Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mike the Boss - Films of 2010 - Film the Eighteenth: Masters of Horror: Chocolate

Warning: If this man is in the movie you are watching, it is likely crap!

Chocolate (2005)(dir: Mick Garris)

The Masters of Horrors creator/producer tries his hand at making a scary episode and fails in spectacular fashion. One of the worst entries in the series. Mitigated only by copious amounts of nudity and sex and decent bit of gore. The story is crap, the acting is crap, the directing is crap and the end result is crap.

Here is a hint on how to tell you are watching a crappy movie/TV episode. If Matt Frewer is in it, it is crap. This will hold true in 95% of the things that he is in. I enjoyed him as Max Headroom in a decade long past but if I am honest with myself, he was crap in that too.

I’m not going to bother with a plot summary since I’m not going to recommend anyone watch this film. It is bad,. You will be disappointed. Just avoid it.

Mike the Boss - Films of 2010 - Film the Seventeenth: Kill Buljo

Kill Buljo (2007) (dir: Tommy Wirkola)

I REALLY enjoyed Wirkola’s last film, Dead Snow, which was a nazi-zombie, comedy-horror splatterfest. So why not check out his previous film, the Norwegian low-comedy Tarantino tribute film, Kill Buljo? Apparently Tarantino liked the film and surely it couldn’t be that bad could it?

Oh silly me. It is that bad. Maybe if I was Norwegian I might have enjoyed the film because perhaps there is a hidden meaning to everything I watched but I’m not so I didn’t. I’m pretty sure it was racist too.

Anyway, hick from the country has his entire wedding party slaughtered by a mean gangster and he takes revenge in “hilarious” fashion. Boobs, snowmobiles, idiocy, they are all here. You won’t care though. Just avoid it.

Mike The Boss - Films of 2010 - Film the Sixteenth: Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns / Dreams in the Witch House

Cigarette Burns (2005)(dir: John Carpenter) / Dreams in the Witch House (2005)(dir: Stuart Gordon)

These films are on the same disc and are both part of the Masters of Horror series.

Cigarette Burns is a fun little John Carpenter (Escape from New York, They Live) romp. It kind of acts like a complementary piece to Polanski’s much superior Ninth Gate. It deals with Kirby (Norman Reedus) being hired by Bellinger (Udo Kier) to find the only surviving copy of the most terrifying film ever to be created. Apparently, if you view this film, you will go insane and kill people and/or yourself.

The movie has some nice effects and creates a definite sense of unease throughout. However, it suffers from the fact that it needs to show you elements of this film to convince you how terrifying that it is. The problem is that the film they present to us is really just kind of wanky instead of terrifying. Carpenter would have been better off to keep it all off screen. I still think this film works because of the general creepiness that is invoked and some strong performance by Kier and Reedus. The final result is that this entry is one of the strongest in the entire Master of Horror series.

Dreams of the Witch House is a Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) entry in Masters of Horror series. Gordon has a rep built on his entertaining film adaptations, from the 80’s, of H.P. Lovecraft stories. Witch House is another short story adaptation and it suffers from the more recent malaise that Gordon has fallen into. Gordon is still resting on the acclaim he received 25 years ago and has not adapted or evolved his craft over the years. I know he has his fans but I am not one of them.

The Witch House in the movie is a rooming house filled with misfits and has a room in the attic where the geometry of the walls serves as a gateway into a realm of evil. What could have been a scary premise is instead treated as a pseudo-comedy which disarms any horror aspects of the story. By the time the witch appears (and the appearance is laughably bad), you no longer care what happens to the Bruce Campbellesque protagonist. It is too bad that this stinker is attached to the same disc as Cigarette Burns.

Mike the Boss - Films of 2010 - Film the Fifteenth: Zombie Self Defense Force

Ack! I am way, way behind on my writing of reviews. Went to Portugal in February for a vacation and never got back on track. I'll try to catch up over the next few days.

Zombie Self Defense Force (2006) (dir: Naoyuki Tomomatsu)

Another in the Switchblade Pictures releases of low budget Japanese horror comedies, Zombie Self Defense Force features tons of gore, none of the usual sleaze but the expected paper thin plot is there with plenty of really bad jokes. The movie starts with a strange bit about how evil America was for nuking Japan during WW2. Then we have a UFO crashing that then causes zombies to rise up and attack everyone. Luckily, the Self Defense force is in the forest so they can protect the other oddballs that survive the initial attack and help to defeat the zombie invasion.

Frankly, the plot is pretty pointless and the acting is typically bad but they do have a LOT of gore and blood being sprayed about in this film so if that is what you want then go ahead and give it a watch. I prefer a slightly less slapstick version of zombie film but that is just me. The film is only 76 minutes long so even if you don’t like it, it won’t bore you.

Ryan Watches a Motion Picture #17: The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1976)

I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into with this one, and rented it because of its evocative title and wicked cover art. The sort that should be painted on the side of a sweet van. Look:

Are you guys going to the Maiden show at the amphitheatre, by the way?

To my surprise, it was directed by Matt Cimber, the guy who directed one of my favourite 80s barbarian films (and there are lots of those if you need some of my suggestions :3). What I should have guessed from the really long opening shot of the seashore and the eerie, atmospheric theremin music I certainly determined once I heard the first bits of dialogue - this was going to be one wonderfully strange flick.

The dialogue is bizarre and great fun to listen to and see performed, and is of a style that could have very easily gone very wrong very quickly. Its grand phraseology and its archaic, perfectly elocuted language gives the film a dreamlike, mythological naivety that really highlights the psychotic state of mind the film's heroine is locked in. The heroine might be better described as an anti-heroine, since she is, in effect, also the film's villain. She's a deranged serial killer, stalking, torturing, and killing the most masculine men she can find out of revenge for the horrific sexual trauma she received as a child. The torture sequences are profoundly uncomfortable, though most of the dirty business happens off-screen. This is usually a good indication that there's some filmmaking talent being flexed. The most disturbing scene is undoubtedly the flashback revelation of the killer's own trauma, and here, the camera doesn't look away though you sincerely wish it would. The Witch Who Came From The Sea is abound with the ugliness of sexual politics, which is something that seems to be at the heart of a lot of Matt Cimber films. I love exploitation films best when they are either supremely crazy or border on the arthouse. This film pretty well does both.

It was originally conceived of and sold as an edgy arthouse film, but when it was given to theatres it was slagged by critics, nearly banned by the ratings board, physically re-cut by theatre owners, and mostly ignored by the public. When the movie poster was made less abstract and more fantastical, though, its success with the grindhouse audience exploded, and it seems to have held cult appreciation since.

So: If you can stomach the controversial bits, it's a gem of a cult film.

Ryan Watches a Motion Picture #16: Bad Biology (2008)

I have fallen onto some photographs. Excuse me.

Director Frank Henenlotter, the genius behind both Basket Case and Frankenhooker, had me really excited. The sleazy premise is as follows: a mutant woman born with seven or eight clitorises is lonely and wants to find both the man for her and the perfect orgasm. A mutant man with a gigantic, sentient and drug-addicted penis is lonely as well. Both mutants need a place to belong. This of course is the recipe for one fucked up banana bread of fun.

But what can I say about this movie beyond that? Not much. It kind of putters around uselessly for the bulk of the runtime, and gets to feel worth watching once the film starts to bring the two wayward sexual mutants, alone in their tortured worlds, together. When it starts to indicate that they're going to meet up, fall in love, and have some hot and twisted mutant sex. It leads you to believe that when these two get it on, something really wild and strange and horrific and wonderful is going to happen. But instead the film ends off all the tension and mystery with a completely lame and obvious joke that should have merely been a throw-away gag earlier on in the film.

There's an almost interesting hip hop sensibility to Bad Biology, but since it has so little going for it, the movie just seems to serve more as a hustle for producer and co-writer R.A. Thorburn's hip hop music and label.

So: I expected more from you Henenlotter. Way more.

Ryan Watches a Motion Picture #15: Taboo (1999)

I love samurai films. When I think about what taking in cinema feels like, I get certain senses of things bubbling in my brain, maybe a loose, iconic image. One of those is usually of a samurai, holding a sword out and standing in an elegant posture, just waiting. Can’t get enough of that. I’m always willing to watch a samurai film, and once I heard a few things about Oshima's Taboo, I was positively fuming with feudal fascination. The film’s about Kano, a young samurai who takes another samurai in his regiment as his lover, and when news of their relationship spreads, other samurai begin to seek Kano's affections.

Now, I think Taboo lacks the gravity it might have achieved if it had focused a bit more. The plot tends to get a bit lost at times, and frequently a change in the story and the introduction of a new character makes the film seem flippant. But Taboo makes up for it with its visually arresting cinematography. The drifting, ethereal camerawork is wonderfully atmospheric and fluid, and does well to highlight the sense that we are observers. The action sequences are elegant, and they really swept me up. Deft use of steadicam pulls you in and around the samurai blade strikes without resorting to the shaky camera style that's so fucking popular in movies today. Sorry, rage.

I was glad to see that the film contains a questioning of the samurai's role in the rigid feudal Japanese caste system of the 1800s, and doesn't, like many samurai films, revel in the romance of honour and glory that you might well imagine when you read the word 'samurai'. There's an interesting parallel in effect where the samurai hegemony and its penchant for using men's lives for political posturing is matched with the sexual hegemony, and the men entangled in love affairs with their fellow soldiers are secretly loathe to give up their lives in the name of the samurai order. There's even some attempt to hetero Kano, but attempts fail, and in the end, even the officers high up in their chain of command question their sexual roles, while paradoxically, Kano’s lovers come to use Kano as the military system uses them - for their own ends.

The film's pretty casual acceptance of queer lifestyle is, to my knowledge, not too consistent with feudal Japanese culture, but it serves to put a new spin on such an influential and pervasive genre, and Taboo is worth a look.

Ryan Watches a Motion Picture #14: The Fog (1980)

Will no one save my son?

John Carpenter is by far one of my fave directors, and he's made some of my fave flicks, but the Fog just didn't hit me right. I suspect it's a generation thing - you either grew up along with it and accepted it or you didn't. Or maybe I've just been spoiled by the awesomeness that was Carpenter's later work.

So yeah, the Fog didn't offer too much for me. Now, the film looks and sounds great, and I've loved Carpenter all these years for the two things he does effin' well - atmosphere and music, which he writes himself. The Fog isn't short on fantastic cinematography, and Carpenter's foreboding electronic score is great, as always. It has some interesting if mostly inexplicable characters, but is slow to move, and when it does move, it isn't quite as grand as you'd hope. The plot doesn't start to ramp up until it hits the hour mark, and the final sequences, with the exception of maybe the last few seconds, don't quite reach a height worth climbing to.

Carpenter's films usually contain logical blind spots that pop up once or twice, like when characters know things they shouldn't know, or when obvious problems are ignored. But in the Fog it feels like a heavy dosage, and I was actually incredibly irritated by the repetitive shouts of a radio DJ to save her son from a threat she really shouldn't have known was there. She shrieks at us for at least three or four minutes. I really wanted her son to get ripped apart by sea ghosts by that point. The films I watch don't usually irritate me like that, and I used to be a such a nice guy.

So: Meh. Sorry, Carpenter. I can't tell if you failed me or if I failed you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 30 March, 2010


Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Easier with Practice
Education, An
France, La
Lair, The: Season 3
Sherlock Holmes
Spongebob's Last Stand
Twilight in Forks
What Darwin Never Knew
Youssou N'dour: I Bring What I Love


200 Motels
Alice in Wonderland (Disney)
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned
Blue Gardenia, The
Cranford: Return to Cranford
Damaged Goods / Hard Road, The
Dillinger Is Dead
Distant Journey
Dreams of the Dead
Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Set 1 (Clouds of Witness / Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, The)
Merchant of Venice, The (BBC)
Midsummer Night's Dream, A (BBC)
Music Man, The
Music of the Primes, The
Rat Race
Rifftrax Live: Plan 9 from Outer Space
Rifftrax: Planet of Dinosaurs
Rifftrax: Voodoo Man
S.S. Hell Pack II (S.S. Hell Camp / Gestapo's Last Orgy / Red Nights of the Gestapo)
South Park: Season 13
Story of Math, The
Tempest, The (BBC)
Waiting for the Moon
Young, Neil: Rust Never Sleeps


Education, An
Killer, The
Sherlock Holmes

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #11: Humpday

There are a lot of ‘indie comedies’ out there these days, but up-and-comer Lynn Shelton’s Humpday stands out proudly as a piece with substance.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that it received a Special Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival, but this lighthearted tale about two old friends who get wasted and decide to enter an erotic film competition is a real cinematic treat.

The substance of Humpday, though, is derived from the film’s unapologetic analysis of relationships, gender roles and constructions of masculinity.

The two main characters, Andrew and Ben, are enirely straight, but their age-old friendship and boyish competitiveness leads them, over the course of a weekend reunion, to a bold decision to have sex on film--with each other.

The humour is derived from the way Andrew and Ben keep egging each other on, even when each of them seems noticeably uncomfortable with the prospect of making sweet sweet love to each other, even in the name of artistic innovation. And with Ben’s well-meaning (though thoroughly confused) wife, Anna trying to figure out what the two guys are up to, a whole lot of well-constructed tension escalates over the course of the plot.

But the rather outlandish situation presented in Humpday provides a lasting and thought-provoking journey through the spectrum of forms which love, “manliness,” friendship and sexual orientation can take, even within the same person.

What I like about Humpday is that it fearlessly confronts the viewer with what for most people is a discomforting situation--namely, having sex outside of what you’ve long considered to be your innate sexual orientation, and shattering that barrier with a friend you’ve known for years--and asks, “So what? What’s the big deal?”

Humpday is liberating in its message, endearing through its characters, and finds tremendous humour in awkwardness, making it not only more enjoyable, but also more accessible to a wider audience.

It’s short, but more importantly it’s sweet, and I’d certainly recommend Humpday to anyone who has always liked buddy movies, but who kind of wants to take things to the next level. (If you know what I mean.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #57: But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

I enjoy bright, colourful, campy things, so watching Jamie Babbit's But I'm a Cheerleader was a lot of fun. It's about Megan, a high school girl on the cheerleading squad who, without realizing, finds herself attracted to other girls. She is confronted by her parents and friends, who accuse her of listening to Melissa Etheridge and having posters of girls on her bedroom walls, and then sent to an over-the-top "rehab" camp called True Directions. With steps like "Admitting You're a Homosexual," "Rediscovering Your Gender Identity," and "Demystifying the Opposite Sex," the group of teenagers are supposed to learn to suppress their homosexuality and conform to the expectations of their heterosexual society. In opposition to True Directions are Larry and Lloyd, two ex-ex-gays who attempt to show the youngsters that they can live a happy life without suppressing their true identities.

What I really loved in this film were the little things: how the camp leader's hunky gay son would hit on the other guys, the way Megan and the surliest girl at camp begin to quietly and beautifully fall in love. The film takes what most consider a serious subject, and turns it into something entertaining, something to laugh at and enjoy. It blows things out of proportion to make them more understandable, making every small and intimate moment even more human.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #56: The Rundown (2003)

I'm all for mindless action films. Why not spend an hour or two watching shit get blown to pieces? At least it's more fun than watching most sappy blockbuster romance movies. Let's just say The Way We Were isn't my favourite film of all time, though I do have a soft spot for Jane Austen.
The Rundown stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, the beautiful Roasrio Dawson, the annoying Seann William Scott and the always wonderful and sometimes creepy Christopher Walken. Who could say no? Well, actually, I probably would if someone asked me to watch it again, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The premise is ok; a chef (Johnson, who never cooks in the film) and who also beats up guys for a living goes to the Amazon to bring back the son of his boss, but encounters an evil diamond miner (Walken) who wants something the son has. Stuff gets blown up, people get their asses kicked, fun is had, the end. It's not that great, but passable for an action film.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #55: Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

I never really liked Napoleon Dynamite. Eagle vs. Shark was painful to sit through, and yet when my lovely co-worker Ryan suggested I watch Gentlemen Broncos because of Sam Rockwell's splendor, I thought, "Hey, why not." I really should have followed my instincts, because Jared Hess's kind of humour just isn't mine. I find it boring, annoying and awkward, and I believe I have learned my lesson. Rockwell was at least somewhat amusing, and I liked the idea of a young guy's sci-fi fantasies coming to life throughout the film, but I mostly felt uncomfortable. It's not that I dislike films about awkward people, I just don't feel amused in any way by this kind of comedy. If you loved Dynamite and Shark, then by all means you should watch and you will love this movie.

Wendy's "Films" of 2010 #54: The Big Bang Theory, Season 1 (2007)

Oh Gravity, thou art a heartless bitch.

Really I felt like ending the review there, with a delicious remark from the one and only Sheldon, the wonderfully asexual and completely socially incompetent theoretical physicist who pretty much singlehandedly makes this show worth watching. That doesn't mean the other characters aren't entertaining, but Penny and Leonard provide just the right amount of levelheadedness to make Sheldon awesome.

What makes this show funny, to me at least, is that I actually know people who are like Sheldon and Leonard. People so removed from social competence that they just become excellent: "Engineering - this is where the semi-skilled workers realize the work of better minds. Hello, Oompah-Loompahs of science" - Sheldon.

This show is infinitely quotable, a requirement for popular television comedy these days, which is good because I hope Big Bang will be around for a while. Or at least as long as it remains this entertaining.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #10: The Crazies (2010)

In a word? Blech.

OK, maybe that wasn't really a word. But the sentiment is clear: I wasn't exactly crazy about The Crazies.

It had a strong enough start, I suppose. It didn't waste any time with character development, and dove right into the plot, which I liked. It even succeeded in being creepy at first, though I wouldn't say it ever entered the "scary" realm (which for my purposes I shall nickname, "scare-itory").

But then things started getting a little lame.

For starters, the 2010 remake of The Crazies relies way, way too heavily on "cheap scares." You know what I mean--those moments where everything is quiet, and then all of a sudden the MUSIC GETS REALLY LOUD AND A GRABBY HAND COMES OUT OF NOWHERE? Yeah, it was full of those. They even played the "cheap scare" card when good guys encountered each other unexpectedly--like, multiple times! Yeesh!

I'm really not quick to complain about the occasional "cheap scare" in a movie, but it seemed to be The Crazies' only strategy for reaching "scare-itory." And for a movie that doesn't have a whole lot else going for it besides its scare-factor, I don't really think it could afford to be a one-trick pony. Even if that pony is infected with a government-engineered virus that gives it zombie-like tendencies.

And that's the other thing that bothered me about The Crazies. The virus that spreads through the small town setting of Ogden Marsh, Iowa has extremely inconsistent symptoms throughout the film.

At first, it makes people dazed and confused (pardon the expression), and, let's just say "moderately homicidal."

Then shortly after, the victims get a little dozy. Dexterity goes down, albeit urge to kill goes up. This is where the pitchfork-dragging fellow from the movie poster makes his appearance, in the creepiest and arguably the only redeeming scene in the film.

But by the end of the movie, the infected types start to get clever. Instead of mindlessly dragging things around and stabbing, they are able to perform really complicated tasks, like sewing up their victims and strategically searching rooms for prey.

How is that possible?! The movie takes place over the course of a day and a half!

Of course it's silly to complain about the plausibility of a movie like this, but then again, if your audience transcends disbelief and is just plain confused, you've probably done something wrong.

I suppose my essential complaint is that not only does The Crazies bring nothing new to the horror-genre table, it botches and overuses conventions that have been sitting on the table so long they've gotten moldy. And although I haven't seen the original Crazies from 1973, let's face it--it’s bad news when a movie is a remake of a movie you haven’t seen, yet you still feel like you’ve seen it before. Only last time it was better.

Honestly, if you're thinking of watching this one, just sit down in front of your computer in the dark, put on some good headphones and watch the trailer for it on YouTube. It pretty much sums up the entire film, and you don’t waste two hours that you’ll never get back.

Like, ever.

Pose Reviews A Movie. #9: Total Recall (1990)

Is there anything more entertaining than watching how people in 1990 envisioned the future?

The answer is no.

More specifically, "hell no."

Before he made Showgirls, but after he made Robocop, but before he made Starship Troopers, cinematic prodigy Paul Verhoeven made a little film with a very large man--Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall.

And the result? A great sci-fi classsic of the VHS-era that would eventually be mocked relentlessly by a video store clerk twenty years in the future.

The plot of Total Recall is fairly simple:

1. Man rides subway.
2. Man sees advertisement for memory-implanting service that gives him recollection of trip to Earth colony on Mars.
3. Man undergoes surgery.
4. Surgery accidentally unearths man's erased memories.
5. Man realizes he used to be a rebel Martian and returns to Mars, guided by clues he left himself before his memory-erasure.

Or at least I think that's the plot. I'm not really sure. I watched a VHS copy that I bought for $4.00 at a used record store in Toronto, and whoever owned it before me taped over like five solid minutes of exposition with a Discovery Channel special on MRI brain scans.

The weird thing is, for the first minute or two I thought it was just part of the movie.

Anyway, given that the aforementioned "Man" is played by Schwarzenegger, you can rightly assume that the space between plot points is rich in high-speed chases and skillful-but-accidental evasion of laser gunfire. All in a day's work!

So what are the perks of this interplanetary sci-fi thriller? Well, Sharon Stone was still hot, the special effects are delightfully campy, and Verhoeven's vision of the future (adapted from Philip K. Dick's original story, though I'm not sure how faithfully) is both endearing and hilarious, considering that the real 2010 turned out to be significantly more advanced than the imagined 2084--at least in terms of the minor details.

Thus, on account of its nostalgic qualities, Total Recall is a lot of fun. It showcases Arnie in his prime (or at least before he made Jingle All The Way), it has a veritable buffet of ridiculous and outlandish plot-twists, and let's not forget the whole host of classic one-liners, none of which are devoid enough of profanity for me to iterate them here.

Overall, Verhoeven's 1990 endeavor is a joyous blast from the past's version of the future. And if that phrase made any sense to you at all, you're ready for Total Recall.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #53: The Lost Boys (1987)

I have always found Dianne Wiest really irritating. After watching The Lost Boys, I've discovered that she is still quite irritating.

The Lost Boys has been getting a bit of hype since its lead Corey Haim died about two weeks ago, and when some friends asked if I wanted to watch it I figured, "Hey, what the heck." And, well, it's not that I regret that decision, it's just that this film isn't really that good. In fact, the only times I enjoyed it was when I was laughing at it. I did enjoy seeing Alex Winter (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), thought the Grandpa was kick ass and found Keifer Sutherland sort of interesting to look at, in a "wow, he was pretty fucked up back then" kind of way. I think I just missed the time in my life when watching this would have made it cool in any way, like how I love Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure even though it's probably a pretty shitty movie.

I would do my usual "watch this if you like kitschy teen movies from the 80s" bit, but I really don't want to recommend this to anyone.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #52: Know Your Mushrooms (2008)

It seems that after hitting 50 films my brain decided, "You don't neeeed to write reviews, just leave them for a while!" And so it has been nine days since I've written one, and due to my love of watching whole television series I have sadly watched fewer films than anticipated.

So! On to Know Your Mushrooms, a documentary I picked up because I thought it would enlighten me on the subject of magic mushrooms, and because I think mushrooms are delicious.

It ended up being slightly boring, but quite informative, as several documentaries are. In this film we delve into the world of mushroom lovers and those who seek out the mighty mushroom as a way of experiencing the grand cathedral of nature in a sublimely psychedelic fashion. It has cute animations, a trip to the Telluride Mushroom Festival and an interesting interview with Larry Evans. And though it could have been a little more interesting or crazy, it was saved by the use of music by the Flaming Lips and The Sadies, which added a little magic to this mushroom escapade.

Pose Reviews A Movie. #8: Gomorra

This can be a good movie if you go in prepared. So let me try and prepare you.

First of all, it's important to know that Gomorra has five interweaving storylines.


This is crucial, because if you're like me, and don't like to know too much about a movie before you watch it, you're going to be confused as hell.

Secondly, Gomorra is a movie about the REAL mafia. In Italy. So there's no Brando, no Pacino, and neither Joe Pesci nor Ray Liotta kick the crap out of ANYONE.

This is where the film can get a little disappointing. The real mafia is actually "kinda lame," in the immortal words of a friend of mine who saw Gomorra in theatres last summer. There's no smooth-talking, everyone seems to be hard-up on cash, and there's barely a tailored suit in sight.

Thus, it seems that the point Gomorra is trying to make is that life in the Italian mafia isn't as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. In the most literal sense, crime just doesn't pay. The real mafia, as portrayed in Gomorra, is made up of petty thugs, greedy low-lives and wannabes. It's probably a very accurate portrayal, but it isn't exactly a flattering, or more importantly, an exciting one.

So if you're going to rent Gomorra, make sure you're not expecting car chases, epic shootouts or nerve-racking heists. Instead, you're going to get a picture of the ACTUAL mafia--it may be a bit dull and slow-moving by traditional standards, but it's definitely an interesting take on an established genre, and with the right attitude going in, it's actually pretty good. It manages to be aesthetically and cinematically gorgeous, while making a strong and unapologetic statement about the hazards and errors of regarding organized crime with admiration and respect.

But if you'd prefer not to stir the pot, you can always watch Goodfellas for the ninth time.

That's OK too.

New to the Store: Catchup! (through the week of 24 March, 2010)


Ansari, Aziz: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening
Art of Being Straight, The
Astro Boy
Baader-Meinhof Complex, The
Beaches of Agnes, The
Beauty Academy of Kabul, The
Black Balloon, The
Blind Side, The
Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day
Breaking Bad: Season 2
Broken Embraces
Brothers (2009)
Capitalism: A Love Story
Did You Hear About the Morgans?
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fourth Kind, The
Gentlemen Broncos
Good Hair
Hachi: A Dog's Tale
Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire
Mad Men: Season 3
Men Who Stare at Goats, The
Mushroom Prophet, The
Ninja Assassin
Nurse Jackie: Season 1
Old Dogs
Pit & the Pendulum, The
Planet 51
Princess and the Frog, The
Prisoner, The (2009)
Quelque chose a te dire (Blame It on Mum)
Sicilienne, La
Sorority Row (2009)
Twilight: New Moon
Un secret
Up in the Air


African Queen, The
As You Like It (BBC)
Bigger Than Life
Captive Factory Girls 2: The Revolt
Criminal Justice
Dalziel & Pascoe: Season 1
Emma (BBC, 2009)
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 2
Henry V (BBC)
Journey to Italy
Last Bolshevik, The / Happiness
MST3K: Beatniks, The
MST3K: Blood Waters of Dr. Z
MST3K: Crawling Eye, The
MST3K: Final Justice
Richard II
Richard III (BBC)
Rifftrax: Shorts-tacular Shorts-stravaganza
Rifftrax: Wide World of Shorts
T.A.M.I. Show, The
Taming of the Shrew, The (BBC)
Top Gear 11
Top Gear 12


African Queen, The
Bigger Than Life
Blind Side, The
Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day
Broken Embraces
Brothers (2009)
Capitalism: A Love Story
Days of Heaven
Fallen Angels
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Gentlemen Broncos
Men Who Stare at Goats, The
Mushroom Prophet, The
Ninja Assassin
Princess and the Frog, The
Toy Story
Toy Story 2
Twilight: New Moon
Up in the Air

Pose Reviews A Movie. #7: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Don't let the name fool you. It's actually pretty glorious.

Yep. Quentin Tarantino is back--this time, tackling a new genre for his growing catalogue of homages: the war film.

But this one doesn't really feel like a war film. To be honest, it feels more like Tarantino's other five movies parachuted into Nazi-occupied France and made a new film.

But it works.

First, there's the irresistible dialogue. I know, I know, every film critic, fanboy and video store clerk praise Tarantino for his scriptwriting skills, but for damn good reason! The man knows how to write--not just catchy lines and phrases, but entire CHARACTERS.

For example, one of the highlights of Inglourious Basterds is, by far, Christoph Waltz's portrayal of SS Colonel Hans Landa, the slimy yet weirdly charismatic "Jew Hunter." But his performance is such a hit because he has great lines to deliver. Same with Brad Pitt's portrayal of U.S. Lieutenant Aldo Raines--good acting, great lines.

The writing is not the only thing that Inglourious Basterds has going for it though--the film also does a great job of constructing suspense. The tension in some of these scenes can be cut with the soldiers' own knives, and it's AWESOME. But let's face it--at two and a half hours, it kind of has to be, doesn't it?

The only trouble I had with Tarantino's latest effort is that it's...well...a little self-indulgent. The man is clearly a cinematic genius, we get it--but do you have to reuse the same songs from the Kill Bills? Do you really need to give us a "History of Tarantino in Typeface" in the first three minutes? (If you notice, he re-uses the fonts from just about all of his previous films in the opening credits--maybe it takes a geek to notice that, but it also takes a geek to do it). And do you really need to include Brad Pitt delivering what are essentially just Uma Thurman's lines from Kill Bill Vol. 1 about the value of leaving someone alive and disfigured to send a message to your enemies?

Style is one thing--but self-plagiarism is quite another.

That said, however, it's still a really solid movie. So solid, in fact, that my MOTHER even liked it. And I'm sure you will too.


Oh, and the cameo by Mike Myers almost makes you forget that he made The Love Guru.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #6: Up In The Air (2009)

As a self-proclaimed technophobe, I can't tell you how happy this movie made me.

It's really nice to see a film that not only isn't shown in IMAX 3-D, but also has a powerful message about the poisonous effect that modern technology can have on interpersonal relationships.

The premise of Jason Reitman's third feature centres around Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man whose compulsive craving for efficiency, coupled with his smooth-talking demeanor, make him undebatably adept at his chosen profession. Which, incidentally, is breaking the harsh news to complete strangers that they've been fired.

It's a fascinating look at what must be an extremely difficult job. Not only is Bingham entrusted with the task of perpetually ruining people's lives (or, at best, ruining their days), his work as a consultant also requires him to travel constantly across the United States. By plane. Yes, yes, hence the title, Up In The Air.

BUT, enter a tech-savvy young whippersnapper by the name of Anna Kendrick (played by the appropriately named Natalie Keener) who decides to turn Bingham's world keeping him on it.

Kendrick's plan is to have the "fire-ers" do their dirty work via video conference--a move that completely removes the already shaky human element from their work. And this is what I found to be the most fascinating aspect of the movie.

Sure, there's a lot of facets to Up In The Air. The film puts a human face on corporate downsizing and the current economic downturn, it spends some time developing Bingham's love of detachment and solitude, and of course, he manages to meet a girl.

But that's all just "movie stuff."

My favourite part of Up In The Air is its explicit warning about the impending demise of person-to-person communication, and the importance of its survival.

Could you imagine getting a pink slip from Max Headroom? Or being dumped via text message? Or "attending" the funeral of a loved one by watching it on YouTube?

It's scary, but at the rate that technology is swallowing our perceptions and interactions, these kinds of phenomena might not be that far off. It's just nice to know that one of Canada's leading filmmakers seems to be as concerned about them as I am.

Anyway, the underlying theme of technophobia is just icing on this particular cinematic cake; the take-home doggy bag from a delightful movie-going experience. Overall, it's a well-written, well-shot film about connection and disconnection, which couldn't be more relevant in the fast-paced climate of our North-American lives.

And hey, you might even enjoy it without reading SO far into it!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Maggie 2010: The Monumental Catch-Up, Part Three

The stand-up comedy and LGBT edition!

#40. Saget, Bob: That Ain't Right

My only prior experience of Bob Saget's comedy was his bit in The Aristocrats, which I loved so much I decided to watch more. About 10 minutes into That Ain't Right, I sincerely regretted this decision. From the outset of this piece, Saget seemed high or drunk -- and allowing for one of the two is my kind way of excusing the horrific tempo of his comedy, the absolute absence of significant beats or effective pausing. I don't know if all his comedy has the same sloppiness, but I'm fairly convinced his Full House routine, a seemingly necessary exorcism for a family-friendly TV star turned to vulgar stand-up, must make a regular appearance at his shows. So why is it so unfunny? Again, maybe it just comes down to his erratic rhythm, maybe it was just a shitty night -- but there was precision in his interpretation of The Aristocrats, there was build-up and anticipated follow-through. In That Ain't Right his shock-value routine isn't, and it simply doesn't work.

#41. Cook, Dane: Harmful If Swallowed

Dane Cook similarly took my by surprise: I had already seen Vicious Circle, a 2005 production, and I liked the pacing, his energy when performing it, and the tight, fluid connectivity between his material. Vicious Circle was about relationships, in all their incarnations, and his performance was dramatic but in top form. Harmful If Swallowed was only released two years earlier: there couldn't be that much difference between the quality of material, could there? Well, yes, there was. Again, 10 minutes of this piece was enough to finally grasp what the hell people are talking about when they referred to Dane Cook as a lousy stand-up comic. In Harmful If Swallowed, there's no other way to describe him: His material has a feeling of spontaneity all right, and he bounces around the stage proving the excesses of energy at his disposal, but the content itself is absurd enough that we can't linger too long on it before tiring... and oh, does he ever linger too hard on it. One of the greatest responses good comedy should elicit is the side-splitting cry of "so true!" But somewhere between evoking our inner desire to be a poisonous snake, constantly being startled by stage and camera equipment, a ham-handed abuse of accents, catch-phrases, and his constant use of "gay" or "faggot" as punchline, he somehow loses it. There are some glimmers near the end of this set of the Dane Cook I saw in Vicious Circle -- notably, a routine about saying weird things during sex that seems like a flimsy precursor to his "Taste the rainbow" bit from later in his career -- but ideally someone looking for good Dane Cook should just skip this video and focus on the 2005 work instead.

#42. Chappelle, Dave: For What It's Worth

Finally, some rock-solid comedy! Dave Chappelle is just spot-on in For What It's Worth; I watched this bit twice in two days because my housemate also wanted to see it, and the routines just improved with repeat viewings. Dave Chappelle is a master of impressions and accents, something I think isn't said enough about his work. He also has complete control when playing with race -- something he unfortunately almost has to address, while white comics can get away with never addressing it in their performances -- and what emerges is a skit that objectifies everyone but also introduces some exceptionally subversive elements to their performance. High points therein include the classic "purple drink" routine, a pithy evisceration of contemporary differences between black and white culture through weed, and the most marvellous reversal of Aboriginal stereotyping I've seen in a comedy set in a long time. I cannot wait to watch more of his work: Chappelle's just all kinds of smart with his funny.

#43. Carlin, George: Collection (4-Discs)

Another smart comic is obviously George Carlin, who really just makes the senselessness of the world seem all right with his gentle deconstructions of absurdity. This four disc collection is an hilarious blast from the past, featuring tacky HBO intros from the 70s and George himself as a younger, slimmer, wide-eyed man in bell-bottoms, is chock-full of delightful routines geared toward the university circuit he was touring. Amid a whole slew of material you won't have seen him cover in his later career are classics like the Seven Words You Can't Say On TV, and then-contemporary classics like Carlin's special brand of news report, but the other material is all damn good, too. I've never laughed so hard about Monopoly before, and his fascination with crowd mentalities seems both perfectly suited to his '70s audiences and timeless in his own way. For George Carlin fans, this is NOT a series to miss.

#44. Degeneres, Ellen: Here and Now

Of all the comics listed here, Ellen is the only one to run a set with no vulgarity whatsoever. This is no way makes her less funny, and I have to confess to being gobsmacked by that fact. In one of the Carlin performances, he responds to the then-contemporary question of why he inserts "language" into his routines, and he explains that while he could easily perform without the occasional swear for an hour, he would be speaking in an artificial language, one removed from day-to-day reality. That may be true, but there's nothing artificial about Ellen's gentle approach to comedy. There's a great bit in the middle of this set about the weatherman -- "No wonder they snap when they start talkin' to the weatherman ... they go to some fantasy land ... 'And now it's Johnny with the weather; Johnny, when are you going to stop with the rain and bring us some sunshine.' 'I'll stop with the rain when you stop with the car-jackings, Colleen.'" In this you can see the heart of her comedy: She's just so darn sweet with her material, about the lighter side of life, but it works extraordinarily well and still manages to hint at the more sinister side of things in the process. Another thing I love about Ellen is the surety with which she tackles, at the outset of her performance, the question of sexual orientation (as with Dave Chappelle, there is an unfortunate expectation set that difference needs to be addressed): Ellen grabs hold of the matter in a way the recognizes that expectation set, and throws it the heck out in the process of addressing it. A beautiful performer, and family-friendly to boot!

#45. Bound

I'm going to go ahead and say I can't stand Jennifer Tilly's voice. I'm sure a lot of people consider it a hell of a turn-on, but it feels to me like someone in the sound studio's been screwing with the controls whenever she speaks. With that off my chest, on to the film: Bound is a piece we're supposed to like because it's got two very hot ladies -- an ex-con (Corky, played by Gina Gershon) working as plumber in the building with her lover, a mafia man's mistress named Violet (Jennifer Tilly) -- providing a female-centred alternative within the thriller/film noir genre. And it's the Wachowskis, doing something very different at a time when stark few representational alternatives existed in mainstream cinema (in short, anyone who saw this film when it came out is likely going to be a die-hard champion of its context and importance). That's all well and fine, but god, is this piece boring. "But! But! The ladies!" some will protest. To which I point out that when a plumber walks into an apartment on flimsy pretenses, and gets it on with the lady therein, you've got porn, maybe erotica, but never intrinsically art. The narrative of this piece follows the two lovers planning to steal two million from Violet's boyfriend, Caesar, and set him up to take the blame: unfortunately, complications arise in the process and things get messy, fast. Indeed, the film picks up a little toward the end, when just such complications emerge, but it's an otherwise tedious build up. I recognize wholeheartedly that I can call it tedious because it's been done, because the day has come and gone when two women leading in a crime thriller would be exciting enough to preclude all real plot or character development. Nonetheless, that's where we stand: My spoiled generation needs more from our bi/lesbian protagonists than soft, inviting lips and a gorgeous rack.

#46. Angels in America

I wish I could call some angels down right now to help sing the praises of this gorgeous, nuanced piece -- more miniseries than movie, a beautiful, heart-felt screen rendering of the equally heart-stopping play by Tony Kushner. I confess to avoiding this film for years because it was first sold to me as being "about AIDS" at a time when I had seen such a glut of films about the crisis that I couldn't imagine anything new being said by anyone about the topic. So let me then not do you the disservice of saying this film is "about AIDS," in case your own cynicism is as great as mine was: Yes, there is a lawyer dying of AIDS in this piece, a horrible man based on a real-life figure whose militant McCarthyism extended during the Reagan years into lobbying against those gay rights and considerations that his own male lovers would have desperately longed for. (Al Pacino plays the part of Roy Cohn surely and hauntingly.) Yes, there is a young gay man coping with his AIDS death sentence -- but worse, the abandonment at this time of need of his lover, who has already suffered a loss at the film's outset. (Justin Kirk as Prior Walter and Ben Shenkman as Lou.) But this is truly just the surface of the piece, and as the characters of Joe Pitt -- attorney in Roy's office and closeted gay Mormon (played by Patrick Wilson) -- his wife, Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) -- hallucinating on Valium in the midst of her sexless marriage -- and Joe' mother, bearing the burden of her own unsatisfying marriage as she tries to understand her son coming out as gay (Meryl Streep) start to emerge, an immensely different kind of epic rises from this piece. It's not really until Prior Walter is haunted by his ancestors, however -- as a precursor to visitation from an angel who will command him to become a prophet (the angel another incarnation of Meryl Streep) -- that this greater thesis really takes hold. When Prior does get haunted, though, and it emerges that great diseases have devastated his family (and indeed, humankind) for generations; and when it follows that the angels in heaven haven't heard from God in a while; and when Belize, friend and nurse to Prior throughout this ordeal (Jeffrey Wright), haunts Roy on his deathbed with an assertion that heaven is the present Manhattan with people fully realized and equal in all their sexual and cultural variations -- that's when it hits. This isn't a film "about AIDS": it's a film about the breadth and absurdity of human suffering, and the moments of real humanity that can almost make it bearable. This film was an absolute treasure, and privilege, to view.

#47. Itty Bitty Titty Committee

My feelings about The L Word are conflicted enough that I am both hesitant and intrigued to see what its actors have done outside the series. So of course when I heard Daniela Sea was in this piece, playing the role of Calvin, I figured I'd give this widely acclaimed LGBT release a shot. I'm glad I did: IBTC is irreverent, funny, and not too full of itself; furthermore it pursues a refreshing narrative alternative to what one usually sees from lesbian rom-coms (no coming out angst here!) and is presented in often quite interesting stylistic/cinematic ways. The story follows aimless Anna (Melonie Diaz) shaken out of her school/work/relationship rut when she catches Sadie (Nicole Vicius) tagging the windows at her office, and thrown into a sense of purpose and community when she meets the rad-fem, punk anarchist group Clits in Action. Individual character dynamics sometimes tweaked me (there are a few points that really strain suspension of disbelief), and some of the characters are condemned by the script to one-dimensionality, but on the whole director Jamie Babbit has nonetheless established an ambitious and distinct discourse with this piece. Is it flawed? Heck yes. Is it pushing queer cinema in fun new directions? Yes yes yes.

#48. Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema

This 2006 documentary is immensely straightforward in concept and execution: a) list some queer cinema highlights in chronological order, and b) intersperse this chronology with interviews with actors, directors, producers, and queer commentators talking about what those films meant to them, what the queer activist context was, and what those films meant to the industry. Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes simplicity is awesome. The interviewees spoke with such awe at what had come before, and excitement for what was still to come, that you couldn't help but feel a sense of community and inclusivity in the work. Their conversations are also so varied, their insights so honest and culturally relevant, it doesn't matter that this piece is already four years behind contemporary queer cinema, or that its repertoire of cited historical films has some striking omissions: To watch this piece was still to feel a desperate urge to catch up on all the influential titles I'd missed. Do yourselves a favour and watch this piece with pen and paper handy.

#49. Je Tu Il Elle

In keeping with my own new queer film list, gleaned from watching Fabulous!, I immediately snapped up Je Tu Il Elle when I saw it in store. This 1976 French film by director/writer Chantal Akerman is considered experimental despite a clear, if gradual, narrative arc uniting the painstakingly compartmentalized scenes. You see this curious conflict emerge in just the first few lines of the film, which cite the colours Je paints the room she inhabits for a month after her relationship with another woman ends, despite the film itself being black-and-white. Je does a rigorous amount of nothing in that month -- painting the room twice, writing and rewriting a letter to her lover, eating sugar from a bag, undressing, sleeping with her clothes. The utter winding down of her character is then confronted by another character's equally measured unwinding, but Akerman's film space is so narrow that only one character is ever permitted to be active at a time -- so Je watches and listens as truck driver Il, giving her a ride to an unknown destination, laconically undresses his own complex sexual nature (itself revealed to him only in time on the long highway routes). One of two sex acts in the film occurs after, with Je out of sight while Il directs her in the performance of a hand job. In another scene Il shaves at leisure; Je watches impassively from a corner of the stall. Then Je arrives at Elle's apartment. Elle, we discern, is Je's ex-lover, and Elle tells her she can't stay. Much is made of a rain jacket, and then Je sends Elle to fetch her food and drink. Elle watches as she eats. Elle shakes her head slowly as Je undoes her shirt and observes the breast underneath. They participate in a ten-minute sex scene as strikingly distinct from the heterosexual performance of sex as any I have ever seen. It is the only scene in the film wherein both characters are permitted to be active at once. Je's departure the next morning brings us to the film's close. In short, this is a film about gesture, about the isolation of self within place, about intimacy. As experimental work goes, it's highly accessible. More to the point, it's beautiful -- even at its ugliest, even at its most bizarre.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Maggie 2010: The Monumental Catch-Up, Part Two

#30. Read My Lips

This film by writer/director Jacques Audiard was meant to pass the time while waiting for The Prophet to be released in Waterloo: it only managed to exacerbate my desire to see the latter. Where a lesser writer might throw in character "hooks" like hearing loss (Carla, played by Emmanuelle Devos) and ex-convict status (Paul, played by Vincent Cassel) and call it a day, Audiard chooses to evince complex portraits about the human condition. And damn, is he good at it: Carla's hit a glass ceiling at work, where her ability to read lips brings her no added pleasure, so when the opportunity to hire a secretary arises her reasons for hiring an ex-convict who can't type aren't entirely clear. Is it altruism? Paul doesn't imagine so -- especially when one good deed is compounded by another -- and he responds accordingly. This is the first in a series of small, mean, helpless acts in which these two give and take from one another with different endpoints in mind. The struggle towards something better in a world where nothing is necessarily given, and much can be taken away, is a compelling one. A human one. And he answers it as such.

#31. Chungking Express

This Criterion Collection piece by writer/director Kar Wai Wong plays with isolation in crowded urban landscapes: Two love stories unwind, one after another, amid a nexus of shops and apartment homes. In the first, a lonely cop struggling with the expiration date of his last relationship has a chance encounter with a beautiful heroin smuggler whose luggage has gone astray. It's the smaller of the two tales, wending sweetly from sad to kind; and though the larger, about another lonely cop and the fast food worker who falls in love with the act of improving his life, leaves us on an equally upbeat note, it's the sadness of the journey there that truly lingers after. For the characters in each story, these moments of catharsis are hard-won despite the deep longing in individual hearts. For audiences, the journey is gentler, paved with hyper-human character quirks (think Murakami for the big screen) and wistful voice-overs, but no less poignant. There is humanness afoot here: lonely, lost, and full of hope.

#32. Splinter

As a horror film, Splinter is perfectly functional. In fact, I'll go one further: It makes complete, functional use of every winning Western horror film technique. Polly is an all-natural girl dragging her nature-phobic biologist boyfriend on a camping trip. On the way they're taken hostage by an escaped convict and his girlfriend. Are all our potential victims in tow? Check! Time to expose them to the monster! This one's a deadly parasite that metastizes inside its animal hosts and seeks to spread its spiky spores wherever it goes. The location? A gas station -- the perfect venue for all manner of threats with the added benefit of see-through glass walls, so the outside can be observed for even greater thrills and chills. All good fun, until the fun becomes a little too obvious: When a piece of a larger, infected host is trapped inside the store you know in a heartbeat that it's the little bugger the merry gang is going to test until they figure out where it's weak. And that ex-convict? Well, you just know they're going to break up the action with a sob story at some point (lamer, if you ask me, than just getting him to redeem himself with an heroic act). So, yes, it's a decent low-budget film with some fun CGI and an all-right script. But there are weaknesses to following the formula too perfectly, and predictability, which Splinter has in spades, is just about the worst.

#33. Ballast

Here's another film that aches and often breaks under the weight of its own humanity: Lance Hammer's debut feature film about three lives in the Delta shattered by the suicide of a connecting thread -- one's father (JimMyron Ross as James), one's ex (Tarra Riggs as Marlee), one's brother (Michael J. Smith Sr. as Lawrence) -- covers poverty, depression, drugs, gangs, violence, estrangement, and educational short-falls, among other subjects all too often bandied about to shrill and didactic ends. No such ends exist here, in this quiet piece with no soundtrack other than the real world: indeed, for all the sadness in the plot line, and all the pain that follows these characters from beginning to end, it's the images and small, natural sounds in this piece that linger. Fallow fields. The crunch of gravel, frost underfoot. A flock of crows rising overhead. Blood stains on a wall. A boy watching the sky. This film is slow. This film is heartbreaking. And if you can handle those two, this film is worth it.

#34. Ghost Town

Where do you go after finishing Extras but to other films starring Ricky Gervais? No, really, I'd like to know, because Ricky's comedies are decent but nothing special. In this romantic comedy, for instance, Ricky plays a misanthropic dentist whose brief brush with death leaves him with a waiting room of ghosts, ecstatic that he can see them and hoping he'll help them find lasting peace. Poor ghosts: Ricky -- sorry, "Bertram" -- isn't interested, except when one ghost (Frank, played by Greg Kinnear) offers to get rid of the rest in exchange for help of his own. Reluctantly, Bertram agrees to help Frank, the adulterous spouse, keep his grieving widow from marrying someone even worse for her than he was; less than reluctantly, Bertram falls in love with the widow, Tea Leoni, and hopes Frank will help set him up. You see where this is all going, or maybe you don't: there's a cute little twist in the middle of this film that ensures its existence to a comfortable hour and forty-two minutes viewing time. Palatable, inoffensive fare, Ghost Town is a safe bet for a night in with a diverse crowd, and a secure rom-com to boot -- just don't expect to laugh.

#35. Good Dick

This has to be one of the more bizarrely mismatched film-to-film-cases I've seen in a long while. Appealing to the smart indie hipster branding of all too many post-Juno films, the case's tag line reads "What do you REALLY want?" and underscores an image of the dour female lead, Woman (Marianne Palker) hauling hapless male lead, Man (Jason Ritter) for a kiss. Yet the film itself wrestles more with an absence of contact than anything else in this curious, underplayed piece about a lonely video clerk who stalks and moves in with a severe recluse and regular porn renter. There's much in the premise alone to creep people out -- for instance, I give you the stalking! -- but when you get past it there's something just fantastic about this couple's interactions: the ways they don't touch, the ways they negotiate contact, the ways they maintain isolation even when in contact. As an exercise in theatricality alone this piece is well-worth the watch; and all that striking interplay also more than makes up for a tired ending where Things Are Explained when they really, really don't need to be. A modest piece, but for the avid film and stage goer, a worthwhile exploration into the physicality of both media.

#36. Medium, Season Two

These next few entries are about the decline of a series from a strong beginning to an insufferable string of horribly written episodes. Season two is really the last truly worthwhile season: here we still get a sense of play and exploration as the show, about a medium who works with the police to solve crimes while struggling to maintain a busy family life, grapples with different territory from episode to episode. High points include an episode where a recently deceased murderer takes up residence in her head, giving her husband to worry about the safety of their family ("Method To His Madness"), a special 3D episode commingling portraiture with memory ("Still Life"), and an episode involving time dilation, wherein Alison discovers a psychiatric patient from the 1950s who insists that she's Alison ("Time Out of Mind"). The series at this point still makes an effort to explore the realm of possibility for the series' premise without conveniently breaking its own rules: The same is not true for those seasons that follow.

#37. Medium, Season Three

Season three is not really that bad, but the signs of decay in this series' writing start to seep in despite best intentions. The Dubois family becomes deeply involved in Alison's visions and waking nightmares throughout the season, with episodes including one where Alison fears she's dreaming her own daughter's death ("Second Opinion"), another where her husband Joe is actually trapped in a hostage situation ("Joe Day Afternoon"), and one where her daughter, Ariel, has visions that also coincide with the same murder investigation ("Mother's Little Helper"). Again, the ideas are present, and there's a clear intent to explore the depths and meanings of this show's premise in a few of the episodes. But oh, how the dialogue starts to creak to fit the show's plots -- how Alison especially has to avoid saying things that are only sensible in the middle of certain conversations in order to keep the show's tension piqued for the run of many an episode. Suspension of disbelief plummets quickly by episode 20, "Head Games," when even one of the victims at the episode's onset does something utterly senseless in order to be conveniently present for the grab-and-kill. It grates at a writer's teeth, I tell you -- and if I were any less compulsive about my TV shows, I'd have broken away from this series right about here.

#38. Medium, Season Four

... However, I am compulsive, so I stuck around long enough for the series to take on the kind of season one writes when they're really not confident they have enough material to sustain the initial premise: they blow all their original foundations to hell and see how things land. So! District Attorney Devalos is out of a job, meaning Alison is out of a job. In response, she turns to the private investigation scene, while her husband gets a considerable story arc of his own when he strikes upon a business venture and pursues it with the occasional help of his children's own, burgeoning psychic abilities. The pain in viewing this show really starts to mount as a whole series of ground rules start to unravel: Originally, Alison saw what the dead or emotionally distraught saw, or else saw the dead who told her themselvess. That I suppose just got too boring for series writers, who decided to introduce a lot of backward, roundabout clues in this season ("Do You Hear What I Hear?" being the most egregious) -- the purpose of which is clearly just to make every case complex enough to fill an hour. Now that's boring. Meanwhile, early in the series we learn the dead are supposed to be privy to everything, but this rule is also tossed right out for the purpose of episodes like Burn Baby Burn. Oh, and the horrible absences in dialogue, where a character shuts up instead of giving the sensible, time-saving response? They're still here. I tell you, compulsive viewing habits suck.

#39. Medium, Season Five

... Then again, maybe I'm just an optimist. If so, there are bright moments in this season that make the rough ride of the last two almost worth it. Husband Joe's plot-line has become its own "thing" in the series by now, and it finds some useful intersections with the overarching themes of this series -- especially in relation to balancing family life and making honest use of the gifts that run through his children's genes. (Always restless for side plots, the writers turn their mediocrity to Alison's coworker, Detective Scanlon, who gets his own considerable plot-line throughout this season -- a gentle love/loss/love story that doesn't have much substance to it, but fleshes out the hour all the same.) But it's the return of Alison to her own demons -- not least of which being Lucas Walker, a character milked for two episodes ("The Devil Inside"), but milked well -- that really makes this season more interesting. In episodes like "A Necessary Evil" especially we see the depth and flexibility of the show's initial premise. Then we simply have to wonder: why on earth did they ever stray?

Pose Reviews A Movie. #5: REC (2007)

Holy crap it's awesome.

Sorry to be so blunt. But it had to be said.

Yep, this Spanish-made, self-soil-inducing throrror (read: thriller/horror) is a veritable cinematic gem for the scare-hungry, and by far one of the most terrifying at-home movie-watching experiences I've ever had.


REC (whether you've decided to pronounce it phoenetically as "wreck" or acronymically as "arr-ee-see") is a welcome rebel to the horror genre. It doesn't rely solely on "cheap scares," where music or sound effects are played REALLY loud to accentuate a scary face or grabby hand, nor does it take the gorey route, measuring its scare-factor in litres of fake blood. Nope, REC takes the high-road--it uses a poorly lit, incredibly creepy environment, coupled with inspired costume and makeup choices that grab hold of your nerves and yank them relentlessly for 78 terrifying minutes.

But don't let the phrase "poorly lit" throw you--the lighting is actually one of the greatest aspects of the film. Without giving too much away, REC is a film about the tenants of an apartment complex who are sealed inside their walls by authorities to prevent the outbreak of a disease that is making some of the building's residents behave...well, "oddly."

The film is also a member of the "found footage" genre that started with The Blair Witch Project (1999) and continues today with movies like Cloverfield, which means that standard cinematic conventions like contrived lighting or underlying music can't be used without undermining the film's entire effect.

This is why the lighting in REC is so impressive.

The lighting serves to contain the action, mirroring the film's overall theme of containment. While the residents of the Spanish apartment complex are held captive inside their building, the viewer's attention is held captive by the camera's lighting.

In other words, the lighting in REC makes only certain elements of a scene visible, which not only adds to the suspense, but also mimics the feeling of containment possessed by the characters in the film. And because the whole movie is made to look like amateur video footage, the confined lighting fits right in.

You get the feeling of "Oh man, I can only see the one spot where the light is pointing--what's going to come out of the dark?!" instead of "What the hell, I can't see a thing--who shot this movie?!"

The bottom line is, the lighting doesn't make the film difficult to watch--it only enhances it.

(And also, you'll probably have to see it in order to understand what I'm talking about.)

But it's definitely, DEFINITELY worth seeing.

The only concern I have is for people who have seen the North American remake, Quarantine. I watched REC again with a friend who had seen the Hollywood do-over first, and he said that REC was more well-made, but not as scary for someone who has watched Quarantine. In essence, Quarantine is a carbon-copy of REC, just without subtitles. So I worry that if you've watched the remake, you might not be as enamoured with REC as someone who hasn't watched it.

But even then, you might just enjoy the experience of watching a horror film done right. I know I did!

Look for REC in the Horror: Euro section, or on Andrew's Staff Picks shelf.

Maggie 2010: The Monumental Catch-Up Begins

#22. The Birdman of Alcatraz

"Don't be afraid. Out there you can kick up the dust. You can dance to fiddle music. Watch the alfalfa grow. If you like you can see gold teeth, taste sweet whiskey and red-eye gravy. The air breathes easy. Nights go faster. You can tell time with a clock. You don't want to be a jailbird all your life, do ya? You're a high-ballin' sparrow."

I had a hankering to watch this film after visiting Alcatraz last weekend, though I knew full well that films located on Alcatraz rarely use more than peripheral shots of the facility. To make matters worse, Robert Stroud, the real-life inmate of Alcatraz upon which this plot is based, was actually only a "Birdman" of Leavenworth Penitentiary, where he kept canaries until changed legislation drove him down a path that eventually led him to Alcatraz. Despite this, and the tremendous challenge of filming a piece extensively within the confines of a single cell, Burt Lancaster provides all the gravitas needed to make this film thrive. In relating the tale of a jaded man imprisoned for murder, committed to solitary for life after killing a prison guard, and transformed into a renowned researcher of bird pathologies through his painstakingly developed avian companionship, what Birdman of Alcatraz really does is set a standard for calm and deliberate pacing in theatre. Some might argue this pacing is too calm and deliberate, with the film clocking in at 147 minutes and covering surprisingly diverse territory. Nonetheless, though the premise might seem too clear-cut to merit a viewing for today's all-knowing set, and like most biopics this piece twists its fair share of facts, this classic--and both the prison and man it represents--has a humanity to it that still deserves the continued interest of audiences today.

#23. The People vs. Larry Flynt

I confess to deriving a measure of sick pleasure from seeing Courtney Love play dead in this biopic about Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson), arguably the most important "smut-peddler" alive today. But beyond that moment's delight there lies a surprisingly measured piece about a a couple shocking elements of human life: differing perceptions of obscenity, and the lengths some of us go to in order to defend or destroy other people's ability to express those differences of opinion. Some decent monologues about freedom of speech are interwoven in this fairly strict accounting of the various highs and lows of Larry Flynt's career as the head of Larry Flynt Publications and creator of Hustler magazine, which caught the ire of religious groups, white supremacists (including the one considered responsible for the failed assassination attempt that left him paralysed from the waist down), and another monolithic personality (Jerry Falwell) who became instrumental in Flynt's real claim to judicial fame, a landmark appeals case before the U.S. Supreme Court. If the film is to be faulted for anything, it's likely the one-sided nature of each court case presented to viewers; I expect this was a choice made for economy, but it nonetheless has the consequence of relaying each case's outcome to the viewer with little anticipation. Otherwise, though, biopics are regularly faulted for taking extreme liberties with original story lines: this one, however, does a surprisingly even-handed job. Not a shocker of a film, but certainly a more than adequate testament to an important contemporary defense of civil liberties.

#24. Doc Martin, Season 1

Someone recommended this series to me on the strength of it being "like House," and I wish that person had allowed the series to rest on its own merits: a) because it's nothing like House, and b) because it's excellent in its own right. A quiet British comedy about a London surgeon (played by Martin Clunes) who becomes GP to a small coastal town after struck mid-operation by a fear of blood, Doc Martin, the modest series pits the good doctor's blunt, prescriptive mannerisms against the foibles and niceties of small town living. In this first season, involving a passive love interest in the schoolteacher, a rekindled familial relationship with his aunt, the antics of his incorrigible local receptionist, the peculiar nature of his most far-out patients, and a stray dog who follows him incessantly, viewers are introduced to other central figures in town life, including a plumber, his son, the local radio host, and the local policeman. Slapstick humour and social disconnects make for an altogether gentle comedy in this six episode season, while an overarching thread about trust and community insinuates itself more markedly as word of the doctor's hemophobia gets out.

#25. Doc Martin, Season 2

With all the pertinent character introductions out of the way, season two develops Doc Martin's feelings for school-teacher Louisa, switches out one quirky receptionist for another, and sees the rise of secondary plot-lines through the abrupt romance between the town's policeman and a mysterious new woman, as well as continued familial interplay between the plumber and his son. At the fore of each episode is still a clash of big-city pragmatism and stubborn "hickism" when it comes to Doc Martin's medical practice, but interestingly it's the secondary characters who dominate the developmental arc in this eight-part season (with a Christmas special to boot). The series maintains its leisurely pace, but definitely defines itself quite loosely with regard to how often we're likely to see different characters slip into and out of regular proceedings. One can never quite tell what each new episode will yield for precisely this reason--and that's potentially part of the series' charm.

#26. Doc Martin, Season 3

Season three brings the curious love story between Doc Martin and Louisa to the fore, and in such a way that should make most shows centred around difficult romances sit up and take notice. Despite the brevity of each season (this one has only eight episodes), the show commands a considerable writing team, so one is left to wonder whether the haste with which certain story lines are introduced and wrapped up is a part of this series' natural order, or simply the natural consequence of too many chefs in the kitchen. Also central to this season is the plumber's new-found vocation and on-going romantic tensions between his son and Doc Martin's receptionist. The same even keel throughout this series makes up for the rather fluid integration and absence of notable characters from seasons' past, but what with the rapidity by which major plots are tackled and done away with, I have to hope the series aims to end tidily and swiftly before losing steam.

#27. Hunger

It's amazing what some actors will do for their roles, and Michael Fassbender is no exception. For the role of Bobby Sands, leader of the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike who died of starvation in protest of Northern Ireland's refusal to classify certain prisoners as political (with all the added rights therein), Fassbender embarked on an extreme, though strictly-monitored, diet (results seen above). Fassbender's commitment to this performance is matched only by some of the most powerful directorial choices (care of Steve McQueen) I have ever seen incorporated into a piece about life in prison: the first half of this film is an exceptionally visual masterpiece, conveying worlds of nuance and character investment in the minutest acts. Through these striking images and pristine uses of sound and silence, one sees quite clearly all the players involved in the intolerable situation created within the prison, and furthermore the impossibility of protest -- even in "passive" forms such as the hunger strike -- escaping violent outcomes. Even just for the imagery in the first half of this film, Hunger is worth the time of anyone who seeks a prison piece that balances monotony with fear, brutality, and the overarching question of human dignity.

#28. Shutter Island

I confess that this film's trailer turned me right off the piece for months: as much as I know Martin Scorsese to be an excellent director something really has to be done about the piss-poor state of contemporary movie trailers, because if they're not spoiling the whole movie plot or blowing all its choicest lines at one go, they're sensationalizing even pointedly nuanced atmospheres to deceptively superficial ends. In this case, as if Scorsese's name wasn't audience-grab enough, producers decided to slap together a conspicuously generic thriller trailer for a work that is in actuality anything but. I watched this film despite its horrendous marketing campaign because I was curious about what Scorsese would do with the genre (as it is his wont to toy with conventions in pretty much any genre he touches), and despite Leonardo DiCaprio falling back on a rather tired accent for his role as the protagonist, detective Teddy Daniels, I was exceedingly impressed with the way Scorsese teased out the conventions of the modern thriller to elicit fresh and thought-provoking truths. In post-WWII America, Teddy is seeking the truth about an island mental health facility for the criminally insane, where he suspects the patients are being experimented on by the government in ways that gravely distort his nation's recent struggle against the threat of Nazism. His own experience of freeing a death camp from Nazi rule, coupled with crippling grief over his wife's violent death in post-war years, invite the viewer to reassess what is meant by social determinations of "mentally healthy" and "mentally unfit." While Scorsese emphasizes the complexity of this argument, usually so starkly and divisively drawn in mainstream thrillers, he also combats a very common plot twist in an altogether unique way. Viewers with any background in the genre will see the central twist coming a mile away, but should likely be surprised by the length at which it's drawn out, and the exceptionally subtle redemptive line at its close, which single-handedly raises Shutter Island into a very different calibre of film. In the end, genre be damned: this is Scorsese picture, through and through.

#29. Five Minutes of Heaven

I want so much to see Liam Neeson take on a happy role, after losing his wife last year in a freak skiing accident, but for now I gain a distinct measure of comfort from seeing him so secure in his archetypal niche, as a man of great and deliberate thought and action. Whether someone's just kidnapped his daughter or someone needs help coming to terms with their perceived sexual peccadillos, Neeson commands considerable gravitas with a simple waggle of his jaw, the clenching of his teeth, and the searching weight of his ancient gaze. So it is with his role as Alistair Little in Five Minutes of Heaven, a man transformed by twenty-five years in prison following a childhood in Ireland that seemed to propel him inevitably towards committing murder in the name of loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland (the UVF). While Alistair's transformation and activist work after the murder gave him world renown and wide praise, the younger brother of his victim, Joe Griffen (James Nesbitt), grew up being blamed by his mother for his older brother's death. The cruelty of this accusation being almost worse than the loss of his brother to randomized patterns of nationalistic violence, it's no surprise that Joe perceives a TV-show-sponsored opportunity for reunion between victim and murder as a chance to settle the score (thus yielding him his "Five Minutes of Heaven" before arrest or death). Beautiful visual resonances between both histories of violence emerge in the first half of this piece (by director Oliver Hirschbiegel and writer Guy Hibbert), along with some exceedingly tense set-up as Joe struggles just to enter the room where Alistair waits, surrounded by cameras, for their reunion; and in these moments we can especially see a side of Alistair that defies his apparent worldly success--a loneliness and heart-rending guilt that has as surely stopped his life after the incident just as Joe's mother's words stopped his own. These men are both exceedingly wounded creatures, so when a surprising twist halfway through the film casts the tempo and pacing in a completely new direction, the fear becomes that both will limp through the script to an artificial and saccharine ending. Frankly, I feel the film would have done well to end on one image hailing the stunning penultimate shot of The Passenger, but the piece still has a few quality scenes, and raises a few pertinent questions about violence and redemption, that make it worth the viewing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ryan Watches a Motion Picture #13: The Mushroom Prophet (2006)

This here is a pretty rare occurrence - a locally made feature film, and there's a strange joy in glimpsing its occasional kitchener/waterloo scenery.

The film is essentially a man's shamanistic and atmospheric journey through the wilderness, ending when he reaches a mushroom-induced revelation about the nature of the beast that is human civilization. The Mushroom Prophet is director Gary Mundell's first feature, and it's not terribly surprising that his film goes overboard on several different fronts.

Like when there's a great looking shot, and there are some really great shots, it lasts for much, much longer than it needs to. At a two hour run time, the film could have easily been clipped down to the 80 minute mark without any loss of force or effect. Technique-wise it goes overboard too. Like when an elaborate sequence of crane shots is used for a guy simply walking out of his house. The writing goes overboard by way of being redundant, as the same thought is expressed over and over again in only slightly differing ways. Now, there isn't much dialogue in this movie, but when it does come it comes in overly long and pontificating speeches. Still, the rant coming from the trucker about corporate power, enhanced by a fish-eye lens, is memorable due to its coming out of absolutely nowhere.

While not very much happens, it achieves a meandering, dreamlike atmosphere that kept me occupied for most of the film. The plot is vague, and I gather that Mushroom Prophet serves more as a mood piece, or a personal and shamanistic drug-trip than a story. But from what I picked up, the film seems to be set in a deserted and haunted Canadian north country, where the Sasquatch have returned, and where America has become a police state. Most of that is alluded to in dialogue, though the Sasquatch you actually see. The makeup is pretty good, too. We're given a post-Canada apocalyptic vibe that comes through in the deliveries, pacing, and soundtrack that reminds me of the offbeat spiritual-horror work of Richard Stanley.

So: It's overzealous, but since the shots are framed well, the techniques are there in some form, and an atmosphere is achieved, some talent is clearly being displayed. I'm curious enough to keep an eye on his work. This is a first effort, and very clearly a work of passion. As such, it's inspirational and worth a look.