Saturday, 29 December 2007

Steve Carell is a Really Really Funny Man

I watched "Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy" again last night...It's a bit uneven, but very funny in many spots and allows for a great deal of improvisation. This is apparent in a few outtakes included in the final credits. In particular, this sequence of lines from Steve Carell's "Brick Tamland" character which is supposed to show his, shall we say, lower level of intelligence:

  • "I drank a lava lamp. It wasn't lava."
  • "I ate a whole bunch of fiberglass insulation. It wasn't cotton candy like that guy said. slight pause. wince. My stomach's itchy..."
  • "I pooped a hammer."
  • "I pooped a tape recorder."
  • "I pooped a cornish game hen."

Shown in rapid fire succession, I was pretty much in tears by the third line. You really need Carell delivering the lines with his intonation and deadpan expression though.

Favourites of 2007

Though I watch a decent amount of movies every year (I'll be just over 400 this year), I don't really see a whole lot from the current year in the theatres - typically maybe one a month. And even though my count is higher this year because of a few film festivals, I still couldn't really make any claim to putting together a "Best Of" list for the year.

So here's a stab at a compilation of a few faves - released or simply seen for the first time this year.

Favourite Female Performance From 2007 Films

  • Margo Martindale in Paris Je T'Aime (in the "14th Arrondissement" segment). I don't see how some feel that director Alexander Payne is making fun of this character - she is so likeable, natural and without a shred of falseness to her. If at times you feel sorry for her, she certainly never once asks for your sympathy.

Favourite Male Performance From 2007 Films

  • Michael Cera in "Superbad". My only problem with the film was that some of the main characters were kind of unlikeable. But not Cera's 'Evan' - he seemed genuine, slightly awkward and kind. Even when he was matching crude comments with his friends, he almost felt apologetic for saying them. As others have mentioned, Cera's little asides and quiet little throw away comments (almost under his breath) were some of the funniest parts of the film.

Favourite Moments From 2007 Films

  • Pretty much every scene in Roy Andersson's "You The Living", but in particular the one I described here. I haven't seen either "No Country For Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood" (both of which I can't imagine not loving from everything I've heard...), but I don't expect it's possible to top that moment for me. I'm hoping that since the film made the upper echelons of indieWIRE's best undistributed films of 2007 that maybe someone will grab it - at least for North American DVD release like Andersson's previous "Songs From The Second Floor".

  • Actually, I'd probably say that my second favourite moment might be from the same film. The above screenshot depicts the fantasy dream of a young woman as she imagines life with her new groom - the rock musician she met at the bar a few evenings previous. Still fresh from their wedding ceremony in their new apartment, he begins to play a wonderful song on his guitar as the scenery outside the window begins to move...A few minutes later, the moving building pulls into what appears to be a train station with throngs of people waiting there to congratulate them both. It's just beautiful.
  • "Murder Party" - Bargain basement horror/comedy that I saw at Toronto After Dark this year was very inventive and funny. Fun performances from all the actors and several surprises. My favourite sequence was a part of the movie where our hero is attempting to escape his captors and locks himself in a closet. As he turns on the light, we see a number of different items scattered around the place and it appears that he has an idea. As we cut outside the closet with the waiting captors, we expect him to have created a remarkable device with tape and spit (ala MacGyver), but instead he throws opens the door, pauses, tosses an armful of the items on the ground and runs past them. Of course he gets re-captured...
  • "Chacun Son Cinema" - Another omnibus film - this time consisting of 34 short 3-4 minute segments commissioned for the anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. There's good and bad throughout (though mostly good I thought), but one segment stood out - Walter Salles' "A 8944km de Cannes" stars singers Castanha and Caju who use verbal gymnastics to run through a torrent of raucous and crude comments in their short, but hilariously profane song. That full segment (without English subtitles unfortunately) is in the previous link. Here is the trailer for the film:

  • "Alone" / "Audience Of One" - Two more terrific films seen at Toronto After Dark. "Alone" had the best audience reaction to a scary movie that I've seen in a long time and "Audience Of One" is an amazing documentary about a preacher who wants to out-do "Star Wars" with his own futuristic film about the biblical story of Joseph.
  • In The Shadow Of The Moon / Helvetica - Two great documentaries shown at HotDocs. I dislike the term "snubbed" that's always used around Oscar time, but neither of these have been included in the short list of docs under consideration for this year's statue. Neither have the weight of the raft of Iraq docs from this year, but their filmmaking craft and storytelling are there in spades.
  • "Hot Fuzz" - Just damn funny.

Favourite First Time Viewings of Older Films in 2007

  • "Notorious" (1946 - Alfred Hitchcock) - Giving "Rear Window" a run as my favourite all time Hitchcock.
  • "Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby" (2006 - Adam McKay) - Essentially a framework for some great improv.
  • "Samurai Rebellion" (1967 - Masaki Kobayashi) - Along with "Kwaidan" and "Harakiri" that's three for three with Kobayashi. Would it be too much to hope for an Eclipse box set of some of his other films?
  • "The Seagull's Laughter" (2001 - Agust Gudmundsson) - Wonderful Icelandic film with beautiful strong female characters.
  • "Casque D'Or" (1952 - Jacques Becker) - I was very tired when I popped this into the DVD player at 1:00AM one morning (with only the intent of watching the first scene). I watched it straight through.
  • "Smiles Of A Summer Night" (1955 - Ingmar Bergman) - Seriously, I didn't know Bergman could be this funny.
  • "Fear And Trembling" (2003 - Alain Corneau) - Sylvie Testud gives one of my favourite performances I saw last year as a young French woman struggling to make her way through the Japanese business world (and failing).
  • "Army Of Shadows" (1969 - Jean-Pierre Melville) - I need more Melville.
  • "The Loved One" (1965 - Tony Richardson) - Satires can be tricky, but this one hit every note spot on (with Jonathan Winters, John Gielgud, James Coburn, Milton Berle and Rod Steiger as Mr. Joyboy)
  • "Survive Style 5+" (2004 - Gen Sekiguchi) - The most fun I had all year at a movie that will likely never be released in Region 1 (music rights issues...).
  • "The Fountain" (2006 - Darren Aronofsky) - I watched this two nights in a row. I know some hated it and others laughed at it. I thought it was gorgeous and quite moving.
  • "Baby Face" (1933 - Alfred E. Green) - Possibly Barbara Stanwyck's best performance. Definitely one of her most sexy.
  • "Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer" (2006 - Tom Tykwer) - With this, and his 5 minute exercise in style from "Paris Je T'Aime", Tykwer is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors.
  • "Linda Linda Linda" (2005 - Nobuhiro Yamashita) - Possibly the best film about female teenagers ever. Gentle, fun and the long takes let the characters feel totally real. And they sure can kick out the jams:

  • "The Young Girls Of Rochefort" (1967 - Jacques Demy) - My new favourite musical.
  • "Ball Of Fire" (1941 - Howard Hawks) - Or maybe this is Stanwyck's best and sexiest role...
  • "Blood Wedding" (1981 - Carlos Saura) - I just wrote about how great this was.

Monday, 24 December 2007

In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenity...

I haven't watched Bob Clark's terrific "A Christmas Story" in a couple of years, so today my wife and I, our 7 year old son and my Mom and Dad threw it on after a fine Christmas Eve dinner. It was probably my favourite viewing of it so far...

Of course, having my son chuckle at some of the silliness (the pink bunny outfit, the Chinese turkey, etc.) certainly helped, it was also seeing the late Darren McGavin's grumpy father character again. Especially when my own Dad was there shaking with laughter at "the old man's" tussles with the furnace.

As the older Ralphie says in the narration, "My father worked in profanity the way other artists would work in oils or clay". McGavin splurts out rafts of nonsensical verbage, but punctuates it in such a fashion as to make it believably profane. Here's some of his best passages (as best as I could cobble together):

  • Toot, blurb rattle fras camel flurt! You blotter battle feast jerk up brat! Omyvon sak von ratter bottom botter...
  • You polly wop wapner! Drop dumb fratenhaus sticklefeiffer!
  • You bladder puss snotgrafter! You wort mon dang noodle. You shotten shifter pastafer! You snort tunger, lay monger sniker shell cocker!

Now that's some holiday cheer.

Have a great holiday and a Merry Christmas...

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Looking Forward to 2008

In his article Why 2008 Will Be An Awesome Year For Movies, Alex Billington lists 54 films coming out in 2008 and makes a pretty good case for what could be a terrific year. Man, I'm nowhere near catching up with 2007 and already there's a whole slew of must sees coming next year:

  • "Adventureland" directed by Greg Mottola - In 1987, a new grad takes a job at an amusement park and finds that it teaches him far more than he expected it would. Ryan Reynolds is a bit smarmy for my liking, but Mottola's "Superbad" had some terrificly funny moments, so this could be good.
  • "Be Kind Rewind" directed by Michel Gondry - Even if the plot wasn't as good as it is (two video store employees make their own versions of films like "Back To The Future" and "Robocop" after accidentally destroying all the videos in the store), I'd still follow Gondry anywhere...This looks like a perfect opportunity for him to recreate what he likely did as a kid.

  • "Blindness" directed by Fernando Meirelles - A community falls apart as all the residents (except for the wife of a doctor) suddenly become blind. I'm quite curious to see what Meirelles (who made "City Of God") can do with this.
  • "The Box" directed by Richard Kelly - Haven't seen "Southland Tales" yet and already Kelly has another intriguing premise on deck: a couple who opens a box found on their doorstep become instantly wealthy, but the act of opening it also kills a stranger. I'm sure that's from a short story I read back in high school...
  • "Burn After Reading" directed by the Coen Brothers - Imagine a world where we could get a Coen Brothers movie every year. Aaah...
  • "City Of Ember" directed by Gil Kenan - A sparkling city of lights begins to flicker when its huge generator begins to fail. And it has Bill Murray.
  • "Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" directed by David Fincher - Fincher jumps back into the fray a short year after "Zodiac" with the story of a man who starts aging backwards.
  • "The Fighter" directed by Darren Aronofsky - The plot about the early life of boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward doesn't exactly scream out to me, but I'm curious about how Aronofsky's style will come through.
  • "The International" directed by Tom Tykwer - I loved Tykwer's "Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer" and of course "Run Lola Run" (look for his earlier "Winter Sleepers" as well), so how could he possibly go wrong with a story about an Interpol agent exposing an arms dealing ring?
  • "Semi-Pro" directed by Kent Alterman - Yes, another stupid Will Ferrell comedy. But the trailer looks funny ("get a live camel in here...and just see what happens").

  • "Wall-E" directed by Andrew Stanton - It's Pixar, so it will be good. Scratch that...Great.
  • "Where The Wild Things Are" directed by Spike Jonze - How could you not possibly be excited to see this?

And that's just English language releases...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Blood Wedding

I hadn't heard of Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy when Criterion's new Eclipse line of releases announced it several months back, but I was immediately curious. I find that dance on film can be incredibly exciting and visceral. For example, Robert Altman's "The Company" may not have a great story, but the dance sequences are glorious.

So I popped in the first of the three Saura films with pretty high expectations - and had them all exceeded. I knew right away that I wanted to post something about it, but I don't know how much I can say (or even show via screencaps) that will get across the experience. The film is all about movement and rhythm and drama writ large. There's the quick, sharp, slashing motions of arms and legs for exclamation; the whips of heads turning in sync with snapping fingers; a smoothly raised leg pausing just ever so slightly at the top of its arc; pleading expressions on faces; THE MUSIC; etc. It's quite exhilarating.

It opens with a 15 minute sequence of the dancers and musicians arriving at a rehearsal hall with all their gear - makeup, outfits, personal belongings. We watch them slowly prepare to move out to the dance floor.

The leader of the troop is Antonio Gades - a striking figure who leads the group through some warmup exercises throughout the next 10 minutes of the film. The ease with which these people accomplish the moves he lays down for them is, frankly, damn annoying. Dancing for them is like breathing for the rest of us. Within the warmups, there's a section where the dancers spin across the floor one by one. Even though it's just a practice exercise, you can see several of them immediately throw grand dramatic expressions on their faces as they begin the movements. It just seems to be ingrained in them.

After another short prep sequence, the remaining 40 minutes of the film is devoted to a full dress rehearsal of the Federico Garcia Lorca play of the film's title - adapted for dance and song. Setting a single motionless camera to capture the whole performance would've made for an excellent film, but Saura brings the camera right into the thick of things and adds to the fluidity of the dancers' movements. He captures their expressions in closeups, slides the camera along the floor with the whole group and brings attention to various body parts. It's never flashy but it's incredibly effective.

The story is pretty simple and much is conveyed via the dancers' expressions and through the lyrics of the songs (there's almost no spoken dialog in the play). On the day of her wedding, a woman runs off with her lover who has also abandoned his own spouse. The newly wed husband persues the couple and challenges the other man to a knife fight with not unpredictable results. That basic story allows for a number of other issues to come out such as the role women have in this particular society...Which is to say the role they DON'T have - that of choice makers. As well, men are also expected to take on certain roles, the biggest of which is to behave as MEN. This of course leads to the confrontation of the husband and lover.

The 6 minute knife fight that closes out the story is quite extraordinary. The entire sequence is done in silence and slow motion - not by slowing down the film, but by the dancers themselves smoothly stepping through the well choreographed fight at about 1/8 speed. I can't even imagine the incredible strength and control it must take to move like that for that long a period of time - bending, stretching, balancing and never being able to relax into normal body movements.

It's a remarkable work of art. I can't wait to see the remaining films.

Monday, 10 December 2007

October Horror - Wrapping November...In December

Yeah, so I'm obviously a procrastinator. I tend to put things off. Things like posting about stuff I saw awhile ago. I should probably do something about that. Just not right now though...

For the moment, here's a few random films I saw in November as part of the laundry list of Horror films I wanted to get to in October. The list was so large, they'll be a big part of my diet throughout the next year.

  • The Last Man On Earth (Sydney Salkow - 1964) - Though I had heard about the upcoming blockbuster "I Am Legend", I had no idea that it's essentially the same story as this (gauging from the trailer I just saw of it). My guess is that it won't have the simplicity and eerieness of this film nor show the real loneliness the main character goes through. I can only hope they don't jigger with the ending too much.

  • Hearts Of Darkness - A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola - 1991) - You bet this is a horror movie...Eleanor Coppola's documentary footage of behind the scenes conversations and goings on during her husband's filming of "Apocalypse Now" is an incredible document of the human capacity for delusion and the dangers of exceeding that limit.

  • Asylum (Roy Ward Baker - 197) - Yet another anthology of horror tales, but the wrapper story this time around has a greater role - a psychiatrist applying for a job as head of the asylum must interview 4 patients, hear their stories and decide which is the mad doctor that preceded him in the position. The wrapper and all 4 stories are quite silly, but they are all told with style and fun - and lots of inanimate objects coming to life (severed body parts, mannequins, little robots).

I just wanted to say that Britt Ekland was really attractive in this movie.

  • Theatre Of Death (Samuel Gallu - 1966) - Not a great movie by any stretch, but it's got Christopher Lee being Christopher Lee, very colourful sets and terrific use of the camera in framing shots. Lee plays the role of a megalomaniac theatre director who specializes in horror productions and may have something to do with the spate of murders being committed. It doesn't quite build the tension and mystery throughout, but still delivers some good scenes. And Lee has those eyes...

  • Tombs Of The Blind Dead (Amando de Ossorio - 1971) - This one really surprised me...It suffers from some poor acting, dubbing (another case of the sound likely not being recorded during filming - so even its original language of Spanish doesn't quite match up with the moving lips) and a slow moving awkward story, but damn if those blind dead priest guys aren't eerie as all get out. And where else would you get to see blind dead priest guys riding horses in slow motion (and get realy creeped out by it)?

  • Reincarnation (Takashi Shimizu - 2005) - The director of the Ju-On series of films takes a break to focus on another kind of vengeful ghost (the film was part of last year's "8 Films To Die For" series as well as volume 3 in the Japanese J-Horror Theater series). During the filming of a horror movie based on a mass murder incident that took place 30 years previous, a young woman sees flashbacks to the hotel that was the scene of the crime. As the movie production moves everyone to that actual hotel, the flashbacks get worse and she feels she may be the reincarnation of one of the victims. The story is a bit jumbled, but its fractured timeline is actually quite effective in disorienting the viewer until the end. Shimizu really knows how to build uneasy feelings with the surroundings he chooses, the sound field and those damn ghosts. I really enjoyed this one...

    Warning - Creepy doll alert!

Maybe I'll post something on Christmas movies sometime in April...

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Crossing The Stage Line

Just yesterday I was catching up (make that "trying to catch up") on the blogs in my blogroll when I was reading through Film Of The Year. In a recent post about Citizen Kane, the crossing of the stage line in a particular scene was held up as an example of a failed experiment. Though I haven't pulled out my copy of the movie to review that scene, the discussion of it by Thom made me want to...

Tonight while watching the spiffy Anime film "Paprika", the following scene occurred:

Cool. It's kinda like the director of "Paprika" saw Thom's post, agreed with it and decided to document it.

By the way, the film is a joy to watch as it uses the plot element of a machine that enters people's dreams as an excuse to "get creative" with the imagery. Beautiful stuff.