Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wendy's "Films" of 2010 #25: Absolutely Fabulous, Season 1 (1992)

"Annoying" was the first thought to come to mind as I watched the first of six episodes, thankful that they were all under half an hour. Then I started to enjoy myself as I disregarded the shrill tone of Edina, played by Jennifer Saunders, the show's creator. At times I felt like slapping her in the face, and to my surprise and pleasure, Edina's studious daughter Saffron does just that. The only other thing that annoyed me was the laugh track; I understand that such things are hard to avoid, but it felt like someone was dictating my sense of humour to me, which I didn't appreciate. [Edit: Turns out this is actually a live studio audience, which entirely quells my displeasure :)] Then the enjoyment came, as Saffron's biting comments to her mother spewed forth as quickly as Patsy's lust for men. Patsy, Edina's best friend, fellow alcoholic and fashionista, is wonderful, with hair as high as a small watermelon, a cigarette hanging from her mouth half the time and dry humour to add to Edina's frantic half-shouting. She adds the insanely sane to this colourful and drunk series. I also enjoyed the horrible 90s fashion. I think I'll check out the next season, simply out of curiosity.

tm Does the QT 20 Part 13: Dogville


Dogville (dir. Lars von Trier – 2003)

Dogville, Small Town USA during the Depression, becomes the new home of a woman (Nicole Kidman) on the run after being involved in a bank hold-up in a nearby town. The Dogvillites are suspicious but she makes an ally (Paul Bettany), who wins the town over and they accept her; to show her gratitude, she starts doing little jobs around the town, helping people out. But, eventually, her need for secrecy and that the townsfolk hide her from the police, eventually puts them in a position to leverage the woman’s gratitude into servitude. Her attempts to escape are undermined and Paul Bettany’s character, convinced he’s doing the right thing by being an apologist for her, keeps making things worse. Eventually, her bank-robbing cohorts show up to claim her and it rests on Nicole’s character if there’s a need for pay-back.

This is not an easy movie to watch. Its shot on a bare stage with the walls of the buildings just marked on the stage, giving it a very theatrical atmosphere. Further, the metaphor is that in a small town, everybody knows what the other people are doing - walls are just for appearances sake. The communal silence that grows in the obvious mistreatment of Nicole’s character is chilling, especially as she’s systematically raped by the town’s men; which, on a set without walls, is done in plain view of the townspeople. The movie also is broken into chapters, complete with titles; some may complain of the stop/start flow, but it works like a play, with a brief pause between scenes.

The director, Lars von Trier, is a polarizing person – not only amongst viewers & critics, but also among the actors. The friction on the set of his movies is well known and clearly seen in one of the bonus features of the dvd – Trier sets up a ‘confessional booth’ where anybody can go in and discuss anything on video. However, full credits are given to Trier for effort and vision.

Not for everybody, but a great movie.

tm sez: 8/10

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #15: The Freshman

US, 1925. Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor. Starring Harold Lloyd.

The quickest way to set my teeth a-gritting when discussing classic films with me is to dis Chaplin in order to elevate Keaton. Both were masters, indisputably great, leave it at that. Like one better than the other? Good on ya. Still, I’m immediately suspicious of someone who needs to rigorously assert their Keaton fandom, as if it were a badge of non-conformity against the big, bad popular favourite Charlot. If someone tells me they think Harold Lloyd is greater than either, I just dismiss them as crazy.

This not to say Lloyd is a poor silent screen comedian. On the contrary, he’s a very likable screen personality and his gags are always pure in conception and clear in execution. But I’m always surprised anew at how vague a screen personality Lloyd is. Everyone knows the glasses, but what else does Lloyd stand for? The “everyman” we’re meant to identify with, but not a striking screen persona.

The Freshman is a fine Lloyd comedy, usually reckoned to be his best, except by those who pretend to have seen Safety Last because they once saw a poster of Lloyd hanging off the clock above traffic. He plays a young man who goes off to college with a healthy savings account and an overwhelming desire to be the most popular guy at school. He blows most of his money on day one, buying ice cream for his new “friends”, and quickly earns a reputation as the school buffoon, thinking his is on the football team when he’s really just the waterboy.

My general problem with Lloyd’s films is that, as good and as cleanly designed as his gags are, the setups are glaringly obvious, the complications broadly telegraphed, and most gags usually work out exactly as you expect them to. Example: Lloyd holds a huge party to further his bid to be big man on campus, but his tailor does not complete his suit on time. At the party, the tailor says “I will ring a bell if your outfit splits”. We see a couple at a table with a bell. We think “the man will ring it and Lloyd will panic because he thinks his outfit has split”. This is exactly what transpires. Lloyd eventually notices the couple with the bell and think “I bet his outfit will split and the tailor will ring the bell and he will think it’s the couple and laugh it off.” And he does.

There are exceptions, but rarely do you get the wonderful sense of wonder and surprise that are the mark of the great physical comics: Chaplin, Keaton, Chan. There is a wonderful gag during the party sequence where Lloyd appears to be sitting at the table with a pretty young thing. In reality, his lower body is bent back through the curtain behind his chair, where the tailor is furiously working away on Lloyd’s pants. The tailor passes out, and we see Lloyd slowly sinking down in his seat. The effect is wonderfully funny and like a tonic amidst the conventional gags.

The party scene and climactic football game are the showpieces here and each works like a charm. As a primer in the mechanics of silent screen comedy, this is a terrific and likable film. Still, after years of trying, it's hard as ever for me to see Lloyd as deserving a place above the second tier of silent comics.

tm Does the QT 20 Part 12: Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson – 1997)

The subject matter of this movie probably turned a lot of people away – a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the California porn industry in the late ‘70’s. Even though there’s a rise and fall and rise arc to the movie, I’m sure some people don’t want to see anything redemptive coming out of people being paid to screw each other so other people can watch. And then you’ve got the flip-side where some people involved in this industry are doing so with the conviction that they’re doing something creative and artistic.

You’ve got Mark Wahlberg playing a kid that gets involved in the porn industry, quickly becoming a star thanks to the length of his member, and then there are all the other people that are involved – actors, producers, directors, etc. etc. But with his sudden ascent, comes the fall – Markie Mark starts getting into the drugs and so has trouble with his ding-dong, most everybody is also doing drugs as well, the business moves to video which is cheaper than the film which director (played by Burt Reynolds) sees as an affront to his artistic pursuit, etc.

This is a good movie with a great ensemble cast, some of whom haven’t done much since or as well as their own. This is one of John C Reilly’s better performances before he fell into the Will Ferrell orbit (somebody save him!), Philip Seymour Hoffman’s first role of note, and should’ve been the closest Wahlberg ever got to an Oscar (nominated for The Departed? Give me a break – whatta crappy movie that was…; it only got nominated for anything because the Academy realized it missed all Scorsese’s good movies…), the always great Don Cheadle, and has a few real live porn actors and actress’ in non-porn acting roles.

I remember a friend being down right irritable the day after the Oscars that this movie didn’t win anything; this was adding insult to his injury that the movie wasn’t up for more than the three nominations it got and won none (Best supporting actress – Julianne Moore, best supporting actor – Burt Reynolds, best original screenplay – Paul Thomas Anderson). And, true enough, it should’ve been up for more nominations and won some.

T&S sez: 8/10

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Creepy Pedro Reviews "District 9"

It should not surprise you that, when I accidentally touched the grease of a Hollywood Scriptwriter's typewriter, I began to transform into a Hollywood Scriptwriter myself.

This first manifested as a paunchy sadness. My doctor, instead of giving me Milk of Magnesia and a poultice for my bedsores, hit me on the head and wrapped me in a bag, and the next thing I knew I was in Peter Jackson's torture chamber, screaming.

"I have an idea for a blockbuster movie, but I'm unable to to nail it down, you see," said Mr. Jackson, reclining on a settee with his hairy feet sticking out. "I have stolen a disused Hollywood Scriptwriter's Typewriter from George Lucas' secret museum, but neither my Faceless Spouse nor I can make it operate." And there I saw the Faceless Spouse herself, gnashing and twisting.


Mr. Jackson applauded. "That's excellent! Your transformation into a Hollywood Scriptwriter is almost complete! We need you to operate the Hollywood Scriptwriter's Typewriter in order to ensure the success of our new movie. We want it to be about rampaging aliens that get all shot up. Other than this we do not know."

"I WILL NOT COOPERATE!" I shouted, but when Peter Jackson shocked me with an energy weapon attached to his belly, I told him that he needed to write a socially-relevant story with a strong character arc.

"Social commentary can be complicated and taxing to the audience," said Peter Jackson.

"Not if there are enough guns," I explained patiently, and both Peter and his Faceless Spouse applauded.

"We'll say it's all very maverick and visionary, and not a Hollywood action film at all!" said Peter, laughing. "If anybody gets bored, we'll say it's simply entertainment and not a social commentary!" His Faceless Spouse seemed to enjoy Peter's joke, and as a reward she shambled forth to push gruel into his wet, questing maw. This, I saw, was the source of their twisted bond: the gruel with flecks of meat, the laughing faces, the cynical horror.

Suddenly contemplative, Mr. Jackson stopped eating and pushed his Faceless Spouse aside. "But wait. I can't think of a single socially-relevant topic that hasn't been explored ad-nauseum."

"Xenophobic discrimination," I said.

"Is that good or bad?" asked Peter, and after a few additional shocks due to my predictable non-compliance, I typed out the first draft of a movie which would explain to viewers that xenophobic discrimination is both bad and pervasive. After reading it, Peter put down the script and said "That's really enlightening," and his Faceless Spouse gibbered mindlessly as though hungry for sex.

"But..." said Peter, turning over slightly like a sleek and largely immobile seal, revealing the engorged suckers which hung from his buttocks. "But...if we're going to convince the audience of such an audacious moral idea, we need to make them CARE about the goopy aliens. They must feel EMPATHY. Here's my guy from Weta Digital," and for the next three hours I endured a featurette about the design and implementation of the alien creatures. "After we film the man in the green suit, we digitally erase the wires and begin the sound design," said the guy from Weta Digital.


"Not until you give us a hook to hang the audience's sympathy on."


"Not in Middle Earth," he snarled, and he barraged me with electrical zaps from his bellygun. "Give us what we want or I'll blast your stinking willawalla to the billabong!"

"DESIGN A CUTE ALIEN BABY WITH WET EYES!" I screamed, and then everybody exploded, and now Peter Jackson is rich, and I'm just sitting around and folding these fucking flowers.

Julia watches another Movie

Julia is our resident Osteopathic practioner at 10 Regina Street North and she has been known to watch the occasional movie. Here is one of those films!

Doubt (2008) (Dir: John Patrick Shanley)

What do a priest, a Mother Superior, and a door-to-door salesman have in common? Apparently none of them make a comfortable transition from Stage to Screen.

I was quite looking forward to “Doubt,” which boasted shovelfuls of Oscar, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice nominations both for acting and for adapted screenplay. Perennial heavyweights and personal favourites Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman never really got into character for me. I felt the way I did watching Dustin Hoffman shuffling around in the televised version of “Death of a Salesman;” he never really was Willy Loman, just Dustin Hoffman trying hard to make you think so.

Perhaps this is an issue of the difficulty of trying to make a play, even a really successful and award-winning one, a Film. The dialogue felt stiff and uncomfortable, and kept Streep and Hoffman (er, Phil, not Dusty) from really breathing life into their characters. As well, I found certain cinematic effects (wonky camera angles! gusting wind and rain!) heavy-handed and ultimately distracting. When it was over (did I mention it felt long?), I half-expected people to burst into my living room and jump to their feet, applauding and shouting “Bravo!!”

Overall, I was too distracted by its stilted, staged feel to really care about the interesting—and timely—themes “Doubt” was trying to address, and that’s a shame, because probing into the Catholic church, with its dark secrets and its messed-up gender and power dynamics, should make for captivating, thought-provoking film.

Mike The Boss - Films of 2010 - Film the Eleventh: The Young Victoria

(Why was I thinking of naughty chess jokes during this scene?)

The Young Victoria (2009) (Dir: Jean-Marc Vallee)

Another queen movie for me! This one follows the chaotic first years of Victoria's rule and her romance with Prince Albert. If you are looking for gorgeous set pieces, fabulous costumes and high drama and political intrigue, this movie is for you.

Emily Blunt gets the nod as Queen Victoria and does an excellent job of portraying a willful 18 year girl who ascends to the most powerful seat in Britain. Rupert Friend plays Prince Albert and does a great job showing the respectful intelligence of the man. Paul Bettany is Lord Melbourne, Albert's competition for Victoria's hand in marriage. Miranda Richardson looks a little out of place as the Duchess of Kent (Victoria's mother) as does Jim Broadbent as dying King William but they can be overlooked.

The movie starts with typical teen drama. Victoria mom and her mom's boyfriend want Victoria to do as she is told but Victoria knows that they are not the boss of her and says, "No way Mom!" Okay, that isn't how it really goes. In reality, the Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy (played by Mark Strong) want Victoria to sign papers that declare them to be her Regents until she turns 25 (she is not quite 18 yet). The king is dying and they consider Victoria too young to take the throne. Victoria, strong willed teen that she is, declines their generous offer and sets about getting ready to rule the kingdom.

The coronation sequence is pretty damned sweet with lots of pomp and circumstance, everyone in their finery and the sets dolled up to the max. Blunt plays it well showing a touch of nervousness but keeping her facade of regalness for the public. This two-sidedness of her nature is continued throughout the film including during the romance with Albert, her dealings with Lord Melbourne and the parliament and with the general goings-on within the palace. She always seem to have a bit of that young teen petulance mitigated by her years of training to be the Queen of England.

The romance with Albert takes a long time to come to a head but the wait is worth the while. Poor Albert is constantly frustrated because he can't come out and say how he feels directly because his lady love is the Queen of England. Meanwhile, Victoria is having trouble making up her mind because, well, she IS the Queen of England and pretty much everything she does has double and triple meaning regardless of whether she wants to do so. The nice touch is that a lot of the long distance romancing is taken directly from the actual Queen Victoria's collection of letters. So we get to hear what the real queen thought when the real romance was happening.

Anyway, there are no real surprises here other than Albert getting shot (he did not in reality). Eventually, Victoria realizes Albert is a good match, they have an absolutely fabulous wedding and they live happily ever after having 9 kids until Albert dies and Victoria goes into mourning for the rest of her life. For a different look at Victoria's latter years, check out the marvelous Mrs. Brown, starring Judi Dench as an older Victoria and Billy Connolly as John Brown, her supposed lover. It makes a good companion piece to Young Victoria and is a damn fine film too.

As an aside, the film was written by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote Gosford Park and the film was directed by Quebecois film-maker JeanMarc Vallee, who directed C.R.A.Z.Y. . Both of those films are worth checking out as well.

Mike the Boss - Films of 2010 - Film the Tenth: Enid

Don't worry. I haven't given up on the quest of 365 movies in 365 days. I just happen to have caught a cold and then passed it on to my partner so I haven't had time to write my movies up. I'll try to catch up over the next week or so.

Enid (2009) (dir: James Hawes)

This movie was made for British Television which means it is good enough for the big screens over here. It stars Helena Bonham Carter doing her usual journeyman's work in the role of Enid Blyton, beloved British writer of children's books. If you don't like Bonham Carter's acting style, you'll hate this movie since it is all Helena all the time. I think she does a pretty good job most of the time and this kind of role is well suited to her talents.

You would think making a biopic about Blyton would emphasize the playful side of her writing but the Brits apparently thought otherwise. Instead we find out that Enid had a miserable childhood and left home shortly after her father abandoned her family. She managed to talk publisher Hugh Pollock into publishing her first book and promptly married him. Given that she came from a broken home, one would have hoped that Blyton could have chosen a different path than she did. However, old ghosts seem to haunt her resulting in her being an indifferent mother, an adulterous wife and really an all-around bitch.

Given that this movie is a thorough assassination of any good thoughts one might have had towards Enid Blyton, it is a wonder that they do not bring up the inherent sexism and racism involved in her writing. Some of it is implied in the movie but if your going to rake a dead person over the coals, why not go all the way? Other than that, the movie is a perfectly satisfactory BBC production and worth checking out unless you wish to keep your deluded image of what Enid Blyton was really like.

Ryan Watches a Motion Picture #4: The Adventure of English (2003)

It's a fascinating miniseries on the birth of the English language and its growth in time to be the global language it is today. It proves to be a detailed and stirring look at the historical forces that shaped the language and nudged it into certain patterns and dialects, and should scratch the documentary itch of any English student or lover of the word, the line, the way.

It goes over the reasons why we spell words in certain ways, how certain words have shifted meaning, and which words from our vast word-horde were trickled in from different languages as their respective nationalities clashed. How the English artists, Shakespeare among them, changed the language through their work and how they brought status to the English language abroad.

It gets a little overzealous, I think, whenever it posits that English is a particularly robust, naturally selected, or adaptable and absorbing language, since I'd guess that its spread and knack for assimilating foreign words and grammars has more to do with imperialist and economic forces rather than any kind of naturally selected flexibility, but the series does manage to admit as much near the end of the series.

So: The historical rundown it presents is compelling without need of cheesy re-enactment, and should keep you fascinated every step of the way.

*Not actually part of the documentary, but informative nonetheless.

tm Does the QT 20 Part 11: Audition


Audition (aka Ôdishon; dir. Takashi Miike – 1999)

Reading about this movie in advance of watching it, I was prepared to be grossed out, what with mention of barf bags being handed out at some screenings, people being sick in movie foyers, etc. While this movie is disturbing but c’mon - people, if you’re renting movies from Gen X, you’ve probably seen worse...

Many years after a movie producer’s wife dies, he decides to find a new wife. Unsure of how to proceed, a friend arranges a semi-bogus audition for a movie roll. The widowed producer sits in, evaluating the women as they come in. He finds one woman to his liking and he approaches her after the audition. They go out for a few dates and then, without warning, she disappears. The producer then attempts to track the elusive woman.

The movie is a psychological drama – the producer tries to track down the mysterious woman and the more he finds out about her, the weirder psycho-bitch she turns out to be. But yet the producer pursues, a train stuck on the tracks. The plot moves along in a controlled and measured pace, Ryo Ishibashi as the producer bring some nice dramatic chops to the movie and Eihi Shiina as the female protagonist does a nice job of projecting a quiet/scary/unhinged vibe.

Yes, the last 20 minutes are a little hard to take – the bulk of it being a torture scene involving an immobile captive being subjected to super-long acupuncture needles and a garrotte to an extremity – but the pain-induced flashbacks by the captive does provide some insight into the plot. Not that I’m trying to make excuses for this movie or anything like that...

tm sez: 6/10

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #14: The Girl on the Train (La Fille du RER)

France, 2008. Directed by André Téchiné. Starring Émilie Dequenne, Michel Blanc, Catherine Deneuve, Ronit Elkabetz, Mathieu Demy.

This film is based on a true story that caused a major media frenzy in France back in 2006. If I heard about the case back then it has since fled my mind and doesn't ring a bell, and I wasn't aware of the film's source when I sat down to watch it. I'm not going to divulge any details so that a viewer who reads this can go into it cold like I did if they choose to; a brief google search using the film's title should give you the information you need if you don't care.

The absence/presence of background information has given me a lot to chew on in the days since I watched this. Even if you look the story up on google, you will never be able to experience the sensation the case caused in France, any more than someone who had never heard of or seen Michael Jackson could experience the peculiar disconnect a lot of people who grew up in the 80s felt upon hearing of his death. This is important because a French audience would know about the pivotal plot point in this film, and be waiting for it throughout the entire 60 minutes that elapse before it happens, their entire experience of what they're watching coloured by their knowledge of what was coming and how they felt about those events when they were all over the TV and newspapers and internet a few years earlier.

Many viewers already feel a bit alienated when they watch any foreign film, conscious that something is not only being lost in the translation of the subtitles but also in the cultural differences. An acquaintance of mine once told me he didn't watch any Japanese period films because the principles of conduct and honour that would be implicitly understood by the Japanese audience made it seem to him like he may as well be watching martians for how alien the behaviours and logic were to him.

All of this would not be as pertinent to me if not for the fact that there is a puzzle at the heart of this film: why a key character does something particular. It's a relatively straightforward film, but the big catharsis/breakdown/explanation that a Hollywood version of the story would deliver never comes. This didn't especially bother me; it's not uncommon for European films to keep some key elements ambiguous, to keep the film turning in your mind, chewing over the motives and ideas raised. And knowledge of the case doesn't make the difference, either: the question troubles the major characters as the film closes, leading one of them to ponder an extensive personal investigation, maybe as a book? Or a film?

André Téchiné is a terrific director, and this is one of his most interesting films of recent years. His work with actors is always notable, and all of the leads shine, especially Dequenne as the title character.

Ultimately, my recommendation is to go into the film cold, if at all possible, though obviously it isn't crucial, since it could not be reasonably expected of its homegrown audience. I thought the plot was heading clearly in one direction, only to be thrown for a loop several times, ending up far from where I thought I would. And in a film that tackles the mysteries of the human mind, maybe the curve balls often thrown by real life aren't such a bad thing.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #24: The Invention of Lying (2009)

Beyond the overarching premise of The Invention of Lying is a plea, just like the plea in Knocked Up or Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It's when a Hollywood film actually lets a mediocre looking man, with lots of heart, charisma and humour form a lasting bond with a kind, gorgeous woman. I love the idea; I love breaking the boundaries of the beauty standard, but my only wish is that it could happen the other way around. Why can't a girl, who's perhaps "ugly" (though charming and kind) get the hot guy? Not a movie where the ugly duckling is magically transformed into a gorgeous prom date, or a princess, but one where an everyday girl gets the guy without changing who she is. If there's a movie out there where this happens, please let me know. I realize that standards of beauty are ever changing, that one person's sex dream is another's worst nightmare, but wouldn't it be nice if a woman like Jason Segal or Ricky Gervais got a guy like Mila Kunis?

Tangents aside, this was a nice turn on the romantic comedy, though the narrative was not particularly outstanding. About an hour in I got so bored I decided to cook dinner, and though the rest of the film was relatively painless, it didn't wow me. Ricky Gervais was the saving grace, and numerous comedians and actors (Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Tina Fey, Philip Seymour Hoffman) added a little punch, but the story itself piqued and then lost my interest quite quickly. However, I must say I enjoyed Edward Norton's very random and short turn as a cocaine addicted policeman.

New to the Store: Week of 26 January, 2010


Boys Are Back, The
Butch Factor, The
Damages: Season 2
Doctor Who: End of Time, Parts 1 & 2
Doctor Who: Waters of Mars, The
Fille du RER, La (Girl on the Train)
I Am Because We Are
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
Little Dorrit (BBC)
Oliver Twist (BBC)
Saw VI
Soul Music
This Is It
Whip It


Altered States
Je tu il elle
New York Films, The (La Chambre / Hotel Monterey / News from Home)
Ninja: Legendary Assassins Collection (Ninja In The Dragon's Den / Ninja & Dragons / Ninja: The Final Duel / To Catch A Ninja)
Pie in the Sky: Series 2
Rendez-vous d'Anna, Les
South Pacific


8 1/2
Alexander (Revisired: The Final Cut)
August Rush
Body Heat
Che, Part 1: The Argentine
Che, Part 2: Guerilla
Corpse Bride, The
Gimme Shelter
Ocean's Thirteen
Paris, Texas
V for Vendetta
Whip It

Wendy's Films of 2010 #23: Outsourced (2006)

I sort of rented this on a whim, not knowing too much about it except that a friend told me it was good about a year ago. It pleasantly surprised me; I liked the story, of a man sent to India to train the people who were taking over his office's jobs, and how he falls for a smart Indian girl. It could have been a little more lively though. I felt like director John Jeffcoat really tried, but didn't quite capture what it was like to be caught up in a bustling new world full of shocks to the senses. I wish there were more films like this one, however; films that take someone out of their comfort zone, travelling and experiencing new cultures. I feel like this could help us understand what it's like for people to move here, to have everything they know be turned around.

Overall, it was entertaining and nice, with likable actors (led by Josh Hamilton and Ayesha Dharker) and light comedy, but nothing really jumped out at me to say "HEY! I'm awesome!"

Wendy's Films of 2010 #22: The Talk of the Town (1942)

What a great shot eh? Cary Grant is so charismatic, so handsome, so wonderful. Those eyes; that chin!

Ahem. Well. It was a pretty standard story; you've got your female love interest, your intrigue, your hero in trouble. I really enjoyed it though. Grant plays an escaped convict attempting to prove his innocence, who hides in the attic of a house that is being rented by one of the top lawyers in the country (Ronald Colman), and they both fall in love with Miss Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur), who owns and rents out the house. It's an interesting idea, playing with the idea of law, what it should mean, and how it should be enforced. Both Grant and Colman are captivating, though Arthur's character gets a little silly about halfway through, but she thankfully redeems herself in the end.

I would recommend this one to anyone looking for an old classic they might not have seen, especially those who are fond of Cary Grant or lawyers with beards.

tm Does the QT 20 Part 10: Battle Royale

Hi friends! With this review tm is halfway through the Tarantino 20. Recently someone took very angry exception to a review here on the blog, and felt it deserved an angry in-store tirade, so a word or two about opinions...

Like the kids say, they're like assholes; everyone has one. The reviews are strictly the opinions of those who write them, not the store at large, and no one makes any claims to authority. I don't agree with some of them. Take tm's review of Battle Royale, below. I think it's better than he gives it credit for being, but here it is nonetheless. It's tm's opinion, which he is sharing. Ditto for my reviews. Accept them, or don't. If you don't, write why in the comments section if you'd like! There's no reason why you should take this blog more seriously than we do! The end. - CJB

Battle Royale (aka Batoru rowaiaru; dir. Kinji Fukasaku - 2000)

Of the list of 20 movies, this is the movie that Quentin singled out as being his favourite (the rest being tied for 2nd...or 20th, I guess). And in case anybody was wondering where he got the idea of deadly uniformed Japanese school kids from Kill Bill 1, this is probably where he got the idea...
Set in the near future, Japan enacted a law where the class of one school would be forced to engage in a 3-day long battle to the death on a remote island – if one person was alive at the end of it, that person is free to leave; if more than one was alive at the end of the contest, they’d all be killed. (The reasons for the Japanese parliament passing this law are a little wanting - At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence, and fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act... Not exactly compelling reasons for 40 kids to kill each other but whatever...)

And just to make things further interesting, there are two kids thrown in the mix that aren’t part of the class – one quickly establishes himself a psychopath. And everybody’s been fitted with necklaces that can explode. And a former teacher of the class (who left because a student stabbed him in the leg), played by Takeshi Kitano, who’s also in charge of the Japanese soldiers that are monitoring this event; he announces who’s died, what sectors of the island are off-limits, etc.

The movie focuses on two kids – a boyfriend/girlfriend who team up and try to find allies to figure out a way to survive; they find one group of kids who’s trying to hack into the soldier’s monitoring system, one group of girls camps out in a lighthouse (I was hoping for a pillow-fight but instead get a very QT close-quarter gunfight ending in a massacre), etc. Of course, these two are one of the last few left standing, and there are questions about what will happen since only one of them can survive...

This is basically a caged, high-octane version Lord of the Flies – some kids strike out on their own, some team up despite knowing that only one will survive, some have no trouble killing classmates, others are so racked with guilt that they commit suicide. At times the plot gets a little sketchy, the editing gets a little sloppy, and acting a little stiff (but, hey, they are teenagers), but it’s a pretty good action flick.

tm sez: 7/10

Monday, January 25, 2010

DVD MIA: If I Had a Million

By decree of the boss man, movies/DVDs only count towards the great 2010 viewing tally contest if Gen X carries the film for rental. For my extracurricular viewing, I've created DVD MIA, a series covering movies not available on DVD in North America.

If I Had a Million. US, 1932. Directed by James Cruze, H. Bruce Humberstone, Ernst Lubitsch, Norman Z. McLeod, Stephen Roberts, William A. Seiter, Norman Taurog. Starring Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, George Raft, Jack Oakie, W.C. Fields, May Robson.

This is one of Paramount's early-talkie all-star affairs, with a wide selection of contracted directors and stars involved. The umbrella story involves a dying millionaire (Bruce Bennett) deciding to give away his fortune before he kicks off, rather than leaving to his lecherous colleagues and family members. He picks eight names at random from the L.A. phone directory, and gives each one million dollars. Each segment of the film details how that individual copes with their sudden richesse.

This kind of affair is usually pretty hit-and-miss, what with grand master filmmakers like Lubitsch handling one segment alongside one by journeyman Humberstone; huge Hollywood stars like Cooper contrasted with esteemed British thesp Laughton and vaudeville comics Fields and Oakie. The success rate in this one is surprisingly high, with many of them hitting sweet spots. The tone of the segments ranges from wishfulfillment comedy (Lubitsch, McLeod) to ironic humour (Seiter) to tragic (Cruze). In fact, for a film with such a screwball premise two of the segments have such depressing outcomes as to beggar belief. Roberts contributes one of the best segments: a poignant vignette about a skid row prostitute who spends her first night of wealth alone in a swank hotel, making a point to throw away the second pillow. He also contributes the worst, a retirement home tale that careens from sneering villainy to ridiculous utopianism.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #21: Broken Embraces (2009)

When I look back on the plot of a film, or a summary made up by some website, I often feel as if this doesn't do a film justice. They can't possibly capture its emotion, the way it makes you feel when you watch it. I'm not just talking about being happy or sad, laughing or jumping out of your seat. I mean the way the characters interact, how they look at each other, the way they're framed or the tone of their voice. I feel that so many of Almodovar's films are impossible express in words, this one included, and that one shouldn't necessarily have to. There are some movies that shouldn't be ranked or graded; they exist outside of that world because they aren't just an assemblage of parts. It seems impossible to prove how you feel about a film because sometimes they just seem to understand you. Outside of this, I could say that Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar and the rest of the cast give wonderful, honest performances; that the film's story is intriguing and that the colours are beautiful, or the story is really well done and I give it nine out of ten. This is all true, but Almodovar often seems to trap me within an emotion or series of beautiful moments that make his films have more of an impact than a number or certain individual characteristics.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

tm Does the QT 20 Part 9: Unbreakable

Gen X warns: this review contains spoiler(s)!

Unbreakable. (dir. M. Night Shyamalan – 2000)

So, according to the IMDb, the director (referred to by QT as Shamalamadingdong) likes this movie the most of the ones he’s done. It’s a good movie – not great but better than The Sixth Sense and certainly better than the rest.

Bruce Willis is David Dunn, a security guard who is the unscathed and lone survivor of a train crash. He is pursued by Samuel L Jackson, a comic book connoisseur named Elijah Price who has a disease that makes his bones very prone to breaking. Samuel L is convinced that superheroes have existed through out history – humans that are somehow immune to illness, possess extreme strength, etc. – and he believes that Bruce, by surviving the train wreck, is a superhero.

The acting is restrained and controlled in a good way while the direction is very evenly paced, with numerous long-held single take shots. The comic book symmetry between Bruce (good guy) and Samuel L (bad guy) got a little boring but still reasonable engaging. The two of them pretty much take up the entire movie but there’s Robin Wright Penn as Bruce’s estranged/on again-off again wife and Spencer Treat Clark (also known for playing Lucius in Gladiator) and as their son - they both do a fine job in their supporting roles.

Not many extras on the dvd – deleted scenes and a few mini-documentaries – but they’re nice.
tm sez: 7/10

Wendy's Films of 2010 #20: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for Robert Downey Jr. (and Jude Law), or that I have a history of enjoying most of Guy Ritchie's films, or perhaps it's because so many people told me that it really wasn't that good. But I must say that I really loved watching Sherlock Holmes. The music is awesome, I particularly enjoyed The Rocky Road to Dublin by The Dubliners, and Zimmer's great score; as he himself said, "We rented 20th Century Fox’s underground car park one Sunday and did hideous things to a piano." I liked Rachel McAdam's character and her witty reparte with Holmes, not to mention her ass-kicking skills and ability to defuse potentially lethal, er... situations (I don't want to give away too much).

It's pretty much what you'd expect from a Ritchie film: entertaining characters, a lighthearted plot blown up to seem grim and serious for the sake of convincing theatrics, and lots and lots of fighting, guns and explosions! It's great for a diverting friday night at the movies. Oh, and let's just say Robert Downey Jr. can speak French to me any day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

tm Does the QT 20 Part 8: Team America - World Police

Team America: World Police (dir. Trey Parker – 2004)

Sometimes having low standards leads to surprises. This movie seemed like a throw-in – maybe the South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone have some dirt on QT? And while South Park certainly has more creative and original moments than you’d think from a show that seems to cost about $2.84 to put together, thinking that a movie starring American-flag waving puppets would only be just tolerable was on my mind.

But, yeah, this movie is actually pretty funny. Funny in a satirical “America kicks ass/everybody with dark skin is a terrorist” kinda way. Parker and Stone first wanted to re-shoot Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Armageddon” scene-by-scene but with puppets; due to legal reasons, they couldn’t do that and so they did a puppet-acted Bruckheimer musical - over the top action, semi-coherent plot, two-dimensional characters, but lots of stuff gets blown up real good and you’ve got them breaking into song. As with any Bruckheimer movie, the plot is minimal – Team America tries to save the world from Kim Jong-il, who has armed terrorists around the world with weapons of mass destruction. The team loses a member, recruits a civilian, has a talking computer and a super groovy hang out, confidence is lost and earned, etc. Along the way, Hollywood is spoofed as full of pinkos who get duped by Kim faking he’s all about world peace.

The music is almost all written and sung by Trey Parker and it’s surprisingly good; Kim Jong-Il’s solo tune “I’m Ronery” song has got to be one the funniest musical moments ever.

Gen X has the ‘unrated and uncut’ dvd; not seeing it in the theatre, I don’t know what scenes are added but it’s probably mostly in the big, gratuitous, and overly long sex scene (between puppets, complete with “showers”. Yuck.). There is just the right amount of extras of behind the scenes footage, explaining the puppet process, etc.

But, yeah, it’s still a puppet movie so tm sez: 6/10

Wendy's Films of 2010 # 19: Easy Virtue (2008)

What started off as a moderately promising story, with its moments of humour and fun turned out to be disappointing both as a romantic comedy and a British period film. Though the costumes were often beautiful and the set exquisitely put together, this didn't make up for the lack of real depth in the film. What could have been a heart-wrenching past during the war for Colin Firth's character, was only lightly touched on and never once did his character think it necessary to explain his increasing detached emtions to his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). Apart from this substory, Jessica Biel is charming as daughter-in-law Larita Whittaker, and her husband John (Ben Barnes) is boyishly cute, but it's not enough to hold the film together. It doesn't even really work as a conventional "romcom" either, which sort of shuns away a potentially large audience. The film just seems to lack something spectacular, it has potential, but the subplots aren't strong enough and the main dispute between Jessica Biel and her mother in law (Thomas) was too stubborn and dwelled on too much.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #18: The Music Man (1962)

The songs are definitely the star of this one. The acting is fine for a 1960s musical, the story's flow was a little disjointed, but there are a number of classic musical moments and a wee Ronny Howard (if that's your thing). A magnificent barbershop quartet heads up numerous great song sequences, full of character, fun and unique beats, honoured by an Oscar for Best Music. The love story is a little unbelieveable because of the age difference, but there are countless films from this period when older male actors are paired with pretty young ones, heck it was part of everyday life back in those days. Shirley Jones is charming and beautiful as library and old maid-to-be Marian Paroo, and Robert Preston plays the sleazy salesman well. Overall, I won't say it's the best film musical I've ever seen, but it's worthwhile if you love musicals with great songs, which, after all, is sort of the point.

tm Does the QT 20 Part 7: Police Story 3 (Supercop)

Police Story 3 (aka Super Cop, aka Ging chat goo si 3: Chiu kup ging chat; dir. Stanley Tong – 1992)

Watching a Jackie Chan movie for the plot or character development or hoping for hubris of unparalleled gravitas is like reading Playboy for the articles.

This movie finds Jackie as a Hong Kong cop going undercover in China (why him? He’s apparently a Super Cop!) to help catch a criminal who can hopefully lead them to an international drug lord. The reluctant partner is a Chinese cop, played by the always great Michelle Yeoh (here credited as Michelle Khan). Both of them kick butt and body left, right, and centre using their fists, guns, or whatever common household items can be grabbed in haste.

Jackie had already churned out an untold number of Hong Kong action flicks before being found by North American audiences (let’s not count his bits in Cannonball Run I and II, okay?), mostly with the Rush Hour movies. Flooding the market with the older movies made it easy to quickly satisfy this hunger. Because of this, you’ve got good movie rubbing shoulder with the bad; while this is probably one of Jackie’s better movies, I’ll take Operation Condor instead.

The dvd has no bonus features. But there are the classic Chan “stunts gone wrong” outtakes over the closing credits, so who needs the ‘making of’ documentary?
tm sez: 6/10

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #13: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

US, 1973. Directed by Peter Yates. Starring Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the kind of picture that didn't make any particular waves when it was released, but made fans at every step of its journey from first run theatres to revival houses to late night TV to videocassette. It was unavailable on DVD until last year, when Criterion leased it away from its indifferent copyright holder, Paramount.

As someone who was born near the beginning of the 70s, and whose formative years were spent watching the 70s go by, I can testify that this movie is very, very 70s, and I don't mean anything disrespectful by that. The score by Dave Grusin is pure 70s funk-fusion. The haircuts and clothes and cars and houses and decor are the kind of thing you saw everywhere in the 70s. The film stock is the kind you only ever saw in the 70s. The sound recording - with dialogue and background noise at nearly equal volume - was only ever acceptable in the 70s. The changing attitude towards mainstream cinema - with casual cussing and no real central hero to root for - and movie stars - Robert Mitchum as a common hood on his way out - is very 70s.

The supporting cast are great character actors, familiar to those who've spent quality time with 70s TV: Alex Rocco, fresh from his massage with unhappy ending in The Godfather; Joe Santos, James Garner's cop pal from The Rockford Files; Steven Keats, whose IMDb page suggests he guested on every show produced in the 70s, yet I can't place exactly why he's so familiar.

And then there are Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle as two criminals turned stoolie in order to escape prison sentences. The former is the title character, the latter a bartender of his acquaintance, and neither knows the other has turned informant. Both know the same people and so their use to undercover cop Richard Jordan is limited, depending on what information the other has squealed.

The title is ironic, because Eddie Coyle has no friends, only acquaintances; their loyalty to him ends when they find themselves in a jam, and vice versa. It could be a tragedy, were it played out in sentimental fashion, playing up the angle of Eddie as loving family man with the son who wants to know "will ya be at my ball game next week, pa?" and Eddie says "You bet, champ, I wouldn't miss it for the world", knowing that he could be in jail or dead by then. Instead, Peter Yates just observes these characters, none really any more important than the others, in their comings and goings and the inevitable grimy end most of them come to when their loyalties are to cash and saving their own skin. In spite of some killer heist sequences, it's a movie that surprises in a low-key way, and hangs in your mind long after the more flashy enterprises are long gone.

tm Does the QT 20 Part 6: The Matrix

The Matrix (dir. Andy & Larry Wachowski – 1999)

Yeah, this movie did really change things.

And, yes, as QT says, the two sequels just about ruined the whole thing. Those two big steamy piles of turd are very utterly unwatchable (though millions did) and a sign that the Wachowski’s opted to let the money be an excuse for creativity (a la George Lucas and new Star Wars episodes). Animatrix is hands-down better than the two sequels.

The Matrix is the answer to the hypothetical question of what if what we think is real, isn’t. According to the Wachowski’s, the human race is subservient to robots who feed us the illusion of reality while harnessing our body’s energy to further the illusion. The special effects are extremely well done and is the movie that put ‘bullet time’ on the map (even though it was first debuted in that super-crappy movie Blade; see review above).

Acting-wise, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. C’mon – think of who’s in the movie and ask yourself what else they’ve done of note. They’re all fine actors but unremarkable. Surprisingly, Keanu Reeves does appear twice on the QT 20…

The dvd has plenty of features, including some inane commentaries but some nice ‘making of’ pieces, especially as the whole ‘bullet time’ thing was very new.

tm sez: 8/10

Wendy's "Films" of 2010 #17: Anthony Bourdain No Reservations, Season 2 (2005)

Imagine, if you will, perfect happiness. For me this would include food, delicious food, travelling to familiar and unfamiliar places all over the world, thinking about films, watching films, friendly people and perhaps even writing. It seems Anthony Bourdain lives this seemingly impossible existence.

If only I could show you the food they eat, the way it looks, and how I imagine it smells; it would be a dream to actually be there and taste it. Don't get me wrong, I know the woes of travelling: sitting on a plane for countless hours, wading through airports, the eventual desire for familiarity. But it would be infinitely worth it just to experience what this show can only attempt (which it does very well) to express through a television.

To the right you see Bourdain gazing down at what might be his favourite meat: pork. He consumes it everywhere, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, and Seattle to name a few, the cheek is his favourite part, he says, and we hear him crunch into its skin. His biting eloquence and utter honesty when it comes to food are combined with an enthusiasm and appreciation for the generous and kind people he often meets. On top of this, his love of film is obvious, in the first season (which I watched last year), he speaks of his love of Italian Neorealism, and while in Sweden in this season he references Ingmar Bergman. Film references aside, it's a show that surpasses the conventional view we typically see of travel destinations and shows us what we really want to see: people eating everything from street food to high-end restaurant fair, but all delicious and almost all something I'd love to sink my teeth into.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #12: Dragonwyck

US, 1946. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Starring Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, Walter Huston, Jessica Tandy.

Vincent Price again, and just as in The Baron of Arizona he can't get lowly farmers to accept his ownership of their land! Only this time he came by the land by birth, rather than massive forgery and deceit. It's New York state, in the 1840s. He and his wife welcome distant relation and pretty young thing Gene Tierney into their massive mansion and estate, ostensibly to be a companion to their lonely 8 year old daughter, who they don't give a rat's ass about. The mansion is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman wronged by one of Price's ancestors. His peculiar wife gets a head cold that leads to something much, much worse. The farmers are beginning to rebel against him. And no one can figure out what he gets up to when he disappears into the tower for days on end...

Based on a popular book of its day, the film was to be directed by Ernst Lubitsch, but when he fell ill screenwriter Mankiewicz made his directorial debut instead. The sure hand that guided classics like A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve is not apparent at this early stage. The entire production yearns to be another Rebecca, with Tierney the young woman of "low birth" who feels out of her league at the opulent but threatening mansion of her mysterious suitor. Still, there are nice touches throughout, and the performances are uniformly fine, especially Price, who seems to be laying the groundwork for his seminal role in Corman's Fall of the House of Usher.

The major problem comes down to the source material just not being as compelling as something like Rebecca. Chunks also seem to have been pruned from the film pre-release with little regard for the narrative flow. Thus, Price's daughter disappears entirely half-way through (the climax seems to suggest she died, but in the source novel she has gone off to live with a relation) and events jarringly follow others with no sense of the time elapsed between them. Price's early comments seem to suggest a mansion teeming with servants, and the building seems massive in a distant model shot but we never get a sense of anything aside from a few rooms with a few steps' distance of each other populated strictly by the principals and three servants. I don't demand lavish production values, but a director in control of their material can suggest spaces and things offscreen without ever showing them; that doesn't happen here.

Chris 2010 Viewings #11: The Baron of Arizona

US, 1950. Directed by Samuel Fuller. Starring Vincent Price.

When you see Sam Fuller's name on a movie, you know it's going to be an odd one. One of the most subversive directors to ever work within the studio system, he usually found a way to combine social commentary with such oddball subject matter that even if you knew you were being preached at, you don't much mind because it's so deliriously peculiar. One of the great American films of the 1960s is Shock Corridor where Fuller tackles the major, controversial issues of the day - racial, political - in the guise of a lurid murder mystery set in a mental institution.

The Baron of Arizona is Fuller's second film, and nowhere near as wild as his later pictures, but has a definite eye for the odd. Based on a real historical figure, the film follows the exploits of James Reavis (Vincent Price), who contructs a massive con trick and forgery to claim ownership of the entire state of Arizona. Price is ideally cast, in his pre-horror icon mode, as his oily charm allows him to insinuate himself into the trust of some Mexican peasants, Spanish monks, gypsies, and Americans in order to set up his cunning plan. Though we - and Fuller - are never really on his side, Price's insinuating charisma has you half-hoping he can get away with it, even though we know from the opening scenes (and hell, history) that he doesn't. Fuller even gives Price's Reavis a happier ending than history did.

Dude Movies: The Prophecy

What's it about?
Angels secretly fighting a war to usurp humanity from God's grace wind up in Dustytown, USA* to play whack-a-mole with an evil body-bouncing soul of ultimate blackness. This is accomplished mainly by standing around and looking creepy.

Any chicks in the movie?
The disturbingly doe-eyed Virginia Madsen in a rare non-nude appearance as a local school teacher. She's terrible, of course, like she is in everything she's ever been in, but a sad by-product of her not getting naked is realizing just how weird her face is. She has cheekbones that look like they were lumped together by Matisse after a three-day wormwood bender.

Awesomeness factor?
There are two reasons to watch this movie. One: you, like me, have a soft spot for the supernatural-thriller subgenre that involve wacky Catholicisms like renegade archangels, magically enthralled suicide victims and scenes of delicious childhood traumas. The Prophecy never goes fully off-the-rails a la The Omen III: Final Conflict** or God Told Me To***, instead comfortably slotting itself somewhere between Wings Of Desire (from which it shamelessly rips off the now awesomely-dated long-hair-and-trenchcoat look that was apparently de rigeur for angels in the 90s) and Garth Ennis' Preacher comic. Packed with theologically loopy ideas and a very wise understanding of its own budget limitations, it's good fun, especially as the flashes of mordant wit keep it from taking itself too seriously. But what pushes The Prophecy from slightly-above-average 90s b-movie into a slice of grade-A cheeseball entertainment is reason two: the cast. Eric Stolz as a good angel Simon is one thing, but casting Christopher Walken as the crazed archangel Gabriel, leader of the current angelic rebellion, is a masterstroke of awesome. Walken's clearly having a blast, too, chewing through dialog like "I'm an angel, I kill firstborns while their mamas watch" like he was tearing through a particularly juicy Porterhouse. Which makes it even more incredible that he's upstaged right near the end by Viggo Mortensen's spectacularly creeptastic Lucifer in one of the most scene-stealingest scene-steals in scene-stealing history. Viggo's only got like five minutes of screentime but goddamn if he isn't the best cinematic Devil, well, ever. Take that, Robert De Niro in Angel Heart.

Mitigated by?
The dawning realization that, as hilariously goofball as this movie's take on Christianity is, there are like one hundred million Americans who probably think it's a documentary.

* Main export: grit.

** A movie unafraid to use the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to get out of a sticky plot resolution.

*** Ibid.

New to the Store: Week of 19 January, 2010


Big Fan
Big Love: Season 3
Burning Plain, The
Cairo Time (also BluRay)
Detour (2009)
End of Love
Fifty Dead Men Walking
Gamer (also BluRay)
Invention of Lying, The (also BluRay)
Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit!
Outrage (2009)
Pandorum (also BluRay)
Sans racune! (No Hard Feelings!)
Simpsons, The: Season 20
Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball! (also BluRay)
Staten Island
Tru Loved
Weeds: Season 5
Whitest Kids U Know, The: Season 2


Blue Bird, The
Leprechaun 1/2/3
New Tricks: Season 2
Nunsploitation Collection (Images in a Convent / Nun of Monza / Nuns of Saint Archangel)
St. Elmo's Fire
Street, The: Series 1

tm Does the QT 20 Part 5: The Insider

1999, Directed by Michael Mann.

Mid-way through this movie, my wife says “Hey, this movie reminds me of that realllly slllooow movie Al Pacino did with Robert de Niro.”. Truer words have never been spoken. That movie was Heat, also directed by Mann.

This movie concerns a big tobacco company executive (Russell Crowe) that blows the whistle on the tobacco industry lie that nicotine is not addictive and then focuses on how the news show 60 Minutes (the producer is played by Al Pacino, Mike Wallace played by Christopher Plummer) gets involved – threats of lawsuits jeopardize journalist integrity, the ordeal that Crowe’s character goes through to get out the truth and how it affects him, his family, etc.

I like it – you’ve got great acting from Crowe as the tightly-wound and jumpy mid-management corporate guy trying to do the right thing even though he knows it’ll screw him over. And it’s a relief to know that Pacino can still act without all the yelling that he’s been doing lately. The movie is suspenseful despite basically being a court case. There’s a bit of cloak’n’dagger and the merest hint of violence but the movie moves slowly and deliberately, single-minded in telling the story and telling the story about the people that told the story.

The dvd extras are manky – a production feature-ette and a breakdown of one scene. Not that I’d sit through a commentary of a 2½ hour movie, but this movie clearly demonstrates patience and planning that would be nice to see and hear.

tm sez: 8/10

Monday, January 18, 2010

Creepy Pedro Reviews "The Exterminating Angel"

I warned them! Didn't I tell the improbable Mexican aristocrats that they must not rise above their social station lest they suffer the consequences of my wrath?

If they were worried about starvation, they should have packed a taco. Rather than fear baldness, they could have donned a wide sombrero. Had they put aside their evening wear and instead worn their comfortable ponchos, they would have escaped the ire and condemnation of me...yes, THE EXTERMINATING PEDRO!

A mistranslated title has confused film students for almost fifty years. Solemn, bearded young women unplug their cherrybomb mouths and scream "What was it all about, Pedro?" because they do not know my full name, they do not know my predilections, they have been tragically mislead.

You see, The Exterminating Pedro admires and respects Mexican culture, especially the jolly antics of the Mexican Jumping Beans. To me, Mexicans and their film directors are like flies in a washbasin, pleasing when they link arms and copulate and play their grand pianos. Otherwise they anger me, so with newspaper or poisoned frijoles I smite them 'til they're DEAD.

But still the girl with the goatee is screaming "What did it all mean?" so let me explain a few things. When the Mexican lady saw a plastic hand floating the darkness, that was MY plastic hand, seeking alms and offering salvation. She screamed because of the Mexican complex about religion, finance, land ownership, imperialism, cleanliness, and The Alamo.

What about the bear and the sheep? Those were MY bear and sheep so please don't touch them.

Why didn't the victims simply leave the room, she asks? Because I wouldn't allow it! I am The Exterminating Pedro! This is all you need to know!

Enough...stop shouting, bearded lady, or I will put you in a room with nine other people who are much like you and equally vapid. I, The Exterminating Pedro, grow weary of your buzzing. Like I did with the improbable Mexican aristocrats of 1962, I wave my plastic hand for silence. You have been warned. You will play or die.

Chris 2010 Viewings #10: Anatomy of a Murder

US, 1959. Directed by Otto Preminger. Starring James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, George C. Scott. Music by Duke Ellington.

I saw this many years ago and, while I recognized that it was a good movie, I was vaguely disinterested. What can I say, I Was a Teenage Pinhead.

Actually, I kind of understand my reaction. At that point, TV had already been doing the courtroom drama ad nauseam so the film's procedural frankness had been made standard entertainment procedure for many years. The film follows laconic small-town Michigan lawyer James Stewart from the moment he first hears of a big case to when he goes to seek payment. Career army private Ben Gazzara has admitted to murdering a local barman following the barman's alleged rape of Gazzara's goodtime girl wife Lee Remick.

Stewart doesn't take the case because he believes Gazzara deserves to be set free, but because he relishes the challenge it provides, a stark contrast from the way the legal system had be portrayed in most Hollywood films prior, when the defense attorney was a knight in white armour protecting a saintly innocent man or woman being railroaded by corrupt forces or circumstance. It's clear Stewart doesn't even particularly like Gazzara.

From beginning to end the film chronicles the various performances the participants in the case have to give in order to make the big show - the trial - come off according to their desires. The casting of Stewart is inspired, not only to make some of the then-controversial racy dialogue carry even more punch as delivered in his folksy drawl (and it still does), but by making the entire "Jimmy Stewart" persona an act the attorney adopts to enhance his success in the courtroom. Likewise, Gazzara's war hero bonafides are pumped up, Remick has to dress down to make her appear a meek victim, guest prosecutor George C. Scott lurks as a menacing, silent figure for the first three-quarters of the trial in order to maximize his riveting attack in the final stages.

Preminger shot the film largely on real Michigan locations, mostly with live sound and the end result feels anything but old Hollywood, to the benefit of the drama.

When I first saw the film I knew next to nothing of Duke Ellington, thinking him maybe a less interesting Cab Calloway. Now, being a full-fleged Ellington nut, and knowing his marvellous soundtrack album well, I decided for this reason to revisit the film. Happily, the film provided a lot more rich reward than just soundtrack context. The music is still fantastic, and used well - the courtroom scenes are devoid of it, to powerful effect - but this is by any standard a major, exciting mainstream film of its age.

Maggie's Films of 2010:

#17. Black Books, Season One

You can't watch a British comedy idly: Most require your full attention to make the best of their dry wit, and Black Books is no exception. About a reclusive bookstore owner who hates customers and cleanliness, but loves alcohol (openly) and the shop owner next door (secretly), Black Books manages masterfully with a central cast of just three characters: the aforementioned Bernard Black (Dylan Moran, series creator); the aforementioned suppressed loved interest, Fran (Tamsin Greig), and the Not Quite Right employee, Manny (Bill Bailey), who alternates between being very much together and altogether balmy. Having seen the series before, I greatly anticipated such comic escapades as The Night They Drank £7,000 of Wine and Thereafter Killed The Pope ("The Grapes of Wrath"), and... pretty much anything else in the season that involved severe liver abuse. Which, seeing as this is a British comedy, meant most of it.

#18. Shrink

Well, Spacey's back from K-PAX, that's for sure, but in what form? I never can tell with his films anymore. Nonetheless, from the get-go, Shrink defines itself clearly: This is a film where we start out with what should ostensibly feel like a dizzying number of seemingly unrelated story lines that will fuse together perfectly as time goes on. And it does! Hey! Who'd've thunk it. So from Kevin Spacey as a self-medicating celebrity psychiatrist grieving over his wife's suicide, to Robin Williams as a thinly veiled version of himself struggling with the desire for extramarital relations, to Dallas Roberts as an anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive talent agent, to Mark Webber as a struggling screenwriter with a thing for Roberts' pregnant saint of an assistant, we're meant to be overwhelmed by the breadth of this film's reach and the depth of the issues it's addressing. But wait! I daresay we're still missing our catalyst in this whole, murky affair: young Jemma (Keke Palmer), whose deeply troubling case file is handed to Spacey by his character's father in a really unethical ploy to get Spacey past his wife's suicide. And yes, I know it's "really unethical" because my housemate's a psych grad, and for what it's worth she loved the movie for the hypothetical scenarios it allowed her to mull over in relation to her own work. As for me? The acting was decent, but the plot was far too pat. I was especially incensed by the cozy ending to a huge breach of ethics and betrayal of trust. These themes have been worked over before, elsewhere and better.

#19. World's Greatest Dad

I didn't intend to watch two back-to-back films with Robin Williams, but I can't say I minded. As a kid I watched Toys ad nauseum, and I've since always admired the breadth of roles he takes on. World's Greatest Dad belongs to a very particular role subset therein -- The Sad Man With A Smile -- and he plays it quite well here, as the middling private school teacher (Lance Clayton) with five unpublished novels and, as he later typifies it, a "douchebag" of a son. Sadly, this film reaches its zenith a third of the way through, when his son accidentally kills himself while masturbating and Lance enacts the perfect love of a father by providing a measure of dignity to the death. The trouble is, this action spirals out of hand -- going from a quiet familial moment to something that gives Lance the audience he always wanted, but at a price Lance ultimately can't bear. Oh, there were a lot of fun moments in this film, but a directorial conceit involving the school pool at the end (to push a metaphor down our throats) clinched my growing disillusionment with the script itself: Everything in this film happens because it needs to happen to fit the plot; but precious little of that follows sensibly from individual character motivations. How Lance's relationship develops with Claire (Alexie Gilmore) and ends, why he uses the precise words he does in his ultimate speech, the choices he makes with some of "his son's" writing, the way he treats his son's best friend, or his neighbour... a lot of little things make it clear Lance isn't really a character, but himself a plot device. Which is too bad, because again, the film's got a lot of fun moments. In the end, though, it tries to Mean Something -- and that's probably where it started to fall apart.

#20. The New Women

I was going to include this film in my upcoming LGBT-a-thon, but to my great surprise, this independent film from the LGBT section of our store really isn't LGBT at all. A really low-budget number about middle-aged women with run-of-the-mill marital/social problems, whose husbands all fall asleep one night and don't wake up, this film should have the makings for at least a silly romp into Bisexual-in-a-Pinch territory, but it doesn't even come close: All the women do is grumble about their husbands, with a few even mounting their comatose mates when they get desperate or lonely, and drive around the country looking for some semblance of civilization in the aftermath of males everywhere falling asleep. Yes, there are a couple intimations of bisexuality: A power-play by a vengeful woman run out of town after she slept with another woman's husband (she hijacks the latter woman's RV and forces this woman to dance for her -- a very brief humiliation that wouldn't even suffice for soft-core entertainment) and a couple lines from impressionable young women at a nearby women-only cult being tricked into thinking their leader is a god. Sorry, but if that's LGBT content, so too is prison rape. That aside, was the movie worth it? God no. For some reason the director thought shooting the whole thing in black-and-white would add a measure of classiness to it, but it doesn't work: For a more enjoyable look at this kind of post-apocalyptic scenario, do yourself a favour and read Y: The Last Man instead. There's even a movie coming out for it next year!

#21. The Book of Eli

I've had some time to put aside my crankiness about this film's blatant similarities to The Road: the post-apocalyptic desert, the male protagonist with a desperate need to get to the ocean, cannibals in waiting, and a quest involving the preservation of the Light. Denzel Washington plays Eli, a man from before The Flash (an event that eradicated most of civilization across North America), who's been traveling towards the sea for 30 years in possession of the last Bible. (The rest were burned after the war by people convinced that religion had caused this dystopic future in the first place.) Cue the tyrant of a small roadside community, Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who leads by threat of violence but is desperate to find a copy of the Bible, so that he might better prey upon the weak with that "weapon" too. Integral to the story is also Solara (Mila Kunis, in a perfect, transformative role from her famous performance as Jackie in That 70s Show), who gets Eli in hot water with her silly need to escape a life of rape and abject helplessness in Carnegie's city, but also redeems herself by helping him get to his final destination. It's a fun enough film, with all the samurai-esque fight scenes The Road will never in a million years provide, but with a very blatant message about the existence of god, miracles, and The Purpose God Has Laid Out For Those Of Faith. Personally, I've seen too much of the likes of Carnegie's spiritualism in the real world to think this film's approach to religion as anything but sugarcoated in the end. And a rip-off of The Road. Did I mention that? As a friend of mine declared yesterday, he's just about "plum tuckered out with charcoal'd films" (post-apocalyptic desert scenarios). Well, now so am I.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Colin's 2010 Movies #1: Bad Lieutenant

Starting the year off on the wrong foot, I checked out Abel Ferrara’s notorious 1992 Catholic guilt-athon, Bad Lieutenant, starring Harvey Keitel. Since Werner Herzog’s quasi-remake made it into both Ryan’s and my own top ten favourite films of 2009, I felt I should check out the original to see how the two compared. The answer is not too well. While Ferrara’s original clearly has more on its mind than “Let’s cast Nicholas Cage as a completely deranged, drug-addled cop and see what happens”, there were some issues that kept it from working for me.

The film mostly follows the Lieutenant around through his daily routine of drug abuse, gambling, stealing, coercing innocent girls into a striptease and so on. What little plot there is involves his investigation of the rape of a nun, and his fall into massive debt from betting on the Dodgers against the Mets in the National League Championship Series. The nun forgives her attackers, local boys who she knows, and the Lieutenant must decide whether to forgive them as well to redeem himself for his sins and lack of faith, both as a Catholic and as a New Yorker (since betting against the Mets is apparently tantamount to blasphemy).

The problem is how inaccessible most of the film’s symbolism is. Being neither a Catholic nor a baseball fan, much of the movie’s message didn’t resonate with me at all. The baseball subplot is conveyed almost entirely through radio announcer chatter which didn’t mean a thing to me and I had to do a bit of research to understand what was supposed to be going on. Supposedly there was some kind of parallel drawn between the Lieutenant’s loss of faith and Daryl Strawberry leaving the Mets to play against them with the Dodgers but it sailed over my head like a pop fly ball to center field.

Which is a shame, because the movie has some really powerful moments and Keitel is clearly giving his all to play an extremely unlikeable character; a screaming tirade against his hallucinated vision of a bloodied Jesus Christ in the middle of a church was a particular standout. The film’s unstructured slice-of-sleazebag-life approach was novel and engaging as well. I just wish it had been a bit less esoteric with its subtext so it could’ve had more of an impact on me in the end.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Creepy Pedro Reviews "Airport"

Because we might die before or after we experience love, "Airport" says "Go for it, Mister! Beware the old lady!" These sentiments are even more important now, after The Terrorism, than they were 1000 years ago.

There was a tough-guy mechanic named Joe Patroni, constructed not of flesh or blood but of tightly-knitted quips, like the "Quip Golum" of old. How can one build a tougher man than Patroni, except perhaps with additional quips and sequels? Will he ever get the girl? Will she be compatible with his gruff? These are questions for the next time, my friend, in "Airport 2."

Patroni is in my favourite movie scene: the Snow Boss says "Get out of my way, Patroni!" and he shouts "NEVER!" and there is a mammoth clash of Patroni and the snow removal machine, and you wonder who's going to win until Patroni says "NeeeAHH!" and pushes one inch further and the Snow Boss loses the fight...UNTIL NEXT TIME.

Mayhem and suction, this is the weird world of Airport Management, which you wouldn't understand until you've actually seen it as your parents have. Do you want to apply to work in this job? No way, married men and women, this is not the placement for the likes of you! Gigalos and whores need apply, it says here, if you are cockpit licensed.