Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Paper Clips

As today is Yom Hashoah, the day Jewish people remember the death of six million plus Jews during the Holocaust I though it would be a good idea to write about this unique documentary. I must confess I grabbed the DVD set thinking it was about the guy who started by selling a paper clip on eBay and ended up flipping until he owned a house so needless to say I was rather surprised to discover a film about a group Tennessee high school students who ended up collecting paper clips to gain a better understanding of the number six million. While the quality of this documentary is not of the highest standard the message and journey is a fantastic one which explores many topics including the reverse racism aspects. Not the lightest viewing by any means but certainly should be seen by anybody concerned with this horrid occurrence.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Man of the House

If you take MEN IN BLACK out of the equation you'd be hard pressed to think of another comedy starring Tommy Lee Jones. Perhaps he and fellow Texan Stephen Herek are buddies which might explain why he chose to star in this tweenie bit of nonsense about a group of cheerleaders who witness a murder who fall under the protection of a Texas ranger, of course played by Jones. Director Herek is good with sort of fare having helmed BILL & TED's EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and THE MIGHTY DUCKS and these films should give you an idea of what MAN OF THE HOUSE has to offer. It does stand out though due to the fact Tommy Lee Jones can raise the level of pretty much anything he decides to be involved with. You have to love the fact the gun he uses in this film is not a prop but his personal Colt. Can't you just imagine how that coversation went...."uh.....Tommy, we want you to use the prop gun. Why, this one isn't loaded. Yes, but Tommy, you're making folks nervous. I don't care!". R. Lee Emery has some great moments in this one and be sure to look for CSI's Liz Vassey.

Mirror, Mirror 2: Raven Dance

As I mentioned in my thoughts on MIRROR, MIRROR, I still find it puzzling as to how this became a cult hit. With the second offering in the series we see some improvement but I still have to scratch my head about the talent they managed to snag. Roddy McDowell, Sally Kellerman, Veronica Cartwright, Sarah Douglas and a young Mark Ruffalo top the list though some may consider MR. BELVEDERE's Tracy Wells a star in her own right. William Sanderson returns to play a different character which leads me to believe he must be friends with somebody on the production crew which is of no import as he delivers one of the best psychotic monologues I've seen. As for the story, it's more of the same with bad shit coming out of that spooky old mirror (didn't see that coming did you) and RAVEN DANCE is campy enough to be more fun than the first but you can't help thinking with the people involved it could have been much better.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I like Neil Marshall's films and anything having Rhona Mitra running around in tight black outfits and kicking ass gets my vote. It does however have to be said there was nothing especially unique about DOOMSDAY, Marshall himself acknowledging the blatant influence of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE ROAD WARRIOR. but so what, we all are prone to watching the same film again and again in the different wrapper so why not here. Doesn't hurt to have Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell along for the ride both who could have been used a bit more as could Alexander Siddig but why have drama get in the way of the carnage. I love the way they worked the premise of Glasgow being quarantined due to a viral outbreak as I gather most in the U.K. would like to see that happen now virus or no. Good, fast, violent fun and you just have to hope Marshall was able to expropriate one of three Bentleys they bought for this number!

The Aviator

One of these days I will get over my fear of Leonardo DiCaprio and not wait years to catch his films. Much like GANGS OF NEW YORK I put off seeing this Martin Scorsese solely because of Leonardo, a bad hangover from the whole TITANIC business of which I've written before. As usual though, DiCaprio once again brings his amazing talents to the project which provides for an entertaining couple of hours. Much like I complained about DEATH DEFYING ACTS there seems to be some massive liberties taken with the character of Howard Hughes and those around him but there is enough reality there to give it some authenticity. The real thrill here is watching Cate Blanchett portray Katharine Hepburn and while the relationship between her and Hughes may or may not be fictitious one can certainly understand why this element was developed. There are also some issues with how Scorsese chose to age DiCaprio in the film but these minor bits can be overlooked by default of the strength of his acting. Not the best picture from either of them but far better than most can turn out.

Children of Men

I remember reading P.D. James' THE CHILDREN OF MEN back in 1992 and at the time I couldn't help but think it was a homage of sorts to the great Doris Lessing. For an author whose work is mystery predominant the venture to the realm of political science fiction was an interesting one with favorable results. In Alfonso Cauron's film of said book we are left with but a mere skeleton of what I think James intended and under most circumstances this would be a bad thing, here though, it works. CHILDREN OF MEN is very much a mood piece, a cross between a horrific music video and a painting where the emotions are far more important that the story. There is a plot but the film is not dependant on it's resolution. There is action but it too is very much a play of movement in most cases rather than a means to an end. Clive Owen does some fantastic work here and it's great to see him interact with Michael Caine but again I must stress...even the actors are part of a tableux. Art is everywhere in this film, one of my favorite scenes involving the recreation of the famous Pink Floyd cover for ANIMALS. Those looking for concrete literalism would be better served sticking to the novel, those in wish of a visual feast, however bitter, will love this one.

Death Defying Acts

If you ever need proof of the Aussies drinking to much you may wish to look to the Australian Film Institute who gave this waterlogged mess five nominations including best actor for Guy Pearce who was grievously miscast in this picture. Just how bad is DEATH DEFYING ACTS? Well, it's a film puportedly concerning Harry Houdini that has pretty much nothing to do with Houdini other than it has an escape artist who dies on Halloween. Hell, they couldn't even get his death right in this one. The character is off, the timing is off, the look is off and if there were any hope of old Harry coming back from the afterlife he would have surely done so long enough to drown the writers who attached his name to this. As for Guy Pearce, he's a funny actor to start with, mind you...not a bad one but his work here is all over the board. As for Catherine Zeta-Jones, God bless her she tries to carry this one and just about succeeds in escaping without damage but even she trips up towards the end. Timothy Spall and Saoirse Ronan give some help with the load but end up faltering as well. Despite what I've said, the film does have a nice visual style and is interesting as a wild yarn but the whole Houdini aspect sinks it as even somebody with a routine knowledge of the man will note the discrepancies. Do yourself the courtesy and leave this one locked in the trunk.

White Chicks

I hate to say it but this has to be a knock against the BET awards when this "picture" actually won in two catagories a feat it couldn't match at the Razzies despite five nominations. I also hate to knock a Wayans family project as I generally find them enjoyable but WHITE CHICKS just didn't cut it. I did enjoy the makeup effects and some of the observations about "white chicks" behavior and mannerisms were interesting but for the most part the laughs were tired and weak and the script....well....tired and weak. Always good to see "Mrs. Dexter" Jennifer Carpenter and it must be noted Terry Crews somehow managged to be funny despite the material he was given to work with. Not a total turkey but not up to par with other Wayans features.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Away from Her

Sarah Poley has been involved with television and film so long it shouldn't have surprised me when the time came for her to make the switch to directing. It did surprise me when I heard she was adapting Alice Munro's short story THE BEAR CAME OVER THE MOUNTAIN herself but after seeing the results I was NOT surprised to see it get the Oscar nomination. I'd love to see a collection of Polley's previous shorts as her work with AWAY FROM HER is stunning, so much so if she were to direct a toothpaste commercial I'd have to track it down.
I don't feel the need to "review" this at length, I rarely do in my blurbs, as there was so much press on this one (all of it fantastic) you can easily find authoratative pieces elsewhere. What I will say is I do not recommend this to anybody who has recently been touched by the horror of Alzheimer's though I think people who are supporting friends going through the process should certainly see it as there is an educational element present which will help one understand the struggle. It's a vicious disease, something AWAY FROM HER only scratches the surface of being part awareness message but more using the misfortune to set the stage for a heart wrenching love story to unfold. I could be way off the mark here but for as much was made of Julie Christie's Oscar nominated performance this is really the story of Gordon Pinsent's character. No Academy nod for him though he did grab the ACTRA award and rightfully so. His work is solidly authentic and I am honestly unable to think of a finer performance from him.
AWAY FROM HER is both simple and complex, ugly and beautiful, both sad and uplifiting and well worth the emotional work it demands of you. If Sarah Poley can continue to direct in this fashion she will certainly grow to be a national treasure just like Pinsent. Special mention must be made of Jon Goldsmith's score which extremely well suited to the material.

Monday, April 13, 2009

In the Electric Mist

It's been thirteen years since we've seen James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux on the screen, the last time being portrayed by Alec Baldwin in HEAVEN'S PRISONERS. This is notable as Baldwin also at one time portrayed Ton Clancy's Jack Ryan, a role Harrison Ford later owned and poor Ben Affleck bastardized through no necessary fault of his own. In this case the ever great Tommy Lee Jones steps into the Robicheaux skin and owns it. I love to see Jones being a cantankerous, foul mouthed shit kickin' son of a bitch and here he does lots of that. May be a little preachy on the whole AA business but it's true to Burke's creation. An odd choice of director bringing in French film maker Bertrand Tavernier to pilot this story of the South but he does a straight forward job suitable to the material and these two things may have much to do why nobody seems to have heard of this picture. It's an onward and forward no nonsense piece of work and perhaps the big studios just don't want to put such material on the big screen as they feel it can't compete with the latest brainless blow everything to hell epic. Thinks this is a small picture? As mentioned, Jones is in the lead but he is backed by the likes of John Goodman (excellent as a local celeb scum bucket), Ned Beatty, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mary Steenbergen and Peter Sarsgaard who seems to be popping up all over the place these days. We are also treated to appearances from music legends Buddy Guy and Levon Helm. A good, basic cop thriller with a nice little twist and well worth looking for at your local.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

This is another film I've recently seen of which I'm having problems writing about and it's due to a jumbled mess of mixed emotions so I'll be as straight up as I can. For starters, I was never a "fan" of Anvil, nobody that I know of was, but I always liked Anvil. They could be counted on for a kick ass live show, at least I think they were kick ass as about the only thing I ever remembered of any I attended was waking up as a stranger in a strange bed wondering who the hell was next to, was it a work day, as a matter of fact do I even have a job and how in fuck's name to I find my way home, do I even have a home, from wherever the fuck it is and I wonder if this chick has any beer in the fridge. Sounds harsh but that pretty much sums up the way things were back in those days. So, this would be my complaint about this documentary, it failed to catch the mayhem which was metal back then and incidents such as one I'm told of where Lips attempted to lead a fifteen minute chant of "posers fucking die" to an audience of a lesser number than the duration of said rant at the Gasworks oblivious to the fact the crowd was most certainly not with him. I don't know this for sure as I wasn't there and as I also mentioned I probably wouldn't have remembered it if I were. It's rather unfortunate director Sacha Gervasi didn't have footage like this as it would have complimented the feeling of THE STORY OF ANVIL as it's one of two punch drunk fighters who simply will not quit, these warriors being front man Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner who is still legitimately one of the best metal drummers in the country. This leads me to the other problem I have with this doc and it's through no fault of the band or the director. It has to do with how so many reviewers have pegged this as a real life Spinal Tap as if that was supposed to be a good thing. I'm sorry, there are some genuine laughs to be had but in most cases they are all to knowingly dread laden and painful for anybody even remotely connected with the music business. This is where THE STORY OF ANVIL succeeds. It captures the problems and determination of a middle aged band trying to take one good, perhaps. last run at the big time. Gervasi, who scripted THE TERMINAL, has crafted this film so well it certainly won't hurt the cause of Anvil and it in fact opened in L.A. last night and it's well worth checking out the photos on IMDB of the boys hanging with the Hollywood elite. The boys! After all these years that's just what they are and after seeing their story you simply will be incapable of rooting for them. For my readers stateside, the band are actually toruing with the film so if they happen to hit your town be sure not to miss it......and buy the new CD for fawks sake!

Dog Soldiers

This debut feature film from Neil Marshall puts an interesting spin on the whole werewolf thing. Seems the military want to use the furry things as a new soldier and a poor squad on a training mission end up having a bit of a tangle with them. Sounds like silly stuff but Marshall handles it in a dead serious manner which is what makes DOG SOLDIERS so unique. Sure, it has blood and some killer action but it's a dialogue driven picture and a damn good one at that. A bit on the low budget side perhaps but excellent writing with a competent cast will always overcome that.

Pinapple Express

This is the first David Gordon Green film I've seen and with him doing the script for the remake of SUSPERIA (I know.....NOTHING is sacred anymore as if it ever was) I thought this should be rectified. It doesn't hurt that PINEAPPLE EXPRESS also stars Seth Rogen whose popularity is rising faster than the unemployment rates. Easy to see why, he can do low brow, throw in some high brow, a bit of the profound and add some great action and slapstick to the mix which is pretty much what we have here. Nothing really original but it kills a couple of hours and if stoner comedies are your thing it will make you laugh. Bill Hader has a great opening spot and Ed Begley Jr. is a riot as the overprotective father of Rogen's still in highschool teenage love. You can always rely on James Franco for solid work, alas while he shines we must also witness what has become of poor Rosie Perez's career. Standard fare but like the odd Big Mac it will satisfy certain cravings.

Le jour avant le lendermain (Before Tomorrow)

I have now seen this film twice and have been trying to figure out a proper way to write about it for the last couple of weeks and I'm still a bit stumped so I'll start by saying this...it was possibly the best foreign film I've ever seen. This is markedly sad as it's a Canadian film and part of a trilogy I wasn't aware of at that. Point I'm trying to make here is the film seemed so alien to me it may as well have been filmed on Pluto. This picture stars Madeline Ivalu, who also wrote it, and her grandson Paul-Dylan playing the roles of the same which is just one of the many unique aspects of BEFORE TOMORROW. The idea of the early like of the Inuit people seeming so alien is one which caused me personal shame as I grew up studying such culture but the way it is presented here is so authentic it is neither drama nor documentary. You are THERE as a fly on the wall or a dog in the corner, it comes off as being that real. My only complaint would be the inclusion of the music of Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Great songs and they are both personally as beautiful as their music but I found it took away from the experience in the sense everything is so genuine why include any English or French language....just stick to Inuktitut. As for the common complaint of some scenes being too long, I have to disagree. The pacing is indicative of the time and lifestyle and only add to the mood. By far one of those most soul touching movies you will see on the big screen this year and maybe for years to come.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux

The way the critics and the Hollywood hype machine toted this adaptation of the Newberry winning children's book from Kate DiCamillo we can all be forgiven for expecting something special. Across the board from child to adult I have yet to meet anybody happy with it. I've not read the book but the impression I'm getting is they mucked about with the story and in the process lost the magic which made it so popular. For my money it was a case of been there and seen that. Anybody familiar with RATATOUIlLE ot THE MOUSE HUNT will immediately see what I'm getting at. I also had a problem with the style in which they chose to animate the human characters involved but this is a matter of my own preference and not a true criticism. Still, it's a pleasant enough piece of work and adults will have fun picking out the voice work of a stunng cast. I had some guilt issues while watching the Matthew Broderick voiced Despereaux as I've recently had to deal with a mouse infestation. Seems a family or two of the little buggers had taken residence up in the walls of my house and from the sounds of it were forming their own Premiership football league! Of course the exterminator had to be called in for this problem, and this very pleasant fellow brought some feedtraps of what sounded to me like a rather cruel but effective way of poisoning the rodents. The general effect is one where the lungs are compromised thus driving the mice out of the walls and into the open in an attempt to gain air, which they of course can't so you end up with little dead mice all over the place rather than stinking the bloody high heaven in the walls. Sad thing to do but I'd rather that than die in an electrical fire in my sleep and you just pick the little things up and flush 'em down the toilet. This was all well and good except one I tried to flush wasn't dead. No......that poor little feller with the big eyes and ears just like Despereaux who I was pretty sure has skittered off to mousie Heaven made like Lazarus and was squeaking the bleedin' bejezus when it hit the water.
I flushed it just the same and I doubt it will ever know I was doing it a favor much like I'm doing you when I say don't expect too much from THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX.....that way you might be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Midnight Meat Train

This one has been on my list of must sees for quite some time now and it was such a bitch to find I has to have a friend mail it to me. I point this out because it would seem the distibutor (sorry Lionsgate!) skipped a track on this one. If it was ever shown in Toronto I missed it and the DVD is pretty much impossible to track down. Shame as this is one little splatter fest destined to become a fave in the dark circles. I barely remember the short story from the BOOKS OF BLOOD though I remember the title. In many of the colder cities in North America the late subway is refered to as the "meat train" because it used for cruising street hustlers an in joke I'm sure Clive Barker is more than well aware of. Here, we have a butcher going about his nightly business on said trains when I photographer stumbles upon his moonlighting affairs. It's pretty standard as a story until the ending which is one that will leave some happy and others pullling their hair out. Such is life though I had hoped with Ryuhei Kitamura directing they might have taken a more Japanese approach and left the story in an ambiguous fashion. I fully expect people to disagree with me on this which is OK, I just think it would have been better unresolved. As for the butcher, he is played with cold and demneted fervor by the great football (soccer for us North American pussies!) thug Vinnie Jones. I wont say it's his best work but as a full feature role he nails it and many should check this one out just for the fight between him and former UFC fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Bradley Cooper is adequate as our protagonist and Leslie Bibb is surprisingly good here. We have a bit part thrown in for Brooke Shields who sadly does not get her meat tenderized in this one and a little cameo from the lovely kate Mulligan. Special mention must be made of Ted Raimi who has the best death scene by far! I should point out old die-hards may be put off by the CGI splat effects which I will admit are a tad over the top at times but they sure are eye popping. Make sure you get your ticket for this train even if you have to order it from eBay!

Amores perros (Love's a Bitch)

Ah, spring is in the air, which means the streets are filled with young lovers holding hands, cooing about and romancing away blissfully unaware of the financial ruin and pain about to ensue. Being the cynical black heart I am this seasonal activity naturally makes me want to puke and take a flame thrower to the whole lot of these kissing fools which reminds me of a great line Eddie Murphy used to use which was along the lines of "what is it about white folks that the second the weather gets warm they feel the urge to stick all of their shit out on the front lawn?" which is relevant here for a few reasons, the main one being it was at a yard sale I first came across this DVD. AMORES PERROS lives up to it's title in many ways and intorduces us not only to director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu but his somewhat unique stlye of smashing seemingly separate lives and events into a whole. This picture also brought the talents of Gael Garcia Benal to the attention of world wide audiences. AMORES PERROS is not a pretty film even though it is beautifully crafted and shot and many, myself included, willl find the dog fight scenes impossible to watch. That being said full credit must be given to the special effects department here as their work here is flawless. Will not be to the taste of all but fans of BABEl owe it to themselves to see it at least once as do all of those young lovers for which it will stand as a great cautionary tale and I cant end this one without saying Emilio Echevarria gives his best performance to date in this one.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Caeser and Cleopatra

Not a film as such but a straight account of the Bernard Shaw play as it was presented at Stratford this past January. I had greatly hoped to catch it but alas life sometimes has a nasty habit of getting in the way of one's wishes. It just debuted on BRAVO Canada so it will no doubt be in rotation shortly and this is one not to be missed. To proclaim Christopher Plummer as outstanding by far misses the mark. He brings such a wry and menacing wit to the lead it becomes absolutely magical. Of course Plummer is a national treasure but this wasn't a case of celebrity casting, he was perfect for the role. While many may not know Nikki Michelle James by name chances are you will recognize her face and she plays a wonderful Cleopatra. Another face you'lll know will be veteran Peter Donaldson. CAESER AND CLEOPATRA makes for an excellent way to combine some laughs with your culture and is yet another one you can sneak in there as a chick flick without anybody knowing.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Three Kings

To say David O. Russell is a quirky director would be pretty much like saying salt cod makes you thirsty. He gained acclaim from SPANKING THE MONKEY and smashed his homerun with I HEART HUCKABEES and THREE KINGS is just a strange as both of those films I mention. Think OCEAN'S ELEVEN meets Desert Storm meets APOCALYSE NOW and you would kind of be on the right track. After a few viewings I'm still not sure I like this film as a always have a problem with any role which requires Mark Wahlberg to do something dramatic. I think he's great in action parts but his range at times doesn't quite meet the requirements to carry heavier scenes which Russell has him do here. A similar complaint can be had with George Clooney who is...well....Danny Ocean in military garb but hey, he's still great. The problem is THREE KINGS is trying to jam so many thoughts and themes in the two hours it runs it could have benefited from a more dynamic cast. Ice Cube does an excellent job with his character but the real treat for me was director Spike Jonze as Conrad Vig. He single handedly sums up AND steals the film. I can't pan THREE KINGS because it is cleverly written, well presented and amazingly shot with some super funny bits my fave being the exploding cow scene and one has to wonder why nobody commented on how bad they must have stunk after being covered in said exploding cow in the middle of the desert and then having a tanker milk bath......certainly worth exploring. It should also be noted that Chicago song IF YOU LEAVE ME NOW I write about in my blurb on THE REPTILE makes a great appearance and gets blown up real good!

Fool's Gold

Andy Tennant has one of those Hollywood stories I just love, going from being a dancer in the 1978 film GREASE to bankable director or at least he was before FOOL'S GOLD hit, through no fault of his own I might add. This one suffers from the money bag heads marketing it as a comedy and yes, there are comedic elements but it is so much more. Love story, family story, adventure story with some good laughs thrown in....how do you market a film like this? The same way you promoted the remake of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR or ROMANCING THE STONE. Not the greatest film you will see but far better than (once again) the elitist critic force and film school snobics would have you think. Matthew McConaughey does everything you expect him to including showing off that "tight, fit ((insert Michael Myer's GOLDMEMBER voice here)) body of his, enough so you could easily slip this one into rotation as a "chick flick" and get away with it! Kate Hudson is, well......Kate Hudson...you either like her or you don't and Donald Sutherland......he's....well...Donald Sutherland and of course we all love him and I think he might have set a record in this film as actor in the most films since the history of film....or at least Canadian in the most films or something like that. Ray Winstone adds some mighty fine support and it's always great to see ol Spud from TRAINSPOTTING, Ewen Bremner getting some Tinsel Town love. Special mention must be made of Anthony Anderson and Kevin Hart who I love from the SCARY MOVIE films and extra special notice has to paid to Alexis Dziena who was by far the funniest in this one! I can't wait to see what she does ten years from now.
Kick back, crack a Corona and let FOOL'S GOLD win you!

Thursday, April 02, 2009


With time being scarce in this ever hectic world it was only a matter of time before some techno-weenie came up with a site like www.informationageprayer.com . The premise is rather unique...too busy to pray to whatever diety you worship....no problem....give is five bucks a month and we will have our computer do it for you. No, I don't make this shit up which is why I post the link for your perusal. I also post it because it might be worth the money to have this bent knee microchip pray you never to have to see a film this bad!
Ok, maybe not that bad. Jonathan Mostow knows how to direct a film and U-571 does look good. Alas, this poor man's DAS BOOT is much like one of those tarted up bimbos you drag home after a night of pissin' at the pub....looks good on the surface but take a peek under the hood and you're in some serious trouble.....much like the subs in this flick. The plot is ridiculous and the casting awe inspiringly screwed. Hell, the one guy I wanted to see, David Keith who looks like friggin' Captain America manifested straight from the comic book page gets killed off pretty much right from the get go. leaving us with Matthew McConaughey (looking like a little lost puppy) and Harvey Keitel (looking like a rabid pitbull about to bite the nuts off of somebody...wait...he always looks like that!) to carry this action film which ultimately runs ashore. Worth a look if it's all you can find on late night television, otherwise avoid.