Friday 21 January 2011

My First Poster Quote

OK, it's just for a local screening at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, but 1) it's still pretty cool; 2) I love the pull quotes being dropped into the blood splatters; 3) I'm sharing poster space with Twitch's Todd Brown; 4) it's a hell of a film; 5) did I mention it was pretty cool?

Click on the poster for a larger version. My quote is in the top left blood splatter and references the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow (where I contribute to the weekly Japanese film reviews). Thanks to JCCC director James Heron and the fine folks at MadMacDesign.

Now on to the DVD!

A Common Complaint

I'm currently experiencing a worriment that befalls many film bloggers and movie fanatics - the universal battle cry that "There's too much to see! And not enough time!"

Of course, it's a pretty lame problem to have isn't it? Living in a major metropolitan area like Toronto (replete with its stores, rentals outlets, rep cinemas and many film festivals), I have a plethora of choices on an ongoing basis, so I'm never really left out in the cold with no options. However, the Paradox of Choice does sometimes leave me struggling to make a decision - what to watch next?

The end of year rush to catch up with everything missed during 2010 (with full knowledge that it can't be done) has certainly helped stir things up. No sooner than I get a few more 2010 films under my belt when suddenly there's another 5 that just became available to see (at least there's not much new to see in 2011 yet). On top of that, though, two further occurrences in the last few days have pushed me to the edge...

First up, I took a "quick browse" of the TIFF Lightbox schedule for the next few months. These are just the ones that jumped out at me without reading any blurbs:

  • The Chase (Arthur Penn's 1966 film)
  • Enter The Void
  • I, Don Giovanni (Carlos Saura)
  • Incendies (Canada's submission to Best Foreign Language Oscar category - still in the running)
  • Nostalgia For The Light
  • Pandora And The Flying Dutchman
  • The Prowler (Joseph Losey)
  • Trigger (Bruce MacDonald)

And that's just the stuff I haven't seen before. If you include previously viewed films that I'd like to see again on the big screen, the schedule also includes:

  • Back To The Future (I need to bring The Boy to see this with an audience)
  • Black Narcissus
  • Out Of the Past
  • The Red Shoes

And so on, and so on...

If that wasn't bad enough (and isn't it just terrible?), I just received my recent order from (oh, region-free DVD player, you just keep giving and giving...) that included:

  • World On A Wire (Rainer Werner Fassbiner's 3.5 hour sci-fi mini-series)
  • The Trip
  • Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape

A treasure chest of riches to be sure...But wait, none of this is taking into account the stacks already taking up space on my floor because they are "in progress":

  • The Criterion BBS box set (two down, five to go).
  • The Eclipse sets of Hiroshi Shimizu, Nagisa Oshima and Allan King have all been started, but not yet finished.
  • A bunch of Japanese films - "Memories Of Matsuko", "Carmen Comes Home", "Sada", "Big Bang Juvenile A".
  • "The History of Rock and Roll" - watching with my son and we're up to the mid-60s (he keeps asking when Bon Jovi will show up...).
  • My 4 current rentals from - "The Flesh And The Fiends", "The House Of Seven Corpses", "Jade Warrior" and "The Doctor And The Devils".

And then we have these ongoing distractions:

  • The NetFlix subscription which hasn't really been touched since before Christmas.
  • TCM - good lord what a great station.
  • The two terrific independent video stores within walking distance (except when it's minus 15 Celsius at which point nothing is walking distance).

The biggest issue of late, though, is preventing any viewing at all - it's my recent acquisition of a capture card for my iMac. It'll help me pull together all my old video tape footage of my son from ages 0 to 6 - just watching the old tapes will keep me busy for awhile, but the editing down to short "films" will be an ongoing effort (a fun one, but certainly time consuming). With all of that as well as my participation in the upcoming list of the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow's top 100 Japanese films (our favourites, not "The Best") it's no wonder I'm barely posting these days...

Oh, woe is me...Such difficult choices ahead!

Friday 7 January 2011

2010 - My Year of Film

Who likes lists? I like lists. I can rarely stop at just one. So when looking back at a year's worth of movie-watching, I prefer to take a leisurely walk through all the films I saw - not just the ones released in the calendar year - and make a few different lists (ordered and unordered). So here's my Top 10, a few other choice items from the year gone by and then a whole slew of other notable non-2010 movies I ran across during the past 12 months. By the way, you can hover the mouse over individual photos in the above mosaic to see unobstructed views of each.

Favourite Films of 2010

10) Waste Land
Far more than a simple document of artist Vic Muniz and his garbage sculptures-turned-photographs and far more than a close-up look at the world's most massive garbage dump, Lucy Walker's "Waste Land" shows the beauty behind the many different things (and people) we too easily dispose.

9) Easy A
The biggest and happiest surprise of the year for me. Sure I expected Emma Stone to easily transition into lead roles, but did not expect her to completely own her character - a young woman far more clever than most around her (except maybe her parents), but still trying to figure things out. A few cliches and stereotypes are present among the rest of the fully realized characters, but overall this is a funny, warm and very sharp film. And my love for Patricia Clarkson continues unabated.

8) Rubber
For the most part, the easiest "sell" of the year to people that hadn't seen it since it only required a three word pitch: "Sentient killer tire". If additional convincing was necessary, you could reference the meta aspects of the film, the Greek chorus and the sheer ridiculousness of what the film does with its concept. All I needed was the three word pitch to get me in the door and I got what I came for - but also received so very much more. One of the funniest, most surprising and smartest films of the year.

7) Confessions
A 30-minute monologue by a teacher to her classroom full of inattentive teenagers kicks off Tetsuya Nakashima's cynical exploitation film. It details her child's death at the hands of two of the students and her initial stab at vengeance. By the end of Yuko's full plan (the initial half hour is a perfect short film, but there are further confessions to follow), it doesn't appear that any of the kids have learned anything. There aren't any winners in this universe, but there's no shortage of blame being tossed about with parents, teachers and the entire education system receiving their fare share. As depressing as that sounds, its incredibly slick presentation and unrelenting pace make it never less than completely involving. Is the film trying to make a case for proper education of young people or is it simply looking to entertain via shock and titillation? I confess that I don't really care as I was completely engaged.

6) Inception
Most of the negative comments directed towards Christopher Nolan's latest film were typically based around what it wasn't: "The dream sequences don't look like dreams", "It's not as emotional as it should be", "It's not as good as Paprika", etc. All true perhaps, but it also doesn't have as much Julie Andrews twirling around in the Alps as "The Sound Of Music" does - so what's their point? "Inception", for me anyway, was an exceptionally fun and thrilling heist movie that layered it's story with enough depth to always keep you focused and also happened to provide a final climactic sequence that lasted for about half an hour.

5) Toy Story 3
It's too easy to include Pixar in these end of year lists - their consistency is startling. I could very well have simply copied exactly what I said in last year's list about "Up" and it would have applied for the final chapter in their Toy Story trilogy. One of the keys is that the films focus on character, story and an adventure-filled arc and so it goes with this third entry. New characters are brought forth as strong as any in Pixar's stable while all the old characters become nearer and dearer and make it all too easy to give in to the emotions towards the end of the film.

4) Scott Pilgrim vs The World
If you've ever been curious what a video game inside a comic book inside a movie feels like and you want to have a hugely entertaining time, Edgar Wright has the perfect Combo for you. A completely satisfying, candy-coated experience.

3) The Social Network
How good a filmmaker is Fincher? He made computer programming look exciting. Beyond all the technical merits of the film (and there are many including a perfectly matched score), lies a story that examines not only our need to belong and communicate, but how we need to prove our worth to others. No matter how many people say "I don't care what others think...", it's rarely true.

2) Cold Fish
You may never walk into a fish store ever again...A meek store owner by the name of Shamoto with a cold wife and hateful daughter meets a fellow tropical fish vendor who is everything he's not. His new friend Murata is dynamic, happy, successful and one of the worst serial killers in his nation's history. He also has plans for Shamoto. Director Sion Sono is one of the most interesting filmmakers currently working because of his no holds barred approach to relentlessly moving his story and characters forward. He can make the absurd seem all too real and the utterly grotesque seem funny. This is fearless filmmaking.

1) The Illusionist
A match made in heaven - Chomet's use of subtlety, humour and full-fledged characters was done wonderfully well in The Triplets Of Belleville with nary a word of dialog, so who better to write his next project than famed French director (and personal fave) Jacques Tati? Apparently no one. Using an old unproduced "script" by Tati, Chomet has created possibly the definitive definition of the word bittersweet. An old style magician is pushed far afield to find appreciative audiences for his act and in the furthest reaches of the Scottish isles encounters a young girl who not only believes in him, but in his magic as well. She accompanies him back to the big city and blossoms into a young lady as she slowly loses her childhood innocence. A paean to old fashioned entertainment and ways of life, it's also a reflection of how people need to be able to adapt with change and manage to incorporate it into their lives. An unending stream of comic inventiveness fills the film while every frame is steeped in detail and rendered in such ravishing fashion that it made me giddy. A good thing too since there is a strong sense of sadness that permeates the story. No mixed emotions about the film though - an unreserved gushing recommendation.

Honorable mentions: Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage, A Small Act, Marwencol, I Am Love, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Bluebeard, Tangled, Submarine, Crying Out, The Crazies, Shutter Island, Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Favourite Performances of 2010

  • Female: Emma Stone (Easy A); Takako Matsu (Confessions); Tilda Swinton (I Am Love); Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone)

  • Male: Craig Roberts (Submarine); John Hawkes (Winter's Bone); Patrick Fabian (The Last Exorcism)

  • On-screen Couple: Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) and Yukio Murata (Denden) from Cold Fish are not your typical married couple by any stretch, but they sure are memorable. Honourable mention to Arthur and Eames (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy) from Inception as I'm not the first to recommend a buddy picture starring the two of them should be on a studio's future slate.

Favourite First Time Viewings of Older Films in 2010

  • The Headless Woman - I finally discovered Lucrecia Martel this year and in short order watched this, "La Cienega" and "The Holy Girl". Her ability to lay out the disparity of classes in South America without ever having to actually say it is remarkable.

  • Dogville - Hey, I'm just as surprised as you are that von Trier's 3 hour stark play held my attention as strongly as it did. But it did.

  • In July - Fatih Akin is known for his heavier dramas ("The Edge Of Heaven" and "Head-On'), but he has a fine comedic sense as well. Last year's "Soul Kitchen" showed his ability at broad and bawdy humour while this mismatched couple on a road trip gem shows a lighter touch.

  • The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford - A film I put off for quite awhile due to its length and, from everything I'd heard, slowness. It's a favourite over at RowThree though, so I finally tasked myself with a viewing. It's slow-paced for sure, but was never once boring. Beautifully filmed and I don't know if Casey Affleck will ever be better.

  • Love Exposure - Sion Sono was a revelation to me this year. "Cold Fish", "Strange Circus" and "Noriko's Dinner Table" (a companion film to "Suicide Club") were all bold and very striking, but his 4 hour examination of love, sex, death, religion and, well, just about everything else, was absolutely wonderful - though I suppose it wouldn't quite match everyone's definition of that word. 240 minutes have never flown by so fast.

  • Sita Sings The Blues - An animated (in several different styles) re-telling of the Ramayana via 1920's jazz vocals, a young modern day woman who has received a long distance Dear John letter and three shadow puppet narrators. I can't really do it justice. You can actually watch the entire film for free here. If you do (and you really should), then go out and buy it or donate to the project.

  • The Return Of Captain Invincible - I've been meaning to get around to posting about a few of the Oz-ploitation films I watched this year after finally catching up with the documentary on the genre "Not Quite Hollywood". A mixed bag of films to be sure, but of all the ones I saw this was the most consistently funny and inventive (certainly helped by having Alan Arkin in the cast) while it embraces its silliness.

  • Funeral Parade Of Roses - "Behind the masks, people suffer loneliness". A fractured, non-linear set of events manages to create a complete picture of not only the central character, but also a community of people, a lifestyle and even an entire artistic movement. Complete with cinematography to knock you for a loop. Thank you region-free DVD player. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow: here.

  • Lust For A Vampire - Lurid. Heaving bosoms. Lurid heaving bosoms. Heaving lurid bosoms. Bosoms that heave luridly. I think I've made my point.

  • Never Take Candy From A Stranger - One of my favourite DVD sets of the year was the "Icons Of Suspense Collection" from Hammer Studios and this was the stand out of the set for me (without a single dud in the bunch) - I can't even imagine this film being produced today, let alone 50 odd years ago.

  • Fanny And Alexander - I had seen the 3 hour version and liked it well enough, but it didn't reasonate with me. My friend Marc convinced me, though, to push through a viewing of the full length 5 hour version. After whining and putting it off for quite some time, I finally did it - and I fell head over heels for the damn thing. I don't know if it was the deeper characters, more time spent in the amazing family house, more focus on the ghosts or if I was just simply in a bad mood the first time around (you know, the kind of mood where you don't enjoy masterpieces...), but this time it was glorious.

  • The Room - OK, I was curious...When I stumbled across Tommy Wiseau's "The Room" on DVD I couldn't resist giving it a spin. Could the stories of its sheer stinkiness really be true? Though watching it alone at home is likely not the best way to experience Wiseau's oeuvre, it certainly was an experience I won't forget. Initially I just thought "Yeah, it's bad, but it's just boring", but that quickly morphed to "Well, this is pretty rotten I guess..." which (by the time of the second, uh, love scene) segued into "Oh geezus...". I'm not one for watching bad movies just because they're bad, but this was a whole other kind of bad.

  • Congorama - Yet another reminder that I must dig deeper into Quebec cinema. There are some astoundingly good films that come from my home province - and this would be one of them.

  • Floating Clouds - The delicately beautiful Hideko Takamine - one of Japan's great actresses - recently passed away. Of course I haven't seen anywhere close to the entirety of her 177 films (starting when she was 5 and spanning 50 years), but I can't imagine she was any better than in this Naruse classic. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow: here.

  • The Man From Laramie - I went on a short Anthony Mann bender earlier this year and watched several of his Noirs and a few James Stewart Westerns. Not a bad one in the group and nary an inch of film that wasn't carefully framed and photographed. This was probably my favourite of the lot.

  • Only Yesterday - Though less fantastical than most of the Studio Ghibli offerings, Isao Takahata's follow-up to "Grave Of The Fireflies" is filled with just as much wonder and gorgeous animation. It tells the story of Taeko, a mid-20s office worker who is somewhat spinning her wheels in her life and decides to take a vacation out to the country to visit some relatives. This decision causes numerous flashbacks to her days as a 10 year old 5th grader coping with a different set of struggles - boys, older sisters, unsupportive parents and the news that menstruation awaits her (that last item is one of the rumoured reasons why Disney - owners of the North American rights - have not released the film in Region 1). Thank you once again region-free DVD player. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow: here.

  • Red Beard - For some reason I had put off seeing this Kurosawa classic - possibly due to what I thought was a weak sounding story, but more likely due to its 3 hour running time. A big screen showing at the Cinematheque couldn't be passed up and it turns out the dammed thing is magnificent. If it didn't quite nudge "Ran" out of my top Kurosawa spot, it wasn't for lack of trying.

  • The Water Magician - The second annual Shinsedai Film Festival run by my good friend Chris MaGee was from all accounts a tremendous success this year - not least because of the rare screening of this wonderful silent feature complete with live music score. I babbled about it previously here.

  • Mad Monkey Kung Fu - How do you get yourself out of a deep funk? You watch an old Shaw Brothers classic like "Mad Monkey Kung Fu". I have proof it works.

  • Martin - Who knew George Romero could build real characters and craft subtle scenes? Oh, all of you who had previously seen "Martin"? Well, count me in that group now.

  • Bride Of Chucky / Seed Of Chucky - Thanks again to Dennis Cozzalio (Quiz master par excellance and top notch Horror Dad) for flogging the greatness of these fourth and fifth installments to the Chucky saga. Those who worry about an excess of camp or that there can't possibly be anything new to bring to the Child's Play films are wrong, wrong, wrong. Hugely entertaining films both with sparkling performances from Jennifer Tilly.

  • Quartermaster And The Pit - Oh Hammer Studios...Can you do no wrong?

  • Gangster No. 1 - Spiffy and brutal British gangster pic.

  • Modern Times - About time I got around to seeing this.

  • The Gleaners And I - Art is never far from Varda – film, photography, painting, restoring old discarded items – and she lives her life in constant pursuit of it. This 2000 documentary about people who "glean" refuse and leftovers (sometimes simply to stay alive, but also for other purposes) is yet another example of her ability to bring forth humane and intelligent views on society, art and the world in which we live.

  • Pushover - Perfect little compact Noir from the second Columbia Film Noir classics set that has Fred MacMurray digging himself deeper and deeper and deeper...On top of that, it was Kim Novak's first major film.

Favourite Repeat Viewing of 2010

  • School Of Rock - I'm not sure why so many people didn't like Richard Linklater's 2003 "School Of Rock" - I suppose if you don't like Jack Black, you're pretty much out of luck in this case, but it felt like the hatred for it ran deeper. No matter, I really enjoyed it and have come back to it several times over the last few years. This year I showed it to my 10 year-old son and it was one of my favourite film experiences of the year. Not just because of the belly laughs he had regularly through the running time or the fact that he couldn't wait to watch it again and bring over some of his friends to see it (with me joining him again) or because it awakened a deeper interest in certain "classic rock" bands that are part of my own youth, but primarily because we talked about it at length...We talked about film techniques, improv, single takes, audio overdubs, the history of rock, editing choices and even music rights (the extra feature of Jack Black's plea to Led Zeppelin to grant permission to use "The Immigrant Song" is perfect). Maybe it just happened to fall at the right time and he was getting curious about a lot of this stuff anyway, but the film has now moved into a cherished little section of my memories.

Saturday 1 January 2011

The First Annual CAST Awards

My good friend and fellow Toronto blogger James McNally has spearheaded and compiled a list of the most highly regarded films of the year from a rough conglomerate of Toronto film bloggers and other movie buffs. James introduces the idea here and describes how the Cinema Appreciation Society of Toronto (of which I'm a member) came to be.

Over 40 initial ballots were tallied to trim the list of eligible films to 100. A new vote was done on those 100 to result in the final Top 25. It's a companion list of sorts to the Toronto Film Critics Best of the Year list to hopefully give a wider idea of what caught Toronto's fancy on the screens this past year.

The top 25 follows along with a few of my own comments (the link breaks the list down further into points and number of votes received):

1. Inception
2. Toy Story 3
3. Black Swan
4. Shutter Island
5. The Social Network
6. Scott Pilgrim
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
8. Winter’s Bone
9. I Am Love
10.The King’s Speech
11. Rubber
12. Never Let Me Go
13. Trigger
14. Fish Tank
15. Buried
16. The White Ribbon
17. True Grit
18. Chloe
19. Easy A
20. Marwencol
21. 127 Hours
22. A Prophet
23. Rabbit Hole
24. Blue Valentine
25. Heartbeats

Like any compiled list across more than about 5-6 people, the final results tend to filter out the smaller unique picks. With the weighting system James assigned, there was hope a few of the festival films that were favourites of members from the group would surface and indeed it was nice to see a few of those picks sneak in ("Rubber", "Trigger", "Marwencol"). The list is based around any film that received a theatrical release in Toronto during the calendar year - even if it was a one shot deal.

A short funny story to go along with the list...One of the films that made the Top 100 (due to one member's very high ranking of it) was a Mexican film that screened at TIFF called "Leap Year". I've read some good reviews of it and am interested in tracking it down when it (hopefully) comes to DVD, but at the time I assumed it was a different movie from 2010 also called "Leap Year" - the rom-com starring Amy Adams. Being a dilligent vote caster, I figured I'd give it a shot, rented the DVD and hoped it was one of those sleeper films that is much better than its trailer. Well, it wasn't - the film is much much worse than its trailer. It's completely terrible in fact and probably the most soul-crushing experience of the year for me. I was aghast that this had made the final list and when James told me that someone had ranked it as their number 2 film of the year, I was frankly bowled over. And then I realized I had watched the wrong movie...I tried blaming James, but in the end it's all my own fault.

James was actually one of the first fellow bloggers I met after I got into this racket about 4 years ago and it's people like him that have made it all worthwhile. I can't say enough about the virtual friends I've made, but the cast of CAST (we have monthly pub get-togethers and invites go out to an ever increasing bunch of characters) are truly special folks and just knowing them has far surpassed any goal I ever had when I started scribbling down my little posts.

I'm hoping to have my "year in review" post up soon, but until then, bring on another year of great film and discussion!