Friday, December 31, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 # 166 - #176: A Rush to Finish 2010's Reviews! - The End!

#166. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Not as much of a Christmas movie as I'd hoped, but I loves me some James Stewart and this was no disappointment.

#167. American Pop (1981)
Neat animated film chronicling the history of pop music throughout the 20th century by following the descendants of one immigrant boy. There's one portion of the film (or one character, I should say) that's hard to like, but such is life.

A 70s movie from Japan where an alien race attempts to destroy earth with their Mechagodzilla, Godzilla comes to the rescue! Unfortunately a bad scientist has created Titanosaurus and uses him against Godzilla. It's pretty much exactly the way it sounds!

#170. Network (1976)
Was pleasantly surprised by this one; an intriguing drama about a television network: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm going to take this anymore!"

I grew up with the 1994 remake of this classic, and boy am I glad I finally saw the original.

#172. TRON: Legacy (2010)
I don't suppose we'll be getting this one in now, but hey! Why not add it to the reviews? I found it provided a good source of entertainment, perhaps a wee bit long though.

#173. Black Swan (2010)
As a wise man named Posen told me today, his three questions of the week are: "How was your Christmas?" "What are you up to for New Years?" and.. "Have you seen Black Swan?!?" I
thought it was the best film of the year, though I haven't seen every one, but it seems to be a wide-spread consensus among those I know.

#174. Chinatown (1974)
Second Faye Dunaway film I watched this week and both were excellent! Jack Nicholson was so good back in the day, I wish he and Robert De Niro would come back to life.

I loved Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure growing up, so it was only a matter of time before I had to check this one out. It started off really strangely, but I ended up laughing a fair amount. Also, it references this next movie!

#176. The Seventh Seal (1957)
It almost seems fitting that the last film I saw this year would be this one, especially since GenX will soon be closing. It wasn't done on purpose, I just didn't have the time to watch Throne of Blood before tomorrow night. As such, my last film would be a seemingly bleak one, but one that has hope and a sparkle in its eye. What a wonderful way to end the year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 # 135 - #165: A Rush to Finish 2010's Reviews! - Part 2

#135. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
A really good adaptation of the graphic novel series, and also by one of my favourite directors Edgar Wright. I loved it, but Hot Fuzz is still my favourite.

#136. Knight and Day (2010)
Not a completely awful film, but I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they were looking
for a completely stereotypical romantic comedy.

#137. I'm Not There (2007)
Really good. I love it when people take a different turn on bio films (like getting six different actors to play Bob Dylan.) Cate Blanchett was definitely my favourite.

#138. Inception (2010)
I saw this at the BFI Imax in London, England! Haha, alright, bragging done. I liked it quite a lot, but not as much as everyone else seemed to.

#139. The Runaways (2010)
All I wanted was to see a film in Cannes, but the only one I could find was in this dingy old theatre showing a movie already out on DVD in Canada. Wasn't bad, I surprisingly liked Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart in it!

#140. The Warriors (1979)
A classic in its own way, but it just didn't quite hit the spot.

#141. MacGruber (2010)
Some great comedic moments, but I don't know if I'd watch it again.

#142 & #145. Sugata Sanshiro (1943) & Sugata Sanshiro: Part 2 (1945)
The first films of Akira Kurosawa (one of my favourite directors) and though it may not be my favourite, it definitely made a good impression. It's about a man who must learn to encompass the attributes of judo not only in practice, but in life. The second film is quite as good as the first, I'd say.

#143. Dracula (1931)
Starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula, this film reeks of being a classic: reeks in a good way, that is.

#144. Repulsion (1965)
Wow, what a good film. It got under my skin and I couldn't shake it off for hours (even days). Catherine Deneuve is stunning.

What a great series. I can't believe I'd never seen them before. I think I liked the first and third ones the most, but they're all pretty awesome.

#149. Zombieland (2009)
A fun zombie themed comedy, good for a laugh.

#150. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Really good: not recommended for pregnant women. Between this and Repulsion (both part of Polanski's apartment trilogy,) I prefer Repulsion
(and I found it creepier).

#151. Death Kappa (2010)
Pretty much just another Japanese monster film, but one I enjoyed and would recommend to lovers of the Japanese monster film genre.

This DVD was a sampling of famous acts that aired on the show throughout its history, really quite a good collection of musicians (John Lennon, Bruce Spingsteen, Tom Waits) and something interesting to listen to if you've got an hour or two to spare.

#153. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
An older Elvis who wakes up from a coma in a nursing home and must attempt to save the other patrons from a mummy who attacks them nightly. Makes for an interesting concept, no? I didn't go crazy for it, but thought it was neat.

#154. Micmacs (2009)
A great new film by one of my favourite directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet; it has his quirky humour, unique visual style and fun atmosphere.

A kind of terrible film, but sort of good in a terrible way. It's pretty much what you'd imagine.

#156. Trick 'r Treat (2007)
A great film to watch on Halloween, though not too scary (which is great for me!)

#157 & #158. Samurai I (1954) & Samurai II (1955)
The first it a pretty good samurai film, but the second made my lose interest and I never ended up watching the third.

I loved the concept for this series. It's basically all those old science videos you used to watch in school, but completely nonsensical and awesome.

#160. Barton Fink (1991)
Please don't go into this movie thinking it's going to be funny. It's really really good, but it's not really funny.

#161. King Kong (1933)
This really is a classic. I'm really glad I finally got to see it and enjoyed it more than I anticipated!

I'd go so far as to say this is my favourite in the series. It just has way better pacing and the story gets a chance to breathe.

I won't lie, I really liked this
movie. The Borg are frightening (I've always found the concept of AI or human/robots to be fear-enducing) and all the usual cast do their part well.

#164. Howl (2010)
An interesting take on the work and life of Allen Ginsberg. It grew on me, I liked the animation, but probably won't watch it again.

#165. Freakazoid: Season 1 (1995-1996)
Just a good old Saturday morning cartoon; I'd forgotten how much I liked this as a kid (the few episodes I'd seen anyway) and I love how self-referential it is!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 # 111 - #134: A Rush to Finish 2010's Reviews!

What with the store closing and all, I decided to take a slightly unconventional turn in an attempt to finish reviewing every new film (new to me, that is) I watched this year. I knew I wouldn't make it writing longer reviews since I have over 60 movies left on the list, but thought that this might at least be fun to read even if it wasn't very descriptive.

My guilty pleasure. Sexy, southern and full of bloodlust; it's like eating a dark, rich dangerously delicious chocolate cake that I just can't get enough of.

Jackie Chan a school janitor? You bet, but as expected he's soon to become a kick-ass martial artist! Good, but not the best Chan movie I've seen.

#113. Batman: The Movie (1966)
"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb." Cheesy, corny, wonderful 1960s fun: "It looks bad, batman. This brassy bird has us buffaloed."

#114. Lifeforce (1985)
A crazy sci-fi, vampire, zombie movie that's bound to blow your mind with it's absurdity, badness and greatness.

#115. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Probably my favourite Hayao Miyazaki film so far. The music, the animation, the colours, and especially the story: everything just blew me away.

#116. Subway (1985)
A neat film directed by Luc Besson and starring a french-speaking Christopher Lambert who roams the subways of Paris while blackmailing the woman he's infatuated with. It's very 80s and kind of strange, but awesome.

Really? You need a review? Nah.

#118. Delicatessen (1991)
Colourful, classic Jean-Pierre Jeunet full of funny, sweet, dark and strange moments that are sure to please (if you're like me, that is.)

#119. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
I have no idea how they came up with the ideas they used in this film, but it's pretty fucking crazy and I kinda liked it.

#120. The Ladykillers (2004)
I really enjoyed this one, though that trend is pretty common with
me and the Coens. I'm still not totally sold on Tom Hanks, but hey, he's not so bad.

#121. Twilight: Eclipse (2010)
Unfortunately, it was better than the first.

#122. The Awful Truth (1937)
I love my Cary Grant romances and this is another classic. Perhaps not as wonderful as some of his others, but it seems he really can't go wrong.

#123. Project A-2 (1987)
"But I'm not cooking! So it stays open!" Apparently I thought this Jackie Chan line was so terribly funny that it deserved to be quoted, but I can't for the life of me remember why. I can't even remember what the movie's about. I think he plays a straight cop in a crooked area of town or something...

Crazy disgusting slimy ear bugs. Also, it's quite awesome.

Colourful, nonsensical, neat to watch and Heath Ledger's last film.

#126. Objectified (2009)
Ooo, this documentary was way more boring than I thought it would be. I fell asleep.

#127. Porco Rosso (1992)
Wonderfully detailed, beautifully animated Miyazaki film about a mysterious swine-resembling pilot that takes a begrudging liking to a young girl and the antics that ensue.

Charming in a 1950s musical kind of way. Not my favourite old musical, but it'll do.

A lovely film by Agnes Varda about the life she lead, the man she loved and the beautiful films she made.

#130. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
Probably my favourite series of the year (either that or Skins). It's a great, funny, interesting show about high school in the early 80s and I just can't get its lead, Linda Cardellini, out of my head. (Also starring James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jason Segal and directed by Judd Apatow. I know, right?)

#131. The Jerk (1979)
A charming idiot (Steve Martin) somehow ends up alright after leaving his family

#132. Against All Flags (1952)
Errol Flynn. Pirates.

#133. Super Fly (1972)
Pretty good blaxploitation film about a man who wants out of the cocaine dealing business: "Can you dig it?"

#134. Undeclared (2001-2002)
Sort of a continuation of Freaks and Geeks, directed by Apatow, but starring a completely different cast and taking place a few decades later. Also, not quite as good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fin de siècle

To all of our customers:

This day had to happen eventually so we are choosing to do it now. Gen X Video will cease operation on Feb 28th, 2011 after serving Waterloo Region for 16 years. There are plenty of reasons we are shutting things down but the main one is that we no longer have the passion or drive to keep things going. It has been a fun run but we need to move on to something else.

So what does this mean? We will be starting to sell off our inventory on Jan 1, 2011. If there are titles you are interested in buying, talk to the staff and they will let you know the cost. We will not be doing a fire sale on our product because we know what we can get for them online. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some good deals but you won’t be getting an Out of Print Criterion DVD for $5.00 from us.

We will stop renting movies on Feb 14th (which seems appropriate). We expect all of our DVDs to be returned to us even though we are shutting down. Late fees will still apply. We do use a collection agency for the ne’er-do-wells who try to avoid paying what is due to us so please don’t make us send you there. We have always been fair over the years and we expect you to treat us in the same way.

If you still have rental credits on your account we suggest you use them quickly. If you would like to exchange your rental credits for store credit (so that you can purchase product instead), please let us know and we will come to an arrangement with you.

Your membership information will remain private with us until we can completely delete everything. We have to keep it on file until all of the taxes have been filed with the government but we promise to destroy the information after we have been given clearance.

Our store hours will be reduced during the sell off period. Check the sign outside the store or call our message at 519-888-4369 to get the new information.

Where can you rent the movies that Gen X carried after we are gone? Well, try Steve’s TV (Frederick St Mall), Far Out Flicks (Queen St in Downtown Kitchener) or the WPL or KPL. None of those sources are a complete replacement but you’ll find something worthwhile to watch. Failing that, use the Internet.

Finally, we appreciate your patronage over the last 16 years. We did not make this decision lightly. We have been considering this for the last 3 years. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard for us too. We will miss being part of the Waterloo community. So long and thanks for all the fish.


Mike Greaves (owner)

Chris Beckett (manager)

New to the Store: Week of 28 December, with built-in contest!

Adonis Factor, The
American, The
Archer: Season 1
Eyes Wide Open
Fubar II
Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
Mesrine, Part 2: Public Enemy Number 1
Resident Evil: Afterlife
United States of Tara, The: Season 2
Wall Street 2: Insert Hilarious Sequel Subtitle Here (submit your suggestion in comments for a good alternate title to Oliver Stone's latest toothless attempt at relevance. our favourite will win a pair of free rentals. deadline... let's say new year's eve.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #91: Six-String Samurai (1998)

Post-apocalyptic wasteland U.S.A, taken over by the Russians! Vegas is one of the only cities left standing, and if you want to make it anywhere, it'll have to be there. But it's tough to get in. Tougher to survive the walk. Our stoic hero is a rockabilly guitar-picker who's decided to make for his fame and fortune.

Packing little beyond his guitar, a torn umbrella to shield himself from the hot desert sun, and a fucking samurai sword to defend himself against Russian raiders, he sets out across the arid land. Oh, and Death is literally after him. Death and a bunch of his evil henchmen. This is a winning concept, but the ultimate result is a little on the underwhelming side. I found myself bored more than once, which usually means that I need a gang to watch the movie with, and some sake.

If you can set up that kind of situation, also be prepared for wretched acting, camp dialogue, breakout gypsy-punk sequences, and sword duels that sometimes manage to be pretty stylish.

So: Could have been the best movie ever, but doesn't too far along that track.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #90: Tron: Legacy (2010)

Called Legacy to force some kind of dignity onto the project, Disney honestly will not give up on this franchise until people accept it and acknowledge that Disney was right all along, and that Tron is actually really cool.

If I can be outrageously generalising for this one, critics almost unanimously write that Tron: Legacy is pointlessly thin. Thin on plot, thin on character, thin on cultural significance. And half of them end off their reviews by saying that they thought it was pretty cool.

That's pretty much what we've got on our hands with this one - a movie that doesn't go very far to inspire or engage or even give you any thrills you haven't seen before in some shape or form, but is pretty cool, dude. It has its moments of "that technology is absolutely impossible" ridiculousness, and dramatic scenes that try too hard and mostly fall flat, but the overwhelming buzzy neon electro-music-video vibe, when combined with the full might of Daft Punk's original soundtrack, cannot be stopped.

Olivia Wilde is good, and her character is certainly the most fun to root for and watch at work. And I don't mean to say that it's because of eye-candy; her costume is strangely modest, given the norm in this sort of flick. I was very surprised to find that her role was refreshingly unsexualised. There's a shade of sexual tension, but her tender fascination with the lead male is understandable, given that he's the son of the man that created her people's universe, and indeed just arrived from beyond it.

They've made Jeff Bridges look 20 years younger for some scenes through the magic of our favourite strategy: CGI. While awkward at points, it can be overlooked once everybody's in the electro-world. In the digital environment, a slightly rubbery face kind of suits Jeff Bridges.

The 3d effects, surprisingly, don't try to slap you in the face with cheap pop-outs, but stays pretty low key and keeps to background atmosphere. The decision to keep most of 3d stuff for the 'in the computer' environment is a smart one, and works to make the 3d tech an aesthetic choice rather than just a barefaced gimmick.

So: One of the coolest Daft Punk videos I've seen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 21 December

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Celebrate with Gen X's Christmas Week new releases!

Black Metal: The Music of Satan
Boy A
Easy A
Family Guy: It's a Trap
Futurama: Volume 5
Heavy, The (2010)
Horde, The
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole (also BluRay)
My Normal
Salt (also BluRay)
Skirt Day
Town, The (also BluRay)
Winnebago Man

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #109 & #110: Police Squad! (1982) & The Naked Gun (1988)

It seems pretty fitting that even though I watched these Leslie Nielson classics back in June, that I should have waited (clearly intentionally, not because I got behind in things) to review them until now. Sadly he died just a few weeks ago, but luckily he was an actor and we get to remember him in such classics as his TV series Police Squad! and later film Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! His style of humour is kind of wild, a bit nonsensical, but his puns, play on words and strange remarks are what make him so funny to me.

Sadly there are only 6 episodes in Police Squad! but you can watch him again in the Naked Gun series. I remember my dad really liking Naked Gun when I was a kid, but it wasn't until this year that I watched them again and really understood the jokes and his style of humour. Of the two, I think I actually prefer Police Squad!, probably because of my love for spoofs; this one does a great job at playing with the television police drama, especially the narrative style. I love the way it feels like Airplane! and the hidden jokes playing on in the background. Definitely recommended, though I should say that Airplane! is still my favourite ;)

Maggie 2010: Julianne Moore being quirky and hot, but definitely straight

#122. The Kids Are All Right

I was so excited by the premise of this film, the almost unfathomable Hollywood normalcy of its family-drama structure, that I had to restrain myself from seeing it right away. Yes, it is super-cool for a mainstream film to centre around a lesbian family with two adolescent children. Yes, it is super-cool that the ever-attractive Julianne Moore plays the spunky, wayward, gentler partner in the arrangement. And heck yes, it is super-cool that not one of the problems inflicted upon either "child" and parent lies outside the realm of mundane happenstance, thus avoiding the tedious problem of exceptionalism that usually mires queer representation in film.

But let's try to keep our pants on, shall we? (Even if Julianne Moore won't!) While The Kids Are All Right scores tremendous points for its even-handed approach to the failings and quirks of each character, and the script-writing allows for some rare insights into domestic life absent even from other family dramas, there are a couple hitches that keep it from being a perfect film.

The first is pretty straightforward: The film tries far too hard to emphasize "Look! They're lesbians!" in its opening scenes, with some awkward intimacy shots which, in stark contrast to the vitality and breadth of later heterosexual sex scenes, only further highlight the experience gap between queer characters and straight-identified actors.

(It's a similar problem to the one that afflicted Bound, but hey--a lot of people really like Jennifer Tilly, squeaky voice and all, so maybe I'm just picky.)

The second hitch is the teensiest-tiniest character plot-hole around an event that propagates one of the oldest family drama issues in the book. But to explain this, I suppose it would help to know the plot?

Right. So, fifteen-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) asks his just-turned-eighteen-years-old sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) to contact the sperm bank from whence half their DNA was first wrought. Both then set out, without telling either of their loving mums, to meet their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). When mums Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) find out, both are uncertain about (and Nic is downright resistant to) the idea of further interactions with this man. Nonetheless, one by one the seemingly idyllic family is drawn into the Charms of Paul, and... well, you can guess where this is going.

Indeed, every predictable detail of the classic dramatic infidelity arc emerges in The Kids Are All Right--which is, again, awesome in its normalcy: absolutely nothing about what happens here is emphasized as different from what occurs in heterosexual relationships where one partner feels ignored or under-appreciated, and lacks the ability or desire to address these concerns head-on.

But what really tweaks me? What really doesn't follow naturally? Is the narrative creakiness and strange mental leaps driving the inevitable discovery sequence. To my mind, more insight into Nic's character was definitely needed to naturalize her suspicions regarding Jules' cheating. It's a small point, but in the midst of one of the most predictable sub-plots for this sub-genre, a key one.

For the most part, of course, I adore Lisa Cholodenko's directing of this film--in particular, the way all characters and their life perspectives are presented evenly and compassionately. I also thoroughly enjoyed her collaborative writing with Stuart Blumberg, as between the two of them they managed to keep Paul firmly secondary to the central family's narrative arc, instead of permitting the lone male's quest to supersede all others. And certainly, this is a film I will recommend to anyone who, for whatever blisteringly incomprehensible reason, still thinks family drama is entertaining.

But for all the accolades this film is currently receiving, it still has to be said: this is more or less your average dramedy, with average issues and averaged outcomes. And that's okay. In fact, to me, that's what truly makes The Kids Are All Right the achievement that it is.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New to the Store: Weeks of 7-14 December


24: Season 8
A Team, The (also BluRay)
Best Worst Movie
Boys Life 7
Call Girl, A
Despicable Me (also BluRay)
Henri 4
Hugh Hefner: Playboy Activist Rebel
Inception (also BluRay)
IT Crowd, The: Season 4
Jesus Guy, The
Lightkeepers, The
Max Manus: Man of War
Mesrine, Part 1: Killer Instinct
Other Guys, The
Patrik, Age 1.5
Shrek Forever After (also BluRay)
Soul Kitchen
Twilight: Eclipse (also BluRay)
Valhalla Rising (BluRay)


American Pop
Cronos (Criterion)
Disciples of the 36th Chamber
Last Detective, The: Series 1- 4
Lord of the Rings, The: Complete BluRay Collection
To Die For
Touch of Frost, A: Season 15

Monday, December 13, 2010

Maggie 2010: Allan King

#121. Dying at Grace

Watching this film isn't the hard part, though its subject might suggest otherwise. A 2003 documentary from the esteemed Allan King, Canadian tour de force and influential component of cinéma vérité, Dying at Grace follows five terminal patients through their final days at a Toronto palliative care facility. Not exactly the lightest of themes, I know.

But this isn't a disturbing film. Sad, yes. Human, definitively. But even as it dawns on viewers that all five patients look the same near the end, the dark, sallow lines of their failing bodies and the steady gurgle of their slowing breaths is not depicted as grotesque. It simply is.

The hard part comes after the film, when returning to the usual gamut of vibrant TV imagery: the anti-ageing ads, the eHarmony Marry!-go-round, and show after show teasing apart every conflict-filled aspect of our active lives. What lessons can be gleaned from a film like King's, I wondered--and how can any of us hope to make use of those lessons going forward?

Carmela Nardone, Joyce Bone, Eda Simac, Rick Pollard, and Lloyd Greenwood were kind enough to share their last days with Allan King and his crew. Their offering above all else makes the aforementioned question more than mere mental exercise. Consider, then, the diversity of their stories:

Carmela was a devout Catholic, loved by her family and unwilling to complain about any pain that befell her.

Joyce, at least agnostic and just as loved by her community, was afraid to sleep and expressed much frustration with her flagging body.

Eda was a civil servant who refused to see her friends while in hospice, instead maintaining a fierce hope that she would survive her cancer.

Rick was a man with a difficult past--homeless after a brutal childhood, struggling in later years to improve his lot in life--whose memories haunted him near the end.

Lloyd was a minister whose brain cancer caused him immense suffering, and whose family was never far from his bed.

All looked the same in the end. Despite the wildly disparate paths each had taken in their lives, the great equalizer of mortality made everything but each patient's immediate discomfort a matter of little importance. And why not? The hospice beds turned over regularly. Patients entered and left through the morgue mostly within the month. In this strange world of constant deterioration and fleeting last connections, pain management trumped all else.

Thus those who monitored this new way of life--the soft-spoken staff of the Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre--themselves became marvels under King's watchful eye. As a viewer, and an outsider, I didn't agree with all they had to say in gentle conversation with their wards--I didn't care for one nurse's response to Joyce's articulation of embarrassment, for instance; I likewise didn't care for a counsellor's response to Joyce's frustration about her mental state--but the attentiveness of their care speaks for itself.

After all, the inescapable fact is that we all die, and many of us first undergo a considerable measure of bodily deterioration. In the course of this transformation, from youth and vitality to outer forms in which we hardly recognize ourselves, we then tend set aside our politics, our old quarrels, or attachments and our dreams, and enter a new world--a world that, if we're lucky, is well attended by people who hope to ease our discomfort, our pain, for what little time remains.

In this manner the external falls away. We lie down, and we sleep. To those around us we become frail and strange things, until one day we simply cease to wake up. What we leave in our wakes then is ultimately those who are still alive.

Those, that is, who will endure their own final deterioration in time, but who for now have no reason not to anticipate, and relish, all the unpredictable tomorrows that lie somewhere in-between.

Who for now can say, "Wow, what an incredible film," reflect for a moment on King's unrelenting compassion, and then reach for the remote to see what else is on.

This, too, simply is.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Maggie 2010: A Period Piece with Depth

#120. The Last Station

Leo Tolstoy, for those who will not recognize the name, is considered the world over to be one of the greatest writers ever to have lived. Even if you've never read Anna Karenina, War and Peace, or The Death of Ivan Ilyich, you can take it on good faith that this 19th Century Russian author laid an extraordinary and unmatched groundwork for the realist novel, the importance of comprehensive world-building, and the use of a truly omniscient narrator--one capable of both expansive objectivity and intimate, detail-oriented portraiture of all characters in its care.

Sadly, none of these achievements, and the great bevy of acclaim they won the author himself, protected Tolstoy's message from the distorting influences of time and community--which is why, in The Last Station, viewers find themselves thrust into a rights battle over Tolstoy's writings, as enacted between Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) and Tolstoy's wife, Sofia (Helen Mirren) as Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) enters the final months of his life.

What seems at first a simple matter--Chertkov wanting Tolstoy to will his works into the public domain; Sofia wanting the works' copyrights to remain with the family--is reflected by the strenuous idealism of young Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), a fervent man moved by Tolstoy's work and keen to serve the egalitarian cause established on Tolstoy's estate; but both deceptively simple matters are quickly complicated by the same life principle: love.

On one level, then, The Last Station is an elegantly styled excerpting of Tolstoy's later life, carrying the viewer right up to his death and perhaps only lingering too long, too predictably, on the immediate emotional aftermath. In this way it is an absolutely "harmless" film, leaving a vague and fuzzy feeling of contentment among viewers, but intrinsically demanding little more.

But on another level, there is also tremendous room for debate seeded amid the light discourse of this film. By juxtaposing a tale of young love with old, and the routines of lovers with the routines of political combat; and by especially emphasizing the outsider status of anyone attempting to judge the merits of a relationship who is not in fact part of that relationship, the film easily arises at a much more profound argument for the impossibility of perfect communication.

Thus, as the film progresses, Chertkov's "mankind," the presumed benefactors of open copyright, becomes a little narrower in scope, while Sofia's "family," the people she claims to want to protect by keeping Tolstoy's works financially useful, broadens to stand in for a wide spectrum of identity politics. And though Tolstoy is no longer around to worry the issue by the film's end, the question remains long after the credits roll: If even our greatest thinkers and writers cannot control the message or the consequences of their words, are the rest of us in even greater peril of miscommunication--or does their failure instead speak to a universal condition, in which we are all blind men attempting to describe the great elephants of love and politics in the room?

If the latter, then it was perhaps Tolstoy's greatest gift, made elegantly manifest in this film written and directed by Michael Hoffman, that we should at least have the presence of mind to be aware of this difficulty, and to regard each other with compassion and humility accordingly.

That, or just make a lot of love to a lot of people while the getting is good. After all, in The Last Station, no one--not even Tolstoy himself--is as good a Tolstoyan as they at first might seem. But they certainly do try!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #89: Forbidden World (1982)

Hello Space Marine. Care to have space sex?

The innuendo
drips like the slime from
black meta-mutants

Another Roger Corman alien-ripoff oh shit we're stuck in a space lab movie! When will it end? Hopefully never, because it's like a beautiful dream.

I was smitten with Forbidden World from the start because it gives you this trippy opening montage where a robot wakes a guy out of cryogenic stasis with some Beethoven. While the ship is being attacked by raiders. That's how I'd do it.

This one's actually pretty cool. I'm pleased to say that there's an attempt to keep the camera interesting throughout most of the movie, since we get a pretty wide variety of shots of things from places you wouldn't expect, but not so many that it starts to look like an overenthusiastic student film wank. You will get gratuitous ass shots of women walking in high heels, though. Quite a few. They're made to walk up and down the corridors in what must be standard space lab attire: skin-tight silvery jump suits with low cut chests and high heels. There are nighties too, and many situations where the female characters feel the need to be topless. Babes will literally bump into the protagonist and introduce themselves by batting their eyes. As one scientist puts it, the women there are apparently starved for new faces.

I absolutely love how often people will stop to have sex when there's a killer mutant loose in their science facility. It's got to be a space fetish of some kind. There's this ridiculous and great sequence where a security guard, who is watching for the goddamned deadly mutant, watches the blonde scientist get it on with the dopey space marine protagonist instead. It's an amazingly creepy violation of security camera protocol. As he watches, he pulls at some kind of light up space yo-yo and sweats profusely. This is the greatest form of space sex innuendo possible.

The scene is extra funny because the security guard looks exactly like Tim Roth. We get some fantastic space porno music evidently coming from a token black guy playing a screechy clear plastic space saxophone. This all goes on for a full two minutes, and the song actually gets pretty darn catchy by the time they hit orgasm. Forbidden Planet has a genuinely cool soundtrack by the way, a very Goblin one.

So while watching, the guard catches a glitch on a sensor and decides to investigate. That, of course, is serious trouble. What I love about his cautious search for the alien is that every 25 seconds or so we get a split second of the scientist and space marine having sex in their room. At first I was confused - is this guy afraid he's about to die and is reliving the happiest moment of his life? The one a minute ago when he was watching space marine fuck that girl he probably wants so badly? Then I thought: no, wait, the monster is using psychic projections of her getting it on to lure him in, because every time he hears something or looks over, it cuts to a few frames of sex. By the time the monster hits it's clear that they were going for a sex and murder montage that actually turns out to be fairly effective. An orgy of blood! An orgy of love! Everything the viewer might want in a scene! We get a shot of a different scientist smoking a cigarette afterwards, and I feel in my heart that it was Roger Corman in spirit.

The lab facility has a space sauna, and in the morning the space marine gets it on with girl number two there. The actor's attempt to look seductive just looks really weird - this doofy smirk and wide eyed "Heh heh, eh baby?" expression that makes the guy wholly unlikable. This look of course works within seconds on girl two, who's boyfriend was killed by the monster the previous day. Incredible. Space marine walks in and 'EEEK GET OUT! LEAVE NOW LEAVE NOW!' and after that pervy look, switches to (and this is a quote) "Fair's fair, get naked."

After the mutant attacks them both, some guy actually bulldozes over the fact that there's a killer creature on the loose by asking "Hey you know what I wanna know? I wanna know what you and Tracy were doing in there dressed like that." Just so girl number one can add a catty comment. Clearly, what they were doing in the sauna is much more important than the fact that they were nearly transformed into a digestible food tissue by a vicious mutant, and somebody better damn well take care of it. Nobody seems to give a shit about the mutant until it's attacking someone.

Hmm...maybe we should do something about this soon?

Now, you might have read my review of 1991's Dead Space. Turns out that Dead Space was in fact Roger Corman's remake of Forbidden World. Same plot. Same characters. Different names. At least three lines of dialogue that I noticed in Forbidden World found their way into Dead Space. The opening space battle in DS is lifted from the opening of FW, and I'm guessing that FW probably takes it from some even earlier Roger Corman film. Probably Battle Beyond the Stars, though it's been a while since I've seen that one.

So: You really have to watch any movie where characters hit computer keys with glowsticks. Standard, ordinary dollar-store glowsticks. Because fingers just aren't good enough.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #88: Valhalla Rising (2009)

I've been meaning to write a review for Valhalla Rising for quite some time. I've name-dropped it in other reviews, promising that I'd one day say a bit more about it. That day is upon you.

If you read any of the reviews I posted about The Pusher Trilogy, you probably noticed that I have nothing but high praise for Danish writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn. I haven't seen anything he's touched that I haven't liked. His images are stirring and organic, and he knows how to pull interesting performances out of his actors. He seems to be able to work special magic when he's working with Valhalla Rising lead Mads Mikkelson, a guy who could very easily turn into a misused Hollywood action chump (like in the awful Clash of the Titans remake). But he's chosen some very interesting, and in the case of Valhalla, daring films to be part of. In Valhalla Rising he doesn't say a single word.

Mads is 'One Eye', a completely silent one-eyed Viking slave/prize-fighter who eventually finds himself on a ship filled with Scotsman bound for the Crusades. There's really not too much more to say about the plot.

I'd wager that anyone passing by the DVD case would be immediately mislead. It's image of a grim Viking warrior standing alone with an axe in hand might make you expect a film filled with spectacle-driven violence. It isn't. There's in fact very little violence, but what violence there is some of the grittiest, ugliest violence I've seen on a screen. Mads' screen presence is great, and though silent (not to be confused with mute), manages to present you with a startling enigma you constantly struggle to decipher in terms of emotion and motive. This movie is minimalist in its strategy in almost every way and works essentially as a thought-provoking, poetic, and captivating existential mood piece. And it's about a fucking Viking. Who knew.

So: My pick for best movie of the year (it was released in North America only recently). Might not be your cup of tea, but if anything I said tickled your fancy, watch it.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #108: Shinjuku Incident (2009)

Most Jackie Chan films I've seen have been a bit silly. I never really got a chance to see his previous stuff where you get treated to his awesome martial arts skills, so when this film was suggested I was a little apprehensive, but it ended up being quite good as I remember. (I did watch it back in June, after all.) Chan plays a Chinese man who immigrates to Japan to make money. Unfortunately he loses his Chinese papers and cannot go back home to his love. He begins making it in Japan doing odd jobs and eventually makes it into the underground illegal system. He gets twisted into deeper and darker situations and eventually makes it into the hierarchy of the Yakuza as a manager of the Chinese area of town and its gangs. Of course things go downhill, he finds out his former love had moved to Japan and married one of his foes. You can imagine the action and gunfire now if you please.

Overall I'd say it was a satisfactory film, that I enjoyed and would recommend if someone asked about it. Nothing hugely memorable (I had to look it up before I remembered what it was about), but worth your while if you're in the mood for an action drama with a bit of comedy and some Yakuza action.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #107: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Just after I turned 6 months old, a film about space travellers coming back home was released. I'm not sure about its significance in terms of my 6 month birth anniversary, but there must be one. Perhaps I'm meant to swim with whales? Or I could fall for a curiously out-of-date space traveller who calls himself James T. Kirk?

I hope not. I didn't mind William Shatner as a Trekkie, but the thought of kissing him makes me puke a little in my mouth.

I actually enjoyed this movie. I thought it was good in a cute, falling in love, save the animals kind of way. In it, they must go back in time and save the future of the humpback whale population, and thus the future of the world!! It's got a sense of humour, which I've always enjoyed in films, I especially enjoyed the outfits they put on when arriving to the earth's past (as seen above). They must deal with Dr. Gillian Taylor, played by Catherine Hicks (the mother from 7th Heaven), and she ends up falling for Kirk. It reminded me of watching "Danger Bay" as a kid, a sappy 1984-89 series about a veterinarian who saves sea life with his kids.

The special thing about this movie is that it was actually directed by Leonard Nemoy who plays Spock in the series (and the film). I thought that was pretty neat anyway. He's one of my favourite characters in the film too. Check it out for a laugh!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Maggie 2010: Banksy Banksy Banksy!

#119. Exit Through the Gift Shop

The last thing one might expect in a film ostensibly about Banksy, the most acclaimed street artist of our time, is the soothing masculine narration of a traditional documentary. And yet amid the madness of a character who swiftly emerges as the film's central agent, a Frenchman who acquired a camera once and thereafter would not put it down, such a traditional gambit becomes, if not imperative*, at least understandable.

Exit Through the Gift Shop orients itself around the story of Thierry Guatta, a French immigrant whose compulsion to film everything first leads him to discover that his cousin is the famed street artist "Invader," who affixes mosaics of Space Invader wherever possible in public spaces. From this discovery Guatta launches into a Gotta Catch'em All quest to videotape street artists in process, but wherever he goes finds himself limited by the most elusive Pokemon artist of them all:


Author of some of the most provocative and daring street art of our time, including work on the West Bank and a Guantanamo Bay mannequin in Disneyland, Banksy is noted for maintaining an extremely low personal profile, so Guatta's tale of falling in with him had to have a point unto itself: specifically, Guatta had to convince his street artist friends he was working on a documentary.

This flimsy conceit, its pathetic follow-through (complete with some amusingly direct commentary from Banksy's obscured profile), and the new quest Guatta claims Banksy ultimately set him upon mark the major turning points in the film--as well as a whole whack-load of questions from reviewers about whether Exit Through the Gift Shop is genuine or another Banksy installation piece.

Regardless of its veracity, the real joy of this film is not its declarative statements: it's the thrill of watching street artists deploy their creations in the heart of the city, day and night alike--on rooftops, under bridges, over billboards, around telephone poles, and throughout the streets.

Moreover, one needn't buy into the suspicion that this story is too wacky to be real** to enjoy the gentle self-effacement that goes hand-in-hand with the semiotics of documentary--specifically, the way the very framing of this subject in serious film argues that street art is high art. Indeed, every time someone in the film talks about the legitimizing benefit of their work being filmed, we cut to a scene of someone falling from a ladder or a rooftop, spilling paint or otherwise making an unfortunate mess of themselves. This, for me, never ceases to be a point of delight.

As for the conspiracy theories about this film being a hoax, I will say this much: Guatta's depicted failures in Exit Through the Gift Shop, both as a documentarian and then as a street artist in his own right, after years spent filming others at work, do not seem at all unrealistic. Quite frankly, the street art Guatta creates is very much what one would expect from someone whose dominant trope has always been the lens--a sort of self-conscious, superficial deconstruction of paparazzi/celebrity culture.

However, if it eventually turns out that this film very much was a hoax/installation piece unto itself, I will be saddened not by that measure of falsity but by the possibility that Guatta's absurd attempt at street art documentary, which Banksy thoroughly dismisses on camera himself, doesn't actually exist somewhere--a moldering P.O.S. just begging to be reclaimed by cultural studies and psych students alike in the decades to come.

*Has Herzog taught us nothing about how to handle bizarre personalities in film?
**Personally, I've seen wackier: and after Dear Zachary, nothing will ever convince me real life isn't invariably stranger than anything a documentarian or street artist can create.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #106: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)

When this year began I had the high hopes of watching 365 movies I'd never seen before, writing reviews for each one and perhaps even ranking them. It is now the beginning of December, I have written 106 reviews (less than a third of my goal) and have over 60 left to write. I suppose this is what happens when you combine life with 2 month vacations, a dash of procrastination and a sprinkle of "ooo, let's go to the market!" But, I shall do my darndest to write more this month, hopefully I shan't feel as though I've let myself down at the end of it.

At least today I have the great pleasure of relaying my thorough love and adoration of perhaps the greatest movie I've seen this year. I'm a little ashamed that I'd never seen The Good, The Bad and the Ugly before, it had been mentioned to me consistently, long before I'd ever stepped into a Film Studies degree and I only finally watched it this past June.

If you like Westerns this will be a wonderful, sparkling pinnacle of delicious; if not, you may just fall in love with them because of this movie. It's part of the "Dollars Trilogy" all starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Sergio Leone, and though Once Upon a Time in the West is still my favourite Sergio Leone Western, this one certainly ranks as "up there" in my mind.

Eastwood plays the lone hero type, without the typical characteristics of a hero. He's a bit crude, a bit mean, but I love him perhaps because of this, rather than in spite of it. Along with three other men, he is in search of a treasure buried in a man's grave, but the movie is way more than that. It is less about the gold than about everything else that happens in between: the civil war, betrayal, prison, hangings, and the music. Oh the music, and how wonderful it is. The soundtrack was written by Ennio Morricone, a man who has composed the music for so many other films, but is probably most well known for this one.

So, if I have not convinced you, please listen to all the others out there who have claimed on that this is the 4th best films ever made. Because even if it's not that high in my opinion, it's definitely a fantastic movie worth your time and perhaps a few dollars for the rental fee.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #87: Dead Space (1991)

Think about your hungry children, Bryan.

Another Roger Corman Alien rip-off with people and monster trapped in an inescapable lab!

Beastmaster dude Marc Singer plays a han solo-ish space marine, and he's alright. His mildly sarcastic robot sidekick is pretty cool. That's about all of interest in this movie.

The lead actress is absolutely terrible, and every line she delivers falls completely to the floor and shatters into pieces of "Why the fuck am I watching this?" I'd guess that she got the lead role because she was the only one to agree to get topless during the space-sex scene. Any of the relatively much more talented actresses in the cast would have been a better choice, and would have made Dead Space an easier pill to swallow. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston makes a solid appearance as one of the main scientists at the facility though, and while nearly as boring as the other characters, it's clear from the get go that as an actor he's doing his absolute best with the gig.

The fight scenes are hilariously bad. I know I usually use words like "hilarious" in my reviews of terrible films, but this time I really really mean it. I actually laughed out loud during a few sequences, and had to pause the movie so my brain could do a reality check and confirm that I was actually seeing what I was seeing. Dead Space probably has the worst fight sequences I have ever seen, and I've seen my fair share of shitty violence. Characters just run around, back and forth, aimlessly diving and rolling. From one side of the room and then back again. To clutch at someone they don't think can hold their own and then topple over in fear. And normally, when you have a monster in a movie, you don't just have your characters start shouting and shooting and then show the monster lurking by the fog machine, you give a hint that the creature is there by the fog machine, all misty and atmospheric-like, and then you can have the heroes react. But this movie is riddled with instances where the characters are reacting to a monster we haven't been shown yet - not because we don't know what it looks like, we do already. But solely as an editing choice. The monster shots come last, come separately, and in some cases, have been shot in totally different locations and then edited together. It's pretty clear that most of the special effects shots were done late in the game, and that's normally a relatively fine stratagem if the editing supports it. The movie seems not to care overly much though.

The carelessness of the movie manifests in other numerous, joyously funny ways. Characters will sometimes enter a fight scene as though they were already battling for hours and are ready to pass out, just to match the forced intensity of the movie's scuffles. A particularly lame and cowardly character enters a room with an enormous alien creature he's terrified of and actually takes noticeable time to just walk up to it (in perfectly sound mind) just to get close enough so he could get killed for us. All the while he's being shouted at: "What are you doing? Where are you going?? What are you doing!?" At points it almost seems like a character takes on the consciousness of the movie and expresses its confusion over why it's doing what it's doing. The aforementioned lame character filled that role earlier by asking questions like "Why is he going up there??" and "What is he doing? He's stupid." Those were valid meta-questions, though within the film he was just being a dick.

The space marine walks into a room and somehow doesn't see the same huge alien creature that couldn't have possibly been hiding anywhere. He doesn't notice it until a claw peeks into the frame and attacks. The best response of course is to push the person he's trying to protect, his new girlfriend, onto the floor in front of the creature. He then backs up and starts shooting bullets that have never once injured the creature during the course of the film. If a bear ever came at my girlfriend and I during a secluded camping trip, I know I'd toss her down in front of the bear and start hurling small stones. I guess there's not too much threat with the monster though, it kind of just stands around and waves it's arms.

Of final note, this movie has an awful synthesized orchestral soundtrack that sounds like the jaunty background music to some old medieval strategy game.

So: I barely got through it, but I'm eternally grateful that this movie exists.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #86: The Terror Within (1989)

I've been watching more Roger Corman ripoffs of Alien. Galaxy of Terror wasn't enough. Corman seems to be following a set up he likes for its relative simplicity: people are stuck in an isolated and inescapable lab facility with a monster that ripped out of someone's body. The monster picks everyone off one by one by working its way through the air vents.

The Terror Within takes that formula and places it within a post-apocalyptic setting where women give birth to mutants called Gargoyles. Where Galaxy of Terror had a maggot rape sequence, this time we get a Gargoyle rape sequence! Not nearly as graphic as its predecessor but just as ridiculous.

There's not much to say about this one, apart from the fact that it's deliciously terrible and manages to satisfy my craving for post-apocalyptic movies, for the odd moment anyway. You'll get awful acting, macho heroes and pseudo-feminist "I want to fight too!" heroines, a guy in a rubbery mutant suit, and an ending with an explosive final move that doesn't make sense because it isn't necessary. It also ruins chances of future survival in case their rescue doesn't actually pan out.

That isn't a spoiler because the heroes don't actually use it save their butts. They do it because they seem fixated on blowing up their lab for some reason, and so that the lead male could say "Adios motherfuckers" when some Gargoyles, on cue, start to crowd around their dilapidated shack/secret entrance. This is of course for the sake of having an explosion in a movie that up until that point had none, and been relatively ok for it. I kind of like how afterwards, however, the two survivors just sort of wander off into the Gargoyle-infested desert with their dog, supposedly making for some other lab in just as bad shape, and the credits roll to haunting music. Chances that they'll make it? SLIM.

So: Chances that you need to watch this? SLIMMER. Unless you've got bad taste like myself.