800 Films (re)Viewed

Meek's Cutoff (2010)

Whew. This is a desolate film with some great performances, but man is it ever desolate. A group of settlers are traveling west and depend on their guide, Meek, to get them over the mountains with enough time to beat winter, but even more important, before they run out of supplies. Some people in the party doubt Meek's ability.

A western without bad guys.

Gomorra (2008)

Gomorrah can be likened to a less visually stunning Italian City of God. Kids entering mob gangs in Naples - how they are initiated, how the gangs are accepted in the communities, and the trauma on members and the community. It's worth watching.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

This is a fun movie - the chemistry between Holmes and Watson is fun and the adversarial chemistry between Holmes and Moriarty is interesting. It has been fun to watch these new Robert Downey Jr. movies with the new BBC series as they are both reinterpreting the books. The BBC series is far better, but these are fun and stylish.

Accidents Happen (2009)

It tries to be funny, but it really isn't. Some tragedy mixed with 80s sitcom level humour. No one who watched this with me thought this was remotely enjoyable.

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Just a bunch of awkwardness, followed by slapstick. No substance, not even that smart. Some funny though.


Calgary International Film Festival: Comedy Shorts (2012)

I scored some tickets last minute for the 2012 Calgary Film Festival and saw a collection comedy shorts: 

  •  BEAR (dir. Nash Edgerton, Australia, 2011) Easily the best and greatest film of the collection. Too bad it was first since the rest had a hard time measuring up. A man goes through great effort to surprise his girlfriend with a gift on her birthday, but the sheer horror of his good intentions and their consequences are blindingly hilarious.
  •  BOYS NIGHT IN (dir. Brian McElhany and Nick Kocher, USA, 2012) Multiple episodes of the same joke: a guy's friend comes over and it gets increasingly gay.
  •  GAMES PEOPLE PLAY (dir. Two Trick Pony, USA, 2012) A very dull and clichéd story with board game themes. Too bad. I like board games.
  •  GROOVE YOUR LIFE (dir. Vincent Burgevin and Frank Lebon, France, 2011) A dark comedy about a music group you can call to follow you around and jazz up, oops, groove up your life. A suicidal man gets a second chance.
  •  BUYER'S MARKET (dir. Nathan Fielder, Canada, 2012) I really enjoyed this tale of a squatter foiling a real estate agents sale. A really gross moment makes this epic.
  •  SPECIAL DELIVERY (dir. Graham Lester George, Spain, 2012) This was close to the best I saw in this set. Some great comic moments when a postman accidentally drops a lit cigarette through the mail slot.
  •  DAD DRIVES: BETTER LATE THAN NEVER (dir. Daniel Beirne, Canada, 2012) A father gives his mature son the sex talk - pretty funny and uncomfortable.
  •  BLITZEN TRAPPER MASSACRE (dir. Joshua Homnick and Rainn Wilson, USA, 2011) Rainn Wilson of The Office fame goes on a killing spree. Not funny, not even once.
  •  LAST WORDS (dir. Tony Yacenda, USA, 2011) This was just crass and irreverent without being funny at all.
  •  PARACHUTE (dir. Martin Thibaudeau, France, 2012) Skydiving hustle which leads to awkward decision making - fun enough.
  •  CANOEJACKED (dir. Jonathan Williams, Canada, 2012) I don't remember much about this except that it was some dark humour about escaped convicts and I laughed.
  •  TALKING DOG FOR SALE: TEN EUROS (dir. Lewis-Martin Soucy, France, 2012) An old joke gets the film treatment, so if you've heard the joke, you know the punchline. I had heard the joke before.
  •  THE PROCESSION (dir. Robert Festinger, USA, 2012) A funeral procession is interrupted, a great set up for comedy, but it just falls flat with boring dialogue and cliché.

War Horse (2011)

I'm told the play is amazing. Spielberg should have honoured it by leaving it as a play instead of turning it into a sappy flick. While there is some genuinely beautiful images in the movie, I had a hard time focusing on the story, themes and characters with all the sweeping, epic, emotional music backing the whole thing - not to mention the slow motion sequences and drawn out telling.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

This is a really unique documentary that kind of fell into the lap of Banksy, the notorious graffiti artist. A very amateur documentarian asks to film graffiti artists who are actually engaged in social commentary and gets caught up in the culture so much that he decides he is an artist as well. What is so remarkable is that the film becomes more about the videographer and his hours and hours of footage and what his art represents than the amazing art we see him trying to emulate.

Hanna (2011)

A rather forgettable action movie trying to capitalize on a teen female lead. It is a long chase a la Bourne Identity to find ones identity and a trail of carnage follows this young lady.

Biutiful (2010)

Leave it to Iñárritu (21 Grams; Babel) to deliver yet another gut-wrenching drama. This time we're in Barcelona peering into the life of a man having difficulties financially, relationally, physically - and yet, moments of lightness (very few of them) give us a reason to believe that even at the lowest moments in life, we can shine.

The Hunger Games (2012)

At Amber's prodding, I read the books prior to watching the movie. I must say that I was take with them - the whole female anti-hero, land of excess vs. desolation dichotomy, and kids killing kids themes kept me turning the pages. I thought the film was faithful to both the book's tenderness towards it's victims and to the social issues brought up by the story.

Not sure why this felt more like a TV movie than a actual film, could be the odd, ever present sense that it is futuristic and backwoodsy at the same time. It is geared for teens, so things are over explained and that takes a fair bit away from a good story.

Disgrace (2008)

A tremendously powerful and original film that tackles South Africa's culture of violence. The Australian-made movie is based on a South African novel by J M Coetzee which makes me want to seek out this guy's work. A professor loses his status in the academic world because of some blatant abuses of his position. He seeks refuge at his daughter's ranch in rural South Africa only to be faced with a culture of violence he is not able to so easily accept as his own indiscretions. The biggest revelation of this film is its treatment of rape and how it is understood so differently in the Eastern Cape.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Ah! The overly dramatic dramas from the 50s! A reputation is on the line in this scandal layered story of a media tycoon and his flunky who is starting to develop a conscience. This is one of the great films that set a standard for morally ambiguous, down and out protagonists trying to do right. Plus it stars Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

This could be my favourite of the 9 films nominated for 2012 best picture. The visuals, the grittiness, the supreme performance of the little girl lead, the presence of the fantastical, the music... it's all so good. A fractured family living in The Bathtube - an anarchic society outside New Orleans who live on little islands unprotected by a levee - face flooding and the little girl gets to experience survival in a community of poverty, but also very alone. Just a gorgeous film - watch it if you haven't already.

50/50 (2011)

A comedy about facing cancer. Sure, that works, plus it's not all funny. Reminded me of the theme from Douglas Coupland's Life After God - this is the first generation (well, we are into the second by now I'm sure...) that grew up without a Christian notion of God. Without that grander meaning of life and purpose, individuals are forced to face questions of mortality alone and without context.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Oh, this is a great film, if only to fantasize of living in a great city full of culture and croissants. Woody Allen continues to work his way around Europe (London, Barcelona before this and Rome after - I hope he makes it to many more), this time transporting his title character, another writer, to early 1920s Paris to mix with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Baker, Dali, Stein, Porter, etc. Will he cast caution to the wind to live among some of history's greatest misfits or will be bow to economic and social pressures and stay with his boring wife?

The Rum Diary (2011)

It's funny because when I remember this film the details blend with the Bond movie Dr No. Hunter S Thompson's (also Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) novel is portrayed with plenty of colourful characters and implausible villains and heroes, but it's fun to watch as there is slapstick comedy, beautiful island culture, and Johnny Depp's ever present surprised look.

Restrepo (2010)

A documentary chronicling a platoon of American troups in the mountains of Afghanistan who are tasked with winning over the region by both building relationships with the community leaders and repelling Taliban cells. It will keep your attention as there are real lives at stake, but the reality of the soldiers' losses is nearly eclipsed by the meaninglessness of it all. Plus some of the tension feels a bit manufactured since it has an essence of reality TV.

Moneyball (2011)

I wasn't drawn to this story initially as it seemed like it was based on a theory book more than actual human pathos. Watched it anyway based on reviews and lauded performances and was pleasantly surprised. Sure there was a human element, but I took away the theory part more than their personal struggles: you can use formulas to make great ball teams out of low cost players whose total is far greater than the sum of each athlete's individual ability.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The final instalment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is both the greatest visually, but the weakest character and plot-wise, but not by much. Batman is driven to seclusion because he has been vilified in the media and he just wants to hide away anyhow. Enter both Catwoman (a slinky marginalized toughy who just needs someone to love her) and Robin (a young beat cop with a heart for orphans) to draw the Dark Knight from his cave. But the real conjurer is the new supervillain Bane who holds Gotham hostage with bombs developed by Batman's tech corp.

The drama is interesting if you can follow what Bane says through is mask and you can buy the storyline if you cast concerns about timelines aside (especially for Batman's bones to knit in the pit). Not sure why I'm so negative on this all of a sudden, maybe I've grown tired of this genre... I do find the bigger questions asked by Bane compelling and the underground movements to thwart him are inspiring and of course the death and resurrection themes are always sublime.

Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (1986)

Ever since I watched my first anime flick (Howl's Moving Castle), I have had a special place in my heart for the genre, particularly the unrestrained creativity that comes from Studio Ghibli. Castle in the Sky brings a great adventure out of ordinary happenings. The boy & girl team end up foiling secret agents, flying all over the world, facing magical foes and of course discovering courage and strength along the way. The best part of these stories is the unpredictable turns, which may also be what people don't like about them - the magical elements are simply boundless making it easy to conjure a story that no one else could make up.


Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Woody Allen's treatise on how the wicked go unpunished while the good live difficult lives - also a question as to the existence of God. The film is a masterpiece mainly due to its ability to pose (and attempt to answer) very difficult existential questions while at the same time making you laugh until your abdomen hurts.

A powerful and wealthy doctor tries to cover up his affair through murder while at the same time a geeky documentary film maker tries to flirt with other women hoping for an affair. The two of them suffer different consequences.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher couldn't resist making his own film adaptation of the wildly successful mystery novels (I've heard they read exactly like the movies...) even though the original (released just 2 years previous) was very well made and popular.

This version is no tamer than the Swedish version. It is brutally graphic in its telling of the investigation into serial/ritual murders, Lisbeth's abuse, and the original mystery of the missing girl. The acting and style are stellar with an unrelenting pace.

I still can't figure out why they had to make another almost identical version, but it was well done none the less.


It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

A teen checks himself into the psych ward at a local hospital due to depression (girl and family problems). He is placed in the adult ward since the youth one is under renovation. There, he encounters real mental patients and gains a healthier perspective on life.

The film is worth watching just for the dream sequence / music video of Queen's Under Pressure. But it's also a really enjoyable and touching film.


The Muppets (2011)

With hilarious self-awareness, the Muppets work to retain their legacy by trying to save their old theatre which is under threat from a caricatured villain real estate developer.

All the great characters make appearances and some new ones join in on the romp. A couple humans lead the crew and we get to watch their awkward romance flourish.


The Avengers (2012)

Some fun one-liners, entertaining inter relational dynamics, and of course great visual effects. But it's still an action movie primarily and you'll find little else.

Thor: You have no idea what you're dealing with.
Tony Stark (Iron Man): Shakespeare in the Park?


Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Wes Anderson's latest fable is set in the 1960s on a fictional island off the coast of Massachusetts. The hero is a foster boy at a summer camp for boys who has fallen in love and has planned an elaborate escape for him and his melancholic girl. The police (Bruce Willis), campers (Edward Norton, parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and social services (Tilda Swinton - who they always call Social Services) chase them down.

There is tons of humour, vulnerability and style. One of Anderson's best.



Rabbit Hole (2010)

This play adaptation plunges viewers into parental grief. The acting is superb and not surprisingly, the dialogue is rich and layered.


Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)

Chess legend Bobby Fischer's rise to the game's crest is tragically undergirded by his own unaddressed mental illness. This documentary juxtaposes Fischer's fame with his perceived antagonism by his handlers, the chess establishment, and ultimately by his own country.


An Unreasonable Man (2006)

Ralph Nader's independent presidential runs in 2000 and 2004 are regarded by many as having given George W. Bush the elections in both those years because he drew Democrat votes away from the Gore, then Kerry.

This documentary handily lays out the controversies that surround Nader's unwillingness to compromise and support those he shares some values with.


Un prophète (2009)

One of the greatest films I have ever seen.

The opening scene is a young offender being transferred to an adult prison - no family, we don't really know where he comes from at all. Shortly, he is seconded into the service of the organized crime ring where he climbs the ranks.

A Prophet is powerful and raw with simple though energizing dialogue.


Etz Limon (2008)

A government official moves to the edge of one of Israel's borders with Palestine. One the Palestinian side, a lemon grove grows right to the border of the back yard and this is seen as a security risk by the Israeli government as a sniper could easily hide in the grove and harm the official. So the grove is ordered to be cut back with significant impact to the grove's owner, a Palestinian widow.

This David and Goliath battle happens in the press and in court.


La cité des enfants perdus (1995)

The City of Lost Children is one of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's (Amélie) early films (a collaboration with Marc Caro) and it certainly bears his marks of humour and fantasy. One of the lead actors, Dominique Pinon, appears in nearly all of Jeunet's films.

The story here revolves around the abduction of children from a port town by drones. The one having the children abducted can't dream, so he connects his brain to the kids' brains so that he can participate in their dreams. Ron Perlman's character is out looking for his lost little friend and eventually uncovers this massive plot. The film is saturated with rich villains, colourful children, and high contrast lighting. Oddly enough, Perlman delivers very few lines in barely understandable French.

It's a fun, rather humourous film despite its dark subject, but I found it a little difficult to follow.



The Pool (2007)

The Pool is a gracious look at the severe class divisions in India. A hotel worker becomes infatuated with a wealthy family's pool and then the family itself. The relationship between the two parties grows and understanding starts to form.

I quite enjoyed it, mostly because the poorer characters were so interesting and risk-taking.


Saint Ralph (2004)

Not a great movie - I wanted to see it since it was about a marathoner (albeit fictional) and it's Canadian - how bad could it be? It is quite contrived, poorly acted, but not without some charms.

Ralph is in high school and his mother is dying. He wants a miracle, so he prays to the saints, decides he needs to work on his faith and decides he'll win the Boston Marathon... And there are a few laughs too.


A Dangerous Method (2011)

A peek into the lives of 19th century psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud through the lens of one of their patients. The film centres on Jung's desire for professionalism and moral integrity as it is challenged by a masochistic patient who occasionally has psychotic episodes.

The film is a product of Canadian director David Cronenberg whose previous work also focuses on the the mentally disturbed or abnormal. This one seems more grounded in reality and easier to follow than say, Naked Lunch. I'm not sure I agree with his bent on pushing for us to follow our passion so that we can be released (it seems he leaned much more on Freud's side of the debate in the film).



Shichinin no samurai (1954)

Japanese master director Akira Kurosawa presents Seven Samurai, a 3.5 hour epic film set in 19th century rural Japan.

A peasant village is at the mercy of marauding seasonal thieves, so they hire people of great moral fibre (at least that is their intention) and military prowess to come and protect them.

I really enjoyed this film over 2 nights. The characters were colourful, flawed and unpredictable. The setting was thoroughly original and it was interesting just seeing agrarian Japan.


Bridesmaids (2011)

No surprises really - it's a girls Hangover movie so it's a bit more sentimental and a little less crass.


Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)

I had to try and keep my eyes open for this predictable and not very funny animation. They started with a title and built a film around it (a la Snakes on a Plane).


The Way Back (2010)

I often fear that film interpretations of fact based epics will default towards the emotional rather than take pains to help the viewer enter the pain of the protagonist. The Way Back tackles the incredible trek of gulag escapees from the Soviet north down into northern India. It becomes clear that while they can not spend time on each of the characters, they do not default to a soft retelling. The harsh realities are depicted unfettered by too much orchestral dazzle.



Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy (2011)

No movies adapted from John Le Carré novels come to mind when I recall bad film experiences. The complexity of the characters, the extreme circumstances, and the very personal look at the decisions and consequences they face make a film like Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy well worth a look.

Oh, and the grand performances must be mentioned.



The Age of Stupid (2009)

This documentary is told from a future perspective of the last man living on earth, so it's a bit hyperbolic. It extrapolates our environmental damage to the planet to the point where all the polar ice caps have melted and all humanity (except one Brit) is lost to drought, storm, etc.

The man scans documentary footage of what is our present day of people trying to fight the trend towards obliteration. Some good stuff in terms of alternative energy, but discouraging in how very little traction their efforts make.


Tickets (2005)

Three master directors give us a collection of short films all set on the same train. The stories are all very unique and give us a flavour of humanity and Europe that we don't often get in film - or as isolated passengers on a train. Very lovely!


Los abrazos rotos (2009)

In Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces we get a view of regret years after a tragic incident. In this case we follow a director who had an affair and where his lover is killed.

As he has in the past, the Spanish writer/director depicts characters with diminished physical or mental abilities. I think this puts enough distance between the viewer and the characters so that we can more objectively appreciate the internal struggles. But this one felt just a bit too distant as the characters were just that much more selfish.


Deep Water (2006)

Deep Water is such a compassionate account of a cornered man who disgraces himself. This documentary follows a competitor in a solo yacht circumnavigation of the globe back in 1968. It is a gripping story told with passion and balance. Highly recommended.


Happy Feet Two (2011)

We took our kids to see this over spring break as it was a cheap deal and didn't appear to be too scary for our young. They enjoyed it - though my daughter did get scared at one point.

They film seemed typical in its humour and quite glittery in its animation and I enjoyed it except for the the niggling I had for the first 90% of the film when the plankton were discussing existentialism. I disagreed with much of what appeared to be the one's conclusion, but was surprised and pleased with the conclusion.



The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

In anticipation of the film which I got advance tickets for about 3 weeks before the opening night, I reread The Hobbit. This is the first time I reread it since the first time back in 1987. I thoroughly enjoyed the book though I wish Tolkien had been encouraged to write an adult version of events following the publication of The Lord of the Rings. I was deeply moved by Bilbo's goodness.

To the film now. I was worried about the high frame rate (48 frames per second is twice as many as traditional film) and there was some trepidation in regards to 3D - would it be gimmicky? I fretted without reason - neither was a hindrance, in fact the film was so crisp, engaging, warm, and real feeling that I was immediately sucked in. As an aside, if you don't like 3D or high frame rate, then see it in 2D at 24 fps.

The jovial nature of the children's tale was maintained with plenty of slapstick and one-liners. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions. The character flaws were front and centre in every scene except when they became heroic - then it was a little over the top. It would be unkind to highlight any single character, hero or villain, as they were all magnificent.

Another worry I had was the caricaturization of the 13 dwarves with their wild hair, tattoos, beards and bling. The looks suite the characters and I was very pleased with their onscreen personas.

I plan on seeing the film in theatre at least 2 more times. It's candy.

[I'm 64 films behind in my reviews, so I thought I'd offer my 2 cents on this ahead of when I would reach it in April]

Official Site | IMDB


Dr. No (1962)

Very funny, what with all the getups that Ursula Andress wears, the villain's lair, and Sean Connery's one liners. Despite it's efforts, I was not moved to flinch or quiver.

Agent 007 heads to Jamaica to investigate the death of another MI6 agent only to uncover a plot to destroy a space program. Lots of beach scenes.



Animal Kingdom (2010)

This film is too over the top I think, but maybe I just don't know the Australian trailerpark crime culture well enough. The crime and the response to crime seems cartoonish without trying to be.

An orphaned teen cousin ends up living with his criminal uncles and ringleader grandmother. The police will go to any lengths to get them and they will do anything to avoid getting caught. Some rather horrific stuff really.

Official Site | IMDB