Friday, June 4, 2010


I know I've been away for a while, but I'm back now, and hope to get into updating this daily (But, let's be's not gonna be daily) with stuff I've seen.

Aliens (Cameron, 1986):  The way 2010 cinema has been completely underwhelming is disappointing on one level (Seriously, I think 8 of the 18 local screens are showing either Iron Man 2 (Understandable), Sex and the City 2 (Kind of a travesty, but it's popular, so I get it), or Robin Hood (Completely baffling that it takes up three theaters when it's not even making that much money!), but good on another as rather than wasting my time and money, it gives me a chance to get around to stuff I've been meaning to watch for years, hence, Aliens!  I actually only got around to Alien, itself, last year, and now seemed like a good chance to delve into the sequel.  If you're completely bizarre like myself and somehow never got around to watching this, I'll give you a brief synopsis. Sigourney Weaver reprises her role as Ripley, former space worker turned alien fighter, who is discovered some 50+ years later floating in space.  Of course, the evil corporation blames her and not the bloodthirsty aliens for ruining things and she's given the space worker equivalency of a dishonourable discharge, and finds herself working the space docks, that is, until slimy corporate bigwig Paul Reiser enlists her to travel to a mining colony on the planet where the aliens were discovered that has recently broke off all contact.  She hesitates, at first, but you know she ends up going along with a group of gung-ho space marines who are, of course, completely inept when it comes to dealing with the titular creatures who have ravaged the colony, leaving only one survivor, a little girl called Newt.

As someone who's not really big on scary movies (For the most part, I don't really find them that all scary, save a few (Audition scared the pants off me and my friends; Paranormal Activity was good for a few scares, and I found The Strangers shockingly effective)), I can honestly say that, really, Aliens might be the scariest movie I've ever seen.  You're gonna have to watch it alone, late at night, with the lights off to get the full effect, probably, but I found myself legitimately on the edge of my seat, even though I'd actually already spoiled the ending for myself trying to figure out how long it was.  The scares were genuinely scary and the effects were pretty spectacular for the most part (A couple times the alien kinda minced along which was a tad distracting), and really spectacular when you consider it was 1986 (But, really, would you expect anything less from a James Cameron movie).  The cast, save for Weaver and Lance Henriksen in the role he was born to play (a creepy robot), were pretty non-descript and superfluous to the plot (But, really, would you expect anything less from a James Cameron movie).  I've got to say, Aliens is the rare sequel that outdoes the original (Except for, say, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Spiderman 2, or, especially, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II).

Lesbian Vampire Killers (Claydon, 2009):  This was just bad. It's kinda like if someone was sitting around watching Shaun of the Dead and thought to themselves "Hey, I could do that!  But this time with vampires!  And boobies!"  But, no it turns out, you really can't.  The leads are unlikable, the jokes are mostly unfunny, and, by the time you get to a few that aren't so bad - Chubby McSidekick Who Would Kill To Be Nick Frost getting hit with an axe-handle and sniggering at a phallus-shaped sword, as well as the film's final shot, come to mind - the movie's already badly worn out its goodwill with you that you'll choose not to laugh out of spite.  Anyways, yeah, the effects are bad, the characters annoying, the plot, such as it is, drags, and the movie ends with the hope of turning it into a series.  I'd suggest that hope may be a tad unfounded.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Film Review: Blue Collar

Man, flick my bic!

Blue Collar (Directed by Paul Schrader, 1978) Blue Collar stars Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto ("The Oreo Gang" they are dubbed at one point in the film) as three workers at an Auto Plant. Pryor's Zeke is a family man with mounting bills, and a distrust of his own union, when he is paid a visit by an IRS representative who questions why Zeke has six children listed on his tax returns but only medical records for three of them ("Where is Stevie Wonder Brown?" he asks). In a wonderful scene Zeke tries to placate the tax man while his wife sneaks next door to borrow the neighbour's children to pass off as her own. Of course, the IRS rep doesn't buy it, and he's demanding back taxes of over $2000 to be paid immediately. Then, Jerry (Keitel) comes home to find his daughter's gums all cut up after she tried to fashion a homemade set of braces out of wire, because Jerry can't afford them, despite the fact he works at two jobs. Meanwhile, Smokey (Kotto) blows his salary on women, liquor and drugs.

Each of them realizes individually that they need to make a change in their lives, finance-wise, and Smokey and Zeke decide to rob their own union. Eventually, Jerry is won over to the idea, and they manage to steal the safe, one night. The safe contains a mere $600, which they have to split four-ways (Each of them gets some, another share to the man who planned it), and Zeke is put in charge of disposing of the safe and the rest of its contents. This is when Zeke comes across a very interesting by-product of their theft: a ledge detailing a list of the union's massive amounts of illegal loans. They're torn as to how to use it: Smokey wants to blackmail the union into paying them, Jerry wants to just get rid of it, while Zeke has the grandest plans: to use it to bring about changes in the union, get himself some power, create a union that will work the way it's supposed to, for the people, not against them.

Things start to go sour, though, when the union claims that $20,000 has gone missing, and Smokey realizes if they're going to pursue this, that the three can no longer be friends, before someone puts two and two together, and pins the crime on them. That means there's no one there to prevent Smokey having a work-place "accident", without Zeke or Jerry to watch his back. There's also no one to prevent Zeke from having the wool pulled over his eyes by the union's promises of power and change. And, there's no one to watch out for Jerry, the most reluctant of the bunch to participate, who now finds his family and himself in danger of goons hired by the union, brandishing shotguns.

Pryor is a major revelation, here. He was always funny, and always entertaining, but here he takes it to another level, playing Zeke as a simmering cauldron of rage and ambition. The look on his face as he realizes he sold Jerry out, but that he did it to save himself, is wonderful, as is his reaction when Jerry returns the favour. And Yaphet Kotto is awesome playing Smokey as a big, tough bad-ass who is the only one, in the end, who ever knew what was going on and how things would turn out.

Tremendous, tremendous film. If you can find a way to track it down (Its run on DVD was long ago discontinued and seems to be selling for upwards of $45 on Amazon), you should do so (I caught it on Encore Avenue, a Canadian cable channel). Paul Schrader is probably the most important American filmmaker that no one ever seems to talk about.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I'm like my mother, I stereotype. It's faster.

Up in the Air (Directed by Jason Reitman, 2009): This was a nice film, with mostly nice people, having a nice time. It didn't blow me away, but I had a perfectly nice time watching it.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham who is hired out to various corporations who are too cowardly to fire their own employees. He lives in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. He meets a Alex (Vera Farmiga), and the two have a playful flirtation with credit cards and frequent flyer miles as aphrodisiacs. After a wild night of love-making, they sit down with their laptops and plan out when they can see each other again, then part ways, the perfect arrangement for a man with no fixed address.

Of course, whenever someone has a perfect set-up, like Bingham believes he does, life always has to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of your plans. Bingham's particular monkey-wrench is young corporate recruit Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who has the new breakthrough idea of grounding Bingham and his fellow firers, and have them do their firing via internet, taking an already horribly dehumanizing process, and making it moreso. Bingham objects, not just because it puts his titular lifestyle in jeopardy, but also because he believes that he plays an important role, that he takes people at their absolute lowest, and gives them a shred of dignity, and a tinge of hope. His boss isn't convinced, but plays along, and sends Ryan and Natalie out on the road together with Ryan showing Natalie the ropes, and Natalie convinced she already knows them.

I really expected there to be an awkward forced romance between Kendrick and Clooney, who is 24 years her senior, but, refreshingly, the film sidesteps any hint of romantic tension by having Bingham listen in on Natalie's phonecall with her fiancee where he overhears her describe him as 'old'.

Naturally, commitments finally come calling for Bingham, and he finds himself forced to help out with his sister's marriage, even having to try and convince her reluctant husband-to-be (Danny McBride, who is always a treat to have turn up in a film) that the lifestyle he's choosing is a good one, even as Bingham eschews the life, himself. Gradually, more and more, he starts to believe it, and the idea of giving it all up finally has to cross his mind.

Clooney has maybe never been better (It's this or Michael Clayton, as far as I'm convinced), and Farmiga and Kendrick are both wonderful, as well. There's lots of shots from planes, on planes, and of aerial photography above some cities, all of which I'm a sucker for. The characters are believable, as is the dialogue, and everything is competently directed. It's just that I kept waiting for that revelatory moment where you go "Oh, wow!" or "I know exactly what he means!" but it never quite gets there. It's like listening to an old friend tell a funny story you've heard before. It's nice, it won't change your life, but there are worse things to do, so you just sit back and enjoy it.

*** (But, I might bump it up a whole 1/2 star, as I stew on it in the coming weeks)

Be Italian!

Nine (Directed by Rob Marshall, 2009): I'm not really a big fan of musicals, nor was I really that taken with 8 1/2 (Which is what the Broadway play that this is based on was based on), but I figured with Daniel Day-Lewis, I could no wrong. And Lewis is excellent, hitting his Italian accent perfectly (More on that later...) and actually delivering a surprisingly solid singing voice. Penelope Cruz is a lot of fun, radiating raw sexuality from every pore, as his saucy mistress, and Marion Cotillard's song is really good and sad. But, that's about as far as my goodwill extends with this one.

Lewis plays Guido Contini, visionary Italian director, who is struggling with writer's block on his latest film, and spends most of his time moping and sulking, and remembering all the women in his life. There's Luisa (Cotillard) his patient wife, who he makes a point of leaving behind when he retreats from Rome to get away from the press. There's his ongoing mistress (Cruz), who is getting tired of being kept in the dark, even as she worries about upsetting her husband. There's his mother (Sophia Loren), his costumer (Judi Dench), his star (Nicole Kidman), his childhood obsession (Fergie Ferg), and a smitten American journalist (Kate Hudson, who delivers a particularly awful rendition of a particularly awful song). We don't really learn anymore about them than that. He loves his wife, but enjoys cheating on her. He loves his mother (presumably) and lets his costumer boss him around, while she basically helps run his life for him. He also seems to love his star, but never acted on it. He even goes up to the journalist's room, but runs out before doing anything.

That's pretty much it really. The songs aren't that memorable. The performances aren't that great. And you never really learn anything about anyone or anything. And -blasphemy of blasphemies!-, there's no closing number! It just sort of ends. I'd call it a disappointment, but, then again, I didn't really expect anything out of it.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Film Review: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans

I'll kill all of you. To the break of dawn. To the break of dawn, baby.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (Directed by Werner Herzog, 2009): On paper, this looked like a surefire cinematic abortion. A remake of/sequel to a film that was overrated in the first place. Nicholas Cage in the lead of a Werner Herzog film, after a largely forgettable decade by the former. A character played by rapper Xzibit of 'Pimp My Ride' fame.

And it all works! And works like gangbusters!

Cage plays the titular cop, Lt. Terence McDonagh, seen first in the closing days of the Hurrican Katrina disaster, mocking a prisoner trapped in a rapidly flooding prison. After hemming and hawing about ruining his fifty dollar underwear, McDonagh finally dives in and saves the prisoner. He earns a commendation and promotion from the police force, but also winds up with a lifetime of back pain and a prescription for pain pills. The pills are a slippery slope for McDonagh, and, before we know it, we're watching him snort cocaine off the back of his hand, stealing drugs from club-hopping teenagers, and borrowing from a prostitute (Eva Mendes).

A crime occurs that seems to focus McDonagh's maniacal rage like a lazer. A family is killed, execution-style, by a notorious gangster Big Fate (Xzibit) and his cronies. McDonagh sniffs out a lead and finds a scared fifteen-year-old who finally agrees to testity. The boy is left in McDonagh's care, and the scene of Terence going out to dinner at a casino with the boy, his own father's dog (who he agrees to babysit while his father enters A.A.), and his prostitute girlfriend is hilarious.

The boy flees, McDonagh is left without a witness and Big Fate goes free. Left to grasp at straws for the case, McDonagh has the added pressure of a mounting gambling debt, a pay-off for a local gangster after he roughed up a client of his girlfriend's, and pressure from Internal Affairs after his has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed treatment of a woman and her nurse in an assisted care facility. When all this pressure becomes too much, McDonagh has to turn to Big Fate to help him out.

It's a terrific film, instead of relying on the heavy guilt and pathos of the first film, Herzog instead chooses to make Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans about, as he puts it in interviews, the "bliss of evil", and has the film straddle the line between gritty cop drama and black comedy, sometimes throwing in sequences, seemingly at random. There's a scene from the point-of-view of an alligator, McDonagh's increasingly erratic behaviour, hallucinations, and a break-dancing soul.

As for Cage, he hasn't been this riveting, this convincing, since Adaptation. He has the look of a man who has seen the inner contents of his own soul, and is terrified by what he sees, while simultaneously laughing at the weirdness of life. And the supporting cast is terrific: Jennifer Coolidge as his father's girlfriend who doesn't understand why the alcoholic can't just "stick to beer" like she does, Brad Dourif as his put-upon bookie, Michael Shannon as the man in charge of the evidence room growing weary of helping McDonagh score, Fairuza Balk, Shea Whigham, Irma P. Hall, and Val Kilmer, the only cop who might be too bad for McDonagh.

An alternately startling and hilarious film. It will leave you laughing just as many times as it has you cringing, and just as often as it will have you completely dumbfounded. Thus far, it's the best film from 2009 that I've seen.


(Thanks to Ogawa for the awesome screencap)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Flim Bolg Top 100 Films of 2000-2009

Sorry for the absence, that is, if anyone is reading this. Took an extended Christmas break, but am hoping to get back in the swing of things.
079. 28 Days Later (Directed by Danny Boyle, 2003): Before I started caring so deeply about movies, cataloguing their faults and flaws, celebrating their acting and cinematography (To be honest, I didn't really know what cinematography meant, really, I still don't. It means if it looks pretty, or not, right?), I saw 28 Days Later with friends and absolutely loved it. A friend of mine proclaimed loudly, upon exiting the theater, that it was the worst film he'd ever seen, sped off in his car, never to be seen again (I'm lying, I saw him a few times after that). I looked at my other friend as the car sped away, "I liked it!" he said, and I did, too. Any film that can elicit that kind of reaction must be worth ranking, right?

28 Days Later is a zombie movie, to be sure. But, whereas the goal of most zombie movies is to make you jump when the zombies spring forth from dark corners and cheer as the heroes lop off zombie heads, 28 Days Later hits you with a much more visceral, deep-in-your guts dread.

When the main character, Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in a hospital to find everyone gone, it really gets to you. It makes you imagine the same thing happening to you. As he leaves the hospital and finds the city deserted, and the score swells, and he just looks deflated/defeated, it's absolutely gripping.

Of course Jim finds some fellow survivors, and, of course, they follow a radio signal sent forth by other survivors, and they run from and kill various zombies along the way, it is a zombie movie, after all, even if the zombies are not expressly identified as such. And, here's the kicker, the fellow survivors, are somehow more inhuman than the flesh-eating, staggering zombies.

A thrilling, absolutely terrifying film, that pushes one as close to hopelessness as one can get. Maybe that's why my friend reacted so negatively to it. Maybe he really felt the hopelessness and was frightened at what he felt. His reaction does have as much in common with fear than it does with dislike. That brings me to the ending, I've read people complain about the relatively upbeat ending, but I think it's perfect. After the journey Jim, and the viewer goes through, it would be unfair to give them a downer. At least give them some hope. There's never anything wrong with hope.

078. Children of Men (Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, 2007): I might have monkeyed with my results a little bit to get these two back-to-back, because, in a strange way, their almost companions of one another. Children of Men puts Theo (Clive Owen) in a not-too-distant future, where the human race is completely sterile, no one has kids, no one has hope. As Theo is on his way to work, he finds out that Baby Diego, the youngest man in the world has died, and is almost blown up by a terrorist bomb. He asks for the day off, claiming to be so devastated by Diego's death, to go smoke pot with old hippie Jasper (Michael Caine), who is mourning Diego in his own way, with a special marijuana hybrid that tastes like strawberries. But, Theo isn't really interested in mourning, he didn't even like the man ("He was a wanker," he says), truth be told, Theo isn't really interested in anything.

Eventually, he ends up reconnecting with Julian (Julianne Moore), his old flame from his protestor days. She tries to enlist his help. After much hemming and hawing, he finally agrees to transport a motley assortment of individuals to a destination, provided he gets paid, of course. Their car gets jumped, people get killed, and Theo learns the true value of his human cargo, giving him a reason to fight back, a reason to go on.

The filming of this movie is phenomenal. The bombed-out landscapes, the ongoing battles in the background, the faint promise of hope. While both Children of Men and 28 Days Later deal in similar themes, similar landscapes, similar feelings of hopelessness, and similarly unwillingly heroic heroes, the big difference is in their chief message. In 28 Days Later, it's about keeping yourself alive. In Children of Men, it's about keeping hope alive. It's in the face of the soldiers who stop fighting when they realize just what Theo is escorting. It's in Theo's face, when all is said and done. I wonder if my friend enjoyed Children of Men.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Film Review: Summer Hours

Summer Hours (Directed by Olivier Assayas, 2009): I wanted to sit on this one for a couple days before writing about it. I have a tendency to overrate/overhype just about anything I have just seen and enjoyed. Then, a few days later after reflecting on it, I realize that my feelings have cooled somewhat (or a lot) and I blush at my earlier rave reviews. And sometimes I walk away from something feeling somewhat let down or bewildered and the film sits in my subconscious and percolates, and I find myself revisiting images over and over like a slideshow in my head and realize that I did, in fact, love the film. And sometimes, it's a film like Summer Hours, where my first instinct is that I loved it, and I wait a few days and realize...that I loved it just the same.

Summer Hours begins at the birthday of Helene (Edith Scob), the family matriarch, attended by her three children and assorted grandchildren. Helene takes Frederic (Charles Berling), the oldest, aside and begins run down an itemized list of her posessions, many of them priceless works of art, and who should get what, and what should be sold, and about selling the house. Frederic is aghast, not only does he not want to discuss his mother’s guest, but he is perplexed at the idea of selling the house. The children will meet there with their families for summer vacations, he reasons. Later, after Helene has indeed died, he repeats this statement as an unanimous fact, despite the fact he’s never talked it over with either of his siblings. The looks on the siblings, Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier), tell it all. Rather than be a silent majority, they both say their piece. Jeremie, the youngest, is set to begin a five-year contract in China. He won’t be able to take advantage of the house for those five years, and likely beyond. Adrienne is getting married for the second time, she says she won’t get back to France more than maybe once a year. They both defer to Frederic, the oldest, but there’s no choice to make here. That’s part of being the oldest: being left to make the decisions, when the decisons have already been made for you, but knowing that if it goes wrong it will always be you who made the final choice. Frederic makes a last pitch to keep some of the artwork, in particular a pair of priceless paintings. But, Jeremie needs money to purchase a home in Peking, and Adrienne rationalizes: “You can’t split two pictures three ways.”

The rest of the story is told in vignettes. Chief amongst those is my favourite scene, a heart-wrenching scenario where assessors pore over every artifact in the house, extolling their values while the the children sit passively by and watch family heirlooms and memories reduced to their finite financial value. Eloise, Helene’s longtime housekeeper stops by, and Frederic, in an act of simultaneous compassion for the woman and defiance against a process he doesn’t believe in, quietly gives her a vase that he knows to have tremendous value, because she, like Frederic, believes the vase has no real value if it’s not full of flowers in a sun-lit room. After exiting the house, she confesses to her relative giving her a ride that she could never take anything of value, that she wouldn’t feel right, not knowing that she has a priceless artifact in her possession.

Berling is stellar, playing a man who believes in nostalgia and sentimentality and wants to keep the house in the family so his children, and their eventual children can meet there and love it the way he did. He is directly at odds with his siblings, who are more materialistic, but also more realistic. Right until the end, Frederic harbours the delusion that he could buy out the other two siblings and keep the house, somehow.

It ends with a joyous house party, okayed by Frederic, seeing as the house will soon be taken over by a new owner, thrown by his teenage daughter. Throughout the film, Helene's children often use the feelings of their own children as reasons for justifying their point of view. Frederic talks about how much his children love the house, while Jeremie admits his children would rather vacation in Bali, then return to a house they have no strong affinity for. And when we first see Frederic's daughter's party: all loud music, booze and guys tooling around on motor-scooters and dirt bikes, we think she has the same inkling as her cousins: that it's just a house she used to visit with no real emotional attachment.

But, then we see her standing in a field of the house's seemingly limitless environs, with her boyfriend, she is brought to tears by the fact that her grandmother is gone, and, soon, the house will be, too. It’s a wonderful moment reinforcing the theme of the film: that people go, that things go, and, once they’re gone you can never get them back, so she goes back to her party. It’s a perfect ending to one of 2009’s best.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Flim Bolg Top 100 Films of 2000-2009

081. Slumdog Millionarie (Directed by Danny Boyle, 2008): A hyperkinetic love story. Jamal, a poor orphan from the slums of Mumbai goes on the Indian version of 'Who Wants to Be A Millionaire', not for money or fame, but hoping to reconnect with the love of his life whom he has had to leave behind three times. While on the game show, the questions happen to coincide with major events from his lifetime, and it's through flashbacks that we're told the story of Jamal's life. It's probably the most feel-good film you'll see that includes religious riots, murder, child abuse, prostitution, spousal abuse, and the maddening gap between the haves and the have-nots.

What I love most about Slumdog Millionaire, is how sure-footed and singularly focused it is. It just never really takes a wrong step, and right from the stylish title screen with the kid's t-shirt displaying the title, you know you're in good hands. Terrific soundtrack and some incredibly manic camerawork following Jamal and his brother Salim as they run through the snaking slums of Mumbai.

And, in the end, when Jamal and his lady love Latika lead a joyful Bollywood-style dance number, it feels wrong at first, but you realize that they've earned it, that the movie has earned it. And it's just a wonderful way to end a film.

080. Ghost World (Directed by Terry Zwigoff, 2001): This is a pretty polarizing film. I've read reviews from people who just H A T E D it, and other who think it's just wonderful. I guess you could say I fall into the latter camp, Ghost World is just the wonderfully cynical and witty, yet surprisingly tender-hearted film about growing up.

Thora Birch stars as Enid who is supposed to be graduating, but finds herself stuck in summer-school for art class after flunking out. This puts a crimp in the plans of her best friend and fellow outcast, Rebecca (Scarlet Johanssen), who wants Enid and her to get jobs and get a place together. But, Enid clearly doesn't want to. She drags her heels, she gets a job but gets fired quickly from it, she makes fun of Rebecca's job at a coffee shop. In the midst of making fun of everyone, they pick out a 'Missed Connections' ad from the personals, and set up a phony date for the man who placed the ad.

What they weren't prepared for, however, is just how sad Seymour (Steve Buscemi in one of the best performances of his career) actually is. They feel bad about what they've done, and follow him back to his place, stopping in later in the week to go to his garage sale. Seymour is a vintage Blues record collector, and Enid finds herself interested in him. She ends up liking his old blues records and makes it her quest to find him a date. But, what Seymour really wants is someone like Enid, and what Enid really wants is someone like Seymour, but neither of them is ready to admit it to the other.

As Enid and Rebecca begin to drift apart, the way that high school friends often do, she finds herself spending more and more time with Seymour. At the heart of it all, Enid is actually really unhappy, she wants to be popular with the boys like Rebecca is, but treats any attention paid to Rebeccas as loathesome, eschewing popularity because it's never going to come. She and Seymour are kindred spirits, both slightly out of step with modern life, and both extremely fragile. And the film finds the perfect note to end on, leaving you wondering whether it's meant to be a metaphor for one thing, or the other.

And, to top it all off, it's just genuinely funny. The character of Doug, who is like so many weirdos one finds hanging out at a convenience store, just floors me every time when he begins practicing with his nunchuks in the parking lot.