Monday, November 20, 2006

Review of Heaven: Beautiful Meditation on Fate

by Tom Tykwer

Heaven combines a project that Krzysztof Kieślowski was planning on shooting before his death with German director Tom Tykwer. I wasn’t sure what to expect and it was a quiet, contemplative film that glides along as we see coincidences and consequences of decisions that we make. With just enough detail revealed it is a beautiful and poetic film that is a lot more than simply a plot. A great film with solid performances by Giovanni Ribisi and Cate Blanchett in a visually and emotionally stunning film.

Clever Crime Thriller About Identity

by Siu Fai Mak

While I’d seen lots of writing about Infernal Affairs and the resurgence in interest in it when Martin Scorsese decided to remake it, I didn’t really know a lot about the film. It grabbed me right from the beginning and I could see why Scorsese was interested in it as well. Infernal Affairs starts out simply with parallel characters who make moral choices, but as they live within their lies it all get blurry. With great visual motifs and a breezy pace the film cruises along in a very enjoyable way. I loved the melodramatic tone and coincidences that kept the focus on the characters and their struggle to figure out who they really are. Lots of fun. Now I have to see Scorsese’s re envisioning of film that may not have been possible without the influence of Scorsese on the crime drama. A neat cinematic exchange.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Metafictional Drama

by Marc Forster

I was pleasantly surprised by Stranger Than Fiction as it took a more dramatic and sentimental tone than a comedic one and it worked very well. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film filled with loving details in the characters, writing and performances. Will Ferrell is understated as a man who is a character in a novel being written by Emma Thompson. With a relatively simple story that often makes difficult choices, it was also fun. One unexpected highlight was Dustin Hoffman’s great supporting performance as a literature professor. Hoffman steals the scenes with strange actions and a rich character. Structurally the film works well as narrative traditions are played with in a self-conscious way. While I would have been happy with a light and slightly intellectual comedy it was very nice to have something that was a bit deeper and more meaningful than I was expecting which was a very good thing.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Review of Spectres of the Spectrum: Oddly Compelling Mixture of Footage, Drama and History

by Craig Baldwin

Craig Baldwin created the great documentary “Sonic Outlaws” which gives a great overview of the broken nature of copyright law and the struggles that artists face with it. In Spectres of the Spectrum he takes original and archival footage and constructs a science fiction story set in the future. But within the story there is also a healthy (and accurate) dose of the history of the development of technology and the media landscape. While not for everyone, if you are interested in the copyfight it is a fascinating film to watch.

Musical Collage of Popular Music

by People Like Us

Vicki Bennett creates quirky and skillful musical collages out of disparate sources but usually there are many recognizable elements from popular music. Creating under the name People Like Us, she’s a key figure in the copyfight and has also been involved with creating the Creative Commons licenses related to sampling. While many of her wonderful audio creations are available online, I jumped at the chance to pay for her latest CD, which is called “All Together Now”. Only available on CD, it’s a neat collection of some beautifully-constructed sonic gems. There is something special about having a physical artifact with digital information shipped across the ocean.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Review of Suddenly It All Went Dark: Pixel Revolt Live to 2-Track: Intimate Live Performance of a CD

by John Vanderslice

One of my favourite recent albums is John Vanderslice’s Pixel Revolt and I was very happy to find the limited-edition CD Suddenly It All Went Dark which was recorded live to 2-Track by JV himself. It’s intimate and personal with quieter interpretations of the tracks. A perfect complement to a great album and there is something neat about still distributing music on shiny disks that you receive in the mail.

Review of Brothers of the Head: Musical Mockumentary The Blurs Many Lines

by Keith Fulton

One of the most harrowing and fascinating looks at a film never made was Lost in La Mancha which was directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. So when I heard about their first dramatic feature, I was intrigued. I hadn’t realized that it was a mockumentary at first and with the brilliant structure of the film I became confused about the reality of the story since there are so many believable elements combined together it constructs a quite believable reality. With the real author of the novel (Brian Aldiss) and a real director (Ken Russell) of a fake fictional film and a fake documentary director of a fake documentary all within another documentary it presents a seamless world. With solid music and remarkable performances and casting, it works on many levels with stories that became apparent after I started talking about the film with a friend. A unique film that reworks the mockumentary form by leaning towards the dramatic instead of the comedic.

Review of The Sunlandic Twins: Catchy Indie Pop Music

by Of Montreal

I found of Montreal via m-c turgeon’s Vu d’Ici / Seen From Here podcast when she played the song, “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games”, which I loved. I forgot about the song and then discovered Neutral Milk Hotel and found out about the Elephant Six Collective and started exploring the music of the members and listened to “The Sunlandic Twins” and found the song that I liked so much. I also like the other tracks with their synthesizers, infectious lyrics and beats. Now I have to explore more of the music from the other members of the collective.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Review of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: Satire on the Edge of Tastelessness

by Larry Charles

With a loose documentary frame we follow Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional character Borat as he travels across the United States. While on the surface it’s broad and often low humour, there is a brilliant core of social satire delivered by a naive sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-semitic main character. It seems to be the standard shocking real people with a fictional character, but the targets and approaches are anything by accidental with some of the most revealing glimpses into the socio-economic structure of contemporary culture. But it’s still very funny in a very inappropriate way. I laughed a lot, but at times I was horrified at the revelations that Borat’s victims made about prejudice. Sacha Baron Cohen is a gifted satirist who has a rock-solid grasp on his characters that never wavers. Within the film he manages to make his points as he travels and meets real people as well tying together the fictional narrative arc where he wants to travel to California to marry Pamela Anderson. It’s amazing to see how well it ties everything together to make a coherent story. With direction by Larry Charles of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm the structure contains and amplifies the antics of a character from short sketches into something that becomes much more.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Review of Underdog Victorious: Quirky Folky Songs

by Jill Sobule

I heard Jill Sobule for the first time on a live Billy Bragg recording where she was the opening act. I found out a bit more about her and found Underdog Victorious which is a collection of upbeat songs that are a bit on the happy and personal side. She’s a storyteller who tells her stories with simple music and clear thinking. The catchy lyrics and music stick in my head and make me smile.

Review of Stella - Season One: Brilliant Comedy on the Edge Between Sitcom and Sketch

I’m very glad that I discovered Stella since they created a tv series. It’s hard to describe, but I think that they’ve created some of the funniest comedy of the past few years. I would put them in a continuum for me that would begin with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, then to The Kids in the Hall, and Mr. Show. What links them all (aside from being comedy) is that they all have a keen awareness of how they are operating within their medium and to push the boundaries. The brilliant twist with Stella is that instead of the members of the troupe playing different characters each episode, they always play the same characters always wearing suits. The framing device is the sitcom where there will be an incident that sets up the episode and then they would all learn a valuable lesson. A unique hybrid of standup with sitcom and sketch, it’s hard to describe, but what works well is that the generic style and lack of dated references adds to the longevity of the humour. Very funny and one of my favourite shows. Hopefully they will somehow be given the chance for a second series.

Review of The Machinist: A Disturbing Exploration of Conscience

by Brad Anderson (II)

A little guilt goes a long way.

It’s a bit horrifying to see Christian Bale in The Machinist after he lost more than 60 pounds for the role. But after you accept his look (which is hard to ever forget), the film becomes more of a meditation on how we treat people and how we see the world. Precisely constructed with careful shooting and editing, it lays all of the elements of the story out and then things begin to click together. While it’s a story that is somewhat familiar, the visual treatment and performances make it stand out from more conventional treatments of the same topics.

Review of Volver: Almodovar's Story of a Woman

by Pedro Almodóvar

During the recent Atlantic Film Festival I was able to see Pedro Almodovar’s Volver and I was very glad that I did. The theatre was packed to capacity and it was a lot of fun. With solid performances all around and confident, playful direction, it’s about women, family and struggle. It’s more about the characters than a tightly constructed plot and when I realized that it was very fun as I watch Penelope Cruz struggle to survive with the women in her life. Almodovar manages to fill the film with joy and love even though there are darker and more serious parts. It’s also a great film to see on a big screen.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Review of Le Confessionnal: Carefully Constructed Drama Connected to Hitchcock

by Robert Lepage

Sprawling, theatrical and entertaining, Robert Lepage’s Le Confessionnal weaves tidbits of the making of Hitchcock’s I Confess with the history of a family in Quebec city. Seamlessly weaving past and present and beautifully staged and shot, it’s a clever film that is quite enjoyable to watch. It’s one of those films that I’ve been wanting to see for a long time and I’m glad that I finally was able to see it.