needed to check out what, if anything, about this film was factual. Not surprisingly, I wasn't the first to wonder if the entire story was a hoax, an intricate fabrication designed to extend the static political and social underpinnings of street art and project it up on a different kind of screen/backdrop.

For any number of reasons, I'm inclined to think that we've all been magnificently played. The story of Exit Through The Gift Shop is just too perfectly ironic to be solely grounded in fact. A couple of weeks ago, I was heading down to the FBW on a Friday night and heard the tail end of a CBC Radio interview with Canadian author Farley Mowat, now 87. In the final few minutes, Farley was asked to speak to an oft-quoted charge that some of what he wrote over the years wasn't indeed “factual”. His response was fascinating. I'm paraphrasing here, but he said something along the lines of, “What I'm after is truth, not facts. Facts can change. Facts often get in the way of telling a truthful story.”

And I think that might be the most interesting way to look at ETTGS. While it certainly appears to be, at least partly (likely mostly), a scripted fabrication (anyone who doesn't take the painted elephant together with the film's title as a quasi-admission of this needs to rethink the underlying intent of subversive art), the deeper truth might be better served by this brilliant exercise in F For Fakery than any straight-up chronological documentary about the street art movement might have advanced.

The wonderful part about Exit Through the Gift Shop is the meandering mystery at its core. Is it fake or is it real? Is Thierry Guetta real or a fabrication? The pledge is made in the opening scenes... this is a film about street artists. The turn is the creation of Mister Brainwash (Banksy & crew again tipping their hand with an almost too-obvious name) and turning him into LA's street-art darling and the prestige... well, that's the best part. There isn't one....at least not yet. It's a fascinating mind-fuck to consider the possibility that Exit Through the Gift Shop is simply a elaborate prank executed on a larger scale to reach a wider audience than any building wall could ever facilitate.

The entire saga of Mister Brainwash is quirky and questionable, to say the least, but just as difficult to disprove. ETTGS culminates with a massive L.A. exhibit of Mister Brainwash’s work entitled “Life is Beautiful,” which elevates the supposed-artist’s profile overnight. Just to confirm... the exhibit did indeed take place and even though listening to Guetta talk about his art and bizarre film making ambitions seems intentionally designed as a caricature aimed at satirizing the art world, the film also seems almost too meticulously-constructed to be entirely a work of fiction. So here's another bit of mystery to ponder. Can a ruse be so perfect that it can transform into fact? Where's the line? Is this a taco inside a taco territory?

If Guetta is Bruce Wayne to Banksy's Batman, his creation of a public-fool/alter-ego if you will, just consider how elaborate the con actually is. Guetta is obviously a real person, but what if his massive art show was simply the work of several legitimate street artists (Banksy and Shepard Fairey, among others) and intended to expose the hypocrisy of the art collecting world? What if works on display at Mr Brainwash's show are intentionally diminutive? I couldn't tell whether the works were good or bad. What if Guetta was a front man, a person for the masses to focus upon while the real tricksters sat back and worked the levers from behind the scenes like some modern Wizards of Oz.

And wouldn't the ultimate prestige be if Banksy/Guetta were in fact the same person? Banksy's mysterious identity revealed at the Oscars when Exit Through the Gift Shop wins for best documentary next year and Guetta gets up to receive the award? How fucking cool would that be? And what if that was a further illusion - a taco in a taco in a taco. The whole construct just grows with every subsequent reveal, be it factual or not, like a sort of media virus. At some point the real and the made-up merge into a single entity.

Or maybe Exit Through the Gift Shop is all real... either way, and this is the strangest part, it doesn't matter. Not knowing actually serves the story ever better. Just like Farley said, facts often get in the way of telling a truthful story.

Brilliant.

Sporgey.

12.03.2010

Centurion (2010)

Centruwian...Why do they.... titter so?

Neil Marshall is one of those directors who, at least in my book, ratchets down a notch with each new film he releases. The more money he has at his disposal it seems, the less satisfying the final result. His first feature, Dog Soldiers (2002) ranks amongst my favourite B's of the last ten years. The Descent (2005) was an unbearably-claustrophobic horror that I quite enjoyed, in spite of my skittishness about the genre. I didn't like Doomsday (2008) as much as Joe did, but admired it for its innovative reworking of a tired genre, the apocalypse-actioner.

Centurian (2010) is a much bigger movie in every sense. It has real stars, a middling-budget (used here to good effect), a decent script (also penned by Marshall) with a good hook (Behind Enemy Lines meets The Warriors meets Gladiator) and some stunning cinematography. Centurion’s most notable feature however, strangely isn't any of these things. It is unbelievably violent.

The film is set in 117 in northern Britannia, at the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire. The local Picts (who look disturbingly similar to Klingons, by the way), utilizing a successful combination of ancient guerrilla warfare and shear viciousness, have held out against the advancing Romans for the better part of 20 years. One might say that the Romans are having trouble depicting England. Centurion centers on a group of seven Romans (led by Michael Fassbender), who are stranded behind enemy lines after their invading legion is slaughtered by the Picts. Their goal is to escape the marauding Rochesters who are hunting them all the while, and get back to Roman-held territory and safety in the south.

I'm going to give Marshall the benefit of the doubt here and suggest that Centurion is his attempt to deromanticize the violence associated with war - to expose the valorous and bloodless sword fights from films like Gladiator for what they really are: brutal acts of horrifying murder, moral or not. I've never counted the number of beheadings in a film before, but I lost track during Centurion. 30?... that might be low. The violence is so relentless, blood-soaked and grotesque that the film almost collapses in on itself. I think it was meant to be anti-war and anti-authority, but there's possibly a little too much curious fanboy/blood-lust delight laying just under the surface of Centurion to make it convincing. Perhaps a better read on the underlying point of the film is the concept that the West (proto-Westerner Romans in this case) can’t defeat the local populations of lands they invade without emerging as villains themselves. There are no “good” sides in Centurion. Both the Picts and Romans are savages bent on each other's destruction. The few decent and honourable people depicted in Centurion are themselves victims of the larger forces at play... politics and warfare have always gone hand in hand . So....some things never change?

Centurion is 10 times more violent than it had to be to make its point and even though it's only 97 minutes long, still drags in the final act. On a possible upside, it's got shitloads of nasty, crunchy, slicey battle scenes, if that happens to turn your crank. It's Rambo violent. You've been warned.

Sporgey.

12.01.2010

Wait for the Dark Knight ending....


Scott may not get it, but at least South Park does

Great movies....

For the last few years I keep finding myself on the other side of the “great” movie debate. It started with Scorsese's Gangs of New York, and has since included Chicago, Lost in Translation, Big Fish, Passion of the Christ, The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Dark Knight, Inglourious Basterds, Avatar, and more than a few others. The list now includes Christopher Nolan's Inception.


Let me start out by saying that Inception is an exceptionally well-crafted work. It's certainly the most polished film I've seen this year. I'm hardly surprised that the typical audience response was one of quasi-bewilderment, but that's more a function of the brain-dead modern movie audience than anything Nolan can be called out on the carpet for. In fact, the structure and intricacy on the plot is a marvel of storytelling. It isn't confusing, but rather complex ....a distinction people seem incapable of making these days.

There's been endless and overwhelmingly positive commentary, analysis, critical deconstructions and reviews about Inception. It's a film that will clean up at Academy Awards next year (early prediction... 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Director). I understand and quite agree that Inception is worthy of all this positive press and critical acclaim.

But its greatness is limited. In a master-technician's hands, even the most mundane yarn can be spun into a grand adventure. There have always been great technical directors, (and Nolan certainly ranks among the cream of the crop), but very few who could also deliver powerful, challenging and emotionally-compelling narratives at the same time. Spielberg belongs to the first group while Kubrick resides in the second, to cite but two well-known directors. I suppose it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the modern-day film audience can seemingly no longer differentiate between the two categories. Event movies (the Avatars, Batmans and Inceptions) are so prevalent and all-consuming (at least from the media's, and by extension the audience's, perspective), that “big” and “great” have melded into meaning the same thing in most people's minds.

It's been said that Inception is just a heist movie... and no one expects a heist movie to be anything but entertaining. While that might be true to a certain extent, I'm tempted to draw attention to the 1955 film Rififi, a heist film that the final 15 minutes of is both more compelling and emotionally powerful than anything in  Inception AND takes place in a near-dream state that actually feels like one, unlike say...Inception. To suggest that a genre film can't be expected to rise to the challenge of also being emotionally-profound and moving is simply to understate the power and possibilities of cinema. In the right hands it can (and should be) both.

My problem with Inception is fairly straightforward. Buried beneath the incredible visuals, endless action scenes, labyrinth plotting and familiar Hollywood faces is a mediocre story that doesn't resonate at any fundamental human level. Even fans of the film seem to agree with that. I'd like to posit that that's also the reason no one takes anything away from Inception. I'd forgotten everything that happened 10 minutes after it was over. That isn't to say that I wasn't engaged while it was on, because I was thoroughly engrossed. What it didn't do was leave anything with me, which I must admit was disappointing. I return to my earlier contention that Shutter Island, with the same thematic underpinnings and even the same lead actor, delivered on an emotional level where Inception did not.

A final point. With the ability to create, populate and consciously interact in any dream world you can conjure up, who wouldn't be neck-deep in thousands of magic tits? Is it just me? Only Americans would populate such a blank dream-slate with modern weaponry and giant snow forts to attack with teams of gun-blazing synchronized-skiers. I hate to admit it, but my dream world would likely make Caligula blush and wouldn't include any fucking snowmobiles either.... well, a naked, oiled-Christina-battle (Ricci vs. Aguilera, to the death) on a pink ski-doo perhaps, but that's the subject of an entirely different post ...and ongoing discussions with my therapist.

Sporgey.

The 90-Minute Brit TV Experiment.

Three separate British TV productions made their way to DVD this year, all sporting 90+ minute episode running times. There may be others, but the Red Riding Trilogy, Wallander, and Sherlock have seemingly set the table for a very intriguing and rewarding programming format, one that I hope catches on this side of the Atlantic.

As has been posted about before, the Red Riding series, made by Screen Yorkshire and Channel Four Film, is a collection of three stellar tele-films that stand amongst the best movies released this year, theatrical or otherwise. That they were made for TV is incidental. If you haven't seen them, do so at your earliest convenience. Wallander is a BBC-Scotland/Yellow Bird series with 3 episode seasons and run times of about 90 minutes as well. They suffer from a little overt miserablism, but Kenneth Branagh is excellent (and wonderfully dour) in the lead. They're based on the novels by Swedish author Henning Mankel (Bergman's son-in-law out of interest) and Season 1 is uniformly terrific. Season 2 is less so, but is still worth watching. Easy recommends to the Brit TV crowd at the very least.

The most recent example of the 90 minute TV-series I seen is an outstanding update of the Sherlock Holmes story, simply entitled Sherlock. Made by BBC Whales (didn't know such a beast existed, but the Internet does not lie), the first three episodes are riveting, most particularly the first and third. The casting is superb, the update to the modern world seamless (and wildly entertaining) and the pacing spot on. This is a home-run series and it's made a whole lot better by the extended running times. They are a perfect for for DVD as well, although I wish they had have done one episode per disk. As it is, they are difficult to split up for rental, but whatever.

I think this hour-and-a-half series idea has some real legs. It's a neat marriage of the perfect feature-length running time (+/- 90 minutes), but with the familiarity and audience comfort zone of the TV series format. In hindsight, six 90-minute Sopranos or Wire episodes per season might have really changed the dynamic of those shows (and perhaps even given them a shot at theatrical runs, they were certainly good enough). I gotta think that some cable/network gurus are working up something along those lines as we speak (and who knows...perhaps they've gone as far as getting their own whales alreadyt). If they can pull off something half as good as the Brit whales are doing these days, we may have something of a new format on our hands in due course.

Fingers crossed.

Sporgey.

11.27.2010

Take a look over under the "Archive" at Tom's Fishing with John post

Accidentally even more disturbing than the complete post title....

Until the light takes us (2008)

Until The Light Takes Us recollects the Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early 1990s. Made notorious by a series of church burnings and homicides the subculture was subsequently tarred as satanism by the media. The film revisits that time, interviewing many key people and readdressing some claims about their motivations and beliefs.
Our two key interviewees are Varg Vikernes aka Count Grishnakh of Burzum seen here as he was until 2009, in Trondheim maximum security prison. Also Gylve of Darkthrone, a more passive character very involved in the scene but whom never crossed the line into criminal or violent activity. The interviews are totally engaging, especially that of Vikernes who is eloquent and compelling in his beliefs against the christian church and in a music which is surprisingly provocative when explained from it's conception. The film paces well by constantly turning our head between our two main subjects Varg & Gylve, representing the past and the present, the origins and a critique of the commercialization of Black metal culture in Norway, you could even say two perspectives from either side of the law.
It might be a stretch but I couldn't help noticing many parallels between black metal and the Rap scene of the early nineties. So many artists wanting to be the baddest, no-one backing down, everyone wanting to be the most extreme and both scenes crescendo with a series of deaths before being exploited commercially. Obviously the modern rap/R'n'B business is turning round much more cash these days, but the parallels were there at the start.
The production here is decent but what makes the film is really the subject and the clever way in which things are brought together to avoid a one note movie. Instead of just being about the music and excluding most of it's potential audience, Until the light takes us is instead about the people behind the music and the environments and circumstances that made them who they are. It takes an anthropologists perspective on Black Metal as a subculture rather than simply a musical genre. The soundtrack to the film is mercifully not Black Metal, instead the filmmakers opted for some electronic music which is moodier, cinematic and just works better.
It left me feeling enlightened and more appreciative in general of a scene I never understood and had had little exposure to. I was shocked at times and in awe that all this had happened and I knew nothing about it, swept under the carpet mostly. Now the right people have a chance to talk about it to a quite objective, some might even say sympathetic filmmaker. Provocative and controversial, just the way art should be.

Best of the Year Tally

Kids,

The following is a tally of the average votes garnered for each title we kicked around as candidates for the best of the year. In an effort to rank these choices in a semi-apples-to-apples way, I've divided the list into 3 sections i) Art House Fare, ii) Documentaries and iii) Entertainment. I recognize that some films straddle the Art/Entertainment divide but wanted to somehow deliniate the Scott Pilgrims from the Revanches. Some titles skew up or down with only 1 or 2 ratings, but generally the ranking seems modestly valid in my view.

We have reviews on some, but not others. Does anyone care to pick a couple to do?

Thoughts on the above in the comments section if you'd be so kind.

Sporgey

Art House Fare

Prophet, A 5
Mid-August Lunch 5
Red Riding Trilogy 4.88
Winters Bone 4.88
Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans 4.75
Revanche 4.6
Mother 4.5
Valhalla Rising 4.5
White Ribbon 4.5
The Square 4.5
Antichrist 4.33
Mesrine Parts 1 & 2 4.25
Wild Hunt 4.25
Bronson 4.1
$9.99 4
Eclipse 4
Escapist 4
Ip Man 4
Secret in Their Eyes 4
Terribly Happy 3.88
Bright Star 3.75
Lorna's Silence 3.75
The Killer Inside Me 2.83

Documentaries

Exit Through the Gift Shop 4.5
Art of the Steal 4
Baseball: The Tenth Inning 4
Until the Light Takes Us 4
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage 3.88
Art & Copy 3.75
September Issue 3.67

Entertainment

Fubar 2 4.25
Inception 4.07
American, The 4
Losers 4
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 4
Shutter Island 4
North Face 3.83
House of the Devil 3.75
Repo Men 3.75
Informant 3.58
A Christmas Carol! 3.5
Cold Souls 3.5
KickAss 3.5
How to Train Your Dragon 3.5
2012 2.75
Sherlock Holmes 2.69
Greenburg 2.33

Unception.

In all sincerity, can anyone tell me what Inception was about? ...and didn't I just watch this movie back when it was a much better film called Shutter Island? Can a movie be both flawless and utterly vapid? I need some varied interpretations of what Nolan was trying to do/say here....because mine are sorely lacking.


You were right Kris.

Sporgey.

11.26.2010

Valhalla Rising (2010)

Valhalla Rising is Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's near-about-face from last year's equally delicious, yet utterly different Bronson, perhaps the best one-two film-punch from any director in recent memory. Where Bronson drifted into near-avant-garde territory, Valhalla Rising is a Joseph Conrad-worthy existential journey into the depths of hell. The magnificent Mads Mikkelsen plays a one-eyed Scandinavian gladiator who, after beheading his owner (a Nordic clan chieftain who kept him in a cage like a Jabberwocky between medieval fight-club bouts), joins up with a bunch of equally-looney Christian Viking/zealots on their way to take over Jerusalem. A wrong turn at Albuquerque, leads the navigationally-challenged Crusaders to what looks suspiciously similar to the north shore of the St. Lawrence around Baie-Comeau, QC and into the invisible-clutches of some nasty orange-tinged North American primitives. Much slow-burn carnage ensues.

Valhalla Rising is absolutely magnificent, but it will have a hard time finding an audience. It's at once a gorgeous head-trip/art picture along the lines of Terrence Malick's The New World and a variation on Stallone's final Rambo entry. It's Kubrick by way of Tarantino, with some acid-laced Aguirre-era Herzog thrown in for good measure. In a strange way, it reminded me of Kick-Ass, perhaps because neither film seems to have an definable audience demographic, other than a few hardcore DVD industry participants, most of whom I know personally.

It's probably a stretch, but you get the feeling that Refn is working his way through Stanley Kubrick's catalogue, re-imagining various elements through contemporary Danish eyes. I first noted this with Bronson and the thematic territory it shared with A Clockwork Orange. This time out, Valhalla Rising's haunting soundscape reminded me of The Shining, the eerie buzzed-out atmosphere evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey and the violence, jarring and visceral like that of Full Metal Jacket. Malick is the other obvious influence here, but there are scenes in Valhalla Rising that wouldn't be out of place in an Aleksandr Sokurov flick either. The heavily-atmospheric screen compositions are constructed with varying degrees of saturation, emphasizing deep primary tones that feel almost primal in their rendering. While the combat scenes are bone-crunchingly graphic, Mads Mikkelsen brings a sublime and simple purity to the role, a combination of rugged charisma and inner stillness that makes him impossible to tear your eye/eyes off. He doesn't utter a single word in the film and yet owns every frame of it. Now that's acting.

This is one of those films that remains difficult, if not impossible, to recommend. I have no doubt that it will displace some high-ranking films on a few of your best-of-the-year lists, but I can't think of a single customer I would/could recommend it to. I've stumbled upon a few of these this year and this might be the best example.... a near-great film that simply won't find an audience, because outside a bunch of our fellow coworkers, one may not exist.

Sporgey

There is nothing like fresh air, with a rod in your hand.

Shot in '91/'92 Fishing with John is a fishing program not at all about fishing. Resembling any cheap 90's cable TV fishing program it mostly consists of horrible looking video, music that ranges from dodgy Casio beats to some lo-fi jazz noodlings and a Hollywood style voice-over dramatic enough to make fishing exciting. All these elements together are totally disarming at a passing glance, but give yourself 5 minutes and you begin to feel a surrealistic undercurrent. This is John and his friends getting stoned, talking a bit and failing to catch fish.
It's hard to imagine under what circumstances this show came to be. Was it produced in the spirit of a parody from the start and if so who was in on the joke? Were they really all high? What was the audience and where was this to be shown? I get the sense that without this Criterion release of Fishing with John we'd be very lucky to maybe catch the show at an obscure cult video festival or tucked away in a very late night cable TV slot.
I listened to the full commentary with director and host John Lurie to try get a handle on it all. Apparently, in the early nineties John had developed a habit of shooting his fishing trips with his film industry friends on hi8. He'd been threatening to do a show for a while, his take on what he saw as the bizarrely relaxing cable TV fishing show. Somehow he came to meet a Japanese investor eager to invest in almost anything and thus came forward the money for Fishing with John. I can only imagine the face of the producers upon receiving the show they had paid for. It's a surreal stoner's odyssey. We travel around the world with John and his guests Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe and Dennis Hopper. The commentary reveals an episode that never got made with Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That would have been golden. But the thing is Fishing with John is golden. It's so unusual, in some ways very arty and sometimes utterly dumb. One minute it's philosophical musings, the next it's staged scenes of drama. It has that elusive x factor, the allure of the too bizarre to be true found only in rare one off gems like King of Kong or I like killing flies.
According to John, Tom Waits got so seasick and irate that they didn't talk for two years after the making of the show, Matt Dillon clammed up every time the camera rolled, Willem Dafoe was hilarious, Jim Jarmusch was easy going and Dennis Hopper was high on sugar and couldn't fish at all. I could watch this show all day if there were only more episodes that existed. Never mind Speed Racer, Fishing with John is the real ultimate stoner DVD.

11.20.2010

Best of the Year Start List (Updated #3)

I'm working on a web-only version of the Year End Review and have been slowly shortlisting films I've heard bounced around as contenders for this year's best releases. I've added a few of my own favourites and have arrived at this....updated, again, again.

$9.99

2012

A Christmas Carol!

American, The

Antichrist

Art & Copy

Art of the Steal

Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans

Baseball: The Tenth Inning

Best Worst Movie

Bright Star

Bronson

Cold Souls

Eclipse

Escapist

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fubar 2

Greenburg

House of the Devil

How to Train Your Dragon

Inception

Informant

Ip Man

Kick-Ass

Lorna's Silence

Losers

Mesrine Parts 1 & 2

Mid-August Lunch

Mother

My Son My Son What Have Ye Done?

North Face

Prophet, A

Red Riding Trilogy

Repo Men

Revanche

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Secret in Their Eyes

September Issue

Sherlock Holmes

Shutter Island

Terribly Happy

The Killer Inside Me

The Square

Until the Light Takes Us

Valhalla Rising

White Ribbon

Wild Hunt

Winters Bone 
 
That's a wrap.
 
Sporgey

11.19.2010

Skynet has become self aware.

Dear Elders,
I feel a contagious ripple of shrugs spreading through my generation. You've got us nailed, you're right. We are all dreamers with art degrees and iPods, Facebook and text messaging. Overgrown teenagers. We consider neuroses a positive character trait, we are douche bags. The funniest thing I've seen this month is a video of an angry Korean man careening down a lift shaft to his death. We call each other hipsters without ever confronting the irony in the fact that the key characteristic of being a hipster is to constantly label others as hipsters in a desperate attempt to set yourself apart. Right now, I'm listening to music that juxtaposes an angular post-rock jazz sensibility with twee and whimsical female vocals... in Japanese. I am by all categorical definitions and imaginable criteria, a dickhead.
However, It's time to embrace the dickhead and let our differences lie. We can't deny that the chasm between us is claiming victims all the time, as 25 year-olds take up knitting and your friends Mum hunts down student boys online we just need to look after each other. There is no real difference between us, the only thing that really changed is our environment, our climate. We construct all these ideas to help make sense of what has happened but in terms of actual, quantifiable change in personality, I don't believe it's so much. And this brings us to what we have to offer and what new things we can bring to film.
Watching Scott Pilgrim Vs The World a couple of weeks ago, I almost felt proud of my generation. We are annoying, but we're not living in a complete cultural void. Things are just happening too fast for us to straddle. We're really not all bad and as things have unfolded we're in a unique position with a whole bunch of phenomena to draw upon creatively. Cue this slew of internet related films and I feel like we're getting in a groove.
When this clip of a Winnebago salesman stressing out gets two million hits on you tube, eventually someone is going to pick up on it. When a bad movie reaches cult status 20 years after it's release and draws its star out from his everyday job as a dentist into an arena where again, he is the star. We need to capture that, I want to see that. And likewise with The Social Network. It's a story of our time, it's a story worth telling. These subjects that some would see as fleeting, are now starting to feel to me as what this era will be remembered for.
“Remember all those movies about McCarthyism/Vietnam/The Internet?”
Who knows, all this attempted wisdom should have probably just stayed in my head, but there I go again. Dickhead.

The Expendables (2010)

Existing on the dark side of the moon, at least when compared to the endless barrage of estrogen bombs going off at the cinema week in and week out for the last few years, Sylvester Stallone's Expendables certainly makes for an unusual viewing experience. As you might expect, it's an inverted, gender-mirror image of Sex and the City, the Twilight franchise and everything Nora Ephron ever directed. This is man movie territory, part homage to '80 action flicks, part sentimental longing for the good old days when men had testicles. Nearly everyone from the era is in it (except Seagal and Van Damme) and it reminded me that these guys have no modern day equivalents. Weird, isn't it? They just don't make movies like this anymore, which is, I suppose, both the point and the movie Stallone was making.

So, is The Expendables any good? Well, it ain't art to be sure, but fuck yeah, it's awesome! Sure, it might lack a little of the magic from the old days, but it works well enough on its own level. It's overly violent, gratuitous to a fault, ridiculous and improbable... and I didn't give a shit. Stallone is charming, funny and looks like he's nearly paralyzed on horse tranquilizers throughout. When he and Mickey Rourke hook up, you have to wonder who has more steroids coursing through their ever-prominent veins. The scene is 2 parts amazing and 3 parts jaw-droppingly creepy. It's like watching the results of a CIA super-soldier-science-experiment gone terribly right. The other ex-stars all hit their marks (and the bad guys) on cue and shit blows up over and over again.

And over again.

Gotta say....I really liked The Expendables. Sure, it was a silly throwbac......whoops, Donna's calling. All the girls have big boobs. Watch it.
 Sporgey

11.13.2010

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

It's easy to see why The Night of the Hunter bombed on it's original release: It was fundamentally at odds with the mom-and-apple-pie Eisenhower years in which it was released. It's a surreal and decadent film about a psychopath/serial-killer of his newlywed wives who, between working out schemes to dispatch the latest missus, has intimate talks with God. It wasn't exactly a Norman Rockwellesque vision of America, that's for sure. Part bogey-man, part bogus pastor, Harry Powell (played with complete zeal by an unusually over-the-top and creepy Robert Mitchum), shivers in disgust about the carnality of women ….and then he kills them. A vulnerable young widow Willa (Shelley Winters) with two kids and some hidden money, marries Powell and ends up at the bottom of a river. Ophelia, what have you done?

The Night of the Hunter would be the only film that actor Charles Laughton would direct... and that's a crying shame. Laughton, who was 56 when he directed the film, after pouring so much effort into the project, was reportedly disheartened by the film's poor box office performance. He would subsequently choose not to return to the director's chair and died a scant 7 years later in 1962.

While The Night of the Hunter has come to be acknowledged as a cinematic masterwork, it can at times seem to border on camp. This was entirely intentional, part of the eclectic vision Laughton had for the film. The script is credited to novelist-critic James Agee, although, according to Agee's biography, Laughton almost completely rewrote it, after becoming impatient with Agee's unshaped adaptation of the Davis Grubb novel. Laughton collaborated on Night of the Hunter with one the period's finest cinematographers: Stanley Cortez, celebrated for his deep-focus photography in The Magnificent Ambersons, among others. There is poetic sequence in The Night of the Hunter shot in deep focus with cobwebs, frogs and rabbits dominating the front of the frame, while far off in the background two diminutive, recently-orphaned children, also in sharp focus, sail down the river to escape the demented preacher Powell. The visual effect is one of an adult fairy-tale, which is key to understanding what Laughton was aiming for in The Night of the Hunter.

This is must-see material for cinephiles for any number of reasons, not least of which is the overriding influence of Laughton's vision. Auteur theorists found significant traction here and for good reason. Mitchum's double-barreled acting, the noirish, showy cinematography of Cortez, the surreal set design and the film's exaggerated, expressionist style all coalesce into an entirely adult version of a Disney animated feature.

The Night of the Hunter is a deeply-spiritual contemplation/expose on the eternal battle between good and evil, between religiosity perverted and the purity of human charity (as represented by the orphan's ultimate protector, Miss Cooper, played by an enchanting Lillian Gish). The exaggerated, eccentric expression of this battle is both timeless and poignant, even 50 years on, a lasting testament to Laughton's unique talents as a film maker and storyteller.

A quick note on the box art picture (which is not, unfortunately, the one Criterion ultimately went with). It comes from this site, Eric Skillman's blog and it includes a fascinating piece on the process of producing box art for Criterion's releases. Definitely worth a read.

10/10. Recently restored and just released on Criterion DVD and Blu-Ray (spine #541)

Sporgey

A complete failure.

OK.... so it turns out I'm not an oracle after all. I mistook two separate entries for Kadas and missed both times. (Jaded, closet bi-sexual..... & Closet fascist.... ). He didn't post his picks at all. I thought the Iron Giant list was Nick's and have no idea who it really was. A good one though. I thought Amanda was the Felicity pick.... turns out that was Niki... I've no idea who the There Will be Blood pick is, but their taste in movies is excellent. House?.... wow, brilliant pick. I got Tom and Joe right out of about 10 entries, a batting average of .200, just above accidental/random in terms of accuracy. Hopeless.


All in all ….an unmitigated disaster..... that proves little other than a swami I am not. Thanks to all those who added a list and sorry to the people who I thought might have been Kris and slagged accordingly. My apologies to Nothing-But-Net Reed who was, according to him at least, a stellar athlete back in public school.

I am humbled.

La Spordinary.

11.09.2010

Like a Vulcan Mind-Meld....

As yet another condition of employment, I require some information from each you to complete an experiment I'm working on. To complete this astonishing act of cosmic insight, I need a number of people to anonymously post their 5 favourite films. From this snippet of personal introspection, I'm suggesting that it's possible to produce an astonishingly detailed portrait of the person associated with that list. Once I've had an opportunity to analyze the choices, I will post the results to your collective amazement. I guarantee the results to be uncanny, possibly even unsettling.

You may choose whatever films you want, the only condition being that they sit (or did at some point reside) up high on your list of personal cinematic favourites. They may also be secret, guilty-pleasures, films you are too embarrassed to admit loving, like The Fountain. With my unnatural ability to tease out deeply-guarded information based solely on simple film preferences, rest assured that I will spot and discount any red herrings you intentionally throw my way.

So, bring me your deepest secrets so that I may expose them to the world. 5 films..... 5 favourite films.... it's so simple.... so telling.... so personal. No attempt will be made to identify the person with their list. You will know who you are once I've stared deep into your soul.

WaaaaaHaHAHAha..... if you dare.

Sporgsterion

11.07.2010

The Money Trap (1966)

The Money Trap is a film stuck between two periods, coming right at the end of the big studio era and just before the Hollywood New Wave struck and changed all the rules. Despite the fact that it was completed just a year or two before Bonnie and Clyde, The Money Pits looks like a relic in comparison. There are a number of late studio-era crime films that fall into this same category, movies like Frank Sinatra's The Detective and Tony Rome, David Janssen's Warning Shot, Madigan with Richard Widmark, Kaleidoscope with Warren Beatty, and Paul Newman's Harper. Most of these movies get fairly tepid reviews from critics who see them as examples of the studio's collective decline through the changing '60s. Strangely, this period ranks up amongst my favourites. There's something about them that strikes a chord.

The Money Trap stars Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth and Joseph Cotten, all actors whose stars shone brighter in an earlier era. Relative newcomers Elke Somer and Ricardo Montalban round out the cast. The comfort of the leads after years in front of the camera, together with more accurately representing the age of the characters they're playing, lends credibility to the roles. Their world-weariness seems more palpable and real, quite likely because it is. The story is a standard one of greed, temptation and, as they so often are, a big pile of money. It's well directed by Burt Kennedy, who is mostly known for his work on TV and a number of '60s Westerns.

I've always liked this film. It's the flip side of Gilda (which starred Ford and Hayworth 20 years earlier), the '40s glamour replaced with grit, greed and the changing world of the '60s. Perhaps it's this “out of time” quality that appeals to me. We too, are living through a period of immense societal change and perhaps there's comfort to be found watching it play out in another era. The Money Trap is than a curiosity piece however, it's a solid film as well. In a strange turn, thespians Montalban and Elke Somer would go on to greater success than their much-more-famous (at least at the time) Money Trap co-stars. Rita Hayworth would only make a handful more films and Glen Ford and Joseph Cotten were mostly relegated to made-for-TV movies and mini-series for the balance of their careers.

The Money Trap and Nora Prentiss just arrived at the FBW (well, not quite...they're still at my place, but I'll get them to the store next week) on the stupidly-overpriced Warner Brothers Archive Collection.

....and is it just me or does Ford look like he's taking a crap in the middle of a gun battle on the poster?

Sporgey

Nora Prentiss (1947)

I'm almost afraid to call Nora Prentiss a film noir. I know I can be a bit one-note on the merits of the noir canon and pretty much deserve the eye-rolls and polite Ya, I'll give that one a watch, Scott niceties tossed my way when I recommend these old crime melodramas. Nora Prentiss is a bit of a different bird though. It's a top-notch B, well-written, well-cast, fantastically lensed by cinematographer James Wong Howe and directed with precision by Vincent Sherman. In short, it's a winner on almost every front.

It's also a film that's hard to describe without giving away too much of the plot. In a nutshell, a doctor, bored with his pedestrian existence, invents an elaborate plan to escape it with a night club singer he's fallen for. Wanker. Not surprisingly... it all goes very badly, but just how it goes badly is marvel of 40's potboiler scriptwriting. It simply boggles the mind that this film hasn't been remade. The story is adult, modern and has a wicked twist that arrives in the final 10 minutes that seems ripe for an update.

Kent Smith plays Doctor Richard Talbot and he nearly tops his performance in the noir/horror classic The Cat People, made 5 years earlier. Ann Sheridan plays Nora and despite being top-billed in a role that has been described as the ultimate “woman's noir”, Smith nearly steals the show. Nora Prentiss is the product of the studio system at its peak, with excellent performances from Smith, Sheridan, and a bunch of Warner Brothers regulars including Bruce Bennett (from Dark Passage and Mystery Street), Robert Alda (The Man I Love), John Ridgely (The Big Sleep) and a young Wanda Hendrix (from another great and nearly forgotten noir, Ride the Pink Horse – great title huh?).

The expressionistic look of the Nora Prentiss is a testament to the always excellent work by Howe and this film ranks amongst his best. The picture literally drips with a paranoid, claustrophobic atmosphere that's hard to shake. Vincent Sherman directed a number of noirs for Warner Brothers including Backfire, The Unfaithful (also with Sheridan), The Affair in Trinidad and The Garment Jungle, but I think Nora Prentiss is my favourite. The score by Franz Waxman is also stellar.

All that said, Nora Prentiss, like a lot of films from the era, requires a modern audience willing to grant the story a little leeway and suspend some disbelief ...particularly for the conclusion, an ending that's at once the film's best attribute, but also a little hard to swallow. It may not stand up to extensive scrutiny, but it makes for a excellent downbeat finale.
 
Sporgey

11.04.2010

Scott Pilgrim Rocks.

I don't have much to add to Kris's comprehensive post about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World from a few months ago, but with its Tuesday release on DVD/Blu-Ray, I wanted to drag it back up to the top of the blog. SPVTW is a blast. It's the most fun I've had watching a movie all year. The effects are nicely handled, the music and score excellent and the actors well cast, particularly Michael Cera in the lead. The PG rating is a huge bonus for us and in spite of the fact that this one tanked at the box office, I expect it'll find some life on our shelves (actually preferably off). Totally enjoyable and an easy recommendation, even for tweenies. And speaking of tweenies.....


It's somebody's 12th 12th birthday! …..Happy Birthday to you know who, who turns +/-12 again in the next couple of days. She and her BFF's are all going to Medieval Times to celebrate tonight! Imagine, this after just returning from 5 full days of rides at Universal Theme Park in Florida. You go girl.

Sporgey

War Films, Part 3

I never saw Apocalypse Now in the theatres and I don't remember why. It was later, on home video, where I first encountered Capt. Willard journeying up the Nung River into the deepest recesses of the jungle and toward an awaiting Col. Kurtz. About 10 years ago I watched the plus 40 minute Redux version of the film and truth-be-told, found the original preferable. It was tighter. The extra footage didn't seem to add anything to the story or our understanding of the characters. I'm pretty sure I watched Redux on VHS as well.


Two scenes always bugged me about Apocalypse Now; The night scene at the besieged, psychedelically-lit, American-held Do Lung bridge and the ending, which I never thought provided any closure to the story. The Do Lung bridge scene comes well into the film, at the height of Willard's personal conflict about the journey. Tellingly, the scene is dark, claustrophobic, unsettling and confusing - mirroring Willard's own thoughts about his mission to kill Kurtz. I've changed my mind about this scene after finally seeing it properly framed and reasonably close to its original theatrical presentation. On VHS, the scene is frustrating and nearly impossible to see. The Blu-Ray print is nothing short of a revelation, particularly for the final third of the film, which quite purposefully plays out in darkness with slashes of light illuminating the screen like lightning bolts. The Do Lung Bridge scene is improved immensely by the simple act of seeing it as Coppola had intended.

The ending..... some say it's brilliant and maybe it is. I've read that Coppola fiddled over what would be the 'final cut' version of the 35mm film, so various editing and differing release versions were screened at showings in 1978 and 1979 - many with alternative endings. The ending he went with wasn't modified in Redux, so it must have provided the effect he wanted. Even though Apocalypse Now is well past the point where critical analysis is either needed or of much value (and it's almost sacrilegious to question anything about the film among cinephiles anyways), I still think the ending is missing something. Neither of the two possible eventualities foreshadowed early on in the final act come to pass, the first being the bombing of the compound and the second being Willard taking over from Kurtz as the compound's leader. It briefly appears that Willard might consider the later, but as he wanders through Kurtz's followers, collects Lance and heads back to the boat, it becomes clear that Kurtz will not have a successor. Apparently, several of the earlier alternate endings included the destruction of the compound in the background as Lance and Willard start their journey back. To me, it's the ending the film should have – the period at the end of the sentence that I think is missing from what is otherwise an acknowledged masterpiece of film making.

The Blu-Ray boxset includes both cuts, the original and Redux and the brilliant documentary about making the film: Hearts of Darkness, A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.

Sporgey.

11.02.2010

One of the oldest professions in the world... in 3d! Jackass 3d (2010)

Did i actually go see this film? Yes.
Should i actually write a review for this film? Depends.
If i do write a review for this would i have anything interesting to say? Actually...

Jackass 3D brings back the original Jackass crew to do more of what they do best; disgusting, painful, and hilarious stunts.

Growing up i was a fan of Canada's own Tom Green, this being back when he used to be on public access. In the late 90's MTV caught wind of the hit and run comedian and signed him to their network. Soon after Jackass started up, a new MTV show featuring a group of young 20 somethings doing awful things to their bodies for laughs.
It may be debatable to say but one has to wonder if Jackass would exist without Tom Green.

Jackass went on to became a world wide hit, spawning countless seasons and not one, but two films. The phenomenon was a troubling one, what about this show had so many eating it up? Humour at this low a level certainly lacks any shred of intelligence or shame. How base had the mainstream consumers become? The comedy in watching people hurting themselves is for cave men, certainly we have come up a few notches on the evolutionary ladder to enjoy comedy that features a wealthy use of language and complex situations involving human relationships.

But some nights... when the mood is just right and the sun is setting blood red, you can't help it. You wanna see someone get hit in the nuts... AND IN 3D!
What's intriguing about this picture (besides the how and why) is that it's been four years since we have heard anything from the guys in the Jackass camp. This foray back onto the big screen demands to be bigger and better than their last effort. Unfortunately, they definitely accomplish that.

The stunts... are too many and too painful to include here, but they don't disappoint. The ridiculous novelty of 3D only makes the experience all the more bizarre and unwarranted.
This time around, however, i was laughing for a different reason. Self inflicted injury can only tickle my funny bone for so long, instead i found my laughs coming off the faces from the performers themselves.
Wherein past incarnations of the Jackass franchise it seemed that the performers took some sick satisfaction in what they were doing, yet here the rules of the game have apparently changed.
Before every stunt their once smug faces are now replaced with the looks of total fear and finally some shame. You can read in their faces that they really don't want to be there.

If you gaze into the abyss of their faces long enough you can watch their internal struggle playing out in their eyes:
"I can't do this... I'm being paid a lot of money to do this... I don't want to do this... but the money... fuck it just do it."

This internal struggle that all the players share is the most interesting thing about this particular Jackass installment. We are now watching 30 somethings doing disgusting things to their body that they really don't wanna do. For the first time, Jackass has depth (albeit, an unintentional depth... yet depth still the same).
What we are basically watching is non-sexual prostitution. These people are selling their bodies and for the price of a movie ticket you get to watch all the gory glory.
A thought more terrifying than a 3D Hostel film.

11.01.2010

War Films, Part 2

I don't particularly like Paul Haggis. I didn't love Million Dollar Baby and I despised the moral knee-capping that was Crash, The Movie! I mean I really hated Crash. As a result, I had little optimism going into his followup film, In the Valley of Elah when I first watched it a couple of years back. I fully expected another sloppily written, heavy-handed commentary with a self-important story, an all-star cast and entirely too much.... well, Haggis.

It turns out that I was wrong, dead wrong in fact because In the Valley of Elah, while certainly flawed, is a truly gripping drama about a man’s search for answers. Tommy Lee Jones deserved a Best Actor Oscar for his subtle-yet-passionate performance as Hank Deerfield, a retired soldier whose son, an Iraq war soldier himself, suddenly goes AWOL and turns up murdered. The subsequent journey of discovery is devastating for Deerfield, exposing a son whom he hardly knew, a military that doesn't want the truth to get out and driving a stake through the very core of his entire ideology.

Haggis maintains a gradual and deliberate pacing throughout, building tension using the slow-boil mystery on the surface of the film while probing the much-deeper issues of modern-day patriotism, warfare and the fabric of American society. It is a vastly misunderstood and consistantly misread film, judging from the reviews and comments I've read about it. It received modest reviews on it's theatrical release and then sank quickly from sight. Jones' performance elevates the picture. His personal transformation over the course of his investigation is heartbreaking and involves mourning both his son's death and the loss of his own identity. The film's central metaphor, the epic battle between David and Goliath (they fought in the Valley of Elah, hence the title) has been mostly misinterpreted to mean Deerfield's fight against the tyranny and malignant military apparatus, whereas the actual metaphor is entirely more complicated, a point I'll come to below.

Charlize Theron provides an understated and low-key supporting performance as a detective hoping to prove herself with the case of Hank’s murdered son, which inadvertently falls on her desk. She is a single mother raising a young 8-year-old son herself, David, who isn't particularly inclined or pushed to engage in traditionally-aggressive masculine pastimes (sports, violent games, etc.). The story of David & Goliath is told to him twice during the film, the first time by Tommy Lee as one of bravery and manliness and a second time by Theron, during which David interrupts his mother to ask “Why would they let him fight a giant?”.

This seemingly-innocent question is the key to understanding the film. Young David is David and Goliath is a society that would shape his existence in such a way to facilitate him fighting in terrible wars. Tommy Lee Jones' Hank Deerfield comes to understand that he is part of the problem, not part of the solution and in a final abandonment of his ideological worldview, raises an inverted American flag (foreshadowed in an earlier scene) to indicate that he believes his home, country and society are in a state of extreme distress.

In the first part of this post, I made the suggestion that war films, particularly those that focus primarily on the “war is hell” in-the-trenches-with-soldiers view of military battle and warfare are apt to miss the larger sociopolitical issues that surround a nation's overt acts of aggression and, more importantly, often fail to address the fundamental issues of culpability and causality. The reasons why war is considered an acceptable extension of policy can't be effectively presented or explored by filmmakers in these stories, to put it another way. It allows those same filmmakers the luxury of avoiding the issue entirely, which I'm not sure isn't partly by design. In the Valley of Elah is an exception to this trend. It is a film that not only looks at the dehumanizing effects of warfare on the modern soldier, but also the expanded role society plays in that transformation. Instead of looking outward to explain and justify the extreme human cost associated with conflict, it suggests that we look inward at the structure of our own society to find the answers. It falls short of assigning blame directly on the perverted-capitalism that plagues our time, but it's a start. One can only hope that In the Valley of Elah will be appreciated years from now when the Iraq war is looked upon as the event that revealed to its citizens what America has truly become. With terrific performances and a gripping, insightful story, this vastly under-appreciated film is one of the best war-time tragedies of the decade.

Sporgey