Monday, 25 January 2010

The Endless Night: A Tribute To Film Noir

Film Noir is easily one of my favourite genres. The video below - discovered by famed Noir expert Eddie Muller - is possibly one of the best encapsulations of its aesthetics, its themes and its entertainment value. Apparently after finding this on YouTube, Muller invited its creator (20 year old Serena Bramble) to show it on the big screen in front of his Noir City film festival double features. This year's festival (held in San Francisco and in its eighth year) began on January 22nd and Maya at The Evening Class will likely be covering much of it until it ends on the 31st. Thanks to him for initially posting this video.

So enjoy the shadows, the gorgeous dames, the tortured souls and all those venetian blinds...

Cross posted at RowThree.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Treeless Mountain

So Yong Kim's 2006 debut "In Between Days" followed the trials, tribulations and awkward attempts to move towards adulthood of a young immigrant Korean girl. Lonely and disconnected from her surroundings, she stumbles through her wintry surroundings and continuously misses opportunities to take decisions and act on them. It didn't exactly feel like a tourist board video for my home of Toronto, but it obviously wasn't made to be that - it showed how cold and distancing a big city can be.

Her follow-up, 2008's "Treeless Mountain", moves its main characters out of the city - this time into the countryside near Seoul. Focusing on two young sisters who get sent to their uncaring Aunt's house when their Mom simply cannot take care of them anymore, it's a beautiful portrait of the little joys of childhood as well as some of the biggest fears. There's much more to say about the way the camera just inserts itself into the lives of the two girls (Jin and Bin), how wonderful the two performances are and how terrible adults can behave, but I'd rather put up these gorgeous shots of the sky that are inserted throughout the film. I'm a city boy, but the sky just looks different when the skyscrapers are removed - bigger, more complex and definitely more lovely.

My favourite is the one at the beginning of this post as it comes just as the girls go through yet another transition...As the sun peeks out from the gloomy clouds, it feels like there's some hope and happiness on the horizon.

Who Gets To Call It Art?

Peter Rosen's 2006 documentary "Who Gets To Call It Art?" mixes a portrait of Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler, the general artistic scene of New York in the early 60s and the wide influence of Pop Art. Unfortunately, that wide scope waters down the film's impact and it feels like it leaves out lots of interesting stories and details. However, if it doesn't quite bring you right into the early exciting days of a NY art scene that was breaking away from conventions or give you a full understanding of the mainstream acceptance of many Pop Art images, it still provides countless opportunities to showcase some lovely, interesting and intriguing paintings.

Here's a few of the many paintings found in the film - across several styles and covering influential painters as well as those who strove to break new ground. I don't necessarily love all of these, but they made people think and discuss the meaning of art and their personal perspectives on it (the film touches briefly on some of the very negative - and quite entertaining - reviews of several modern pieces). If you can create a passionate response from someone via your own creativity, than I think you've every right to call it art.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A Year of Favourites

When looking back at a year's worth of movie-watching, I prefer to take a leisurely walk through all the films I saw - not just the ones released in the calendar year. I actually do have a Top 10 for this year, but I'll start instead with my list of favourite non-2009 films I saw for the first time since January '09.

Favourite First Time Viewings of Older Films in 2009

  • Danger: Diabolik - Might have been one of my favourite Bava films except for a callousness by the lead character that didn't jibe with the silliness and candy colours of the rest of the film. But I can forgive it that - this looks amazing and I desperately want his hidden lair.

  • I'm A Cyborg But I'm OK - Chan-wook Park's first film after his Vengeance trilogy got a lot of pummeling by critics when first released. I thought it was sweet and handled it's mix of fantasy and reality in wonderful ways.

  • A Matter Of Life And Death - A beautiful magical film by The Archers, but what isn't?

  • Daisies - Who knew that an experimental film from the New Wave of Czech cinema of the 60s could make me laugh out loud for a full minute during its opening scene and then keep me engaged throughout the rest of its seemingly random events and even more random colour schemes. But it did.

  • Role Models - Paul Rudd just simply makes me laugh. Especially when he's involved with silly comedies that are also quite smart. The female characters were somewhat short changed here (whereas "I Love You Man" provided fuller more interesting females), but there's still a good deal of heart amongst all the funny.

  • Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown - Immediately became my favourite Almodovar and set me off on a bit of a mini-festival of his films. I found other favourites like ""The Flower Of My Secret" and "Volver", but nothing quite as funny and different as this one.

  • Timecrimes - I love time travel films. And this is a good one.

  • The Demon - Harrowing in many ways, this late 70s Japanese film is not explicitly violent, but contains scenes that I just can't imagine any North American film ever including. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow.

  • Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards! / 3 Seconds Before Explosion - The two best film titles ever. Both released at the same time by Kino, each is pure fun and almost non-stop action (cheesy or otherwise). My reviews at J-Film Pow-Wow: here and here.

  • Portrait Of Hell - There's some terrific imagery throughout the entire film - ghostly presences, fiery hellish scenes and really effective use of lighting. While society crumbles around him and poverty overcomes most everyone else, a Japanese Lord refuses to see it and asks a painter to create a portrait of paradise. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow.

  • The Space Amoeba - If you can't have fun with this movie than you need to take stock of your life. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow.

  • Take Aim At The Police Van - My favourite from the most excellent Nikkatsu Noir set released by the Eclipse line. Yes, I'm biased by the fact it's by Seijun Suzuki, but there's a reason he's one of those "I'll watch anything he's ever done" directors. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow.

  • Pusher II / Pusher III - I had previously seen and enjoyed "Pusher" and finally got around to its 2 sequels. The first film was a bad week in the life of a pusher, but the second and third amp up the tension and the litany of strange and horrifying events that occur to their lead characters (each film follows a different person that was introduced in the original).

  • House (Hausu) - Possibly my favourite film experience of the year (maybe longer). Though I now own a copy of this incredibly over-the-top ball of weird and wonderful, I'll wait until a true pristine and proper release comes out before giving it a full post of its own. If you think I've had image heavy posts in the past, just wait until Criterion releases this puppy later this year.

  • Scream Blacula Scream - "Blacula" is a fine entry in the blaxploitation canon, but its follow-up bumps up the camp a bit, notches up the clever filmmaking and gets William Marshall to give it all he has. Supreme fun.

  • Frightmare - One of those "where did this come from" films that surprised me during my Horror marathon through October. I'd had this Peter Walker film on my to-see list for some time, but had forgotten why I had placed it there in the first place. I loved its mix of camp and creepiness and it didn't cop out to any easy resolution. In fact the true horror doesn't happen until the final decision at the end.

  • The Woman In Black - If only for that one scene...

  • Triple Lion Dance - My first experience with Kabuki Theatre. Gorgeous. Reviewed here.

  • The Thief - A pretty solid Noir that stumbled across my path and hooked me with its little gimmick of having no dialog. This limitation of no spoken words likely helped the filmmakers end up with a fast moving and lean thriller – there’s few wasted scenes and a good solid build up of tension which made a pretty basic story all the more compelling.

  • Dear Zachary - Like most people, I've cried during a film before. Whether it's something that tweaks a personal memory, something that goes after my "parent triggers" or simply because the on-screen emotions are amplified by music, I will occasionally shed a tear or get a big old lump in the throat. But I've never openly wept. Until now. This is a highly manipulative documentary, but days later I still couldn't really talk to anyone about the film for fear of choking up all over again. I'm not sure that's what I would call a recommendation, but there you have it.

  • Kuroneko - Stunning. Incredible use of black and white photography. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow.

  • Camera Buff - My first Kieslowski outside of his famous ones ("Three Colours" trilogy, "Decalogue" and "Double Life of Veronique") and it'll certainly not be the last. It chronicles one young man's fascination and obsession with filmmaking and though his documentaries are accurate slices of life, they may not be showing exactly what the powers that be would like. But it's more complicated than that...

  • Urgh! A Music War - OK, this wasn't a first time viewing as I had seen it theatrically back in the early 80s, but I thought perhaps it may be lost to the absurdities of music rights and licensing. However, Warners saw fit to release it through their Archives series and I can't thank them enough. It was buckets of fun to revisit the music and the performances from this rag tag assembly of artists (the live footage is taken from a couple of larger festivals). Not to mention Gary Numan's little car.

Favourite Performances of 2009

  • Female: Vera Farmiga (Up In The Air); Doo Na Bae (Air Doll); Kara Hui (At The End Of Daybreak)

  • Male: Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite); Brendan Gleeson & Jim Broadbent (Perrier's Bounty); Peter Capaldi (In The Loop)

  • On-screen Couple: Lina (Helena Yaralova) and Yigal (Dror Keren) from Five Hours From Paris - you know you like the characters when you really hope that the film ends up as an unrealistic feel-good they-get-together-in-the-end story. Honourable mention to Verona and Burt (Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski) from Away We Go.

Favourite Films of 2009

  • 10. The Loved Ones (review)
    This little Aussie horror is not afraid to show familiar scenes in different ways – in fact, it embraces the chance to do so via its choices of framing, editing and pacing. It takes its time, uses long takes and builds up its head of steam through story and character. The dysfunctional relationship at the heart of the main story keeps the viewer always a bit off balance and usually laughing while they attempt to right themselves. Surprises, gore, plenty of humour and plenty of uncomfortable wincing.

  • 9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
    I love Wes Anderson’s style so I’m absolutely biased up front. If he seems to bring similar framing tactics, long tracking shots, whip pans and rat-a-tat dialog to everything he does, that’s OK by me because it seems to work every single damn time. Even when the whole film is done with stop motion animation. I can’t wait to see this one again.

  • 8 . Adventureland
    The characters in Greg Mottola’s "Adventureland" feel like real people. They aren’t completely innocent or completely evil – they do stupid things, react in ways they regret later and all have a great deal of warmth along with their many flaws. That’s kind of comforting and why I loved spending time with them.

  • 7. Love At The Twilight Motel (review)
    Alison Rose’s "Love At The Twilight Motel" was initially pitched as being about the 20 motels located on 8th street in Miami that set their rates based on hourly occupancy. One can easily envision a rogue’s gallery of characters and bizarre situations to be found at these motels that might provide a glimpse into the vast depravity of humankind. Instead, we get seven very intimate stories from seven different patrons of these establishments – all of whom are missing something in their lives. If perhaps they don’t realistically believe they will find love at the motel, every single one of their stories touches on lost loves, hopes for love and love betrayed. It’s beautifully shot, very moving and seriously deserves much wider distribution.

  • 6. Micmacs (review)
    Jean-Pierre Jeunet knows how to please his fan base. His latest (whose full title is actually "Micmacs a tire-larigot") is chock full of his patented set design, quirky characters and Rube Goldberg type apparatus along with, from start to finish, more inventiveness and creativity than many directors manage in their entire careers. Jeunet isn’t bringing a whole lot brand new to the table, but it’s superbly entertaining, constantly surprising and left me grinning ear to ear.

  • 5. Soul Kitchen (review)
    Family. Food. Music. Sex. Depending on the person, each can be thought of as a kind of “food for the soul”. They all make up significant parts of Fatih Akin’s latest film which focuses on many of the joys of life. It’s filled with great characters, contains numerous zigs and zags on the path from A to the inevitable B and celebrates the nourishment that body and mind require.

  • 4. L’Enfer D’Henri-Georges Clouzot (review)
    You have to see your madness through“. By the time famed director Henri-Georges Clouzot actually utters this philosophy regarding how artists should approach their work, this documentary look at his failed dream project has already given you a taste of how much he himself believed it. By pulling together footage shot before the project was abandoned (a mix of outdoor shots and test footage for the delusional dream sequences), the film brings you right to the brink of Clouzot’s own madness.

  • 3. Best Worst Movie (review)
    I love bad movies as much as the next person, but I don’t quite revel in them. I had feared that "Best Worst Movie" would focus on the fans of "Troll 2" (widely considered one of the worst films ever made and the subject of this doc) – those who can only laugh AT movies and those who have an ironic “isn’t this great” viewpoint. Many of the fans of "Troll" 2 do indeed show up in the film, but there’s an honest genuine love for “their” movie that they want to share with everyone. It becomes apparent very quickly that "Best Worst Movie" is about the people behind it – an affectionate, sweet, sometimes sad and often times hysterically funny look at a group of people who had such great intentions…and failed miserably.

  • 2. Up
    Pixar sure makes it easy to include their films in end of the year lists – gorgeous graphics, high-energy action, lots of good humour and subtlety in both character and emotion. A smile rarely leaves my face during one of their films and I have to think that’s worth some pretty high praise. "Up" is yet another example. They still haven’t failed me.

  • 1. Black Dynamite (review)
    Easily the most fun I’ve had at the theatre in years. Partially, no doubt, due to the wonderful Toronto After Dark audience who ate it up, but the credit of course goes to director/co-writer Scott Sanders and star/co-writer Michael Jai White. Their homage/spoof of 70’s blaxploitation films finds the perfect balance between poking fun at the genre while also paying respectful tribute to it. These are guys who know and love these films and this translates into tears-streaming down your face laughter and a wealth of fun action.

Honorable mentions: Castaway On The Moon, Ashes Of American Flags, Iron Maiden: Flight 666, Grace, I Love You Man, Air Doll, The Headless Woman, Black, Perrier’s Bounty, Inglourious Basterds, The Misfortunates, Five Hours From Paris, (500) Days Of Summer, The Cove, Away We Go, Funny People, Star Trek, The Box.


To close off the year, a quick look at how I ended up doing on my movie related resolutions from an early post last year:

  • 1. See more films in the theatre - If you include all the festival screenings I attended (TIFF, After Dark, Hot Docs, Shinsedai & Reel Asian), I did great! If you don't, I ended up where I was last year - about 1 a month. I need to rectify this! Particularly since my entire top 10 were theatrical showings.

  • 2. See more films from certain directors: Claude Chabrol, Aki Kaurismaki, Michelangelo Antonioni, Satyajit Ray, Peter Greenaway, Nicholas Ray, Eric Rohmer, Claire Denis - I caught 3 Chabrols (each better than the one before - and now "Le Boucher" just arrived and I'm eager to see it), 2 by Denis (I've got a ways to go before I fully understand what she's doing, but I'm still curious...) and 1 by Ray. Nowhere near what I had intended, but it was a start.

  • 3. See more Canadian cinema with a particular emphasis on Quebec films - This one got away from me as well...I saw some, but still not as many as I would like. I really need to catch up on older Canadian films and I've finally got a book on Canadian Cinema so I've got my sights set again.

  • 4. See more Classic era comedies from the 30s and 40s - "Talk Of The Town", "Easy Living", "Nothing Sacred", "Desk Set", "Design For Living", "Merton Of The Movies" and some others...Pretty good. I've got "The Merry Widow" on the PVR, so I should try to tackle that soon and continue catching up with the many I still haven't seen.

  • 5. See more of those unwatched DVDs hanging around the house - Yeah right. Everybody talks about this but no one ever does anything about it.

  • 6. See more films with my son - Yep, we managed this one pretty well as we bounced between his choices (usually animated) to silly comedies of the 80s ("Adventures In Babysitting" was a big hit) to a couple of classics (he loved the ending of "A Christmas Carol"). He's just on the cusp of being able to appreciate a wider set of films, so we'll see where he leads us...

  • 7. See more "Microcinema" - Nope. Nothing. Damn shame.

  • 8. See more non-region 1 DVDs - Woo Hoo! Region free player acquired and "You, The Living", "Survive Style 5+", "Kuroneko" and "In The City Of Sylvia" purchased almost immediately. Of course, the first of that list is coming out in R1 this month, but that's OK - I'm just happy more people will finally be able to see it.

  • 9. Don't tell people how many movies you watch - Not a peep from me...

My only new resolution is to not make any further resolutions until I've completed my previous resolutions. So I should be good for awhile...