Primer

    9 November 2010, terribly early in the morning

Yesterday was a long and exhausting day. What better way to cap such a day off than by watching Primer, one of the craziest movies I have ever seen. It’s a time-travel film, but calling it simply a time-travel film does it a great injustice. I think it’s one of the best science fiction films i’ve seen in quite some time. It’s very creative. It’s also fairly confusing. At 77 minutes in length, I was tempted to watch the film again right after Shima and I finished watching it. At the start of the film it’s not quite clear what’s going on. Then there comes a moment of clarity when you realize, “hey, they finally figured out they built a time machine.” They explain how the machine works, and then the film quickly becomes confusing again. The film was made by a real life engineer, who wrote and stars in the film. (Nice.) They apparently made the movie for $7000, which is amazing: the film doesn’t look low budget at all. I really enjoyed the movie. I’ll definitely watch it again. (Yet another Netflix FTW!)

The official Primer website.

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Butcher, The Chef, And The Swordsman

    6 November 2010, early morning

I decided to watch Butcher, The Chef, And The Swordsman without reading its description. I saw the photo on the web site, read the title, and assumed it’d be a kick ass movie. Now, the film was good, but it was also not at all what I was expecting. The Butcher, The Chef, And The Swordsman is a slapstick comedy, somewhat akin to Kung Fu Hustle. I was expecting an action movie. The film is split into three stories: one about a butcher, one about a chef, one about a swordsman. (Hence the name.) I liked the Chef’s story the best. The love interest in the Butcher story is incredibly hot. (It’s nuts.) As a film it is very crazy. There are some really bizarre sequences. I think it’s one of the more creative films I’ve seen come out of Asia in recent years.

The Butcher, The Chef, And The Swordsman on the TIFF website.

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Red Nights

    5 November 2010, terribly early in the morning

The second film I saw at TIFF was Red Nights. This was the first of two midnight madness screenings I attended. As in previous years, Midnight Madness is by the far the best movie going experience at TIFF. The lines are long, but the crowd is full of serious-ass cinema fans. Red Nights was a very well done erotic thriller. It marks the return of Carrie Ng to the big screen. Ng plays a murderer. There is an ancient Chinese artifact a few people are trying to get. There is a French lady who scams her. It’s a strange film. I liked it, but I was hoping for ‘more’. I had very high expectations. (Perhaps too high.) The soundtrack was kick ass. It’s definitely worth watching if you have the chance.

The Red Nights page at the TIFF website.

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Capote

    4 November 2010, terribly early in the morning

Shima and I watched Capote over the weekend. (Netflix for the win!) I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it sooner. The movie is a look at Truman Capote during the period of time he was writing the book In Cold Blood. I wasn’t familiar with the book prior to hearing about the movie, but after watching the film I very much want to read it. Capote wrote about the murder of an entire family in a small town in Kansas at the hands of two robbers. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Capote, and does an excellent job with the part. All the other actors in the film support him wonderfully. Clifton Craig Collins, Jr who plays the murderer Perry Smith manages to be sympathetic while also always having a creepy undercurrent to everything he does and says. The film suggests there was a real conflict between Capote’s genuine interest in the lives of the murderers and his compulsion and self-interest in finishing his book. There are all sorts of scenes where he goes from having a sincere and serious discussion with Perry to joking around in New York. The contrast in the scenes is stark. The film makers manage to balance the two sides of the man really well. Capote is an excellent film.

The official Capote web site.

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Angel A

    4 November 2010, terribly early in the morning

I finally signed up for Netflix this past weekend. Everyone had been complaining about the selection, but they seem to have enough movies to keep you busy for quite a while. I noticed they had a film I had been dying to see for ages, Luc Besson’s Angel A. (The trailer is excellent.) The film stars Jamel Debbouze as a down on your luck do-nothing and Rie Rasmussen as a mysterious woman who helps him turn his life around. Rie Rasmussen is smoking hot. The movie basically takes place over the course of a couple days, and more or less opens with an “It’s a Wonderful Life i’m going to jump off a bridge because no one loves me” moment. From there we get to watch Debbouze and Rasmussen interact, and that’s really where the charm of the film comes from. The entire movie is shot in black and white, and looks gorgeous. The cinematography is great. The film also features a pretty awesome sound track. I really enjoyed the movie.

The official Angel A website.

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Norwegian Wood

   13 September 2010, early evening

My first film at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was Norwegian Wood, based on the book by Huraki Murakami. I had very high hopes going in. I loved the book. I couldn’t imagine how they would translate it into a film. I’ve been thinking about the movie all day today. A part of me really enjoyed it, while a part of me was fairly ‘meh’ about the whole thing.

The story takes place in the late 60s. It’s all about coping with loss, and love, and suicide, and a whole host of things. The film is shot really well. Some of the locations outside of Tokyo are gorgeous to boot. The costumes and set design are amazing. (The character Midori is always looking super cute.) The film score is damn good. Most important, the acting is also pretty stellar. Writing all this out, i’m not sure what I didn’t like about the film. A part of me feels like it was missing something, but i’m not quite sure what. I think it might have been a bit too abstract. I’ve read the book so it’s hard for me to gauge how unintelligible the film would be for someone who knew nothing about the story. I definitely want to watch it again. I do think it’s well worth seeing. It was a good way to start to TIFF.

Read more about Norwegian Wood on the TIFF 2010 website.

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Up in the Air

   19 August 2010, early morning

I watched Up in the Air this past weekend. The film stars George Clooney as a man who constantly travels the US as a consultant hired by companies to do mass layoffs. At the start of the film he loves the the lonely life he leads. As the film moves on he starts to reflect on the life he leads and the choices he has made. The movie is really well done. The actors all do really great jobs with their parts. The film seems particularly bleak, but ends on a sort of high note. I really liked it.

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Hot Fuzz

   10 August 2010, terribly early in the morning

Grant and I had a date on Friday. We watched Hot Fuzz. It was playing as part of a film festival curated by director Edgar Wright. I had never seen the film before. It’s a funny send up of buddy-cop films and horror movies — a strange pairing. Simon Pegg plays a super-cop who is sent to a small town in London to work because he’s making his fellow police officers look bad. As this is a film, things in this quaint small town aren’t quite as clean-cut as they appear. It’s a very funny movie. I was reminded very much of Spaced, the TV show Simon Pegg starred in before doing films. There is this creepiness that underlies the whole film, much like the TV show. It’s often a source of the humour. Timothy Dalton plays one of the town locals, and he is hilarious in the film. Hot Fuzz is well worth seeing.

The official Hot Fuzz website.

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Kids

    4 August 2010, terribly early in the morning

I watched Larry Clark’s Kids again with Shima earlier this week. I guess she wanted to watch it after reading the article I linked to about the film. The movie begins and ends with children raping children. In between there is a lot of amoral behaviour. It’s about as horrific as I remembered it. I have no idea why I own Kids. It’s definitely a movie you only need to see once. It does feature a kick-ass soundtrack, so that should count for something.

More information about Kids on Larry Clark’s website.

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Arusi Persian Wedding

   27 July 2010, terribly early in the morning

I finally watched a documentary I had mentioned on this site some time back, Arusi Persian Wedding. The film is about a recently married American couple — Alex, a Persian boy, and Heather, a girl originally from the Mid West — who decide to travel to Iran to have a Persian wedding with the boy’s Father’s family. The film opens with the couple preparing for their trip. The girl converts to Islam and they have an Islamic wedding in California so she can get a Persian passport. The couple’s parents meet for the first time. (I feel like there is a back story there that probably could have been explored more.) There is some brief exposition on the recent history of Iran: the 1953 Coup, the rise of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution, and the hostage crisis. The remainder of the film is a sort of travelogue: they travel from town to town, meet locals, and take in the sites. The film ends with their wedding. All in all I quite liked the movie, though it felt a bit light. The movie perhaps tries to talk about too many things in such a short period of time. There are so many interesting things that could have been fleshed out more: Heather’s family’s thoughts on her marriage and her “conversion” to Islam; Alex being a foreigner in both America and Iran; the couple’s culture shock; etc. I think because of when the film was made, back when it wasn’t clear whether America would attack Iran as well, the film perhaps spends too much time talking to Iranians about how they love America. Regardless, I think it’s an interesting film to watch, if only to see what a Persian wedding looks like.

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Inception

   19 July 2010, terribly early in the morning

I watched Inception last night at the Paramount downtown. The show we wanted to watch at 7:30 was sold out. As was the following show at 8:00. I didn’t think things would be so busy on a Sunday. We ended up watching the very packed 9:00 show. Inception is amazing. My God, it’s so damn good. The film is about a group of people who invade people’s dreams to try and steal information, a process they call extraction. The group is hired by a Japanese business man to do the opposite: plant an idea in someone’s head, a (possibly impossible) process they call inception. The film features a pretty stellar cast, some insane special effects, and a really well thought out and intricate story. Christopher Nolan is an amazing director, and this film is a really good example of what a big budget film can be. All the elements of the film come together perfectly. The moral of the film seems to be: “Kill yourself! Your life is probably a dream!” (Well, no; not really.) Watch Inception. Nothing else you plan to do could possibly be as important as watching this film.

The official Inception web site.

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Throne of Blood

   18 June 2010, early morning

I’ve seen Throne of Blood twice now. Once back when I was in high school and most recently at Cinematheque Ontario, as part of their Kurusawa retrospective. Throne of Blood is Kurusawa’s remake of Macbeth as a samurai film set in feudal Japan. My memory of the film from high school was that it was way too much horse back riding. This accurately sums up the first half of the film. The second half is a lot more interesting, and the pace of the film is more reasonable. Kurusawa must have had some serious ass fog machines at work, because the film is all mist, all the time. The cinematography is at times quite beautiful. Throne of Blood is a good film, but I think it’s very weak when compared to Ran, Kurusawa’s remake of King Lear.

Cinematheque Ontario’s Throne of Blood review.

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Iron Man II

    2 June 2010, terribly early in the morning

I watched Iron Man II with my friends over the weekend. I haven’t been to a cinema in far too long. I think my summer resolution should be to watch a movie a week. It’s not even that hard a challenge. I used to watch so many. Anyway, Iron Man II is enjoyable, but i’d say much weaker than the first film. Like any comic book movie it has a comic book plot: a Russian scientist (loosely) linked to the Stark family is out to get his revenge on Tony Stark; if that wasn’t bad enough, Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit is killing him. This probably would have been enough for a solid film, but apparently it wasn’t enough for the people producing the movie. The folly of many comic book films is that they try to include too many characters and side stories. (I think X-Men II is the only film that pulls this off. It’s also probably the best comic book film ever made.) In Iron Man II we get to see: the origin of War Machine; Black Widow doing spy stuff; Nick Fury trying to recruit Iron Man into the Avengers; etc. I think Scarlett Johansson is really hot, but she really doesn’t need to be in this film; give her a film where she gets to be hot for the whole 2 hours. All of this extra junk distracts from the main story arc of the movie. What saves the film is the acting. Everyone in Iron Man has been cast perfectly. There is some great chemistry between Robert Downy Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow; I loved all of their scenes together. Mickey Rourke plays a really great villain. It’s impressive when actors manage to pull of not looking ridiculous when delivering ridiculous lines while wearing crazy costumes. The fellow who plays the weapons dealer Hammer is great, and he delivers the best monologue in the film. If you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably like the second. The Iron Man series has thus far been one of Marvel’s better transitions from comic books to movies.

The official Iron Man web site.

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The Absence of Mr. or Mrs. B

   14 May 2010, early morning

The last film I watched at Hot Docs was The Absence of Mr. or Mrs. B. The film is a look at the lives of an infertile couple while they try to have a baby though IVF. Apparently in Iran infertility is the leading cause for divorce, after addiction. (Think about that for a second.) It was a strange movie. The couple were constantly joking about divorce, their disdain for one another, and the failure of their relationship. The husband would constantly talk about his womanizing. It was bleak and depressing, but not really presented in that way. There were a couple scenes that were pretty heart breaking, but they end up being mixed up with everything else in a way that makes them seem out of place. It also felt like the filmmakers were a bit too involved in the lives of the people the were filming. After you watch the film, you can sort of understand why. The movie could have been better; It was interesting nevertheless.

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Iraq in Fragments

   11 May 2010, early morning

Iraq in Fragments was presented at Hot Docs as part of their ‘best of’ series. The film is split into three parts: the first is a look at a young boys life in Baghdad; the second is a look at an imam affiliated with Sadr and the Mahdi army; the third is a look at the lives of some Kurds up North. I have no idea how the film maker ended up shooting half the stuff that ended up in the film. The middle portion of the film is at times totally mental. The film was shot before the first set of elections in Iraq. For the most part it’s pretty bleak. I don’t think i’ve ever been so impressed with how a film is cut together. The editing is absolutely stunning. This is definitely something people should see.

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Freetime Machos

   10 May 2010, early morning

Freetime Machos is a quirky documentary about a Finnish amateur rugby team. What the team lacks in skill they make up for in camaraderie. The film starts at the beginning of a new rugby season. The team has to finish in one of the top 4 spots or they will have to join a new (lamer) league. The movie looks at the relationships of the players, how they deal with one another, and how the deal with the problems in their lives. The film is funny 90% of the time, and then there are moments here and there which are kind of sweet or touching. It’s a fun movie to watch.

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Aisheen: Still Alive in Gaza

    6 May 2010, early morning

After B1 we walked over to Isabel Bader to watch Aisheen: Still Alive in Gaza. The film is a look at the lives of the people in Gaza following their most recent war with Israel, and the sanctions that came with Hamas coming to power. The movie opens with the manager of a playground taking a child around a haunted house that was bombed by the Israeli army. From there we move from one story to the next, meeting people whose lives are broken, stuck in limbo, or both. The film is a series of monologues and conversations. The boredom and frustration is palatable. There is an undercurrent of anger that flares up on occasion. The spectre of Hamas seems to hang over everything. The film is a bit slow, but I think this helps tell the story: life in Gaza looks to be slow. The screening was packed. I think films about the Middle East attract a large audience here in Toronto. Aisheen was a well thought out film. The Q&A that followed was surprisingly good, for a change.

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B1 and Geral

    5 May 2010, terribly early in the morning

B1 has to be one of the best documentaries i’ve ever seen. The film is a look at the life of Antonio Tenório da Silva, a blind Brazillian Judo champion. The film follows him as he prepares to compete in the Beijing Paralympics. The title of the film comes from the way competitors are classified: a B1 fighter is completely blind. Tenório is an inspiring figure. His first olympics were in 1996, and he won gold. He also won gold in 2000 and 2004. Beijing was his 4th attempt at a gold medal, competing at the age of 37. To train he fights competitors who can see, who are nearly half his age, because they pose more of a challenge for him. The dedication he puts into his training is incredible. The film is also a facinating look at the Paralympics, and the camaraderie of the competitors. All the Judo competitors seem to be very friendly with one another. The film is shot really well. You are right up there with the competitors during fights. More impressive is the sound. You really hear ever slam to the mat. The screening of B1 we saw wasn’t sold out. I have no idea how a film about a Blind judoka doesn’t sell out. Do yourself a favour and try and catch the second screening.

The film screened with Geral, a short movie about Macana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a look at the energetic and passionate fans that come and cheer on their team. The film is all drums and cheering and noise. It’s really well done, and compliments B1 perfectly.

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Candyman

    4 May 2010, early morning

My second screening at Hot Docs was Candy Man: The David Klein Story. David Klein is the man who created and marketed Jelly Belly jellybeans. Klein is eventually forced out of the company he started by his partners, and is written out of any corporate history of the product. The film is compelling because Klein is compelling. He’s a very charismatic and funny figure. His whole attitude towards life is refreshing and positive. The film is well produced and put together. The history of the Jelly Belly is surprisingly interesting. The film is basically a feel good movie. One of the producers was Klein’s son, so it can also be seen as an ode to his Dad.

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We Are & The Devil Operation

    3 May 2010, early morning

It will take more than a broken leg to keep me away from HotDocs. My favourite film festival in Toronto started this past Thursday. Shima, Riadh, and I attended our first screening on Friday; we watched The Devil Operation, which was screening with We Are.

The first film was a short by Kevin Papatie. Each scene begins with the narrator whispering a tie between the Natives and nature; for example, “We are the air.” In contrast to this narration, a young Native boy was filmed in front of corresponding scenes of decay: a factory polluting the air, clear cut trees, a broken home, etc. I think it’s hard to make a 3-minute long film that manages to make a point; this film certainly does.

The second film was the one we were all interested in seeing. The Devil Operation is a look at the conflict between Peruvian farmers and a foreign mining company. The film’s main protagonist is Father Marco Arana. At the start of the film he is mediating a dispute between the locals and the mining company, ultimately securing a win for the locals. As the film proceeds we learn about the costs he (and others) have to pay for defending a mountain from foreign interests. The film is a good overview of what’s going on in Peru with respect to mining and the gold industry. It’s always inspiring watching these stories about people doing important human rights work in countries where doing so puts you in very real danger. The director, Stephanie Boyd, has lived in Peru for 13 odd years now, and has made several films about the country. I enjoyed the film, but thought it might have been too sprawling. Boyd covers several stories, all related to mining, but not quite related to each other. I don’t know if something more focused would have worked better. Regardless, I think the film is well worth watching.

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Across the Universe

   29 December 2009, early morning

I watched Across the Universe over the weekend. Maybe on Christmas Day? That weekend is a bit of a blur now. The film is a musical, set in the 60s, which uses music by the Beatles. Visually it’s quite well done, but the rest of the movie seemed a bit weak. (And this is a film scored with Beatles music!) I thought they were trying a bit too hard to cram in as many Beatles songs as they could. There were several plot points on the go that didn’t really add anything to the main story. (Prudence? Why was she in the film at all?) More so, they touched on a lot of interesting issues without really putting much thought into any of them. Still, the movie looked pretty awesome in Bluray. After watching the movie we played The Beatles Rock Band game. Now that was awesome.

The official Across the Universe website.

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City of Sadness

   25 November 2009, terribly early in the morning

I watched City of Sadness last night at Cinematheque. This is the 20th anniversary of the film, and it looks like they are touring a new print of the movie from cinema to cinema. The film is set during the period of unrest in Taiwan during 1945 – 1949), when the Chinese nationalist government took over control of the island from the Japanese. Director Hou Hsiao-hsien examines this unrest by following the lives of an extended family: a family patriarch and his 4 sons — one of whom is missing for the entire movie. (The film stars Tony Leung as the deaf youngest brother in the family the film follows. As one would expect, he’s awesome in the film.) The story is slow. The arc the plot travels in is strange, and it’s hard to sort out how all the pieces relate. I suppose ultimately the film is about conflict, in particular between the Taiwanese and the Mainland Chinese. It’s a beautiful movie; depressing, but not as depressing as I thought it would be. I was reminded of the film Yi Yi, by Edward Yang, a contemporary of Hou Hsiao-hsien. The film is probably not for everyone, but I quite enjoyed it.

City of Sadness at Cinematheque

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Never Back Down

   25 September 2009, early morning

Over the last couple days, during lunch, my coworkers and I watched Never Back Down. Imagine The Karate Kid, but with people doing mixed-martial-arts. Jake Tyler plays the troubled kid who gets into fights and needs some guidance. (The dude looks like Tom Cruise, but younger; it’s kind of crazy.) The always awesome Djimon Hounsou plays the Mr. Miyagi character, a fellow from Senegal who grew up in Brazill and teaches Jujitsu in a gym he lives in. There is a bunch of fighting, chicks in bikinis since the film is set in Orlando, and more fighting. It’s more than a bit cliche, but it’s definitely better than I had thought it would be. It’s definitely no Flash Point.

Reviews of Never Back Down on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Between Two Worlds

   21 September 2009, early morning

The final film I watched at the film festival was Between Two Worlds, a Sri Lankan film. I had watched the directors previous film, The Forsaken Land, a few years back at TIFF as well. I knew the film would be overly symbolic and art-house. I had underestimated just how art-house this movie would be. While The Forsaken Land was challenging to watch, and incredibly slow and meandering, it was well ultimately an interesting and compelling movie. Between Two Worlds was too obtuse. A man falls from the sky, wanders the Sri Lankan country side, and ultimately makes his way back home. His journey is probably some sort of allegory for the war in Sri Lanka, but I think you’d need to be watching the film with the director to figure out what’s what. The film is shot incredibly well. Sadly, that isn’t enough to make for a good film.

Between Two Worlds at the Auteurs website.

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"I think that was his wife."

   18 September 2009, early morning

The Ape

Mez and I watched the Ape on Wednesday evening. It’s a story of unease and panic. There is really only one character of note in the film, and basically every shot in the movie features him in the frame. Most of the film is shot following him, giving the audience the sense we are chasing after him. There is almost no dialogue in the movie. For the first 3rd of the film you aren’t really sure what’s wrong, though you know something definitely is. (If you’re reasonably astute, you can probably guess much earlier what has happened.) The film was interesting, but I don’t think it was good. It’s filmed well, and I think it was well put together. The acting is great. The problem is the story just isn’t that compelling.

The Ape on the Auteurs website.

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