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.


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. 


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.



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.



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!


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.




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.



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.


THE DEBT (2011)

Well, we went to see THE DEBT tonight, a smart historical thriller based around three Mossad agents in the 1960s hunting and capturing a Nazi war criminal in East Berlin, and it was great! I thought it was a very well made, intelligent, well acted, well shot, and well written film! So, good on all fronts. The cast was excellent, especially Helen Mirren, as well as Jessica Chastain (who plays the former's younger self)--who I mentioned yesterday is having a huge year. But most notably, Sam Worthington! I don't mean to be snide, but, I didn't know he could act! Sorry, Sam. But it doesn't help that his most visible work has been done in films like AVATAR, TERMINATOR: SALVATION, and CLASH OF THE TITANS--all films not hyped on their in-depth thespianism. So it was a nice surprise to really see him get a good role to sink into. I think he is going to be a Colin Farrell type, who Hollywood vetted to be a next big it-person leading man type, but fails, only to become a smaller and more critically acclaimed independent and non-mainstream actor who gets interesting roles in smart films like THE DEBT. So, go see it for its acting, but also for all the rest of the reasons one goes to see a great film. It is a pretty riveting story that is deftly edited together, coherently blending two time periods and cleanly establishing early on which two actors are playing the old and young versions of their characters. Well played, all of you!

Jessica Chastain

Sam Worthington


"Colin Firth says film industry underestimates audiences' intelligence"

Here is an interesting article featuring interview snippets from the cast of the forthcoming TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, which, if you didn't already know, I am quite looking forward to! But a few good points are raised about studios underestimating an audiences ability and willingness to interpret and analyze a film. Quite true! There is a place for all kinds of films out there, but there most certainly is a demand for movies that make one use one's proverbial noodle. So take a look at this article, and it also has some information about the upcoming film! Looking forward to this!




WOW! I continue to be the world's worst blogger! Chalk it up to a busy and gorgeous summer, and well, yeah the last thing I think I felt like doing was spending time on the computer. Hopefully, with the approaching gloom of the fall, I'll be watching and writing more! ANYWAYS! We are entering Canadian Film Festival season with the TIFF and the VIFF rapidly approaching! And this year, there are many films premiering at TIFF which is exciting! TIFF has become one of the biggest film festivals in North America which is very exciting indeed. Now, if we could only showcase our own films as prominently as the American ones. Baby steps, I suppose.

Speaking of the aforementioned approaching gloom, and films appearing at TIFF, here is a trailer for a film by director Jeff Nichols, and starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. I think this looks great! I mean approaching gloom only from the thematical standpoint (watch trailer). Michael Shannon has become more of a common name around film circles and rightly so! He is a terrific actor, who, like a William H. Macy or a Philip Seymour Hoffman, was always "that guy" that you recognized in a ton of movies. Well, Shannon has been busy, doing turns in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and the TV series BOARDWALK EMPIRE, and receiving much acclaim in the process! But take a look at his IMDB, and you'll probably recognize a few more titles that he has been involved in. His co-star, Jessica Chastain is having a huge year. She acted opposite Brad Pitt in Terrence Malick's enigmatic TREE OF LIFE, and is also in a handful of other releases this year. So! On to TAKE SHELTER. I think this looks thrilling, and creepy, and fascinating. Take a look and decide for yourself! And then wait for it to come to a theatre near you, and decide whether you will see it! Enjoy:

UPDATE: Michael Shannon, I just realized, is playing General Zod (Superman fans, I assume this is classic character? I don't know!), in the new Zach Snyder-directed and Christopher Nolan-produced Superman film, MAN OF STEEL!