Thursday, February 28, 2008


Ed Hunt | 1978 | 88 min | Canada

Long ago forgotten on video as both M-3: The Gemini Strain and Induced Syndrome, this fun sci-fi thriller deserves a visit. Treading roughly the same water as Cronenberg's Shivers and Rabid, Plague looks at the outbreak of a lethal virus in seventies Toronto, Canada. The spread is furthered by the greed and fears of its creators and the incompetency of bureaucrats and police. Neither the plot, characters, or dialogue are terribly original, but there is enough on screen to keep one invested in the mood. Thanks are due in part to its amusing B qualities and terrific electronic soundtrack. Fun and oddly prescient, someone needs to re-release this film as M-3: The Bird Flu and make millions.

Local Torontonians wishing to catch this one should pay attention to upcoming programs at Trash Palace. Stacey has acquired a great looking print of this one and should be showing it again soon.



Vincent Paronnaud + Marjane Satrapi | 2007 | 95 min | France

This animated feature is Marjane Satrapi's account of growing up during the Iranian Revolution. It is based on the two volumes of her comic book of the same name, but fortunately the co-director only uses those books as story guideline and artistic inspiration. Satrapi's drawing style is used as a starting point and launched far ahead. The line work is bold and simple while the charcoal backgrounds lend softness, subtlety, and incredible texture. Each frame is lush and beautiful, surprising for such stark black and white animation.

Persepolis begins with young Marjane witnessing the fall of Iran's shah and moves through the rise of the religious zealots who quickly dash any dreams of a progressive democracy. The revolution has grave implications for Marjane's family, and she is sent to school in Austria where a great deal of the story also takes place. Thankfully, the film condenses much of this period from the books, doing away with the more indulgent aspects of that arc.

Perhaps better than any other film I've seen, Persepolis is extremely well done in showing the transformation from romantic youthful notions of revolution to portraying the real toll of conflict invading every sphere of one's daily life. As revolution after revolution cuts down Satrapi's friends and family it is impossible to not be moved, cartoon or not. Persepolis is an unusual view of a young woman's coming of age story and a rare example of beautiful, innovative animated film.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Matt Reeves | 2008 | 85 min | US

The high-concept pitch for Cloverfield is that of a monster movie set in Manhattan shot entirely on a handheld video camera from the perspective of an average New Yorker caught in the middle of the fray. Director Reeves never strays from this formula to jam in extra information regarding the monsters origin or to let us catch up with those characters who stray away from the camera's lens. It is simply a race through the streets, subway tunnels, and towers of Manhattan as the city is ruined around a small group of friends trying to escape the island. It works effectively, and is a very fun ride, allowing for a level of panic and shock that would not be achievable through a standard movie presentation.

The world came to know of Cloverfield through a fantastic teaser that made the rounds in theatres and online last summer. It depicted the initial attack on Manhattan interrupting a going away party. The teaser was a shock and a head scratcher and it left me anxiously awaiting the nameless project's January release. Month's later the feature doesn't promise or offer any more during its length than that initial teaser did, so basically if that teaser held any interest for you, Cloverfield should deliver your money's worth.

More than it reminded me of any of the monster movies of the past, Cloverfield brought to my mind a little film called Miracle Mile. That 1988 Anthony Edward's star vehicle was a nuclear-disaster-panic movie set in downtown Los Angeles over the course of one night. I find the two films are very similar in scope and tone. If you appreciate one I have a strong suspicion you will enjoy the other.

That is all.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry | 2008 | 101 min | USA

Free from the dense writing of Charlie Kaufman, and past his first time out directing a script from his own computer, Michel Gondry has made his first successful narrative feature, and also his richest film to date. Be Kind Rewind stars a terrific ensemble cast comprised of Mos Def, Jack Black, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, a large number of non-actors who live in the community where it was filmed, and Melonie Diaz, who delivers a breakthrough performance.

The setup is that a mom and pop video store owned by Danny Glover, that rents VHS tapes exclusively risks being demolished unless its business improves so that its roof can be fixed. Danny Glover goes out of town for a week in order to research how other video stores work, and how he can improve business. In his absence, he leaves Mos Def in charge. Unfortunately, Jack Black lives nearby, becomes magnetized, and upon touching all of the tapes, the store's entire library is erased. Panicked, Mos Def and Jack Black pull out an old VHS camcorder, and with the help of Melonie Diaz, start recreating the films that are supposed to be on the now blank tapes. As more people rent the tapes, their following grows, and pretty soon, everyone and their cousin Skeeter want to see their favourite films remade by the gang.

Yes, the concept screams 'Michel Gondry' but the way its executed doesn't. For the first time, there are full characters with motivations that can be related to, and that are endearing. The familiar arts and crafts/cheapo effects that he's become known for, are a part of the story. They're not just awkward affectations that seem inserted without good reason. The film is about creativity. About creating without large means. About the fact that that the support of friends, family, and community are often all that you need to make your dreams come true. Yep! Read it again. It's that cheesy.

The film may start out as a light comedy full of scenes that are likely to make film nerds need either a new pair of underwear, or a good jaw rub for all of the smiling it induces; but it then turns into a sort of modern day... I'm taking a moment to be sure I want to type the words that follow. ... Okay. ... But then it turns into a sort of modern day It's a Wonderful Life. PHEW! I might regret that in a day or two, but I feel fine with it right now. It's not as good as It's a Wonderful Life. Few films are. But if I were to compare it to a film (which is what I'm doing), that's the one I'd compare it to. The community up on the screen, created by Gondry and the actors, feels like a real community. Likable characters, who seem to genuinely like (even love) each other. It's heartwarming, and maybe a bit too naive for jaded film students that think Eternal Sunshine... is one of the best films of the last ten years, but Be Kind Rewind is a treat for those of us who actually love film, and who still have a few bones left untouched by cynicism somewhere on our skeletons.

I'll definitely be seeing it again in theatres, but I really really hope that when it's released on video, it's released as a VHS tape of the film with a DVD attached to the front of the case. It would be the best home video package ever.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Confessions of a Superhero

Matthew Ogens | 2007 | 92 min | US

Ogens follows the lives of four different performers on Hollywood Boulevard in this independent documentary. To the public they are known as Wonder Woman, Batman, Hulk, and Superman, but to us they are struggling actors with varying degrees of obsession and delusion colouring their day to day lives.

Each of these people has, one would guess, very little chance of ever achieving the stardom they crave. Their bread and butter is paid for in tips from tourists asking them to pose for pictures in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre. Certainly not the most fulfilling of careers, but surprisingly lucrative. All of the characters profiled have been at it for a substantial amount of time while pursuing auditions and legitimate acting work.

The movie concentrates on 'Superman' Christopher Dennis, who is easily the most interesting of the group. His intense fascination with his character has taken over virtually every aspect of his life and even the other character performers view him as something of an oddball. 'Batman' Maxwell Allan also has some interesting moments as a suitably brooding individual who recites a laundry list of crimes that may or may not have occurred during his employment for what may or may not have been the mob. You get the sense that all of these actors colour their pasts a great deal in order to keep up with their alter egos. They seem harmless enough, but we are forced to speculate, 'just what are these people going to do in ten or twenty years?' Asking for tips while looking vaguely like Wonder Woman isn't exactly a sound long-term employment strategy.

It is an amusing way to pass some time, but Confessions is ultimately a downer. Give these guys a buck or two next time you're walking down the boulevard.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Anton Corbijn | 2007 | 121 min | UK

Director Anton Corbijn is partially responsible for creating the iconography of Joy Division, so it is perhaps fitting that he helms Control, the story of singer Ian Curtis. The film is shot in muted black and white, recalling the most familiar images of Joy Division out there, and Corbijn frames many of the shots as portraiture. The problem with the film is that's as penetrating and insightful as it ever gets.

The film covers a very short period of a very short life. We are given a couple brief looks at Ian as a schoolboy and his initial courtship with wife Debbie, but the vast majority of the film is reserved from the time he joins Warsaw (soon to be Joy Division). That makes for a very thin story. Though we get the greatest hits of his physical and emotional illness and estrangement from his wife, we get little information as to what motivates any of it. His family and background are treated as the most minor concerns. Or maybe all we need to know is that those David Bowie records were the problem?

The cast is capable, but not outstanding. Sam Riley does a very good job affecting the jittery stage movements and sullen faces of Curtis, and Samantha Morton does a wonderful job as Debbie. She is too wonderful, in fact. Morton is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Almost inevitably Control will be compared to 2002's 24 Hour Party People (in which Riley played the role of Mark E. Smith), and Control just does not cut it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the duel portrayals of Tony Wilson. Craig Parkinson is absolutely no match for 24 Hour's Steve Coogan.

Obviously Curtis lead an interesting life and perhaps there is still a story in there worth telling, but Corbijn distills everything down to Joy Division fandom, and there is not enough in that brief period to make for much of a feature. There are some good moments, and it looks beautiful, but Control is not a film I can recommend. Fans of Joy Division will appreciate it more than others, but don't expect much more than a glorified music video.