The film loops around and folds in upon itself which makes it hard sometimes to tell where something ends or begins. As Laura Dern’s character says at one point:
It’s a story that happened yesterday, but I know it’s tomorrow.
It’s a story that happened yesterday, but I know it’s tomorrow.
The Coen Brothers latest film, No Country for Old Men is a film that I’d been looking forward to for a while and I wasn’t disappointed. It did have a different tone than previous films by them, but in thinking about the film afterwards and remembering their other films, it took a while for the world of the films to click for me. Boldly constructed with a palpable tension during the entire film, it’s an examination of evil, greed and human nature that is a slightly different, but completely consistent with their other films.
With a creepily effective performance from Javier Bardem as well as excellent work by Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kelly MacDonald, it’s focused on the characters and the decisions that they make. Coen fans will see elements of most of their films along with some quirky and understated humour. It’s a film that is close to perfect with every shot and moment essential to the film and while there is some violence in the film, the Coens deal with violence in the most responsible way of any filmmakers today. It’s a great film and it’s wonderful to see them working at the peak of their powers again.
In the Danish documentary Good Copy Bad Copy the filmmakers provide a broader context explaining remix culture and copyright. By personalizing the story it becomes much more fascinating as they travel around the world and I learned a lot about the way that music and the law work together and the new business models that people are exploring in different places. The filmmakers have put their money (or lack of money) where their mouth is and have made the entire film downloadable and viewable online. They provide a donation box where you can contribute to them if you like it. It’s a glimpse at a new way of distributing work and I love the faith and trust that they have in the audience who is viewing their film.
In Tony Gilroy’s feature directing debut, Michael Clayton he brings the genre reinvigoration that he used in writing the Bourne films to the legal thriller. Story-wise it’s familiar territory, but it’s directed and structured in a thoughtful and fascinating way with George Clooney’s great performance at the centre of everything. At one point I noticed that I was watching Clooney listening to another character speaking as it was fascinating to figure out what he was thinking. The film (and the characters) seem to be aware of the well-worn cliches and the surprises in the film are in how the film avoids or reworks them. The film isn’t flashy or excessive, but just a well-crafted look at a world of moral choices in a world that is more reality than fantasy.
Helvetica is a documentary about the font and it pretty evenly splits people before they see it between those who say, “a documentary about what?” and “cool!” I fall into the latter category and was fascinated with a look at the most popular (and legible) font in the world. It looks at the history and use (and misuse) of the typeface, but it’s really about design and designers and it’s fascinating to see the different approaches and philosophies of those who work with type. While it’s not for everyone, it’s essential if you are interested in or work with type.
Luc Besson retells “It’s a Wonderful Life” in a entertaining and sexier way with “Angel-A”. I hadn’t even heard of the film before I saw it playing at the Atlantic Film Festival, but I was glad that I found it. With the story set in Paris and beautifully photographed in black and white, it features an odd couple of a small-time criminal and a beautiful angel who falls to earth to save him. It mixes drama with comedy and action and somehow manages to have a sentimental sweetness to it as well. I guess it would be a romantic comedy. A lot of fun with some great performances from Jamel Debbouze as the criminal and the impossibly beautiful Rie Rasmussen as the angel.
Claire Denis’ subtle and beautiful film Beau Travail is not plot oriented and it casts a wonderful spell as we watch French soldiers training in Djibouti and piece the story together. Much as the main character is an outsider, we don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle and watch significant moments as his jealousy grows. It’s hard to describe, but it’s one of the most beautiful and surprising films that I’ve seen.
In Anton Corbijn’s biography of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, Control, he tells the story in a subtle and visually gorgeous fashion. Shot in black and white, the film works much in the way that a photograph evokes more than is within the frame. Instead of providing a comprehensive examination of a life, we see significant moments along the way and are left to piece the story together ourselves. With great performances by Sam Riley as Ian Curtis and Samantha Morton as Deborah Curtis, it’s compelling to watch with the music filling some of the gaps and connecting themes together. A remarkable feature-film debut from Corbijn.
While I had read a lot of praise for Jean-Pierre Melville’s French Resistance drama, Army of Shadows, but I was startled and transfixed by the film. It’s a precise and distinctly unsentimental vision of war and the people who are caught up within it. Shot in a sparse style in muted colours, the film is filled with long takes and amazing direction that enhances the experience. The film is just about perfect with a solid cast and an intricate structure that kept me watching in amazement throughout the whole film. I only wish that I was able to see it in a theatre during the recent North American release. An overlooked classic that seems timeless now.
The first film that I saw by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no, he’s not related…) was Pulse and I was impressed with the evocative nature of that film and I wanted to see more films by the same director.
Charisma is about a burned out detective who wanders away from a disturbing case in the city and enters a forest that has a tree that is the centre of a struggle. The film is oblique and may not completely add up, but I find it fascinating in how the various ideas and characters link together with unsettling images and many things unspoken. It’s hard to place it in a genre and it kept me thinking about it for days afterwards as I thought about the metaphorical layers and ideas within the film.
I have to admit that I found out about the film due to the bit of trivia that the Coen Brothers named their film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” after a fictional film in “Sullivan’s Travels”. I was surprised at the fast-paced comedy and wit of the film and also how the film radically shifted tone and became quite dark and serious at times. The boldness is due in a large part to Preston Sturges, who was one of the first screenwriters to make the leap into directing.
While it combines funny and serious elements, it really is about the role of the filmmaker in the world. What do people want to see in films and what responsibility does the filmmaker have to really know about what they portray. While the ideas are deep, the film manages to effortlessly mix comedy and tragedy together to make a point without being very didactic. It was a lot of fun and it made me think.
Anaïs is a solo French singer-songwriter who has a beautiful voice, amazing musical skills and a great sense of humour. She combines it all together in the live recording of The Cheap Show which features just her, but in listening to it the first time I didn’t realize that she was alone. Using the JamMan sampler, she manages to harmonize and create surprisingly full arrangements while on stage alone. While you could place her generically for the most part in the folk area, she has an amazing range and I love the live recording that is filled with energy and fun. “Mon Coeur Mon Amour” is one of my new favourite songs.
I love it when an action film takes chances with the style of shooting and editing and doesn’t condescend to the audience. With The Bourne Ultimatum Paul Greengrass creates a film that is stylish and fun with a breathtaking pace. While Greengrass received a lot of attention for United 93, the constraints of the events and the memories of September 11 made the film a strange mixture with many different forces acting both within and outside of he film. Freed of those constraints with The Bourne Supremacy and now The Bourne Ultimatum he creates intelligent action films that push the limits of the audience with hand-held camera, rapid cutting, and information delivered quickly and subtly. The brutal pacing and editing of some of the sequences in Supremacy gave people a headache and I loved them because they pushed things so far. In Ultimatum Greengrass gets the balance just right and gives the audience a bit more time to breathe, while still creating amazing sequences that built suspense with careful blocking, shooting and editing without resorting to bigger and bigger explosions.
While it’s technically a superb film, it also has some great performances with Matt Damon as the memory-deprived hero, Joan Allen as a CIA boss and an amazing performance from David Strathairn that was almost of exciting as the action sequences. This is what an action film should be – fun, intelligent and exciting.
I’d been anticipating Sunshine for a while and wasn’t completely sure what to expect and at times the film had me off-balance (which I liked). I’ve enjoyed everything that Danny Boyle has done and this time he reworks the sf genre in a story that is mainly more philosophical science fiction with some thriller elements thrown in. The pacing and rhythms are different with the film and the constant presence of the sun is beautiful. It wasn’t until after the film that I really started to think about the effects as I just was thinking about the sun, which is a testament to seamlessness of the effects.
Cillian Murphy is great to watch as usual and there is a understated quality to much of the interaction and storytelling that I appreciated. While I wouldn’t say that it’s my favourite Danny Boyle film, it had some great touches and I kept thinking about it for days afterwards. It’s thoughtful sci-fi that doesn’t condescend, but does entertain and provide some things to think about.
With a light tone that belies the research behind it, The Myths of Innovation deconstructs many common myths about innovation and even takes a look at the notion of innovation itself. If you’re wondering if you can be innovative or understand why some things take off and some things don’t Scott Berkun book is a great place to start. It’s fun and inspirational.
Right from the short subject, “Lifted” to the end credit roll of “Ratatouille” I loved the whole experience. In thinking about the film the underlying appeal and the reason that it worked so well could be because of nostalgia. While most computer-animated films are driven technologically or by stunt casting of big stars, the genius of the direction of Brad Bird is in focusing on the characters and being inspired by great films and filmmakers of the past.
It’s a lot of fun and has the feeling at times of Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. There is an innocence in some ways, but never a sense that the film is condescending in any way. I never thought that the animation was amazing (but it is), but I was sucked in to the story and the characters, which is what all great filmmaking does.
Ultimately the film is about being an artist and accepting who you are, no matter how difficult it is. It’s fun and inspirational and doesn’t hit you over the head with anything. Subtle and beautiful, it’s a film that happens to be animated.
While I thought that This Film is Not Yet Rated was going to just be about censorship, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was a lot more. It cleverly tells the story of the MPAA rating board and manages to also give a glimpse into how the rating system actually operates and how the rationale behind it hasn’t really worked. By humanizing the process it paints a picture of current society and exposes the monopolistic nature of the motion picture business and those who fight to preserve the control of the screens where we watch films. With interviews with filmmakers and a brilliant sequence that does a split-screen comparison of virtually identical scenes with different ratings that seem to be based on the sexual orientation and not what is actually shown, it’s thought provoking and entertaining.
The idea of a mashup is simple and mixing a few songs together seems easy, but it’s very difficult to do well. One of the best collections that I’ve heard in a long time is Sounds for the Space-Set from the RIAA (Robotic Intergalactic Astro-Artists). It combines bit from sci-fi films and mashes together older and newer music to create something that is a lot more than the sum of the parts. A great sense of humour runs throughout the tracks an infectious beat and diverse sources that are sometimes hard to identify. Fun and free!
One of the neat things about the “Ocean’s” films is that they hearken back to the old days of Las Vegas and Hollywood where stars were stars and it was fun just to watch them. Ocean’s 13 is an almost perfect Summer movie that looks good, is fun and not too demanding. Shot is a beautiful style that constantly changes colours and movement, it almost feels like hanging out with cool people for a couple of hours. Nothing too profound, but well-crafted and everyone knows that they’re in a film and they all seem to be having a great time. It’s got a great retro feeling with the soundtrack and titles that pop up through the film and it was delightfully understated and had just enough of each character to make it interesting. It was light and fun and personal in a way that didn’t feel like it was tested and tuned with focus groups.
The idea behind the French group Nouvelle Vague is to cover 80s New Wave songs in a Bossa Nova style. The clever part in the name of the group and the style of music is that all of the words mean “New Wave” and together they form a strangely familiar but very catchy songs that I just can’t get enough of. Their second album, is named after Jean-Luc Godard’s film Bande a Part , which is another nod toward the name of the band and that they are based in France. It’s fun and works better than I thought that it would.
April March is very cool and very talented. She’s an animator and a singer, and with “Chick Habit” she covers a number of French Yé-Yé songs, which have a distinctive and catchy sound that is poppy and firmly rooted in the 1960s. While March isn’t from France, she manages to do great versions of the songs that have me tapping my toes. They’re fun whether you speak French of not.
It’s tough to watch at times, but ultimately I’m glad that I watched it. Hard Candy is built around terrific and ambiguous performances by Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson. The film is very manipulative which destabilizes our emotions and sympathy as the story unfolds.
It begins in a chat room with a screen filled only with text as some flirting happens and a meeting is arranged. Things become much more harrowing from that point on as a man in his 30s meets a girl who is 14. Things do not go well for him after that point in a story that plays on our fears and expectations in surprising ways.
It may be too intense for some people and the entire film often stays on very difficult edge as it spins us around and horrifies us. It’s definitely a film that will provoke discussion and many parts of the film are open to interpretation.
We felt sad. It wasn't the movie of our dreams. It wasn't that total film we carried inside ourselves. That film we have liked to make, or, more secretly, no doubt, the film we wanted to live.
Henry Darger created a massive 15,000 page novel along with huge paintings and incredible details for a world where sisters battled evil to free child slaves. It wasn’t seen or discovered until after he died. Jessica Yu creates a film that interweaves the distinctive drawings with animation and excerpts from Darger’s diaries and interviews with his neighbours to paint a fascinating portrait of a man who was a janitor by day and a secret artist at night.
The opening credits of Spider-Man 3 conveniently feature images of the main actors as well as the main plot points of the first two films to remind us of the context of the film that we’re watching. It’s a neat way to set up the film and prepare us for what we’re about to see. Overall it’s quite enjoyable with quite a clever balance between the big and loud special effects and some good scenes with solid acting between the characters. What distinguishes Sam Raimi from many other directors is that he never seems to lose site of the characters, which is what we really should be interested in with any film.
I liked the characters and the situations, was impressed with the action and I got sucked into the story. We follow Peter Parker as he goes from the top to the bottom and realizes what is important. Who wouldn’t listen to Aunt May or fall in love with Mary Jane? The morality is simple and the film is fun and it’s a very nice way to kick off the summer movie season.
The title of Steven Soderbergh’s semi-experimental Bubble means a few different things to me. I think of a bubble that forms and how it doesn’t last. It is fragile and beautiful and somehow Soderbergh captures that in the ordinary details of life.
Beautifully photographed on HD by Soderbergh under his pseudonym Peter Andrews, it features non-professional actors telling a story with details from their own lives, in their own town. It’s hard to describe, but is a fascinating glimpse of of ordinary life which moves from the ordinary to the extraordinary. The images and sound are crisp and precise, as is the editing.
It may not be for everyone, but it is a fairly unique film and it almost doesn’t seem possible for it to have worked so well. It has a similar look and feeling to Soderbergh’s Solaris, but in a radically different context. I think that it is a film that rewards patience and attention.
One of the pleasures of genre films is seeing filmmakers work within a set of rules and play with conventions. The usual strategy for a parody is to choose a film or set of films and then make fun of the absurdity of the situation. With Hot Fuzz the approach could be to take a few cop / action films and then show the absurdity of the situations, but the team of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (along with actor Nick Frost) do a lot more.
I first became a fan of the team when by accident a few years ago I caught the series Spaced which briefly aired on a channel in Canada and then seemed to disappear. Luckily I was able to find out more about the series from the fan web site. Spaced is a unique sitcom that has usual sitcom conventions, but is filled with elaborate references to science fiction films, video games and other elements of popular culture. I instantly loved it have been a fan ever since.
Following up Shaun of the Dead with Hot Fuzz had me excited as with the earlier film they created a wonderful, but respectful reworking of the zombie film that embraced and poked fun at the conventions of the genre. In Hot Fuzz they build the film around characters and situations that work within the rules of the genre while having fun with them. What is great about the film is that it doesn’t ever become patronizing or insult the intelligence of the audience. The jokes grow out of the plot and characters and there are some wonderful surprises and action sequences. Beautifully structured and never straying outside the well-defined lines of the cop movie, it manages to lovingly embrace the genre while having fun with it. It’s solid, intelligent and funny.
I heard the song “God Knows” by El Perro del Mar and was intrigued. It sounded like something from the Phil Spector wall of sound days. Then I found out that El Perro del Mar consists of Sarah Assbring (from Gothenburg, Sweden) playing the instruments, writing the music and lyrics as well as singing. With a sound like a huge band, but with an almost child-like voice, it’s intriguing and catchy. Oddly enough it’s the second artist that I’ve found recently from Gothenburg.
You make me want to measure stars in the backyard with a calculator and a ruler, baby.
With three women with beautiful voices and three keyboards, The Bird of Music by Au Revoir Simone is a great album that I’m enjoying a lot. With harmonies and complex arrangements it’s music with lyrics that aren’t always happy, but the music and voices always cheer me up.
One of the best quotes that I saw from Ray Bradbury commenting on his writing was “I don’t try to predict the future, I try to prevent it.” In watching Children of Men (adapted from P.D. James’ novel) I thought about the present and the near future a lot. It’s a bleak vision of the future that is shot in a hand-held, immediate way with virtuoso shots that go on and on, enhancing the experience and lending a documentary feel to the entire experience.
Within the film are some of the most incredible extended sequences that I’ve ever seen in a film.
It immerses you in a world and tells a story in an immediate and fragmented nature that gradually allows you to piece the bigger picture together. While some darker films may wallow in the muck of the world that is created, there is a dignity and respect that Alfonso Cuaron has for the characters that kept me going through the darker stretches of the film. The darkness is also balanced with some humorous moments and harrowing action sequences that make for one of the best films that I’ve seen in a very long time.
Kid Koala’s reputation preceded him and I listened to him performing some songs live and the sounds that he squeezes out of turntable are amazing. With a jazzy feel and infectious beats, he has to be heard to be believed. Layering sound upon sound he takes scratching to the next level and adds a musicality that transcends and refines the genre.