Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mad Peck, Bloody Sam

Director Sam Peckinpah died 25 years ago on December 28th, at the age of 59. His too-soon departure was due in no small part to a life of drug and alcohol abuse, and his last years were typified by illness. Peckinpah was a man who lived hard and, at his finest, that was evident on the screen. Not all of his films are great, but his great ones are uncompromisingly brilliant. Graphic violence, rapid edits, and gorgeous slow motion made the pictures of Bloody Sam their nihilist best.

Even Peckinpah's The Getaway, which is often dismissed as a picture done for a paycheck, looks and feels cutting edge by today's standard almost forty years after it was made. If you haven't seen it yet, treat yourself. Catch Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw at their best and find out where Steven Soderbergh got all his moves. Paul Schrader has said that Peckinpah "chiseled the gravestone" of the Western, but what a beautiful stone it was.



Saturday, December 26, 2009

Still Out West

Downtown Edmonton is lousy with hand-painted signage on the sides of old brick buildings and I love it. I am sure their continued existence has more to do with the expense of painting over or removing them rather than any interest in perserving the heritage of this old craft, but I appreciate them nonetheless. While many of these signs advertise long dead products, names like Crown, Eaton, and even the Brit-owned Cunard evoke a certain Canadianess that I love terribly.

I also noticed several businesses utilizing new hand-painted signage on their buildings, but these new signs owe little to tradition, instead going to typical route of black and white Helvetica monstrosities advertising even worse nightclubs. But fuck that; let us take a moment to doff our hats in rememberance of What Was.



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jeff's Favourites of the 00's

Reading all of the end-of-the-decade lists in Eye Weekly on my way to work today, I got the urge to write up a Top 20 list of my own. There's obviously stuff that should probably be on the list but isn't for various reasons, but so it goes. The reason No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood aren't on the list are because I feel like I'm due for a re-watch of both, and didn't feel confident enough in my love for them to include them. They probably belong on it though. Lists are unimportant but fun. Here's mine (in alphabetical order):

All About Lily Chou-Chou
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
The Brown Bunny
Chuck & Buck
Gomorrah
Grindhouse
The Host
A l'interieur
In the Mood for Love
Kung-Fu Hustle
Nurse Betty
Oldboy
Primer
Punch-Drunk Love
The Royal Tenebaums
S.P.L.
The Squid and the Whale
Still Walking
Taxidermia
Wild Zero

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lee Marvin, Private First Class


Image by Michael Patterson.

Lee Marvin was born February 19, 1924. During World War II he enlisted with the United States Marine Corps and fought in the Pacific theatre. Marvin was awarded a Purple Heart and the Navy Cross for his service, which included participation in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Before his sudden death by heart attack in 1987, he appeared in over fifty feature films and many, many television programs. Though his biggest commercial success was his role in The Dirty Dozen, Marvin was vocal about the movie being little more than a paycheck and denounced it for not being a true reflection of war, preferring his work in Sam Fuller's Big Red One instead. He also turned down the title role in Patton because he felt the story was a glorification of war. Marvin is buried in Section 7-A of the Arlington National Cemetery, but he will live on forever as the coolest white haired motherfucker to ever grace the screen.

Check out Roger Ebert's 1970 interview with Lee Marvin for Esquire magazine, "Who's Gonna Get Me A Beer?"



Family Time

I am currently enjoying some Family Time in the West. Though I live in Toronto, I spent my youth equally divided between Saskatchewan and the wilds of northern British Columbia. My family is still anchored over those provinces and has stock in Saskatchewan going back over one-hundred years, and spent time in the Dakotas even earlier than that. They homesteaded on the banks of Turtle Lake and in the area of Livelong, on land broken by oxes and spaded by hand. In those days, one had to stay on the same land for six weeks and have it completely fenced in to "prove up" the homestead as their legal land. I am thankful that much of the family's history has been dutifully recorded. Living in mud brick and log homes during a Saskatchewan winter is not something I hold much romance for, but that history reflects an endurance, a closeness, and an entrepreneurial spirit I am happy to have in my blood.

Pictured above are my uncle's forearms. It's how we do.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

TSADT Podcast Episode 07

Download | MP3

In which we discuss our favourite films of the year, we each declare our choice for lone favourite movie of the decade, and I make very liberal use of the words "great," "amazing," and "smart," like a true professional know-nothing idiot dummy. The podcast may be redundant at this time of the year, but at least its long.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I Love The Bammer

And she loves all of you! Recently, comedian Maria Bamford recorded a one-hour Christmas special available for free download on her site. A little gift to you, the people. Unlike your typical stand-up act, this video features Bamford running through her full routine while seated on her couch next to her two pugs and allowing occasional time-outs for attacks of self doubt. It is really remarkable, disarming, and most importantly, hilarious. You can download One Hour Homemade Christmas Special in the "News" section here.

That lack of pretence has come to typify Bamford and why fans are so attached to her work. The same style was a feature of the aptly titled Maria Bamford Show which originally appeared on the defunct Super Deluxe website. It was a remarkable semi-autobiographical comedy about Bamford's move back to her parent's home in which she played every character, by herself, almost entirely in close-up, in front of a consumer video camera. When Super Deluxe was purchased by Adult Swim, much of the site's original content vanished, including episodes of the Maria Bamford Show. Luckily, some wonderful soul took it upon themselves to upload as much (all?) of the show they had saved to their YouTube channel.

The above image of Maria Bamford was taken from her appearance on Byron Allen's Comics Unleashed, the least leashed show in the history of comedy. Her expression of awe is likely the result of one of Sinbad's "riffs."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Push It a Stop

This week Scott Marceau released Flip Clips Volume 1, a BMX mixtape for his Push it a Stop project. All the material was filmed between August and October of this year. The video has a great sense of humour and features some solid biking. It is straight up fun as hell to watch and I look forward to seeing where the project goes.

I love fixed gear cycling and I marvel at the kind of tricks that people have developed on these bikes that are wholly unsuited for tricks. However, track bikes will never be able to match bikes designed for the task when it comes to pure jaw-dropping feats. The new school of BMX kids are doing some incredible things. For a taste of what is coming up I point you in the direction of Volume's Tate Roskelley.

More than anything else I see, these are the kinds of videos that makes me want to pick up a camera again. Winter hasn't even started yet and I can't wait for it to be over.

Thanks to John Prolly for the video link.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I doodled up a little Christmas card last week and figured, "Hey! Why not share it with the internet?" If you'd like to, the hi-res file to print it out is posted after the jump.

The Front

The Inside


Books I've Looked At, Failed to Read

As the decade wraps up, top ten lists are appearing everywhere you look. I expect I will probably point your attention toward a few as December wears on. Over at the Book Cover Archive they have put together their own list of the ten best covers of the oughts. Spoiler alert: lots of Chip Kidd and John Gall, not that they don't deserve it.

I would have been very happy to see the Seth designed Complete Peanuts make the cut, but I am well aware of the ghetto comic books reside in. It is an easy choice, but I was still a little surprised to see Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth appear on the list. I feel Jordan Crane's gorgeous cover for Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends could have been on there too. My favourite of the list is the reprint of Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, designed by David Pearson. The gray318 design of The Murder and the Evan Gaffney designed One Perfect Day are also stand outs. I like the "funny" covers, apparently. The gray318 covers for Jonathan Safran Foer get honorable mention, but I would have liked to have seen them make the top cut, too.

You can view the full list over at the Archive's blog. And stop over at the Book Cover Archive proper if you don't mind a portion of your day falling into a pit of cover design lust. Additional covers after the jump.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Major General Despair

Gee Vaucher's collaboration with the anarcho-punk band Crass was seminal in the oft-colliding worlds of protest art and punk rock. Vaucher created paint and collage pieces for the band's album covers and inserts, as well as edited many video pieces which played alongside Crass during live performances. Her influence on and creations for the band were not just complimentary, but integral to their spirit.

Vaucher's Crass art remains every bit as vital today as it was in the early eighties. Sadly, this is as much due to the dark subject matter remaining all too relevant as it is to the work being aesthetically stunning. She still produces art which continues to explore the Crass ethos of pacifism, animal rights, and anarchism. To see more of Gee Vaucher's Crass artwork you can either flip through some old record bins and pray, or hunt around for a copy of the book Crass Art and Other Pre Post-Modernist Monsters, which she published with AK Press in 1999.  More images after the jump. 


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One Percenters

I recently started catching up with the FX cable series Sons of Anarchy. It is already on it's second season so I'm late to the party, but I am loving the show so far. Sons follows a Northern California motorcycle club in their social and criminal dealings. The show is chock full of great character actors, including more solid work from Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman, and Mitch Pileggi. Charlie Hunnam plays the lead as Jackson, son of the club's deceased founder. Hunnam has come a long way since his days as the Brit heartthrob on Undeclared. He does a great job tackling his Prince Hamlet-esque role on this show, questioning the club's leadership and motivation while trying to live up to his father's expectations.

I think it is impossible for any underworld investigation, fictional or otherwise, to not have a heavy gloss of romance. Sons absolutely dwells on the romance of the outlaw, but there are plenty of scenes in there to remind you of how downright evil these boys can be. Delving into the histories of North American motorcycle clubs is troubling and complicated business. Those histories are chronicles of the social development of modern North America. Clubs like the Chosen Few and the Ching-a-Ling Nomads (among many others) were pioneers of racial integration well before the rest of the United States had any interest in the matter (the latter doing so even while making liberal use of the swastika). At the same time, of course, there are plenty of club histories that trace the spread of crime, drugs, and violence, too. Still, if the first couple episodes of Sons of Anarchy don't make you want a(nother) black leather jacket or leave you wondering just how you'd look on a classic bike, you have no soul.
These photographs of the Hells Angels motorcycle club were lifted from the Life magazine archives. They were all taken by Bill Ray in California in 1965. Each of them are stunning, so please dig through the digital pile for the rest.

Considering the current climate of economic depression combined with a massive resurgence of all things Americana, we seem poised on the brink of another serious Biker Boom, dontcha think?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Total Death

Thinking about getting this for my new tattoo. Like, full back piece. Y/N?

Props to Kirk Shelton for designing the Brutal Tooth font. And check out this short but sweet interview with Christophe Szpajdel, the designer of over 7000 death- and black-metal logos. These logos seem like they are about as simple as design work can get. . . until you try to make one.

Friday, November 20, 2009

FDR: A One-Man Show

It kills me that Chris Elliot isn't a household name. While he has earned a size-able cult, Elliot deserves to be a bigger star than his recurring role in so many lacklustre projects as, "ooooh, that guy!" When I read that Chris Elliot was working on a new live-action comedy pilot for Adult Swim, I was thrilled. The pilot will centre on Elliot as an over the hill action star who uses his show as a vehicle for far-right wing politics. He clashes with a young executive sent to watch over the series' production and hilarity ensues! Obviously. Eagleheart looks to be Elliot's most promising project in years, and I think Adult Swim is the perfect home for him. His brand of humour is finally growing more popular, and the network should expose him to a new generation of fans.

As if this pilot needed any further seal of approval, the producers are none other than Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel. If the premise of Eagleheart sounds somewhat familiar, that's because Smigel and O'Brien created a similar show in the early nineties with Adam West. Lookwell only made it to one episode, but it was a hell of an episode. Let's hope for better luck this time around.

Whilst waiting for Eagleheart to make its debut, i recommend a viewing of Elliott's brilliant 1986 special, FDR: A One-Man Show. Also available on YouTube is the only episode of Lookwell. I first watched these shows on a battered VHS tape dub. I love you, Internet.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

You Know That Shitty Bob Dylan Song?

The staff here at TSADT are like sharks: we have to move forward or we die. And in that spirit, we are expanding the scope of your favourite site so that we do not suffocate, trapped deep in the oppressive depths of art house cinema. We will still feature the movie reviews you have come to love so much, but we also want the opportunity to shout at you about design, music, books, humour, and (in my case alone) bicycles. Oh, how I love bicycles! This shift in tone will allow us to talk about the wider world of film as well, including discussion of works in development and the careers of Artistes we love. Exciting, right? I KNOW!

Stay tuned. We hope you enjoy the changes we have in store.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The September Issue

RJ Cutler | 2009 | 90 min | US

Anna Wintour is a monster in the world of fashion. The editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine is renowned for her ability to make careers, dictate trends, and sway consumers. She is also renowned for an aloof demenor that has earned her the nickname "Nuclear Wintour." Unfortunately, that same reservedness permeates The September Issue, a documentary that goes behind the scenes at Vogue to trace that creation of the ridiculously popular 2007 edition of the magazine.

After being involved in great projects like The War Room, Perfect Candidate, and American High I expected director RJ Cutler to deliver a little more meat. We are treated to glimpses of some of fashions most well-regarded and faaabulous personalities, but only glimpses. There are reams of footage of skinny white girls rushing through halls with racks or clothes or being dressed down by Wintour, but little else. Really, though, it is unreasonable to expect people who's world revolves around image to be anything but guarded and cool. When it comes to portraits of Anna Wintour, even the recent 60 Minutes feature provided greater insight. Here Wintour only offers a couple mentions of her father's influence through pursed lips. Initially, one of the film's more interesting threads is the lengthy set-up for a battle between creative director Grace Coddington and Wintour, but that battle never comes. The film is loaded with foot stomping and huffing over creative differences, although everyone goes to great pains to avoid anything other than complaining to underlings.

Ultimately, my quarrel with The September Issue is that it reeks of two things I loathe: passive-aggressiveness and self-importance. For all the politics, fighting, and dealing, all of their concerns just come off as, well, silly. And I say all of this as a dude who A) was really looking forward to this film, and B) is probably far more interested in fashion than the average guy. It is simply not very compelling and there is almost nothing in the way of conflict. The September Issue reveals Vogue to be both a massive endeavour and a well-oiled machine that clips along remarkably smoothly despite the number of artistic and creative decisions involved. Doesn't sound like the makings of a very good documentary, does it?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Harry Brown

Daniel Barber | 2009 | 97 mins | UK

I don't really like to open with glib "it's like X meets Y but with more zazz!" descriptions in my reviews, but truly, Harry Brown is like Gran Torino, only it's Michael Caine, and he blows people's heads off. The film's understated badass-ness is obvious from the opening credits, which simply proclaim in small white letters on a black screen: Michael Caine (pause) is (pause) Harry Brown. Yeah he is. And if you mess with him, he will murder you in the face.

Harry is a widower living in a house near a rather rough apartment complex in London. He sees the thuggish kids who hang out at the nearby underpass, and he avoids them by taking the long route. People in the neighbourhood are harassed, fed up and on edge. Harry can feel the bad vibes building up around him but it's not until an old friend of his tries to defend himself and ends up dead that he realises that he can't just sit by and watch. Coincidentally, Harry happened to have been in the Marines as a young man. Those skills might come in handy.

Soon, Harry is on a mission to clean up the 'hood, while a well meaning but ineffectual cop (Emily Mortimer) who started out investigating his friend's death starts to suspect him of the recent spate of gang-member deaths.

There's not much to this film other than Michael Caine's amazing acting chops and some clever action sequences, but that's totally good enough to make it 97 minutes of awesome. Caine is a much more three dimensional and frail vigilante than Eastwood's Kowalski. There's depth to his old-guy-badass, and it makes for some great action. Of particular note is an extended gun purchasing scene in which the tension is so drawn out that when it finally breaks, it's hard not to let out a cheer.

Machotaildrop

Corey Adams & Alex Craig | 2009 | 91mins | Canada / USA

Imagine if John Paizs had nephews who were a bit ADD but still really looked up to him. And imagine that those boys were raised in a some magical Winnipeg art-commune where they got to just use their imaginations all the time and only had access to pre-1990s technology. And then imagine that they were really into skateboarding, and decided to make a movie about it. The result might look something like Machotaildrop, probably the quirkiest surprise of TIFF this year.

I don't actually know whether Corey Adams and Alex Craig have a Winnipeg connection, but I saw glimpses in this of the same comic instinct that makes Paizs the funniest filmmaker Canada's ever produced. This film's nowhere near as funny as Crime Wave or Springtime in Greenland, but it's reminiscent of his style.

Walter Rhum (Anthony Amedori) lives in a curious world in which skateboarding is a regal and revered sport. Like most boys, Walter wants the elusive corporate sponsorship that will allow him to live the dream of being a pro skateboarder, and spends all his spare time putting together a VHS tape of his tricks to send to Machotaildrop, the company all aspiring pros dream of working for. While he waits for their response, Walter plays video games at the local cake & skateboard shop. When Machotaildrop finally calls, Walter drops everything to attend their prestigious academy - a remote mansion run by an eccentric Baron (James Faulkner) and his creepy, stuffed-bird-obsessed sidekick Perkins (Lukács Bicskey).

Walter trains with other aspiring skate stars, battles a gang of rogue skaters called the Man Wolfs, finds himself embroiled in the Baron's scheme to open a skateboarding theme park called ApeSnake, and inevitably becomes a star. Awesome, right? Who wouldn't want to go to an amusement park centred around a giant King Kong-esque figure with an enormous snake coiled around its body?

The world of Machotaildrop is full of old-timey VHS and audio cassettes, wacky outfits, campy acting and elaborate, kooky sets. It's extremely creative, but the story's pacing is a bit off, so that it feels longer than it should and so that the stylized, over-the-top acting feels too hammy. The atmosphere here is carefully constructed, but by the end of the film's 90 minute runtime, it starts to wear thin.

Mega points for some of the most original storytelling I saw at TIFF. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite sustain. I definitely look forward to seeing what writer/director duo Corey Adams & Alex Craig do next.

I never dreamed of being famous...

We are awesome, thus Shane Rivers of Only Good Movies saw fit to interview us for his ongoing series of conversations with other critics. If you want to spend more time really getting inside our souls, please peruse our shallow answers.

OGM offers movie reviews, a message board, and a blog collecting film news and articles. There is a lot to wade through so be sure to take a look at the site. And thanks for inviting us to take part, Shane.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Wild Hunt

Alexandre Franchi | 2009 | 96 mins | Canada

For the first hour, this strange drama about LARPing is kind of funny. Erik (Ricky Mabe) has just been left by his brooding, hot-and-gothy girlfriend Evelyn (Tiio Horn). Instead of moping in his apartment (which he shares with his senile dad), Erik decides to follow her and get some answers about the ambiguous I need space-ish dumping. As it turns out, Evelyn's gone off to participate in a weekend long live action role playing event, invited by Erik's kooky brother, Bjorn (Mark Antony Krupa, who also co-wrote the screenplay).

In the LARPiverse, Bjorn is a mighty Viking warrior, Evelyn is the Viking princess, and they are poised to fight some Celts. When Erik arrives at the game's site, he quickly learns that he will get nowhere near Evelyn without donning a costume and playing along. Erik soon discovers that the Viking princess has been kidnapped by the evil Shaman Murtagh (Trevor Hayes), who intends to "kill her" in order to begin the Wild Hunt - a rampage throughout the camp that will lead to the weekend's final, crucial battle.

Erik's meddling inevitably messes up the well laid plans of the LARPers and causes significant rifts in the make-believe world. As the wild hunt draws near, the game turns terrifyingly real for some of the players. It is here, in the final act of the film, that The Wild Hunt threatens to become really interesting - but doesn't quite get there. Men who take their fantasy life all too seriously are forced to confront the realities of their choices, the harsh juxtaposition between real and imagined allegiances. The tone drops and a harsh and sobering finale is marred only by the otherwise somewhat ludicrous and contrived plot twists.

The Wild Hunt is Alexandre Franchi's first feature, and while the script wasn't stellar, the director's sense of story and pacing is not bad. A film about LARPing could have been a lot funnier than this, but Franchi tries to provide laughs without mocking the players or the game. Unfortunately, when the film gets serious, Franchi & co start taking themselves a bit too seriously as well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jennifer's Body

Karyn Kusama | 2009 | 102 mins | USA

Diablo Cody's first post-Juno effort is a teen horror comedy about BFFs Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried, in a very different role from her other TIFF appearance in Chloe), two very different girls who've stuck by each other since the sandbox, but find themselves growing apart when Jennifer becomes a crazy man-eater (literally).

The two girls go to a corrugated metal shack in the woods to see an emo band (fronted by Adam Brody) play. Jennifer is mesmerized, and when the bar suddenly catches fire, she's whisked away in the band's van. Needy is a bit worried about her friend's disappearance with the unsavoury rockers, but when Jennifer returns home later that night covered in blood and vomiting up some revolting black stuff, Needy becomes understandably frantic.

Pretty soon, Jennifer's back to her old self, and Needy is left trying to convince her adorable, loving boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) that something is terribly wrong, and that the mysterious deaths of several classmates are indeed connected to what happened at the bar that night.

Chock-full of snappy, Cody-esque one liners, Jennifer's Body is sure to be loved by Cody fans and hated by her haters, but it basically worked for me as a hip (if considerably less biting and socially incisive) homage to Heathers and the like, though a few things about it did not sit well. Casually racist jokes in the script (such as Jennifer's "get a Chinese girl to buff your situation" comment, re: Needy's messy fingernails) were unnecessary and odd, especially since the world of Jennifer's Body was almost self-consciously diverse. The dysfunctional friendship between hot-hot-Jennifer and dorky Needy also made me wonder about Cody's ability to write a female character who isn't totally effed up in some way. Love her or hate her, Cody receives more media attention than any screenwriter has in decades, so it will be interesting to see whether she has the chops to ever transcend her hipster lingo and perhaps write a film about grownups.

Though it's technically been given an R rating in the states (14A in Canada), Jennifer's Body feels like a decent PG horror film. More laughs than scares.

Chloe

Atom Egoyan | 2009 | 99 mins | USA / Canada / France

Atom Egoyan's latest foray into the murky world of sexual intrigue, real and imagined betrayal, desire, longing and jealousy is a great, slow-burn thriller, up to a point. That point comes toward the end, and while the final act doesn't completely ruin the film, it certainly does make it a bit of a mess.

Chloe is really Julianne Moore's film. Her performance and the complexity of her character far outshine everyone else, though Amanda Seyfried's titular Chloe is also pretty compelling.

Moore plays Catherine, a rather prim gynecologist who's married to charming and flirtatious university professor David (Liam Neeson). Their luxuriously comfortable lives are busy with lecture tours and nights at the opera, their teenage son Michael (Max Theriot) has started tuning them out, and when David fails to turn up for his own surprise birthday party due to a missed flight, Catherine begins to suspect he's been unfaithful.

Catherine is beautiful, poised, perfectly put together, but obviously struggling with the fact that her husband gets handsomer with every wrinkle, while she feels herself fading into the background, no longer an object of anyone's desire.

Catherine's "woman of a certain age" is perfectly juxtaposed with Chloe, the very young high-priced escort who works out of a hotel near Catherine's Yorkville office. When Catherine decides to hire Chloe to try to seduce her husband, in order to prove to herself that her suspicions about him have been right all along, it's easy to see that things are not going to work out well for anyone involved. As Chloe and Catherine's relationship becomes more tense (sexually and otherwise), Seyfried's character flits between giggly teenhood and seductive womanhood all with the unhinged undertone of Fatal Attraction-esque obsession. Chloe needs love, and she wants it from Catherine, whether the other woman is aware of this fact or not. Egoyan is a master of twisted desire and disturbed sexuality, and Chloe delivers on the red-hot intrigue. Unfortunately, in the final act, the film's tone of simmering suspense turns a bit absurdly over the top.

Major bonus points for Egoyan's insistence on revising the originally San Francisco based script in order to give Toronto a chance to play itself (for once). It's both delightful and a bit strange to see locations like Cafe Diplomatico, the Rivoli, and Queen Street's streetcars not masquerading as someplace else. That works, even if the plot doesn't always.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Franklyn

Gerald McMorrow | 2008 | 98 mins | UK / France

I'm a bit late posting about my Toronto After Dark experiences this year, but one of the films that really stuck with me was Franklyn, the debut feature of UK filmmaker Gerald McMorrow, a neat little puzzle of a movie that takes place partially in the real world, and partially in the dark corners of Meanwhile City, a strange place full of religious cults, fervent believers, and a masked vigilante (Ryan Phillippe).

In present-day London a young artist (Eva Green) feuds with the wealthy mother who just doesn’t understand her, working on an intimately confessional 'art project' that involves videotaped monthly suicide attempts, which seem to be connected to her difficult and tenuous family relationships. Meanwhile, a young man (Sam Reily) tries to cope with having been left at the altar - another in what is apparently a string o failed relationships that forces him to confront his lingering feelings for a girl from his childhood. While this is going on, the masked vigilante (the lone non-believer in Meanwhile City) is on the hunt for The Individual, the leader of a malevolent religious group. As he tries to evade capture by city and hospital officials, it becomes clear that his quest is connected to the disappearance and possible death of a little girl.

It takes a long time for the three stories to begin coming together, but the journey is great fun, and the performances are all pitch perfect. My only complaint Franklyn is that the futuristic Steampunk world of Meanwhile City is so slick, stylish, painstakingly detailed and gorgeously shot that it’s a shame more of the story doesn’t take place in it. By the midway point, the edges of the fantasy world begin to slowly crumble and we're pulled into reality as the pieces of the puzzle of intersecting relationships comes into focus. Watching McMorrow reconcile the two worlds of Franklyn is rewarding, and the film fits all the disparate pieces of its story together quite seamlessly. Still, I would have been happy to watch an entire film set in the fantasy world. Once you go to the trouble of creating a universe so complete (and so beautiful) it seems a shame to let it only comprise a third of your story.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Stephen Sommers | 2009 | 116 min | USA

McCullen, the latest generation from a long line of weapons dealers (the film's opening shows us that it's been the family trade since at least the 1600s) has developed a deadly new weapon with NATO funding, and plans to steal it back in order to take over the world. Thankfully for the world, an elite group of soldiers called G.I. Joe have taken it upon themselves to stop him and his gang of baddies.

The good guys are (cheer)led by General Hawk, as phoned in by Dennis Quaid. He doesn't once leave G.I. Joe HQ, and is injured early on so that the laziness of his performance can be helped along through the use of a wheelchair and later a cane. The rest of the featured "Joe" team is Duke, Ripcord, Snake Eyes, Scarlet, and a couple of other dudes whose names I just looked up and discovered to be Heavy Duty and Breaker. So it's the usual variety of characters. A couple tough guys, the wiseass, a ninja, a hot girl, and a nerd.

The bad guys, lead by McCullen, are the Baroness, Storm Shadow, Zartan, numerous armoured soldiers who've been injected with a fear and pain inhibitor, and a masked scientist who created the deadly weapon they're trying to steal. So... Smarmy leader, babe, tough guys, ninja, and nerd.

Filled with connected backstories, many of each team conveniently alrady have some sort of history with each other which is told through fairly entertaining flashbacks. The best being a fight between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow as children in Japan.

The film moves along at a good pace, never dragged down by it's sometimes hilariously convoluted story. Most of the film's performances are fun for the type of movie GIJ:TROC is, and Stephen Sommers has made sure that the type of movie is a big dumb summer movie with lots of fighting, destruction, fancy vehicles, good looking people who are relatively likeable, and an ending that sets up a sequel. I'm looking forward to that sequel.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TSADT Podcast Episode 06

Download | MP3

Lots of reviews from this year's Fantasia Fest, loads of babbling about the films announced thus far for this year's Toronto International Film Festival, plus the usual junk. It's like eavesdropping on a conversation of the boring friends you avoided having. I apologize for describing every movie as "awesome."

Subscribe | iTunes

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Orphan

Jaume Collet-Serra | 2009 | 123 mins | USA / Canada

Orphan is one of those oddities that’s hard to recommend without spoiling. On the surface, it's 50% failed thriller and 50% failed horror, but deep down, there is a lot of entertainment value in its stupendously stupid (but funny) premise.

The film is about a couple, Kate and John Coleman (Vera Fermiga and an oddly fey Peter Sarsgaard), who have recently suffered the stillbirth of what was to be their third child. By way of dealing with their tremendous grief, they’ve decided to give the love they had for their child to someone who “really needs it”. One excursion to a school for orphaned girls later, they bring home Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a nine year old Russian girl with impeccable manners, a talent for painting and a penchant for wearing ribbons around her neck and wrists.

Esther seems wonderful at first, but soon mom starts feeling uneasy around the preternaturally genteel child. As Esther begins to show her manipulative, sinister colours, Kate must try to convince John that something is terribly wrong before it’s too late.

Kate's an ex-alcoholic, and some terrible accident involving the couple's younger, deaf daughter is hinted at but never fully explained. This subtle subplot is one of the things that makes the first half of Orphan a successful slow-burn thriller. Unfortunately, the third act seems to be tacked on from a completely different film. Basically, the ending of Orphan is the most crazy shit since Sleepaway Camp, but don't worry, no spoilers here. The shocker reveal is much more preposterous and thoroughly implausible.

Orphan is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster of a film. Had the ending been preceded by much goofier horror fare, or had the beginning been given a more dignified finale, it might have been great. Instead, the odd patchwork becomes laughable. And really, I'm not scoffing at the entertainment value of unintentionally funny films!

One of the best things about Orphan is the gorgeous architecture (a prerequisite for any film about a family being terrorized at home, it seems). The wood-and-glass structure set against the stark wintry forest is not just idyllic - it's a perfect backdrop for terror. Sarsgaard plays an architect, and the design details in this film (like the Eames rocking chair in the couple’s living room) did not go unnoticed by me.

Also: I wasn't sure why the film company logos played before the opening credits were tinged with weird day-glo hues until later in the film when it became obvious that Orphan was going to deliver one of the creepiest and funniest black light scenes in recent horror history. Thumbs up for that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Power Kids

Krissanapong Rachata | 2009 | 90 min | Thailand


A rag tag group of young muai-thai students spend the first half hour or so of Power Kids, fighting a drunk meathead American, stealing money from their teacher to buy an RC car, racing said car, and getting their hides tanned. It's all fun, games, and character development until Wun, the youngest of the group, needs an emergency heart transplant. He's very lucky that another young boy in Thailand who had been in a coma (“asleep like a pile of vegetables” according to the film's sometimes iffy English subtitles), passes on, making his heart available for transplant. There's a catch though. The hospital across town that the heart is neatly packed away on ice in is being visited by the U.S. ambassador, and terrorists lead by The Rebel's Johnny Nguyen have decided to take the hospital hostage.

With only four hours until the heart is useless, Wun's muai-thai-for-kids classmates/pals take it upon themselves to go to the hospital to get the heart. Of course it's not quite that easy, and they need to deliver and receive some big fun beatings. Call me sick, but there's something really really fun about watching a child getting kicked across the room into a wall. At the same time though, it's just as fun to watch them deliver flying knees to the heads of full-grown adults.

The film's far from perfect but its flaws are entertaining. The far-fetched plot and intense melodrama enhance the film somehow by unintentionally making the film more fun than intended (though make no doubt it is meant to be very entertaining). Power Kids' solid fight choreography is its strongest element. It never feels like the moves have been simplified for the kids to be able to perform them or softened to keep kids from getting bad ideas upon viewing the film. If you've got kids, watching this will give them lots of really bad (and awesome) ideas on how they could kick your ass when you come home drunk and hit them. So keep that in mind, and if you do show it to them, be sure to replace all of your fluorescent light fixtures beforehand. Your face will thank me later.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TSADT Podcast Episode 05

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This week we review a Charles Bronson one-two punch-up of Hard Times and Telefon. We also blab about Undisputed, Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker, and gossip, gossip, gossip! It's the cocktail party edition.

Oh, and one correction to the podcast: we used the title Full Battle Rattle when we meant to refer to Phil Donahue's Body of War. Then we were unable to remember the title when actually speaking about Full Battle Rattle. Because we are dumb.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hunger

Steve McQueen | 2008 | 96 min | UK + Ireland

Steve McQueen won the Turner Prize for his photography at some ridiculous fucking age like twenty-seven and it most certainly shows in his feature film debut. Every frame looks like it could hang in a gallery. A good gallery, even. Yet Hunger still sticks as one of the most brutal films I have seen in a long time.

Bobby Sands was an inmate in Northern Ireland's notorious Maze Prison from 1977. This was a period in which IRA prisoners had been stripped of their recognition as political prisoners by the British government and the inmates were organizing themselves to carry out a series of increasingly disgusting protests. Hunger begins during the "dirty protest" in which prisoners refused to wash themselves and smeared their excrement of the walls of their cells. Following the fallout of that protest Bobby Sands assembled prisoners in a hunger strike. He began refusing food on March 1, 1981 and his health dramatically deteriorated until his death two months later.

This isn't a step by step accounting of events in that way that In The Name of the Father was, though. Events are told via visual cues, speeches, and archival sound clips of Margaret Thatcher denouncing the IRA. There is very little dialogue, aside from one outstanding scene, and the end result feels like a collage of emotions one travels through far more than it feels like a biopic.

The film's presentation is ruthless. It will likely cause you to involuntarily recoil a number of times. But for all of the brutality, Hunger is poetry of a kind you rarely get to see on screen. It is so slow and methodical that it earns comparisons to the Cremaster Cycle. That is a compliment, but also a warning. Hunger is a movie that one invests in, but it is as rewarding an experience as you are likely to find in theatres this year.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

TSADT Podcast Episode 04

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This week we bring you a fancy Cannes report following Kat's trip to the festival. She gives us the low down on Enter the Void, Inglourious Basterds, Antichrist,, and Thirst. There is also keen insight offered regarding Drag Me To Hell and The Muppet Movie.

Apologies for the audio this week. I ran it very hot, Kat whispered, and Jeff screamed. Next time we record underwater.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Drag Me to Hell

Sam Raimi | 2009 | 99 mins | USA

When Stephen King wrote his book, Thinner, in 1984, he didn't reeeeeeeally give the premise as much thought as he probably should have. (Note: Read the following in the goofy voice of Stephen King) "Okay, so it's about this gypsy who curses a fat guy so that he gets really, really thin!" OH NO! Sam Raimi has used a similar premise for his latest film, Drag Me to Hell, and maybe he didn't think it through all the way either, but who cares? It's awesome. (Note: Read the following in the goofy voice of Sam Raimi) "So um.. A gypsy curses this girl who works at a bank because she won't give her an extension to make her mortgage payment, and uh.. Oh, and the girl USED to be fat. So what can the curse do... The curse summons a sort of Satan meets a billy goat shadow demon to smack her around for a few days, and then swallow her soul. The Evil Dead fans will love that. Maybe I won't say 'swallow your soul' though. That'd be a bit much. But the Shadow Devil Goat is gonna be a really bad guy. His name is Lamia. It's gonna be scary. Trust me. I've still got it."

Even though you might not believe me, I assure you Sam Raimi's still got it! He really does! So much so that I feel bad for doubting him. Once the trailers were done and the OLD Universal Studios logo hit the screen, I knew that I was in the good hands that I trusted every time out from the late 80s until the late 90s. Performance-wise, Alison Lohman as Christine, the loan officer who's cursed, does a really good job, as does (surprisingly) Justin Long as her boyfriend, Clay. After getting a little stiff with the Spider-Man films, Raimi's script (co-written with his brother, Ivan) recalls the dark playfulness of Darkman and Army of Darkness but a little more refined, and dare I say... with better execution. More than it's a movie though, Drag Me to Hell is a filmed haunted house ride at a carnival. Around every other corner is the next thing, waiting to jump out and scare you. I'm not usually one for jump scares but more often than not here, they're followed up directly with a comedic gross out gag à la early Raimi and early Peter Jackson, so I couldn't stay mad no matter how many times the film startled me, or got the back of my seat kicked by the wimps behind me. The film delivers in screams, jumps, and with way more laughter than expected. About half of it at jokes/gags, and the other half of it being terrified/nervous laughter.

I can't imagine there being another horror movie this year that's more fun than Drag Me to Hell. It might not hold up quite so well on video, but it's not on video right now. It's in theaters. Nice big, loud, scary theaters. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

p.s.
Did I mention that the film uses unused score that Lalo Schifrin wrote for The Exorcist?!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino | 2009 | 154 mins | USA / Germany

I’ve been a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s since I first snuck into a screening of Pulp Fiction in high school, and subsequently sought out and was blown away by Reservoir Dogs. It’s not that he can do no wrong in my eyes, it’s just that I’m predisposed to liking his visual style, his cleverly crafted dialogue, his ultra-violent yet oh so stylish action sequences and his nerdy nods to his favourite genre films. When I heard that he was going to be making a WWII film about a gang of Jewish soldiers who wreak havoc on the German countryside scalping Nazis and striking terror into the heart of the Reich, I imagined a cool-as-hell reinvention of The Dirty Dozen, only grittier, more violent and more over the top.

In my mind, Inglourious Basterds was going to transcend the war film and become my favourite genre of all, my cinematic Achilles heel: the film about a ragtag group of misfits on an impossible mission. Alas, I was woefully disappointed on this count, but perhaps it’s unfair to lay the blame entirely on Tarantino’s shoulders for not delivering the film that existed in my mind. I wrote up a review of the film for Twitch which can be found here, which explains a bit more about the extensive and convoluted plot twists. I won't repeat the summary here. Instead, here's a concise list of my top and bottom three things about Basterds.

The best:

1. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans “The Jew Hunter” Landa. His impeccable command of English, French, German and Italian and his goofy yet sinister vibe make this milk-drinking villain so delightful you want to root for him even though he’s a Nazi. Waltz won the best actor award in Cannes for the performance, and he fully deserved it.

2. Tarantino’s use of music. At first I hated the fact that he slipped David Bowie singing Cat People (“Putting Out Fire”) into the Morricone-infused score during a sequence in which French-Jewish babe Shosanna is getting dolled up for a big night, because it pulled me out of the atmosphere and time period entirely. As I think about it more, this choice seems particularly inspired, messing with the audience’s understanding and perception of a history that Tarantino has completely reinvented anyway.

3. The final battle sequence. Tarantino’s film is not-too-subtly all about the power of film itself. Ultimately, it’s cinema alone that is mighty enough to destroy the Third Reich, and when the climactic, cinematic exorcism of all our collective WWII demons finally arrives, it’s pretty damn brilliant and cathartic.

The worst:

1. There’s nowhere near enough Basterds in this film. After the first time they’re introduced, they almost never appear together again in the 154 minute film, and they’re so poorly fleshed out as characters that it’s impossible to care about them or even remember who some of them are. The film should have been called The Jew Hunter. That would have been considerably less disappointing.

2. Lots of great characters who disappear before you’ve had a chance to learn their name. Mike Meyers has a pretty decent cameo as General Ed Fenech, but the entire OSS subplot that he’s part of is axed so quickly it’s hardly worth the elaborate setup. Even Brad Pitt as Basterd leader Lt. Aldo Raine is reduced to essentially little more than a funny-accented comic relief character. A tiny bit more development could have gone a long way.

3. Inglourious Basterds is (nearly) all talk and no rock. A friend who also saw Basterds in Cannes referred to it as “a film about tables”. First, they talk at one table. Then they sit at another table and talk some more. Then they go to another table and ... you get the idea. Essentially, this is true. Of course we expect nothing less than brilliant dialogue from Tarantino, and he does deliver, but there’s way too damn much of it, and the balance between talk and action is so far off that I nearly dozed off during the middle. If you’re able to doze off during a Tarantino film, then the man’s not doing his job.

On the whole, I give this one 6.5 out of 10. I’m not sure if it’s my least favourite Tarantino, but it certainly doesn’t touch my top three (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Death Proof in occasionally shifting order, in case any of you want to judge my worth as a critic on this basis).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wild Grass [Les herbes folles]

Alain Resnais | 2009 | 104 mins | France / Italy

When I was 16 years old, my father took me to the Ontario Cinematheque to watch Alain Resnais' L'année dernière à Marienbad. I was so frustrated and infuriated by this (probably the first 'art film' I ever saw) that I left the theatre thinking I had disliked it. When, a month later, I hadn't stopped thinking about the film for a single day since that fateful screening, I realised the truth: L'année dernière à Marienbad had opened me up to the possibilities of cinema and changed the course of my life forever.

The opportunity to see Resnais' latest film (I admit that I was shocked to learn the 86 year old was still directing) on the big screen in Cannes was the opportunity of a lifetime, but I couldn't have prepared myself for how emotional the experience would be. The moment Resnais' walked into the 2,300 seat Lumière theatre, the fact that I was in the same room with him hit me pretty hard. I cried for ten minutes before the opening credits even rolled.

The film itself was quite charming - not a masterpiece, but it stands up to some of the more serious fare in competition this year. It starts with a woman (Sabine Azéma) who we are told by the surprisingly charming and funny narrator has unusual feet, which force her to shop for shoes in very specific places, which on this particular day resulted in her purse being stolen as she exited the shoe shop with a brand new pair of pumps.

Soon enough, the woman's wallet, if not the rest of her purse, is found by a certain Georges Palet (André Dussollier), a middle aged man who lives in a gorgeous house with his wife of 30 years, Suzanne (Anne Consigny). Georges examines the wallet in great detail, examining her appearance in one ID photo and then another, discovering that her name is Marguerite Muir, that she is a hobby pilot, and so forth.

Georges turns the wallet into the police but his preoccupation with Marguerite doesn't end. He begins writing her letters and leaving messages on the answering machine of her impossibly stylish apartment every day. His infatuation grows until she is forced to contact the police about his behaviour. Unfortunately, once Georges attentions are no longer focused on her, Marguerite realises that perhaps she misses him, and soon she is the one following Georges to the movies, calling his house repeatedly and missing work in order to visit his home.

Resnais artfully turns the narrative on its head, exploring both Georges' and Marguerite's loneliness, curiosity and longing for love. Wild Grass looks gorgeous, and long vividly coloured tracking shots of grass punctuate the surreal story. Events are inexplicable, characters' motivations mysterious, and the results of every action surprising beyond comprehension. Wild Grass was like a refreshing icy drink on a hot summer's day compared to the many bleak, violent and disturbing films that populated this year's competition. Plus, I have to say that it's incredibly refreshing that the central characters in this quirky love story are in their 50s and 60s. This fact might even make it more charming, sexy and romantic than it would be otherwise.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Antichrist

Lars von Trier | 2009 | 104 mins | Denmark / Germany / France / Sweden / Italy

Lars von Trier's amazingly bizarre and disturbing film was obviously designed to divide, outrage and offend audiences, and judging by the boos it received during the press screening in Cannes and the subsequent thunderous applause during the gala screening, he was pretty successful. No film came close to generating the amount of controversy or hype that Antichrist drummed up before more than a handful of people had even seen it.

The film stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as an unnamed married couple who in the gorgeously choreographed, slow motion, black and white prologue lose their only son in a tragic accident.

The body of the film is separated into four chapters - Grief, Chaos Reigns, Despair and The Three Beggars - as the couple slowly and painfully mourn their loss. Gainsbourg starts out doped up in a hospital, told by her doctor that her grief is 'atypical', until psychoanalyst Dafoe decides to take her out of the medical environment and treat her himself, through exposure therapy.

The couple retreat to 'Eden', a cabin in the woods where Gainsbourg had spent the previous summer with their son working on an academic thesis on Gynocide (witch hunts and similar abuses against women). In Eden, Gainsbourg becomes increasingly unhinged and sexually manic, desperately seeking the sexual release that calms her panic and grief symptoms, while Dafoe coldly rebuffs her or keeps her at bay with smarmy jokes about 'fucking the therapist'.

The film is heavy with invented symbolism. A triumvirate of animals (a fox, a black bird and a deer) follow the couple as they navigate the dark, ominous woods around them. A baby bird falls dead out of a nest, covered in ants. A deer in the midst of giving birth turns and runs into the woods, the fawn hanging out of it. A fox lies dead in the grass, eating its own entrails. A fictional constellation looms above. These images are powerful, beautifully composed and never adequately explained, so that they burrow into the mind and fester there. Gainsbourg's fear of the green grass and her sense that “nature causes people to do evil things to women” is set against beautifully composed images of bodies intertwined in the trees and rocks around them. All this is juxtaposed with Dafoe's infuriatingly detached attitude so effectively that her eventual retaliation against him (gruesome though it is) seems fairly well deserved.

Overwrought symbolic imagery lies side by side with raw, horrifying violence, and everything from the operatic opening to the obvious 'fuck you' of his closing dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky is obviously designed to frustrate and offend. Von Trier succeeds on several levels - he has created a profoundly disturbing film which pokes fun at pomposity of his highfalutin audience while simultaneously imbuing the film with enough substance that it can't be easily dismissed by them. In the end, the film's harshest critics will be the ones that turn it into the most talked about and significant cinematic event of the year.

Antichrist isn't exactly an enjoyable film to watch (rumours about the graphic nature of the film's violent scenes are not exaggerated) but it's one that I've had a hard time not thinking about every day since I saw it. My only real beef with the film is that it totally lacks any emotional core. What made von Trier's earlier efforts about abused women (Breaking the Waves or Dancer in the Dark) so effective was the heart wrenching way he was able to make the audience feel the tragedy of his characters. Antichrist is so cold and calculated that by the end one hardly cares about what fate will befall either character. The film is good, but it's all brain and no heart.

The Misfortunates [De helaasheid der dingen]

Felix Van Groeningen | 2009 | 108 mins | Belgium

This utterly charming Belgian (and Flemish) entry in this year's Directors' Fortnight is among the best things I saw in Cannes. Adapted from a very successful autobiographical novel by Dimitri Verhulst,
the film follows Gunther Strobbe, a 13 year old boy in the late '70s / early '80s who lives in his grandmother's ramshackle house in a small town in Belgium with his alcoholic father (a postman with more bars on his route than any of his colleagues) and three alcoholic uncles. It's undeniable that life with the Strobbe clan is not merely a bit dysfunctional but truly damaging for the young boy, and yet the family is so full of genuine love that it's hard to fully condemn them.

Gunther tells the story from an adult perspective, and it's left quite beautifully ambiguous until the end whether he managed to transcend or escape his family heritage. Real life is more complex than just "getting out of the old neighbourhood", and The Misfortunates handles these realities with heart and humour.

The Strobbe men mean well, sort of. They just can't help fucking everything up, all the time. The film is full of raw, dirty, hilarious vignettes (such as the naked bicycle race through town, pictured above), vulgar humour, pathos and a bit of cynicism. The Strobbes enter drinking contests, piss themselves and end up in hospital, pick up women, break furniture, and invade a neighbour's house in order to watch their beloved Roy Orbison on television (theirs has been repossessed).

It might have been the tear-jerker hit of the year if Ken Loach had been given the script, but in the hands of Felix Van Groeningen, this film has the raw, dirty, Flemish edge that made 2007's Ex Drummer so memorable. The comparison with Ex Drummer is only one of a vaguely common "Flemish vibe", mind you. The Misfortunates is nowhere near as dark. Any film that features a smiling 12 year old girl drunk in a bar singing the 'pussy song' clearly has to be far more heartwarming than bleak.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Diary of a Times Square Thief

Klaas Bense | 2008 | 60 min | Netherlands

It's not that this film is totally incompetent, it's just that it lies to you. Director Klaas Bense begins his story with the Ebay purchase of an ostensibly mysterious diary written by a young man in early 1980s New York. The writer worked in the Times Square Hotel, a former flophouse, and detailed his many run ins with its colourful characters, as well as his own creative struggles, and his petty thefts of patrons and strangers.

Bense travels to New York to track down the names mentioned in the diary in the hopes of tracing the steps back to the writer. He interviews current residents of the Times Square Hotel, now a hip downtown address, and rations out a few details regarding the era, city, and building we are to believe he is investigating.

The greater issue with the film arises when Bense does "find" the writer and interviews him. The diarist is a wonderful and engaging storyteller, but he does let slip one detail: he is the Ebay seller of the diary. The director was in direct contact with him from the original moment of purchase. The film's narrative is a sham, and the lack of detail in tracking down the other interviewees is not a mistake, but a purposeful omission.

Even if it were not for this detail the film would be clumsy, too thin on information, and too in love with itself to be a success. But, since it erodes all credibility and structure within the film, considering that detail as I left the theatre made me furious.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

TSADT Podcast Episode 03

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LOADS of reviews from the Hot Docs documentary film festival this time around. We talk about Best Worst Movie, Black Wave, Art and Copy, Objectified, A Hard Name, Rembrandt's J'Accuse, Ghost Bird, Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same, and Prom Night in Mississippi. We also manage to fit in some talk of this year's Cannes line-up, the upcoming Tetsuo sequel, and more Wolverine lameness.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Star Trek

J.J. Abrams | 2009 | 125 mins | USA

Admittedly, I am a Star Trek fan. I watched the original sporadically as a kid, and really came of age with The Next Generation. I even have some affection for the bad spin offs because I just love the whole concept of Star Trek so much. So it was with a heady mixture of excitement and trepidation that I awaited the arrival of this “reboot”. Me and a billion other fans, right?

Well, I’m delighted to report that Star Trek is a triumph on all counts, but particularly succeeds for two key reasons: incredible casting, and a very clever solution to the problem of trying to reinvent a story with 40 years of elaborate history behind it.

From the relative unknowns to the familiar faces, every actor in Star Trek absolutely nails their character. It’s difficult to bring something new to a persona that your audience has known and loved for decades, but there’s just enough reverence paid to the original cast here without tipping the balance into caricature or outright mimicry. Everyone was great, but my personal favourite was Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. By the time he comes out with one of those "dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a [whatever]" lines that DeForest Kelley perfected in that role (and that you know is coming from the moment Urban first appears on screen), you've already completely fallen in love with him as Bones and the line is a delightful homage to the original instead of just being a hammy joke.

It is an intense challenge to reinvent a story that is already so familiar to virtually 100% of your audience. J.J. Abrams and company essentially had two choices: suffocate under the crushing weight of 40 years of intricate continuity or take drastic measures to wipe the slate clean. Thankfully they chose option two, and cleverly managed to completely reinvent the entire universe in a way that is both logical and respectful to the original.

The story and plot of Star Trek are kind of secondary to the fact that a beloved and iconic series has just been successfully reinvented. We get to meet the Enterprise’s crew in their Starfleet days and see them take their maiden voyage – a rescue mission to save Vulcan from evil Romulans. Eric Bana's Captain Nero is no Khan, but he makes for a pretty fun villain, and his ship is absolutely terrifying. That's all you really need to know about the plot. For non-fans, this is an entirely enjoyable, action-packed sci-fi film with set design, special effects and fight sequences that will rival any of the summer blockbusters. For the fans it’s a reboot so successful it almost makes you weep into your popcorn. I might even go so far as to call it the only really successful reboot ever.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Objectified

Gary Hustwit | 2009 | 75 mins | USA

In a piece he wrote for Frieze Magazine, director Gary Hustwit says of his previous film, Helvetica, that while design aficionados have known the subjects of his latest film for decades, the average viewer has never heard of these marvelous characters, whose passion became his secret weapon. ‘Where did you find these people?’, non-designers ask [him]. ‘They’re so passionate!’ Unfortunately, passionate though they were, the design megastars interviewed in Objectified don't quite measure up to their Helvetica counterparts.

It is indeed fascinating to realise that just about everything we come into contact with in our lives is designed by someone, and there are a tonne of big names here to talk about how they shape our world. There's Apple's Jonathan Ive (who admits he's a bit obsessive in his passion for putting together our computers and iphones), the legendary and compelling Dieter Rams of Braun (pictured above), several folks from IDEO (one of whom is credited with designing the very first laptop ever, a very neat gizmo indeed), Chris Bangle (the former chief designer of BMW) and several others. Notably hilarious is Rob Walker, who writes the "Consumed" column for the New York Times Sunday mag.

Considering the who's-who of design that this film is packed with, it's actually surprising that there aren't more "holy shit, he designed THAT THING" revelatory moments about the universally iconic items these people have had a hand in creating. It's as though the film gets lost in discussing design in the abstract (and even the usefulness and meaning of designed objects in the abstract) without linking it to the actual things we really use, know and love. The interviews about Apple's design sense come closest to bringing it back down to earth, but it's not quite enough.

The film looks good (as any film about design should) and Hustwit is clearly a skilled interviewer, but Objectified lacks the magic that made Helvetica such a standout in 2007.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before

Kieran Evans | 2008 | 89 mins | UK

Singer/songwriter, Vashti Bunyan's 1970 release, Just Another Diamond Day is a document in song of her journey by horse-drawn cart in search of Skype, the artist commune established by folkie and star of Jacques Demy's under appreciated, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Donovan. The album was originally released in very limited qualities, and sold poorly. Vashti gave up on music, and went on to live a 'normal' life, raising a family, and not giving much more thought to her music career. But then 30 years later, the album was re-released in 2000, and found to have a devoted following. With this new found old success, Vashti set out on a tour supporting the re-release, and recorded a new album, shortly after.

In Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before, Kieran Evans travels with Vashti to many of the stops that she and her boyfriend made back in the late '60s in their horse and cart. The landscapes are gorgeous, and while it was a lovely time for them, I'm sure; when they arrive at each new location, there inevitably isn't much of a story to tell about it. Stories of being asked to get off of someone's land, the purchasing of their horse and cart, their struggles with poverty, etc. are all fine and part of an interesting story, but not one that can sustain a feature-length runtime.

Vashti Bunyan: From Here to There would have been a much fuller and more satisfying film if more time had been given to performance footage (there's not much here, and what of it there is is rather flat) or to have spent some time on the years between the release and the re-release of the album. It would have been fascinating to see what shaped Vashti from restless hippy goddamn super babe in the '60s to the warm, well spoken, and lovely woman now in her 60s that we watch retrace her steps of nearly forty years ago.

Orgasm Inc.

Liz Canner | 2009 | 73 min | US

Although Orgasm Inc. is ostensibly about the pharmaceutical race for the "female Viagra," it is really about the larger issue of the commodification of female sexual health and pleasure. The latest boogeyman coming from under the beds of the pharmaceutical giants is that of Female Sexual Dysfunction, or FSD. Orgasm Inc. peels away the layers of how the term originated and the shakey science behind the figures thrown around regarding it. Do forty-three percent of women actually suffer from FSD, or are drug companies creating a problem where none exists?

This feature investigates the key players behind the term's popularization and hype building, as well as those attempting to defuse it. Doctors, clinicians, therapists, and sex educators are all given a voice in the documentary, and the story unfolds over nine years, allowing larger developments in drugs and outreach to be explored.

Like several presentations at Hot Docs, this feature's weakest point is that is was never meant to be seen in a large theatre. The picture and sound were both of lower quality than they should have been for the setting. However, I'm sure it will be considerably easier on the eyes and ears for the intended television and home video audience.

The picture was thought provoking and the issues within are not covered as often as they should be. Certainly those people interested in pushing FSD are far more recognizable personalities than those fighting it. Orgasm Inc. is definitely worth a watch and a conversation when this makes it to a broadcast or video release.