Friday, June 29, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard.

Len Wiseman | 2007 | 130 min | US

Die Hard was first released into threatres nearly twenty years ago. A full twelve years have passed since the series became a trilogy. Bruce Willis had passed on many a script before agreeing to make another one he felt would live up to the franchise. Between that passage of time, vying for a PG-13 rating, + attempting to make a fifty-two year old actor an action star again, this forth film definitely had its work cut out for it. Although I do not think anything could match the quintessential dueling between Willis + Alan Rickman in the original film, Live Free or Die Hard proves a worthy addition to the canon.

The plot (it doesn't matter): Willis' beleaguered detective John McClane gets caught up with a young hacker who is unwittingly involved in a grand plot to take down the technological infrastructure of the United States. McClane gets mad when they attempt to kill them both. McClane blows up everything. I am very thankful that Live Free avoided any easy Al Qaeda related plots in order to tackle the spectre of America's real enemy: Lenin-quoting nerds.

Len Wiseman (the man behind the Underworld movies) directs Live Free with a sure hand. The action is frenetic and fast paced, but never so much so that you are unable to follow what is going on. The confusing mash of random rapid-fire cuts that dominates so many action films is a pet peeve of mine. He also works with a muted colour palette that will be familiar to fans of those Underworld movies, again working with cinematographer Simon Duggan. Despite my early fears when his name was first announced as director, Wiseman's style is well suited to this film. He knows how to handle both high energy clashes + the play of personality that makes McClane such a winning character.

One of the great joys of watching the Die Hard films is that John McClane seems to derive as much amusement from seeing the erupting fireballs + improbable stunts as anyone in the theatre. This installment certainly follows that tradition + some of the funniest moments in the film come from matching McClane's excited hollers.

Also providing some greats laughs is Justin Long. He plays McClane's young hacker tag-along, Matt Farrell. Long is an excellent addition to the cast + his character allows the storyline to stretch its legs a bit more than in the previous movies.

One chink in Live Free's armor is that some of the CGI effects, most notably during a jet versus truck scene, look poor. Surprising for a blockbuster of this scale, but I can forgive it. Another weak point is the rather obvious dialogue replacement. That is more bothersome than the CGI, but really, who wants to let gratuitous cursing get in the way of their enjoyment of multiple murders + casual racism?

Live Free also includes a couple scenes of what is becoming the current action film prerequisite: parkour. Luckily, it is used sparingly + expertly by Cyril Raffaelli, who is most widely known from the cult French feature District B13. Again, Wiseman does a great job in letting these sequences unfold in front of the camera rather than trying to enhance the stunt work with camera flashiness (a technique which rarely works).

While Live Free is lengthy, it never drags. The pacing is perfect, with just the right amount of levity between blow-em-ups + a plot that unfolds without the reams of expository dialogue. It is a rare Hollywood film that justifies a two hour plus run time nowadays. Apparently the secret is to fill a script with gun play + car chases. Yesssss.


Russell Mulcahy | 1984 | 91 min | Australia

New rule of thumb. A movie will get a positive review from me if within the first three minutes, a giant killer boar crashes through an old man's house, snatches his grandson, and somehow sets fire to the house on its way out. Bonus points if the old man then drops to his knees and cries with his home burning in the background.

Russell Mulcahy's narrative feature debut is as far as I can tell, the first film about a giant killer boar. Mulcahy has a knack for directing firsts. He has the honour of having directed the first music video ever shown on MTV, "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, and he would follow-up Razorback with the first film about sword wielding immortals who travel the earth trying to chop off the heads of anyone else who's like them.

The setup is that a young female journalist named Beth, is in Australia, working on a story about the decline in the kangaroo population due to slack-jawed yokels who love a good kangaroo killin'. She rubs a couple of the yokels the wrong way one night, and they force her off the road to attack her. Before they can get their pants to their ankles though, the giant boar makes its second appearance in the film, scaring them off, and saving Beth from being raped. It's a giant killer boar though, so it does what it does best, and kills her.

A bus rolls into town, and on that bus is Carl; Beth's Canadian husband. All he and the rest of the town know is that Beth has gone "missing", so he's there to find her. Getting help from the old man from the start of the movie, and Sarah, a young blond ecologist, the movie soon becomes not about finding Beth, but rather finding the boar, and killing it.

The effects work isn't the most elaborate, but they built a practical giant boar, and it LOOKS great. It doesn't move so hot, but Mulcahy overcomes the problem by showing it in short bursts. Most of the attack sequences are cut very quickly. It's like the shark in Jaws. If the camera were to linger on it for too long, it would start to look phony, and the movie would be ruined. An excellent job is done here at keeping disbelief at bay.

Razorback apparently didn't receive a North American theatrical release, and that's absurd. It's a really fun and wild monster movie in an exotic locale, and I bet would have done gangbusters at the box office in 1984.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

L.A. Heat

Joseph Merhi | 1989 | 85 mins | USA

To be perfectly honest, I can't say much about L.A. Heat because I slept through a large chunk of the film. However, within the first 20 minutes or so, I gleaned that it's about a tough L.A. cop named Chance who dreams of living in the wild west, honour-bound by the cowboy code. Seriously. If you need anything else to convince you that L.A. Heat is worth your time, please consider the fact that Chance is played by "Boom Boom" Washington from Welcome Back Kotter. Even after I fell asleep, a blend of on-screen expolsions and the enthusiastic reactions of my film watching pals seems to have permeated my consciousness, because I awoke feeling like I truly understood the essence of L.A. Heat.

Basically, what I'm saying is this: the gritty realism of this script, coupled with the finely tuned, searing performances from "Boom Boom" and others create a layered, complex narrative about a man caught in a place and time that can neither understand nor appreciate his sense of honour or his wounded warrior's heart.

Pretty much, the only flaw was that the DVD copy we were watching had been heavily censored for language. Even the word 'crap' was conspicuously missing from the captain's impassioned rants. Otherwise, this film was pure cinema. I can hardly wait to watch the sequel, L.A. Vice.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Eagle vs. Shark

Taika Waititi | 2007 | 88 min | New Zealand

A quirky indie rom-com from NZ about a couple whose relationship begins at a party where everyone dresses up in a costume of their favourite animal. Lily, a terribly cute and sweet, but shunned employee of a fast food burger joint is the titular shark, and Jarrod, a textbook moody loser-nerd who works at the local video game store is the titular eagle. After the party's fighting game tournament (think Mortal Kombat), Jarrod takes Lily to his room to show her his artwork. This obviously leads to kissing, then some awkwardly quick eagle/shark sex. The movie that follows is fine and entertaining for an hour and a half, but isn't much more than Napoleon Dynamite, directed by Wes Anderson.

Waititi developed the film at the Sundance Institute, and while I enjoyed the movie, I can't help but wonder what the next project on Sundance's list of potential projects was, and if it wouldn't have been more original and deserving of the help that Eagle vs. Shark received.

Reno 911!: Miami

Ben Garant | 2007 | 84 min | US

Okay, it's not like I was expecting Rashomon, but I was expecting more than I got. The cast is STACKED with amazing comedians: Patton Oswalt, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, David Wain, David Koechner, Nick Swardson, Paul Rudd, + Paul Ruebens. Those are a bunch of really fucking funny dudes. And the source show is not entirely without merit. They have some funny jokes in there. It should not have been so difficult to keep up a good pace for eighty-four minutes.

Reno 911!: Miami does have some good material, all at about the brow-level one would expect. Like masturbation jokes? Run, don't walk! Unfortunately, even the gutter doesn't seem to contain enough laughs to cover the length of the movie. A lot of it reeks of poorly done improv. Most of the regular show cast fails to keep up with the skills of the guests performers + the paper-thin plot isn't interesting enough to hold interest between jokes. It's a shame, because some of the material really hits + the direction shows off some strange moves I did not expect.

Not terrible; not noteworthy. I imagine whether or not you watch this will have more to do with how much you like smoking pot than anything.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except

Josh Becker | 1985 | 84 mins | USA

What a movie! If Matthew Bright had no concern for production values, and loved stupid action movies instead of teenaged girls, this is the movie he would make.

The film's performances are wooden. Intentionally so. Maybe Becker didn't set out to make a movie with terrible actors, but that's what he could afford, so that's what he used. The script is full of hilarious scenes that let you know that they know that you know and that they know. Don't bother making fun of Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except. It's impervious to your mocking. It's 84 minutes of non-stop entertainment.

The heroes of the film are a strange low budget cross between the A-Team and the gang from Predator. Maybe I'm only saying that though because one member of the team (Tank) looks like Mr. T, and another's (Love Machine) name is "Love Machine", but I don't think so.

Without giving too much away (unlike the film's trailer, which shows all of the money shots from the last half hour); Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except takes place in 1969. A gang of Vietnam vets come home after a haunting (for them, not us) loss in the fields of Vietnam. Jack Stryker, Tank, Love Machine, and a Lt. whose name escapes me, form the team that we cheer for. Tank, Love Machine, and the Lt. decide to pay a visit to their old friend, Jack Stryker, who was BRUUUUUUUUUUTALLY injured in Vietnam. What follows involves a lot of drinking, a lot of bikers, a lot of gory deaths, and a lot of a long-haired and sword-toting Sam Raimi playing the leader of a murderous gang/cult.

It's good times through and through.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Matt Maiellaro & Dave Willis | 2007 | 86 min | USA

The adventures of Master Shake, Meatwad, and Frylock hit theatres after years of being providing some of the funniest 10 minute segments on TV. Last season's episodes, Handbanana, and Moonajuana have run through my DVD player too many times to count (If you're a person who can't count past 10 or so). I had concerns about whether or not the show could sustain a feature length runtime, and my concerns were unfortunately well founded.

Instead of coming up with a fun epic sort of plot for the movie, we're treated to the Aqua Teens putting together an exercise machine from the future that grows and then runs amok throughout the city, laying waste to all that lies in its path, and their attempt to deactivate it. In addition to the weak story, the writers have decided to fill the movie with supporting roles for all of your favourite recurring characters from the show, including the Spacekataz dudes, the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past, Dr. Weird, the Mooninites, and more. None of them are exceptionally funny here, nor do they serve much purpose other than to appease the fanboys who might have complained about why their favourite b-lister wasn't featured in the movie.

I'm not saying that the movie's worthless and without its enjoyable moments, because there are some great moments, such as the sequence with Time Lincoln, the Ghost of Christmas Past asking a Spacekataz to "see if they have Deathdream by Bob Clark" at an online DVD store, and Meatwad quoting The Rock. When a TV show decides to take the leap up onto the big screen, I expect a lot more than what's been delivered here. People seeing these characters for the first time might have their minds blown, but I can't imagine many fans not being extremely disappointed. It makes sense to me now having seen it, why nobody wanted to step up to the plate and release it in Canada.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Mark Neveldine + Brian Taylor | 2006 | 87 min | UK + USA

The premise of this film is simple: a British hit man wakes up to find a video playing in front of him, in which a rival gangster explains that he has been poisoned and will be dead within an hour. Within minutes, he realises that he can prolong his survival by keeping his adrenaline up. 80 or so minutes of increasingly fantastical action sequences follow. My first reaction to Crank was “I can’t believe this premise hasn’t been used before”. I mean, D.O.A. used a similar dead-man-walking-hunts-for-his-own-killer idea way back in 1950, and it seems unbelievable that it’s taken 56 years for someone to add the modern twist of hyper-speed to this terrific plot device.

Essentially, this film is five minutes of setup, and 82 minutes of non-stop action, as our reluctant hero tries everything from cocaine to nasal spray to keep his heart rate up so that he can exact revenge upon the rival gangs who injected him with the deadly “Beijing Cocktail”. Insert one clueless girlfriend and one nonchalant doctor (Dwight Yoakam in his best role since … maybe Sling Blade?) and voilà. Action at its most satisfying.

The best thing about this film is that it’s (by necessity) all action and very little melodrama. It’s not that you don’t care about Chev (Jason Statham at his most roguishly charming), it’s just that you don’t want to sit through drawn out emotional sequences as he and his loved ones cope with his impending and seemingly inevitable death. The worst part of any genre film is the seemingly obligatory emotional lull in the third act – the part that really makes you to feel what the characters are going through, while boring you into a stupor. Truthfully, 99% of films don’t need this filler and would be much better off without it.

Thankfully, Crank understands that it’s not about one man’s struggle with his own mortality. It’s about one man’s struggle to get sweet revenge while engaging in as many high speed chases, public sex romps and hospital shoot-outs as he can before he croaks.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Satoshi Kon | 2006 | 90 min | Japan

Satoshi Kon is the director responsible for the anime features Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress, + the brilliant Perfect Blue. His latest, Paprika, follows a title character who counsels people using a machine which allows psychologists to view + interact with their patients dreams. When one of the machines is stolen, Paprika + her colleagues try to discover who is responsible for the theft + the ensuing tampering with the dreams of others. The mystery slowly unfolds in both dreams + waking life until the two worlds begin to fold into one another.

The story is wonderfully paced. Hints are parceled out evenly as to the identity of the thief + the unusual relationships of the characters. The scenes of grand reveals are kept to a bare minimum. Instead, the viewer is paid the respect to be able to figure the world out for themselves. This is the kind of thing we might have already been treated to if the writers of The Cell were smarter or more concerned with plot.

The animation is perfect. The real-world material is rich + interesting, while the glimpses into dreams are stunningly complex + bizarre. The dreams are so surreal, smooth, + flawless in their transitions that I am not sure any other filmmaker could handle the translation from imagination to screen, animated or otherwise. Michel Gondry comes to mind as a possibility.

There are several nice touches for cineastes + fans of the director's previous work, too. A few eclectic films are referenced, there are a couple nods to the mechanics of filmmaking, + posters for Satoshi's previous movies are visible in a few backgrounds. Interesting additions for the often ravenous anime fans.

And for good measure, there is the prerequisite collection of J-pop tunes popping up at random, jarring moments. Game, set, match.

Black Book

Paul Verhoeven | 2006 | 145 min | Netherlands

In the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, a Jewish woman hides under bleach blond curls + the name of Ellis de Vries (Carice van Houten). To aid the Resistance who took her in + protected her, she infiltrates Gestapo headquarters as the lover of SS hauptsturmführer Ludwig Müntze (Sebastien Koch). The information she gathers for them not only puts her in increasing danger, but begins to fracture the Resistance, + tests her own loyalties. As the entire country feels the war drawing to a close, many factions + individuals grow desperate to make a play for wealth + power. Warning: this synopsis is far more economical than the screenplay.

Despite some great performances, especially by van Houten, Koch, + Waldemar Kobus (as SS officer Franken), there are too many characters for any of them to be fleshed out. Everyone's motivations become increasingly cloudy as Verhoeven attempts to jam more + more reversals + drama into the storyline. The result gives us several scenes of high emotion with little understanding on our part of why that emotion is there in the first place.

It's not that Black Book is bad, it's that it is so painfully average. Verhoeven is responsible for some terrific uberpopcorn movies + some very interesting disasters, but Black Book is not bold enough to be either. This film feels like it could have been made by any half competent director at any point in the last twenty-five years. There are so many moments + characters that seem to be recycled from other World War II films. And at almost two + a half hours, all of those familiar moments become oppressive. By the time de Vries screams, "Will it never end?!", you can really sympathize.

Brand Upon the Brain!

Guy Maddin | 2007 | 95 min | Canada

Maddin once more works with long-time writing partner George Toles to produce their best work since 1992's Careful. Main character Guy returns to the long abandoned lighthouse of his youth where his family once ran a mom + pop orphanage. His visit prompts memories of how he came to leave the home. If you are familiar with any Maddin films it is needless to say that the events he recalls are bizarre. They center on his sister (dreamy Maya Lawson), Wendy Hale (Katherine Scharhon), who is one half of celebrity youth detectives The Lightbulb Kids, + their investigation into why orphans are leaving the island with mysterious holes burrowed in their necks. Then things start to get weird. I won't recount the next thirty-six twists, but Maddin's takes on family issues, orphan terror, + unrequited love are a treat.

Maddin's visuals remain firmly entrenched in the early cinema style he is known for. The film is shot in stark black + white with no sync sound, making use of title cards, foley, + heavy narration instead. Maddin plays on these conventions + his reputation for using them more on this project than any of his previous films, as well. He even goes so far as to manufacture performance + performer details for throwback effect. The story, however, owes a large debt to Hammer horror films + similar old thriller pictures rather than to Eisenstein or Murnau.

I was fortunate enough to see the live presentation of Brand at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. The show was replete with live orchestration, narration, and three white-coated foley artists. Though the old-timey presentation was obviously more unusual + outstanding than any trip to the multiplex, I am sure the picture will translate to a great cinema experience. I know I missed more than a few moments on screen by craning my neck to catch glimpses of the live sound + singing that happened around me, so I am curious to see it again + take a look at how all the elements work in the final presentation. I will gladly use the excuse to watch this movie at least one more time.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ghost Rider.

Mark Steven Johnson | 2007 | 114 min | US

From the mind behind Daredevil, Jack Frost, + Big Bully. Even worse than you imagine.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Michael Moore | 2007 | 113 min | USA

Sicko is every bit as bloated and heavy-handed in parts, as Moore's other documentaries, so don't go into it expecting the big 180 in style that some reviews have suggested. That said, Moore has never been this successful at getting a point across. An Inconvenient Truth better watch its back.

The film starts with a series of vignettes of various Americans who's lives have been changed due to their inability to afford medical care in the States' privatized system. Moore narrates that the film isn't about those people though, but rather about those who have the money to never have to worry about affording medical care if they or loved ones were ever to become sick. The ones with blood on their hands, and fat fat wallets in their pockets.

Next is a section on people denied health coverage by the medical insurance companies who're more interested in making money than saving lives, and their political connections.

Segue into Canada, along-side a single mother who needs medical treatment, but can't afford it. Is the answer to all your prayers, neighbours. Come up North, marry one of our finest bachelors or bachelorettes, and take advantage of our free medical care.

Moore then appears in front of the camera after having spent nearly half of the movie in a narrator's capacity only. He then goes around the world, to places who know what's up, and how important it is to make sure all of their people receive proper health care.

Moore delivers some really great "fuck you" moments to the US government (and even one to the owner of the largest anti-Moore websites), but they're often too close to moments that made me want to say the same to him. The "I'm just a fat, dumb American. Enlighten me." shtick doesn't really cut it anymore, and the schmaltzy references to 9/11 definitely don't.

If you're relatively well informed on world health care, it's not the most interesting two hours. There's a lot of info that you're going to be familiar with to start, and then that information is going to be repeated ad nauseum. But if you think that there's nothing wrong with the American health care system, then it's for you to see.

Oh, and if you've ever had the desire to move to France, or possibly have a brain tumor... Pack up your things, and take your suitcase and passport along with you to the theatre, because you're going to want to get to the airport as quickly as possible. Take me with you?

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Duncan Tucker | 2006 | 106 min | USA

When I started watching Transamerica, some PC molecule in the back of my brain was triggered into wondering ‘how does the trans community feel about this man-becoming-a-woman being played by a woman-pretending-to-be-a-man-becoming-a-woman? How would Boys Don’t Cry have gone over if Brandon Teena was played by Ethan Hawke’s lithe and handsome younger brother instead of Hillary Swank? Is this going to look as embarrassing in a few years as actors pretending to be retarded look now?’

When I put aside my concerns about the delicate nature of representation, I really enjoyed this film. Felicity Huffman does a fine job of playing the calculatedly and self-consciously feminine Bree, and the film unfolds at a pace that allows her to blossom into a multi-dimensional character, instead of treating her like an easy joke target with a handbag full of nervous ticks.

The film follows Bree as she embarks on a cross country road-trip with her son, who (to complicate matters) believes her to be a Christian missionary out to save him. Thankfully, the film doesn’t shy away from some truly creepy ‘father / son’ moments, and the awkwardness between Bree, her new son and her estranged and intolerant family is pretty bang-on, even though the conservative southern parents and rebellious younger sister are clearly hamming it up for comic relief. Plus, her mother's rodeo-mama-slash-aging-pageant-queen sequined outfits are killer.

Maybe films like Broken Flowers and Transamerica are signalling the start of a new era of Hollywood film? Perhaps they herald the birth of the ‘bitter-sweet comedic journey of self discovery through strained parent/child relations in a society grappling with its own stunted emotional growth in an alienating modern world’ genre? I guess that wouldn’t be so bad.

Redneck County (a.k.a. The Great Lester Boggs)

Harry Thomason | 1975 | 94 min | USA

There’s only one thing you need to know about Redneck County: it makes no sense whatsoever, and that fact doesn’t matter at all.

The film nominally follows a handsome wanderer named Malcolm as he embarks on an odyssey through the back roads of Arkansas. Malcolm quickly acquires a sidekick named Leroy, a young black man who he rescues from racist biker thugs, falls in love with a random farm girl and gets embroiled with Lester Boggs, a jolly bi-plane pilot / good old boy whose near incomprehensible rambling monologues dominate about two thirds of the film.

However, the murky, obscure plot and genuinely hard-to-make-out dialogue are secondary to this film’s mindblowing anti-narrative. I’m not even sure that it can be ‘followed’ in any traditional sense. It’s like the free-jazz improv show of movies. Let it wash over you like a cool sax solo and maybe it will start to make sense. Despite some convincing evidence that this is truly a bad film, I can’t bring myself to call it that because I can’t shake the suspicion that I’m just not intense enough to ‘get’ it.

Besides, it’s worth renting for the opening sequence alone – a slapstick motorcycle chase in which a gang of riders hit a hay truck, a woman carrying large bags of groceries and two men carrying a large pane of glass in quick succession. The director of this gem went on to make a bunch of political videos and retrospectives about Bill Clinton’s reign. Think about it.

Hostel: Part II

Eli Roth | 2007 | 93 min | US

'Sup, legion of clichés? Did you bring along your friend, threadbare plot from Hostel? I cannot say the sequel is exactly the same as the original, but it is closer than most ticket buyers will appreciate, I'm sure. Roth did make a couple of changes this time around. For example, the torture scenes are far lengthier, more sadistic, + more eroticized than in the original instalment. That is not a good thing.

Do not see this movie.

Deadly Friend

Wes Craven | 1986 | 91 min. | USA

Meet Paul. A young student who should be in high school, but who's just moved to a new town to go to university on a full scholarship. Making the move with Paul is his mother, and his best friend, BB the robot. Designed and built by Paul, BB is equipped with some of the most advanced artificial intelligence in the world. Lately, he's been acting a little weird though. Maybe a little too independent. A little too aggressive. Is it possible for a robot to have violent thoughts?

Then there's Sam, the beautiful girl next door (Kristy Swanson), whose father's an abusive alcoholic. Paul and Sam like each other, but are constantly being pulled apart by Sam's father.

On Halloween, BB meets an untimely demise at the end of Elvira Parker's (the old lady across the street who all the kids are afraid of, played by Momma from Throw Momma From The Train) shotgun.

On Thanksgiving, Sam meets an untimely demise by way of being drunkenly shoved down a flight of stairs by her father.

Paul could barely handle BB gone. How could he possibly live without Sam? But what could he do to bring Sam back? Maybe he could put BB's computer chip into her brain? Yeah!! That crazy enough, it... just... might... work. But remember that BB was acting strangely before he was shot. Will that violent behaviour be passed on to Sam? Of course it will.

Deadly Friend isn't in the same league as A Nightmare On Elm Street, even though it was made only two years later, but it's one of the more enjoyable Wes Craven movies I've seen for sure. The gore is minimal, but the few moments of it are fun. One is a slight nod to Freddy, even.

More reasons to seek Deadly Friend out? BB the robot talks like a retarded Jawa, Kristie Swanson wears blue eye shadow around her eyes to show that she's resurrected, and it has a wonderfuly ridiculous ending.

Deadly Friend isn't on DVD unfortunately, so dust off your VCRs and LD players.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Running Scared

Wayne Kramer | 2006 | 122 min | US

If you ever wondered what a full length, theatrical version of CSI would look like, it's this piece of shit. But that show can't take all the responsibility. Guy Ritchie needs to shoulder some of the aesthetic blame for this one, too. Scott Walker plays Joey Gazelle (and really, if you need anything more than that sentence to tell you this is a bad film, you are an idiot). He's both a loving family man + a working stiff for the mob charged with disposing of a gun used to kill crooked cops in a drug deal gone bad. This picture of domestic bliss is ruined when a young neighbour boy steals the gun to shoot his abusive father. The kid runs off in a panic, leading Gazelle on a mad chase around the city, trying to find the gun + the help the boy before the cops or the mob catch him first.

The plot is awful, the dialogue is even worse, + Scott Walker's affected Italian tough guy routine is downright embarrassing to watch, especially when his nemesis is a ten-year-old asthmatic named Oleg.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Chocolate War

Keith Gordon | 1988 | 104 min | USA

What an excellent little movie! I haven't enjoyed a dark comedy this much in a while. The story takes place in a financially troubled all-boys Catholic school which is quietly ruled by a clique of students called, the Vigils, who are led by a smug genius-in-his-own-mind named Archie Costello (Wally Ward). Brother Leon (John Glover) is in place to take over as head of the school, but first he must impress the higher-ups by raising a record amount of money with the annual school chocolate sale. Fearing failure, he turns to Archie, and asks for him to help the sale with his power over the student body. Jerry Renault (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) is a slight freshman, fresh off the death of his mother (sorry for that), who's given an assignment to see through by the Vigils. The assignment: to decline the school his help in selling the chocolates, no matter how much it will get him in Brother Leon's bad books. What follows is a great high school power struggle that I'm sure most will be able to relate to.

After building a fairly successful career in films such as Jaws 2, Dressed to Kill, John Carpenter's Christine, and Back to School, former-actor Keith Gordon decided to branch out and try his hand at directing. And what a steady hand he had. The Chocolate War is one of the most assured directorial debuts I've seen. It may slow down a bit in the middle, but the film has very little fat, great performances across the board, and nary a false note in any of the potentially embarrassing memory/dream sequences that involve Jerry's dead mother.

If you're a fan of Noah Baumbach, take out your list of "Movies 2 See" and write The Chocolate War up at the top of it. The film deals with issues that a lot of us dealt with when we were younger, but takes a darkly comic approach to most of them rather than the maudlin approach of most high school or college dramas. This isn't Dead Poets Society. Thankfully.

Good soundtrack too!