Sunday 23 September 2012

Micro Movie Reviews

Atonement (2007)
Achingly sad. If you want a tearjerker, this film will easily fit the bill. The narrator's eponymous atonement, however, is incomplete; even at the end she is trying to spin events to cast herself in the best light. You catch pungent whiffs of her guilt, but she has yet to fully accept responsibility for her actions. The zinger of an ending packs an emotional punch.

Bridge to Terabitha (2007)
I both enjoyed and hated this movie; it had completely disingenuous marketing. Out of nowhere it hits you with a bus from another genre. Terrifically well done. 

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Another disingenuously marketed film, it follows the career of a spunky, young female boxer and her trainer (Clint Eastwood). It too shifts from one genre into another, knocking the ground out from under you in the process. Bam! The acting is great, the morals nuanced, and the dialogue sharp. But you'll want to punch the screen at some point.

Gattaca (1997)
The emotional journey of the characters and their struggle against seemingly impossible odds is deeply affecting. Jude Law chews the sets, the scenery, and the other actors in the best performance of his career. Ethan Hawke is in it too. The discriminatory system in which Hawke's character lives denies him his dreams from the outset, forcing Hawke to resort to elaborate subterfuge. By far the most impressive film I have ever seen that involves such copious amounts of urination. 

Sucker Punch (2011)
Stunning visuals that get less impressive as the film goes on. Cardboard characters violently dance through fantastical set pieces with mechanical precision. Unlike Atonement, Bridge to Terabitha, Million Dollar Baby, and Gattaca, it contains no emotional sucker punch. It's an effects reel strung together with the thinnest narrative gruel. 

Enjoy the sugary sights. That's all you'll get.

The Artist (2011)
Fluff that owes its popularity to a gimmick, the charm of the lead actor, and a million watt smile. Harmless and amusing, it did not deserve best picture. Not by a long shot.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Caine's Arcade

Check out the video.

Caine mans his arcade.

He had me at Fun Pass. I tell ya, the kid's a born marketer! Beautiful. May his dreams come true.

Be sure to check out the upcoming Global Cardboard Challenge this Oct. 6th. In Toronto, it's being held at Wychwood Barn. Build your own cardboard game and join the fun at the world's first impromptu cardboard casino.

Monday 10 September 2012

Zombies, Social Commentary, and Dawn of the Dead

Some critics claim that the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake lacks social commentary.  That it's just another mindless, money-making action-disaster picture.

That sells the film short. True, it doesn't push the sophomoric, mindless-zombie-as-consumer angle. Not much, anyway.

That doesn't mean there's no message. In fact, it has a much more potent, frightening one than the fear we're brainless automatons buying unneeded lavalamps at the behest of Machiavellian advertisers. That theme was always flip at best. A joke for Foucault. Honestly, people oversell this aspect of the zombie genre.

After all, medieval peasants would drool in awe at the most modest of our modern consumer palaces. Products commonly available to ordinary people year round were once only available to royalty, if then. Fruit in winter? Fresh meat? Cloth? Lighting? Gortex? Medical care? Antibiotics? Not to mention reliable electrical appliances. Magic by their standards! I like being able to go to the mall and I have a modicum of willpower. I don't buy shit I don't need. Well. Generally. Still can't explain why I have a vinyl figure from Yellow Submarine on my desk.

The remake of Dawn of the Dead touches on something far more frightening than being a brainless consumer, the dread fear of ennui hobbled university undergraduates everywhere. I know. It's a wonder they can sleep at night.

Can you guess what it is?

You can see it in the opening credits, in one short but explicit scene that depicts a reporter in Baghdad being ripped to pieces... by zombies.

At the time of the film's release, Iraq was in dire straits and descending into bloody anarchy. Neighbors were turning against neighbors, just as they did earlier in Bosnia-Herzegovinia and Rwanda, as society unravelled around them. That is what Dawn of the Dead is really about: social collapse. The exact opposite of a fear of being a spoiled consumer, it's the fear that our privileged existence will break down into mass murder. The fear that our neighbours may turn upon us.

Zombies running about what was once a peaceful, idyllic paradise (or consumerist nightmare, depending on your point of view) and ripping people's throats out is far more frightening to me than the fear I'll buy crap I don't need.

Just how far are we from social collapse? Three meals, is the common refrain. Now THAT is a scary thought.

Human society is more fragile than most of us really want to accept. People who have lived beside each other for decades can, and on occasion do, turn on their neighbours and hack them to pieces with machetes. On a subconscious level, we can't help but wonder if such collapse could happen here.

And that fear, to me at least, is what Dawn of the Dead is really about.

And I'll take The Mall over the ethnic/religious strife ridden Baghdad of 2005 any day of the week.

Call me crazy.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Top Ten Comedy Films

Like to giggle? Enjoy a good side splitting guffaw that bruises your innards? These may help:

10. There's Something About Mary (1998)
Ridiculous and wonderfully vulgar, this film was a breath of fresh air when it debuted. No one goes to Santiago twice in one year.

9. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen being more contemplative. So much witty banter, you don't miss the slapstick.

8. The Princess Bride (1987)
A whimsical and light hearted fairy tale, it has a devout cult following and set pieces that will live forever in your memory. Eminently quotable. Wallace Shawn is priceless as Vizzini. Inconceivable!

7. Animal House (1978)
John Belushi. Toga party. Enough said.

6. Sleeper (1973)
From Woody Allen's early slapstick period, Sleeper is an underrated comedy that nearly bust my gut when I was a kid. Follow Allen on a romp into the far future, where smoking is good for you, jello can kill, and the world is ruled by a disembodied nose. Awesome.

5. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
The only other film on the list with a real point, it's also the darkest. Features Peter Sellers in no less than three different roles on the brink of world destruction. Has some of the most outrageous lines ever written. Initially not intended to be a comedy, but the material was too insanely bleak to take seriously. The War Room set was designed by the remarkable Ken Adam, whose work made the early James Bond movies so visually distinctive. If you need a volcano lair for your giant laser, you'll want to give Adam a call.

4. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks' best comedy, Young Frankenstein bubbles over with the enthusiasm you'd expect of a mad scientist. Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman have never been better.

3. A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Peter Sellers at the top of his game. Inspector Clouseau comes into his own and assumes the lead role in the Pink Panther franchise. In the first flick he was secondary to David Niven. Perfectly paced by director Blake Edwards, it was based on the play L'Idiote by Marcel Achard. Nobody does The Full Idiot like Peter Sellers.

2. Airplane! (1980!)
Packed to the gills with exuberant zaniness, this ZAZ effort (writers Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker) Airplane is a non-stop flight into hilarity. Way, way better than my faux quote line (If they want to use it for marketing, they're welcome to it). Before you can stop laughing from one gag they've plastered you with a dozen more. The film's a gag gatling gun. Be prepared.

1. Life of Brian (1979)
Backed by The Beatles' George Harrison, LoB pokes merciless fun at religious pomposity. Could not be made today, given the push to ban 'defamation' of religion at the UN. In fact, it almost didn't get made in 1978. After finally reading the script, the original funders backed out three days before shooting was to begin. Audacious, dangerous, subversive, and courageous, it has social value far above the other films on this list, with the exception of Dr. Strangelove. LoB makes a statement. Several, in fact. And you'll laugh through every one of them.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

"It's not enough." -- Walt Bishop (Bill Murray)

Filmmaker Wes Anderson knows quirky, and pushes it to the limit with Moonrise Kingdom. Accessible in a way that Cosmopolis isn't, Moonrise follows the 1965 antics of loveable oddballs on a quaint east coast island. 

Discontent with his lot in life, young Sam goes AWOL from Scout Camp and runs away with his female counterpart (Suzy) to frolic in the wilderness. A bemused search by ostensible adults ensues, and everyone strives to escape the emotional prisons they've constructed.

Anderson employs one point perspective throughout the film, virtually every shot, and it's absolutely striking. The characters seem to be flitting across super realist Christopher Pratt paintings. Stanley Kubrick used the same technique in several films (see example video here), but never quite to this obsessive compulsive degree. 

The art direction is the tightest I've ever seen. Every colour choice has been carefully considered, every shot precisely composed, every object placed just so. The excessive stylization is initially endearing, but becomes distracting as the film goes on. Narrative must compete with ostentatious style for attention.

The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenebaums, and Rushmore were all funny ha-ha. The Fantastic Mr. Fox mildly so (but so breathtakingly beautiful it didn't matter). Moonrise is just exceedingly quirky. While the framework and staging are wonderful, the content seems lacking. Anderson tips too far into style over substance.

Even so, a gentle sense of understanding permeates the film. Empathy for the plight of the myriad characters comes through powerfully, even as the artificiality of the direction keeps them at a distance. This is not a malicious filmmaker. 

As Sam Shakusky and Suzy Hayward, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward hold their own with their far more experienced elders. Bill Murray seems half asleep, but can do what he likes. 

He's Bill Murray. 

As for Anderson, he's undeniably innovative. A pioneer deploying the most distinct voice in Hollywood today, even more so than Quentin Tarantino. Quite an accomplishment in an industry where 'different' can be a four letter word. When you see an Anderson film, you know you're in for an experience, and one you will not soon forget. His movies stick with you. Larger than life, dream like. Iconic lines and striking compositions settle comfortably into your memory. Even flawed, his movies remain must see cinema.
He's willing to experiment, take chances, and push the boundaries in directions no one else even considered. 

Kitsch or genius? 

You decide.