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TIFF 2009: Movies, People and Movie-People!

Posted by film On September - 12 - 2009

By Rachel West

TorontoI love TIFF. First and foremost, I love the films. They’re the reason I give up my precious 8 hours of sleep a night and balance a 40-hour work week with 15+ movies on average. Movies are the reason I run solely on trail mix, granola bars, and fast food for ten malnourished days. The tabloid-driven gossip-lover in me adores the red carpet glamour and celebrities at film premieres. I’ll even show up at a premiere with other fans to get a glimpse of my favourite actors, but more than that, I love the people. People who love movies.

Not the media and industry types, but regular Joes who line up, excited to see film premieres and movies that may never get a wide release. Torontonians, whom for the rest of the year I ignore in public and scowl at on the TTC, are suddenly my closest friends, united by TIFF. These people are my fellow movie-goers, waiting in line and sitting next to me in crowded theatres, that I end up striking up a conversation with. And it’s not just the people of Toronto whom I trade stories with, but also those who have travelled from near and far — from the world beyond the GTA, Ontario, and even Canada. These people become my best friends for ten days. We may not exchange names or intimate details of our lives, but we exchange thoughts, opinions, and reviews on TIFF films.

Waiting in line isn’t so bad when you have someone to chat with. Like many others, I usually fly solo during TIFF, not so much by choice as by necessity. Read the rest of this entry »

Inglourious Basterds Reviewed

Posted by film On August - 31 - 2009

inglourious-basterdsInglourious Basterds
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Universal Pictures, 2009

By Bill Walsh

Tarantino’s been worrying me lately. The last Tarantino flick I saw was Death Proof and a fan I was not. Death Proof came off like one of those “I Know What You Did Last Summer” movies that anyone could have directed, and the only thing that made it seem like a Tarantino flick were the long, drawn out dialogues about everyday situations.

To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of Kill Bill either. While Kill Bill oozed with style and kung-fu (which is awesome), some of the dialogue went a little too long — and if I’m supposed to be watching a super-cool kung-fu movie, I want to see super cool kung-fu.

Now, this movie. Oh, this movie. It’s great. Inglourious Bastards is about a squad set up in France during the Nazi occupation basically to scare the hell out of the Nazis by first killing them in horrendous ways and then scalping them like the Apaches in the old days of the Wild West. Nice simple plot just like mom used to make.

It has Tarantino’s style all over it. Tarantino’s drawn-out, long dialogue is best suited for use as build up to a really freaky scene. Take Pulp Fiction: Jules and Vincent have a long conversation about Read the rest of this entry »

Flickchart: The New Time Waster for Film Lovers

Posted by film On August - 3 - 2009

By Sean Kelly

Sean's # 1: Donnie Darko

Sean's # 1: Donnie Darko

A common feature of many movie sites, such as The Internet Movie Database, Yahoo Movies, Flixster, and even Cineplex.com, is the option for users to rate the films they see. Most use the traditional five star system, though IMDb uses ten stars and Yahoo Movies uses letter grading. However, if you are like me, you find that you often give the same rating to multiple films and it can be difficult to decipher which of those films are better than the others. It is that issue that is at the core of Flickchart, a new site (currently in the invite-only beta stage) that allows you to rank, not rate, your favourite movies. I just got into the site and I can tell you that it’s addictive.

The process of the site is very simple. When you log in, you are presented with two random films. Your task is to click the film you like better. When that is done, you are presented with two more films to rank. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Movie MegaCalendar: May

Posted by film On April - 24 - 2009

By: Sean Kelly, Caesar Martini, Brian Last and Rachel West

Summer may be months away, but in Hollywood it’s already hot, hot, hot! Join some of our regulars for some educated speculation as they weigh in on May’s big titles: Wolverine, Star Trek, Terminator, Angels and Demons, the return of Raimi, and more! What’s worth your while and what’s a waste? Enjoy the epicocity and start planning your May.

MAY 1st

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Man-crush you to death!

Man-crush you to death!

Sean:

First, I have to say it is a shame that some idiot leaked an unfinished cut of this film to the net since it already has the challenge of revitalizing the X-Men series after the poor reception of the third film (which was actually an OK film). That said, all the footage I have seen seems to prove that this solo-adventure isn’t just the cheap cash-in that it initially seemed to be (though, as for that planned Magneto film…).

Caesar:

As a comic book fan/geek/collector, and closeted Hugh Jackman man-crush victim, I’m pretty much obligated to see this film. It doesn’t help that the trailer is hella awesome. I do have a few worries about it, namely that it seems to have every mutant ever created in it (Wolverine, Gambit, Sabretooth, White Queen, Cyclops, Blob, Maverick, and John Wraith, to name a few). Also, Sabretooth is played by Liev Schrieber, who is a fine actor but will not necessarily be fine at being a seven-foot-tall mutant, feral killing machine. Perhaps most worrisome is the fact that Will.I.Am is acting in this movie. I swear to God, if I hear anything resembling the word “Fergalicious,” I’m going to walk out, go home, and poop on my Black Eyed Peas records.

Brian:

This fourth instalment of the X-Men Franchise tackles the complicated back story of Logan, A.K.A. James Howlett, A.K.A Wolverine – no easy task. The story also covers the Weapon X Project, and a slew of other characters that are being introduced in this origin story (Sabertooth, Deadpool, Cyclops, and Gambit). Too much on the plate?

Upon first viewing of the trailer, it looks like an interesting film with good action, and it looks like the director has a good handle on the character and the story. The X- Men franchise may just redeem itself for the sub par X3.

MAY 8th

Star Trek

C'mon, they're like, 17!

C'mon, they're like, 17!

Sean:
I’ve been a “Trekkie” since childhood, so it’s a no-brainer. In an interesting bit of trivia, this will be the first Trek film to receive a summer release since Star Trek V: The Final Frontier twenty years ago. Trailers have proven to me that Trek is in very capable hands. Who knows, maybe this film will spark a reverse of the Star Trek series’ “even/odd” rule (especially considering the lukewarm reception Star Trek: Nemesis received).

Caesar:

A reimagining of the classic sci-fi series with an all-new, young and sexy cast. Star Trek is decent, but I was never a full-blown fan. I rarely watched The Next Generation (though I did think Deep Space Nine was a fantastic series and that it was horribly underrated). I have seen almost every movie in the theater, because, shit, it’s got spaceships and lasers. How am I not gonna go see that? The real reason I’m psyched for this flick, though, is the trailers. Other movie companies should take note, THIS is how you put together an awesome trailer.

As long as Kirk punches out every man he has a problem with and has sex with at least three babes (one of them alien), and Spock uses the word “illogical” before nerve pinching the shit out of someone, I don’t see how this could fail.

Leo:

I’m deeply concerned here. I don’t consider myself a true Trekkie because I only enjoyed The Next Generation. And you know what the best episodes of TNG didn’t have? Laser fights, running around, and sex! TNG was about diplomacy. It was about testing our principles when we encounter cultures and customs that challenge our own. It was about negotiation and the triumph of tolerance.

I love me the Lost as much as the next man, but this movie here looks like a violent popcorn muncher, and much less than Star Trek could be. (Oh yeah, I’m totally still seeing it!)

MAY 15th:

Angels and Demons

Hanks minus mullet stands a chance!

Hanks minus mullet stands a chance!

Sean:

The general consensus among people that read Dan Brown novels is that Angels and Demons was the better read, even though The Da Vinci Code was the popular one. I believe this is a less controversial story than the last one (though the crew was banned from filming in pretty much every religious location). Also,  Tom Hanks has a more conventional haircut in this one.

Brian:

Dr. Robert Langdon is called back into duty to investigate a murder victim branded with a suspicious mark. It turns out to be the mark of an ancient secret society known as the Illuminati. Langdon discovers a plot to kill four cardinals from the Roman Catholic church.

As for Angels and Demons I can say with confidence it will be a commercial success. It will attract a wide array of audiences, and whether they hated it or loved it, they will leave how they left The Da Vinci Code – in discussion. The Da Vinci Code left people talking about religion, and this will leave people talking about secret societies. It’s a topic of unlimited interest, and I think Ron Howard will top The Da Vinci Code here.

Rachel:

I bought into the Da Vinci Code hype, and when the movie didn’t deliver, I was disappointed that an action-packed book couldn’t translate well onto the big screen. Maybe it was the miscast Tom Hanks and his inappropriate mullet or Ron Howard’s lacklustre direction. This time, I’m hoping that Hanks’ and Howard’s sophomore efforts do justice to the (arguably) better prequel, Angels & Demons. Gone are the mullet and the irritating Audrey Tatou. Instead, we have the powerhouse supporting team of Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard, who should breathe life into their characters and provide for some exciting on-screen chemistry. Sure to be a box office monster amid a blockbuster-filled May.

The Brothers Bloom
(Limited Release)

Blooms doomed?

Blooms doomed?

Sean:

It seems that forces beyond my control have been preventing me from seeing Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Brick ever since I tried to get a ticket for it at the Toronto Film Festival and it was sold out. The release date for this film has flopped around like a fish out of water, and I really hope I finally get the chance to see what looks like a fun caper film.

Rachel:

I caught this one at TIFF, and while the casting is bang-on and the story is original and entertaining, the movie lacks any punch to raise it above the position of an okay indie dramedy that you’ll probably forget about in a few months. The film suffers from a poor marketing campaign and a horrendous trailer that’s more likely to drive people away from the theatre than to it. The Brothers Bloom has counter-programming on its side as it competes at the box office with testosterone-filled action films, but this one’s really only worth a look at on DVD.

Rachel:

Management

Jennifer Aniston irritates me. Okay, I have a long-standing and unnatural hatred for her that’s probably only marginally deserved. Her acting choices certainly aren’t doing much to win me over from Team Jolie in recent years. Based on the trailer, Aniston appears stiff and wooden next to Steve Zahn, who has had moments of real comic inspiration over the years, while Woody Harrelson peppers the film with an off-beat, “weird boyfriend” type of role. All those involved seem uncomfortably old for their roles, much like the recycled plot and lame jokes.

MAY 22nd

Terminator: Salvation

Is it time for Bale to do more than wham bam parts?

Is it time for Bale to do more than wham bam parts?

Sean:

I still have yet to see the Terminator films (something that prevented me from seeing Terminator 3 a few years ago). However, this fourth film doesn’t look as reliant on the past history, since it now takes place during the war that the original films were all about preventing. Right now, this film is in the “maybe” department, but it does look exciting. Now, about that PG-13 rating the film is supposed to have…

Caesar:

Another film with a great trailer. I don’t see how anyone with a soul can watch giant Terminator robots kick the hell out of things and not want to see this film. Plus it’s got Christian Bale, who hasn’t turned in a bad performance yet, and Bryce Dallas Howard, who I may or may not be in love with (I am). Not to mention, with all the advancements we’re making with artificial intelligence and robotics these days, the threat of the robot apocalypse is looming ever closer, making Terminator: Salvation a relevant cautionary tale. You laugh, but we’ll see who’s laughing when the metal horde comes to process your brain-meat for lubricants.

Brian:

Hey Wolverine, here’s another fourth instalment of a flagging franchise. In T4: Salvation Christian Bale plays John Connor in the future (2018 to be exact). Surprise, he’s still the one who is destined to lead the Human resistance against Skynet.

While we have everything we should for a good popcorn flick – action, guns and director McG - nothing in the trailer really blew me away or made me want to see it. The franchise is getting steadily further from James Cameron’s vision. There’s been Judgement Day, Rise of the Machines, and now Salvation - between these films we should either be saved or all killed, but they should stop dragging it out. Have we learned nothing from Rocky V, Die Hard 4, and Indy 4?

MAY 29th

Drag Me to Hell

"Can we make the next Spidey also about a witch?"

"Can we make the next Spidey also about a witch?"

Sean:

Sam Raimi returns to horror! After spending most of the decade with the Spider-Man films, Sam Raimi decides to return to his roots before starting production on Spider-Man 4. While it is probably unlikely that the film will reach the cult status of The Evil Dead, it is at least nice that someone is making an original horror film in a world full of remakes (some of which Raimi produced).

Rachel:

Does it look good? No, not really, in your traditional definition of quality. But it is almost guaranteed to be skin-crawlingly frightening and bloody as director Sam Raimi leaves Spiderman behind to return to his roots as a horror auteur. Demons, curses, and, uh, Justin Long, come together in what seems to be your average young-girl-is-haunted-by-demonic-spirits movie. Certain to deliver chills and thrills, Drag Me to Hell (unfortunately only PG-13-rated scary) will be a devilishly good time.

Up

Caesar:

Well, this is simple. It’s a Pixar movie. Can anyone name a Pixar movie that hasn’t been great? If you can, please meet me in the alley out back for your complementary groin-punching. Even my least favourite Pixar flicks (e.g. Cars) are on par, if not completely superior, to other CGI movies. Plus, hello, it’s in 3D! And 3D is AWESOME. This new generation of 3D films (Bolt, Coraline, The Jonas Brothers, Monsters v.s. Aliens) has been astounding and ridiculously fun to watch.

Delgo
Directed by Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer
Fathom Studios, 2008

By Miles Baker

Opening in theatres today, Delgo is a fantasy-set CGI-animated epic about post-colonialism for children.

After the Nohrin empire uses up all their natural resources, they send out search parties to find a new place to live. They find the Lockni, a family-oriented, spiritual people that look like lizards (the Nohrin look like fairies), who welcome them with open arms.

Before long the Nohrin occupy Lockni, until the King of Nohrin comes in and is like “Oh, sorry dudes, that was totally my sister going too far and occupying you. I’m totally going to banish her now. Sorry about killing all those people, but we’re going to stay.” So an uneasy peace and buckets of racism are left between the two peoples.

Now, years later, the film centres on Delgo (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a Lockni boy whose parents were killed in the occupation, and Princess Kayla (Jennifer Love Hewitt) of the Nohrin. Of course they overcome their hatred of each other’s species to fall in love and help defeat the King’s sister and save the day.

The biggest problem with Delgo is that it will pick up an interesting or good idea, and then drop it so that Chris Kattan can pretend he’s funny as the obligatory and unnecessary comic relief. For example, one of the films central protagonists, Val Kilmer’s Bogardus, is introduced by his gambling addiction. This is interesting. I like my hero with a side of character flaws. However, after the first 20 minutes this is never mentioned again, nor are any similar traits explored in this character. The rest of the movie, he’s a cookie-cutter good guy.

The worst of the dropping-the-ball problems are the film’s central themes about togetherness and racism. The film spends a lot of time making sure that the Lockni and Nohrin people are presented as neither good nor bad peoples. This same treatment isn’t given to any other races in the movie. There are three other races, each presented as stupid, slobbering, and murderous monsters. They’re sentient, they’re just as valid as the Lockni or Nohrin, and they’re presented as simply evil.

This seems like an incredible oversight on the part of the writers. Someone during production should have pointed out that they forgot their own message somewhere along the way.

Also, I’m sorry, but the Nohrin empire is totally evil and this is never talked about. They use up the Earth, the court is filled with corruption, and they started a war over land that wasn’t theirs. The only redeeming quality of this civilization is that they fly dragons and flying dragons is cool.

And the resolution is that colonialism is okay if it happened a few years ago, which I’m pretty sure is wrong. Like, morally wrong. Like, we shouldn’t show this movie to kids. Don’t show this movie to children.

Caesar’s Top 12 Favourite-ist Movies of Double-Aught-Seven

Posted by film On January - 22 - 2008

By Caesar Martini

Well, my friends, it appears that the New Year is almost upon us. In a few short days it will be a brand new day, as 2008 – full of youth and vigor – muscles its way onto the scene, kicking the crap out of the elderly and brittle 2007, and choking it to death. I can almost hear the old year’s death rattle now. Oh, Father Time. You make bitches of us all.

So I’m sure you’re all expecting the regular onslaught of Best (insert topic here) of 2007 lists. And by the second day of 2008, you’ll probably already be tired of hearing about them. So, as a pre-emptive strike, I’m giving your most coveted – nay, THE most coveted – Best Films of 2007, right here, right now, five days early!!

What? What do you mean, “It’s over?” TWO WEEKS ago?? Jesus. Oh, that’s right; I injected myself with mongoose blood and drank a bottle of absinthe on New Year’s Eve. It’s all coming back to me now. That explains why I woke up yesterday in the gutter, in a bed of dead snakes, with a kazoo stuffed halfway up my ass.

Anyway, no time like the present, I guess. As usual, the vast majority were seen in theaters. Like every year, it’s been a typical mixture of movies that I’m glad I saw; movies that I wish I had seen but never managed to get to; and movies that I wish I had never even heard of, let alone paid ten dollars to bludgeon my senses with (I am looking at YOU, Mr. Woodcock: even though I saw you by accident and mostly for free, I still regret you).

My list is not set in stone; movies that I adored, but that didn’t quite make it to the list include: Eastern Promises, Blades of Glory, Knocked Up, American Gangster, The Lookout, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Juno.

Also, the ranking of these films changes daily, and may have been totally changed if I had gotten around to seeing the many movies that I wanted to see in 2007 but never did – films like The Darjeeling Limited, Waitress, Paprika, There Will Be Blood, Youth Without Youth, and The King of Kong.

But, until next year, here are my Top 12 Favourite-ist Movies of Double-Aught-Seven:

The Kingdom12. The Kingdom
A movie about a governmental investigative team that gets sent to Saudi Arabia, in order to track down the perpetrators of a terrorist bombing attack on American citizens. With just the right blend of drama, action, politics, and realism, this film was good enough to make me extend my list from the normal top-ten, just to recommend it to you. Even if you find the first 80 minutes slow, the giant action scene near the end makes up for it. I found I was sweating and gripping my seat hard enough to make my fingers hurt. Plus, it has Jason Bateman in it, and I wuv him.

11. Transformers
This film is a perfect example of all-style -no-substance- but-damn-if-it-didn’t- make-me- giggle-like-a-schoolgirl film. You could tear it a new one if you wanted to, but it’s just a ridiculously fun movie. I know girls who barely even know what a ‘Transmorpher’ is, and they still loved it.

30 Days of Night10. 30 Days of Night
What I liked about this movie is that it was made it into a much better movie than the comic book it was based on. It had some great shots, some scary moments, some awesome moments, and was very realistic. Also, you need no knowledge of the comic to enjoy it. I don’t normally go to see a lot of horror flicks, but I think this is easily one of the best films of the year.

9. No Country For Old Men
This is a Coen Brothers movie, the first in many a year. It will be on a lot of critics’ top-ten lists, but it’s on mine mostly to aggravate a friend of mine who hated it, like it beat his dog. I can see his point, because No Country expertly builds to a masterful ending that never materializes, but where my friend feels brutally cheated and violated, I appreciate the non-conventional (and frankly more realistic) path the Coens took with this movie. And there is no denying that the first 80% or so of this movie is absolute brilliance.

Sicko8. Sicko
Michael Moore’s eye-opening documentary on the state of Health we-don’t-really-Care in the United States of America. This movie was filled with revelations that made me go, “You gotta be fucking kidding me.” Like the girl that was denied financial assistance from her health insurer for her chemotherapy because she was “too young to have cancer.” I don’t think a film has ever made me gladder to be living in Canada.

7. I Am Legend
Will Smith did a fantastic job of being captivating in a film where he’s pretty much the only actor on the screen for at least an hour (dog not included), and the director did an awesome job of making me crap my pants with some tense scenes. If only the vampires didn’t look like naked rubber anatomy dolls, this would have inched a few spots higher on my list. Which is a covetous thing.

3006. 300
This is based on a comic book that is in turn based on the historical struggle of 300 Spartans against the millions-strong Persian army in 480 BC. Since it’s a comic-book interpretation, it’s not as historically accurate as I’d like (i.e. I’m pretty sure that ancient Spartan warriors didn’t look like some kind of badass Chippendale army) but it’s oozing with cool. Directed in the same style of Sin City, it’s a stylish kick-ass action movie for people who like kick-ass action movies.

5. The Simpsons Movie
It’s hard to bring a TV show to the silver screen and not make it feel like a much longer, more boring version of the TV show. But The Simpsons Movie did it.

Stardust4. Grindhouse
Such a fun movie, and highly under-appreciated. By now the hype for this tongue-in-cheek double-feature homage to grindhouse films of the 70’s has blown up to the point that if you ever did see it, you’d be disappointed – but then it’s your own damn fault for not going to see it in theaters in the first place, you lazy bastards. This movie made way less than it should have. Also, some people complain that the second feature was terrible, but I liked Tarantino’s segment just as much, if not more, than Rodriguez’s; just for different reasons.

3. Stardust
Probably the best movie you never saw all year. It’s based on a Neil Gaiman graphic novel about a star that falls to earth and seeks to return to the sky with the help of an ordinary boy (also, that star happens to look just like Claire Danes). It’s a fun, epic, adventure-romance tale, and I think it’s the closest thing to a new Princess Bride that you’ll ever see.

2. Superbad Gone Baby Gone
Okay, I saw some funny movies this year, but none of them made me laugh as long or as hard as Superbad did. Oh Jesus. It’s so good. It’s SOOOOOO good. Funniest movie of the year, even. Wikka-wikka-YEEEEAH! The only disappointing part is that they didn’t manage to fit the song “Superbad” by James Brown in there.

1. Gone Baby Gone
Another film overlooked by audiences this year. Directed by Ben Affleck (yeah, for real) and starring his younger brother Casey, it’s the story of a detective hired to find a missing child in Boston. Casey really proves his chops as an actor here, and the story is both gripping and heartbreaking. It’s a really powerful film and I loved it, even though the ending didn’t make me feel particularly cheerful.

Reviewing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Posted by film On January - 22 - 2008

The Diving Bell and the ButterflyThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Directed by Julian Schnabel
Pathé Renn Productions, 2007

By Doug Nayler

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) was once the wild, jet-setting Editor of the French edition of Elle. Was, that is, until he suffered a stroke so serious that he became completely paralyzed. Completely with the exception of one eye, which he could blink. But because of his continued blinking proficiency, a method of blink-communication was developed. Once he’d mastered this system, Bauby wrote a book transcribed for him entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Within Bauby meditates on his condition, his prospects, and his adaptation to his new condition. Bauby remembers the prospects of his life, family and career, both mourning their loss and considering how (if at all) he can maintain any of those previous connections. Only ten days after the release of the book, Bauby passed away. Not too long afterwards, director Julian Schnabel decided to adapt the book into a feature film. A feature film told mostly from the perspective of Bauby, who seldom is able to leave the medical institution in which he lives.

Yes, that’s right, a two-hour film about a man who can’t move and can’t communicate but through blinks. As seen from the man’s own perspective. I’m not sure about you, but I know my first thought was, “How the hell is that going to work?” Luckily, for those of us who spent the money and invested the time, Schnabel, his crew, and his actors all really knew what they were doing. This movie is fantastic.

More than anything else, two choices in this film’s approach to the story made The Diving Bell work. The first of these was the use of the camera to literally explore Bauby’s perspective during his recovery, as a man having to learn an entirely new way to see and exist in a world he was previously comfortable with. And so, from a first-person perspective, we see Bauby’s world. His head lolls about uncontrollably; his vision comes in and out of focus. And the entire time, we hear Bauby’s internal monologue trying to sort out what is going on. He is trapped, just as the audience is trapped, only able to see what he is pointed at. The result of this is some very unique, experimental cinematography. But unlike the cinematography tricks in say, a Tony Scott film, or an episode of CSI: Miami, the camerawork isn’t just a cool trick. It’s grounded fully in the experiential reality of Bauby, and thus fosters an understanding of his situation by the audience. It is this emotional connection to Bauby that keeps the viewer interested. But is it enough of an emotional connection to just blink with him alone in a room for two hours?

This question, however, doesn’t need answering because of the second choice of approach within the film. And that choice is to allow the film to travel with Bauby as he explores two of the only things he has left: his memory and his imagination. The audience is whisked away with Bauby as he imagines the places he would like to be, and rediscovers the events of his life that he remembers most dearly. It is here that Bauby and the audience both find a welcome escape from the reality of his situation. But, as with all fantasies, Bauby can only think about shaving his father (Max Von Sydow) or the waterfalls of the jungle for so long, before he must deal with his own life in reality again; and it is the conflict between the freedom of the mind and the confines of the body that drives Bauby to write his book. Thus, it becomes the central conflict of the film as well.

For me, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is that which true filmmaking is all about: taking an existing situation and finding a way to express it, so that people in the larger world can understand and relate in a way not possible with any other medium. And that is what I felt most strongly when I came out of this film. That, and a curiosity at how a man who can only blink one eye can constantly attract beautiful women to his aid and comfort.

Review — Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem

Posted by film On January - 8 - 2008

Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem
Directed by The Brothers Strause
Twentieth Century Fox 2007

By Caesar Martini

Ever since the end of Predator 2, when the camera casually drifted across the skull of an Alien adorning the trophy wall of a Predator space ship, fans of both genres have clapped and touched themselves with the giddy excitement of schoolchildren at the possibility of perhaps one day witnessing a climactic geek-gasm showdown between the two badass alien species.

In 2004, some 14 years after the fact, fans got to see the monumental fracas in the first AVP. It pretty much sucked. Someone had the inexplicable idiocy to make a PG-13 sequel to two R-rated franchises where the antagonists spend the majority of their time ripping out spines and bursting out of human bellies in an orgy of blood and death. As a result, fans from both franchises were pissed off.

AVP:R is thankfully R rated, and there’s plenty of blood and gore to go around. The Predator alien isn’t nearly as cuddly and human-friendly as he was in AVP, and there’s an interesting hybrid Alien that is the result of an Alien bursting out of a Predator’s belly.

Unfortunately, everything else kind of sucks. The direction is a disaster, with most of the conflict taking place in the dark, in the rain, and seemingly filmed by a cameraman who was standing two feet away and never figured out how to use the ‘zoom out’ feature. They also turned the Predator into a very black-coloured creature instead of the light tan colour he is supposed to be, which was most unhelpful in distinguishing the Predator from the Aliens during any confrontation they got into.

Fans of the franchises will notice that there are several shot-for-shot scenes taken from previous Aliens or Predator movies, but I honestly couldn’t tell you if this was intended as homage to past (and much better) movies or if it was some kind of cinematic plagiarism.

And finally, logic kind of took a backseat in this film to convenient filmmaking. The Alien gestation cycle is somehow miraculously accelerated, with the wee beasties bursting from chests and growing to full adulthood mere hours after the victim is infected. The National Guard is called in by the town sheriff on the very thin reasoning that the power went out and he found a dead guy in the woods (somehow I think it would take a little more than that). And at one point, the human characters are terrified that they won’t be able to get out of town alive while cruising down the streets in a tank.

Seriously, guys. “But that’s at the other end of town, we’ll never make it!” YOU’RE IN A FRIGGIN’ TANK. If something gets in your way, you can run it over, or shoot it. That’s the beauty of tanks. Drive to goddamn Mexico, if you want.

Some character development wouldn’t have hurt. I think any moron who looked at the previous Aliens and Predator films would easily observe that the human characters and actors are what made it possible to deliver tension and gripping action. In AVP:R, the humans are basically cannon fodder and you don’t really care what happens to them.

Unfortunately, the way this movie was executed, I ended up not really caring about anything else, either. I would say this is better than 2004’s AVP, but overall, still a bitter disappointment that forces me to search elsewhere for my geek-gasms.

Review — I Am Legend

Posted by film On December - 25 - 2007

I Am Legend
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Warner Brothers Pictures, 2007

By Caesar Martini

I Am Legend is an adaptation of a book, or a remake of Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man, depending on how you want to look at it. It’s 2012, and humanity has pretty much been destroyed by a virus. Created by scientists as a cure for cancer, it ends up being a cure for not being a vampire. Ninety per cent of humanity is wiped out, and the leftovers are turned into the living dead.

Except for Robert Neville (Smith). A military scientist who was working to reverse the effects of the virus in the last days of human existence, he is trapped in New York City. At night he battens down the hatches and prays the monsters don’t get in. In the safety of sunlight he travels the island, foraging, hunting, gathering supplies. He still works in his surprisingly comfortable and well-stocked home, conducting experiments and trying to create a vaccine. His only form of living companionship is his german shepherd, Sam.

I am Legend reminded me a lot of Castaway. Much like that movie, there is only one character present in about 90% of the entire film. There’s a lot of pressure on Smith, as an actor, to be captivating and interesting because there’s really not much else to look at on the screen. Thankfully, Smith does an excellent job. You can really feel his fear and his anxiety, and like Castaway, you can see that being without human contact for that long has made him go a bit squirrelly. However, this film is in New York City, not some tiny boring beach, and there are vampires running around at night making scary noises, so it’s inherently a lot more gripping.

And intense! The director did a great job of jacking up the tension level. Even though there’s not a lot of big action, I found myself very caught up in what was going on. I Am Legend is intense, disturbing, and very emotional. Also, a tremendous job was done of transforming Manhattan into an abandoned urban graveyard. It looks remarkably authentic, and makes you wonder how the hell they got some of those shots.

The only negative thing I have to say about this movie is that the vampires looked a lot more computer-generated than they needed to be. I think if they went with a slightly more humanized look, it would have seemed that much more real and frightening.

Also, I Am Legend has possibly THE most unbelievable thing that I have ever heard of in any movie, ever: the idea that an adult born in the Western Hemisphere doesn’t know who Bob Marley is, or has never heard one of his songs. Are you fucking kidding me? Twenty years ago I was a dumb white kid that had never even seen a black person, but I could still sing most of the words to “I Shot the Sheriff.” Even if you don’t listen to the radio, anyone who’s ever smoked pot knows who Bob Marley is.

I Am Legend is a very well crafted and well acted movie, full of tense and emotional moments. It may not be the big action movie that you are expecting, but I think it’s far more interesting than that.

Review — The Golden Compass

Posted by art On December - 25 - 2007

The Golden Compass
Directed by Chris Weitz
New Line Cinema, 2007

Caesar Martini

Look out! It’s another novel for children wrenched from bookstores and put on the silver screen for all of us lazy bastards to spend two hours watching, instead of several days reading. Sometimes the book-to-film translation works quite well, other times it makes me want to head-butt small children. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on the skill of translation of The Golden Compass, but if the book is anything like the movie then I’m glad I compressed all that suck into two hours of boring viewing as opposed to many, many hours of painful reading. [editor’s note: It’s not! It’s not! I swear! It’s so much better than this! ]

The movie takes place in an alternate universe where people’s souls travel around with them outside their bodies, in random animal form. So imagine walking down the street and hey, there’s your soul trotting along beside you in the form of a lemur or something, making small talk with you. And what happens to one, happens to the other. So if your soul is a bird and it breaks its neck flying into a window, then, whoops, I guess you’re dead. I wonder if anybody in this fictional world ever got so unlucky to be paired up with a lemming? Bad spot of luck, that. In fact, no one seemed to have a very impractical soul-animal. Everybody’s soul was relatively compact and could keep pace with them. Like, nobody had to walk around with an African elephant or a giraffe or a three toed sloth or anything like that. I wonder if the book is the same way.

Anyhoo, Lyra (Richards), the protagonist, is a plucky orphan girl who comes in the possession of the golden compass, a device only she can use, that lets her see the truth of things. Like a less sexy version of Wonder Woman’s lasso. Evil forces of course want this compass, so Lyra goes on the run, all the while trying to solve the cryptic mystery of ‘dust’ and finding her friends, who have been kidnapped. Also, there’s flying archery witches and armored talking polar bears. Epic fantasy adventure ensues.

This movie plays like it was made by someone from the age group it’s targeted to. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that had such a linear progression. If I took a laser-guided carpenter’s level and drew a perfect line from point A to point B, it could not be as straight and direct as the plot of this movie. Each scene is set up in a neat, tidy, and WAY too convenient package by the one before it.

Example. At one point, the far-too-melodramatically-named Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is walking in the Arctic Circle, and he says to his familiar, “Ahh, Svalbard. Land of the ice bears.” (Note: this is unnecessary, as anyone who is paying even the slightest bit of attention knows exactly where he is, because he said he was going there, like five times in the movie so far) “We’d best be careful. Miss Coulter will have every bandit after us by now.” No sooner does he say that, he is – wait for it – yes! Attacked by bandits! And the whole movie is pretty much like that. A scene starts, is laid out for you like you’re an idiot, and wraps up very neatly just the way you expect.

And though there were a couple of scenes that went someplace I wasn’t expecting, the reason I wasn’t expecting it to unfold that way was because the unfolding proved completely senseless. Like when Lyra stumbles across an abandoned shed in the middle of the desolate Arctic circle where one of her missing friends just happens to be hiding out. And if it wasn’t senseless, it was sadly predictable, such as when Lyra is randomly kidnapped and delivered to the same evil polar bear king that was responsible for exiling and shaming Iorek, her own polar bear bodyguard. Gasp! Do you think Iorek might have a chance to redeem his honor?? (** Spoiler: yes. ** )

This direct structure had the effect of making me not care about a single thing that happened in the movie, except when the credits rolled. Though The Golden Compass does gain some points for some decent effects, a whiskey-drinking polar bear, and Nicole Kidman slapping her own monkey, I’d be negligent in my duties if I didn’t recommend you skip this one.

Review — Lars and the Real Girl

Posted by film On December - 18 - 2007

Lars and the Real Girl
Directed by Craig Gillespie
MGM, 2007

By Ian Passy

This is all Zach Braff’s fault. More specifically: Garden State. It was pseudo-indie garbage where a misunderstood twenty-something man tried to make sense of stuff I do not care about; while it was not the worst film ever, it was nothing special. Then along came Lonesome Jim – which I like to call Garden State II: Garden Harder. And now we have the third film in the “pseudo-indie twenty-something man who tries to make sense of stuff I do not care about” series: Garden State III: Garden with a Vengeance. Or, as it’s better known, Lars and the Real Girl.

Lars and the Real Girl has a rather simple premise. Lars (Ryan Gosling) is a socially awkward maladroit who inhabits a garage in smalltown Minnesota or some similarly terrible place that I would never live in or even visit. Lars has a meager social life that involves sharing a cubicle at work with a David Spade/elf hybrid, going to church, wearing snow boots, and avoiding human contact. This alone does not make for much of a plot, so the filmmakers decided Lars should order a realistic-looking sex doll from the internet, and that is exactly what Lars does. This is where the film starts to fall apart. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will just say that nothing of interest happens for the rest of the film. Of course things happen and change, and other characters notice and react to Lars and his new girlfriend, but nothing worth noting happens. The film just meanders along until its eventual and predictable ending.

I know Lars and the Real Girl is not the type of film where a transport truck jack-knifes on a turnpike and the resulting explosion impregnates a passing asteroid whose child turns out to be a metamorphic robot Jesus, but there is something unsatisfactory with the lack of meaningful conflict. The main issue of the film is Lars’ internal struggle and how said struggle manifests itself in his life, but everything is too convenient and idealistic to be of any real interest. The film just ends up being sweet. Painfully sweet. So sweet that I switched to Sensodyne® toothpaste because my teeth hurt so much. I found all the characters in the film to be overly patient and understanding of the fact that Lars is dating a latex woman. The film is too contrived and neat, and grows predictable from the characters’ becoming locked in a non-threatening state of being.

In the end, I feel let down by the filmmakers’ refusal to take risks with the characters and plot of this film. It is as if they built up their nerve with the idea of a smalltown man dating a sex doll and not being ashamed, or hiding it from his family and neighbors – but then decided that it was too edgy or raw, turning it instead into a sweet little story about the importance of family and wearing a scarf when it’s cold outside. Lars and the Real Girl does not insult your intelligence outright, like a Michael Bay film does, but it also does nothing to make you care about its characters or story. If this is the Godfather III of pseudo-indie garbage where a misunderstood twenty-something man tries to make sense of stuff I do not care about, I am not looking forward to the eventual release of Garden State IV: Live Free or Garden Hard.

Review — I’m Not There

Posted by film On December - 18 - 2007

I’m Not There
Directed by Todd Haynes
The Weinstein Company, 2007

By Jess Skinner

Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There escapes down so many holes, and looks into so many cracks and crevices that it begs to be viewed multiple times, to reveal all it can about a layered life. Though it is apparently the life of Bob Dylan, it does not as much seem made for Dylan as he is made for it: no other pop artist of the past 50 years has displayed such an uncanny ability to morph his own persona whenever he sees fit. The film is as much a biopic as “Desolation Row” is a ballad – that is to say, close, but really not at all.

There is little linear progression or cohesion to be found, and the six or so separate Dylan-personas (all with surrogate names) that get their own narrative often bleed into each other, at least once meeting each other in the same space. There’s the poser (Marcus Carl Franklin), the prophet (Richard Gere), the poet (Ben Whishaw), etc. Some are literal, like Christian Bale’s Jack Rollins, whose segment skirts closest to satire. Some (like Gere’s Billy the Kid) dig into abstraction to the point where Dylan hardly seems the point. But a man cannot bleed his truth, and in finding so many visual moods and tones Haynes has successfully communicated the failure of personal examination. To paraphrase Billy the Kid, he “can go to bed one person and wake up certain that [he is] somebody else.”

Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn (Dylan in his Don’t Look Back phase) makes up the bulk of the film, visually joining together Pennebaker’s quintessential documentary and Fellini’s 8 ½ to express Dylan at his most conflicted, when confronted as a ‘protest singer’ with some sort of constricting responsibility to his art. Having a woman play Bob Dylan (or Jude Quinn or whomever) may seem like a gimmick, but in reality is more like a stroke of inspiration, as Blanchett gives the best performance.

As an excellent and straightforward biography of the man has already been done with Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home, I’m Not There’s freedom of form and content are necessary to make it as important and memorable as it is. The film bounces about in time, between events, colours, and shades. It accepts chaos as the best way to unfold life, rejecting the very cinematic notion that a story (true or not) can be told with a limited palette of styles. It is a biopic in that it takes its story from real life, but unlike say, Walk the Line, it does not see the events of a life as the be-all and end-all of the narrative.

I have refrained from explaining my Dylan references in this review, as the film is really not for people who don’t know (or care) about the man. Many events, like a concert rattled by a man wielding an axe, hold resonance only in their tweaked relationship to reality. I’m Not There makes no attempt to explain itself for the uninitiated, which will piss a lot of people off. But there’s no better truth to the life and work of Bob Dylan than that, is there?

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