The Blind Spot series started off as a way for film lovers to catch up on the iconic titles they previously missed for some reason or another. However, somewhere along the line, the series has evolved into a monthly master class in cinema. It has become something that I eagerly look forward to each month. While not every filmmoves me in the same way, I cannot deny that each film I have watched for the series has left a huge impression on me. Now in its second year, the trend continues with Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
Being my first foray into Argento’s filmography, I knew that Suspiria, based on the praise many have for the film, was going to be a unique horror experience. What caught me off guard was how much I would end up loving the film. Almost forty years since its original release, Suspiria is a film that is still chilling, odd, and captivating. It is a horror film that starts off like a slasher film but quickly reveals itself to be something far more interesting. Suspiria feels like a dark fairy tale in which Alice wishes she never fell down the rabbit hole.
While leaving the theatre parking lot after watching Ang Lee’s latest film, Life of Pi, I nearly found myself in an accident. Though I had the right of way, a white truck came barrelling out of an aisle at full speed and recklessly made a wide right-hand turn into traffic. Had I not slammed on my breaks in time, the white truck would have certainly slammed into my vehicle. As the driver of the truck peeled off clueless to the destruction he almost caused, I was left to wonder was it an act of God that prevented the accident or was it merely a combination of reflexes and automotive engineering?
The experience in the parking lot may not have been as harrowing as the one Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) endures, but the timing of it could not been more appropriate. After spending two hours enthralled in Ang Lee’s contemplation of faith versus fact, or what we perceive as fact, here I was deep in further faith based thought. While the Life of Pi ultimately tells a tale designed to “make you believe in God,” whether one believes in God by the end of the film is a moot point. It is the fact that the film offers an avenue for thoughts about faith, and the perseverance of the human spirit in face of tragedy, that ultimately matters.
Joel and Ethan Coen, better known as "The Coen Brothers," are back and film lovers everywhere are rejoicing...well I am at least. Inside Llweyn Davis appears to be a story about a struggling folk singer (Oscar Issac) trying to make a name for himself in the 1960s. Though the trailer may lead you to believe that this might be The Coen Brothers most mainstream film to date, keep in mind that even Intolerable Cruelty had its share of quirky moments. Considering the brothers’ knack for writing exceptional dialogue, and a cast which includes Carey Mulligan and John Goodman, Inside Llweyn Davis is a film that I am really looking forward to.
There is something unsettling about The Impossible and it is not the 30 foot waves that displaced close to 1.7 million people. In an attempt to capture the emotional weight of one family’s incredible plight, the film inadvertently perpetuates many of the racial stereotypes that still exist in the studio system. The main one being the notion that audiences are only able to truly connect to stories involving white characters. Similar to Argo, The Impossible is yet another film based on a true story where the lead characters, whose are of Hispanic descent, is being portrayed by a white actor/actress.
Director Juan Antonio Boyona has openly stated in interviews that he changed the ethnicity of the main family because he could secure more funding for the film with marquee stars. As sad as it is that we live in an age where minority actors are still not viewed as valuable commodities by investors or studios, the lead casting in The Impossible is far from the most infuriating aspect about the film. It is the fact that the film centers around the 2004 tsunami, yet the majority of the victims shown in the film are wealthy white tourists that is truly disturbing. The Thai people in the film are reduced to nameless entities whose only job is to help the white tourist.
After successful screenings at both the Cannes and Reel Asian film festivals, Tatsumi begins its theatrical run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this Friday. If you missed it at Reel Asian you now have another chance to see it on the big screen! Here are my thoughts on the film from when I viewed it at Reel Asian.
If you are a fan of manga, then you are most likely aware of the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. However if you are unfamiliar with either manga or Yoshihiro Tatsumi, you will be itching to find out more after watching the film Tatsumi. While the film is predominantly a biopic, it does not follow the typical conventions of the genre. This provides director Eric Khoo with the freedom to tell Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s life story the best way he knows how, through Tatsumi’s artwork.
Based on Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical work, A Drifting Life and other short stories, the film tells his life story while interjecting five of his fictional gekiga stories. The stories include:“Hell”, about a photographer who is haunted by the truth behind a photo he took after the bombing of Hiroshima; The peculiar “Beloved Monkey”, a tale about a factory worker and his pet monkey; “Just a Man”, about a sexually frustrated husband who longs for an affair with a woman he actually loves; “Occupied” which focuses on a children’s cartoonist who becomes obsessed with lewd drawings in a public restroom and finally, “Good-Bye” which revolves around the broken relationship between a prostitute and her frequently drunken father during the Second World War.
Coming off its inaugural year, The Shorts That Are Now Pants kicked off its second year by picking up exactly where it left off. Curated by founder James McNally, the program offered another strong selection of short films that played extremely well to the enthusiastic audience. Here are the short films that made up this month’s program.
Synopsis: Mixtape is a short about making a mixtape for that special someone.
Thoughts: In the brief span of two minutes director Luke Snellin manages to bring both a sense of cool and childhood innocence to the film. The charm of the young lead actor and actress is so infectious that you cannot help but wonder what may lay ahead for their characters.
It has been a long time since I featured trailers on this site. Recently I have found myself paying far more attention to art of trailers than ever before. So instead of highlighting every trailer that is released in a given week, I will merely highlight the one that peaked my interest the most.
This week’s pick goes to Spring Breakers. While I detested Harmony Korine’s feature Gummo, I must admit that I am always curious when a new film of his pops up. After all, this is the man who wrote the script for Kids, a film I really enjoyed. The early buzz for Spring Breakers at TIFF was extremely positive, and the trailer seems to embrace the trashy esthetics that Korine is clearly going for. Spring Breakers looks to be the guilty pleasure movie of the year.
The ability to incorporate a good twist in film seems to be a dying art. The genuine element of surprise has been replaced by the need to spell out every little detail from the very beginning. Sure audiences have become savvier, not to mention the rise of social media has made spoiling a film as easy as hitting a cell phone button, but the focus of storytelling has changed. Nowadays either the audiences sees the twist coming from a mile away, or the reveals are so ludicrously out of left field that the film never can figure out how to best sell it. This is not to say that cinema has not seen its fair share of crazy twists in the past, it is just that many of the great films figured out how to seamlessly execute them in a way that ultimately enhanced the film.
A perfect example of this is Billy Wilder’s brilliant courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution, a film that blindsides its audience multiple times and still feels rewarding. Based on a short story by Agatha Christie, the film focuses on a man, Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), who is on trial for a murder that all evidence points to him committing. A happily married man, Leonard strikes up a close friendship with a wealthy older widow, Emily French (Norma Varden), who is clearly enchanted by his charm. When Emily is found dead Leonard becomes the prime suspect. It also does not help Leonardo’s case that Emily had her will changed to ensure he would receive a sizeable amount of her fortune.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty arrives in theatres a day after securing several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and after riding a wave of controversy regarding the use of torture in the military. This gives the film the added pressure of having to live up to the hype as there will be people going into the film looking to pick it apart. It should be noted though that, as hard as it will be at this point, Zero Dark Thirty works best when you put aside all preconceived notions and just observe the film for what it actually is; an account of the steps, and many missteps, America took in their hunt to find Osama bin Laden.
Zero Dark Thirty is being billed as a taut thriller, similar to Bigelow’s previous film The Hurt Locker, but it is a political procedural first and foremost. This is not to say that the film does not have its thrills scattered throughout. The last half in particular, in which we get to see an account of how bin Laden was taken down, offers some of the most fascinating moments of the film. However, the main crux of the film focuses on the various leads and internal politics that the CIA had to navigate over the ten years it took for them to locate the most wanted man in the world.
The sharing of one’s family history through the generations is something that we rarely give much thought too. In fact, we often take for granted the significances of doing something as simple as sitting around the dinner table reflecting on the past. On the occasions where these stories, be it joyous or sad, are shared we often tend to focus on the content rather than the storyteller. This is rather odd, when you think about it, considering the integral role that the storyteller plays in shaping the tale.
This contemplation of storytelling and family is at the heart of Sarah Polley’s latest work, Stories We Tell. Already a celebrated actress in Canada and abroad, Polley has also proven herself to be a talented director with her films Away From Her and Take This Waltz. While Stories We Tell marks Polley’s first foray into the realm of documentary filmmaking, it marks her most assured directorial work to date. Similar to Bart Layton’s The Imposter, Polley manages to bend the conventional expectations of the documentary format into something that is both captivating and emotionally impactful.
The one thing a film lover always strives to be is objective. A film lover attempts to judge each film, and film experience, on its own merits. However, objectivity can be a tricky thing when a particular film strikes a nerve. This was one of the things that I greatly struggled with while watching D.W. Griffith’s controversial film The Birth of a Nation.
Considered by many film historians to be one of the most important American works ever made, The Birth of a Nation is both a technical marvel and an infuriating piece of cinema. Released in 1915, with a running time of three hours, this epic silent film offers a dramatization of the impact that the Civil War had on the relationship between two families: The Stonemans and The Camerons. Broken up into two parts, the first section of the film chronicles everything from the start of the Civil War all the way up to the assassination of President Lincoln. The second half of the film, and most controversial section, focuses the Reconstruction era. In this section Griffith looks at the horrors that come with having a predominantly African-American legislature and the salvation that a newly formed group, known as Ku Klux Klan, offered.
2007 Palme d'Or winner Cristian Mungiu returned in 2012 with a new feature, Beyond the Hills, based on a true account of an incident in a Romanian Monastery in 2005. Mungiu returns to a territory that he knows very well, a complicated relationship between two women and the presence of a singular decisive male character. The film opens with a train slowly entering a rural Romanian train station. Alina (Cristina Flutur) returns to her home town to convince her longtime friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) to return to Germany with her to start a new life. However, since their separation Voichita has taken vows and moved to the local monastery as an orthodox nun and is hopeful that she can convince her childhood friend to stay. The conditions at the monastery are beyond austere, no electricity, night time prayers by candlelight and fresh water comes from the well on the property.
The community is all female except for the Priest (Valeriu Andrinta) that all of the nuns refer to as Papa. Alina arrives at the monastery with her outside thoughts and modern attitude in complete contrast to this medieval setting. Alina soon learns that her friend has changed. She expects them to share a bed while Voichita determined to take her vows seriously refuses and maintains her regular prayer cycle and duties.
Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) is a man who walks with a swagger of confidence. He is a sharp shooter who struts back and forth while on horseback making donuts. Of course, he did not start out this way. In fact, similar to the German children’s story that he is told by saviour/partner/mentor Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). He practically walked through fire to get to this point. He is a man that is willing to stop at nothing to save the woman he loves, even if it costs him his own life.
Django Unchained marks Quentin Tarantino's return to the Spaghetti Western genre after dabbling in it with his film Kill Bill Vol. 2. Though loosely inspired by Sergio Corbucci's 1966 western Django, Tarantino’s version has one foot firmly planted in the Blaxplotation genre. The film tells the story of Django, a slave who is purchased and freed by a former dentist turned bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz. Django's freedom is contingent on helping Dr. King locate the Brittle brothers, a band of killers who were also responsible for the capture and whipping of Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
We first meet Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he leaves his home at the crack of dawn dressed in a business suit headed for the office. His wife and family send him off with well wishes and armed guards occupy the rooftops of his family compound as he walks down the driveway towards a white stretch limo. He is greeted by his female driver and settles into the back of the vehicle for the drive into the city. Monsieur Oscar discusses business deals and the need for an upgrade in weaponry for his guards during the drive. His driver (Edith Scob) then hands him a folder that prompts Monsieur Oscar to undergo a transformation in the back of the limo emerging as a beggar woman complete with cane and cup to panhandle for money in a busy downtown square.
After a period of time Mr. Oscar returns to the limo to prepare for his next appointment as a motion capture actor. These are the opening sequences of Leo Carax's Holy Motors, the director’s first feature in thirteen years following 1999's Pola X. Carax even gives himself a brief part in the film billed as “the sleeper”. He wakes up in a room with a wall featuring a forest mural. A screwdriver appears extending from one of his fingers that he uses to enter the balcony of a movie theatre above an audience full of sleeping patrons.
There is no secret formula when it comes to making a year-end top ten list. There are those who strive to ensure that their end of the year list line up with critical consensus, while others strive to make their list unique by bucking popular opinion. However, at the end of the day it all boils down to which films moved you, entertained you, or hopefully both. The only rule I have is that my list only includes films that were released theatrically in 2012. Keeping that in mind, here are my favourite films of the year:
10. Holy Motors
The film is a wild trip down the rabbit hole that is cinema. It is not easy to decipher but I cannot deny I had a fun time trying to figure it out. Denis Lavant is one of those actors who I will now follow anywhere. He easily gave the best male performance that I saw in 2012.