Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thrills, Chills and Kills for Halloween

No costume, no party, no problem! Whether you are stuck at home giving out candy, or merely having a quiet night in, here are some of my favourite scary movies.

Big Thoughts From A Small Mind's Top Films to watch on Halloween

11) Saw – The yearly, and vastly weaker, sequels has caused many to forget that the original Saw help to bring new life into the modern horror genre.



10) Ginger Snaps – Here is the first proof that the life of a teenage girl can be far scarier than any monster under the bed.




9) Carrie - Here is the second reason why you need to be wary of your teenage daughter. I am not ashamed to admit that the ending scared the heck out of me when I was younger.



8) Scream – Similar to Saw, the sequels have ruined this franchise for many. Yet Scream proved that you could bring the “slasher genre” back to life through witty deconstruction.



7) Night of the Living Dead – Still the best zombie movie ever made in my opinion!



6) Halloween – This one is all about the build up for me. There were many great slasher films I could have included on the list, but this one edged out the competition.



5) The Blair Witch Project – Forget the marketing hype that got bigger than the film itself. In an era of elaborate death and gore, all The Blair Witch Project needed was nature and a handheld camera to scare millions. It still holds up for me all these years later…yes even the highly debated ending.



4) Rosemary's Baby – A true horror classic. While not gory, the chills are all of a mental nature. The ending is both disturbing and fantastic all at the same time.



3) Child's Play – Yes the series has become a parody of itself over the years, but Child’s Play still remains one of my favourite horror films. In my opinion there is nothing scarier for a child than a creepy looking toy. Of course they may be a result of growing up in the era of “my buddy” and “kid sister”.



2) Let the Right One In – Not only was this my second favourite movie of 2008, but it is one of the best films to be released in the last decade. Forget Twilight, if you want a truly engaging vampire love story, that is equally disturbing at the same time, look no further than this underrated gem.



1) The Shining – Stephen King may not have loved this adaptation of his story, but I think Kubrick did a brilliant job. This is the one film that I never get tired of watching.



Honorable Mention: The Fly, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws, Psycho, Videodrome, The Descent, Misery, Shaun of the Dead, The Exorcist, Vertigo, The Eye (Japanese version).

Did your favourite scary movie not make the list? List your top horror films in the comments section below.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Beware of Antichrist’s Deceptive Gardens

Antichrist

Just in time for the Halloween season comes Lars Von Trier’s first stab at the horror genre. After the suffering the tragic loss of their infant son, a couple (William Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg) attempt to mend emotional wounds that the death has opened. The wife (Gainsboug) begins to have recurring nightmares about the woods near their cottage in Eden. The husband (Dafoe), who is a psychologist, believes that the best cure for his wife’s grief is to confront her deepest fears. After much prodding, the wife agrees to take a trip up to the cottage. At Eden the couple quickly realizes that facing ones fears may not quite be the medicine they were hoping for.

Lars Von Trier’s nightmare look at the stereotype of the sexes is, if nothing else, a film that will stick with you long after you see it. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the individual viewer. This is not the type of film that you really need to see at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning. The much publicized graphic scenes are indeed hard to watch and not easy to forget. Yet I found that those particular scenes were more distracting than anything else. They actually ruined everything that was so wonderfully set up in the first section of the film.

Antichrist is visually stunning at times, and raises a lot of interesting questions about the dispositions of both men and women. The theme of nature being Satan’s playground is fascinating. I really liked how Von Trier interprets the whole Garden of Eden story and juxtaposes it with the history of pagan women being accused and burned as witches. Lars Von Tier also touches on the idea of a woman’s pleasure being a punishable offense.

Unfortunately all these great ideas are overshadowed by the excessive later half of Antichrist which almost borders on torture-porn. When reflecting on the film you automatically think back to “the wheel” and other gruesome moments, instead of how wonderful Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance is. While Antichrist is destined to be the subject of many film school papers for years to come; it is just not as strong, or as focused, as Von Trier’s previous works. The concept is great and the performances are good, but overall I would say this one is a rental.

On a side note, this film, oddly enough, reminded me of the Canadian film Lost Song that played at TIFF ‘08. That film was also about a disturbing tale about a couple that go to their cabin in the woods in an attempt to cure the wife’s postpartum depression. It would be interesting to watch both that and Antichrist back-to-back one day.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Wild Thing You Make My Heart Sing

I attended the 1st Annual Autumn Harvest Short Film Festival this past weekend. Orchestrated by Damien Dornford, the festival not only showcased up-and-coming filmmakers but also raised money for The Children’s Aid Foundation charity as well. 15 short films, ranging from almost every genre you can think of, were screened for a very lively audience. Be sure to keep an eye of for future installments of this festival as it should not be missed.

Where the Wild Things Are

By the time the ending credits started to role on Spike Jonze’s latest work, Where the Wild Things Are, I was not sure how to process what I had just witnessed. The film was the complete opposite of what I had expected. After reflecting on the film over the last couple of days, it became very apparent that it has been quiet sometime since a live action children’s film really stuck with me like this did.

Adapted from Maurice Sendak's classic children's story, Where the Wild Things Are follows a young boy on a fantastical journey of self-discovery. Feeling isolated from his older sister, Max (Max Records) only has his mother (Catherine Keener) to cling to. Yet when Max’s mom invites her new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) over for dinner, Max fears that even she has giving up on him. After running away from home, Max comes across a small sailboat at a local dock. The boat eventually leads Max to a mysterious island where monstrous Wild Things roam. After tricking the Wild Things, most notably Carol (James Gandolfini), into believing he posses magical powers, Max is crowned king of the group. Max soon realizes that even on a mysterious island you cannot runaway from your problems.

While Sendak’s children’s story is considered to be a classic by many, do not go into this film expecting a standard children’s flick. One of the brilliant aspects to this film is that it defies many of the conventions you are use to seeing in most kid’s films nowadays. Hollywood has pushed so many traditional children’s pictures, especially of the animated and/or talking animal kind, down our throats over the last few years that it actually takes a bit of time to truly adjust to the different tone and rhythm of this film. Which is one reason I think this film will catch many off guard in several sections. Where the Wild Things Are is far darker than you initially think it will be. Even the wonderfully dark film, Coraline, seems downright sunny in comparison. Jonze not only captures the dark tones of the source material but he actually engulfs himself in it. Despite the fun Max seems to have with his new found friends, you always feel that Max is walking a very fine line. There is a constant uneasiness that, at any moment, either Judith or Carol will make good on their threats of eating Max.

Jonze is able to create this world that both horrifying and invigorating for a child, through the use of life size puppets and subtle special effects. Despite the fantastical aspect of the Wild Things mere existence the bulk of their world, and of Max’s imagination, is grounded in reality. In many ways the use of full size puppets and realism reminded me of some of beloved childhood films of my youth (e.g. The Neverending Story, Dark Crystal, etc). In an era where children are mainly marketed animated movies in 3D, it is nice to see a filmmaker not afraid to buck the trend. What makes Jonze’s accomplishment even bolder is the fact that all of the Wild Things have their own identifiable qualities. Although not all get equal screen time, you still get a strong understanding of both their unique personalities; and the overall role each plays in the group. Spike Jonze skillfully shows us how each one is a reflection of the different stages of Max’s current life. Although big and fearsome at times, the Wild Things are struggling with issues of family, loneliness, love, having their voices heard, etc. Max naively thinks that by being in charge he can fix in them everything that he fears in himself. Yet as the Wild Things world seemingly get worse it becomes clear to Max that life in general was never simple to begin with. It is this realization in Max, and the audience, that allows the abrupt ending to make perfect sense. Jonze does care about wrapping things up perfectly because that is not how life works.

There are times when Spike Jonze's unique voice makes the film a little too stylized for its own good. Certain freeze frames and camera tricks take you out of the picture momentarily instead of pulling you in further. Personally I think such techniques will probably play much smoother on repeat viewings. Regardless, I am willing to let these moments slide though as the majority of the film both engaging and visually stunning. Although this is one of the better children’s films released this year, parents should note that the film is too disturbing for really young children. Older kids should not have any problems with the material as Where the Wild Things Are perfectly captures the complexities of childhood without talking down to its audience. Jonze has made yet another good film that, similar to Sendak’s original work, will probably be analyzed for generations to come.




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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Lovely Time In New York

New York, I Love You

From the creators behind the Paris Je T’aime comes the second film in the “love series”. Similar to Paris Je T’aime, New York, I Love You features numerous vignettes on the subject of love from 12 directors from around the world. These directors include: Mira Nair, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Brett Ratner, and Scarlett Johansson just to name a few. The film also features an all star cast with the likes of: Julie Christie, Orlando Bloom, Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Ethan Hawke, Andy Garcia, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper, Justin Bartha, Robin Wright Penn, Blake Lively, Christina Ricci, John Hurt, Bradley Cooper, Anton Yelchin, Jame Caan, Kevin Bacon, Hayden Christensen, etc.

Personally I found the majority of the shorts hit the mark. There were five or so in particular that were blisteringly funny. One of my favourite vingnettes included, surprising enough, Brett Ratner’s segment with Anton Yelchin. Yelton plays a boy who is stuck taking a girl (Olivia Thrilby) in a wheelchair to the prom. Yelchin and Thrilby give great performance that are sure to have you laughing hard by time you reach the end. Some other standout segments include Mira Nair’s short with Natalie Portman, Yvan Attal’s with Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q, and Shekhar Kapur's with Shia LaBeouf and Julie Christie.

To be honest only a few segments really fizzle out. The weakest one being Scarlett Johansson’s Coney Island segment which stars Kevin Bacon. I have read recently that this segment has been left out of the latest version of the film (I saw the version screened at TIFF 08). Word is it will be on the dvd edition of the film. Which is fitting when you really think about it, the short is not bad but it does not fit with the overall production. It really does slow down the pacing of the film. New York, I Love You is another enjoyable installment in the growing love series. I am looking forward to seeing what the next two installments, set in Jerusalem and Singapore respectively, will bring.

The Rock-y Road To Good Hair

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Good Hair

This was originally posted in my 2009 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been fixed up and re-posted as the film will finally be released this week.


In Jeff Stilson’s documentary, Good Hair, Chris Rock goes on a mission to try and understand the obsession black women have with “Good Hair.” Whether it is using the harmful chemicals found in a tub of hair relaxer; or spending thousands of dollars on weaves, black women are constantly striving to have European-looking hair. Rock’s journey will not only lead him across America but all the way to India as well. What he finds out along the way is equally hilarious and disturbing. Good Hair is definitely an eye opening look into the black hair industry. After the film, I discussed many of the points raised with my mom and she was echoing many of the same sentiments that the women in the documentary stated.

Generations of women have grown up, and will continue to grow up, longing for “Good Hair.” Rock knows that there is nothing he can do to change this fact, which is why this documentary is more concerned with entertaining than shaking the status quo. Still it would have been nice if Good Hair had added a little historical context in regards to why many cultures covet the European style of hair. Actually it would have been interesting to have a few Europeans provide comments about black hair in general. The only non-blacks featured in the film are of Indian or East Asian decent.

Regardless, in the grand scheme of the picture, these are minor quibbles as Rock never intended the film to be a sermonizing tool in the first place. The segments in India are extremely effective in showing how out of hand the hair obsession in North America is. The same can be said for the business side of things, in which the film points out how much money the industry rakes in and who is really benefiting from it. While the film is filled with many great celebrity interviews, Rock really shines when he is interacting with regular folks in the beauty salons/barber shops. Some of the most amusing comments come when the interviewees explain why you cannot touch a black woman’s hair during sex. Good Hair may not strive to be a scathing social critique, but it is still an enjoyable film that is both funny and thought provoking.





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Friday, October 02, 2009

A Game No More

This was originally posted in my 2008 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been fixed up and re-posted as the film will finally was released in theatres today.


More Than A Game

First runner-up to Slumdog Millionaire for the “Peoples Choice Award” at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, More Than A Game is an uplifting tale about friendship, hardship, and determination. The documentary looks at how five friends growing up in Akron, Ohio defied all expectation and changed the way America looked at high school basketball. Through the help of Coach Dru, a businessman who knew little about the sport going in, the five young athletes are forced to overcome many obstacles on and off the court. Not only did four of the five men begin playing together in grade school; but one of them, a kid named LeBron James, would become the first high school student to be handpicked by Sports Illustrated as the next big thing. As the wins start to pile up and the media scrutiny become more rampant, egos arise, relationships become strained, and the adversities mount.

While LeBron James is the marquee name that will most likely bring people to the theatre; the audience will be cheering for Coach Dru and the other members of the aptly dubbed “Fab Five” (Little Dru, Sian, Willie, and Romeo) equally, if not more, by the end. Director Kristopher Belman skillfully gives enough weight to each person so that you get a good understanding of the boys bonds to each other and their coach. Belman could have easily just made a film that was nothing more than a basketball highlight reel. Instead Belman opts to make the basketball games a secondary aspect. The real story is how the boys worked hard to achieve what they wanted. We see the damage the game does to the relationship between Coach Dru and his son Little Dru. Belman also provides good insight to how every choice made by the players drastically changes where they end up later in life. Obviously depending on how much you already know about the LeBron James story may impact how you view the film. For me the film was an eye opener as I knew very little about LeBron prior to his NBA career. Uplifting without being sentimental, More Than A Game is definitely a crowd pleaser on several levels.



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Man, Why So Serious?

This was originally posted in my 2009 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been fixed up and re-posted as the film will finally was released in theatres today.


A Serious Man


After last year’s misstep, Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers find themselves back on track with A Serious Man. Set in Jewish suburbs of Minnesota in 1967, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) tries hard to live a good and upstanding Jewish life. Despites his best efforts to a “serious man”, Larry cannot seem to stop this downward spiral he seems to have found himself in. His wife (Sari Lennick) has fallen in love with another man and wants Larry to grant her a religious divorce so she can remarry within the faith. Larry’s children only talk to him when they want money or the television fixed. To make matters worse, Larry’s application for tenure at the University is in jeopardy due to a series of mysterious and damaging letters that have suddenly appeared. Looking for guidance, Larry does what any “serious man” would do…seek counsel from the elusive Rabbi Nachtner (George Wyner).

Due to the underlying bleak tone, and the abrupt ending, A Serious Man is bound to divide audiences. Personally I loved the film, as it was a funny commentary on faith and human nature. Larry does all the right things and his life gets worse by the day; whereas everyone else is committing sinful deeds and seemingly living well. Even the religious leaders, who are the most “serious men” of all, are merely going through the motions. All of the various Rabbis in the picture are quick to provide random stories and rhetoric yet none of them can apply the tales to the actual matter at hand. The performances in this film are fantastic even the bit players provided wonderful moments. Stuhlbarg is by far the standout though. Stuhlbarg brings so much comedic subtly to the role that it is easy to miss upon first glance. As I mentioned before the ending will rub many the wrong way, but I found it rather fitting when looking back at the overall themes of the film.




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The Man Is Always Greener on the Other Side

This was originally posted in my 2008 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been fixed up and re-posted as the film has finally be released in theatres.


The Other Man


Richard Eyre follows up his brilliant film Notes on a Scandal, with this story about love, friendship and adultery. After losing his wife Lisa (Laura Linney) to cancer, Peter (Liam Neelson) discovers that she was having an affair with a man named Ralph (Antonio Banderas). Filled with anger Peter flies to Italy in hopes of tracking down, and killing, this mysterious Ralph. Once in Italy, Peter begins to play game of chess, both a literal and figuratively, with Ralph. While not revealing who he really is, Peter slowly tricks Ralph into opening up about the nature of his steamy relationship with Lisa.

While the premise is interesting, The Other Man does not have enough gas in it to sustain the whole film. The film ends up being merely average at best. While Neelson, Linney, and Banderas are all very talented and capable actors; they can only do so much with the material they are given. One thing I found interesting about this film was how each character viewed the affair. Peter, the cuckold, immediately wants to seek revenge. Ralph sees his time with Lisa as the greatest love story he has ever encountered. Whereas Lisa merely views it as nothing more than I choice she has the right to make. This view is also echoed in another film released already released this year Cloud 9, as well as the upcoming film Partir (which I saw at the ’09 TIFF). One of the many issues I had with The Other Man is that it strives too hard to reach an ending that can only be described as neat. It seems like the last half of the film is merely one big set up for a rather substandard finale.




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TIFF 09 Recap Part 3

Youth in Revolt

While on vacation with his mother (Jean Smart) and her latest deadbeat boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis), cynical teenager Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), meets the girl of his dreams, Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). Unfortunately for Nick, the distance between where he and Sheeni each live is a huge road block in their budding relationship. The only remedy is for Nick to get kicked out of his mother’s house and be sent to live with his father (Steve Buscemi). In order for this plan to work an upstanding individual like Nick will be required to do some truly bad deeds. Luckily for Nick, Francois Dillinger (Michael Cera) is an expert at creating havoc. As Francois sets Nick’s plan into motion, Nick is forced to deal with the unexpected consequences.

As Francois Dillinger, Michael Cera finally gets a chance to break away from his usual awkward teenager role. Yes, as Nick, Cera is still doing the same deadpan teenager role we are all use to, but most of the memorable moments in the film come courtesy of Francois. Youth in Revolt is a far more entertaining teen comedy than Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. Granted Sheeni, is not as well rounded a female character at Kat Denning’s Nora was in that film. Still, Youth in Revolt greatest asset is its wonderful supporting cast (e.g. Smart, Galifianakis, Buscemi, Fred Willard, Adhir Kalvan, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, etc.). Besides providing some great laugh out loud moments, the supporting cast also help to keep the comedic pace moving briskly. I also liked how the breezy script allowed Miguel Arteta to incorporate a few stylistic touches, such as animation, into the film. Arteta wisely does not overwhelm the film with it, but it never feels out of place when it is included. While Youth in Revolt may not bring too much new to the coming-of-age genre, it does have enough comedic moments to satisfy for a few hours.

B+




Bitch Slap

In Rick Jacobson’s homage to 70’s sexploitation movies, Bitch Slap, three buxom femme fatales set out to steal 200 million dollars from a criminal kingpin. At first everyone role in the heist is clearly defined. Hel (Erin Cummings) is the brains of the operation, Trixie (Julia Voth) is the bait, and Camero (America Olivo) is the muscle. As plans begin to spiral out of control, and secrets are revealed, the women roles are blurred and allegiances are question. It quickly becomes clear to all that the women need to fear each other just as much as they fear the kingpin.

If you enjoy Russ Meyer’s movies, or any cheesy sexploitation flick for that matter, chances are good that you will be entertained by Bitch Slap. The movie is tongue-in-cheek from beginning to end with some inspired cameos (e.g. Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless, Renée O’Connor, etc). The one major flaw with Bitch Slap is that it gets fairly repetitive after a while. There is only so many girl-on-girl slow motion fight scenes, witty references for female genitalia, and over-the-top action sequences a person can take. As a result of all the excess, the movie takes far too long to get to the big twist (which you see coming in the first twenty minutes). Jacobson and crew have so much fun playing things up that they left out the most important aspect of the original 70’s genre…the moral subtext. Frankly the cheesy, and often horrific, moral lesson is what made the Russ Meyer’s movies so entertaining. With the exception of the one dimwitted cop, and even he is a stretch, there is no character is truly corrupted by the women. Bitch Slap does have many enjoyable moments but ultimately it does not hold a candle to the 70’s sexploitation movies that it is honoring.

C




Ajami

The conflicts between Israeli’s and Palestinians have been widely documented on a global scale but rarely do we see what goes on daily in average neighborhoods. Ajami looks at how the lives seemingly separate individuals are intertwined. There is the story of a family who must pay for one uncle’s heroic act. Another story looks at an Arab who wants to live in Israel. There is also the story of the cop who is desperate to find his missing brother. To give any more of the plot away would be a great disservice to the film.

Ajami is a film very much in the same vein as City of God as provide a unique look at a world that few of us really know about. Not only does Ajami show what life is like for Arabs living in Israel, but also the constant conflict between religion and honor. One of the shocking things about Ajami is how the structure and rules are said to be in God’s name, yet all it seems to do is breed more criminal activity. Of course the cultural conflicts are present as well, but directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani care more about the human element rather than the historical debate. Ajami does not make any grand political statements, nor does it choose side. Instead it provides a fascinating, and at times heartbreaking, look at how corruption and violence can ruin communities no matter where in the world you are.

A




Micmacs (Micmac à tire-larigot)

Bazil’s (Dany Boon) life is turned upside down after a drive-by-shooting leaves a bullet lodged in his head. Homeless, and aimlessly roaming the streets of Paris, Bazil stumble upon an eccentric cast of characters who invite him to join their makeshift family. With the help of his newfound friends, Bazil devises a scheme to get revenge on the two weapons manufacturers that have caused him a lifetime of distress.

Second runner-up for the festival’s people choice award, which was on by Precious, Micmacs is truly a crowd-pleaser. Jean-Pierre Jeunet brings his whimsical imagination that he has displayed in numerous films, including Delicatessen and Amelie, to the caper movie genre. Despite the subject matter, Jeunet is not really interested in making a grand political statement. Micmac’s main goal is to entertain and, as far as screwball comedies go, it succeeds on several levels. The romantic subtext is nowhere near as engaging as Amelie but, to be honest, it really only plays a minor role in the story. The real fun of Micmacs is watching Dany Boon’s physical comedic timing. Boon’s performance helps Micmac’s achieve the Chuck Jones level of insanity that it strives for. Micmacs may not have the emotional resonance of some of Jeunet’s other films, but the film had me laughing more than any other film I have seen so far this year.

A+

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet held a very entertaining Q & A after the screening.




Vengeance

After his daughter, Irene (Sylvie Testud), is seriously injured, and Irene’s husband and children killed, restaurant owner Frank Costello (Johnny Hallyday) is determined to find the people responsible. Leaving France for the foreign land of Hong Kong, Frank enlists a trio of hitmen (Anthony Wong, Lam Suet and Lam Ka-Tung) to assist him in the search. As Frank and the hitmen trek forward it becomes clear that both sides are keeping secrets. One secret in particular may not only jeopardize the partnership, but Frank’s life as well

Although Vengeance is director’s Johnnie To’s first English language film, his trademark “bullet ballet” is still intact. While I am a big fan of some of To’s previous works I found Vengeance to be a huge disappointment. Part of the problem is that the story falls apart halfway mark when one major twist is revealed. When To introduces a Memento-style subplot it ends up stifling the whole production. Pretty much everything after that becomes pointless, this is especially apparent in the shootout at the trash yard. Many of the shootout scenes, normally To’s strong point, feel lifeless as a result of the inept plot. Sure there a few nice stylistic touches but nothing we have not seen To do better elsewhere. Vengeance would have been better served to leave the twist out completely. Without it, To would not have to use lame plot devices, such as resorting to “divine intervention”, in order to keep the story moving. Vengeance is misguided on many levels and will leave you frustrated more than anything else.

D




Le Refuge (The Refuge)

Mousse (Isabelle Carre) and Louis (Melvill Poupaud) have just received their latest stash of heroin and plan for a night of drug induced ecstasy. This results in Mousse waking up in the hospital days later, after going into a coma, and she is told that Louis has died from an overdose. If that was not shocking enough, Mousee also finds out that she is pregnant. Deciding to keep the baby that is growing inside her, Mousse retreats to a quiet home in the countryside to live life in peace. Things get complicated for Mousse when Louis’ brother, Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), pays her an unexpected visit and feelings start to develop.

Francois Ozon’s latest film, Le Refuge, is a film that is almost too subtle for its own good. The set up of Le Refuge leads you to think that you about to witness a gut-wrenching drama, when the film is actual a quiet meditation on isolation and sexuality. The connection between Mousse and Paul is built up slowly and rarely goes the path you think it will. A lot of the tension that arises between the two is more a result of Paul’s physical resemblance to Louis more than anything else. Le Refuge felt like a much somber version of The Swimming Pool in several ways, partly because of the themes Ozon is playing with. While not as strong as that film, Le Refuge does have many interesting elements going for it. Just do not go into the film expecting any grand moments as the whole film is rather anti-climatic.

C


The Ape (Apan)


Krister (Olle Sarri) wakes up the bathroom floor one morning. He is not sure how he got there or why there is blood on him. Disoriented, and extremely late for work, Krister frantically get ready for another day as a driving instructor. As he goes about his day, it soon becomes clear that Krister’s life is about to change forever.

The brilliance of The Ape does not reveal itself immediately; to be honest I was not fond of the film upon first viewing. Yet I could not stop thinking about it after the screening was over. The more played certain scenes over in my head, the more it became apparent how brilliantly deceptive the film actually is. Despite its conventional appearance The Ape is anything but that; which is why the film is both frustrating to watch, and upon reflection, immensely rewarding. After the opening scene, you expect that the full mystery to be revealed, when the truth is director Jesper Ganslandt is not interested in the mystery at all he only cares about the present. While certain answers are given, the film is really about how Krister copes with the events that happened before we (the viewer) started following him. The relatively calmness Krister exudes for most of the day, coupled with some of the choices he make, is what really makes this film chilling. While The Ape is not the easiest film to sit through but it definitely warrants repeat viewing to truly grasp how good it actually is.

A


A Gun to the Head

Trevor (Tvgh Runyan) has left his criminal ways behind him and is now living the typical suburban life with his wife Grace (Marnie Robinson). One night, while out getting wine for a dinner party Grace is hosting, Trevor gets a call from his troublemaking cousin Darren (Paul Anthony). Although he really should get back to his dinner party, Trevor just cannot pass up the temptation of one quick beer with his cousin. Soon enough Trevor finds himself in middle of a dispute between Darren and local a drug dealer, Sam (Hrothgar Mathews). This not only puts Trevor’s life at risk but his wife’s as well.

Although Blaine Thurier is more known for his musical talents (he plays keyboard in The New Pornographers) he shows a lot of promise as a director. His third feature is an enjoyable dark comedy that manages to find fresh laughs in rather familiar territory. The premise is nothing you have not seen numerous times before; but the performances from the cast, especially Anthony and Mathews, are what really keep your interested. The actors do a good job of finding the right comedic rhythm for the dialogue. Some of the funniest moments arrive in the dinner party scenes when Grace’s boss tries valiantly to convince to Grace into partake in a threesome. Frankly, you may never look at Japanese culture the same way again. Although the film is enjoyable for the most part it does lag a bit towards the end. The darker toned ending does not quite fit with the overall picture.

B –

Director Blaine Thurier and cast members Marnie Robinson, Hrothgar Mathews, Benjamin Ayres held a Q & A after the screening.


If I Knew What You Said (Dinig Sana Kita)

Nina (Zoe Sandejas) is the lead singer of a rock band but cannot seem to keep out of trouble. Facing expulsion from school Nina has no choice but to attend an experimental camp that combines hearing impaired students with regular students. It is at the camp where Nina meets Kiko (Romalito Mallari), a deaf student with a passion for dance. Despite the emotional baggage they both are carrying a genuine friendship is formed between Nina and Kiko. Unfortunately their bond will be put to the test as their individual lives start to spiral out of control.

At first glance Mike Sandejas’s film looks like it might be just another “after school special”-style film about acceptance. Yet as the film progresses you realize that there is much more going on than you initially expected. Sandejas creates realistic and well-rounded characters in Nina and Kiko. Zoe Sandejas and Romalito Mallari provide strong performances to make the characters believable. If I Knew What You Said does tug at your heart a few times but it never over does it. There are rarely any moments in the film that feel false or forced. Granted the film wraps up a little too sweet for my liking, but really that was a minor complaint as the rest of the film had me hooked far more than I ever expected it would.

Director Mike Sandeja, Zoe Sandejas and Romalito Mallari held a Q & A after the screening.

A-/B+




Life During Wartime

In Life During Wartime, director Todd Solondz revisits many of the characters that he brought to life so vividly in Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness years earlier (14 and 11 years respectively). After once being married to a pedophile, Bill (Ciarán Hinds), Trish (Allison Janney) is happy that she has finally found herself a normal guy, Harvey (Michael Lerner). Trish and Harvey plan to marry but things are complicated when Bill is released from jail. Meanwhile Trish’s sister Joy (Shirley Henderson) and her husband, Allen (Michael K. Williams), are having problems due to Allen’s immoral habits. As Joy takes a solo trip to reconnect with her family she is haunted by the ghost of a lover past. Both Trish and Joy must figure out if it is better to forgive or to forget.

Life During Wartime is like warmed over comfort food in many ways. You really do not need it but it satisfies for a brief time before you are hungry again. As a big fan of Solondz’s previous films I had no problem with the fact that he used a completely new cast for each role. Yet since it had been so long since I saw both Dollhouse and Happiness it did take a while for me to reconnect with the characters. While I liked the casting (Janny, Henderson, William, Charlotte Rambling, and Paul Rubens are good in their given roles) I could not help but wonder what the original actors (especially from Happiness) would have done with this material. I think that is one of the main things that hinders the film overall. Happiness was such a good movie that it really did not warrant a sequel. Todd Solondz trademark dark humor is still intact but somehow the film seems to play things much safer than his previous films. Solondz doe raise some interesting questions on the lengths of human forgiveness but ultimately he has covered this theme better elsewhere. At the end of the day Life During Wartime made me want to rent Happiness again more than anything else.

B-/C+


The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

After making a bet with Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), who is more commonly known as the devil, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) wins the gift of immortality. Several years later Mr. Nick and Dr. Parnassus make another bet that would ultimately save the life of Parnassus’ one true love. Unfortunately for Dr. Parnassus this bet comes at a grave price as he is forced to give up his first born child, Valentina (Lily Cole), to Mr. Nick upon her 16th birthday. Now on the eve of Valentina’s sweet sixteen, Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick decide to make another bet that may either save Valentina or damn her forever. The bet is simple, Dr. Parnassus must convert five souls through is mystical “Imaginarium” travelling show before Mr. Nick converts five souls. Dr. Parnassus knows that the devil always has a trick up his sleeve, which is why his randomly meeting with Tony (Health Ledger) is so intriguing. Is Tony a gift from above? Or is Dr. Parnassus taking his biggest risk yet?

It has been well documented that this film features the final performance of Heath Ledger. It is also no surprise to hear that Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law were asked to fill in for Health in certain scenes. What may come as a shock is how seamlessly the injection of the new actors is. Since most of the non-imaginarium scenes were shot prior to Health’s death, Farrell and crew were only needed for the fantasy sequence. Once you see the film, the limitless possibilities of the Imaginarium will make perfect sense. The two performances that probably deserver the most praise are that of Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits. Sure Health is charming as ever, but it is Plummer and Wait who really make this film a treat. Waits in particular does a great job as the devil, you can see how easily a man like Dr. Parnassus could be swayed by his deceitful charm. Director Terry Gilliam does a good job at keeping the film grounded in reality despite all of its fantastical moments. This film is far better than his last two works, The Brothers Grimm and Tideland, though not as strong as some of his earlier films. The one major flaw with the film is the Imaginarium scenes with Farrell in the third act. I found the whole sequence from the children’s benefit up to the stairs chase just went on far too long. The film needs a little tighter editing near the end. Still, despite the somber events surrounding the film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is an enjoyable ride that is a fitting final chapter to Health Ledger’s canon of work.

B

Terry Gilliam introduced the film and held an engaging Q & A after the screening