Saturday, March 31, 2012
Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?
Here is Your Reading and Listening Schedule for Today:
9 am: Episode 80 of the Frankly, My Dear podcast review Being John Malkovich and raffle off a 10” Plush BOB-OMB from Super Mario Bros.
10 am: The latest episode of Lee and Dan’s Midnight Movie Club podcast find the guys chatting about Batman: The Movie and commenting on the silliness of the Canadian one dollar coin.
11 am Jandy offers some insight into the films playing at the TCM Classic Film Festival
12 pm: Sam reviews Wrath of the Titans.
1 pm: Titania has an interesting piece on what makes a classic film?
2 pm: Fat Samurai takes in The Lorax.
3 pm: Joseph dissects Mirror, Mirror
4 pm: Grace decides to go Salmon Fishing in Yemen.
5 pm: Amir shares his dozen favourite 2011 Films.
6 pm: Eric spends some time with Paris, Texas.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Sometimes you just need a good laugh. When work is stressful and bills pile up; when it’s cold and drab outside; when life throws you a curveball and when you’re just feeling blue, nothing can snap you out of the doldrums like a good funny movie. The problem is that finding movies that make you laugh isn’t always easy to do. Though many films fall under the comedy genre, some aren’t all that funny. You can pick up a movie from off the shelf, download it or watch it via Netflix or The Movie Network easily, but it’s laughter that’s often inaccessible. A good funny movie makes you laugh the first time and then someday makes you laugh again. What’s more, we laugh at different things at different times in our lives. The things we once found funny can change. For me, there are certain films that make me laugh again and again no matter how many times I see them. They’re not all side-splitting comedies. Some make me giggle, others make me laugh out loud here and there, and some make me smile and forget about everything else for a little while.
Since a good laugh is currently in order, I thought I’d list some of my favourite funny movies. These films consistently make me laugh and provide an escape from the not-so-funny business that can creep up in everyday life. What people find funny is a very subjective thing, and what I appreciate about writing these kinds of posts is that these lists show that we all laugh at different things and I love that.
So here’s a few of the funny movies that keep me laughing, in no particular order…
Weekend at Bernie’s
There’s Something About Mary
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
The Naked Gun series
Big Trouble in Little China
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
The Austin Powers series
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
What comedies do you watch when you need a pick me up? Let us know in the comments section.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Eat Pray Love
In the Valley of Elah
The Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Summer of Sam
The Brothers Blooms
The Darjeeling Limited
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Almost Famous is on my list of great films that I can watch again and again. The superb ensemble cast, the awesome soundtrack and the beautifully penned script by Cameron Crowe are a perfect combination. I can’t say enough about the cast. It’s an incredible group and, to me, every actor seems made for the role that they play. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Frances McDormand are utterly fantastic; Patrick Fugit is likeable and absolutely charming; Kate Hudson is positively luminous in what is undoubtedly the best role of her career, and Billy Crudup and Jason Lee simply rock in their roles as rock stars.
The characters and the story are what I love most about the film. The script is ripe with funny bits, touching insights and honest human experiences and emotions. It’s so rich in character. They’re complex and honest and the experiences they have and the journey that they embark upon together is so smartly and touchingly rendered by Crowe’s writing and direction. It feels as you watch the film that you’re perhaps watching a documentary cataloguing the real lives and real experiences of real people (maybe in part due to the fact that the script is semi-autobiographical and is loosely focused on Crowe’s early days as a music journalist and associate editor for Rolling Stone magazine.)
One of my favourite scenes in the film is when rock band Stillwater is flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi with William Miller (Patrick Fugit) – a teenage aspiring rock journalist trying to get his first cover story for Rolling Stone written – in tow. Their plane gets caught in a terrible electrical storm and loses altitude. Convinced the plane is about to go down and they’re all going to die, the band members and their manager start confessing their darkest secrets and sharing their true feelings. Confessions come pouring out, some threatening to damage reputations and relationships forever. The cabin is wracked by turbulence and the group is certain it’s all over when the plane stabilizes. The pilot yells, “We’re alive, we’re going to make it! Sweet relief!” Sweet relief it isn’t for the band members and their manager who wish they’d just died after unloading their darkest secrets to each other. I love this scene because it’s one of many in the film that showcases the brilliance of character that the film underscores so beautifully. It’s character-driven, well-written and funny, and so perfectly played by all involved in the scene. It leads to the great moment in the film where, completely spent, exhausted and resigned, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), Stillwater’s lead singer tells William, “Write what you want.”
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
For years the Vanishing Point was a film that always appeared on various car chase inspired film lists alongside great films such as Bullitt and The French Connection. However, unlike those two films, Vanishing Point seemed to receive more praise for its stunt driving than its actual plot. It was not until Quentin Tarantino released his faux-exploitation film Death Proof, which pays homage to this film, that the praises for Vanishing Point reignited.
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian, Vanishing Point is an action film that revolves around a car delivery driver, Kowalski (Barry Newman), who is commissioned to deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco over the weekend. Kowalski, who has been working non-stop, decides to bet his pal, and drug dealer, that he can make the drive by 3:00 pm on Saturday. Traveling at top speed across the American Southwest, he starts to catch the attention of the local police as well as a blind radio disc jockey named Super Soul (Cleavon Little). Super Soul believes that Kowalski might be “the last beautiful, free soul on this planet”, though even he can see that Kowalski’s string of luck can only last for so long.
Vanishing Point is a film that is rather misleading at first. This first twenty minutes leads the audience to believe that Vanishing Point is nothing more than a goofy action film. Everything from the cheesy banjo music, which was clearly lifted by the Dukes of Hazzard series years later, to the way a few of the early chase scenes are framed scream farce initially. However, once the film sets into its rhythm it becomes clear that Vanishing Point is far more interesting than its “chase film” packaging would lead you to believe. Once the true nature of the film is revealed, the opening moments that once seemed silly holds far more meaning.
An action film on the surface, the deeper layers reveal a film that is commenting on the end of an era. Taking place at the tail end of the hippie generation, the theme of losing one’s freedom plays heavily in the film. The majority of the police that are chasing Kowalski have no clue why they are even chasing him, they just know that he must be stopped. However, a character like Super Soul, who also does not know what criminal act Kowalski has committed, immediately feels a connection with Kowalski because he is continuing to rebel when others seem to have conformed. Even when Super Soul falls victim to a hate crime by a cop and his gang, the never loses faith in the symbol that Kowalski has become.
In many ways Kowalski assumes a Christ-like role in the film. In flashbacks sequences, the audience gets brief glimpses into the events that have made Kowalski the individual he is now. Despite his drug use and lack of regard for authority, Kowalski is one of the more morally minded characters in the film. It is no coincidence that one of the characters that helps him is named Angel (Timothy Scott). Nor is it coincidence that Angel’s nameless girlfriend (Guilda Texter), who rides around naked on a motorcycle, has a newspaper clipping of Kowalski saved before even meeting him. The mystical aspect of the film is really emphasized when Kowalski meets a hooded hitchhiker (Charlotte Rampling). Though the film alludes to Kowalski and the stranger having a romantic encounter, it is clear that Rampling’s character symbolizes the grim reaper. She even remarks that she has been waiting a long time for Kowalski. Her disappearance by dawn eerily reminds the audience that even as Kowalski has his limits.
The performances in the film range drastically from solid (e.g. Newman, Little, and Rampling) to over-the-top (e.g. the couple with the stalled car, the faith healer) depending on the character. Fortunately Barry Newman and Cleavon Little, who is in pre-Blazing Saddles form, carry the bulk of the film. Though they never share any screen time, both actors manage to create a bond between their characters completely based on Kowalski’s reactions to what Super Soul is saying over the radio. The way their bond plays out in the film only enhances the mystical aspects. While Vanishing Point can easily be enjoyed as a straight action film with sensational chase scenes, what really makes the film standout from others in the car genre is that it strives to be something deeper.
Vanishing Point is part of our "The Must See List" series. The film was recommended by Paul
Monday, March 26, 2012
The excitement has been building for months and, as I write this, the film has already set the record for the best opening day ever for a non-sequel with $68.3 million dollars. While the box office information only really matters to studio executives, if nothing else the strong opening shows that The Hunger Games has united the fans and curious alike. The ten o’clock Saturday morning screening I attended was ninety-percent full as many, such as the young female soccer team that took up the entire row behind me, decided to make the film a communal event. Since the anticipation for the film has been running rampant for months, it almost seemed impossible for the film to live up to high expectations. Fortunately, director Gary Ross manages to craft a solid film adaptation that should please both die-hard fans and newcomers alike.
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in the dystopian world of Panem. Comprised of twelve distinct districts, and run by President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), Panem is filled with widespread poverty and very little hope. The Capitol is the only city that manages to thrive in such harsh times. In order to remind the districts of the Capitol’s authority, The Hunger Games were created and take place annually. For the games one male and one female is selected randomly from each district and forced to compete in battle for survival with the representatives, known as tributes, from the other districts until there is one sole winner. When sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected to represent their home of District 12, Katniss quickly volunteers to take her place. Leaving her family and close friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) behind, Katniss is forced to battle her fellow tributes, including District 12’s own Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to the death. The only aid Katniss has along this harrowing journey is Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunkard and the only living District 12 victor from previous games, who serves as Katniss and Peetra’s district mentor; and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) a Capitol representative who serves as the pair’s image consultant. However Haymitch and Effie can only help so much, once Katniss enters the arena it is every person for themselves.
Considering that a lot of the novel is told strictly from Katniss’ internal monologue, Gary Ross had to find a way to capture the emotions and excitement of the novel in a way audiences could understand. Ross wisely opts to play up the actual games aspect and the ripple effect they have on world of Panem. The Hunger Games are more a commentary on people being repressed than it is about glorifying youth violence. In fact, the actual violence in the film is handled in a rather tasteful manner. Most of the action happens in quick cuts and the more gruesome deaths happen off screen. There will probably be those individuals who knock the film for its PG-level approach to the violence. However, the film understands that the overall story of the novel is far deeper than mere young people killing each other.
While The Hunger Games film does a good job of incorporating the key moments from the novel, there are two things in particular that did not translate as well as they should have. The first being the love arc, which does not flow well, in the last act. The scenes in the cave played far better in text form with the full context included. In the film it feels too choppy and slows down the pacing. It is as if the film trys too hard at that point to sell the love triangle subplot. The other thing that did not quite work in the film was the handling of the “mutations”. While they provide a brief moment of excitement towards the end of the film, they do not carry the same horrific weight in the film as they do in the novel. This causes a missed opportunity to really cement how twisted the games really are.
This is not to say that The Hunger Games does not do a good job of establishing who the villains are, but a little more context about the mutations would have added another sinister layer to Sutherland’s President Snow. Sutherland does a decent job with what he is given to work with, but the film ultimately belongs to Jennifer Lawrence. As Katniss, Lawrence gives another star-making performance that showcases her talents to all those who may have missed her outstanding work in the film Winter’s Bone. She really captures the spirit of the character, showcasing her character’s delicate mix of courage and fear. You can see why Katniss would unknowingly become a symbol of rebellion. The majority of the cast turn out solid performances, especially Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks with several scene stealing moments. Banks in particular is unrecognizable thanks to the makeup and wardrobe worn by her character throughout the film.
Aside from a few minor issues with the last act, The Hunger Games delivered on every level. It stayed true to the book while still managing to carve out its own unique voice. The film will entertain both fans and newcomers alike. The odds are indeed in this franchise‘s favor!
Sunday, March 25, 2012
The idea of pre-crime – stopping crimes before they happen – is, very simply described, the premise of the film. The brainwaves of three precognitive human beings (or “Pre-Cogs”) are tapped because they’re able to pick up thoughts of premeditated murders. Their prescience is used to warn police of murders before they are committed. There’s a rare glitch, however, in their visions. We’re told that although the Pre-Cogs are never wrong, sometimes they disagree. And disagree they do. The dissenting Pre-Cog files a minority report involving the chief of the Department of Pre-Crime, John Anderton (Tom Cruise.) The report is crucial because the Pre-Cogs foresee that a murder will soon be committed by Anderton himself and the report warns him of the danger he is about to befall.
The characters and the story coupled with the superb direction of Steven Spielberg and the daring and skillful special effects make for one exciting futuristic whodunit. After re-watching the film, these same things impressed me yet again, but what stood out above all of it for me this time ‘round was Samantha Morton’s portrayal of the dissenting Pre-Cog, Agatha.
Samantha Morton has impressed me a lot over the course of her career. She may just be the most independent of actresses; selective and discerning in picking projects that are always different than anything she’s done before. In Minority Report, she is a true gem. When Anderton goes against protocol and kidnaps Agatha from her fluid tank to take her on the run with him, Morton steals the show. She creates something truly unique and magical in her performance as Agatha. She is utterly captivating with her shorn hair and her magnetic blue eyes that constantly look like they’re on the verge of tears. Portrayed by a lesser actress, Agatha could have come off as a comical and cartoonish weak link, but Morton gives the character a deeply felt pathos and a stunning hopefulness amidst the chaos and uncertainty of Anderton’s quest to clear himself. At no time does she relinquish believability or fall out of character.
Some of the sequences which feature Morton are truly stunning to behold. Because Agatha has spent her time as a Pre-Cog floating in a fluid tank, her muscles are weakened and Anderton has to half-carry, half-drag her while they’re on the run. Morton portrays Agatha’s vulnerability, childlike delicacy, fragility, prescience, exhaustion and fear superbly. One of the most memorable scenes shows Agatha foreseeing the immediate future – when a man will pass by holding a bunch of balloons, for example – and advising Anderton about what to do to remain shielded from police. She clutches Anderton tightly willing him not to move, to wait for it; wait for them to be hidden from view. It’s a brilliant nail biter of a scene with perfect choreography, timing and execution.
Another remarkably beautiful scene shows the contrast between Anderton and Agatha and creates genuine mystery in its powerful simplicity. Anderton is a man of action on a mission to prove his innocence while Agatha’s forced along, weak in body but eerily strong in mind. The counterpoint between these two characters is shown in a two-shot that has Agatha hanging over Anderton’s shoulder with their eyes searching desperately in opposite directions. The way that Morton conveys a helpless poignancy through something as simple as the timing of her breathing is riveting to watch.
Morton becomes Agatha, body and soul, and never for one moment as a viewer are you aware that it’s Samantha Morton just playing a part. Maybe it’s because Morton is non-descript as actresses go. She is lovely in her simple and plain beauty which does not distract or remind you while she is onscreen of who she is outside of film. In Minority Report, she creates a truly unique and memorable character in Agatha, and every scene she’s in grips you whether she’s talking to Anderton about his son or screaming “Run” on the top of her lungs or saying nothing at all.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?
Here is Your Reading and Listening Schedule for Today:
9 am: Episode 35 of the KL5-Film podcast explores Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man.
10 am: Episode 108 of The LAMBcast podcast talks Blade Runner.
11 am Mike, a blogger who I enjoyed reading, closed up shop this week. Here is his final post
12 pm: Alex and Colin team up to host The Mamet Awards.
1 pm: Chip Lary takes time to reflect on Pan’s Labryinth.
2 pm: Asrap Virtuoso list his 7 Favourite Athletes Turned Actors .
3 pm: Luke ponders if Pixar can bounce back after a poor 2011?
4 pm: Steve takes a close look at the films Man of Iron and October.
5 pm: Dan wants your suggestions for his upcoming readers choice marathon.
6 pm: Bryon shares some thoughts on 21 Jump Street.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012
The Ice Storm
Gorillas in the Mist
Death and the Maiden
The Silence of the Lambs
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Hot Docs will always hold a special place in my heart as my son was born right in the middle of last year’s festival. With a newly renovated home at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, this year’s edition of the festival has much to celebrate. Last year Hot Docs screened many great documentaries including PROJECT NIM, BEING ELMO, BEAUTY DAY, and BEATS, RHYMES, & LIFE: THE TRAVELS of A TRIBE CALLED QUEST. Not do be outdone, this year’s festival features documentaries centered around the likes of musicians such as LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Bob Marley, female wrestlers, and even DRIVE director Nicholas Winding Refn. There are also documentaries that focus on marketing sex to tweens, the life of Ethel Kennedy, corruption in Liberia, and a look at how the economic crisis has crippled the city of Detroit from the directors of JESUS CAMP. Believe me, that is not even scratching the surface of what the festival has to offer this year. Below are a few of the highlights from the various Hot Docs programs:
In addition to the opening night Canadian premiere of Alison Klayman’s AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY, an up-close portrait of the renowned Chinese activist and artist, other notable films in the Special Presentations program include: Bart Layton’s THE IMPOSTER, which depicts a lost and found boy who may not be who he claims; James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’s INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE, a look into the lives of video game developers; Lauren Greenfield’s THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, a portrait of an eccentric billionaire family facing the economic crisis; Kevin Macdonald’s MARLEY, the definitive biography of reggae artist Bob Marley; Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed’s BALLROOM DANCER, a look at a Latin ballroom champion’s ambitious comeback plans; and Yung Chang’s CHINA HEAVYWEIGHT, an intimate portrayal of a boxing coach training poor teens in rural China.
In the competitive Canadian Spectrum program, notable films include: Christy Garland’s THE BASTARD SINGS THE SWEETEST SONG, the story of a tumultuous mother-son relationship in Guyana; Omar Majeed and Ryan Mullins’ THE FROG PRINCES, the story of a developmentally challenged theatre group’s struggle to mount an ambitious production; Angad Singh Bhalla’s HERMAN’S HOUSE, a trip through the years with jailed Black Panther activist Herman Wallace; and Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math’s THE FINAL MEMBER, which looks at Iceland’s penis museum’s search for a critical artifact.
In the competitive International Spectrum program, notable films include: Bill Ross and Turner Ross’ TCHOUPITOULAS, the adventures of three teenagers exploring the heart of New Orleans at night; Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s THE LAW IN THESE PARTS, a candid glimpse into the legal minds behind the rules and regulations governing the Occupied Territories; Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet’s ONLY THE YOUNG, a look at a last stolen summer of first loves; and Sean McAllister’s THE RELUCTANT REVOLUTIONARY, a portrait of a tour guide caught in the 2011 uprising in Yemen’s capital.
In the World Showcase program, notable films include: Tiffany Sudela-Junker’s MY NAME IS FAITH, the story of a 12-year-old girl’s struggle to overcome trauma and accept her adopted family; Beth Murphy’s THE LIST, which reveals an American’s crusade for refuge for his Iraqi colleagues; Alessandro Comodin’s SUMMER OF GIACOMO, a 19-year-old deaf boy spends a summer day with a childhood friend; and Peter Gerdehag’s WOMEN WITH COWS, the story of two sisters and their complicated relationship with a dozen cows.
The Made In Southeastern Europe program includes: Lena Müller and Dragan von Petrovic’s DRAGAN WENDE – WEST BERLIN, about West Berlin in 1970s and now as seen through a working-class Serbian émigré; Ed Moschitz’s MAMA ILLEGAL, a glimpse into the lives of Moldovan women who struggle to support their families; and András Kollmann’s STRONG – A RECOVERY STORY, about a mountaineer whose desire to climb does not fade following a catastrophic injury.
The Next program includes: Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS, where LCD Soundsystem front-man James Murphy’s bids farewell to his fans; Poull Brien’s CHARLES BRADLEY: SOUL OF AMERICA, a heart-warming story of a 62-year-old illiterate James Brown impersonator from Brooklyn; Maya Gallus’ THE MYSTERY OF MAZO DE LA ROCHE, a look at the mysterious life of the Canadian author; and Sylvia Caminer’s AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART, a peek into the world of devoted Rick Springfield fans.
The Rise Against program includes: Brian Knappenberger’s WE ARE LEGION: THE STORY OF THE HACKTIVISTS, a radical collective’s fight that redefined civil disobedience; Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat’s 5 BROKEN CAMERAS, a portrait of a West Bank village threatened by an encroaching Israeli settlement; and Petr Lom’s BACK TO THE SQUARE, a look at citizens in post-revolution Egypt.
The Nightvision program includes: Chris James Thompson’s JEFF, a biography of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer; Mary Kerr’s RADIOMAN, the story of Radioman, a fixture in the NYC film scene; and James Franco and Ian Olds’ FRANCOPHRENIA (OR: DON’T KILL ME, I KNOW WHERE THE BABY IS, a wild behind-the-scenes doc with James Franco on General Hospital.
The Documentary Plays Itself program includes: Phie Ambo’s GAMBLER, which follows director Nicholas Winding Refn as he shoots sequels of his cult classic; Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton’s LOST IN LA MANCHA, which captures Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated attempt to film the Don Quixote story; and Thom Andersen’s LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF, a look at how Los Angeles is depicted on film.
The full lineup of films can be found at www.hotdocs.ca