Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 31 August


9th Company
Cat Ladies
Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen
Harry Brown (also BluRay)
House: Season 6
Leslie, My Name Is Evil
OSS 117: Lost in Rio
Red Riding Trilogy (1974/1980/1983) (BluRay)
Red Riding: 1974
Red Riding: 1980
Red Riding: 1983
Sons of Anarchy: Season 2
Survival of the Dead (also BluRay)
Vampire Diaries, The: Season 1


Anatomy of a Psycho / Hatchet for the Honeymoon
Big Doll House
Brides Wore Blood, The
Death Smiled at Murder
Evil Dead, The (BluRay)
Godkiller (Complete Film)
Hellblock 13
Humanoids from the Deep
Marple 5.1: The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
Marple 5.2: The Secret of Chimneys
Marple 5.3: The Blue Geranium / Agatha Christie's Garden
Mon Amour
Naked Obsession
Rape of the Vampire, The
Ruining, The
San Francisco Sex Collection (How I Got My Mink / Scyla / Oddo)
Terminal Island
Thriller: Season 1
Thriller: Season 2

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #36: In America (2002)

I'd like to start by dedicating this review to my friend Kate, who initially recommended that I watch In America, and who I know has a tendency to follow the blog.

I miss you KT!! I think it's wonderful that Scotland has swallowed you up, but I'm also counting down the days till you come home. (Right now it's several hundred.)

OK, now on to the review.

Did I like In America?



was it mostly because of the way it tugs at the heartstrings, and less on account of its technical or artistic merit?

Also yes.

Jim Sheridan's film about an Irish immigrant family settling illegally in New York City after the death of their son is the kind of movie that is designed to wrench your emotions.

It just has to.

But the reason it's OK is because the film exacts its full-on assault of the feelings through style and content--it doesn't rely strictly on either.

Take, for example, the fact that the film is narrated by Christy Sullivan, the elder of the two daughters in the family. This is an effective choice, since her interpretation of the film's events are endearingly skewed by her young age, and having such an adorable narrator guide you through the film helps to soften the blow of some of the sadder and more upsetting elements.

The acting is also very strong across the board. Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton are dynamic as the Irish parents, who try their best to keep themselves financially and emotionally afloat in the Big Apple, all the while attempting to hide the harsh realities of city life from their children.

The two daughters, played by Sarah and Emma Bolger, are also tremendous actresses--their roles call for a sophisticated range of moods and subtle line deliveries, both of which they handle with impressive ease.

All in all, In America is exceptionally made--my only qualm with the story is that it wanders into far-fetched territory at times. The deus-ex-machina quality of some of these extraordinary events is alleviated slightly by Christy's claim that her brother gave her three wishes before he died, but that only makes them slightly more believable within the context of the film.

That said, you can't have a dramatic film without the drama, and certainly In America would be a little boring without the implausible moments to which I'm referring.

And they sure do sting the ol' tear ducts.

Ultimately, In America is a very uplifting film, encouraging its audience not to dwell on the past, but more to look forward to the future. It's also the kind of movie that encourages us to put our own struggles in perspective, and to be more mindful of the struggles of our newly immigrated friends, co-workers and neighbours.

I'd recommend In America to anyone with feelings they haven't used in awhile, and who also has an affinity for happy endings...

...and Irish accents.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #59: Haibane Renmei (2002)

One of my favourite anime series, this short thirteen episode drama tells the story of a girl that wakes up in a strange town with no memory of how she got there. And she seems to have wings and a halo. The answer seems obvious, but there are only a handful of other girls like her. They look after each other in a simple boarding house and try to maintain an uneasy relationship with all of the normal townsfolk that populate the area. Their town is completely walled off with stone, and no one is allowed to leave. The town's mystery, and the nature of the girls, starts to unravel when our main heroine arrives and rocks the boat in her well-meaning way.

There's a gentleness to this series that reminds me very much of Miyazaki's amazing works - there's a real sense of air and flora in Haibane Renmei, and it's a treat to take its world in. Also like Miyazaki, there's a lining of darkness and unease to the idyllic bliss of the town and its inhabitants. Something is not quite right with the world, and as the characters come into contact with the heroine, she comes to find a complexity of private suffering and inner torments that keep them locked in place and without hope.

It's beautifully animated and it's without the kind of sex and violence that characterises the bulk of the Japanese animation industry.

So: Fantastic. Give it a shot, even if you're not normally into anime.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #58: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

I should be doing comedy, Morgan.

Shawshank is one of those movies I swore by as a younger lad. I had found it moving, captivating and, especially, inspiring. I shouldn't have re-watched it.

I'm sure it's a film you've all seen already. While it's not a bad film, since it certainly has its inspiring moments and lines of dialogue that stick to my brain and peel out in times of emotional trouble, it is at its heart an overly romantic film. It's sappy. It's real sappy. To the point where I couldn't help but feel like the not-so-nice elements in the film were being medicated, because when something bad happens you're given comfort soon after. Despite the subject matter, it's an easy film; it leads you along by the hand and doesn't rattle you too much. When it does, it tells you its sorry and promises that things will be fine by the end. And they pretty much are.

The performances are good, but Tim Robbins is just Tim Robbins. The score is swelling and with the camera, drifting in operatic Frank Darabont style, tells you exactly when something grand and important is being said. There's little room for subtlety or mistake. I don't think a film should be without risk of mistake. It should never be so precise as to leave you without room.

So: A medicating, specifically bromantic comfort movie for those in need of life-change. I could just tell you: Get busy living or get busy dying.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #35: The Prestige (2006)

I remember that when The Prestige came out in theatres, it was released in one of those infamous "Hollywood Pairs" that everyone despises.

You know what I mean.

It happened with Dante's Peak and Volcano. It happened with Armageddon and Deep Impact. And it happened with The Prestige and The Illusionist.

Inevitably, when "Hollywood Pairs" occur, no one sees both. (Unless you're weird. Or you have a LOT of interest in the subject matter.)

Back in 2006, I opted to see The Illusionist because Edward Norton is awesome and I can't stand Hugh Jackman.

The Illusionist was nothing if not mediocre, so understandably my enthusiasm for magician movies was somewhat diminished. Luckily, however, my enthusiasm for Christopher Nolan recently overtook it.

The Prestige is a tale of two competing magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden (played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale respectively, neither of whom can really pull off the English accent required for the roles) in early 20th century London.

At first, the men work side by side as partners under the leadership of an illusion engineer by the name of Cutter (adeptly played by Michael Caine).

However, when Angier's wife, the act's lovely assistant is tragically killed as a result of one of the illusions, he blames Borden for her death, and sparks a rivalry that increases more and more intensely as the film progresses.

At first, the men merely try to sabotage each other's stage performances, but when Borden finally perfects "The Transported Man," a trick that Angier cannot figure out, the conflict turns to one-upmanship, and each magician goes to extraordinary lengths to outdo the other and expose his secrets.

The Prestige is a really solid film, and it comes with all the fun twists and turns that you'd expect from Christopher Nolan. Of course, Nolan can't be credited with the story, since The Prestige is an adaptation of Christopher Priest's novel of the same name, but he brings it to the screen with the same mysterious flair present in films like Following and Memento.

The Prestige
also brings David Bowie out of a brief cinematic retirement, giving him his first on-screen role since playing himself in 2001's Zoolander. Bowie does a great job of playing Nicola Tesla, the suave, brilliant but altogether mad scientist, and practically steals the show at the halfway mark.

Overall, I enjoyed The Prestige for what it is: a well-crafted period piece that is suspenseful, mysterious and surprising, not to mention unique (if it weren't for that pesky Illusionist!) I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story, complete with a legitimately cool twist that won't make you roll your eyes.

...and if you'd rather just stare at Scarlett Johansson, I suppose it's good for that too.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Maggie 2010: Criterion'd, Part III

#96. Solaris (1972)

I write a lot, and as anyone who writes a lot will tell you, the more you write the easier it is to write about a wide range of topics; and the more those topics don't seem so far removed after all. Which is why I sympathize with Andrei Tarkovsky, who truly hated 2001: A Space Odyssey for what he considered its coldness, its lack of humanity, and was adamant about creating, in Solaris, a work of science fiction that drew on the underlying threads of all great art--the universal human truths. Predictably, the situation was spun as a US versus Russia stand-off of epic, artistic Cold War proportions; but let's face it: "man versus himself" is a thematic latecomer to Western sci-fi. (Ironically, in part due to the Cold War itself, as robots and aliens were time and again allowed to represent the Communist threat.) The Russian tradition was of course also not an easy one to imbue with these humanistic themes, but it's easy to see why fighting that trend towards coldness would be so much on Tarkovsky's mind.

You might know Solaris already from Steven Soderbergh's 2002 remake. A psychologist is sent to a space ship orbiting around a strange planet for the purpose of investigating the death of one of three scientists. What he discovers is the presence of his wife, who had committed suicide not long before, and who joins a series of loved ones that mysteriously exist on the space station with the scientists. It later develops that this woman is an imprint created by the planet; and the psychological implications of this occurrence propel the film from then on out.

If you've only seen the North American remake, however, you're missing the full force of Tarkovsky's yang to Kubrick's yin: Tarkovsky's original features a slow, long-take build-up to the psychologist's emergence on the space station to rival the languid visuals and pacing in 2001. Both are, quite decidedly, space epics, and in Tarkovsky's version, so unlike the remake, the facts of his space station, the versions of loved ones that arise out of the planet's consciousness for all crew members aboard, are not a secret slowly unwound, but an immediate truth with immediate consequences for the central protagonist. This allows Tarkovsky to cover a lot more thematic ground in his piece than Soderbergh ever could, with the characters more matter-of-factly and cohesively working through various options and personal crises toward a greater, rarer thread in science fiction: a treatise on grief, on loneliness, and the long, painful road to recovery.

Tarkovsky's version is also the far more stylistically arresting -- everything from his carefully developed long-take technique, to the startling slips from colour to black-and-white, to the very modest sets of the space station against an expansive cerebral terrain (much like Alphaville in that juxtaposition, actually). While Soderbergh invites viewers to regard his film as a thriller, a monster film, through the more typical Western choices he makes with his environment and cinematography, what Tarkovsky's 1972 masterpiece foregrounds is clearly the idea, with all its consequences, of an emotional memory's endurance in physical form. In short, for Soderbergh science fiction is both the means and the end: but for Tarkovsky, in this 165 minute epic, form proves to be just the beginning.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 24 August


Backup Plan, The
Bad Mother's Handbook, The
Dream Boy
Gossip Girl: Season 3
Lost: Season 6
Man from London, The
Maradona by Kusturica
Taking Father Home
Villa Amalia
Women without Men


Blades / Blood Hook / Zombie Island Massacre
Devil's Island Lovers
Docks of New York, The
Hitch Hike to Hell / Kidnapped Co-Ed
Judge John Deed: Season 1 & Pilot
Last Command, The
Simpsons, The: Season 13
Sweet Georgia / Country Hooker
Toy Box, The / Toys Are Not for Children
Underworld (von Sternberg)

Pose Reviews A Movie. #34: 8 1/2 (1963)

Like most movies I end up enjoying, I went into Federico Fellini's 1963 classic, 8 1/2 without knowing anything about it.

The film, which I now know is about a film director named Guido Anselmi who is trying to make a film despite a severe case of "director's block," and frequent interference from the chaos of his personal life, is certainly a classic for a reason.

However, this "classic" status makes me feel a tad philistine admitting that I found it a little tough to follow in parts, and indeed rather slow-moving at times.

The key to enjoying 8 1/2, I think, is to realize that the film exists simultaneously in the director's real life, in his fantasies and dreams, and in his childhood past. (As much as I try to avoid knowing what to expect when I see a film, sometimes garnering this kind of contextual background is a gift rather than a curse.)

So when I finally figured this out around the 1-hour mark, I started to really enjoy Fellini's film. I adored the parallels between Guido's life and the film he is trying to make, and I found the finale to be both beautiful and poetic.

I also liked 8 1/2 because I could see the way it influenced some of my favourite films. Specifically, I thought of Charlie Kaufman--both his directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York and his screenplay for Spike Jonze's Adaptation.

These films are also self-reflexive tales of artists struggling with their art, and I am certain that 8 1/2 was a major influence for both.

Thinking of 8 1/2 in this way, I feel like it's the cinematic equivalent of 1980's brit-rockers The Stone Roses. Whether you like them, dislike them, or have never even heard of them, there's no way you can doubt their influence on the music that came after.

Therefore, I feel confident recommending 8 1/2 to fans of postmodern, self-reflexive narratives like the Charlie Kaufman films mentioned earlier, since it's a deep and rich example of the genre, and sports a truly exemplary instance of a film-within-a-film.

Unfortunately, 8 1/2 has finished its run on the big screen at the Princess Cinema, but you can still rent it from the Criterion section at Generation X! Happy watching!!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #42: Toy Story 3

For me, as a parent, Pixar movies are a sure thing. I take my daughter to see most of the kids movies that hit theatres because I remember what life was like when I liked movies and want to encourage that in her. Hopefully that love of movies will not end in an uncomfortable estrangement like it did for me.

Anyway, most of the movies we go to see are pretty crappy, but I enjoy the conversations we have afterwards. Not always about "what saccharine moral lesson did you have imparted on you this time", but about the ethical concerns various scenes have for her, what her favourite part was and why (only once was it a flatulence joke, thank you G Force), and the like. She always asks what I liked about it, and I try to stray from the negative because, frankly, I am a bit of a fusspot and I want her to like what she likes. So I usually talk about some narrative strategy I found interesting, in terms that she'll respond to.

So Pixar is always a blessing, for any number of reasons. First of all, their aesthetics are ace. Their films look fantastic, unlike the majority of CGI kids pictures which are full of ugly design (Shrek) and awakward execution (Shrek) made palatable by sitcom-quality comedy (Shrek). Secondly, they either only hire genius story developers/script writers or their writing undergoes rigorous quality control. My favourite Pixar film is Up (second place, a close thing, is Wall-E), which is one of an ungererous handful of family films I've seen that can genuinely be enjoyed on completely different levels by adults and children.

A few years ago, the consensus of most of the film writers I respect was thatthe Toy Story films as the masterpieces of the Pixar canon (The Incredibles seems to be usurping them of late). At the time I undervalued Pixar because: a) I did not have kids yet so had not yet confronted the myriad lousy films made for the under-10 set; b) my two favourite Pixar films had not yet been made; c) I don't really respond to spot-the-celebrity voice casting that every Pixar film except my two faves indulges in; d) I do not like the characters in the Toy Story films.

I don't like art that feels the need to tell me how much I should like it. So every time a Toy Story character tells me how much I love bloody Woody I feel my muscles tense from head to toe. Especially since Woody is just Tom Hanks doing the two Tom Hanks schticks I hate the most: laconic dontcha-just-love-me charm and manic, high-pitched exasperation. Buzz Lightyear I would respond better to as a supporting character you only have to hear from every once in a while (which is why Spanish Buzz in TS3 sat so well with me). None of the characters strike me as especially inspired bits of personality/voice casting that Pixar otherwise seems to excel at.

Anyway, the way the Toy Story series overcomes my serious reservations about its characters is by being generally excellent in all regards (in spite of my being mostly unmoved by the universally beloved "When She Loved Me" sequence from TS2, which loses me by being so obviously designed to make me an emotional mess and by partially relying on some howl-at-the-moon vocals to sell its accompanying song). Toy Story 3 continues in this tradition by being excellent, albeit treading some of the same territory that its predecessors did. What makes Toy Story 3 tip over the edge into greatness is that this is the most existentially terrifying film of 2010, ruthless and bleak to an extent that I forgave it its one poo joke.

Toy Story 3 is the animated film companion to Ingmar Bergman's early 60s "silence of God" trilogy: Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence. Like those awesome and depressing movies it is about what happens when people who have absolutely believed in the goodness of the universe as they've had it defined for them suddenly have to deal with the permanent absence of that around which they've organized their belief system (squeaky-clean now-teenager Andy / God / something else like cola, Burton Cummings, or what have you). The questions raised by the situation are troubling, especially the big one: in the absence of "God", what do you have to fall back on while facing the void?

That these heady questions are tackled in a narrative about toys being donated to a preschool is formidable indeed. The Pixar kids are smart, and load the film with great new characters, with Michael Keaton's take on Ken a particular standout. Also impressive are a terrifying deformed baby doll who utters the film's most heartbreaking line, and cuddly bad guy Lotso (Ned Beatty) who utters the most chilling one.

I will warn you, this film may not be suitable for children, with its profound and troubling questions and particularly the terrifying climax, which is set in - I kid you not - an incinerator/the fires of hell. The final scene ends the film on a whimsical and sentimental note that also factors in the Woody-sure-is-the-goddamned-greatest-thing-ever-isn't-he-folks stuff that makes me not embrace these films as firmly as others do. But here I forgive it, because I take it as the Pixar people's admission that they know they went too far with that fires of hell bit, and even though it all ends happy my daughter was still convulsing in tears when we left the theatre. But the conversations we had afterwards were amazing. So Pixar are still batting a perfect game in my book, probably because I haven't seen Cars.

Chris 2010 Viewings #41: A Prophet

I watched this moving picture, A Prophet, something like two months ago. Before I wrote my last review, that of The White Ribbon. I then gave the DVD to Mike, who watched it but will never review it (because spoiler: he will never write a review here ever again), then to Maggie, who reviewed it much better than I will (because that is what she does). I think Wendy has the DVD now, but she is in Europe for a few months, so don't expect a review from her, either.

A Prophet is a film by Jacques Audiard, whose entire filmography is what the hip kids say is "made of win". A Prophet is also a French prison movie, and I have never seen a bad French prison movie. Two of my favourite films ever, Le Trou and A Man Escaped, fall into this genre. So watching A Prophet was, as the hip kids said 20 years ago, a "no-brainer".

I stopped attending the Toronto International Film Festival 8 years ago. I stopped for a lot of reasons, but one of them was that if I watch too many movies in close succession they become one big blur and I don't remember too much about them. I watched A Prophet in the middle of a close succession of movies two months ago and my memory of it suffers accordingly. So bear with me.

It is about a young Arabic man in France. He goes to jail, and winds up straddling two factions: the other Arabic inmates, and a middle-aged crime boss who decides to make him a protege of sorts due to his "in" with the other Arabs. I don't want to spoil anything, but the crime boss gets egg on his face eventually.

This movie won an armload of Cesars (the French Oscars) and probably deserved them, though I will withhold judgment until I see every French film of 2009. It was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, and like most great Best Foreign Film Oscar nominees, it did not win. Audiard is a filmmaker with a great eye for telling details and powerful imagery, like a man who is casually on fire (see above). The two leads (Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup) are fantastic, and make the power shifts that take place believable and affecting. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but usually when movies depict that, they just have a guy who was previously the weak one slick back his hair and put on bigger clothes and expect that to do all the work. Rahim and Arestrup reflect their stations in every ounce of their physical beings. Good work, guys.

That's all I have to say about A Prophet, which I will watch again because it deserves it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Creepy Pedro Reviews "Infest Wisely"

The best science fiction films show us the world as it may someday be: the boinking of "A Clockwork Orange," the tasty vittles of the "Soylent Green," the drab and dusty coattails and derbies of "Michael Palin's Brazil."

This new film, "Infest Wisely," presents the most frightening future of all, where an influence has caused appalling actors mumble improvised lines in a world that not even the writer has explored. This future will be captured on film by a cameraperson who does not understand the verb "to film" and it will be edited with the only tool available in the future: The Lazybones Splicer with Snooze Attachment, 2050.

In the future, I imagine, this film will be shown to colonists on Jupiter when all the other films have been stolen by displaced Jovian natives, and the colonists will admit that even considering their immense hardships living inside titanium exoskeletons on a deadly gas planet they have yet to see something so awful as that. Perhaps, they hope, the next movie from Earth will star Terri Garr, and to forget their troubles they will write letters to their girlfriends in their outerspace journals.

Creepy Pedro Reviews "Dillinger is Dead"

Italy is the strangest movie I have ever seen.

Creepy Pedro Reviews "Austin Powers"

The rumours are true: Mike Meyers can do no wrong!

This is not because he hasn't tried. Before he starts working on any movie he wonders "How can I make this go wrong?" and then he says "I know, I'll make these jokes not funny! My jokes will require too long to happen!" But somehow when the camera is on him we laugh at his cute ways, and when he is ad libbing the libs he ads are funny, and the movie is another big hit no matter what Mike Meyers intended to do. Ka-ching! He buys another expensive thing for his enjoyment!

Like Eddie Murphy, maybe he thinks that if he plays all the parts in the movie he will have a greater influence to mess it up. This would be a good plan, except that when he finds himself in his makeup chair he is suddenly a different person, a cute ad-libbing character who does not want to do wrong. And the audience agrees with this performance! We laugh! Unlike the way we respond to Eddie Murphy!

"Austin Powers" is a good example of a movie where several characters may or may not be Mike Meyers. If you are a film critic like me then you often wonder "Is this Mike Meyers on the screen, and is he doing anything wrong?" You ponder this for only five minutes before you are laughing uncontrollably, and you think to yourself "These are things about sex that I never knew!" and eventually, when the time comes to write your review, you can only say "Funny man!" You might also say "Excellent lighting and an obscure geopolitical subtext!" because you are a film critic after all.

I disparage the sexy females in the "Austin Powers" movies because they are not Mike Meyers, they are not as funny. Meyers has been called a "Woman's Writer" because he writes meaningful parts for women, and when he sees them with their breasts and hips he shouts "Oh, HORNY, baby!" And God help us, we laugh!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #57: LOL (2006)

Technology, what have you done to me?

I decided to check this out after a friend recommended it to me for its music. LOL is part of an indie film movement lovingly called Mumblecore, which is characterised by being indie and ultra-low budge with a reliance on lower end digital cameras, improvised scripts, and centered on young twenty-somethings dealing with each other in alienation-infused matters of love and friendship. It's pretty much hipster filmmaking, which would normally really irritate me, but I suspect that its internet-junkie sensibility spoke to me.

LOL didn't irritate me much as I had expected. I actually thought it was pretty brilliant, if a little boring. The characters are all engaged in relationships governed and disrupted by an insistence on technology, and as such, this flick makes for good essay fodder. Someone is always using a cellphone or a computer in the film and trying to communicate or mediate their lives. They come to mediate our own experience of the characters lives as well, like where the photographs taken by someone's cellphone flash across the screen, once that cellphone has been introduced into a scene. The images on the phone might contradict something someone's said and proven them to be a liar. Or it might reflect on their personality of desires.

Now, the style, with disconnected and improvised scenes and dialogue, does a lot to draw you in but sometimes too little to keep you there. I occasionally found myself waiting for something to happen, and I was saved often by the film's music segments. LOL's crux is probably in the music, actually, where musician/actor Kevin Bewersdorf stitches music together using the recorded footage of people making random noises with their mouths. An emotive language pieced together through electronics, where completely separate people are brought together to make a song and yet remain separate and isolated in their own lives. Odin's beard! I bet it's a metaphor!

I particularly liked it when a song composed using two lovers appear on screen shortly after they've ostensibly broken up, thanks to the sexual politics they come across because of their long distance, cellphone-mediated relationship. There's also this clever scene where someone named Tim is having a text chat online with a dude named Mike sitting on the same couch he's sitting on, talking about his problematic relationship while Tim's girlfriend watches TV. Their text dialogue flashes on the screen as the TV blares out a conversation between a guy named Mike and his girlfriend, where the girlfriend confronts TV Mike for failing the relationship. It takes a few seconds to sort it out. Media wrapped on media wrapped on media.

So: Good for an essay. Maybe not good for a casual evening.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #56: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

Why aren't we in a video game?

I remember seeing this with friends when it came out, way back at the start of the new millennium. Among my friends (and we're all video game nerds) it was an event movie, and we were excited about it. Not only was it linked to one of our favourite video game series, it was also, it's been said, the first time a feature length CGI movie attempted to create realistic looking human beings. I think that for the latter reason it was somewhat of an event movie for the non-nerdy general public, but I can't quite remember. At any rate, it bombed horribly, and Squaresoft swore that they would never make another film. I remember walking out of the theatre thinking that it was visually impressive but fairly weightless. Nearly a decade later I decided to give it another shot, since I was feeling old and nostalgic enough. That might have coloured my vision, but on my recent viewing I found that it's really not that bad.

here is a fair amount of badness to it. Spirits Within plays out a like a Squaresoft video game. That's to say that it's sappy, mostly obvious, and that the dialogue is pretty ridiculous. Characters will not only give bad dialogue, but dialogue that doesn't quite follow the train of thought. It comes to feel like a bad translation, even though it was written in English by English people. Supporting characters deliver lines at each other rather than interact with each other, which is pretty much, well, like Final Fantasy games. Also, the male lead, though voiced by Alec Baldwin, looks unmistakably like Ben Affleck. Which couldn't be more irritating.

Facial expressions are mostly blank. All the characters look like they're trying to hold back fits of laughter, since there's a motionlessness to the lips that looks like restraint when coupled with their calmed eyes. Since we're on the CGI effects, it's clearly a movie heavily laden with the pressure to wow you with the best CGI they could muster. It suffers from that, but, surprisingly, after the initial need to wow you has been satiated, starts to pick up about half way through the film. At that same time, the lame dialogue starts to get replaced with plot and sci-fi action. Much of the CGI is actually very good - the ghostly x-ray aliens look fantastic, as do the environments. The lighting is great, and there's an atmosphere to this movie that I found I really liked - which explains why by the ending I realised I was actually pretty entertained and it was better than I remembered. Atmosphere is the most important thing for me when I watch movies; all else can suffer, but if a good atmo can be maintained, I'm engrossed.

As a plus, the bonus feature disc is actually pretty interesting, since you get a documentary making-of that allows you to hit enter on your remote and watch little
side-documentaries if you come across a certain aspect of the filmmaking that you'd like to hear a bit more about. It's much more interactive than I'm used to. There's also a section of the disc where you can choose the order of the shots in a certain scene and play at being an editor.

So: Feels like Final Fantasy - a guilty pleasure. More atmosphere and heart than I anticipated.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #33: Caché (2005)

Michael Haneke's Caché is a rare type of suspense-thriller.

It's minimalist. It's super-creepy. And it's refreshingly open-ended.

Caché is the story of Georges and Anne Laurent, an ordinary couple in France who begin to receive ominous videotapes on the doorstep of their home. At first the cassettes, which appear to be shot in high-definition (a technological impossibility, for all intents and purposes), contain surveillance-style footage of the area outside the Laurent's home.

To be fair, this is unsettling at best.

But the theme of the tapes gradually evolve--they depict more and more specific instances and settings, and for Georges, the subject matter gradually gets closer to home (in the strictly non-literal sense).

Caché is an excellent film, not least of all for its commitment to postmodern storytelling. Not only is the film self-reflexive (a film about film) but it also manages to avoid conclusive elements. (The explanation for this can be found in an interview with director Michael Haneke, included on the DVD--he provides some really interesting perspective into what the film is actually about, but I'd recommend watching it after the feature).

Haneke's film manages to be highly compelling despite being somewhat abstract and relatively uneventful. It's one of the more accessible examples of postmodern film that I've seen, and it takes an irresistible premise and totally pulls it off without getting too caught up in lame twists or illogical character leaps taken in service of advancing the plot.

Certainly, the genius of Caché lies in its simplicity, but incidentally that's where the suspense comes from too.

I'd certainly recommend Caché for fans of the suspense/thriller genre, but also to those looking at getting into the films of Michael Haneke. Haneke is known for tackling some pretty dark territory in some of his films (Funny Games certainly comes to mind without hesitation), but Caché is very nonthreatening in its content. The gripping psychological element of Caché subverts the need for shocking images or disturbing scenes, which makes it a great starting point for anyone interested in trying out Haneke's catalogue.

Overall, Caché is the ideological opposite of the most recent film I reviewed, 2003's Canadian feature, Nothing. It takes a cool premise and makes it into a cool movie, and in no way did I find its delivery of the goods unsatisfactory.

So if you're interested in this little gem, don't be shy--Caché is hidden in the Austria section.

Pose Reviews A Movie. #32: Nothing (2003)

Well...it was a good try.

I rented Vincenzo Natali's Nothing for three reasons:

1. I liked the concept of the film.

2. I like to support Canadian film whenever I can.


3. Nothing's director, Vincenzo Natali is also responsible for Cube, which I liked a lot, and Splice, which I haven't seen, but am pretty curious about.

However, I'm going to have to say that Nothing didn't do it for me.

Overall, I think Nothing is a cool idea. When the film begins, our protagonists--roommates Andrew and Dave--are each having the worst day of all time. Dave loses his job and his girlfriend, practically before noon, and Andrew, a total recluse, accidentally locks himself out of the house.

Once the two regroup and get themselves inside, they barely have time for a collective sigh of relief before finding that their house is scheduled for demolition, and that they are both being sought after by police for crimes that are neither related to one another, nor in any way their fault.

It is at this point that, quite inexplicably, everything outside the walls of their house disappears.

Quite literally. What used to be the City of Toronto surrounding their home on all sides becomes empty white space, reminiscent of The Construct from The Matrix. (Or for those who haven't seen The Matrix enough times to get that reference, it's the empty white space where they get all their guns.)

Andrew and Dave are able to venture out into this great abyss, since the surface of the void is a bouncy, albeit invisible terrain, and after a while it becomes evident to both the characters and the audience that everything, everywhere, ever...is gone.

As I said before, it's a neat premise.

However, it may have been better suited to a short-film than a 90-minute feature.

As you can imagine, there's not a lot of places you can go when this is the concept of your movie. Nothing manages to survive on a gradually increasing conflict that occurs between the two main characters, but that survival doesn't make it good--it just makes ensures that the film can last the full hour and a half.

But even that's a bit long. The film gets tedious at times, and for a comedy, there's very little to laugh at--the characters are kooky, but they aren't particularly funny. Mostly, they're just odd.

Usually, you have one weirdo and one straight-man to make a comedic partnership like this work. However, with oddballs like Andrew and Dave, it's like watching a Costello and Costello routine...about nothing.

Overall, I'm glad I watched Nothing to satisfy my curiosity about where a filmmaker could take a concept like this.

Unfortunately, the answer is: "not far."

However, from a technical point of view, Nothing is really pretty cool. The effects used to portray the disappearance of things are pretty impressive, and the sound effects and many of the camera shots are exceptional.

But then again, Hollow Man and Titanic had cool effects too. 'Nuff said.

All in all, I wouldn't discourage anyone from renting Nothing--it isn't terrible, it just isn't great.

But if you're interested in it because it's a cool premise, a frank warning: that's essentially all it is.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 17 August


Cemetery Junction
City of Your Final Destination
Clatterford: Season 1
Clatterford: Season 2
Dexter: Season 4
Furry Vengeance
Good, the Bad, the Weird, The
Ip Man (BluRay)
Last Song, The
Me and Orson Welles
We Have to Stop Now

(A Small Handful of) New Arrivals

Best of Boys in Love, The
Robin Hood (BBC): Season 1
Sin Syndicate / Sin Magazine / She Came on the Bus
Stalingrad (miniseries)
They Live

Maggie 2010: Criterion'd, Part II

#95. Alphaville

French New Wave is not my area of expertise--the heavy stylization of this genre makes it less interesting to me, on the whole, than the realist or minimalist works of a great many other cinematic traditions. (In other words, I can handle the constant reminder of artifice, but only in short doses: my true loves are films where suspension of disbelief is carried out to perfection.) Nonetheless, there is a very important discursive role played by films like Alphaville, which push the notion of estrangement to its limits, and any film lover would be greatly remiss in not seeing at least a few French New Wave films in their time.

Alphaville is set in a place that looks quite familiar to our own of decades past, right down to resonant war, architectural, and media details, and wears the skin of a film noir with ease. However, the city of Alphaville is also part of a dystopic science fiction future where a technocratic dictatorship has outlawed emotion. As Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), an agent from "the Outlands" on a mission to recover a lost agent and bring down the main computer, Alpha 60, delves deeper into this land, he does so only at great peril to himself and those he enlists along the way.

The effect of this curious blending of genres, with its classic lost heroine (Anna Karina) and its familiar espionage routines, in conjunction with Orwellian devices and the imposition of sci-fi narrative over visualizations of '60s-era technology, is most profound in hindsight. While you're watching director Jean-Luc Godard's highly acclaimed work, you're more than in your rights to be stunned by its strangeness, its essential weirdness. But after it's over, let the film sit with you awhile before passing judgment. Read history. Read current events. Go out and live your life.

One day you'll come across an accounting of the actual Cold War. You might be watching a genuine film noir at the time. Or perhaps it will be another war; another film genre entirely. Whatever the vehicle, whatever the fact, suddenly you'll look on the history of division, of oppression, and you'll feel that strangeness seep into reality. What would the facts of our history look like to an alien species, an audience removed from the immediacy of one war's consequences? Would its machinations appear any less bizarre? These are some of the questions Alphaville leaves with us; these are the observations Godard's work permits us to make.

I'm hardly alone in asserting that the role of blatant artifice in film is to draw our attention to the artifice that exists all around us. Nor am I alone in arguing that Godard is a master of this approach, and Alphaville, in its cold, estranging way, a masterpiece of that form. But I might be one of a smaller number willing to say that Alphaville isn't a film you should expect to enjoy; but a film, nonetheless, that more than deserves to be viewed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pose Reviews A...COMEDY SPECIAL! #31: Aziz Ansari's Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening (2010)

I had originally suggested what I thought was a hip title for fans of up-and-coming comdian Aziz Ansari.

"Hey, you think that guy from Parks and Rec who refused to sell fruit to the guys on Flight of the Conchords is funny too? Totally! That guy's hilarious! You must have the Aziz Disease!"

Sadly, this clever and underappreciated moniker didn't take off.

But I'll tell you what is taking off: Aziz Ansari's DVD, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening.

Intimate Moments is a 55-minute comedy special that Ansari performed at Los Angeles' Brentwood Theatre in January, 2010 for Comedy Central.

It also sports a bonus feature containing a 30-minute comedy set of completely different jokes , the sole purpose of which is to ensure that there would be a bonus feature on his then forthcoming, now very much available DVD. (Ansari states this very explicitly at the beginning of this feature).

What's encouraging is, both sets of footage are absolutely hilarious.

It's nice to have a heavy-hitting newcomer to the stand-up comedy scene. Along with Louis CK and Russell Brand, Aziz Ansari seems to be rejuvenating the stand-up enterprise while stand-up veterans like David Cross and Ricky Gervais have been releasing mediocre stand-up performances on DVD of late.

Ansari's humour is mainly derived from true stories (whether they're actually true can be debated, I'm sure, but they're definitely entertaining!) about his own life experiences, including tales of a night out with Kanye West, and a ridiculous story about an R. Kelly concert (complete with an unforgettable impression of R. Kelly).

However, some of the funniest jokes Ansari has to offer have to do with new social networking technologies, from Craigslist to text messaging.

The older stand-up crowd isn't delving into this territory, but there's a ton of golden material to be derived from the ridiculous nuances and idiosyncrasies of new technology and the way people use it.

Aziz Ansari has tackled this veritable jackpot of humour, and he does it with a flair that will make you LOL.

(Sorry. Had to be said.)

I'd definitely recommend Aziz Ansari to stand-up enthusiasts, since he's a clever and charismatic performer who doesn't resort to vulgarity or shocking edginess to be comical.

And while the subject of his humour is funny, it's the wording and delivery of his jokes that make him hilarious.

Need some intimate moments for tonight's sensual evening? You know where to find 'em!

Maggie 2010: Criterion'd, Part I

#94. White Dog

I'm working backwards through my Criterion film reviews, so this piece is also the first film I saw after watching Inception in theatres last week. I mention this because anyone who's seen Inception will understand the way writer/director Christopher Nolan makes viewers pay close attention to the sequencing of shots, and the role they play on our overall perception of the content therein. Thus any film I saw right after this viewing experience was likely to be coloured by that particular critical focus.

I am just so pleased White Dog was that film. The history of this piece's delayed production is quite fascinating, but no less fascinating is how such an obvious -- even blunt -- thematic conceit can still make for very intelligent viewing. Yes, complicated films can be immensely rewarding when done properly, but complexity is by no means the only road to powerful film-making, as White Dog amply shows.

White Dog follows an aspiring actress, Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) who hits a dog with her car and takes him home. Though she's initially resistant to the notion of keeping the white German Shepherd if its owner doesn't claim him, Julie's fealty to the creature changes when he pins down a would-be rapist who breaks into her home. Soon after, though, she discovers that the animal was trained to be an attack dog, and then Julie is inundated by people insisting that she put him down -- that an attack dog can't ever rise above its first conditioning.

Ready for the metaphoric clincher? Not only is this an attack dog, it's also a white dog: an animal conditioned from early puppy-hood to hate people of darker skin, and to attack them without mercy. Julie isn't ready to give up on this animal, though -- clinging to the possibility that he can be re-trained -- and luckily for her, a black animal trainer, Keys (Paul Winfield), feels the same way. A difficult journey lies ahead for everyone involved.

When a film's theme is this brazenly cast in its plot-line, you need the director to play his story straight -- and Sam Fuller absolutely does. There is such an exquisite minimalism to many of his choices that even parts which at first don't seem realistic (two choices the characters make initially struck me as odd, and a third as too convenient) are gently unwoven and integrated into periods of reflection that follow soon after. This is actually where Inception comes in: When White Dog, after holding its viewers on tenterhooks wondering if this mental disease, this racially-motivated proclivity towards violence, is truly incurable, reaches its climax, it does so by relying on viewers to imbue the last act with its full symbolism.

To say any more would give the ending away, but suffice it to say, Fuller orders his shots so carefully that when the credits roll, it's hard to separate what he most likely wanted you to think from the more limited breadth of insight the dog itself would have been capable of at that last, crucial moment. ...That is, unless you'd just seen Inception the night before, and were thus paying more attention than you usually would to the order in which information was given, and the way this ordering of material informs the material itself.

White Dog is a film that never got enough credit when it was in studios, and endured a damnably small release when it was finally put out in 1982. Easily, had this film been given a proper release, I could see it being used in the same, average movie-goer's sentence today as American History X for its troubling and provocative examination of racism. In lieu of that initial claim to fame, I suppose I can only express my gladness that the Criterion collection salvaged and honoured a simple film, about a simple idea, done exceptionally well.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #55: Fidel Castro (2005)

Fidel Castro looks like Liam Neeson.

While continuing my brush-up on Cuban history, which started with Che: Part One, I realised that I knew next to nothing about Fidel Castro. Figured I should learn a bit about a man, the leader of a small third world country, who has, incredibly, put in his bid to direct the way the world spins. Turns out there's two documentaries on the bearded wonder, Fidel and Fidel Castro, the latter of which is a PBS production and part of The American Experience series. The first is a well-narrated and comprehensive rundown of Cuba's history that plays out like an A&E biography with still photographs and steady pacing, where the second is comprised mainly of more intimate footage of the man. My favourite parts, and perhaps the most telling, were the moments where you're given a stretch of footage, without any commentary, and you're forced to draw your own conclusions as to whether or not Castro is a just man, a tyrant, or just a man. The two work together well in painting a portrait of Castro, but the second adds a much more human face to the Cuban revolution and the military leader.

So: If you're looking to brush up on your Cuban history and can't be bothered to read because you're a busy bee and/or an illiterate drone, I can think of no better way.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #54: Samurai Assassin (1965)

Samurai Assassin is a samurai period piece, a jidaigeki, loosely based on the historic assassination of Ii Naosuke at the Sakurada Gate, an assassination that started the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the famous military dynasty that ruled Japan for 300 years. This one stars Toshiro Mifune, which had me excited.

As other staff members have undoubtedly written, Toshiro Mifune is awesome. His performances have a force to them that's hard to deny, and he's typically a treat to watch. In Samurai Assassin I felt like the Mifune factor wasn't at full capacity, and probably not through any fault of his own. In Assassin he plays Niiro, a disgraced ronin (a masterless samurai) down on his luck and full of bile, which is typically great Mifune fodder. But its only in the last half of the film that he starts to show some real character force.

During the first half to two thirds of the flick, there isn't too much to praise. The camerawork is stylish here and there, and the film would have benefited with a bit more of what it was serving on that front, but the film is frustratingly dialogue heavy, and most of it exposition about things that have happened off screen. Or lengthy speeches about a character's history. Since you actually don't see much of what's being talked about it's hard to stay on track with the plot, and as a result you can't quite invest yourself in any worthwhile way. The same thought will get reiterated over and over, and characters are perpetually trying to convince each other of things the audience knows as fact. It's meant to be dramatic tension, but it's too much and it gets boring. There's also a really strange romance between Niiro and the owner of an inn. It doesn't make much sense and progresses only so an idyllic and lamenting conversation can happen before the film's climax.

The last third of the film picks up really well, but by then, it's probably too late for most viewers given the two hour runtime. At this point the information slows down and some pathos slaps our collective audience face when we get to see some hard to watch betrayal go down. Things get worse and worse for Niiro, and the ending is a tooth and nail fight in the snow. The last shot is haunting.

So: Would be worth the watch with just a pinch more reward. Great ending, but comes too late.

Pose Reviews A Movie. #30: Following (1998)

A very interesting thing happened after I saw Inception at the cinema recently.

After a standard post-movie discussion with my accompanying friends, I came to a remarkable realization: Inception is probably the coolest movie I've seen since The Dark Knight.

(OK, OK, with the possible exception of Kick-Ass [see Pose Reviews A Movie #28]).

But certainly, Inception brought me to the stunning but truthful realization that Christopher Nolan's latest film is the most impressive movie I've seen since...Christopher Nolan's last film.

And so, I've decided to treat myself to a flat-out Christopher Nolan binge. And as such, I've gone ahead and taken things from the top.

Following is his first feature, from 1998, and depicts the story of Bill--an aspiring writer with an unusual hobby. Or rather, an unusual hobbyist with an aspiration to be a writer.

You see, Bill's writing takes a back seat (way, way back) to his primary occupation: "following."

Bill is not a stalker in the conventional sense--he makes this very clear in the film's opening.
However, the only thing that differentiates him from an actual stalker is that he is curious, not malicious or dangerous, and he obeys a self-imposed rule never to follow the same person twice.

But, since rules were made to be broken, (and arguably, because films need plots), Bill breaks his own repeat-following rule. And this is how he meets Cobb.

Cobb is a thief. Part con-man, part burglar, he is extraordinarily adept at what he does, and performs his acts of thieving with utmost confidence and skill.

Cobb's confidence is what prompts him to approach his "follower," and his skills are what eventually lead him into taking Bill on as a sort of apprentice.

Cobb shares his tricks of the trade so that Bill can take his affinity for following one step further...and then one step further after that...and then one step further after that...until things really start to get out of control.

Following is a fantastic film, and it showcases Christopher Nolan's roots in dark, brooding characters and premises.

It also provides some interesting foreshadowing into Nolan's later works. Consider the following Fun Facts:

1. Cobb is also the surname of the protagonist in Inception.


2. Bill, the protagonist of Following, has a large and prominent Batman sticker on the front door of his flat.

Looks like Nolan is still following Following even twelve years later!

I'd certainly recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of the film noir genre, or likes a good con-artist tale.

My only recommendation is to keep in mind that the story is non-linear. The most confusing element of this choice of narrative style is the frequent changes in Bill's appearance. This threw me for a loop at first, but if you can follow the story (har har), these alterations start to make sense as the film progresses.

Also, for anyone who has difficulty with British accents, I'd go ahead and use the subtitles--no one will fault you for it.

Here's hoping that Following will follow YOU home sometime soon--happy renting!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #93: Iron Man 2 (2010)

"Come see Iron Man 2!" they said.

"It'll be the best thing evar!!!1!" they said.

Well, sadly, they lied. It wasn't the best thing evar. In fact, it wasn't really very good at all and I must say I was quite disappointed in the outcome of one of 2010's most anticipated films.

It had redeeming qualities in Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man, for those who's minds remain outside the realm of pop culture.) Downey Jr. always manages to give an entertaining performance, whether his films succeed or not. I even liked Gwyneth Paltrow in this film, which is saying something as she usually annoys me to the point of turning a potentially good movie bad. Scarlett Johansson nearly had the opportunity to do something cool, but they unfortunately tried to do too much with the film. They shoved far too many subplots and unnecessary bits in that it became a jumble of unconcentrated potential. I think that's what annoyed me the most: the fact that the film had potential and threw it out while attempting to gain more of an audience by adding more stars and thus a lot of superfluous storylines and scenes. Or perhaps they were afraid the film wouldn't be able to stand up on its own without the help of these famous faces. My favourite part, however, was when Paltrow and the film's director Jon Favreau sat in danger for their lives inside a car next to a deadly flight between Iron Man and Ivan Vanko. They just sat there, staring! Just another example of Favreau adding in unnecessary film time and an unnecessary character: himself.

The film will be out on DVD on September 28th, so if you'd like to check it out for yourself you shall have this ability in the near future.

New to the Store: Week of 10 August, 2010


180 Degrees South
A l'origine (In the Beginning)
Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers
Cheddar: What You Smokin On?
Date Night (also BluRay)
Death at a Funeral (2010)
F Word, The
Good Heart, The
Just Say Love
My Name Is Khan
Penguins of Madagascar: Happy King Julien Day
Return to Sleepaway Camp


Anchorman: Wake Up Ron Burgundy
Crumb (Criterion)
Enfance nue, L'
Graphic Sexual Horror
Louie Bluie
Outer Limits, The (1990s): Season 1
Outer Limits, The (1990s): Season 2
Outer Limits, The (1990s): Season 3
Outer Limits, The (1990s): Season 4
Ramrodder, The / Revenge of the Virgins

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #29: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)


Sorry...just thinking about this movie in order to review it makes me laugh.

I can't help it. And if you've watched it, I'll bet you can't either.

The thing to know about The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra in order to enjoy it to its fullest is not that it's bad, but that it's bad on purpose.

Paradoxically, this bad-on-purpose-ness is what makes it really, really good. And incidentally, the sheer magnitude of this bad-on-purpose-ness is what also makes it very, very funny.

To explain, let me use the example of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Plan 9 has endured the test of time and continues to be beloved of current generations because, simply put, it's so bad it's good.

Fans of Plan 9 will know what I'm talking about--you don't love the film because it's great, you love it because it's great despite its awfulness.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra takes this concept even further. It capitalizes on the endearing quality of films like Plan 9 From Outer Space because it possesses the same "vintage terrible" quality, only on purpose.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra was made in 2001--however, it's designed to look, sound and feel like a sci-fi film from the 1950's.

The film's humour, then, is derived not just from the atrociously corny aesthetic, but also from extremely clever (though equally corny) writing of Larry Blamire (the director and leading man).

So, with this one-two punch of hilarity, you end up with a very funny movie about a mad scientist, a less-mad, more-normal scientist, and two space aliens who are all trying to locate a fallen meteor in the remote woods of rural America to acquire the coveted element "atmospherium" that lies within it.

I highly recommend The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra since it's such a unique and effective parody of a genre that's already pretty funny--namely, relic science fiction classics.

So, if you liked classic Zucker Abrams Zucker parodies like Airplane! and Top Secret!, or the great but oft forgotten Loaded Weapon 1 from National Lampoon, you're likely to enjoy The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra as much as die-hard Plan 9-ers.

And if you're already a die-hard Plan 9-er, you've probably already started watching The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra before even finishing this review.

(And if you haven't...well...you probably should be.)


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Maggie 2010: Buddy Films, the French Way

Much as I enjoy a good buddy comedy, American fare can be quite exhausting. The very core of the character archetypes explored in American buddy flicks and, say, French buddy flicks are markedly different -- as these two movies will readily attest to. It's not a physical age thing; and the mental age is in many ways just as petty. But the starting points are different: Men in mainstream American buddy comedies are clinging dearly to the vestiges of childishness, from which only further childishness -- slapstick comedy, outrageous sexual and violent acts, and crazy drug-induced highs -- can emerge. Meanwhile, in French buddy flicks the men are accomplished, educated, and appreciate the "finer things" in life -- ergo when they disintegrate, the descent is both more nuanced and more palpable.

So if Hot Tub Time Machine was as much the final straw for you as it was for me, give these two works a shot instead!

#92. My Best Friend

Francois (Daniel Auteuil) is an art dealer who thinks his life complete until the discovery that the people he spends his time with don't count themselves as his friends. Shaken by the notion of his own funeral being poorly attended, he seizes at any cost a prized Grecian urn at auction depicting the ultimate friendship -- a purchase that places him in the middle of a difficult bet. Now Francois has ten days to convince his associates that he has a "best friend" -- an ordeal that pits Francois against a lifetime's worth of self-absorption every step of the way.

Very early into this film, director Patrice Leconte introduces viewers to the man we suspect will become Francois' best friend in just those ten days -- Bruno (Dany Boon), a taxi driver with a love for trivia and his own, deep store of crippling disappointment. Bruno makes friends with everyone, and in so doing, makes close friendships with none, so the stakes are just as real for him in these ten days as they are for the ever-manipulative Francois.

What makes this film so successful -- again, as mainstream fare goes, for Leconte certainly plays to some fairly obvious conventions in his plot and culmination -- is that knowing Bruno to be the likely best friend in no way lessens the film; rather, in watching these two middle-aged men struggle together for some sense of reconciliation with their own life choices, the surrounding artifice fails to matter: We are watching human beings achieve small victories in the face of great losses, and there is a truth to such happenstance that rises above even the most conventional cinematic devices used here.

#93. The Dinner Game (1998)

Let me just say now that while I haven't yet seen the 2010 remake of The Dinner Game, I'm quite certain Steve Carrell will make it an entertaining experience. Nonetheless, there are some crucial differences (from what I've heard to date) between this remake and the original, and not least of these is that in the remake, the titular dinner game actually occurs; whereas, in the original, knowledge of the game merely hangs over viewers as they watch the film's sad events unfold.

The difference, thematically, is thus quite palpable, for the dinner game is a weekly dinner in which a group of intelligent, successful people each brings along one "idiot" to share with their friends. The aim of this bit of entertainment is always to find the "biggest" idiot -- with idiocy defined, it seems, in large part by the pride taken by said individuals in their inane personal opinions and mindless lesser hobbies or rituals. By presenting the dinner game as an abstract idea that the audience never sees wholly played out, this notion of making sport of other people's differences gains a measure of universality: We see in its description a marked similarity to all entertainment derived through the mockery of people we hold to be lesser -- and that allows us quite easily to put ourselves in the shoes of lead actor Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) who thinks he's scored the biggest idiot yet.

Francois Pignon (Jacques Villeret) makes matchstick masterpieces, and boasts about them to a friend of Pierre's on a commuter train, who eagerly passes on the hapless fellow's name. Pierre is a successful publisher, while Francois works at the tax agency, and when Pierre invites Francois to dinner Francois expects a book deal for his matchstick creations is in the works. Our heartbreak for Francois is easily met, however, with heartbreak for Pierre -- for though he's hardly the world's greatest man, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune he's about to experience at Francois' well-meaning hands means he's more than met his match.

The problem at the film's centre is threefold: 1) Pierre has a bad back that night, meaning they can't attend the titular dinner party. 2) While Francois is present, Pierre's wife calls the house to tell Pierre she's leaving him forever. And 3) Francois, for all his bumbling, bungling ways, is a good person at heart: having lost his own wife two years' back he doesn't want to leave Pierre crippled physically and emotionally for the night. The outcome of these three factors is a series of events as gripping as it is comical, as hand-wringing as it is eye-rolling. If any a film makes the point that people can be many things all at once -- stupid and compassionate, smart and reckless, and even stupid and smart in turns -- this is that film.

What makes The Dinner Game an excellent buddy flick is truly the solidarity through circumstance that holds Pierre and Francois together throughout the film, despite Pierre's regular insistence that Francois leave him alone (until, of course, Pierre suddenly needs him again). Many an American buddy comedy also pairs unlikely opposites for great amusement through self-discovery; but as this film amply demonstrates, whatever an American film can do, a French film can probably do better. ...Or, at least without sex, drug, and fart jokes. (That said, we'll soon see if Carrell's version proves me wrong!)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #53: Idiocracy (2006)

Fox News, giving you its best.

Mike Judge of Beavis and Butthead and Office Space fame came up with a movie that was little advertised and little seen during its limited theatrical release. Higher-ups clearly washed their hands of this one for some reason. It's a shame, since it's really not that bad. Not a great achievement by any filmmaking stretch, but certainly not bad.

Set in 2505 and taking a page from Woody Allen's 1973 film Sleeper, Idiocracy features an average joe waking up to find himself in a future that doesn't make any sense. Because statistically the more educated you are the less children you have, humanity has grown dumber with each generation and can no longer look after itself. It's a world of couches, lame television, belligerence, and crudity and....well, it's pretty much like our world I guess, which is the point.

The film makes some frightening sense in some places, and it's clear commentary on human nature and the more embarrassing aspects of this society we've constructed for ourselves. On that front the film could have had a lot more fun than it did, but there wasn't so little that the film was vapid for it, which made me very glad.

The acting is only at par here though, as nobody in the film, save maybe for Luke Wilson's lawyer, goes out of their way to really make a scene work perfectly in terms of delivery and timing. The visual effects are colourful and fun and never get to the point where the setting overpowers the plot or humour. That's probably due more to budget concerns than directorial restraint, but I'll give Judge the benefit of the doubt on this one.

So: Pretty much as people have told me - cool stuff, fantastic concept and worth the watch. But it's a damn shame more wasn't done with the concept.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #92: Gamera, Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Every time I walked past the Sci-Fi: KE section at work (that is, Science-Fiction: Kaiju Eiga) I never really paid much attention to it. It was another section like Sports or Actors Attempting to Direct that I hadn't really delved into. In fact, I didn't know until just now that Kaiju Eiga means Monster Movie in Japanese. So when it was suggested to me that we watch Gamera, I was open to the idea, but given that I hadn't really shown any interest in the past I wasn't really that gung-ho. Now, I shan't lie and say it was the most exciting or awesome movie watching experience of my life, but I can certainly see why the genre has been so loved by dedicated followers of Asian monster films. It's cheesy, and though the effects aren't terrible, it doesn't seem real, but it's fun and there a few interesting storylines. I liked that Gamera was tied to a young girl, who wears a piece of the turtle's shell around her neck.

I liked the commentary about the environment at the beginning of the film, when a civilization created Gyaos (bird-dinosaur like creatures) to repair the world of the pollution they had spread. Unfortunately the Gyaos began to eat the people, and scientists created the Gamera (giant flying turtles) to fight them. The pollution wound up overrunning the civilization and before dying off they preserved one Gamera in case the Gyaos returned to rein chaos in the future. To me, this shows that the filmmakers weren't only concerned with created a kooky remake of the former Gamera movies, but also with sending a message to viewers about the importance of our world today.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #28: Kick-Ass (2010)

I'll bet you thought I was going to start this review with something lame and corny like "Kick-Ass kicks ASS."

You did, didn't you?

Well forget it. I won't do it.


But to be fair, Kick-Ass does kick some serious ass.

As you may have gathered from my review of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, I can't resist a film about unlikely or amateur superheroes. (Or, in Dr. Horrible's case, supervillains.)

Thus, it shouldn't come as any sort of surprise that I just watched Kick-Ass for the second time...and loved it.


Kick-Ass is the story of Dave Lizewski, a geeky teen who, after years of fascination with fictional superheroes, finally decides to don a costume and try his hand at the craft.

As you can imagine, our protagonist encounters some serious drawbacks as the superheroic Kick-Ass, what with the no-super-powers and the no-formal-training and the not-entirely-heroic-physique, but with the help of two highly secretive and experienced superheroes, played by Nicholas Cage and eleven-year old Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass ultimately manages to...well, kick ass.

I really dig this movie, but if I learned anything from my adoration of 2009's Watchmen, it's that it's tough to give films a glowing recommendation when they also exist in graphic novel form. Essentially, you're almost guaranteed to piss off someone who thinks the movie didn't do justice to the book.

Luckily, with Kick-Ass, the rights to the film were sold before the first issue of the comic book was published. So it isn't so much an adaptation as an alternate interpretation of the Kick-Ass concept--which branched off from the same moment in time as the textual edition.

In other words...score one for Matthew Vaughn! Not only is he married to Wayne's-World-Salute veteran Claudia Schiffer, he also managed to make a superhero flick that effectively avoids fair comparison to the original text. Schwing!

But with that said, even if the cinematic version of Kick-Ass was a straight-up adaptation, I think it would've fared pretty well, even with fans of the comic.

First, the action sequences are awesome--surely they were well-illustrated in comic form, but there's nothing quite like watching eleven-year old Hit Girl flat-out demolish a room full of thugs in real time.

The action sequences are also very creatively presented, with different lighting and camera effects to make each major battle distinct from the others.

Second, it includes a tribute to Kick-Ass' graphic origins with a beautifully effective still-image montage depicting the origin story of Kick-Ass' ally, the superheroic Big Daddy. (Played delightfully by Nicholas Cage, who more than makes up for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans with an eccentric homage to Adam-West era Batman).

And third, it sports a pretty decent soundtrack--something the graphic novel can't compete with unless you're reading it with headphones on. And even then, you'd have to be constantly pressing "Play" and "Pause" at the appropriate moments, which is way more annoying than watching a movie.

Overall, I think Kick-Ass would please graphic novel enthusiasts just as much as gung-ho moviegoers. For a blockbuster action movie, it has an appropriate amount of plot and humour to offset the violence and badassery, and it's charmingly self-aware as a superhero flick about superheroes.

And let's face it. We all have to do something with our time while we wait for Christopher Nolan's next Batman movie.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #52: Che: Part One (2008)

Having just visited Cuba, I suddenly felt the need to learn more about the history of its world-changing revolution. After some reading and some documentary viewing, I gave Soderbergh's big Che biopic a look. It's a double whammy since there's a lot of ground to cover, and was released in two honkin' parts.

Che: Part One is partially told as a broken narrative - while disorienting at first, once you get a sense of the three or four timelines explored in Che's life, it doesn't jerk you around too harshly. Shot in a documentary style, it lets the viewer make sense of the film's personalities and narrative on their own with little exposition or clear judgement, for the most part. The only place where it clearly takes a stance, as far as I can tell, is with Che himself. Che has, as you very likely know, become a legend. An icon. As a result, moreso even than Fidel Castro, it's pretty hard to tell where the real story is and where the myth and romanticism has been added. Soderbergh's film, at least in part one, presents a Che that's idealistic, intellectual, and pure of intention. That's certainly how he's been remembered, but I was hoping to see something in terms of flaws. I suppose any he might have had have been lost to history, and anything added would be a wild guess that'd serve little purpose in the end.

So: Che: Part One suffers from a flatness typical of newer Soderbergh films, but managed to keep me interested. I like Benicio Del Toro a lot, despite The Wolfman.