31 August 2009

'Inglourious Basterds' References

Tarantino has always been very good about stuffing his films with references and he has not disappointed with Basterds. Just to name a few: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Searchers, Raiders of the Lost Ark, & Miller's Crossing

For the list of every movie referenced in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds click here

28 August 2009

Raging Bull (1980) & Boogie Nights (1997)

Granted had I watched any other film but Boogie Nights after I had watched Raging Bull I would have never realized the structural similarities between the two, but I did, so here we go.

Both features start off with their central characters Jake (Robert De Niro) and Eddie (Mark Wahlberg) just barely staving off mediocrity. But success follows shortly after with Jake meeting the new love of his wife, current wife be damned, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) and Eddie meeting Adult Film Director Extraordinaire Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and becoming an adult film star with the moniker Dirk Diggler.

Jake LaMotta with the aid of his brother Joe(Joe Pesci in arguably his best performance ever) starts whooping ass and beating every opponent that comes his way, even perpetual foe Sugar Ray Robinson. With the money pouring in LaMotta gets married to Vickie and starts a family. Dirk is quickly becoming the toast of the pornography world and a major component of Horner's legacy.

LaMotta eventually gets his title shot after making a deal with mob boss Tommy, but it comes with a cost as LaMotta has to take a dive. Once at the title-fight Jake absolutely demolishes Marcel Cerdan taking the long awaited Middleweight belt for keeps. Dirk, after consulting with Jack, gets his own James Bond knock-off franchise and the money keeps rolling in.

But of course as is with all Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson films there can be no happy endings. LaMotta retires after losing his belt to Robinson and opens a nightclub. At the nightclub a fourteen year old girl is served alcohol and "introduced" to some of LaMotta's acquanitances. Vickie leaves him and takes full-custody of the children. Afterwards LaMotta is locked up for failing to obtain the $10,000 he needs for bail.

Dirk becomes engaged in a major coke habit and decides he is a star in his own right shunning Jack and branching out with Reed(John C. Reilly) to become musicians. Their mutual friendship with dealer Todd(Thomas Jane) becomes dangerous as he decides to rob a producer and ends up getting killed and Reed and Dirk are running for their lives. Dirk is eventually nearly beaten to death after being jumped by a gang of homophobes. LaMotta returns to performing sub-standard comedy at nightclubs and Dirk reunites with Horner and his "family".

Knocked down, but not defeated Dirk and Jake end both films almost identically as both are giving themselves pep talks in front of the mirrors of their dressing rooms.

Both films are essentially character studies and considered the best works of each director, I personally find There Will Be Blood and Goodfellas to be each director's Magnum Opus, respectively. But that is another debate for another day.

The Men Who Stare at Goats Trailer

Jeff Bridges playing a Dude-level hippie? Super soldiers that thin they can use psychic powers? Sounds like Stanley Kubrick came back from the dead and made another Dr. Strangelove type comedy.

27 August 2009

The Vault: Gone With the Wind (1939)

Gone With the Wind set the mold in which all epic films are cast. Clocking in at an imposing 4 hours long, and having a reputation for racism, it's not seem the most inviting film in your library, but it's well worth seeing.

Never have I seen a movie that was so long that held my attention so well. Not only did the film keep me interested right until the closing shot, the interest lingered on. Usually nonplussed by period pieces whose lavish set design and costumes I generally see as an affectation masking the true worth of a story, I was quite enraptured by this film.

The quality of the film is due to its synthesis of quality at all stages of the production process. The acting, directing and most of all writing were all superb.

26 August 2009

'Trucker' Set to Go in October

Monterey Media has acquired all U.S. rights to James Mottern’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere Trucker setting the film for an October 9, 2009 release date.

Trucker is the story of Diane Ford (Monaghan), a vivacious young truck driver, who leads a carefree life of long-haul trucking, one night stands and all-night drinking until the evening her estranged 11-year-old son shows up at her door. Monaghan received much acclaim for her performance, and Monterey acknowledged setting the film up for awards contention in its press release.

“We bought this film because we just fell in love with it, with Michelle’s amazing performance, and with the beauty of James’ script,” said CFO and Managing Partner Jere Rae-Mansfield in a statement. “Our hope is that both audiences and voters will fall in love all the same.”

Of course this should be a second nomination for Monaghan after her masterful work in Gone Baby Gone.

25 August 2009

The Vault: Killer's Kiss (1955)

Those only familiar with the broad strokes of Kubrick's career might be surprised to learn that he started off working in film noir. Very early in his career, Kubrick was already igniting the screen with his trademark blend of amazing cinematography, plots steeped with moral grey areas, and iconic imagery. The first such example of this is his 1955 outing Killer's Kiss.

Film noir, and especially neo-noir is too often waist-deep in its own tropes to be enjoyable. Bogged down by the baggage that the genre forces, many films suffer from being too predictable. The most notable film noir is the work that departs from the strictest confines of the genre. Genius that he was, Kubrick never confined himself to predetermined casts of what a film should be, and Killer's Kiss was no different.

Essentially a marriage of the boxing film and the noir, Killer's Kiss documents the love a washed up boxer has for his neighbour, and the consequences of his being asked to throw a fight by a local mob boss. Both plot lines are clearly in the domain of Kubrick's career long theme of moral relativism.

While not on par with Doctor Strangelove, 2001, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket or The Shining, Killer's Kiss does provide some memorable scenes, particularly during the climactic chase and fight. Fans of any genre should be able to enjoy this film; it's not the most exciting movie on the shelf, but it has a broad range of merits and historical significance.

'Black Dynamite' Trailer

He's a bad mother - shut your mouth! Oh wait, wrong movie. Anyway I expect this to be a lot of fun.

24 August 2009

Inception Trailer

Update: IMAX Corporation and Warner Bros. Pictures announced that Nolan’s upcoming film Inception will be released in IMAX theaters and conventional theaters simultaneously on July 16th, 2010.

21 August 2009

Review: Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds opens with a Ennio Morricone score spliced with an idyllic shot of French dairy farm where a tired man sees a troubling sight. Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) advancing in a menacing fashion.

Landa's entrance is a friendly one, but he leaves the man's home a far more horrifying place than he found it. Reminiscent of Angel Eyes' first scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, something bad is about to transpire, but we dare not tear away our eyes from the enigmatic Landa. Only one of the refugees makes it out alive and with a shot (a knowing nod to John Ford's The Searchers) out of Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) bolting out of the basement with Landa bidding her farewell.

Lt. Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt) leads a regiment of Jewish-American soldiers set about turning the hearts of Nazi soldiers into cowering rats. Pitt's turn as the Appalachian Lieutenant almost absolves his background performers completely, while they may turn the tables on the Nazi's, Raine is the only soldier we care about. When the plot to kill Hitler goes down in Shosanna's theatre he turns a simple line in Italian that brings down the entire audience. Still, Mr.'s Pitt and Waltz are not the owners most captivating performance in Basterds, that privilege would belong to Melanie Laurent as Shosanna.

Shosanna is a woman who did what the entire armed forces couldn't. Strong women have always been central in Tarantino flicks and Shoshanna is certainly no different. Whether she's ridiculing the German Pvt. York (pretty sure Gary Cooper didn't appreciate that) or stockpiling nitrate film prints for her own operation, she is someone an audience can admire.

Tarantino uses violence in Basterds as he usually does: in a manner that reveals something about the audience that other films never seem to accomplish. When Hitler, Goebbels, and the rest of the Nazi forces are cheering along with the film-within-a-film Nation's Pride the audience is aghast at the commendation of Nazi violence against American armed forces.

However, when the tables are turned against Hitler and his men, the moviegoer finds him/herself cheering. What's not to be happy about? This is how a satire of violence is made, not shoving it in your face ala Michael Haneke in Funny Games.

For all the fun and games of the film, it also raises several questions about what kind of history we are living in. Revisionism, something merely to be waved off for generations has become serious. With textbook curriculum advisers in Texas insisting which historical figures should be wiped off of the face of the Earth, who is to say that there isn't an equivalent of Nation's Pride being taught?

Quentin Tarantino's war-revenge-fantasy brings about the ultimate wish for many people raised in a more innocent time: killing Hitler. Nothing could be simpler. Many of Tarantino's past works like Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2Death Proof  featured revenge, but nothing like this.

With Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has crafted the cinematic triumph of his career. A revisionist history film that doesn't border parody.

***1/2 out of ****

Review: In The Loop (****)

The parallels to the war with Iraq run deep; while the film doesn't explicitly say where in the middle east a war is planned to take place, it's clear that the film is trying to make the point that a war with Iran could be built on the same kind of shaky intelligence, orders from on high, and bull-headed bureaucracy that landed the two powers in the Iraq quagmire.

The film focuses mainly on the travails of an ineffectual British cabinet member, his overambitious aide, and a party whip tasked with keeping the two in line. Out of their element, the two find themselves as focal points in a cabal with a bevy of American counterparts, trying to start a war.

The film is, like a lot of great comedy, simultaneously hilarious and disheartening. The emotional dissonance gives the film an emotional resonance that would be lacking in a shallower plot. The excellent writing paired with powerful performances and deft direction make the film a must-see.

In the Loop illustrates the back-room shenanigans between American and British officials in the lead up to a war in the middle east. It's a world filled with bravado, testosterone and dockyard-style intimidation.

Avatar Trailer

So this is what Cameron's been working on for the past ten years? The 3-D for this should be miles better than the rest of the competition. 

19 August 2009

Inception Character Names Revealed

Leonardo DiCaprio is currently not listed but the name COBB appears, which is above Page's name so who knows? Ellen Page is Ariadne, Joseph Gordon Levitt is Arthur, Tom Hardy is Eames, Ken Watanabe is Saito, Dileep Rao is Yusef, Cillian Murphy is Fischer, Tom Berenger is Browning.

Up In The Air Has No Departure?

Up In The Air debuts at the Toronto Film Festival, but there is still no release date for George Clooney's newest film. I imagine Paramount will try to put this out in competition for some Academy Award attention.

18 August 2009

First Look at 'Buried'

Buried, stars Ryan Reynolds as Paul who is a contractor working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of Iraqis he wakes to find himself buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter and a cell phone it's a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap.

17 August 2009

The Interesting Film-making Technique in Tony Rome

Tony Rome is a Frank Sinatra film-noir that was made in 1967. It's modelled in the Humphrey Bogart mold. Appropriately, Sinatra Bogarts the screen time.

Tony Rome is the focus of every scene in the film. Few films focus so exclusively on one character; by spending so much time with one character, there is a natural rapport in the audience. The problem is that the focus is too narrow. Real life doesn't work this way. No event is solely determined by one person. As such, the film is unrealistic.

16 August 2009

Is Zooey Deschanel Typecasted?

Now don't get me wrong, I think Zooey Deschanel is one of the better young actresses around.

BUT a majority of her roles: 500 Days of Summer, Gigantic, Yes Man, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy are all of a similar quality. The troubled, quirky girl who manages to repair the broken soul of a lonely guy. Whether she be Summer, Allison, Happy or Trillian, Ms. Deschanel has become a proven commodity in indie features and the mainstream, but she has also become repetitive.

The quirky actress has become what Winona Ryder was circa 1990's. The obtainable girl for introverted guys in films that have budgets lower than most airport McDonalds. We all know how that turned out for Ryder, but here is hoping that Deschanel does not suffer the same fate.

More recently, she has joined David Gordon Green's Your Highness. A film about an arrogant, lazy prince (Danny McBride) who must complete a quest to save his father's kingdom. Joining him on the quest is his more heroic brother (James Franco). Deschanel plays Belladonna, Franco's virginal bride. Now Gordon Green certainly has a flair for writing, his stoner hit Pineapple Express was one of the most hilarious films of 2008 and I think that if anyone can provide a different role for her it's Green.

15 August 2009

Review: District 9

Some years ago aliens crashed landed in Johannesburg. Despite their insistence that they were there in peace, officials deemed it necessary to contain them on Earth. Soon, the "prawns" as they are named, are relocated from their ship to a camp below.

Citizens are outraged that the prawns live so close to their homes and a group is assembled to move the aliens once again. Should they resist, mercenaries with flamethrowers and guns will assist them. Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is a blissfully unaware bureaucrat set about earning his way up the government ladder by evicting the "prawns" from their reservation in Africa.

Whether it was a matter of hubris, or irony, while casting aliens out of their homes, Wikus contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Once that information spreads, Wikus very quickly becomes the most valuable man in the world, as well as the most hunted. In his DNA lies the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology that could make some arms manufactures very, very wealthy. Fighting for his life, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.

One of the aliens, named Christopher Johnson takes pity on Wikus and attempts to help him regain his former form. Johnson is not one of the mindless droves chasing cat food from local markets. Through Christopher Johnson and his son we are able to see past the unfriendly appearance of the "prawns" and sympathize.

Quickly the audience discovers that in the quest for gaining unimaginable wealth from selling the prawns' technology that we have become less human than the beings we are trying to exterminate. District 9 is unusual, in it's approach of setting the viewer on the side of the aliens. Sure E.T. was also pro-alien, but not to the extent that one roots actively for the destruction of man.

Like all good science fiction District 9 gleans real-world implications from the allegory onscreen. If the conflict captured verite-style between aliens and humans seems reminiscent of the horrors of current immigration woes, it's not a coincidence. Director Neill Blomkamp put it there deliberately, however the allegory is sometimes too on the nose.

More frustrating is that Blomkamp's film transitions from sci-fi to mindless action flick during the film's third act. It is too bad that Blomkamp didn't continue along the lines of District 9's first two acts instead of venturing into Michael Bay territory with pig-launching robots. Still, District 9 is worthy of the adaptation from short film to feature.


11 August 2009

'Inception' Teaser Before 'Inglourious Basterds'

As if there wasn't enough reason to get out of your house and see Inglourious Basterds August 21st. The first teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Inception will play in front of some screenings of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film.

Many film sites don't anticipate this teaser to be anything special, but the teaser for The Dark Knight premiered before The Simpson's Movie and that was, for me, the biggest event of the summer.

Review: Ponyo

Ponyo is an imaginative retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. Set in a Japanese harbour town, the film follows the story of Sosuke, a five year-old who finds a mermaid while playing in the ocean. Ponyo quickly takes a liking to Sosuke, but her father doesn't want her to spend time with humans. He retrieves her and takes her back to his underwater house. Ponyo then decides that she would rather be with Sosuke, and returns back to the human world.

The artwork in the film is superb. In an age of pixel perfect Pixar productions, it's nice to see such high production quality out of a traditional hand-drawn animation film. The forces of nature are shown to dominate human culture. This is a common theme in Japanese art, an example of which is this iconic Ukiyo-e woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

In the film, a combination of the human's mistreatment of the sea, and Ponyo's ascension out of the ocean has put the natural world out of order. The Moon is gradually falling out of it's orbit, so the tidals forces are much larger. Because of this, the water level rises drastically, totally engulfing Sosuke's small town. With the help of Ponyo's magic, she and Sosuke explore this newly aquatic world together. All of the town's residents pull together and are positive about the ongoing disaster, which only Sosuke and Ponyo can put an end to.

It's an extremely enjoyable film. My only gripe is with the casting of the English language version voice over actors. It appears that the Disney corporation chose who would do these voices, as a Jonas brother and one of Billy-Ray Cyrus' offspring provide the voices for Sosuke and Ponyo. The actors did a decent job, but still tainted the film with the taste Disney's pablum culture. Regardless, it is one of the best animated films of the year.

09 August 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Trailer

07 August 2009

Review: Moon

In the future, space stations can be operated and maintained by one man. There are not many accommodations for said employee though, "human" comforts consist of video chats and a small robot named GERTYThe station is largely self-sufficient, but an engineer must remain there for repairs. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is finishing out the remainder of his contract with the company that mines helium from surface rocks on the Moon.

Dealing with the mind-bending isolation of being alone on the moon is taking its toll on Sam. Sam's wife and daughter wait for him at home on Earth, although as Sam's time on the Moon stretches he begins to believe someone lurks waiting to replace him there too. His short time away from home in nearing an end and he finds that a welcome relief. An unexpected visitor arrives at the station looks to change that. There really isn't a lot that can be said about the plot without spoiling the entire thing, so I will have to leave you in the dark.

Sam Rockwell really works through the drudgery of being the lone actor in the film and sinks his teeth into the thankless task of being Sam Bell. Rockwell has carved out a comfortable niche for himself playing supporting characters, but he shines in his solo turn in Moon. Roles like this rarely receive any attention during awards season though he is more than deserving of accolades. Hopefully Sony Pictures Classics can make that happen.

Kevin Spacey provides the voice of GERTY, but despite the voice similarities don't expect some 2001-esque turn, GERTY just provides meager companionship for Sam.

Vacuous space prevents an existential horror of sorts, if you stare into the abyss long enough, it stares back. How anyone could be expected to remain solitary for three years is a mystery. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that even non-carbon life forms such as HAL would lose their way.

That director Duncan Jones replicates a big-budget picture with a fraction of the cost speaks to his abilities to mold miniatures, practical effects and other wizardry into something resembling a living, breathing space station. What makes that feat more impressive is that this is Jones' first feature film. Jones turns in a movie that could have been manipulated into empty spectacle, but instead digs into the consciousness of living and what it really means to be human.


Remembering John Hughes: Uncle Buck (1989)

In honour of the passing of John Hughes, we present this retrospective of Uncle Buck.

Uncle Buck
was a warm up run for Home Alone. The styles of the two films were very similar:
  • Both films starred Macaulay Culkin and John Candy,
  • Both were written by John Hughes,
  • Both dealt with abandoned children, and their relationships with adults.
Uncle Buck is decidedly the more adult of the two films. Buck is a hard-drinking, hard-gambling, commitment-fearing man-child who is more interested in enjoying life than he is in growing up. Via an unexpected exposure to adult responsibility, coming in the form of house sitting a suburban McMansion and taking care of three children, Buck learns that there is more to life than skirting responsibility.

It's run-of-the-mill fare, but the performance of John Candy and the well-written comedic bits make the film worth seeing.

Review: 'Thirst' Leaves One Wanting More

Fumbling between genres, from drama to comedy to gore to romance, Thirst never finds its footing.

Unfortunately, it settles in the all too familiar territory of the vampire love story. The film is basically bereft of character development; comparing between the first and second halves of the film you'd have to assume that the main characters are bipolar. There was nothing particularly innovative in terms of direction, special effects, gore or plot. Even the humour was lacklustre, often barely working its way into the chuckleworthy (Oh my God, Phillipino's are Catholic! How drole!)

I don't know how this film won the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Vampire movies as a whole are lost on me. Vampires are often used as a cludgy analogy for love or lust, owing to their eternal quality, and their underlying base traits of brutal murder and drinking blood. I never thought that the vampire / love analogy was apt; love is more about affection, trust, mutual support, compromise and understanding than eternity and violence.

04 August 2009

The Lovely Bones Trailer

Yeesh, Stanley Tucci is creepy in this. And he was so pleasant in Julie and Julia too.

Heath Ledger's Modest Mouse Video

Heath Ledger passed on before this could be released, but his hard work has not gone unseen. Modest Mouse frontman, Isaac Brock, released a statement saying the band would release the video in "supporting the completion of the video in honor of Heath's last piece of work as a director."

01 August 2009

Review: Funny People

Funny People charts a strange course through the seas of comedy. Whereas a typical comedic film will spend as much time in the choppy waters of slapstick as possible (e.g. Step Brothers, The 40 Year-Old Virgin) Funny People portrays a more realistic journey on the ocean of life, often showing characters in the doldrums and in dire straits.

If there were fifty or a hundred fewer dick jokes, it might be mistaken for a drama.

The film takes a slight departure from the usual dramatic arc used in nearly all Hollywood films. Such departures are usually the calling card of an inexperienced director, or a film whose vision was compromised by the studio. The abnormal story arc in Funny People is only slightly strange. To begin with, the characters progress through a very typical narrative structure, but after the 1:30 to 1:40 mark, where most films end, the film takes on a new narrative which later ties into the resolution of the earlier plot in the film. It's nice to see some liberties taken in film making, and even nicer to see that they work.

Adam Sandler seems to make one quality film per year, and another lower quality film with broader appeal to earn money (e.g. Reign Over Me / I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry). Funny People qualifies as both; his decent acting chops are on the table, but his characteristic pervasive product placement and blue humour are also in full swing. In general, the cast works very well together; it's a tribute to the directing skill of Judd Apatow that he always gets good chemistry and cohesion from the players. Improvisation, another of his hallmarks, is also used to great effect in the film.

A strong point is when the film makes some serious statements about the comedy industry, specifically through the character Raaaaaaaandy and in the sitcom Yo Teach (which is reminiscent of Ricky Gervais' sitcom satire When the Whistle Blows). Another such satire is the send-up of Sandler's own career, through the films like Mer-man and Re-Do. Each of these satires is a shot over the bow of unfunny aspects of the comedy industry.

Aside from a couple of serious lapses in the quality of the cinematography in the film, I found it to be of very high quality and quite enjoyable.