The life of a samurai is a lonely one. Living a life of honour and unassuming solitude, the one thing that a samurai accepts early on is that their death is inevitable. The only question that remains is how that death will come. In Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï, death does not come in the form of a contract killer, but in the slender body of a jazz pianist.
The minute Jef Costello (Alain Delon) locks eyes with the lovely Valérie (Cathy Rosier), the piano player at Martey’s nightclub, his life was doomed...he just did not know it yet. A professional killer, in every sense of the word, Jef never leaves a job unfinished. He wears his hat and raincoat like a proud uniform, ensuring that the even his hat is adjusted just right. Jef is a hitman without a conscious who meticulously constructs every single aspect of the execution he is assigned to perform. His uncanny ability to create an airtight alibi infuriates the local police Superintendent (François Périer), who believes Jef is guilty of killing a man at “Martey’s” nightclub, but is unable to prove it. Despite Jef’s dutiful attention to detail, he cannot anticipate the wrench that Valérie could possibly throw into his plans.
A narrator begins a story that she is telling to her yet unborn child. The opening scene of her story is set in a small village where two canoes full of rebel fighters with AK 47's arrive unexpectedly. The rebels sack the place and round up all of the children. Those with the potential to fight are forced to kill their loved ones. If they refuse, their loved ones will suffer a more brutal fate at the hand of the rebels. Among this group is 12 year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza), who we soon learn is the narrator telling the story of her time at war.
The children are taken by the rebel leaders and taught what it is to be a rebel soldier. Their gun is now both their mother and father, and a rebel soldier must never lose their gun. Soon Komona gains the reputation of having a feel for locating government forces. She sees ghosts when fed a hallucinogenic milk-like substance from the trees in the woods. These ghosts warn her when the government troops are present. The rebel chief, Grand Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga), believes that Komona's powers stem from being a witch and ensures that she is not harmed by the other soldiers. The flip side of this is that her value is only based on the rebels’ success. Once the rebels suffer a setback, the validity of her powers are put into question.
Few directors, who have emerged post 1980, have been as prolific as Steven Soderbergh. He has effortlessly travelled from genre to genre while still pushing the boundaries of filmmaking along the way. When news of Soderbergh’s self imposed retirement surfaced many cinephiles moaned at the loss of a cinematic visionary. While it still remains to be seen if this retirement will be permanent or merely a much needed vacation, he has directed seven films in the last three years after all, there is no denying that Soderbergh has left his mark on the world of cinema. So it is fitting that his final feature film, Side Effects, would be a perfect culmination of the best aspects of his career.
Side Effects is a film that starts off as one thing only to reveal itself to be something completely different and immensely thrilling. The story follows Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) as she gets ready to welcome home her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), from prison. Martin has spent the last four years locked up for insider trading and is eager to make a name for himself once again in the business world. Though the couple struggles to get their relationship back to where it was prior to Martin’s arrest, Emily’s chronic depression brings added stress to the marriage. When a suicide attempt lands Emily in the hospital, she agrees to begin regular therapy sessions with a local psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).
Set in 1989 South Africa, at the height of the fight against apartheid, amidst the battle between the Inkatha and the ANC is Otelo Burning. The story follows three township kids who take up surfing on “Whites Only” beaches during off peak times. Sixteen year-old Otelo (Jafta Mamabolo) spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend New Year (Thomas Gumede). New Year's mom has a licence to run a bar in her home where a lot of the neighbourhood spend their off hours.
Outside of the bar, the other popular spot in Lamontville is the local pool. One of the locals Mandla (Sihle Xaba), who looses out to Otelo for the attention of New Year's sister Dezi (Nolwazi Shange), invites the boys to a beach house, where his mother works as a maid, to try surfing. Otelo and New Year take to the sport right away and the three begin to spend most of their time together at the beach.
Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across several film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea - Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilised by different artists.
Reflecting back on the cinematic landscape that was 2012, one recurring theme that becomes apparent is individuals fight against the prevailing views of society. It was year where characters were openly defiant to the social and political standard of the world they lived in. One needs to look no further than Quentin Tarantino’s slavery revenge fantasy Django Unchained. Though Tarantino’s film plays like a gleefully high brow blaxploitation film, there are several levels of social rebellion occurring throughout the film. On the surface level Django represents the black slave who finally gets a chance to literally whip the white oppressors who have treated his people like filthy animals for so long. However, when you dig deeper, the most engaging aspect of the film comes when Django and his partner Dr. King Shultz are each forced to pretend to represent everything they detest about the world they live in.
Those with a keen eye will notice in the closing credits of David 'Tosh' Gitonga’s energetic and immensely entertaining film, Nairobi Half Life, that Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas) is listed as supervising director. While Tykwer and his One Fine Day Film Workshop, which sponsors an African film per year, oversaw the production, it is Gitonga and lead actor Joseph Wairimu whose names will keep audiences talking. The pairing is a match made in heaven as they deliciously infuse new life into familiar cinematic tropes. Nariobi Half Life is a crowd-pleaser that will have audiences laughing one moment and gasping in shock the next.
The film tells the story of Mwas (Wairimu), a young man who spends his days selling pirated DVDs around his rural village. His ability to quote key lines from various Hollywood blockbusters, such as 300, make his sales pitches even more entertaining than the films he sells. When a theatre troop from the city of Nairobi visits his village, Mwas is inspired to fulfill his dreams of being an actor. Leaving his parents home with only a little bit of money, and a bag full of car stereos he promised to deliver for an acquaintance, Mwas sets out for life in the big city. However, Mwas quickly realizes that life in Nairobi is nothing like what he thought it would be.
After successful screenings on the film festival circuit, Shadows of Liberty begins its theatrical run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Friday. Here are my thoughts from when I viewed it at Hot Docs last year:
Exposing how conglomerates have influenced legislative change in order to control major media outlets, Shadows of Liberty is a startling wake up call. Director Jean-Philippe Tremblay’s film dissects how corporations, and even the government, are manipulating the news information most American’s receive. What was once a vessel for unbiased stories about real issues, many newspapers and television news channels are now spinning more mindless entertainment driven pieces.
Speaking to the likes of Dan Rather, The Wire creator David Simon, Julian Assange, Amy Goodman, and numerous others in the media industry, Tremblay is able to show how hard hitting investigative journalism is being swept under the rug. For example, a journalist affiliated with CBS broke a story regarding the harsh working conditions of Nike factory workers in Asia. The piece never made it to air because it would impact CBS’ financial bottom line. It was hard for CBS to air a story declaring anything bad about Nike considering that the athletic clothing company was one of their major Olympic advertising partners at the time.
A few months back the photo sharing site Instagram created a huge stir when the company alluded to using aspects of photos uploaded by users in their advertising. The backlash from users was quick and loud enough to force Instagram to issue a statement retracting this idea. The company blamed poorly worded documentation, or so they claim, as the cause of this misunderstanding. What was fascinating about this event was not how Instagram’s image was briefly tarnished, but the fact that a generation who has grown up with the notion of piracy being an acceptable crime, was now worried about infringement of their rights.
The double standard of being able to liberally take from others, but fighting against those who presumably would take from you, is becoming more and more prevalent in society. It is a skewed form of logic that perfectly encapsulates the world of entitlement that technology has created. If you want proof, look no further than Simon Klose’s captivating, though flawed, documentary TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay – Away From Keyboard. The film chronicles the period when the creators of the world’s largest peer-to-peer film sharing site, The Pirate Bay, were put on trial for violating numerous copyright laws. Klose followed the site’s creators, Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij, along with The Pirate Bay’s official spokesperson, Peter Sunde, as they took on both Hollywood and anti-piracy organizations.
2013 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, REBELLE (WAR WITCH), will be screening this Thursday as part of the inaugural Toronto Black Film Festival (February 13th – 17th). Created by the Fabienne Colas Foundation and presented by Global Toronto, the Toronto Black Film Festival is dedicated to giving unique voices in cinema the opportunity to present audiences with new ways of looking at the world. Here is the full schedule of films screening at the festival:
You may have noticed that postings have been a bit sporadic over the last few weeks. There have been several things going on behind the scenes that are responsible for this. The most important one being that recent changes at work have left me feeling wiped out lately. By the time I get home and spend time with the family, the last thing I feel like doing is looking at a computer screen. Even my film viewing has taken a bit of a dip of late, but that is more likely due to the fact that the little free time I have had over the last few days has been devoted to watching the series House of Cards on Netflix. All of this has led me to re-evaluate what will become of this blog moving forward.
Fear not, this is not one of those farewell speeches. In fact, it is far from it as the site, for better or worse, has become an important creative outlet for me. It has provided me with the opportunity to not only experience wonderful films, but also network with a slew of great people, who I now consider to be good friends. Having said that, there will be some changes to the content, and possibly the site itself, coming down the pipeline.
In Watts, Los Angeles during the 1970s reminders of the Watts Riots are everywhere as children play outside. Their playground does not consist of slides or swings, but decrepit buildings and rocks which they pelt at each other. As the children frolic in this urban wasteland, Paul Robeson’s song “The House I Live In” plays in the background with the haunting lyrics “what is America to me?” It is a somber but powerful moment in Killer of Sheep that reminds the audience that the American dream does not apply to all Americans.
Charles Burnett’s film Killer of Sheep may have started out as a master thesis for his UCLA film school, but it ended up being a film that tapped into a side of African-American life rarely captured on film. Made with only a $10,000 budget, the film was a stark alternative to the blaxploitation genre that was prevalent at the time of its release. While blaxploitation films sold the fantasy of African-American power, Burnett’s film offered an honest and thought provoking look at what life was really like for many African-Americans.
Michel Gondry has directed some of the most innovative music videos and films (hello Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in recent memory. However, after The Green Hornet I could not help but wonder if Gondry would ever direct something that was both visually stunning and emotionally touching as Eternal Sunshine again. Judging by the trailer for Mood Indigo (or L’Ecume Des Jours in French), it looks like Gondry may come close. Despite the trailer being completely in French, Mood Indigo appears to be a magical love story with emphasis on “magical”. The fact that the film features Audrey Tautou is an added bonus!
If your only experience with the Death Race series is the 2008 Jason Statham Mario-Kart inspired remake, then you must do yourself a favour and seek out the 1975 original. Unlike its remake, Death Race 2000 embraces both the silliness of its concept, and the fact that it had a limited budget to work with. An added bonus is the truly memorable performance by Sylvester Stallone, which will have you wishing he played villains more often.