31.12.11

The Top 10 Movies of 2011 I Have Seen

The title says it all right there.  Yes, there are glaring omissions in this list, but that is only because I haven't seen some very obvious choices!  And how can I really plug something I haven't seen?  I'm dying to see THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and yes, I still plan on seeing THE ARTIST, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, THE DESCENDANTS, SHAME, etc etc., but as of the writing of this list I have not seen these, sadly.  But here goes, in no particular order!



THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: SECRET OF THE UNICORN
dir. Steven Spielberg

Well, I saw this very recently so it is freshest in my mind, but it would probably kick off my list regardless.  I have been a huge fan of Tintin ever since elementary school, and when someone tries to take something you treasure so much and up-convert it into a Hollywood motion-captured animated 3-D movie, well I don't know about you, but it put me on edge.  But if there is one filmmaker out there who can do it well, it is Steven Spielberg (partnered with Peter Jackson).  The film they have created is so full of love and respect for the style, stories, and characters that Herge created so many decades ago.  From the first frame of the opening credits to the last iris-out on Snowy's (Milou's!) nose, I was completely captivated!  The credits are that wonderful Saul Bass inspired style that Spielberg also used in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN that befits a globe-trotter like Tintin, and from there to the first scene involving a portrait artist (looking awfully like Herge himself) I knew we were in good hands!  It is a tremendously beautiful film that again proves what a master filmmaker Spielberg is.  His use of 3D is so unobtrusive that I was able to sink into the film and just sit agog as he transported us across oceans and deserts.  The characters--Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, Thompson, Thomson, Allan, Nestor, etc.--were all pitch perfect.  Of note, definitely, was Andy Serkis as Haddock, who after playing various apes and Gollum, has perfected the artistry of body- and facial-recognition acting.  His voicing was also perfect (I never thought of Haddock as a Scot--but it's perfect!), as were Jamie Bell as the boy reporter, and Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as the bumbling Interpol twosome Thompson/Thomson, and Daniel Craig as Sakaran.  Do yourself a favour and go and see this immediately!  I have so much more to say about this so expect a full write up in the days to come!




TAKE SHELTER
dir. Jeff Nichols

As my review earlier this year summed up--this is a fantastic film.  One of the best of the year.  The acting is as good as it gets, with Michael Shannon as the tormented Curtis, and Jessica Chastain as his baffled, yet determined wife Samantha.  Curtis, who begins having increasingly terrifying visions and dreams, believes a storm unlike any other is coming.  He sets about refurbishing his family's disused tornado shelter, much to the alarm of his family, friends, and employer.  Is the world ending, or is Curtis succumbing to mental illness?  This is a taut, tense, beautiful film, that left my head spinning after the semi-ambiguous ending which I loved.  Grab some popcorn and someone's hand to squeeze and watch this!  Thrilling filmmaking at its best.  Definite Oscar bait for the performances.





DRIVE
dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

I would be remiss to not include this fantastic modern take on the classic nameless protagonist (in this case a getaway driver) made popular by people like Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name.  Ryan Gosling stars as the wheel-man whose quiet, tough shell is cracked by oh-so-sweet damsel Cary Mulligan.  The Driver becomes so attached to her and her son that even once her (gentleman) thug husband returns from the clink, he vows to help and protect all of them, driving him to extreme violence and car chases.  Some found the violence too graphic (it was prettttty gnarly), the pacing too artsy, and the car chases too few, but I thought it was a perfect stylistic blend of 80s tackiness, Euro-poppiness, and urban-desolation.  This film's soundtrack and its cinematography is enough to make this a recommended movie, and an unquestionable (for me!) purchase when it comes out on Blu-Ray this January.  Great performances for all, especially a breakout one for newly-minted badass Albert Brooks.



HUGO
dir. Martin Scorsese

Many master filmmakers tried their hands at 3D this year, and if Spielberg is number one, then Scorsese is definitely a close second.  I'm still on the fence with 3D for all the obvious reasons (cost, brightness, you have to wear glasses, the inferrence that a "normal" "2D" movie is lacking something), but these two filmmakers have demonstrated what is possible.  The key, as Spielberg showed us, is basically to make a fantastic, beautiful film, that just happens to be in 3D.  It shouldn't distract.  And despite how counter-intuitive it might seem to make a comic strip 3D, bringing something "2D" like Tintin to life works.  Scorsese's application of it is interesting in an entirely different way.  While most of HUGO could work perfectly viewed non-3D, it was absolutely fascinating to see the real Méliès and Lumière Bros. films from the late 1890s brought to life in colour and 3D (A Train Entering the Station in 3D might emulate for some how an audience allegedly reacted in 1895).  It was a staggering, stunning, reach across a century of film, tying us to them, akin, to me, of that mindblowing transition in Kubrick's 2001 from prehistoric bone to satellite--you know the one.  If Spielberg's film is a tribute to Saturday afternoon adventure serial nostalgia (and possibly recompense for INDIANA JONES 4), then Scorsese's film is an ode to film, all films, especially the origins.  Scorsese is not only paying homage to this pioneers, but also bowing deeply in respect to all who have come before him, after him, and have ever been touched by the magic of cinema.  The sequence in the library where Hugo and Isabelle review the previous years of film history gave me goosebumps.  I'm serious!  Seeing Buster Keaton in 3D was too much to handle!  In a good way.



HANNA
dir. Joe Wright

I had a feeling I would like this film, but I must say it really exceeded any expectations I had!  As I wrote in my blurb about this earlier this year, the action movie world is overrun with protagonists on the run who can do everything and outsmart everyone (Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Batman even), but HANNA was smart and original.  I found parts to be very reminiscent of Tom Tykwer's RUN LOLA RUN, and Wright's direction was fresh and exciting in a genre that is oversaturated with cliche and convention.  Saoirse Ronan as the pale but capable character of title was wonderful, and the strong supporting cast of Eric Bana as her secret agent father, Cate Blanchette as a CIA black-ops woman (channeling George W. Bush--I know, but it works!), and many other familiar faces: Jason Flemyng, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams.  I also loved the Chemical Brothers' soundtrack which drove the film across continents and through subway stations and cargo ports.  Highly recommended.  Local fun-fact: the script was written by Seth Lochhead, a Nanaimo native and VFS student.



THE DEBT
dir. John Madden

Here is another great film (that I wrote about earlier this year) that came out of the proverbial woodwork and impressed me.  If nothing else, 2011 was the year of Jessica Chastain, who starred in no less than 7 films released in the calendar year, including TAKE SHELTER and Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE.  She, her publicist, and her agent must be incredibly smart people because in the span of less than a year they have made her a household name with some serious street cred.  And I would not be surprised come Oscar time if she was nominated more than once.  Chastain is America's answer to Kate Winslet and for her a bright future I do see.  Now: THE DEBT.  An exciting, thrilling film about three Mossad agents hunting for an infamous Nazi doctor, that jumps back and forth across decades, from Cold War era Berlin to modern day Israel and beyond.  What impressed me, aside from the captivating performances, was the way director John Madden kept everything coherent.  It really is a testament to him (and his editor Alexander Berner) how I managed to keep track of three different characters, each portrayed by two actors in two different time periods without much trouble.  It didn't hurt that Madden also had, along with the aforementioned Chastain, some stalwart character actors: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds (pronounced "Keer-en"--he's Irish) as well as Jesper Christensen, as the creepy Doktor Bernhardt.  Thrown into the deep end with this talented pool of actors, is Sam Worthington who well proved his worthiness by playing the most mentally tortured of the young Mossad agents.  Worthington, who is most known for turns in action films such as AVATAR, TERMINATOR: SALVATION, and CLASH OF THE TITANS, shows that he has true actors grit, and was definitely a highlight in THE DEBT.




THE IDES OF MARCH
dir. George Clooney

Almost everything Clooney touches turns to gold and when paired with it-person Ryan Gosling he is an unstoppable force.  Clooney's fourth directing effort is a slightly pessimistic, but surely realistic, look at the run-up to the primary election of one Democrat candidate.  Clooney plays said candidate, a seemingly idealistic and forward-thinking individual who is gathering momentum.  Gosling is his chief press manager, a master of spin, who also wouldn't mind rising in the ranks in his own way.  But when scandal inevitably shows its ugly face Gosling is forced to reassess his loyalties and goals.  Along with Clooney and Gosling, the cast is incredible: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, arguably the two best character actors out there, as competing campaign managers; Marisa Tomei as a crafty (read: devious) reporter; Evan Rachel Wood as a pretty and crucial intern; Jeffrey Wright as key senator weighing his options on who to throw his support behind.  THE IDES OF MARCH is a dark film, and as I mentioned fairly pessimistic, but it is a good portrayal of how politics is all about compromise, for better or for worse.



MONEYBALL
dir. Bennett Miller

Brad Pitt plays the MLB's Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Bean in this great drama about a total revolution in the way a sports team is managed.  With the help of talented young analyst Peter Brand, Beane starts seeing players, not as commodities to be worshipped, but rising and falling stocks, to be assessed almost purely on their statistics and performance projections.  Much to the dismay of an old-guard of baseball scouts, Beane sets about to turn his beloved Athletics around from a group of zeroes to a team of heroes by flouting the time-honoured traditional methods.  Pitt is great as Beane, but the real stand-out for me was Jonah Hill as Brand, the young analyst and recent college grad.  My one complaint is that I wanted to the film to centre more on the Jonah Hill character, I feel like he was the intriguing part of the story: like, what is his background?  Why is he so interested in the numbers of baseball?  Is he actually a genius?  But the Pitt character is the more obvious ingress for American audiences, a once over-hyped failed baseball prospect whose salvation lies in his success at managing a pro team.  America loves second-chance stories.  This is a great film that finally saw the day of light after a troubled pre-production progress.  At some parts it is even reminiscent of JERRY MAGUIRE in the sports-as-business sense, and that is a good thing.  Watch for Spike Jonze in a small role as Beane's ex-wife's new husband.



SENNA
dir. Asif Kapadia

(NOTE: I just realized this film was officially released in 2010, but not in Canada until August 2011. But I am keeping it here because, well, this is my blog!)

2011 was a year of great documentaries--so I am told.  I am a huge fan of documentaries, but am ashamed to say that I saw a woefully small number of them.  Ones yet to be seen that have received much acclaim include THE INTERRUPTERS, THE CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS and INTO THE ABYSS (both by the prolific Werner Herzog), PINA (in 3D, by Wim Wenders--apparently stunning), and BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK to name a few.  Roger Ebert has a great list on his website.  I think 2012 will be a great year for documentary rentals.  But one fantastic documentary I did see was SENNA, about the legendary and ultimately tragic life of the great Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna.  The passionately Brazillian Senna was one of those rare people to come along who could easily stand beside Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan, as an athlete who changed their sport forever.  Senna was a fearless race car driver, one who thrived in the rain, did not fear corners or crashes, and was determined to win no matter what, even if it meant running himself and/or his teammates or competitors off the track.  As a revered as he was for his bravery, he was also reviled for his ruthless and at times reckless driving style, not least by teammate and rival Alain "The Professor" Prost.  Despite his arrogance on the track, Senna sometimes displayed incredible humility and humanity: at a race in Belgium in 1992, Senna stopped his car and jumped out, risking his own life, to assist a driver who had crashed in front of him.  SENNA is a film that documents the driver's life, warts and all, in a way, I believe, that even someone who has never watched F1 in their life can enjoy.  It is also window into the glory days of Formula 1 in the 1980s when the cars were insanely powerful, lacked traction control, as well as many of the safety provisions drivers use today.  This is a captivating portrait of one of the most enigmatic and fascinating sports figures of recent history.



BRIDESMAIDS
dir. Paul Feig

BRIDESMAIDS is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time!  It also turned me from a Kristen Wiig fan into a Kristen Wiig super-fan.  Her comic timing, I think, is the best there is, and she easily stands beside Amy Poehler and Tina Fey as one of the funniest female comedians working today.  Many also called this film a game-changer, proving a nearly all-female cast with a female-oriented story could entertain audiences of both genders.  It's a sad reality that in 2011 we are praising a successful film for being female-driven. In the hugely lucrative "gross-out comedy" genre the films are largely written, directed, produced, and starring young-to-middle-aged males with a target audience of young-to-middle-aged males (See: THE HANGOVER 1 & 2, HORRIBLE BOSSES, 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN etc. etc.).  BRIDESMAIDS was co-written by Wiig, and though she is the clear star, her band of friends form a formidable comic posse, including SNL's Maya Rudolph, The Office's Ellie Kemper, and a standout performance by the hilarious Melissa McCarthy as Megan, the bride's future-sister-in-law.  The few male roles in it were also marvelous: Chris O'Dowd as the handsome (and Irish?) police officer love-interest, and Jon Hamm as Wiig's awful and arrogant sometimes-lover.  Just writing about this makes me want to see this again!


So there you have it, ten great films from 2011.  Honourable mentions for being standouts in their genres go to:

SUPER 8
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY
SOURCE CODE
OUR IDIOT BROTHER
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL

Other films which I have not seen but I have either high hopes for and/or have much critical acclaim include:

THE ARTIST
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
THE TREE OF LIFE
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
THE DESCENDENTS
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
YOUNG ADULT
THE MUPPETS
SHAME
MELANCHOLIA
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
LE HAVRE
and RANGO

19.12.11

BRUTE FORCE (1947)


It is a nice coincidence that I watched Jules Dassin's BRUTE FORCE today seeing as how yesterday would have been his 100th birthday, had he not died in March 2008.  Who is Jules Dassin you may ask?  Despite having a distinctly European sounding name, he was a talented American born filmmaker who made several very successful crime movies in the US in the 1940s--THE NAKED CITY, BRUTE FORCE, and THIEVES' HIGHWAY (I've yet to see this one)--before he was blacklisted in 1950.  He struggled to find work, and even after he went to Europe he had difficulty getting films made as American distributors threatened to boycott releasing any of his work.  His next film wasn't until 1955's excellent and influential (and French) heist film RIFIFI, said to have inspired modern films such as OCEANS 11.  It also informed his 1964 film TOPKAPI, which, when I caught the last half it on TV recently I noticed must definitely have influenced Brian de Palma in filming the CIA heist sequence in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE when Tom Cruise enters via the ceiling.

Director Jules Dassin
But today I am talking about BRUTE FORCE.  It is a 1947 noir prison film starring Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn (a Canadian!), as prisoner Collins and guard Captain Munsey, respectively.  As Collins and company prepare to make a prison break, the sadistic and tyrannical Captain Munsey is honing in on the meek Warden A.J. Barnes' job.  The Warden is on unofficial probation for being too lenient on his charges and should another incident occur, the Governor is going to dismiss him.  Munsey sees this as an opportunity, and lies in wait for Collins to execute his plan.

Burt Lancaster as Collins (far right), and his cellmates.
 Prison films are great locales for film noirs as they provide the right atmosphere and circumstances for some of the chief emotional motifs of noir: paranoia, pessimism, claustrophobia, and depravity.  We also have a huge cast of characters to attribute the whole spectrum of human conditions: bravery, cowardice, (dis)loyalty, insanity, brutality, and empathy.  As well as brotherhood; as the saying goes, "honor among thieves."  Despite differences in backgrounds and motives, all the prisoners have a common enemy, The Man, in this case Captain Munsey. 

Hume Cronyn as Capt. Munsey.
 It is also interesting watching an older prison drama.  Prison life has been rather white-washed in two senses, one, in a literal sense, most of the prisoners are white males (contrary to the massive number of African-Americans in prison in actuality), but also, two, this prison seems kind of cleaned up and humane.  Life seems to be relatively liveable with movies screened and plenty of different job details for inmates.  Five or six men crammed into a prison cell seem to be tolerable, and downright friendly with each other.  There are no drugs and hardly any violence between inmates--except the "accidental" death of one informant (a person who betrays his brothers).  So yeah, life seems fairly liveable here--that is until you're summoned to Munsey's office and he draws the blinds.

BRUTE FORCE is a fantastic film, a riveting drama and prison break story that truly culminates in an explosive climax. In a way, it isn't a huge stretch to see why it may have come to the attention of the HUAAC and gotten Dassin blacklisted.  It is the story of one courageous young man, rising up with his oppressed brothers to overthrow the leader for the greater good; where the one sacrifices himself for the many.  But despite your ideological leanings, it is a really well made film, with excellent performances by Lancaster and Cronyn, as well as Charles Bickford as Gallagher, the prison's newspaper editor who has seen it all, and Art Smith as Dr. Walters, as the prison's doctor, and sometimes moral conscience.  Go find this at your local video store or library, Criterion has an excellent DVD of it out!

Trailer:

18.12.11

Happy Birthday Steven Spielberg!



















On this day in 1946 Steven Spielberg was born!  Movies have never been the same!  Thanks for all the great pictures Mr. S!

13.12.11

HOME ALONE (1990)

Most people don't need any reminder to watch HOME ALONE around this time of year, but just in case you do, here is your reminder.  I watched it yesterday and it's still great.  The cast is great: Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Candy, Catherine O'Hara, John Heard, etc., and this guy:




Ha ha ha.  That line always makes me laugh.

Happy holidays!

The 2011 "Cinescape"

The guts and the glory of 2011's films.

7.12.11

3 Things: THE MAID (2009)


THE MAID (2009)
Dir. Sebastian Silva

THE MAID (La Nana) is a Chilean film about a maid, Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), the faithful servant, cleaner, nanny, and more-or-less family member of a wealthy Santiago family.  Raquel is getting on in her years.  Not senior by any means, but getting older, and is developing slight health troubles.  Despite Raquel's insistence, the matriarch of the family, Pilar (Claudia Celedon) decides it is probably time to hire a second woman to assist Raquel with her duties.  The trouble is, Raquel has been with the family for 23 years, and when an outsider comes in, Raquel is determined to hold on to both her position as an employee, but also as a pseudo member of the family.  She has dedicated so much of her life to raising the children in the family, and cooking and cleaning for everyone, she has a vested interest (not least an emotional one) of remaining the sole caretaker.  So when a new young woman is hired, Raquel gets territorial and fierce.  It is a funny, if not slightly darkly comic, film that ultimately is quite endearing.  Here are a few things I liked about it.

1. Catalina Saavedra as the maid.  She is great to watch.  Raquel the maid is so dedicated to the family and the house, it is kind of reminscent of that other film about domestic servitude, the fantastic THE REMAINS OF THE DAY.  It is a fascinating concept to me of that an employee, who despite not actually being a member of the family, knows more about the house, the procedures, the policies, and indeed about the family members than anyone else.  Raquel is one such person, who's life has become their life.  She moves around the house with comfort and confidence; it is her domain, and even though she didn't pay for it, in her own way she has command over it.  Saavedra's performance is wonderful, balancing Raquel's concern for herself with that of her responsibility to her employer.  She barely cracks a smile, but her face reveals so much about the feelings of her life choices of living with a pseudo-family.  She accepts her life of almost complete self-sacrifice to keep a modern family on the go, even if some of them may be completely ungrateful.

2. Have you ever seen a film from Chile?  I hadn't!  Another great reminder of the wonderful cinema that lies beyond the borders of North America.   It was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2010 Golden Globes, and it won both Grand Jury and Special Jury prizes at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, for both director Sebastian Silva and actress Catalina Saavedra, and received many other international accolades.

3. It's an interesting glimpse inside contemporary South America, and the wealth disparity that continues to exist down there.  Without much of a middle-class, the lower class often work in direct servitude to the upper class.  But this is a look at a family that has bridged the class differences by having Raquel in their house as more than just an employee.

Bonus thing: Mariana Loyola as Lucy.  Her delicate performance as Lucy is so sweet to watch as she patiently tries to get to know Raquel and open her up to friendship.

Go find this at your local video store!


Trailer:

A Meeting of Icons

Akira Kurosawa, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas, in 1980.

"When Toho Studios couldn’t fulfill the budget demands of the film, American film directors George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola helped Akira Kurosawa by convincing 20th Century-Fox (still riding high after the success of Lucas’ Star Wars) to fund the remaining portion of the budget in exchange for Kagemusha’s international distribution rights." -Willy & Jonih

29.11.11

3 Things: BUSTER KEATON RIDES AGAIN (1965)



I just watched this 55 minute NFB documentary from 1965 made about the great Buster Keaton filming one of his much later films in Canada entitled THE RAILRODDER.  The DVD I had also had that movie to watch, which was decent, but the real jewel was this documentary. It was fascinating seeing Keaton behind the scenes, now as a much older man, one who ridden the proverbial rollercoaster of fame and fortune, divorce, and alcoholism.  In many ways, Keaton is but a mere shadow of the silent superstar he was in the 1920s, but you can still see his natural wit and penchant for performance.  He was known as the Great Stoneface for his unflinching deadpan expression from his films, and Keaton even in 1965 rarely if ever smiles in public.  Is that a symptom of depression, aging, or frustration, or has he become completely the unsmiling Keaton of the silver screen?  With him it is hard to decide where the artist stops and where the art begins.  And make no mistake, Keaton truly was an artist.  Even a staggering 40 years on, he knows exactly what will be funny, how to stage a gag, how to film it.  He was a true visionary.  Here are three things that might interest you in watching this:

1.  Seeing Keaton behind the scenes, and hearing his voice.  As well as seeing him as an old man.  The interesting thing about discovering directors, actors, or performers of any kind after their death, is being about to watch them grow through the ages, become the superstars they were destined to be, and witness their (sometimes sweet) comedown as their life draws down.  Keaton is my favorite silent star, and countless contemporary (especially physical) comedians owe at least something to to him, from Jackie Chan to Cosmo Kramer.  But the real treat here for me was to see Keaton on location discussing what gags and how they are going to shoot them as they go along.  I've seen lots of old Keaton films from the 1920s, but it was neat and somehow (fittingly) melancholic to see him older and wrinklier.  Despite not having the physique of his youth any longer, he still knows how to use his body in a funny way.

2.  It was shot in Canada.  So, yes it is very cool to see Keaton traversing the country on a CN rail roadster.  Keaton is at home on the rails, so many of his films see him involved with mechanical devices and machine and vehicles--especially trains.  The narration in the film tells us "If anybody had bothered to ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up he would have said an engineer," and it is so apparent in his understanding of physics and machines.  And what better way for Keaton to travel across a country than on the rails--from the Maritimes, through Quebec, Ontario, across the Prairies, through the Rockies, and finally to British Columbia.  (Towards the end of the actual film, THE RAILRODDER, we see the Lion's Gate Bridge in the background!)

3.  It is a great example of a film made in the glory days of the National Film Board.  Oh but to have worked for the NFB in the 1960s.  A professor I had at school illustrated the seemingly endless funds the NFB had back then by describing how Hollywood vs the NFB would film a simple gag of a person walking down the sidewalk and slipping on a banana peel.  In Hollywood, they would build a sidewalk, write the scene, hire an actor, a stuntman, extras, a whole camera crew, make-up artists, wardrobe people, production assistants, and shoot the scene.  An NFB crew would set up a camera on a sidewalk and start rolling the camera until a random passerby dropped a banana peel.  It is kind of ridiculous, but did illustrate to me how fortunate one was to be able to work for them and be able to burn through hours of film.

And Bonus thing: You can watch it free online at the NFB website!  Among many other landmark films.


23.11.11

Woody Allen: A Documentary


PBS has this documentary series called "American Masters" and recently they did a two part film about the great comedic/dramatic filmmaker Woody Allen.  I watched Part 1 last night and it was really good!  It's about 2 hours long.  But if you're interested in Allen, or contemporary American filmmakers, or interesting people, it is worth a look!  It not only looks back at Allen's career and films, but he is the central interview figure.  He indulges filmmaker Robert B. Weide (producer and director of many "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episodes), being very candid about his hopes and dreams and disappointments, as well as explaining his writing and creative processes (he still types everything on the same typewriter and "cuts and pastes" the old fashioned way!).  I think I'm going to watch Part 2 today.  But here it is all up on the PBS website.

Woody Allen: A Documentary (Part 1)

21.11.11

Madness in Morocco: The Road to "Ishtar"


Ishtar (1987) is commonly considered one of the great film flops of all time. Warren Beatty must surely have been happy when Kevin Costner came along and took that title for him with Waterworld. I read this fascinating excerpt from Warren Beatty biographer Peter Biskind's book "Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America" about the making of Ishtar on the Vanity Fair website (linked to through slate.com's round up of 5 amazing film making stories). If you have time to read this, it is certainly worth it, as it provides an interesting perspective on stardom, egotism, stress, and determination, and how it can destroy a production, friendships, careers, and waste millions of dollars. Most of what it says about Dustin Hoffman I knew, but I really did not know anything about Beatty or the director, Elaine May, the talented writer and friend of Beatty's who bit off more than she could chew by accepting Beatty's gift of a project for her. Anyways, if you want to know how not to make a film, this is a really interesting place to start!

Madness in Morocco: The Road to "Ishtar"

3 Things: FANTASTIC MR. FOX


FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Dir.: Wes Anderson
2009

This was one of my favorite films of 2009. And I still watch it seemingly every few months. Wes Anderson's inventive telling of Roald Dahl's classic story, and the amazing cast make this movie a delight! Here are three things/reasons why I love this movie!

1. The voice cast is pitch-perfect. Mr. Fox is voiced by none other than George Clooney whose confidence and quick wit is perfect for the aging fox who must overcome his overconfidence (and slight cockiness) and accept who is he, as well as come to appreciate what he has, especially in the family department. Also wonderful are Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, Jason Schwartzman as Foxie's son Ash, Eric Anderson (Wes' brother) as Ash's cousin Kristofferson, Bill Murray as Badger, Wallace Wallodarsky as Kylie the Opossum, Willem Dafoe as Rat, and Michael Gambon as the farmer Franklin Bean.

2. The animation. Obviously! This was inspiring to watch when we were filming the stop-motion sequences for my short film MARS BITCH (coming soon to the internet!), from just technique to pure, plain old awe. The film was largely animated by the crew of Tim Burton's THE CORPSE BRIDE (which I have ashamedly yet to see!) and led by animation supervisor Mark Waring. Each time I rewatch it I find new details to enjoy. It is so incredibly full of texture and life that it is just such a treat for the eyes. Despite it being an animated film, it is still without a doubt a Wes Anderson film, adhering to his auteuristic style of carefully composed shots and colour palettes. There are many wonderful sequences, but some of my favorite are the quick-paced heists scenes where Foxie and co. are sprinting through the farmers' properties like only the best parkour athletes can.

3. It contains what is likely my favorite moment on film. My heart quaked the first time I saw it in theatres, and I watched the film last night and it made my heart quake then: the moment of understanding and solidarity between volpus volpus and canis lupis. You'll know it when you see it.

BONUS THING #1: All the other wonderful things! Whack-Bat. How they eat. The farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Foxie's travel radio. Kylie's trances. The bandit hats. So many!

Trailer:

8.11.11

Villains, by Art Streiber

Some classic movie villains photographed by Art Streiber



Malcolm McDowell (Alex DeLarge in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE)


Sharon Stone (Catherine Tramell in BASIC INSTINCT)


Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched as ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST)


Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lector in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS)

3.11.11

The 23rd Bond Film: SKYFALL


It was announced this morning that production has begun on the 23rd James Bond film, entitled SKYFALL. Daniel Craig again dons the tuxedo to play Bond, which I'm happy about because he has taken it in a great direction I think. And Judy Dench is M. Also included in the cast, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney, Naomie Harris, and Javier Bardem, as the villain. Sam Mendes, of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, AMERICAN BEAUTY, and ROAD TO PERDITION fame, will be directing. So, exciting news! I think SKYFALL is a good title too, I'm not sure of its origin, whether it is the title of a work by Ian Fleming, as was QUANTOM OF SOLACE, but I think it fits in nicely with other titles like THUNDERBALL, MOONRAKER, and GOLDFINGER. So very exciting news in the Bondsphere today, and I guess the speculation can begin as we anticipate it's arrival on October 26, 2012.

31.10.11

Federico Fellini



Fellini died on this day in 1993 at the age of 73. He was a true master of cinema and auteur filmmaker. He is responsible for one of my favorite films, which is also one of the finest films about making films, 8 1/2. Here he is on the set of 8 1/2, with Claudia Cardinale.

22.10.11

TAKE SHELTER (2011)


WOW! This is one of the best and eeriest films I have seen all year! As mentioned before in my post about MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, I'm not a big spook-seeker when it comes to films, but I do like a good thriller that keeps one guessing. I suppose I was never into the genre that suddenly popped things out at you with jolts of loud strings on the soundtrack, but I can appreciate a good psychologically creepy film when I see one, and TAKE SHELTER is one of them! On top of having all the dread and approaching doom that the trailer hints at (that I spoke of a little while ago), it also has a sustained level of tension, just one of those films that I really had no idea which way it was going to go and it was a pleasure to watch.


So, what is it about? Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a man who becomes plagued with nightmares and apocalyptic nightmares. Unable to explain himself to anyone including his wife and daughter, for fear of being labelled mentally ill like his mother, he begins to clean up and prepare the old storm shelter burried in his backyard. But for what? Curtis feels a storm coming unlike anything that has come before, and he must protect his family and himself from whatever comes. Tensions boil over as he sinks more and more time and money into his project, that no one can understand, as his nightmares and visions become worse. It is such a well made film, and director Jeff Nichols paces it like a good Hitchcock film, establishing a firm emotional connection to his main characters and then introducing doom and gloom and many a foreboding thunderstorm on the horizon. I thought he showed great restraint especially in the nightmares and visions that Curtis has; he is a filmmaker who understands that basic principle that showing and object or place and then allowing the audience to spook themselves out by imagining all the terrible things that could happen.


Michael Shannon did an excellent job in a role that takes a lot of subtlety. Curtis has an intense inner turmoil and what Michael Shannon does to convey Curtis' deteriorating condition and his struggle to keep his life together is incredible. As Curtis' wife, Jessica Chastain (I'm just going to assume she is in every single release this year) was also incredible, as a strong woman who has her own struggle of trying to balance her compassion with her confusion and subsequent anger with Curtis' behavior. I expect both Shannon and Chastain will receive some Oscar attention for this film! And I also really liked the slightly ambiguous ending, which I understand has polarized some people, and indeed in the theatre as soon as the credits started I heard some people muttering "what the hell!" but I LIKED it! So go see it and decide for yourself! This movie haunted me for the rest of that evening, at least, so be forewarned, it may take a lot out of you emotionally and psychologically!

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011)

I think this looks really good. The trailer has been out for some months now and I'm beginning to see posters and what not appear at the theatre, so this should be coming out soon! I have been hearing that its initial reviews are good which is not too surprising because, to me, this looks like it could be quite an intriguing and spooky film! I'm not usually into spooky things but there have been a number of really smart thrillers this year and this looks to be yet another one! And I just realized that the star of this, Elizabeth Olsen, is the younger sister of the (in)famous Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley! That's weird! Either way, she looks to be quite talented, as does the film-maker Sean Durkin. Also starring is John Hawkes, who is sort of an "it-fella" lately, receiving much acclaim for basically any role he takes on, from Oscar Nominee WINTER'S BONE, to a small role in CONTAGION, and many others, and will be co-starring in Spielberg's LINCOLN, due out next year. Check out the trailer for MMMM below!



And I really like this poster too:

17.10.11

A Roundup

Here is a bit of a round up of some of the new films I have watched recently!



DRIVE (2011)
dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

I'm sure you have read and heard many things about this film, so I'm sure I won't have a tremendous amount of new input, but here's my two cents. I loved it! I loved the cinematography, the acting, the story, the pacing, the colours, and especially the music. I didn't love the extremely graphic violence that punctuates the film, but I appreciate why it might be there. And really, it is so over the top that it borders on satire. And it also raises some questions about our level of acceptance of violence. Sadly, some people do horrible things to others. It is just a fact of life, and when people get shot in the head it isn't always a clean little red bullet hole, as Hollywood has trained us to believe. So this film does confront some preconceived notions about movie and real violence. But it's too bad that so many people talk about all that in a film this good. I mean look at how much in this blurb I've talked about it! The real strengths of the film are Ryan Gosling's role as the Driver, the cinematography of Newton Thomas Sigel, and the direction of Refn. Oh, and the supporting cast is phenomenal. And the mating of the soundtrack with the seductive images is truly fantastic. I will see this again! I just need to steel myself for the blood.



THE IDES OF MARCH (2011)
dir. George Clooney

How about this Ryan Gosling character? What a year he is having. And he is Canadian, so that is awesome. This is a great drama about the behind the scenes of a presidential primary campaign with Clooney playing the honourable and idealistic candidate Mike Morris vying to win the Democratic nomination. Despite the weight Clooney's name brings to the film, this really is Ryan Gosling's movie, playing Morris' dedicated campaign officer Stephen Meyers. Also present are the both phenomenal Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, possibly the two best character actors out there. As the title suggests, not all goes smoothly during the campaign as basic human flaws (and deadly sins) such as lust, pride, envy, and wrath, enter from the fray and unravel what seems to be a shoe-in of a campaign. I really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes of how a political campaign is run, especially in this day of age when we are inundated with reports of corruption and indiscretions (sexual and otherwise) in politics. I also found it interesting (and slightly infuriating--like real politics) that such an idealistic and promising candidate must make compromises in an effort to even get his foot in the door of the White House. No one is as squeaky-clean as we may think they are. Worth seeing!



MONEYBALL (2011)
dir. Bennett Miller

As I posted on this blog earlier, I was sure I would see this despite not really being a Brad Pitt fan or a baseball fan, or really a fan of sports movies, but I was sure I would enjoy it somehow. But I really liked it! And if I may say so, I was right. None of those things mattered to me; neither Pitt, nor baseball, nor sports. The real story was a business one, of trading baseball players like so many trading cards young kids grow up with, or maybe more appropriately as it relates to this story, like rising and falling stocks on the market. Pitt, as Oakland A's GM Billy Beane was good, and there has been buzz about Oscars and yaddayadda, but I think the really interesting character here is Peter Brand, played against type by Jonah Hill. Which is too bad because I felt like he was a little underused! I would have liked to have seen the film based more around Brand. That being said, it was a very well done film! And again, a good supporting cast, included small roles by Robin Wright and Philip Seymour Hoffman (I feel a sort of six-degrees-of-separation thing here), and even a minuscule role for Spike Jonze! I think fans of baseball and Brad Pitt will also really like this, but there is a lot for others to enjoy!



CONTAGION (2011)
dir. Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh is a machine. So many of his films are just epic in scale, from TRAFFIC, to the OCEANS 11 series, the CHE films (haven't seen these yet unfortunately), even THE GOOD GERMAN. And he just churns out picture after picture (he was originally going to direct MONEYBALL too! whoa!). Which is also a shame because he claims he is going to retire from filmmaking and focus on painting. And nothing against the painters of the world, but we need Steven Soderbergh to make films! All that being said, ha ha, I was not really that impressed with CONTAGION. I mean, no, let me rephrase that. I was impressed with it, but I wasn’t enamored, and did feel a little empty at the end, but maybe that is my own problem. But there is hardly any emotion in it. There is dread and sadness, but we never really get to know any of the characters enough to really feel for them. In case you don't know, the plot is that there is a massive worldwide outbreak of a terrible virus that kills people, not dissimilar from the whole SARS and H1N1 pandemics. We see many people affected by this event, in different parts of the world, and they all play their different roles in dealing with it. But we never spend enough time with them to establish an emotional link. The closest we come is with the Matt Damon storyline, about a father and daughter who are brought closer together by the deaths of family members, but even this feels quite thin. And as the film progresses and the doctors and scientists try to contain and research and cure the illness, we see it all go by, and then it all ends sort of as you would expect. I guess if you look at it more as a document detailing some of the events and reactions and steps and procedures that would occur in a worldwide pandemic that started to kill millions, it is interesting. But from a human standpoint, I felt pretty far removed. So in the end I didn't feel like I learned anything or was any better off. Maybe I will be more conscious about hand washing and will stay away from open-air meat markets in Asia. But if you really need one reason to see it, it looks fantastic. I've always loved the cinematography of Soderbergh's films, and he often shoots them himself, as in actually holds the camera, which is cool. And I'm sure it was shot on a RED camera, which creates stunning imagery. Wash your hands!

3.10.11

ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)


Billy Wilder's ACE IN THE HOLE is a pessimistic look at capitalist America and in particular the ruthlessness and depravity which can plague any man or woman desperate for wealth. The movie stars Kirk Douglas in a fantastic performance as Chuck Tatum, a tenacious journalist who finds himself out of luck and out of work in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With no money, Tatum wrangles himself a job at the local paper, but minces no word of his motives: to hang around long enough to get a scoop big enough that will take him back to the big papers of Back East. While en route to a routine story assignment, Tatum and his young photographer stumble upon a breaking story: a miner has been trapped after the shaft he was working in collapsed. Tatum, realizing the opportunity, springs into action and establishes contact with the miner, then calls in his story. The response is nothing less than a literal media circus. The public quickly arrives at this backwater mine shaft off the highway, bringing with it the press, tourists, lookie-loos, bands, the carnival, and anyone and everyone in between who sees an opportunity to make a buck. Tatum is determined to keep this story his own and in the process he himself becomes a sort of hero--and indeed part of the story--around the disaster area.


Director Billy Wilder's amazingly poignant story poses many questions we continue to ask today about the role of the media in their reportage, and especially how far one will go to tell, and ultimately, control a story. Kirk Douglas is excellent as Tatum, a man who is so driven to tell this story, but is not at all coy about his motives: money, fame, praise, heroism. Those expecting an honourable Douglas will be in for a surprise, it is a far cry from many of his other Hollywood roles, and certainly a lot darker and more pessimistic.


I watched ACE IN THE HOLE on Criterion's relatively recent release of the film on DVD and it looked fantastic. The picture was incredible in all its gorgeous black and white glory. This film is definitely worth a view, especially for any of those who are in, or interested in, the media, and well, basically anyone who enjoys a good solid film that has some questions about morality. Check it out! You will not be disappointed.

23.9.11

RIP Applause Videos



Well, as I posted on my other blog, it is another sad day as the video store I used to work at, Applause Videos, has closed. I only worked there for about 6 months, but it definitely rivals BMW as my favorite job ever. It was not rocket science by any means, but I loved opening the store every morning and just sorting through movies and having people come in and talk about movies, and basically just living in a world completely submersed in movies from all over the world and spanning the last century.

Part of the reason I even began this blog was inspired by the concept of the "staff picks" section of video stores, and when I got my OWN shelf at Applause I was so exhilarated and put a lot of thought and energy into what to put up there! It was always exciting when people would take your recommendations and rent something from you shelf. There are just gazillions of wonderful movies old and new that get lost in the shuffle. I was recently listening to an interview with Roger Ebert where he sort of lamented the fact that he sat through soooo many films in his life. His point being, life is precious and short, and there is so much crap out there, that in a way it is kind of tragic when you sit through a terrible film for 2 hours that you will never get back! Now I'm not claiming that all of the movies I recommend people will enjoy, but I don't know, I feel some sort of responsibility to pass on great things I have come across.

And that is something that I think we lose when you no longer have to go into a store and speak to someone. Part of the appeal of video stores, for me, was just being in there surrounded by shelves and shelves. It was the browsing that was interesting and I could literally spend hours in a store just reading the back of boxes. And while the internet (see: this blog! ha ha) is a great resource, and indeed a resource I use constantly to inform myself, there is that disconnectivity. While iTunes, or Amazon, or Netflix, or wherever you get your media, can recommend things to you, it is more often than not based on genres, tags, keywords, ratings, or even things previously bought by people who also looked at the title you are looking at. There isn't the same emotion of being in a store and wandering around, flipping through the action section, or the classic section, or (if you were lucky) the Criterion section, smiling at the sun-bleached James Bond section, and hearing the sounds of both fellow customers murmuring about films they had recently seen or read about, and whatever film the clerk was playing on the little TV hanging in the corner of the store.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

They've released another trailer for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, the David Fincher version that is, set for release this Christmas.  Though it isn't reallllly a trailer, I mean it is, but it is more of a synopsis of the film!  However unlike the previous trailer I wrote about, we get some dialogue and see all the cast, as well as actually get a good look at Rooney Mara as Lisbeth and WOW, talk about a transformation from her role (and probably her normal look!) as Mark Zuckerberg's lost girlfriend Erica Albright in THE SOCIAL NETWORK.  So I'm still looking forward to this!  Looks like it is going to be classic Fincher darkness.  Feels very SE7EN. 

21.9.11

BLUE VELVET (1986) Opening scene

Blue Velvet is my favorite David Lynch movie. It's probably his most accessible and straight forward film, but that that doesn't mean it lacks any sophistication in its construct. It's a fantastic examination of the rotten, disturbing underbelly beneath the polished and beautiful surface of classical (North) America. It has some great performances, including Kyle McLachlan's naive and inquisitive Jeffrey Beaumont, Laura Dern as Sandy the equally naive but beautiful daughter of a detective, Isabella Rossellini as the tortured Dorothy Vallens, and a wonderfully menacing Dennis Hopper (at his arguable best) as Frank Booth.

The opening to the film is an excellent one, as it introduces us to Utopia, the American Dream of a beautiful suburbia, with its white picket fences, azure blue skies, and shiny red fire engines. Things quickly go awry though, as an old man (we shortly find out is Jeffrey's father) is watering the lawn. His hose gets stuck and, boy oh boy, civilization breaks down: the faucet is leaking, the hose is wrapped around a shrub, and suddenly he grabs his neck in pain as he is hit by some sort of stroke. The man falls to the ground, in the mud, crushing some meticulously set up gardening strings for a flower bed, while the hose sprays upwards from his crotch while a dog grotesquely gnashes at the spritz and an innocent child wanders into frame, witnessing it all. We go even deeper as Lynch plunges the camera into the damp soil, under the emerald lawn, and takes us down to the festering underworld of scurrying insects and beetles beneath. This is the beginning of Lynch's examination of the conflicting views of darkness versus light in America, where things which are out of sight come into view and very clearly into mind.

16.9.11

PERFECT SENSE (2011)

Despite not enjoying the trailer for Steven Soderberg's CONTAGION, something about PERFECT SENSE draws me. The end-of-the-world scenario is a favorite for filmmakers these days, and I will be the first to admit that some of my favorite movies are about the collapse of civilization (CHILDREN OF MEN, BLADE RUNNER etc.), but CONTAGION just appears to be a tired story. That being said I haven't seen it yet and have read favorable things. But if one were to go solely by their respective trailers, I think PERFECT SENSE is the more appealing. Maybe it is the piano and violin score, the actors (I'm sorry CONTAGION, but Gwyneth Paltrow, can you please just go away), or the gentle cinematography, but PERFECT SENSE appears to be a movie that I would like to watch more. While CONTAGION is a film about the panic of disease, a sort of kicking-and-screaming descent into chaos, PERFECT SENSE accepts its fate and grasps onto what is important in times of desperation: love, human contact, family, friends. Sure, people freak out, panic, get drunk, trash stuff, but those are probably fairly typical reactions to what someone must go through when confronted with their fate. I guess what I am trying to say is that in a film that is bound to be rife with emotion and fear and panic, I choose the one that embraces it quietly. They both probably have the same ending, so why not get there with a little grace.

15.9.11

HIGH AND LOW (1963)


Part of the reason I started this blog is because I know that there are scores of wonderful movies out there in the depths of video stores, libraries, and the internet, and all they need is someone to champion them. Now I won't for a second pretend to be the only person or in the least bit unique for praising a film like Akira Kurosawa's HIGH AND LOW. In fact that are many, hundreds, thousands no doubt, of people who are more versed in Japanese films and have academic or more erudite opinions than myself. That being said, I love discovering older films that certainly deserve to be re-surfaced from time to time to the masses, before they are inevitably plunged back down into the annals of film history. And this video blog is also for the person who goes into the video store, scans the shelves, and proclaims "there are no good movies out right now!" to which I respond, there are thousands of fantastic movies out there, in fact, every single movie that has ever been out is out there, you just have to look past the new releases!

Which brings me to HIGH AND LOW. As I said, I won't claim to be The One who brings this to the masses, I just came across it and its praises on the Criterion Collection's website while browsing the film noir genre, and knowing what a tremendous filmmaker Akira Kurosawa is, as well as previous enjoying one of his other contemporarily set thrillers, I had a feeling I would enjoy this as well. The fact that it was yet another collaboration (I previously spoke fondly of them working together on THE BAD SLEEP WELL) with my now favorite Japanese actor, Toshiro Mifune, did not hurt either.

Toshiro Mifune

HIGH AND LOW tells the story of a kidnapping. Mifune stars as Kingo Gondo, a wealthy executive who is made responsible when a child is kidnapped. Gondo must determine whether or not to pay the astronomical ransom and face financial ruin, or to save the son of another man. What follows is the plotting of the exchange, the investigation, and the apprehension of the perpetrator. It is an incredibly well calculated and paced film. Kurosawa patiently plots the film, letting scenes take as long as they need to. It is almost as if his characters are real, fully rounded people who need time to process their decisions. It is really quite fantastic. Whereas in a more typical contemporary film, the executive might immediately decide to sacrifice his own wealth to save a child, I mean, of course! That is the only choice! But realistically a person faced with a decision of that magnitude, must surely weigh his own ruin, the futile end of decades of hard work, from beginning as a mere factory worker and his ascension to executive, to the level of comfort and lifestyle he has achieved. Kurosawa allows Gondo to come to his own conclusion in his own time.

Legendary composition.

Kurosawa's films are also known for their incredible shot composition. He is so conscious of his 2.35:1 wide screen frame (in "TOHOSCOPE!") and his characters are delicately placed like chess pieces to convey their relations towards each other, or their social or situational standing. Each character occupies his own space. Almost any frame of this film could be printed and hung on the wall as a work of art; they are so full of intent and emotion. It is positively inspiring.


And the content is compelling as well. In one sense, it is a rigid police procedural. We see the guts of the investigation: meetings, briefings, and the going-over of many details that clearly explain the conclusions the police arrive at. We also see them out in the field, scouting different locations or questioning witnesses they consider to be pieces of the puzzle in the apprehension of the criminals. If you are a fan of TV's Law and Order, this will look familiar! In another sense, HIGH AND LOW is an examination of the class disparity in post-war Japan, which the title is a reference to (in Japanese, it is translated directed as HEAVEN AND HELL). Gondo is a wealthy industrialist, whose house is perched atop a hill, overlooking the slums and factories of the city. We see both worlds; the high-rolling scotch whisky drinking executives in their mansions, and we see the drug-infested, putrid slums of the less fortunate.

Creeper in the bushes!

The last thing to mention, is that despite it's nearly 50-year age, this remains a riveting and at times downright exciting film (SEE: the bullet train sequence!). Now some, (not you, of course!) but some people, roll their eyes and turn away when they see either "black and white" or "foreign" or "1963" or "subtitles" and think it will be boring and I mean who wants to read a movie... but honestly, you will be surprised! Yes it is long, yes it is foreign, but it holds up tremendously. And that is a testament to Kurosawa's skill as a filmmaker, his eye for detail, and his penchant for storytelling. This is a story and a film that feels as fresh--fresher, even, if you consider it's age--to any number of police or crime thrillers of today. Have a look at HIGH AND LOW, and if you can try and see it on Criterion's new Blu-ray or DVD!

13.9.11

BLOW OUT (1981)


I watched this yesterday and I quite enjoyed it! Probably one of Brian De Palma's more compelling films, it is thrilling neo-noir film starring John Travolta as a film sound recordist. One night out recording sounds, Jack Terry accidentally records the sound of a terrible car crash that kills a presidential candidate. Jack is convinced that what he his sound recording proves this was no accident but instead an elaborate assassination set up to look like a car wreck. Jack saves a woman from the car, Sally, who ends up helping Jack--though rather reluctantly--solve the crime. John Lithgow also appears as a hitman out to eliminate the witnesses. From a thriller standpoint, it is quite good. Reminiscent of THE CONVERSATION (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) as well as BLOW-UP (1966, Michelangelo Antonioni), it follows a relatively lonely man on an obsessive quest to prove a truth through technological means. Like the these two other films, BLOW OUT's protagonist goes over and over and over his evidence, convincing himself that there is something else there, almost to the point where the original recording is rendered meaningless. I did enjoy this aspect of the film. I love that idea of having a piece of evidence and stripping it down and comparing to other details in the effort to make some sense out of it. In doing this De Palma invokes the process of filmmaking and editing. Editing is a process where one goes over a sequence dozens of times, even hundreds, attempting to glean to most meaning out of a scrap of film, or a series of shots. De Palma here is showing us this process, and Jack at one point even syncs up his sound recording to a series of photographers a second eye witness happened to shoot. From that standpoint, I found this fascinating. I think one negative point to mention is the Nancy Allen role, Sally. Her character is so un-compelling that I did not care about her in the least, and in fact most of the time found her annoying. And it made the fact that Travolta's character was interested in her even more annoying. That is a huge complaint I have about films: when two characters are only together because the script says so, and there is no chemistry whatsoever. But aside from that, BLOW OUT remains a interesting take on a neo-noir thriller through the eyes and ears of a filmmaker.

Trailer:

9.9.11

MONEYBALL (2011)

Why do I care about this movie? I don't really care about Brad Pitt. I'm not interested in baseball. I'm not big on sports movies. But something about it interests me. I can't put my finger on it, but I will definitely see this movie. I can't figure it out! Is it Jonah Hill? Can he really be carrying this movie? Or maybe it was the beleaguered production of it. Steven Soderbergh (before he decided to quit directing to become a painter) was originally attached to direct this. Who knows! I do however feel that Brad Pitt is slightly miscast in this movie, maybe it's because he is Brad Pitt and will always be doing the "Brad Pitt" in every role. Maybe he will surprise me! I guess we'll have to find out come September 23rd.

8.9.11

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS (2010)


This short, taut Canadian thriller by writer/director Ed Gass-Donnelly set in rural Ontario is worth seeing on the whole, but if you need one, really specific reason, it is the soundtrack. Bruce Peninsula provides the pulsing, soaring, and dramatic score blending epic drums and hints of First Nations and religious sounds. Very interesting! The film itself is good, and the acting is solid too. Peter Stormare (another, "that guy!", most notable to mainstream audiences as the crazy Russian cosmonaut in ARMAGEDDON, as well as Slippery Pete on SEINFELD) stars as a Ontario Provincial Police officer, Walther, whose small town is dealing with the murder of an unknown woman. Walter is tasked with the investigation and quickly becomes hampered by both a big city detective's arrival, as well as incooperative persons of interest, namely the new boyfriend of Walter's recently ex-wife, a slightly underused Jill Hennessy. While the investigation is more or less central to the film, the main theme is Walter coming to terms with his past and actions, and facing his demons and his anger. He is newly religious, as well as remarried, but is this quaint idyllic life really what he needs, or is it just further bottling up his emotions? Stormare is by now an accomplished actor, and I was really happy to see him taking a leading role, especially in a small independent Canadian film. Maybe I can hire him for my new project? Anyways, have a look at the trailer which contains some of the aforementioned soundtrack.