Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lessons Learned

I learned a variety of lessons at this years festival, both from the films and the experience in general. Here's a recap of the ones I can remember in my jet lagged state:

I should take a day off to spend some more time picking my films, or arrange for therapy while I'm there. Minimally, I should mix the different types of trauma, maybe start with a blown heist, move on to a bloody war, and then after a brief stop at hopeless drug addiction, wrap things up with a terminal illness. But I know it sucks to keep on the same depressing theme. By the way, I learn this lesson every year.

Never forget your lock pick kit.

No gimmick films next year. If it actually turns out to be stupendous, I can catch it on DVD.

It's really all about the director. I knew this, but got confirmation this year.

Never, under any circumstances, kill innocent people for personal gain. Even if it seems like a good idea, it will just end with the destruction of you, your family, and of course the person you kill. And you'll probably feel bad, too.

Something will go wrong on the way to Toronto. Accept it and move on.

Someone always forgets to turn off their cell phone, no matter how many reminders the festival programmers give you.

Comments aren't questions, but people will give them during the Q&A anyway.

Further west on Bathurst, there are groovy restaurants:
  1. SAN, a Korean joint
  2. Chehoskey, a fusion restaurant just a little further west with good beer
  3. Cocoa, Tapas & Brazilian food across the street from Chehosky
  4. Terroni, Italian joint even further west

Sit downstairs at the Elgin. The sound isn't all that great in the balcony.

Keep notes on lessons you learn as you learn them. Later you might forget.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Review: Weirdsville

After seeing countless acts of senseless destruction, especially later in the week, I needed a break. Fortunately, I anticipated that scenario and scheduled Weirdsville for my last movie of the festival. After a good dinner at my favorite restaurant and a few drinks to boot, I was all ready for a good Canadian stoner flick. Furthermore, I hadn't had great luck with Canadian movies this year, so I was looking for this one to pick up the slack.

Allan Moyle directed this one, and though I'd noticed when picking this movie that he had directed Pump Up The Volume, which I enjoyed back in my college days, I hadn't noticed that he hasn't really done anything else notable. But what was done was done. And I set out to enjoy the experience.

The movie centers around two stoners, Dexter (The Ideas Man played by Scott Speedman) and Royce (The Quiet and Introspective One played by Wes Bentley). They owe money to some drug dealer guy, because this is a stoner flick with a plot. However, their quest to get the cash gets sidelined when they find their friend Matilda dead of a drug overdose. They decide, of course, to bury her in the basement of the drive-in one of the guys used to work at because it's closed.

That's when things get silly. There's more drugs, little people dressed as knights kicking ass, inept Satan worshipers, a guy who gets accidentally stabbed in the top of his head with a large icicle (don't worry, he lives), and much, much more.

I liked the movie quite a bit. Yes, it's just a stoner comedy, but it never takes itself too seriously, and the leads have pretty decent comedic timing & on-screen chemistry. Who knew that Wes Bently is funny? Admittedly, the raucous crowd and the drinks probably assisted my enjoyment, so I suggest getting together a large groups of your rowdiest friends, having a few pints (except for the designated driver, of course) and heading to the theatre. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Review: The Tracey Fragments

The festival programmer who introduced the director of this film, Bruce McDonald, called the film "innovative". I quote "being or producing something like nothing done or experienced or created before." I've seen split-screen movies before, as far back as 2000's Timecode, and I'm betting it wasn't the first. But I can't hold that against the director or the film.

It stars Ellen Page, who I once saw in the Canadian flick Wilby Wonderful, and she'd just finished filming her scenes in the upcoming X-Men: The Last Stand before filming The Tracey Fragments. She plays Tracey, a 15-year old girl in Winnepeg, who lives in a somewhat challenging home environment. When her little brother Sonny goes missing, she runs away from home in a desperate attempt to find him. The film shows, in different frames on the screen, various thoughts in Tracey's mind at any given moment. The film is further fragmented through its chronological jumping about.

Page is a good actress and at about 20 years of age, plays a pretty good 15-year old, though the script helps her out by supplying plenty of naiveté. You get the feeling throughout the film that some moments are poor and/or creative memory on her part, but the truth of her situation comes through in the end. The editing method will cause some frustration for some, though McDonald uses it to create the feeling he was going for. Nonetheless, I think I'm probably done with this style of film. My imdb rating: 6/10.

Review: Reservation Road

Director Terry George developed the screenplay for Reservation Road from the book of the same name written by John Burnham Schwartz. Fresh off of the critically acclaimed Hotel Rwanda, he reloaded with a cast that included Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, and Mira Sorvino. Faithful readers may recall that I chose this one based mostly on the criteria that I had once almost read the book. Hey, I was pinched for time.

Dwight Arno (Ruffalo) is the irresponsible two-bit attorney, ex-husband of the remarried Ruth (Sorvino), and father with occasional "overnight rights" to his son (and he should be lucky he has that!).

Ethan (Pheonix) and Grace (Connelly) Learner have a perfect family; two sickeningly sweet children (one boy, one girl), a nice house, Ethan is a professor, things are just great. Until the one fateful day when Dwight takes it all away from them. The director reaches further into the cliche bag and pulls out a number of plot-convenient coincidences. It seems that the fibers of these characters' lives are intertwined like those of a taut rope! Oh, miserable fate!

Meanwhile, Ethan goes insane with anger, because those cops just don't even care. He ignores his wife and daughter, and everything just gets miserable. Dwight becomes overwrought with guilt and wants to confess... maybe tomorrow. But throw in a couple more coincidences and everything comes to a head.

The ending is what it is; it's not the worst part of the movie. Ruffalo and Pheonix give good performances, and Sorvino and Connelly are equally decent in less demanding roles. The script could have used a lot of work. Maybe starting from a different book would have improved things, but I haven't read it, so what would I know. My imdb rating: 5/10.

Review: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

The title Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (or Complete and Utter Destruction of a Family which I'm sure had to be a working title) indicates that someone in the movie is going to hell. Depending upon your religious beliefs, you'd be correct in your assumption. Sidney Lumet directs this movie whose 50-year career spans such films as 12 Angry Men (#13 on the imdb top 250 list), Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon (#158), and Network. Of course, his career also includes such gems as The Wiz and A Stranger Among Us, so I had to be on my guard. He had a great cast though, including Philip Seymour Hoffman (Andy Hanson), Ethan Hawke (his brother Hank), Albert Finney (their father Charles) and Marisa Tomei (Andy's wife Gina).

The movie opens with Andy and Gina completely nude and in a sexual position that I'll leave for suspense and to your imagination. I'll go on the record as saying that Marisa Tomei looks much better in the nude than Philip Seymour Hoffman (I know, that's a bold statement). Anyway, that's about the last good thing that happens to anyone in the movie.

Andy is a wreck. The aforementioned sexcapade with his wife was a rare occurrence (it seems Andy's got ED), which may or may not be related to his drug problem (if you consider coke and heroin to be "problems") , he's getting to be on shaky ground with his job with a commercial real estate company, and there are other problems he doesn't even know about yet. Hank isn't doing too much better, though he's just three months behind on his child support payments.

Andy has an idea, though, that will get them both out of their doldrums. It's a fool proof plan, they'll make some good coin, and then happily ever after. Guess what? Things don't go as planned. Then they get worse.

The film frequently jumps back in time to follow events from another character's point of view, occasionally intersecting with a previously told piece of the plot. Lumet uses this method to peel away the plot like an onion, and onions make you cry. You know it doesn't end well, because I already told you the only good thing that happens. Anyway, if that non-chronological storytelling thing bothers you, consider yourself forewarned.

I liked the movie, in the same way that I like a painful massage, except you don't that nice relaxed and happy feeling after the movie. Okay, the massage analogy was not well chosen. I just meant to say that the movie is well done, Hoffman gives a great performance (including a scene for which I nominate him for the "Most Lethargic Temper Tantrum" award at this year's festival), and the rest of the cast is spot-on as well. It's just super depressing. My imdb rating: 8/10.


I'm at the airport. I'd forgotten how miserable Northwest's terminal is at the Toronto/Pearson International Airport. I'll try to concentrate on the last few reviews, ignoring my surroundings...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Review: The Trap

This film's plot was quite comparable to Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream, though set in modern day Serbia and with considerably more sympathetic characters. I learned a little here and there about Serbian culture, like Serbian kids get cell phones just as ridiculously early as American kids. Smoking is prevalent and accepted. And I'm quite sure that my impressions are accurate, because I got them by watching a single movie.

It's story follows a family in a socioeconomically diverse part of Serbia, where corruption is in abundance. Mladen works for a construction company, whose employees are only holding onto their jobs in the hope that privatization will bring them some extra money. His wife Marija is an elementary school teacher. They're not struggling to eat or anything, but they live in a small apartment, and drive a small car.

When their son comes down with an unnamed ailment, he requires a surgical procedure that falls outside the scope of the socialized medicine available within Serbia. He must travel to Germany for a procedure which costs about € 27k. Last I checked, that was about $37k USD. They of course don't have that kind of cash, and they have no mortgage to use as collateral for a loan. (One of the few funny scenes in the movie is with Mladen's conversation with a loan officer).

Mladen gets an offer from a mysterious stranger to cover the cost of the procedure, plus any other travel expenses. He only requires one favor first. Dang, no free lunch; or, in this case, no free surgical procedure to save your 11-year old kid. The rest of the film explores Mladen's moral dilemma, his feelings of inadequacy related to his inability to help his family, and resulting marital issues. Yep, you really walk out of the theatre wanting to sing!

The cast, for the most part, portray characters with very muted emotion, though Mladen loses out to a future review for the "Most Lethargic Temper Tantrum" award at this year's festival. The script genuinely tries to address growing corruption within the nation in an honest way. The conclusion of the film seems equally honest and consistent with the characters. It's not a real "upper", but it is a fairly well-made film. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Review: The Babysitters

While you read this review, repeat in your subconscious: Sean is not a pedophile. Sean is not a pedophile.

The Babysitters is a first time feature from writer/director David Ross. During the Q&A, Ross explained that he wanted to write about prostitution, specifically women that never thought they would become them, and clients that never thought they'd use their services. He was at an L.A. restaurant popular for it's malts and shakes. Each one has a name, often giving away nothing about its contents. He told the waitress, "I'll have The Babysitter." After a few minutes of jokes from his "35-year old child of a friend", he decided he had his premise.

Shirley is a particularly meticulous junior in high school, with a rather girlish crush on a babysitting client, Michael (John Leguizamo). Unhappy with his marriage to his wild-woman-turned-prissy wife, Michael makes an ill-advised pass at Shirley (Katherine Waterston). Finally dropping her off at home, not knowing what to say, he hands her some extra (hush?) money. Things escalate, and, after a few more "shifts", Michael asks Shirley if she has any friends that might babysit for a good friend of his. Apparently, Michael has loose lips.

Things slowly spiral out of control at that point. It's all somewhat light and funny for a while, considering the subject matter, but it doesn't stay that way forever. It really couldn't without being a farce, and you all know how much I really enjoy a good farce.

This movie works well enough, if you can get past some of the unbelievable behaviour from teens and adults alike (or am I naive?). Leguizamo is as good as he generally is, and Waterston is cast well. Some of her sidekicks are a little less talented (I'm talking about the acting -- get your minds out of the gutter, boys). Eventually, I felt that Ross was just trying to figure out how to end the thing. I think, though, had he ended it any other way, I would have genuinely complained about it. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Random Ramblilngs

I saw a Jen Warne clone riding a bicycle on my walk back to the B&B today. I did a double take, and I'm sure she thought I was checking her out or something.


I forgot to mention the funniest thing about my travel adventure to Toronto. The nice Asian lady said over the plane's intercom, in a rather cartoonish accent, "Hi, my name is Coco and I will be your fright attendant today." I kept thinking I was an unwilling extra in a Quentin Tarantino cheese ball horror flick.


At the beginning of each screening, they display a brief message notifying the crowd that piracy is illegal and that you may not photograph the screen in any way during the show. It started out as one guy early in the week, but now there is a healthy chorus of "Aaaarrrggggghhh!" It's only fitting, with Talk Like A Pirate Day coming up and all.


I was waiting for a screening to start today, and two young (early college age) women were talking at length about how much they knew about writing. Every third word out of their mouths was "like". "And, like, you should, like, never use, you know, like, 'to be'."

A hearty "Totally," replied her friend.

Valley Girl just now made it to Toronto, and they will be the next literary geniuses from the Great White North.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Review: Mad Detective

I saw Johnny To's Exiled last year at the festival and had a blast. The crowd was energetic and enthusiastic, and they should have been. He consistently brings interesting and funny Hong Kong crime drama to the festival. In Mad Detective, he teams up with Ka-Fai Wai, who also co-wrote the script, for the directorial duties.

The Mad Detective is Bun, whose methods of crime solving are beyond unconventional. In one scene, he solves a case by having another detective zip him up in a suit case and pushing it down several flights of stairs. During the Q&A, Ka-Fai explained that when writing the script for this film, they started with the question, "What if Van Gogh was a police detective?" That explains the scene where Bun (the Mad Detective) cuts off his own ear and gives it to a retiring police chief as a going away present.

That little stunt costs Bun his job and his marriage. His schizophrenia intensifies, Bun refuses to take his medication, and doesn't even realize that his wife has left him. And yet, his reputation for solving the most difficult cases lives on, and up-and-coming detective Ho seeks his help in solving a case that is haunting him.

The directors claim that they didn't intend for any scene in particular to be funny, but I doubt their comedic timing is accidental. The ending of the film is a little trite, but this is one of those movies where you're there for the ride, not the ride home. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Review: M

I stuck around for the Q&A for M, a South Korean film from director Myung-se Lee, so that I might understand what it was about. The director said that back in 2000, he had a dream that he met Alfred Hitchcock and the Mr. Hitchcock gave him a book entitled "M". Through an interpreter, Mr. Myung-se explained that this film was the manifestation of his search for the meaning of that imaginary book.

Believe it or not, that was a help. Not a big help, but it at least explained the nature of the film. The film played out, as the director said it would during the introduction: like you were waking from a dream. I know that it was amazing to look it. It took a lot of chances. It played with your mind. It showed alternate realities. It was hypnotic. It put me to sleep.

Now, It wasn't the worst thing to happen to me at the festival, but it is not for your average movie goer. This is beyond artsy. This will take people who normally consider themselves artsy, then push them to the limit, one of which could be REM sleep.

I do regret having fallen asleep, because who knows what I missed. I didn't fall asleep for long, at least not the first time, but this movie sometimes moved a little quickly, only in a way that drew you further into a hypnotic state. Yeah, maybe that's it, perhaps I was hypnotized by the film! Who knows what I'll end up doing today. I know that I awoke once thinking for a moment that I understood the Korean language, though to this day I only know one crude phrase passed on to me through my ex who in turned learned it from a coworker whose wife was Korean. I won't say what the phrase is, but it might result in you getting slapped.

The movie, as best I can guess, is about an aspiring author dealing with the death of his high school love. It may also be about his struggling marriage, the aforementioned dead girl dealing with her own significant loss (life) and her struggle with the decision to move on to the afterlife. I don't know. I'd say see it for yourself and let me know what you think, but I'm betting you won't and I couldn't honestly suggest that you should. My imdb rating: 5/10.

Review: Cassandra's Dream

Woody Allen's latest is Cassandra's Dream. It follows the fate the two sons of a struggling restaurant owner. Terry (played wonderfully by Colin Ferrell) is the gambling addicted auto mechanic with a loving wife. Ian (Ewan McGregor), meanwhile, works at his father's restaurant, but wants to make his mark elsewhere.

Terry gets into some financial trouble, if you call losing 90,000£ "trouble". Ian, who is trying to woo beautiful up-and-coming actress Angela Stark (Hayley Atwell), wants to become fabulous wealthy investing money in a sure-fire hotel project in California. What can they do? Turn to their wealthy uncle Howard (great supporting role for Tom Wilkinson), of course. But here's where the movie really gets started: Howard needs a favor in return. The rest of the movie follows the brothers' moral struggle with said favor and related repercussions.

There is a certain "flatness" to the movie I can't quite place, a sort of matter-of-fact storytelling that I don't quite know how to explain. But it has a very similar feel to Allen's most recent crime drama, Match Point, with a starkly different outcome. He seems to enjoy stories of English commoners struggling to elevate their social standing.

While I'll admit that Allen skillfully maintains suspense throughout the movie, the ending could use a little work. But, I think he enjoys that "this the end folks --sorry" sort of feel. And it took a screening of Mad Detective (review coming later today) to pull me out of the funk I was in after the screening. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Review: Walk All Over Me

My last random Canadian film pick of the year was Walk All Over Me, from director Robert Cuffley. It stars Leelee Sobieski, who's had a couple notable film roles, so I thought it had potential.

I had a bad feeling about this film inside 45 seconds. Alberta, a young (20-ish, I'm guessing) woman, clumsily loses an envelope, which her equally young two-bit hoodlum boyfriend asks her to give to someone at the convenient store where she works. Violence ensues, and she escapes on a tour bus.

The tour bus ends up in Vancouver, where she hooks up with her cousin Celene. Celene appears to be doing quite well in her work as a dominatrix, but to a certain extent, it's all show. Anyway, Celene ruins some expensive clothing Celene has to have for a client that evening. Oh, how dreadful! What is Alberta going to do now!?!? Oh, I know, she'll pose as Celene for one of the many guys soliciting her services and rake in some quick cash.

As luck would have it, the harmless dork she picks from the bunch turns out to have mob ties and there you have your mayhem necessary for the rest of the script. Oh yeah, the script... I call it sophomoric, only because I'm not sure if "freshamanic" is a word and researching it on seems like too much effort for this film. My imdb rating: 3/10.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Review: Dr. Plonk

Dr. Plonk was my "out of left field" pick for the year, a silent film about a scientist in the year 1907 who predicts the world will end in 2008. And it was made in Australia. It sounded strange enough to be a rewarding experience. I was sure to encounter some sort of social commentary about global warming, war, peace, intercontinental relations, something like that... yeah...

Not as such. It certainly paid homage to the silent films of old, only this one was the same length as modern day films with dialog. There are only so many times that a mad scientist kicking his deaf mute assistant in the butt can be humorous. And boy, that dog sure is funny, too! E gad! Those cops sure are clumsy! HA! HA! HA!

Okay, I laughed a few times, I'll admit, but this would have been a decent short film, maybe 20 minutes at most. There were about 40 seconds of social commentary. Aside from that, it was just physical humor. Not my cup of tea, apparently. My imdb rating: 4/10.

Review: Sleuth

Sleuth is a remake of a movie based on the play written by Anthony Shaffer. The original Academy award winning film starred Michael Caine as Milo Tindle, and Caine returns in the updated version has Tindle's adversary, Andrew Wyke. Jude Law takes over the roll of Tindle. Kenneth Branagh took on directing responsibilities.

I haven't seen the play or the original movie, but judging from murmuring I heard among the crowd, this movie is very much different than the original. I'm not sure about the play itself. This movie tells the tale of Tindle and his battle of wits with Wyke. Tindle is having an affair with Wyke's wife, and it seems to be a well known fact. Tindle comes to ask Wyke to grant his wife an easy divorce, but Wyke decides to have a little fun instead. The fun ends with deadly consequences for Tindle... or does it?

Set I, otherwise known as Act I goes to Mr. Wyke. Mr. Wyke loses set (Act) II decidedly, and set three ends shockingly or otherwise, depending on what you thought would happen.

I enjoyed Act I enough, though I'm not really big on two-man plays shot for the movie screen. I figure if I'm going to see a two-man play, I would just as soon see the play. Nonetheless, it was entertaining enough. Act II started well enough, then drug on a bit too long. Act III, well, by the time the shocking conclusion came about, I was just glad that it did so abruptly. For have a good first half, I give my imdb rating: 6/10.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Review: The Savages

I picked The Savages based on cast members Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I don't generally pick movies based on cast, as it tends to get you in trouble (see Samuel L. Jackson's The Great White Hype). But Linney and Hoffman have a pretty decent track record. However, I'd never heard of writer/director Tamara Jenkins and I know that I saw a trailer for this film quite a while ago (filming was completed in the spring of 2006), which can be a bad omen. Frankly, I was afraid it would suck.

The movie tells the story of siblings Jon & Wendy Savage, who are left to care for their once abusive father Lenny, played by Philip Bosco, when he begins to exhibit signs of dementia. The film explores the conflict between their not-too-fond feelings for their father and the responsibility they feel to care for him, as well as the unrealized expectations of their own lives, both personally and professionally. Sounds like a downer, eh?

But it's damned funny. Jenkins tells the story in such a way that lets you laugh out loud, even though you feel completely miserable about how things are going. She treats the material with great respect (the Q&A revealed the semi-autobiographical nature of the film), and you'll probably hear sniffles from fellow audience members if you're not a weeper yourself. The script is tight, the acting top notch, and the chemistry between Linney, Hoffman and Bosco never runs afoul.

This movie will not be a major hit, as it's so hard to motivate people to go see something that seems like such a downer. But go see it, you won't regret it. I'm guessing it'll be out sometime around the holidays, riding the wave of holiday depression to a few more box office dollars. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Q&A, but not C

One of the things I love most about the festival are the Question & Answer period they frequently have following a film. It's interesting to hear insight from the director and cast members.

My new pet peeve is "The Commenter". Invariably, there are one or two in the audience who can't overcome their need to baste the director in praise, and they must declare it in front of the entire audience. It's great that you enjoyed the film. The rest of us are hear for the Q&A. Write a letter or something.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the follow-up to Elizabeth, released in 1998. Director Shekhar Kapur and lead Cate Blanchett are back together after the original became a surprise hit. Indian director, Australian actress, English Queen. Would'vethunkit? But it worked, and since then Cate has become a widely respected actress.

The first film covered Queen Elizabeth's rise to power, while this film focuses on England's conflict with Spain and that whole Spanish Inquisition thing. I keep hearing "NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!".

So Spain decides to invade England and kill The Virgin Queen (or "that whore", King Philip of Spain's pet name for her... I'm sure that the subtitles lose something in translation) in retaliation for beheading her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic, in retaliation for attempting to assassinate Elizabeth. Apparently, that was the justification they'd been waiting for to invade England and replace Elizabeth with a new queen, Philip's child. Anyway, Mary's body then picks up her own head, jumps on a horse, and rides across the ocean to kick some serious Spaniard butt. Okay, that last sentence was all a lie, but if you do see this film, I promise you'll see a horse swim.

Anyway, Spain's military is far superior to England's and sends an armada to conquer them. All that stands between the huge fleet and England is hunky Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and a thunderstorm and... well, if you don't know what happens I won't spoil it for you.

I have much internal conflict to work out here. I like Kapur (who introduced the film and did an extensive Q&A afterward) and deeply admire Blanchett. But the film didn't always work for me. The script was a little clunky in places, lacking flow from one scene to the next. I'm still trying to work out if it was the script or merely editing. Cate seemed to be overacting in spots. I'm not saying it was a bad movie, but certainly it fell short of my expectations. I'll probably be burned at the stake for saying so. It's been nice knowing you all. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Review: Just Buried

Just Buried was one of my "let's roll the dice on a random Canadian flick" picks. The writer/director Chaz Thorne makes his feature directorial debut with this flick, which is a familiar sounding plot about a guy named Rollie who inherits a bankrupt funeral home. At first completely accidentally, then increasingly less so, he starts killing people to pump up the business.

The movie runs in the farcical lane for the most part, but attempts to wander into the realm of suspense flick. Some of the jokes make you laugh, others made you uncomfortable to be in the room with the filmmaker when they fell flat. The running gag with the bloody nose, for instance, just didn't play as well as I'm sure they would have hoped.

In the end, I didn't completely guess the ending, so I'll give it at least that much credit.

If I knew anything about the game of craps, I'd tie in my opening line of the review by throwing out some reference to a number that was harmless; not a winner for most, not a loser for most, just kind of there (Clint, I could use a hand here). But I don't, so I'll just throw out my imdb rating: 5/10.

Review: Joy Division

I scheduled Joy Division knowing full well it could be a rescreening of a crappy Joy Division doc released on DVD in 2006. But, unable to attend the screening for Control, I decided to give it a whirl. And I'm glad I did.

This documentary was excellent, offering unprecedented interviews with the remaining members of Joy Division, lead singer Ian Curtis' mistress and other key players in their history, never before released video and audio footage of the band, and a great deal of background information. We had the added bonus of a Q&A with the director, Grant Gee, and extra-special guest Joy Division bassist Peter Hook.

Much of the documentary focused on iconic lead singer Ian Curtis' life, poetry, illness, depression and subsequent suicide. Regarding that tragedy, an audience member asked Peter Hook if he fells he's had closure. "No, I haven't had closure. I don't ever want closure. I want Ian back." It's apparent, though, that the members of the band, finally opening up about those times, have come to some sort of peace. They're famous for being dodgy and avoiding any unnecessary attention. But now they speak openly and confidently about all that happened. And, they've begun once again playing the music of Joy Division live (and sound good doing it).

I'll openly admit that you might not at all be interested the film if you're not a fan of the band (and I doubt you are). But, if you are, or you enjoy a little post-punk history lesson, add this to your Netflix list when it makes it out on DVD, likely next year sometime. My (admittedly fan friendly) imdb rating: 9/10.

Review: Religulous: A Conversation with Bill Maher and Larry Charles

In earlier posts, I mispelled the title of this one "Religious". The actual title is Religulous, a combination of the words "religious" and "ridiculous". This review isn't really a film review. We got to see a ten-minute trailer of the work-in-progress documentary Bill Maher and Larry Charles, followed by a 45-minute live conversation with the two men, more clips from the movie, and then a Q&A with the audience. It was often hilarious, sometimes insightful, and altogether entertaining. I can't wait to see the film, which is in post-production and should be out sometime this spring.

The movie looks like it will be Bill Maher traveling around the world talking to people of various sects of the big three western faiths (Christianity, Judaism & Muslim). When asked if they had a hard time, knowing who he was, getting people to talk on camera, Bill answered, "No. [People of faith] are media whores, just like everyone else."

The clips were pretty hilarious. One audience member criticized them for displaying the imagined transcript of a text message typed by a Muslim Cleric ("Death to Bill Maher. LOL :-)") when their conversation was interrupted by a seemingly anachronistic 21st century gadget. I thought the gag worked pretty well. Some people have no sense of humor. Most of the humorous moments, though, stood completely on their own, without embellishment.

In conversation, the two men discussed their religious backgrounds. Bill is the son of a Catholic father and Jewish mother. Larry is the son of a secular Jewish couple, but grew up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, admitted wanting at one time to be a Rabbi, much to his father's dismay. Bill made the point that he's not without spirituality, but that he finds many aspects of religion to be a bit preposterous. He went on to say that exploring his own spirituality to be "on his long-term to do list", right behind "getting laid and smoking more weed". Ah, Bill...

Review: Lust, Caution

The buzz on Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is that the MPAA was slapping the film with an NC-17 rating and that Ang Lee and company were not fighting it. After seeing it, I'm not surprised by either fact. It's an understatement to say that some scenes are rather steamy, and if near pornographic sex scenes make you uncomfortable, perhaps you'll wait for this one on DVD or skip it altogether. The scenes serve a purpose, though; I did not personally find them gratuitous in nature.

A little side commentary: it is a little odd that you can show any sort of murder in explicit nasty detail -- blood, guts, eye-gouging, decapitation, etc. -- and that's R, but please don't let the children see, say, more natural acts. I'm not saying kids should see this movie. Frankly, they'd likely be bored. I'm just noting how much more easily our society deals with one topic than the other.

This story, written by Eileen Chang over a 20+ year period, follows a young and talented high school drama club member named Wang Jiazhi, who somewhat reluctantly joins the resistance against the Japanese occupation of China in the late 30's. Their group is young and naive and probably gets closer to success than they should have when Mr. Yee, a Chinese bureaucrat collaborating with the Japanese, becomes enamoured with young Wang. Years later, the same group finds themselves integrated with a more organized resistance movement, where the real fireworks start.

I overheard some film goers saying that beautiful newcomer Wei Tang was chosen from 10,000 women who auditioned for the part, and that doesn't surprise me. She pulls off a wonderfully complex role skillfully, and is as convincing as a young, naive school girl as she is as a young woman impersonating a low-end sophisticate wife of an exporter. We see her learning to act, dealing with abandonment by her father, learning to woo (and do other things with) men, think on her feet in high-stakes espionage, and make seemingly idle chit-chat with high society women who have nothing better to do than shop and play Mahjong.

The one complaint I heard from one couple in the theatre was that it took over an hour "for the movie to get started". Some people have no appreciation for plot and character development. Had Lee rushed the plot, it never would have worked. I thought the movie worked wonderfully as a suspense movie, keeping you guessing until the very end. My imdb rating: 9/10.

Review: Nothing Is Private

I chose Nothing Is Private based purely on the director, Alan Ball. He was one of the primary people responsible for Six Feet Under, a wonderful series from the fine people at HBO. He also wrote and co-produced American Beauty. He wrote the screenplay for Nothing Is Private based on the novel Towelhead by Alicia Erian, a semi-autobiographical account of her experience living with her Middle Eastern yet Christian father in Houston. It was his feature debut in the director's chair.

If my review sounds a little distracted, I'm dealing with secondhand smoke and some guy singing along to Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night". Just thought I'd let you know.

Anyway, Nothing Is Private is about 13-year old Jasira, played by much-more-than-13-years-old Summer Bishil, who has nothing but a spattering of TV credits to her name. She does a decent job, though I don't know if she pulls off age 13 completely. Jasira encounters a myriad of mal treatment, from her physically and emotionally abusive father, sexually abusive neighbor, and psychologically abusive classmates.

Peter Macdissi plays the aforementioned father, a NASA employee and Saddam-hating proud American citizen originally from Lebanon. It took me about two-thirds of the movie, but I finally recognized him as Claire's art teacher in Six Feet. Aaron Eckhart plays Jasira's neighbor, an Army reservist waiting to get called to Iraq during the Gulf War.

By the way, the Corey Hart impressionist just threatened someone, maybe me though I have no idea why, with punching them in the f***ing face -- nice.

Jasira's saviors are an anti-Texan neighbor couple played by Toni Collette and Matt Letscher. They serve up enough goodness to offset everyone else in the film. Okay, when things end, Ball shows us that not everyone is 100% bad, which is somewhat refreshing. During the Q&A, however, one questioner seemed a little taken aback that Jasira doesn't end up "destroyed", and that perhaps Alan was "sending the wrong message". Alan Ball argued credibly that to assume that all under aged people who experience "inappropriate sexual contact with an adult" end up whacked is to assume that a good portion of today's population is destroyed.

The movie was admittedly a little less than I was hoping for. Some moments seemed a little less than real, dialog a little weak. Some moments, though, played out very well, with good comedic relief when you needed it ("It doesn't matter what color your friend is if she's a girl. Don't paint me out to be a racist."). Maybe Alan just needed a little more time with the script. I didn't regret seeing this film, but I wouldn't beg you to see it. My imdb rating: 6/10.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Review: No Country For Old Men

No Country for Old Men, the latest from brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, spends most of its time following a two characters: Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a hunter in Texas and only somewhat bad man, and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), 150% bad man and one of the more humorously creepy killers you'll encounter in your day-to-day life. He's ruthless, unkillable, brilliant and, as luck would have it, entertaining. Tommy Lee Jones joins the fray as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (was he a sheriff? Better remember to ask my fact checker), an experienced (and aging, perhaps) career lawman. Woody Harrelson, as private investigator Carson Wells, and Kelly Macdonald, as Llewelyn's wife Carla Jean, round out the cast.

Early in the film, Llewelyn stumbles across a drug buy gone bad and, with a little detective work, he stumbles across something valuable. He suspects people are going to be coming after it, but perhaps underestimates the quantity and quality of those very people. Ed Tom Ball (classic Tommy Lee Jones with a splash of melancholy) seems to know what's coming Llewelyn's way and tries to save Llewelyn the trouble.

Brolin is wonderful in his would-in-any-other-situation-overcome-all role as the not completely good Llewelyn. MacDonald is convincing as his justifiably worrisome wife. Bardem, however, is delightfully sinister as a bad man who will kill someone merely for the sake of keeping his word, even if it was a threat to a man who is already dead. He even pulls off a good Two Face impression, for you Batman fans.

The Coens put their unmistakable stamp on this movie, with scenes that are odd, memorable, well-designed, perfectly framed, graphic novel-ish in appearance, zany, and did I mention odd? Yes, I think I did, but it's worth mentioning twice. I've read about how well the Coens plan out their movies (a product of having tiny budgets early in their career, a problem I'm sure no longer haunts them today), and you get the feeling that they wasted no effort in making this film. It is much better, imho, than more recent efforts such as Intolerable Cruelty and The Man Who Wasn't There. It will appeal more so to fans of Fargo and Blood Simple than Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski.

There is comic relief in this movie to offset the tension, even more so if you're a bit sick in the head, as I am. All I'm saying is, if you laughed at the wood-chipper, you'll certainly find yourself giggling here and there. For more traditional movie goers, there's some comedy between Ed Tom Ball and his deputy, and though it's well done, it's not recognizably Coen-ish.

I feel I've said too much, but I don't think it matters. If you've enjoyed previous Coen hits such as Blood Simple, Fargo, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, then I'm betting you'll enjoy this one. If you haven't seen many Coen Brothers' movies, but like a good suspense flick, then this will be up your alley, too. I wouldn't mind seeing it again, so feel free to give me a call when it comes this November to a theatre near you. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Decision

Faced with the prospect of (a) Waiting indefinitely for my B&B hostess and missing one or both movies; or (b) Leaving my luggage in their front yard, I chose...

Okay, I only left one bag, and it was partially concealed, and the neighborhood is fairly safe. Anyway, I enjoyed both movies. Reviews tomorrow, though. I need some sleep.

I knew it!

Flights, no problem. Customs, no problem. Luggage, no problem. ATM (need Canadian cash), no problem. Limo (nicer cars, costs same or less than taxi), no problem. Traffic, no problem. Arrive at the B&B, the owner's left the key in the mailbox for me (this happens now and then, for those of you who don't stay at B&B's).

Wrong key.

It was a perfect setup, really. I really thought this was going to go off without a hitch, but here I am sitting on the front stoop of my B&B with not a clue in the world when my hostess will return. Damn, damn, damn. Do I just leave my luggage in front of the door? Yikes. What to do, what to do...

Complain, that's first priority, and fortunately there's wi-fi I can use to do so to a world wide audience. I bet you can't wait to find out how this one turns out...


I made it to Detroit without a hitch. I chatted with Chris Wolfgram's cube neighbor for most of the trip. I know he knows Chris, because he mentioned that "determined" look Chris gets when things aren't going well. Only those of you who know him will know what I mean.

Anyway, it looks like the Toronto flight is departing on time. I fell for this once before, though. I will not let down my guard quite that easily...

Too Easy

No line at the check-in counter. No line at security. It's obviously a trick. They're setting me up for a fall, I can smell it.

Well, there no power outlets in the gate area. Maybe that's the worst I'll see today. If that's it, I'll consider myself lucky.

Friday, September 07, 2007

To the tune of...

'Twas the night before the film fest
and all through the condo
not a creature was stirring
except for the idiot cleaning his bathroom
and the cat playing chicken with the broom.

Okay, I don't have the energy to finish that one. Time to finish packing and get to bed. Tomorrow will be a long day. The getting up, the getting ready, the going to the airport, the waiting for the flight to leave, the arriving in Detroit, the boarding of the second flight, the getting off the plane that now has mechanical problems, the going to a different gate, the waiting for the next flight to leave, the finally leaving, the arriving in Toronto, the trying to seem harmless at the Customs & Immigration booth (success!), the gathering of the bags, the hiring of a cab, the arriving at the B&B, the checking in, the promising to pay for the room just as soon as my bank allows me to withdraw that much Canadian cash (these exchange rates suck!), the rushing to subway, the arriving at the box office, the waiting in line, I mean "queueing" (those crazy Canadians), the getting the tickets, the rushing to the first show... you get the picture. I just hope I get to my first picture.