Saturday 31 December 2011

Movie Moments of The Year - 2011 in Review (Part 2)

Stealing the ideas of hundreds of bloggers before me, here's my list of movie moments from this year that will stick with me:

2011 movies

  • The beautiful beach scenes in Beauty Day.
  • The image of the still born baby from the documentary Wiebo's War - truly gut wrenching.
  • The closeup shot of the baby looking straight into the camera in The Tree Of Life. The perfect representation of a new parent gazing at their child.
  • Any of the moments of the boys playing together in the fields and around town in The Tree Of Life.
  • The on screen chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau. They made it so easy to believe in love at first meeting.
  • Alison Pill's playful turn as Zelda Fitzgerald in Midnight In Paris.

  • Marion Cotillard's smoldering turn in Midnight In Paris.
  • Each and every one of the brilliantly choreographer sustained (and very brutal) fight scenes in The Raid.
  • The bookends of The Artist - the wonderful opening with the premiere of George Valentin's latest film (including his appearance on stage thanking the crowd afterwards) and the giddy joy of the closing moments.
  • The farewell from the kindly old folks in Hirokazu's Kore-eda's I Wish. Certainly one of the sweetest moments of the year.
  • The perverted fun of Astron 6's Father's Day.
  • The slow zoom into darkness in the Indie horror Absentia.
  • Emma Stone being Emma Stone in Crazy Stupid Love (or at least what I like to believe Emma Stone is really like).

  • The moments in Super 8 when The Boy (sitting next to me on the couch) made exclamations out loud.
  • The mother of the kids who were traumatized by a young man's robbery ("I'll kill you") gives the robber a hug several years later when he is out of jail in The Interrupters.
  • Any time Beaker is on screen in The Muppets. And pretty much any reference to the old Muppet Show.

And my very favourite moment of the year which has made me tear up twice and will no doubt do it again when I see the film for a third time in a few weeks:

  • The first meeting between Laurent and Vero (the two Down's Syndrome kids) in Cafe De Flore.

Older movies

  • Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton sharing the screen in Spartacus. Just delightful.
  • The miles away view of a distant figure popping out of the horizon's wavy texture in Lawrence Of Arabia. A mirage? Nope. In 70 mm, you could see it from its very first flicker.
  • The end of The Discarnates (directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi who also did the great House) which was one big eyes widening moment.
  • The caves of glinting sparkles on rocks in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives which looked like stars in the sky. It could very well have been a complete open view of the night sky up until the flashlight's beam changes direction and shows that it is indeed the wall of a cave.
  • The cinematography of Five Easy Pieces. I did not expect that level of gorgeousness in the film.
  • The use of red, blue, green and yellow in Wild Grass. Truly marvelous.

  • The dueling Michael Caines in The Trip.
  • The single shot chase through a crowded football stadium in The Secret In Their Eyes.
  • The single shot escape driving backwards and crashing in Let Me In.
  • The locusts, the train, the "magic hour" and every other beautiful image in Days Of Heaven.
  • Werner Herzog in My Best Fiend talking about the natives' reactions to Klaus Kinski (I'm paraphrasing the line): "They were going to kill him for me, but I said 'No, I still have shooting to do...'".
  • The punch straight into the camera in Caliber 9.
  • The gazillion mirrors in World On A Wire.
  • How gorgeous Cybill Shepherd was in The Last Picture Show.
  • The classroom scene in Kes.

  • Seeing Black Narcissus on the big screen. Loved it already, but this was revelatory.
  • The final very physical fight scene in Allan King's documentary A Married Couple.
  • The anger I felt watching The Pat Tillman Story and Waiting For Superman.
  • Dean's triumphant rendition of "More Than A Feeling" in FUBAR II.
  • The opening single shot in the original 1932 version of Scarface.
  • The appearance of the  "ghost" in Fine Totally Fine.
  • All the women of Alan Zweig's Lovable who talk about being single at their stage of life.
  • The hot coffee burns on the woman who sued MacDonalds for their coffee being too hot in (wait for it) Hot Coffee.
  • Charlie Chaplin rapidly counting money in Monsieur Verdoux.
  • Watching Chaplin's The Great Dictator and then realizing it was the inspiration for several scenes from the Looney Tune "Rabbit of Seville".

  • The exhausting non-stop pace of Zazie Dans Le Metro.
  • The huge burning silver shoe in Passion Of Darkly Noon.
  • The absolute charm of Radio Days. I can't wait to watch it with my Dad.
  • The subtle interracial relationships in Shadows (my first Cassavetes).
  • The last 30 minutes of 13 Assassins. The lead up was great, but the battle was fantastic.
  • The music in The Music Room.
  • The switching between intimidators in Intimidation.
  • The highly enjoyable insanity of the end of Phantom Of The Paradise combined with the surprisingly solid music.
  • The colours of Amer.

  • Leningrad Cowboys Go America managing to make me like "Born To Be Wild".
  • The car chase in The Seven-Ups.
  • Fellini's "Toby Dammit" segment in Spirits Of The Dead, in particular the airport scene with the cutout images of old presidents and movie stars.

Thursday 29 December 2011

The End of Year Catch Up - 2011 in Review (Part 1)

As someone who likes films from a variety of genres, countries and styles, I tend to bounce from one type to another quite frequently during the year and never really stay within one category for more than 3-4 movies in a row. Short of film festivals, there are two periods during the calendar year where this doesn't apply: the entire month of October when I delve deeper into Horror (one of my favourite genres) and then the last two months of the year where I focus on "catching up" with as much of the year's films as I possibly can.

So pretty much as soon as the teenage boys are smashing jack-o-lanterns on the street, I pull up my sleeves and start digging into the movies that many of my more regular theatre going friends have been debating about for months. Most of these films tend to be of the Hollywood variety, but I definitely pull in as many of the independent and foreign ones as I can in order to give me a clearer picture of 2011. I have no intention of watching everything - e.g. I simply have no interest in seeing The Help at this stage or many of the superhero films (though I may try to sneak Captain America in before the dawn of 2012) - but look forward to finally seeing some of the Summer blockbusters I missed as well as the first wave of serious Oscar contenders (OK, so I do try to hit the theatres a little bit during this stage). I usually start by getting up to speed on all the interesting non-horror stuff that was released in October and once that's done, the May releases start filtering through and we're off to the races. I'll still have missed some of the biggies by end of year, though, like A Separation, The Descendants, Hugo, Melancholia, Shame, Take Shelter, etc., but the first few months of 2012 should help rectify that.

One thing I did see in the theatres (again) during these last two months was my hands down favourite film of the year - Jean-Marc Vallee's outstanding Cafe De Flore. Of course, I had already proclaimed this my film of the year when I saw it back in September at TIFF, but I needed to see it again. And it was equally as enveloping and marvelous. I very much need to see it a third time and will indeed take care of that come January when it plays the Lightbox as part of Canada's Top Ten series. The 2nd visit certainly allowed me to pull together my interpretation of the film a bit better and since this was the theatrical run of the film, a few other people who missed it at the festival managed to see it and also had high praise. As a matter of fact, three of us had a long conversation documented on RowThree about it (spoilers abound, but if you've seen it we'd love you to read the back and forth - it was a lot of fun to do).

Other theatrical screenings were Moneyball, The Ides Of March and 50/50 - all of which I enjoyed more than I expected, but none of which really bowled me over. Moneyball had numerous great scenes (particularly that one trade completed within a few minutes via several back and forth phone calls) and provided some insight into maneuvers off the field, but it never quite gave me a cohesive whole. I didn't walk away from the movie fully understanding or embracing anything about the characters or the concepts of the film. I suppose that's partially to do with the real story, but if you can't quite generate much excitement via the all-time baseball winning streak, then you have a bit of a problem. However, both Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill gave what felt to be spot-on performances. The Ides Of March built slowly for me - not in a bad way, but in a very calculating standard political drama fashion. I was enjoying it, but was worried that it was simply hitting every single mark expected of it. Fortunately, it managed to change things up on me. Yes, it decided to go ahead with the "scandal with an intern" plot point, but the game playing of back room dealings and compromised campaign strategies was somewhat fascinating in the context of the story. Even though I was happy with the way things played out, I still felt a bit let down at the end though - as with Moneyball, I had nothing left to hang on to by the end. No characters and no ideology. Granted, that's likely part of the point (it's politics after all), but it made it difficult to embrace the film. 50/50 took its own unique arc for me - it didn't start well, but then slowly built it's way to a pretty satisfying and even emotional resolution. It wasn't until the Bryce Dallas Howard "bitchy girlfriend" was dispensed (did they really even need her character in the film at all?) that the relationship between the two best friends really started to build and once the Anna Kendrick character was introduced it started to gel and I became invested. All three of these ended up being overall solid movies, but with flaws that prevented them from being anything more than that.

So there was a short period of being uninspired by some 2011 offerings - until, that is, I saw The Interrupters. A full 6 months after the Hot Docs film festival was over, I came across the film in a pile of abandoned screeners on my shelf. At the time of the festival I wasn't overly aware of the film (though how a new Steve James documentary escaped my attention is beyond me), but it became apparent in the months that followed that it was making some big waves with a wide swath of people. I sadly missed a few theatrical screening opportunities and thought it might be awhile before I could see it, but then suddenly I had the damn thing in my hands. Even at a good chunk over 2 hours, I watched it that very night. As a result, I found I was in complete and utter agreement that the mechanism for creating the Best Documentary nominees for the Oscars is thoroughly broken. How could they possibly not even get this film to the short list? Through its three main protagonists (ie. Interrupters), we get both the personal stories and the broad scope of the issue. No easy answers are provided and all the story lines are left as various states of unfinished business, but I've rarely seen a clearer line drawn underscoring (at least some of) the root causes of inner city issues. And few scenes this year were more affecting than the one of the woman forgiving a young man for the terror he put her and her children through during a robbery. She pulls no punches regarding the danger to which he exposed her kids and has a ferocious look in her eye and sound to her voice as she reminds him of this, but then offers a hug in the end as she sees that he is trying to make amends. One of my favourite people on film all year.

If other recently viewed documentaries didn't quite reach those heights, they didn't exactly disappoint either. Errol Morris' Tabloid was as surprising, funny and deeply insightful as he's ever been. It didn't take long to figure out that I wasn't going to get the full truth to the story, but how could I pull myself away when each different version started to spin down separate rabbit holes? Werner Herzog's Into The Abyss was the least Herzog-ian thing I've seen from him in awhile and was probably more powerful (considering its subject matter of capital punishment) because of it. And Conan O'Brien's road show documentary (Conan O'Brien Can't Stop) was just plain fun - there was plenty of interesting behind the scenes stuff and insight into what it takes to be a "personality", but the biggest enjoyment was watching O'Brien do his best to entertain everyone around him (whether you think he's got issues or not is a separate point).

A variety of action movies also grabbed my attention. Super 8 and Attack The Block hit every action beat I wanted and then proceeded to fill in between them like Keith Moon. Super 8 will rank higher on my list at the end of the year than it likely deserves, but I can't deny the initial experience of seeing it on the couch with my 11 year-old and having him crouch, perch and lean into the screen. The French Point Blank was also top notch and wasted no time getting to the crux of its plot to drive the action - there's a full 70 minutes or so of constant thrust. It missed a beat here and there (some head-scratching decisions by a few characters pulled me out several times), but it far outpaces the generic thriller coming from the studios. You know, like Fast Five. Not a film I hated, but certainly one that eludes me. I keep hearing how they "finally got it right" with this one, but if that's the case I guess I can safely ignore the first 4 films (this was my first excursion into the "Fast" series). It provided several visceral thrills through its reasonable CGI, solid stunt work and descent into a universe that has no knowledge of Newton's Laws of Motion, but the characters are so blandly rendered that I couldn't care less who beat who and for what reason. Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and The Rock do not a compelling cast make. And were there other people in this movie? If so, give me one good reason to ask a single question about any of them. The flip side (and a film I initially shunted aside until hearing a few voices praise it) is Warrior. Though it runs too long, it invests you very strongly into its characters and THEN it throws you into the action - smoothly rendered, well-choreographed, non-CGI action. And I was fine with every "Rocky" rhythm the film used.

Normally I don't spend much effort on the standard romcoms - not because they're "chick flicks" (a terrible term I hope to see put to pasture one day), but because they seem not to stray more than a few millimeters from their prescribed paths and end up as truly forgettable. However, I found a few that made the hike pretty entertaining and even occasionally surprising. Crazy Stupid Love is far from perfect, but contains so many winning moments (and Emma Stone) that you can almost forgive the ones that flop. Friends With Benefits has some solid chemistry and some strong moments too, though it couldn't quite get past its far too obvious conclusion (not the mention the two flash mob scenes - yes, I said two). For my money, the most charming and surprising of the lot was Our Idiot Brother. Probably because it wasn't actually a romcom, but simply a sweet tale of a man who doesn't want to give up on the idea that he can put trust into humanity. Another winning example is Quebec's Starbuck (it shared runner-up spot - with A Separation - in the People's Choice Award voting at this year's TIFF). It resolves it's rather goofy premise of a man trying to get to know as many of the ~500 children his donated sperm have fathered far too neatly, but you end up being completely fine and happy with that. It's a unique skill that allows you to pull that off and apparently director Ken Scott possesses it. And then you have a film like One Day...Featuring naturally charismatic Anne Hathaway, handsome and charming Jim Sturgess (who was fantastic in last year's Heartless - reviewed here from Toronto After Dark 2010) and my lifetime crush Patricia Clarkson, it fails in every way at establishing a relationship between its two central characters. The film checks in on them once a year on the same day and never once did it feel like these two people should even be friends, let alone anything else. The ball was dropped early and then often. The emotional gut punch it tries to deliver towards the end therefore falls flat. Director Lone Scherfig seems to have lost a feel for the subtlety of character interaction since her wonderful Italian For Beginners a decade ago.

A few of the "smaller" movies I saw went after big ideas. A fine example is a set of films that use the "personal as apocalypse" (I've seen this phrase bandied about in several spots and I like how it nicely sums up some of these films). The finest example of the bunch for me was Another Earth which used the sci-fi premise of a duplicate Earth. It's been hidden all this time and has followed essentially the exact same path as the first Earth until it one day shows itself and severs that link - in particular how one young woman's life charts a very different course after she sees it. It's a wonderful example of taking a pure science fiction idea and using it for a far more personal redemption story. It goes without saying that you want more (because there's so much you can do with that concept), but certainly not if it would have sacrificed any of what we got. More difficult for me to consider was Bellflower. It has some of the flattest moments and line readings of the year, unlikeable characters and a strange mean streak about it that never settled well, but it also has a unique blown-out visual look, some solid scenes and a central idea that a single relationship breakup can feel like the end of the world. In the end, it couldn't get around its major flaws or shake some ugly attributes, but it left a bit of an impression. And then you have Miranda July's The Future. No doubt that its inherent quirk will be its most divisive attribute - many will see it as charming and honest while others will note a grating tweeness to it. And boy was that narrating cat grating (even if it did provide the emotional core of the film) - not because of the concept, but simply due to July's need to voice it in a high-pitched cutesy fashion that annoyed the begeezus out of me within seconds. But once again, its saving grace is a set of interesting concepts about waiting and planning for the future, but forgetting to live in the present. In particular the usage of one character's perceived ability to stop time which came into play once he had realized that not only was time slipping away from him, but so was what he had right in front of him. Taken at face value, though, the two central characters are rather pathetic.

More successful was Aaron Katz's Cold Weather - yet another personal character study hidden within a different genre (this time a crime mystery). The central character of Doug is perhaps not the most relatable guy in the world as he is somewhat adrift after giving up on his career/studies in forensic science and happily taking a menial job in an ice factory, but he's strangely likeable in his laid-back even keel approach. Though there are more than a few awkward pauses during conversations there are also plenty of obviously improvised character moments that flesh out realistic people trying to expand their fairly small worlds. For Doug, it takes a mystery surrounding his ex-girlfriend to light some fire under him and become more actively involved in the world and people around him. Another exceedingly strong relationship movie was Weekend - a film that has slowly but surely been making the rounds and gaining attention. It chronicles the weekend following what starts as a one night stand between Russ and Glen, but develops slowly into something bigger than either expect. What's terrific about the film is how it allows the conversations and moments between these two to build without any enforced plot points or grand emotional revelations. They get to their back stories and discuss some of their history (Russ not feeling completely at ease with being openly gay and Glen having lost a great deal of trust through a difficult previous relationship), but - even given the short amount of time the film covers - it feels like they did so very naturally. Not to mention engagingly. I'm not sure the amount of drug use in the film was really necessary, but it doesn't detract from where the characters end up.

Moving from small Indie to big Indie, the logical place to start is Beginners, the latest feature from Mike Mills. This time around it comes complete with a fantastic star cast who are - in a word - fantastic. Christopher Plummer is getting the lion's share of praise and it's well-deserved as he plays a man in his 70s who is just ready to begin his life anew when he finds out he won't have the time. His efforts to make the most of it seem to rub off on his son (played nicely by Ewan McGregor) as he courts the lovely Melanie Laurent. Many complaints stated that they wished Plummer's story had more to it, but as much as I enjoyed his section of the movie and understand the basic premise of that argument, I wouldn't actually want to miss out on any of the McGregor-Laurent relationship story. So I'm quite happy with the entirety of what Mills gave us. I was also reasonably happy with what we saw from Kevin Smith this year. Partially, that's due to very low expectations (I've never found his dialogue particularly fascinating), but I was surprised that Red State not only wasn't the easy-pickings, totally one-sided slam against Tea Party ideology that I expected, but managed some excitement, tension, surprises and even allowed shreds of, if not sympathy, at least humanity to pop-up among the religious zealots at the centre of its standoff. I'm no Kevin Smith expert, but it's easily one of my favourites of his films along with Zack And Miri Make A Porno. Kelly Reichardt also surprised me with Meek's Cutoff - not because of its wisp of a story, the totally convincing performance by Michelle Williams or its total immersion into the world of these settlers (all things I kind of figured I would get), but because of the beauty of the film. Granted, it's probably not hard to make some of that landscape pop like that on screen, but there were definitely several "Wow!" moments. It also provided beauty in its perfect ending. Though not quite perfect, J.C. Chandor's first foray into the world of feature filmmaking (Margin Call) certainly was an incredibly solid way to come out of the gates. Even though it's main plot thrust is a financial institution's concern over what a set of predictions means to its future viability, the film was still strangely fast-paced and nimble at getting the salient points across. Now let's see if next time out he can take real characters and flesh them out.

Of course, characters don't have to be human to still capture their audience's imagination. Say, for example, you were to use a bit of green felt to create a frog...OK, I have to admit that I'm very much a prime target for a movie like The Muppets. I watched Sesame Street during my early school years and transitioned easily to The Muppet Show, so was the movie simply a matter of pure nostalgia? I'm going to say No since it provides genuine feeling, laughs, several very good musical numbers and a whole whack of fun. And I'm pretty sure whether you're familiar with Beaker from the old TV show or not, any occurrence of him saying "Miii! Miii, miii, miii!" is still very funny. I'll grant every nit you can pick with the film (a story that fizzles somewhat, a few things that go nowhere and - oh dear lord - Chris Cooper's rap song), but there's just too much joy going on here. I refer you to my friend Corey's extraordinarily short yet on the nose review to sum up my case for the film. A less compelling film with non-human characters was Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, though through no fault of the apes. The animal scenes were quite well staged and yes, Andy Serkis brought empathy to Caesar. Unfortunately, I didn't like the approach of the plot (too many coincidences and stupid decisions by people who we're told aren't stupid) and really didn't care a bit about any human character. Actually, character is the wrong word. Shell might be better. And let's face it, I simply wanted more of the apes running amuck (I was surprised at how long it took that to take place given the raves for the film and the paucity of anything else of interest in the early going). Fright Night, on the other hand, spread out its action pretty well and gave its central non-human (Colin Farrell obviously having a grand old time in his vampire role) plenty of chances to cause havoc. David Tennant also seems to be having a whale of a time as a Las Vegas magician and vampire hunter, though he doesn't quite get enough of a chance in the script to get totally invested in the story. The film is fun and never really lagged, but it was always just a step behind for me. Part of it was the overuse of CGI that stilted most of the attacks, but it just didn't quite have a consistent sense of what it was. That's one thing Final Destination 5 didn't have to worry about since it's obvious what kind of movie it's meant to be. Unfortunately, it couldn't get anywhere near it. With its set of non-human humans (I know the series isn't about characters, but these were anti-characters - I couldn't even be happy when they died), the film saps the fun out of the "how is the next character going to die?" conceit. When they actually managed to build up some tension and the possibility of a real Rube Goldberg death trap (the gymnast scene), they flub it with a ridiculous end (the best you could do was to have her fall from 10 feet in the air and have that crush every bone in her body?). It also contained some of the worst CGI blood I've seen this side of goofy Japanese splatter films (which are supposed to have bad CGI blood). Small credit to a callback to the original Final Destination film, but I should have trusted my initial avoidance response.

Next up, some of my favourite moments of the year on film (from 2011 films as well as older).

Sunday 4 December 2011

Blind Spot Series 2012

A common game many film bloggers like to play is "Who has the biggest hole in their film viewing?" In other words, what is the film that you have not seen that any "self-respecting" film buff really should have seen.

It's a silly game (especially when you're with a group and each revelation is greeted with feigned shock followed by taunting jeers), but it goes to show a couple of things: 1) we film geeks sure know how to party! and 2) we all have this immense desire (as misguided as it may be) to see "everything". In reality, none of us actually believes they can do this nor do we really want to. There are many "classic" films we all know about that simply (for whatever reason) don't have any major pull. The thought of watching them is similar to the feeling you might have had while putting off doing a particularly dull essay assignment in school. If watching a film feels like homework, then it may not be the best use of your time...

However, there are far more of the important films that are on all of our lists that have somehow simply eluded us over the years. Like many other folks, I have a list of movies I want to see, but it's so big now that I subdivide it up into the ones I REALLY want to see along with those that I not only want to see, but feel I NEED to see. From this latter list, I've chosen 12 that I will commit to viewing during 2012 and about which I will hopefully write. I expect to cross even more than just these 12 off my list next year, but let's start with a one a month commitment.

There are two distinct driving forces behind doing this...The first being Edgar Wright's recent request to his blog followers to help him pick his next screening series - a set of movies he's never seen and is quite "embarrassed" that he hasn't. Though his initial post occurred months ago, the screening series at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles is now primed and ready to go (Dennis Cozzalio has all the scoop on it here). However, it was during his initial open request that I started seriously compiling my own list of top "I can't believe I haven't seen these yet" films.

Fast Forward a month or so and my good friend James McNally of Toronto Screen Shots challenges several of his local film blogging friends to join him in the Blind Spot Series - a commitment to view and write about 12 films over the course of next year that we feel are classics that we've never seen before. Fellow Toronto blogger (and inspiration for the #ryaniswrong hashtag) Ryan McNeil at The Matinee has already posted his own set of 12 (beating James to the punch even), so I throw my own hat into the ring with the following list:

  • *Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)
  • *Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
  • City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)
  • Day Of Wrath (Carl Theodore Dreyer, 1943)
  • Kramer vs Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979)
  • *La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)
  • *Our Hospitality (Buster Keaton, 1923)
  • Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
  • Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
  • The Tin Drum (Volker Schlondorff, 1979)
  • *White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949)
  • *Yankee Doodle Dandy (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

Whether I'll have anything interesting to say about movies that have been dissected a thousand times is yet to be seen. I expect I'll simply stick to personal reactions and avoid any in depth "analysis". By the way, films with an asterisk have been in my possession (ie. owned) for years. Yes, I meant to make "years" plural.

Thursday 1 December 2011

The Little Film Festival That Can (with a little additional help...)

The short version: please donate here.

And now for the somewhat longer version...Four or five years ago - just around the time I was getting into blogging - I met a fine young man named Chris MaGee online. He convinced me to write for his burgeoning Facebook group called the "Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow" and contribute short reviews of Japanese films. Shortly after I agreed, I had the chance to meet him briefly at a screening of the fan-damn-tastic "Survive Style 5+". We only chatted for a short time and then met again as I was rushing out of a Cinematheque showing of the classic "Kwaidan". It wasn't until Chris unveiled his grander plan to turn the group into a full-fledged blog and web site that we finally got to know each other - ie. quaff a few beers and argue about movies (he's still totally wrong about Takeshi Kitano's "Achilles And The Tortoise").

As the web site grew and a few of us contributed film reviews on an almost weekly basis, Chris started to roll out phase 2. By being on top of Japanese film news and making a name for himself as an authority, Chris started to build up his contacts and worked his way onto a panel at the Nippon Connection Film Festival in Frankfurt. That was all pretty impressive to us all - until, that is, he came back and announced that not only had he met noted Japanese film writer Jasper Sharp (also co-editor of Midnight Eye), but that he was going to start a new film festival with in Toronto.

The Shinsedai Cinema Festival has grown every year since - just finishing up its third year this past Summer - and has been a springboard for several young filmmakers. The name of the fest literally means "New Generation" and was conceived to be (as the web site states) "an annual showcase of the best in new, independent and rarely seen Japanese films." It would have been easy to fold to financial pressure and bring in the bigger mainstream crowd-pleasers or gory, cyber-splatter genre flicks (neither of which are bad by definition), but the programmers have stuck to their original concept and are being embraced by the independent film community in Japan.

For the 4th go-around next year (July 12-15), a few changes are coming...The entire festival is moving to a more easily accessible downtown location - away from the classy spacious surroundings of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and to the Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Ave. - near the Dundas West subway). Though the festival did well in its more northern Toronto digs, it will likely have a wider reach now that it is moving to the thick of things. The downside is that new sponsors need to be discovered. Chris has been beating the bushes and certainly finding some support, but the time is now to cast a wider net to ask for financial support from film lovers of all stripes. The festival has set up a donation page through IndieGoGo where you can contribute whatever amount you wish - the drive is towards $7000 and this money would help pay for numerous costs not the least of which would enable filmmakers to attend in person.

If you love the passion of young filmmakers - whether they continue the traditions of the past or attempt to break new ground - the Shinsedai Cinema Festival is right there with you and is eager to continue to support the art form. If you can find a way to support the festival in return, it would be greatly appreciated. And you also get a visit from the spectre of Toshiro Mifune as he pays his respects to you. Uh, I think you might have to invest in one of the higher sponsorship levels for that little perk though...

Tuesday 15 November 2011

TIFF 2011 - Oslo, August 31st

Chip Lary from Tips From Chip is doing a series of reviews of films with numbers in their titles - starting at zero and working his way up. When I suggested Joachim Trier's latest film "Oslo, August 31st" as a possibility he asked if I could review it for his site. Given that it was one of the many strong films I saw at TIFF this year that I had yet to review, I agreed - sometimes I simply need a kick in the butt and a deadline to get moving on overdue reviews (my wife might want to generalize that statement somewhat...). So here's the review I wrote for his site (which he just published yesterday):

Though I don't completely subscribe to the "Auteur" theory in all its finer points, I do tend to look at films as having directorial stamps on them - not just from common stylistic points of view or as vehicles that cover similar themes, but as works that have a certain quality about them. For example, when I see a movie like Joachim Trier's debut film "Reprise", I take note of the name of the helmer because there's a certain something about the film that appeals to me and an attention to detail that shows the person "in charge" cares about the entirety of the work. So when I noticed that Trier's second film "Oslo, August 31st" was to screen at this year's TIFF, it immediately made my short list. It's a very different film than its predecessor as it was shot quickly, for little money and eschews the many flourishes and stylistic touches of his first film. However, it still fits nicely next to "Reprise" because there is not only a deft touch with its characters and a strong sense of place, but also an overall confidence about its story.

Based loosely on the French novel "Le Feu Follet" (which Louis Malle turned into the 1963 film of the same name - better known to English speakers as "The Fire Within"), the film shows a day in the life of one particular troubled person, but it also illuminates an entire city at the same time. The very beginning of the film shows home movies of a still smallish Oslo, but in the present day the city seems to be growing quite nicely as many cranes litter the streets signifying new construction. As Anders wanders from friend to job interview to his family's old house, we get to see a large chunk of a lovely, restful city - a stark contrast to Anders himself. You know that friend you have that just can't seem to get it together? While everyone has their ups and downs, this one particular person always seems to be in the worst shape (or at least that's what they tell you)? That's Anders. He can't pull himself together and has already tried to kill himself once while in rehab. "I've always thought happy people must be morons" is one of Anders philosophies and gives a good indication where most conversations with him will likely lead.

Those conversations are key to the success of the film - each one feels natural, genuine and very real. Particularly those between Anders and his best friend who listens to him intently and tries to engage him, but is at his own crossroad. Anders is not the only one struggling to find his place in life, but he just can't see past his own current problems or even allow anyone else to. He scuttles a job interview that was going well as soon as his drug history arises. The interviewer seems sympathetic, but Anders can't even consider that he might catch a break. Instead of suffering rejection, he slams the door shut himself (a tactic he seems to use extensively across all relationships). Throughout the day, there are also kernels of optimism and hope - a young girl in a cafe makes a "bucket list" with her boyfriend, a late night swim with laughter, watching and listening to different people go about their day - there's plenty of opportunity and promise in these lives. But Anders has lost that ability to find any of it. He can hang on to memories and images from his past, but that's all they are now and they provided no solace, nor encouragement.

At a Q&A after the film, Trier talked a bit about the idea behind the production process which was to do it simple and fast. As other plans were taking their time to get off the ground, he and his creative team decided they just needed to get out and start filming with a shooting ethic that used as many locations and their natural environment as possible. Also, they needed to work with actors that could take scripted dialogue and turn it into realistic moments of conversation. It's exceptionally effective as it keeps you close to Anders, makes you want to point out all the possibilities around him and frustrates you as he turns away from every single one of them. I can't wait to see what Trier does next.

Saturday 5 November 2011

A Short Video Summation of an October of Horror

As a final wrap-up of my October horror viewing spree, here's a short compilation of scenes from each movie I watched (2 clips from each film not including the bonus snippets at the end):

Friday 4 November 2011

A Single Image #20

The Highest (1973 - Arthur Penn)

from the anthology film Visions Of Eight

Now that's some good spam!

The lovely and talented Jandy - one of my co-writers at RowThree where I occasionally also post - emailed a few us the following comment that was left in pending status on the site. It's spam, so I have no qualms about re-posting it here (it contained the same link dropped in at random about 4-5 times in the content).

It's obviously been jammed through some kind of translation bot, but feels like it may have actually come from some person's actual top 6 list of mermaid movies. Parsing out any of their thoughts will be challenge though...However, since this translated version (which was posted with their spam site links included - I won't include them here, but have highlighted where they were in the comment in blue - to a RowThree post about a pair of disaster movies) is filled with enough wonderfully surreal catch phrases to keep me going for a year, I thought it might be fun to share. Feel free to re-share at will.

And maybe one day you too will memorialize how delighted you were when this first came unconfined...

Most people have seen Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” animated movie. But there are not too others which are absolutely magic – classics. Here they are:

1. My lid pick exchange for a mermaid film is “Smudge”. Not alone is it comic and the cabal wonderful, but there is quite a hint of breathtaking footage of Daryl Hannah mermaiding in the ocean. We can’t grow sufficiently of that! Preserve continue in haul that this is not a children’s movie. It was made in the ’80s, and in spite of the most quarter it is okay because the progeny to watch. But there is a little moment of nudity (when the mermaid is walking into New York discernible of teaserthe ocean with nothing but her great whisker to cover her) and there is some implication of what she and the Tom Hanks characteristic untypical are doing in the elevator, but nothing is shown. The flicks is wonderful, with a leading excuse and formidable mermaid footage and lots of laughs, as fount as a capacious romance.

2. My second top ideal is “The Arcane of Roan Inish”. This is a safe, tranquillize flicks the entire family can enjoy. It was made in Ireland, and as such is slower and quieter than most American movies. It is beside a lilliputian Irish lass who moves to busy with her grandparents. While there she unwittingly stumbles upon the obscurity circumambient the key the dearest adapted to to existent on, called “Roan Inish” (Island of the Seals). As she slowly solves the puzzle, she brings movie trailershealing and concordance without hope to the family. In this film the untrue myths non-spiritual luxuries is a selkie, not a mermaid. The selkie lives in the aspect of a seal. On advantage she climbs up on a poverty-stricken and removes her seal scrape, revealing a pleasing woman. So this film is a trifling tittle special, and you desire at no time look at a seal the despite the fact mo = ‘modus operandi’ again.

3. My third favorite mermaid movie is “Aquamarine.” This equal is geared to the teen crowd. It has nothing lascivious, so the whole parentage can take to it. It’s a delightfully another rendering of the classic Tiny Mermaid story, with a wonderful shock ending. The mermaid in this big is unusual, more like a regular teen girl. There are a sprinkling suitable shots of her in the water. The messages in this silent picture are elevated quality, such as loyalty, friendship, exclusive conviction, selflessness and courage. And it is also sheer funny.

4. Handful four of my top mermaid movies is an familiar black and drained deathless called “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.” You intent should prefer to a object to finding this silver screen to watch, but VHS versions are ready for mark-down on All of the underwater footage was filmed in the venerable Weeki Wachee Springs in Weeki Wachee, Florida, no more than a year after this underwater theater opened. Made in 1948, this moving picture is nearly a married span charming a vacation in the trailersCaribbean. The humankind is almost 50 and is having a mid-life crisis. While on vacation he accidentally fishes up a live mermaid from the sea! Ann Blyth plays the entrancing mermaid and you transfer enjoyment this wonderful film. The no greater than objections a parent might include is the exercise of extramarital flirting, and some laughable scenes with a guy disquieting to give up smoking.

5. United that is a dab dissimilar, and which only recently came out, is a Japanese anime Miyazaki talking picture called “Ponyo on the Cliff alongside the Sea”, or sparely “Ponyo”. In this whole the fish-girl is depicted as a goldfish with a generous gall, which is rather strange. But in an singular contort, this five-year-old fish-girl has to engage the teeny five-year-old somebody little shaver to fondness her faithfully, or she will turn into sea sparkle and be no more. It is such a sweet interpretation, these inconsequential children knowledge to love and trust each other in such an undefiled way. It is a story of wonder and daring and should not be missed.

6. My pick for the duration of handful six is Disney’s “The Petite Mermaid”. It was the talking picture that got Disney backside into the in favour film business again in the 1980s. The music and white are a delight. I memorialize how delighted I was when it first came unconfined – it is a diverting mermaid movie, high jinks for the whole family.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

October Horror 2011 - Chapter #8

Yeah, I'm surprised October's over too. 32 horror films in the month is my final count - a 33% drop from last year's total. I blame Toronto After Dark for keeping me busy...

The last four for the month:

The Shiver Of The Vampires (1971 - Jean Rollin) - It's quite surprising that it's taken me so long to get around to seeing one of Jean Rollin's art-horror films - you'd think this stuff would've been right up my alley. And indeed, it most certainly is. For whatever reason, I just never thought to dive into his output until one of his titles pretty much randomly came up in my lengthy list of items to investigate. In this case, the horror derives almost strictly from images - not sound, not story, not character and not slow builds of tension. It's all about the visuals. The bright colours mixed with neutral tones, the bits of bright blood red dotting the frame, the creepy statues and artifacts littering the castle, the faces of the undead vampires and the surprising places they can be found. The camera plays its own part occasionally as when it spins around inside a circle of all the characters or becomes the POV of the doomed central character. The nominal story has a newlywed couple visiting the bride's favorite cousins in their castle. Unbeknownst to her, these vampire hunters became the hunted and now must put up with eternity. The main female vampire (who converted the cousins) slowly pulls the bride over to "her side" as the hapless husband can do nothing. Throw in a large portion of nudity, gothic outfits and a psychy soundtrack (a slightly twangy low rent version of Goblin - the great band who did the soundtrack to "Suspiria", "Deep Red" and other Argento films) and you've got yourself a memorable picture.

Two Thousand Maniacs (1964 - Herschell Gordon Lewis) - As a director, Lewis wasn't exactly known for his specific style, storytelling ability or his way with actors. I think even he would say that he wasn't so much a filmmaker as he was a businessman. By pretty much any account, "Two Thousand Maniacs" is a terrible, terrible movie - the acting is atrocious, useless dialogue scenes go on and on and the whole thing looks completely drab. Except for the blood (primarily what Lewis is known for via both this film and "Blood Feast") which was bright and vivid. The idea was to shock with scenes of dismemberments and other such gore-filled activities and in this movie's case, they certainly had a structure that leant itself to such requirements. One hundred years after an entire Southern town has been wiped out by the North during the Civil War, it suddenly reappears and their "centennial" celebration is focused on finding some sacrificial Northerners to kill at their festival. It's a different spin on Brigadoon and as an idea certainly isn't the worst one for a gorefest. The odd thing is that it isn't filled with as much chopped up flesh as you would expect (of course, in 1964 it was rather infamous for a few scenes of severed limbs). It's not that I necessarily wanted or needed to see more gushing blood, but when that's all your movie has going for it, that's all you can hope for.

Doctor X (1932 - Michael Curtiz) - After seeing this two-strip technicolour film, I can't help but wish that someone would revive this old technology and make some new films with it. The green and yellow colour palette in this case worked tremendously well for the tale of a group of scientists who are under suspicion for a recent string of murders. Specifically, any scene in one of the wonderful laboratory sets - rife with flashing lights, liquids flowing in tubes and bizarre electrical contraptions - looked fantastic with that mix of two tones and all the shadows they could find. Doctor X is the head of the school where the scientists do their research and he convinces the police to let him conduct his own investigation with his own experiments to clear his fellow professors' names. The mystery is well handled, there are several good scenes that build up suspense and it's overall quite fun, but sadly it's marred by the comic relief of the newspaper reporter. Every line and every word has to be said with smarm or as a "zinger". It completely takes the steam out of anything built up previously. Overall it's good - averaging between fantastic and annoying.

The Return (2006 - Asif Kapadia) - I don't remember much about the response to the Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle "The Return" from 5 years ago, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't overly positive. That's a bit of a shame since this was a pretty effective supernatural thriller. Oh sure, the story doesn't really go anywhere overly different than any other "why am I having these visions of someone else's past?" movie, but it does it with (for the most part) striking visuals and a very patient approach. There are several long moments of silence and a mostly tempered soundtrack that helps keep you concerned for Gellar's character as she feels a strong pull to return to her native Texas. There's a car crash in her past, but she is also increasingly disturbed by images intruding on her reality from a place she's never been. It falls into a few of the standard traps, but resists going for too many easy scares by relying on the audience's empathy with the central character. One major issue with the film, though, is its use of the sudden zoom effect - you know the one where for no reason at all the camera seems to lurch forward like there's some auto-correcting zoom feature? It's used enough in the film to be extremely distracting and somewhat infuriating. It makes sense (to a certain extent) when being used in faux-documentaries to ape a cameraman trying to figure out the right shot and framing for something happening in front of them, but it's completely nonsensical to use in a film like this. Sometimes a single bad choice like that can ruin an entire experience, but fortunately there's enough in the rest of this film that allows me to overlook that glaring misstep.

Sunday 30 October 2011

October Horror 2011 - Chapter #7

Here's a sneak peek at the last batch of horror films from my month long bender (which will fall far short of last year's number due to Toronto After Dark switching back to October):

The Deaths Of Ian Stone (2007 - Dario Piana) - Though I haven't seen many of the "8 Films To Die For" series (otherwise known as the "After Dark Horrorfest" which shows its independent films over an eight day span in nationwide theatres), I haven't heard a whole lot of positive response to any of the films even though last year's fest was the fifth one. However, the concept for "The Deaths Of Ian Stone" sounded too good to pass up: the titular character dies every night only to wake up in a completely different life. Promising stuff that could go one of any number of directions. Unfortunately it chose one that abandons its premise early on for life sucking ghostly monsters that can take human form. Worse than that though, its main character is just simply unlikeable. Even worse, he's just boring. As is the set of CGI-heavy effects of people turning into these black death spirit thingies. When he suddenly wakes up in a new life, Ian Stone has no recollection of his previous one so it just changes the situations within which this bland unsympathetic character exists. How exciting is that? Whatever rules the story had are shuffled to the side and it becomes generic in its rush to redeem Stone. If this is representative of the "8 Films to Die For" series, I can see why I haven't seen overwhelming response to it (though you'll see shortly, it isn't completely representative).

The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932 - Charles Brabin) - Now here's an interesting artifact of the early 30s...Filled with great set design, interesting shot selections and a whole lot more torture than you might expect, the film also engages in some of the worst casual racism that side of "Breakfast At Tiffany's". It's not just the indiscriminate references to "the yellow man" (after all, Fu Manchu throws it right back at them with his hopes to eradicate "the white man"), but the thought that Asians think of nothing else but to rule the world. While the British wish only to find Genghis Khan's old artifacts to preserve them in a museum (even though they break into his old chambers with nary a thought to its preservation), Fu Manchu and his "hordes" want them so that they can convince the rest of Asia to follow them into world domination. When the Brits discover that this is the plan, they double their efforts to get there first. They do, but Fu Manchu has several devious plans up his sleeve to get them back. Possibly the worst moment of all was the patronizing comment from the wealthy English archaeologist to a Chinese waiter congratulating him for not aspiring to anything more than what he was and avoiding the fields of medicine, science and exploration. Perhaps I was reading the film wrong, but aside from some of the great visuals the story didn't have much else to hold it together, so I had to focus on something...

Private Parts (1972 - Paul Bartel) - This randomly selected title was quite the fine little surprise. Directed by Bartel (probably best known for "Eating Raoul"), it focuses on horrors of a more psychological nature - specifically those that arise from one's sexual urges. Young Cheryl is a runaway and ends up at her Aunt Martha's hotel looking to bum room and board for as long as she can. Her combination of naivete and curiosity about using her sex appeal is a concern to Martha (played by the great Lucille Benson - look her up, you'll know her) who will not stand for any of those "painted women" in her hotel. She also likes to frequent funerals in order to see the spirits of the dead rising heavenward. As much as Cheryl tells Martha not to worry, she can't help flirting with handymen until her attention focuses on George the photographer. He's a rather strange bird who has his own ideas about sex (confused as they may be) and one hell of an interesting photo studio. Cheryl works herself into rather dangerous predicaments while Martha attempts to keep her building pure. Battle lines become drawn and the final confrontation gets set. Like many of the horror films from the 70s, though, the curve balls are always ready to be thrown. Not just at the end either - you never quite know where things are headed at any point in the story. Bartel does a great job of pacing things out and keeping you always a bit off centre. If the acting is slightly dodgy at times, it's never overly distracting and doesn't take away from one of the more interesting horrors of the early 70s.

The Abandoned (2006 - Nacho Cerda) - While at the Toronto After Dark festival this year, the title of this film came up a couple of times - mostly due to the fact that one of its writers (Karim Hussain) was quite involved in the anthology "The Theatre Bizarre" that played the fest. By sheer coincidence (or was it...), I happened to stumble across the DVD of it at a charity sale in our office building a few days after hearing about its underrated status. So I snagged it for a couple of bucks and tossed it in the player. It was only then that I discovered that it was another of the "8 Films To Die For" series (though from a different year than the aforementioned "The Deaths Of Ian Stone"). The disillusionment set in, but I decided to press forward. Fortunately, it didn't take long to assuage my nervousness. First, it's a gorgeous looking film whose predominant greens and blues still cover a broad spectrum. Secondly, it is creepy as all get out. It centres around Marie - a 40-ish successful business woman who has returned to Russia to learn more of her roots after being abandoned by her parents as a baby. She travels to the old house of her parents and finds that not only can she not leave, but that her twin brother has also come to the same spot. As they encounter ghostly presences of themselves and piece together what happened years ago, they wonder if they have been summoned back in order to be finished off in the manner they should have been years ago. Even though there are few characters here, it is highly effective in pulling you deeper into Marie's predicament and dreading each new entry into a darkly lit place with a flashlight. After remembering that the "8 Films To Die For" also ran "Reincarnation" (the terrific film by "Ju-On: The Grudge" director Takashi Shimizu) and discovering that "The Broken" (a rather spiffy little thriller by Sean Ellis) was also part of it, I may just be turned around on the idea. But then I think of "The Deaths Of Ian Stone" and I reconsider all over again...