Natalie Wood is a total babe

Natalie Wood. Gorgeous!
See her alongside James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause (1955), and in the greatest western film of all time, John Ford's The Searchers (1956), among other things!


Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

I don't really know what I can add to the already strong case that this is a wonderful film. I guess being a 26-year old male (not the target audience, probably) says something that this film can reach out to anyone who is interesting in having a positive human reaction! It is amazing how such a positive and friendly film so distinctly walks this side of the line between endearing and sickly sweet. Part of that is no doubt due to Sally Hawkins performance as Poppy. The other part is how director Mike Leigh handles the material so smartly; it never feels condescending or patronizing. It's more inviting than that. It shows one way that one person is happily living their life, and suggests that happiness lies in the personal connections with those surrounding one's self. It sounds like a fairly run-of-the-mill concept, but I assure you, Happy-Go-Lucky is an absolute revelation.

Sally Hawkins as Poppy.

As mentioned above, Sally Hawkins as Poppy is just so much fun to watch. She is so, just... HAPPY! And as also mentioned above, not in a sickly sweet kind of way. She is a full, three dimensional character who experiences ups and downs like everyone else, but somehow she just loves life and loves people. She tries to help and reach out to others, and her optimism is positively contagious. She says what she is thinking, and is not afraid to confront people who are passive-aggressive, angry, or sad. She is also surrounded by a fun cast of characters, including her friends, family members, and people in her community. Not everyone is happy all the time, and of course there are problems all around, but Poppy's presence encourages people to recognize what is upsetting them, and overcoming it. Poppy's happiness is more catharsis than anything. In no way does it suggest that happiness can be obtained by ignoring problems, bottling up negative emotions, and slapping on a fake smile.

Poppy and her best friend and flatmate, Zoe (Alexis Zegerman).

Poppy's angsty driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan).

If nothing else, it is just a fun movie to watch. There were times where I just started laughing, by myself, because of something ordinary she was doing, but with such verve and energy. As I write this and re-read it, I can't help but think that people might brush this film off as, y'know, too Happy-go-lucky, but honestly it is so worth seeing I can hardly recommend another film more right now. With summer arriving, this is the perfect film to put you in a good mood and to get yourself up and out there doing things with your friends and family. I don't feel like I'm doing it justice, because I'm just feeling so bubbly after watching it that I can't really express it. Just do yourself a favour and watch this! I challenge you to see this and not be happy afterwards! Bam, RECOMMENDED.

Just happy.



Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

I just watched this last night and it was really great! If you are a fan of Steve Coogan and/or Rob Brydon and/or director Michael Winterbottom and/or British humour you might like this! So, I was pretty kean on Winterbottom and Coogan's (and Brydon's, if only a small but quite funny role) prior collaboration 24 Hour Party People about the Madchester era of 80s new wave music. Here, they take on the unfilmable novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, and make a great interpretation of it. What we have here is Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing a version of themselves acting in a film adaptation of an unbelievably complex (if not meandering) novel. The film starts with a simple telling of the story, but then we break off into the film production and then layers and layers are added on until the end of the film is barely the end of the production of the film within the film of the novel. You kind of have to just see it.

Coogan and Brydon.

But it's quite funny. Coogan and Brydon's escalating rivalry is hilarious to watch. After having worked on set a bunch I also enjoy seeing the behind the scenes stuff with all the crew members--including production assistants! I also enjoy this movie because it has a number of references to another film I quite enjoy: Fellini's 8 1/2. Along with the use of Nino Rota's theme for 8 1/2, Winterbottom's film has similar subject matter, and handles it in a similar way as Fellini's masterpiece. Like in 8 1/2, no one really seems to know what the film is going to look like (least of which the director!), and we are often flipping between reality, fantasy, dreams, and the diegetic world of the film without warning.

Brydon and Coogan.

There are some great scenes, especially all the ones featuring Coogan vs. Brydon, like when they compare teeth colours or Pacino impressions, or when Brydon insists Coogan help him identify how big his bald patch is. I especially enjoyed the extensive sequence where Lord Shandy, his brother, and the doctor are all downstairs in the study nonchalantly smoking pipes and pouring over historic battlefield maps, while, not out of ear-shot, Lady Shandy is literally screaming in pain (waiting for said doctor) as she is about to give birth to Tristram, it's quite hilarious (in a later scene the actress remarks about how she's been screaming for the last four days)! Have a look at the quite-funny trailer, as well!


Somewhere (2010)

Sofia Coppola's new film, Somewhere!

I have to be honest this totally snuck up on me! I feel kind of weird that I didn't know this was happening. Help! But yeah it looks good, from the tone of the trailer. I'm very interested in seeing this as soon as possible!


Out of Sight (1998)

If I'm not mistaken, Out of Sight represents a series of firsts. While not Steven Soderbergh's debut feature, it's arguably the film that launched him into public consciousness, forged some relationships that would prove to be very fruitful (George Clooney), and demonstrated a style that would inform many of his successive (and very successful!) films. [SEE: Oscars] Not only is it his first time making a film with Clooney, it was also the beginning of collaborations with such actors who would become Soderbergh regulars like Luis Guzman, Don Cheadle, and (the loveable) Catherine Keener. Also featured in this stellar and well rounded cast are Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Albert Brooks, Michael Keaton, and Dennis Farina (love this guy).

This is what he looks like when he's robbing a bank.

The film is based on American crime writer Elmore Leonard's book of the same name, and follows, in a mostly non-linear style, bank robber Jack Foley as he escapes from prison in Florida, aided on the outside by longtime friend and accomplice Buddy (Ving). Problem is, US marshal Karen Sisco (J-Lo) happens to be right outside the prison at the time, and Buddy is forced to kidnap her and throw her in the trunk with Jack as they make their escape. The following scene in the trunk is now one of my favorite scenes from the last couple of decades as Foley makes the most of the time and gets to work trying, and succeeding, in charming his abductee. A few miles down the road and a great conversation about movies etc. later, their scene comes to an end as they meet Glenn (Steve Zahn) to switch vehicles. J-Lo is put into the car with Glenn (who, along with his sunglasses, Foley has an aversion to: "If I see Glenn Michaels wearing sunglasses I'm gonna step on em, and I might not even take em off."/"Take of your sunglasses or I'm going to throw them off the overpass with your head in em.") where she convinces him to ditch the other two to save his own hide, hence splitting her from Foley. But their little trunk rendez-vous left an impression on both our federal marshal and our gentleman bank robber, and we know they will meet again.

Steven Zahn as Glenn Michaels.

Foley and Buddy end up getting in on (of course) the old "one last heist" scheme with Glenn, which leads them up to Detroit to steal some uncut diamonds. Unfortunately for all, Glenn has a big mouth and has mistakenly let Maurice "Snoopy" Miller in on the plan. Snoopy is an ex-boxer and ex-con who served with our cast in prison down in the Glades, and is played by a surprisingly menacing Don Cheadle. Snoopy comes with the testerone'd power-tripping Kenny (Isaiah Washington) and rotund and ultimately clumsy White Boy Bob (Keith Loneker) in tow. Not to far behind them all is Federal marshal Sisco.

Albert Brooks as Richard Ripley, and Don Cheadle as Maurice "Snoopy" Miller.

Despite the moderately complex cast of characters, storyline, and narrative structure, Out of Sight is completely coherent, thanks to a wonderful editing job by Anne V. Coates (who among other things, edited Lawrence of Arabia [!], David Lynch's Elephant Man, and later Soderbergh's own Erin Brokovich). Coates threads the film together with a masterful dexterity, adhering faithfully to the style (from what I hear--I haven't read it!) of Elmore Leonard's source material. It is also quite sensually edited, particular the love scene which is tenderly intercut with an intimate discussion between the lovers in the hotel bar. Coates and Soderbergh also give us a number freeze frames to linger on where we are allowed to absorb the moment between our characters; moments certainly being a motif throughout the film.

"Let's take a time-out."

This film, as I mentioned above, really foreshadows the style of many of Soderbergh's films, particularly Traffic and Ocean's Eleven (I can't remember whether it transfers much to the other Oceans films--just saw them once!). Soderbergh has taken a page from the fly-on-the-wall cinema vérité style from the documentaries of DA Pennebaker et al, as well as docu-dramas like phenomenal The Battle of Algiers (a film whose influence can definitely be felt in Traffic), and mixed it with the funky, slick, and lively feel of Leonard's writing. Lots of fluid and handheld camera work, mixed with zooms and pans; a very cool mixture!

Nerd alert! It's Steven Soderbergh. Thanks for the movie, Mr. S.!

The performances are fantastic, and the characters all nicely developed and pretty much hilarious across the board, even the smaller ones; Catherine Keener as Foley's ex-wife and magician's assistant; Luis Guzman's Chino, a Cuban prison escapee (his accent--and his scene in Keener's apartment--seriously crack me up!); Zahn's sorta stoner Glenn; the great Dennis Farina as Karen's loving and witty father, also a US marshal; Michael Keaton as Karen's FBI boyfriend, who walks around wearing an FBI shirt (Dennis Farina: "Tell me Ray, you ever wear one that says 'UNDERCOVER'?"); and one more tiny but very special performance at the end that I will keep a secret. I should also note that while George Clooney and Ving Rhames give especially charming performances (but isn't Clooney always charming?), it is Jennifer Lopez who deserves a Gold Star. And I genuinely mean it, she really has the acting chops in this movie and is absolutely fantastic. Roger Ebert, in his review, likens the chemistry between Clooney and Lopez with that of Bogart and Bacall, and a greater compliment to them I can not imagine. I also agree. They have great banter (thanks to screenwriter Scott Frank), but which would fall flat if it weren't for two actors who completely and utterly inhabited their characters. Lopez's character is very well developed and three-dimensional: she is tough, yet tender and loving; she is susceptible to emotionality, but stands up for what she believes in, and has Drive with a capital D. She never falters, and honestly, you never ever lapse into thinking she's just Jenny from The Block. Jennifer Lopez, my hat goes off to thee.

Probably don't mess with this girl.

And not to take anything away from Lopez and the rest of these fine actors, but credit is certainly due to herr direktor, Mr. Steven Soderbergh. He is truly an auteur, and a filmmaker who I look up to, as someone who is constantly experimenting, and is not afraid to be seen as slightly "experimental". Soderbergh is a man who has vision, who can latch on to a mood, a complex story, some fascinating characters, and then pull it all together into a 123 minute movie that not only works, but succeeds in continuing--and advancing--the fascinating and often fumbled (comedic) neo-noir trend.


Ascenseur pour l'echafaud (1958)

There is something sacred and magical about a director's first feature film. They're usually rife with exuberant creativity, innovative narrative structures, and imaginative characters. They're often full of a sort of beautiful naivety, a kind of idealistic optimism coupled with a frantic desperation to prove one's self at the prospect of the beginning of a hopefully long and fruitful career. The films that come to mind are ones like Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Scorsese's Mean Streets, Godard's Breathless, Truffaut's The 400 Blows, Welles' Citizen Kane, and countless others. But also deserving of inclusion in this list is Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows).

Louis Malle, 1932-1995.

Malle began his career as a cameraman and co-director of Jacques Cousteau's films, and later as an assistant to French legend Robert Bresson. Malle made L'Ascenseur pour l'echafaud when he was only 24 years old, and it began a long and varied career spanning continents and genres.


Ascenseur pour l'echafaud tells, in essence, three stories related to one main character, a young man, Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet). Julien plots to murder his boss and then run off with his wife. The murder goes smoothly, but as he is about to make his getaway, he realizes he left a damning piece of evidence back up in the office. He returns to gather it, but as he descends in the elevator for the second time, the watchman shuts the power off for the weekend, stranding Julien in the elevator, leaving him in the ripe position to be caught red-handed for his crime.

This can't bode well.

The second narrative follows two naive teenage lovers who steal Julien's car and take it for a joy-ride, a quickly get well in over their own heads with their own set of crimes. The third story we follow is that of Julien's lover, the wife of the man he has just killed, played by the gorgeous Jeanne Moreau, who sees Julien's car speed off with another woman in the passenger seat, not understanding that it was the teenagers. Distraught and confused, she wanders the night streets of Paris, looking for both him and a reason why he may have run off with someone else.

The beautiful and one-of-a-kind Jean Moreau.

Malle's direction is crisp, and the cinematography is beautiful, creating an interesting and vibrant narrative. The film is so full of life, no doubt partially due to Miles Davis' energetic and largely improvised soundtrack. At times jazzy and upbeat, while other times contemplative and melancholic, it ties the three narratives together nicely. The acting is fun, though can be a little one-dimensional at times. Both the beginning and ending scenes are also classic french new wave noir. Watch out for appearances from some great French faces, including the stellar Lino Ventura (I will write extensively about him in the coming days for his great performances in several Jean-Pierre Melville films), Jean-Claude Brialy (from my favorite Godard: Une Femme est une femme), Jeanne Moreau herself, who became cinema royalty, and one German star: the legendary Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing.

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing: One of the finest looking cars ever. It really embodies an era of design. Stunning!



Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton is my favorite silent era movie star. There is something timeless about his comedy, something that has aged so well and gone on to inspire performers of all types from people like Jackie Chan to Cosmo Kramer. Keaton's willingness to completely sacrifice his body for his art is inspiring and terrifying: while filming The General, he broke his back in one scene but managed to finish filming the scene before collapsing and revealing his injuries. Keaton's background was in Vaudeville and he had a fantastic eye for smart and daring gags, often incorporating machines and technology and then combining them with some acute social commentary. Chaplin is the star who is remembered mostly from this era, though while I admire the Little Tramp, I still hold Keaton, his deadpan expression, and his porkpie hat on a mantle above all others. Some of Keaton's masterworks include The General, The Navigator, Sherlock Jr., and Our Hospitality. Keaton's comedy is as hilarious as it is awe-inspiring. The amount of planning, precise timing, and sheer luck involved is staggering. Yet his comedy is surprisingly accessible as it is completely visual and physical. You will be pleasantly surprised!

Documentary excerpt:

I'm not usually into fan-made montage videos, but this one gives a really good taste of Keaton's style:


Half Nelson (2006)

This is a brilliant film. I recently acquired it and plan on watching it again, but this trailer shall give you a taste. Ryan Gosling is superb as an inner city teacher with both a different way of looking at things and a crack addiction. Also his name is Dan, which I appreciate. Though I don't have a crack addiction. But I do have a beard like him. The back of the DVD box has a critic saying something along the lines of Gosling being "one of the most exciting actors of his generation" and I could not disagree. Gosling, in this film, proves that he is here to stay as a versatile and profound character actor. It's true, there is something incredibly exciting about watching a young actor like Gosling knock one out of the park, because it's not hard to envision him delivering a long and fruitful career, possibly akin to a Dustin Hoffman type person. And the guy got an Academy Award nomination for this role. No big deal. Have a look at the trailer and then watch the movie. This guy is only going up.

Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne.

Half Nelson is directed by Ryan Fleck and co-stars Anthony Mackie (also in The Hurt Locker), and Shareeka Epps. It's Fleck's first feature film. The soundtrack is done by Broken Social Scene. It's awesome!


2012 vs. The Shining

I know that 2012 (the movie) has come and gone and we're all waiting for the real December 2012 to come along so we can see whether the world crumbles apart or whether Roland Emmerich has a big fat red face, but until then take a look at these two teaser trailers: Roland Emmerich's 2012 (2009) and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). Emmerich, or whoever cut the trailer, appropriated the intense and bizarre music and the simple yet effective concept from Kubrick's teaser, and I can't say that I'm against it. It totally works. Even if you aren't aware of the infamous Shining trailer, it is quite, at first, eerie, then horrifying, just like the The Shining version.

That all being said, I think the teaser for The Shining is just that much better, because a) I'm biased to Stanley Kubrick, and b) it's just so much simpler: the one unbroken shot, the building tension, and then the release, which the camera just keeps rolling and is soon completely submerged. But I do like in the 2012 one how the music lines up with the monk gonging the big bell.

All this talk about the movie 2012 reminds me of this great little article on The Onion. How do they churn out such consistently funny pieces?


For All Mankind (1989)

For All Mankind
dir. Al Reinert

For All Mankind is a fascinating 79 minute look at a bygone era of space travel: the moon voyages. Man has not returned to the moon since 1972, and it seems, until recently anyways, that space exploration had been put on the back burner in favour of more earthly conquests. Some argue that space travel and exploration are a frivolity in times like these when there are so many problems here on Earth that need addressing before we can start looking outward. But in reality, space exploration and research is largely based in solving problems here on Earth. Much of what we learn about the cosmos can be applied in interpreting our own planet, and if nothing else, it emphasizes how alone we are and the importance of preserving our planet. I've always enjoyed the late Carl Sagan's observations on outer space, particularly his piece about the "Pale Blue Dot." Not until we sent men to the moon who were able to look back at moon and illustrate how minuscule and precious our little blue orb was, suspended in the vacuum of space.

This passion and excitement brought on by the space age is one of the reasons why For All Mankind is so interesting and moving. It celebrates the technical achievements and human risks involved in launching a handful of humans into outer space without the bravado of a Hollywood film. This documentary is a collage of film footage taken by the astronauts from a number of Apollo missions. Together, all the footage put together illustrates the entire journey from Earth to moon and back. While it is a mixture of different missions with different astronauts in different years, it works, as long as you don't focus on the incongruities between names of people etc., and instead just focus on the magic of the journey itself.

The footage has been crisply restored by a doting crew at Criterion, and it looks stellar. Aside from some fantastic atmospheric music from ambient-master Brian Eno (including one of my favorite pieces of music ever, Ascent (An Ending)), the sound is mostly natural and provides a very welcome relief from something like Ron Howard's Apollo 13 which tunes you with soaring strings. Instead, we are allowed to hear the words between men, the sounds of the elevator taking them up to the capsule, the clinking of boots on metal, the pressing of buttons and everything else you would expect to hear. Most touching perhaps, is the woman at the base of the elevator who wishes the departing astronauts a "Y'all come back safe, y'hear?" as they walk past her. Go rent this!

Head over to the Criterion website to read a bit more and watch a 2-minute clip!