Sunday 30 November 2008

Basking In The Cesspool Of Filth #8

The Asphyx (1973 - Peter Newbrook) - This Hammer-like film set in the late 1800s has a pretty spiffy idea: just before you die, a spirit called the Asphyx shows up and helps to guide your soul from your body into the netherworld. Sir Hugo discovers the Asphyx after noticing in his research of dying patients that there is always a blotch of some kind on his photos just as the patient dies. While filming a hanging (he invents a motion picture camera), he accidentally discovers how to trap the Asphyx and then becomes obsessed with the idea of being immortal - if your Asphyx can't take away your soul you can't die. Of course, for the Asphyx to show up in order for you to catch it, you have to be at death's door or be in extreme mortal danger. So when Hugo suggests to his family members that he catch their Asphyxes (Asphyxi?), you can understand how it takes a bit of convincing to get them on board with the idea...

It's definitely slow and a bit silly in many spots, but the actual Asphyx itself is kinda creepy and the idea is pretty solid - would you subject yourself to mortal danger if there was the chance of becoming immortal?

The Exorcist III (1990 - William Peter Blatty) - I don't think I had ever even considered watching any of The Exorcist sequels until Halloween of last year when another blog mentioned the third installment and posted this scene from it:

The entirety of the scene is actually longer - the camera sits at the end of the hall for quite some time as the nurse chats with the cops and checks out odd sounds. Though it is broken up by her entry into one of the rooms and a false scare, the length of time it sits at the end of the hallway provides a great build up to that final moment. The majority of the film actually creates some great eerie atmosphere and there is that terrific scene, but two long talky scenes with the possessed crazy guy and a story arc that didn't work overly well for me made it a hit and miss affair.

Them (1954 - Gordon Douglas) - A 3 Wilhelm scream movie! And look how great this initial title screen is:

What is obviously a warning about the (at the time) recent move into the atomic age, the film also works as a good solid big monster movie. The gargantuan ants are pretty effective and there's some nice slow tension built up as the ants are revealed in a few scenes.

And then there's this kid...

She kinda freaked me out, you know?

There's some dated elements to the film of course, in particular this wonderful piece of dialogue from James Arness' character to the female scientist: "It's no place for you or any other woman.". But overall it's a really fun film. There's even a moment of real emotional weight when the police officers find two missing boys and report back to base where their mother is waiting:

Ju-On: The Grudge (2003 - Takashi Shimizu) - I just wanted to reiterate how much I love this film and all its creepy sounds and shadows and black haired ghosts. Can't wait until the third one comes out (also directed by Shimizu), though I'm a bit concerned it may be all back story and explanation since it is apparently the final part.

Saturday 29 November 2008


This particular frame from Don Hertzfeldt's Oscar nominated animated short "Rejected" just kills me...I think it's funny enough by itself ("Sweet Jesus - more sodium!"), but in the context of the film (which is a number of supposedly "rejected" commercial spots he made all strung together) it just takes on that added level of absurdity. As if those two blob-like things with stick legs weren't already just a wee bit absurd...And the end of the film is sheer brilliance as everything starts to spin out of control.

As I rewatched this the other day, when it cut from the poor stick guy (who has just walked head first into a Yield sign after having had his eyes unceremoniously removed by a visiting alien) to the fish sticks I laughed out loud. For longer than should reasonably be expected.

Here's the whole (and let me repeat this again) Oscar nominated film. There is some colour that eventually appears by the way. That colour is red. Be forewarned that there are some scenes where there is a lot of red.

Monday 24 November 2008

WALL-E's Credits

I finally managed to catch up with Pixar's latest magical entry into the world of animated films - WALL-E. I may be late to the party, but I'm no less enthusiastic about it.

Possibly more...Several scribes have mentioned that they wish the entire film was like the first 30-35 minutes (which all take place on Earth without a stitch of dialogue) and that things aren't quite as great once more characters join the fray. I can see where they're going with that - a 90 minute animated film with two non-verbal characters would be extremely interesting and Pixar could indeed pull it off. But I love what we get here...The humans are certainly the least interesting characters of the bunch, but they do still provide a great deal of humour and some good action scenes (e.g. the captain's battle with Auto). And without WALL-E and Eva rendezvous-ing with the main ship, we wouldn't have met all the other great robots. The focus remains those two, but the outer edges of the film are nicely packed with all the rest.

Though I gave up reading the reviews awhile back (they were overwhelmingly glowing), I don't think I saw anyone mention the great end titles sequence. I suppose there's some spoiler issues with doing that, so stop now if you haven't seen the film...

The credits show the humans rebuilding their ways of life and re-learning pretty much everything - from creating fire to building structures - though this time with the help of robots. The most striking portion, however, was just before the crawl of names when we get a short sequence of a few beautifully rendered scenes (mapping to the styles of some famous artists) to show that the humans have re-learned the importance of art:


"The Fighting Teremaire Tugged To Her Last Berth To Be Broken Up"
J.M.W. Turner (1838)


The Seine At Le Grande Jatte
Georges Seurat (1888)



Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background
Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

Wheat Field With Cypresses
Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

An absolutely wonderful and perfect end to a glorious film.

Friday 21 November 2008

Random Notes #5

Repo! The Genetic Opera - I've already reviewed this during the After Dark festival, but one last word on it...I just realized that it would've been a far better film if its musical score had been closer to Jason Segal's "Dracula's Lament" from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall". That single throwaway song is far better than anything in "Repo" - it doesn't take itself too seriously and it's actually quite memorable. Maybe "Repo" should've used puppets too...

Aki Kaurismaki's Proletariat Trilogy - Each coming in around ~70 minutes long, Kaurismaki's films are wonders of economic storytelling. The comedy in all three gets blacker as you work through the set (the first film is the most overtly funny - with a terrific final punch line). Though the three don't necessarily flow as a strict trilogy, there are a number of commonalities. For example, here are the opening frames of each film:

Shadows In Paradise


Match Factory Girl

Sense a theme?

And the lockers of each main character portrayed in the three stories:

Shadows In Paradise


Match Factory Girl

Each has some great long stretches documenting the jobs of these workers - in particular the process of creating matches - but it's the characters that are really endearing and they help make the films so damn watchable (yes, that's a bogus word, but I hope it gets across my meaning).

Silent Light - I finally got a chance to see the film that was sweeping festival awards and praise last year. Wow. I really didn't expect to be sucked in so much to a 2 1/2 hour slow paced reflective film about Menonites in Northern Mexico. Just when I thought it was really more of a "slice of life" look at their existence, actual story and character show up...

Aside from the stunning opening and closing shots (of a sunrise and a sunset), my favourite shots in the film are the slow tracking inwards ones used in several scenes. It builds up a sense of anticipation which never quite leads anywhere - until towards the end when something totally unexpected does happen.

Seance On A Wet Afternoon - How did Kim Stanley not win Best Actress for her insanely good portrayal of a deluded psychic?

Le Doulos - Great mid-period Jean-Pierre Melville film (just released on Criterion). Probably one of the best examples of the necessity of putting your trust in the director's hands that all of the scattered information you receive at the beginning (characters half-introduced, lengthy looks between people who weren't supposed to know each other, etc.) will lead to something down the road. And it does ever so nicely.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008 - International Shorts

Short films were represented in two different ways at this year's Toronto After Dark festival: the Canadian Shorts that preceded each feature film and a series of International ones strung together in a single screening. Looking back, the Canadian Shorts seemed to be far and away the class of the field. There was an extraordinary amount of creativity and laugh out loud humour in most of the submissions we were treated to.

The International set didn't fare quite as well, but it really had some tough competition (my understanding was that the amount of Canadian submissions to the festival FAR outstripped the international ones, so there was a greater herd from which to cull).

A few long overdue notes on the International crop:

The Attack of the Robots from Nebula-5 (Chema Garcia Ibarra - 6 minutes)

A very well done account of loneliness and a terrific start to the program. A young man is convinced that the Earth and all its inhabitants are about to be wiped out by aliens - except for whoever is in a very specific location at a certain time of day. The problem is, he doesn't actually know which day...Funny and sad.

Doxology (Michael Langan - 5 minutes)

The After Dark web sites lists this film as "Experimental". Yeah, no kidding...I haven't a clue what it was about, but it certainly showed a great deal of creativity in each skit-like moment with loads of spiffy visuals (a guy doing the Tango with a car; a bunch of guys standing with tennis rackets whacking tennis balls miles into the air; etc.).

The Goblin Man of Norway (Jay Cheel - 24 minutes)

No mere mockumentary, this is a remarkable film about the discovery of the "Goblin Man". Cheel (one of the folks behind The Documentary Blog) builds his entire mythology through well put together back story and talking heads. His interview subjects are actual real life experts in their fields, but there's not a hint of acting throughout. His technique of gaining the footage is a master stroke in making the film feel true to life. I assume the film was a bit too long to be included as one of the Canadian Shorts, so it was included in this program - simply because it was too good to be left out. Part 1 of the film follows below (Parts 2 and 3 should be easily found from Part 1):

Transrexia (Aurelio Voltaire - 1 minute)

The Queen (Walter Krudop - 1 minute)

Short portion of film here.

Both films had such interesting and striking visuals that I didn't have time to actually focus on what they were about before they were finished. Each sure had me curious though...In particular, I'd love to see something longer from Krudop as the world he created in "The Queen" was very intriguing.

Notes from the Acrid Plain (Jonathan Ashley - 15 minutes)

A very dry attempt to recreate an old style nature film but with a look at the odd habits and customs of creatures living on the "acrid plain". An interesting concept, but it just seemed to drag on and on. Hmmm, maybe it did capture those old nature films pretty well after all...

Martians Go Home: The Revenge of Sara Clockwork (Dani Moreno - 20 minutes)

More 80s cheesy goodness with green goo and home made effects. And anything with a theremin in it has got to be pretty entertaining.

Shut-Eye Hotel (Bill Plympton - 7 minutes)

The creator of this year's animated feature "Idiots and Angels" contributes a short film to the mix as well. This is a highly entertaining and creative take on a noir tale of mysterious killings at the Shut-Eye Hotel. Great use of the genre conventions and inspired humour. My favourite film of the session.

Kingz (Benjamin Diez and Marinko Spahic - 20 minutes)

An overlong murky ugly looking film with a decent idea - martial arts skilled aliens who suck out people's brains are under cover as drug lords. The protagonists aren't exactly likeable and the stunts and action scenes cheated far too much with effects to have any excitement about them.

I Live In The Woods (Max Winston - 3 minutes)

What a fantastic way to finish off the screening. A frenzied purple bearded guy wreaks havoc in the woods before doing the same above the clouds. There's a brilliant transition from silly/goofy to all out frenzy and the crowd ate it up.

Sunday 16 November 2008

M Is For Meme

The fine people at Blog Cabins started the Alphabet Meme a short time ago and it's been spreading like wildfire - though I suppose slightly less destructive. I don't think I need to state the full rules: list 26 movies each starting with a different letter of the alphabet. Many have listed their favourites starting with each letter, others have narrowed the focus a bit. I'm going to do a couple of different versions. I mean how can I be expected to choose just one for each letter? I'd feel the need to apologize to the others...

I haven't been tagged, but it's too good to pass up (and many people have suggested anyone reading their meme just assume they have been tagged). So here's three different attempts:

Off The Top Of My Head Picks:

Airplane! - A huge influence on my sense of humour...To this day one of the funniest films I've ever seen. Far better than the Naked Gun series because they kept everything deadpan - the more serious Leslie Nielsen was the funnier he got.

Ball Of Fire - Barbara Stanwyck. Barbara Stanwyck. Barbara Stanwyck. Oh, and a great, sharp and funny script.

Cure - Kiyoshi Kurosawa's disturbing take on the serial killer genre piece. To say that it avoids many of the trappings of a genre piece is putting it lightly.

Donnie Darko - I love time travel stories and this is a neat spin on them. Great use of music as well.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind - You had to see that one coming, right?

Fargo - One of many faves from the Coens.

The Great Escape - As a teenager, this was one of those comfort food films that I could watch whenever it came on.

Harakiri - Masterless Samurai who couldn't find work had really but one option - commit ritual suicide. For one ronin in particular, he desires to take care of the act in the courtyard of one of the feudal lords. But he has additional reasons for the location...A pretty stunning film on all levels. There's a reason why I have 2, and could have had 3, films by director Masaki Kobayashi in my list.

In The Shadow Of The Moon - Interviews with all (minus one) of the surviving astronauts who set foot on the moon are spliced with jaw-dropping NASA footage. Truly awe-inspiring and inspirational.

Ju-On: The Grudge - My favourite ghost story. There's just such a terrific built-up feeling of dread and anxiety throughout the entire film.

Kwaidan - Kobayashi again with his own take on the ghost story. Four separate ghost stories to be exact. A key touchstone for the entire J-Horror movement of the last decade.

Lady Vengeance - The crowning touch to Chan-wook Park's vengeance trilogy. This is essentially a perfect film in my mind.

Magnolia - The first 10 breathless minutes of this film are simply fantastic - the quick run through of the three urban legends with a discussion of coincidences followed by the sprint through the character introductions. The remaining 2 hours and 50 minutes aren't too shabby either.

Network - Possibly one of my two favourite films of all time. Sidney Lumet's 1976 satire was a revelation to me when I saw it in the early 80s.

Ocean's Twelve - I stick to my guns in stating that this is not only the best of Soderbergh's Ocean films, but also a great art film. And lots of fun. And yes, it does hold together.

Punch Drunk Love - That's two for PT Anderson as well. I grow to appreciate this film more and more each time I see it.

The Quiet Earth - A slow, but compelling sci-fi tale of the last humans on Earth.

Rififi - Boy, it was tough not putting "Raising Arizona" or "The Royal Tenenbaums" here, but this is the first thing that came to mind. And not just because of the oft talked about 30 minute dialogue-and-music-free heist. That would be enough though since it is that incredibly good.

Sunrise - A gorgeous film of a married couple falling back into love.

Twelve Angry Men - The other possible entry in my top two films of all time is also directed by Sidney Lumet. While some films can barely flesh out 2 or 3 main characters, this one easily manages to give us 12 complex individuals wrapped into a great story.

Umbrellas Of Cherbourg - With an ending that pretty much defines the word "bittersweet", Jacques Demy's musical is a feast for the senses. Music and colour spill out of every frame (that wallpaper!).

Visions Of Light - My favourite documentary about film introduced numerous titles to me (e.g. "The Conformist").

Whisper Of The Heart - This wonderful story of young love is far more than just a beautiful anime film. It's one of the best coming of age films I've ever seen.

SeX And Lucia - Julio Medem's layered magical account of several people's stories on a remote island is also a very, very sexy film. Shame about his last film "Chaotic Ana" though...Ugh.

Young Girls Of Rochefort - My favourite all time musical. I cannot physically stop smiling during this movie.

Z - Costa-Gavras' political thriller made me angry. And I believe that was his intent.

Less Well Known Picks (aka "Aren't I Cool That I Know These?"):

Acacia - One of the most horrific aspects of this Korean horror tale is the callous behaviour shown towards a small 6 year old adopted boy. His new grandmother won't even speak to him and thinks that once her daughter actually becomes pregnant that he should be sent back. There's plenty of other more visceral terror in the film, but those scenes stick with me even more.

Blood Wedding - Part of Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy, this is a brilliant small film - it covers the dress rehearsal of the staging of "Blood Wedding" in three parts. First the preparation of the dancers (doing their makeup, getting dressed, etc), followed by a practice session and then a 40 minute run through of the play itself. The story is told without dialogue, but through music and dance and it culminates in an amazing knife fight between the two male leads - all of which is done to look like it is in slow motion.

C.R.A.Z.Y. - Quebec cinema seems to outpace the rest of Canadian cinema sometimes - I'm not sure if it's because they have a built in audience who actually attend their films in the theatre or if the artistic community in Quebec simply spawns talented filmmakers. Whatever the case, this is a highly enjoyable look at 20 odd years in the family of 5 boys growing up in the 60s and 70s of La Belle Province.

The Dinner Game - A number of snobby rich friends have a regular dinner to which they invite the stupidest people they can find. Whoever brings the dumbest guest wins. Pierre thinks that his current "catch" will far out do anyone else's. Very funny in both subtle and broad farcical ways.

The Eel - If nothing else, Shohei Imamura's 1997 film (and his 2nd win at Cannes) introduced me to one of my favourite actors - Koji Yakusho. But there's a lot more in this tale of a man trying to restart his life after serving 8 years in prison for murdering his cheating wife.

Funky Forest - The absolute best way to see this film is with an audience of unsuspecting people who are ready for anything to be thrown at them, but its many surprises and joys can still be enjoyed at home alone. Just be ready to be discombobulated.

Gunga Din - This is how they used to make 'em.

Hukkle - An odd Hungarian film with virtually no spoken dialogue of any kind about a series of deaths in a small village. The clever story incorporates wonderful images of nature and a very black sense of humour.

The In-Laws - I only saw this hysterical film a few years ago and regret having spent so much of my life sheltered from its brilliance. Peter Falk and Charles Grodin at their very funniest.

Jean De Florette - Claude Berri made both this and its sequel ("Manon Des Sources") in 1986 - two beautiful films in one year. Gerard Depardieu plays the titular character - a man determined to live with his family on his inherited property even though his greedy neighbours have shut down his well. Through failing health he still walks miles to get his water to keep the farm operational.

Kamikaze Taxi - More Koji Yakusho...An interesting take on the difficulty of integrating into society when you are a foreign born Japanese. Some good yakuza-ness in the film as well.

Linda Linda Linda - By using many long takes, director Nobuhiro Yamashita allows you to feel you've actually spent a great deal of time with these 4 teenage girls as they prepare for a battle of the bands. You really feel as though you got to know them. The great energetic music helps too.

Matinee - One of the more loving tributes to 50s cinema and in particular, the William Castle style of promotion and goofy fun. It can actually make you feel nostalgic for a period of time that you never experienced.

Next Stop Wonderland - This romantic comedy by Brad Anderson ("Session 9", "The Machinist", "Transsiberian") allows you to really like the two flawed individuals before they even meet each other. Hope Davis is simply gorgeous here.

One Two Three - Possibly my favourite Billy Wilder film (short of "Double Indemnity") has oodles of snappy patter and one liners tumbling from the mouths of its cast. James Cagney is a bundle of energy and a complete delight as the head of a Coca-Cola plant in West Germany who is looking to move up to bigger and better things.

Pulse - Possibly the creepiest film ever, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Pulse" chronicles one scenario of the breakdown of human communication. It's subtle in how it works on you and gets under your skin.

Quicksand - Mickey Rooney in a noir story of how a single act (even a small one) can snowball and seal your fate.

Royal Wedding - Cheesy, predictable and quite dated in many ways, "Royal Wedding" is also an amazingly entertaining musical with a terrific performance from Jane Powell. Fred Astaire dances on a ceiling, twirls with a coat rack and romps with Jane through some great colourful numbers (in particular "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life").

The Seagull's Laughter - It's rough for a 12 year old girl growing up in Iceland. Especially when no one believes anything you say.

The Taste Of Tea - A completely lovely and charming film about a family who have slowly disengaged themselves from each other. It's left up to the ailing patriarch to take it upon himself to remind them of the simple joys of life.

Un Flic - Melville. Delon. That's all I need to know.

The Vanishing - Build up. Build up. Build up. Devastating ending.

Werckmeister Harmonies - Some of the most stunning black and white photography I've ever seen mixed with incredibly evocative music. There are images from this film, especially from the single extended take of the attack on the hospital, that will stay with me pretty much forever.

EXte: Hair Extensions - A fun mix of silly, creepy and WTF. Fortunately the film is very self-aware as it takes the idea of the long black haired ghost and stretches it to ridiculous limits.

You, The Living - I love this film.

Zatoichi - Takeshi Kitano's crowd pleasing version of the blind swordsman's tale.


Anytown USA - A fascinating document of the mayoral race in a town in New Jersey. The Republican sitting mayor is not well liked and legally blind, the Democrat challenging him is accused of mafia type dealings and the independent write-in candidate is a local former football hero who also happens to be legally blind. Things don't transpire quite the way you expect them...

Bill Cosby: Himself - "Burden Of Dreams" is great, but this one man concert film of some of Cosby's best bits takes the 'B' spot because it is a tears-streaming-down-the-face riot. I love watching this with my Dad.

Calle 54 - During each of the numerous Latin Jazz performances in this film, there's a moment where you think "Ah, this will be my favourite one" - and then the next song starts and about half way through you think, "No, THIS will be...". The word fiery was coined for live music like this.

Deadline - Illinois governor George Ryan has 60 days left in office and decides to use much of it to investigate the cases of the death row inmates in his state. Like the university students who did research and inspired him to look into these cases, he finds out some baffling things - short cuts taken, assumptions made, biases everywhere and possibly innocent people awaiting their death sentence. A fascinating examination of the death penalty.

Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room - Bastards. All of 'em.

Five Obstructions - Lars Von Trier tasks one of his idols, Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth, with remaking an old short film five different times - each with a different set of restrictions. Along with a superb look at the creative process, it sheds a lot of light on both men.

Go Tigers! - The tagline reads: "Massillon Ohio: Where they live, breathe and eat football." Do they ever.

Hearts Of Darkness - The behind the scenes making of documentary to end all behind the scenes making of documentaries.

Intelligence - Through the framing story of The Emperor's New Clothes, the film takes a look at intelligence from several different angles such as the value placed on it in society and why we continue to try to measure it (and continue to fail).

Journeys With George - An "inside the campaign trail" account of George W. Bush's 2000 run for the White House. Though we see a few different sides of Bush, the film seems to be more about the press corps and their view of the campaigning - the repeated rallies, the dull bus trips and a sense that it's very rarely about the leaders' ideas.

The Kid Stays In The Picture - Producer extraordinaire Robert Evans had a helluva life. And this film is a helluva way of telling it - using many still photographs in unique ways, it paints not only Evans' portrait but that of Hollywood in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

The Last Waltz - Along with "Stop Making Sense", one of my favourite concert documentaries. The Band's last concert in San Francisco in 1976 had a roster of talent (Dylan, Clapton, Van Morrisson, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, etc.) rarely matched. And Scorsese was there to capture it all.

Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred Leuchter Jr. - Errol Morris' examination of one man's desperate need to find validation - any kind of validation. Leuchter's experience as a builder of death machines (electric chairs and such) is interesting enough, but the real story is where that experience leads him. Possibly my top documentary of all time.

Nursery University - I'm not even sure if this has been released domestically yet, but it should be. It has all the style and fun of many recent documentaries that follow several individuals or families in their pursuits of different goals - in this case the goal of getting their toddlers into the best possible nursery schools to set up their future education. As with those other films, the main subject is only part of the story. It's mostly about the people themselves.

One Day In September - Shocking, disturbing and ultimately depressing account of the killing of Israeli athletes and coaches during the 1972 Munich Olympics by terrorists.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills - Mind-boggling. Two teenage boys get sent away for the gruesome murder of younger boys with scant evidence and a huge bias towards their love of heavy metal music and the devil.

The Qatsi films (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi) - Koyaanisqatsi may have been one of the first jaw-dropping experiences I ever had watching a film. The combination of visuals (slow motion shots, time-lapse photography, etc.) and Philip Glass' music in both films gives totally different perspectives on parts of the world we may never see and some that we live in every single day.

Riding Giants - Stacy Peralta's follow-up to "Dogtown And Z-Boys" focuses this time on surfers...Particularly the ones who ride the huge waves. Great stories and some extraordinary footage.

Schlock: The Secret History Of American Cinema - A fun trip through the silly and occasionally quite influential period of 50s and 60s exploitation cinema.

The Times Of Harvey Milk - I was re-reading what I wrote about this early last year after viewing the film for the first time. I had forgotten that Milk really came to the fore battling Proposition 6 - an attempt to prevent any openly gay person from teaching in the public school system in California. Milk was a huge catalyst for change in the 70s and things have indeed come a long way. However, I also wrote: "As with the best documentaries, "The Times Of Harvey Milk" expands its scope. In this case asking questions that are still relevant today - what will society tolerate and allow in order not to feel threatened?"

With the most recent vote in California on Proposition 8, we see that there's still a ways to go...Sigh, change is slow sometimes isn't it?

The Untold Story Of Emmet Louis Till - In 1955 a 14 year-old black youth whistled at a white woman and was brutally beaten to death. The deliberation by an all white jury after the trial of his white killers took less than an hour. How could anyone not feel angry after watching this film?

Vernon, Florida - Errol Morris again with a quirky almost ramshackle document of some of the people from a small Florida town.

Wordplay - A fabulously fun movie about crosswords, the people that make them, those that solve them and the yearly competition to see who solves them best. Believe it or not, parts of the story are on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting...

X: The Unheard Music - I guess it helped that I had actually heard much of X's music before watching this documentary. One of the L.A. punk bands, X combined the dual vocals of John Doe and Exene Cervenka with terrific riffs and propulsive drumming. Their album "More Fun In The New World" is a great slice of power punk pop.

Year Of The Horse - The word "shambolic" springs to mind when I think of Jim Jarmusch's look at Neil Young and Crazy Horse during their 1996 tour (both on and off the stage).

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession - Though the heart of this movie is the sad story of Jerry Harvey - the programming chief of this early cable station - the joy of it is to listen to the many people influenced by the classic foreign and off the beaten path films Z Channel showed.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Ten Nights Of Dreams

Written by author Natsume Soseki as a series of ten short stories, the fantastical dreams of the 2006 film "Ten Nights Of Dreams" cover a wealth of fleeting moments and feelings via different styles and tones. Soseki became quite an accomplished and famous author in his relatively short life - succumbing to a stomach ulcer at the age of 49, he still wrote very popular Japanese novels such as "Botchan" and "I Am A Cat" - and was granted the honour of appearing on the 1000 Yen bank note from 1984-2004. He must have been drawn to the device of using dreams for these stories, because it lets him dabble across a variety of different themes without really having to be concerned about specific plot or character continuity. That's not to say that there's no structure to the individual stories, but be prepared to just let yourself float with each individual director's visualization of their interpretation of Soseki's writing.

11 different directors take the helm (2 collaborating on one film and another handling both a film and the prologue/epilogue sequences), so there's enough change of pace to keep the viewer on their toes. Like most anthology films, you have to be ready every so often to switch gears and reset yourself as a new story begins (about every 10 minutes or so in this case), but it shouldn't be too much of a challenge here since whatever perceived reality you've assumed for any one story is tenuous at best...

The film is really asking for the viewer to simply just give in to the dreams and pick and choose your own meanings and ideas from the thoughts flying around you. Though the prologue sets up the idea of a riddle of the Ten Nights Of Dreams, I can't help but think that's simply thrown into the mix to encourage the viewer (or reader in the case of the original stories) to attempt to make connections between the dreams simply as an exercise in creative thinking. There's no obvious through line across the stories, but more than one of the segments touched on themes like loneliness, the relative nature of time and the fragility of childhood memories. And they each have their own way of making you feel somewhat unsettled.

The opening two dreams (the second being one of Kon Ichikawa's final films) are confusing affairs that don't seem to have any foothold in linear time. Though somewhat slow moving, they set the stage with their eye catching (though completely different) visual approaches and allow the quicker paced, more entertaining middle section of the film to get away with a lot more - the third and fourth segments have nods to J-Horror while the fifth borders on lunacy (but has a great final sequence). The sixth segment is one of my favourites - an artist named Uneki dances robotically for most of the film (his dance sequence wouldn't have felt out of place in a film such as "Funky Forest") before carving out a huge head from wood with one strike to it. The seventh uses some interesting animation techniques to create a fine feast for the eyes, but suffers somewhat with an awkward English voiceover which might be characterized as ponderous...So there's quite the variety of tone to each story, but that's to be expected when your list of directors includes Ichikawa, Takashi Shimizu ("Ju-On: The Grudge"), Nobuhiro Yamashita ("Linda, Linda, Linda"), Akio Jissoji ("Rampo Noir") and Yudai Yamaguchi ("Battlefield Baseball"). Yamaguchi's closing segment, by the way, is the funniest twisted story of the bunch. Let's just say I'm off pork for awhile...

With only a few slow spots, the film succeeds at not only making me want to read the original stories, but also to understand Soseki himself as well as the many and varied viewpoints of the cast of directors. The lack of consistency in the approaches to the source material is in my mind a benefit to the film as a whole. I mean, do your dreams always look the same?

Previously posted at Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow.