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.



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!


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:


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.

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!

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!

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!



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.