December 27, 2007

Oy Gevalt

Thank God Christmas is over. I have enough time to think now.

Coming up, my best and worst of the year, and a solemn New Year's promise to update at least once a week.

November 25, 2007

Call It, Friendo

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (dirs. & scrs. Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Coen Bros. have suffered a drop in credibility over the past few years, helming projects that seemed more like paycheques than logical entries in their ouevre, such as the somewhat unfairly-maligned screwball comedy Intolerable Cruelty and the totally fairly-maligned Ladykillers remake (blech!). So the near-universal hosannas bestowed upon No Country for Old Men, their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's nihilist Western, have inevitably featured variations on the phrase 'return to form'.

Now, I've seen every film by the Coens (if you don't count their script for Sam Raimi's Crimewave) and I can safely say that their 'form' has never looked like this. What immediately distinguishes No Country from the rest of their work is its refusal to temper the bleak cynicism of McCarthy's prose with excessive affectation or comic asides; this is the first film by the Bros. in which nothing is surrounded by quotation marks. For better or for worse, even their prior 'dramas' - The Man Who Wasn't There, Fargo, Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple - were leavened with distancing touches like goofy Minnesotan accents, Frankie Yankovic posters, overcooked Tracer Bullet dialogue and John Getz acting like an unbelievable dolt. There is precious little of that to be found in No Country; the local yokels are, for the most part, underplayed, and even a brief supporting turn by Stephen Root manages dramatic credibility. In essence, the Coens' most recognizable fingerprint (condescension or stylization, depending on your temperament) is absent here. And it seems to have defibrillated their black little hearts.

Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), an unprincipled but generally decent rancher, stumbles across the bloody remnants of a bad drug deal while hunting, and unwisely relieves one corpse of a briefcase containing a million bajillion dollars (as much a MacGuffin here as it was in Fargo and The Big Lebowski). Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is the pneumatic-cattle-gun-toting psycho pursuing him. Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is the wearily noble sheriff pursuing both of them.

There, I just told you 95 percent of the plot. The chases and gunfights and whatnot, although riveting in their own right, are peripheral to the warring ideals these three men represent. Moss is a kind of everyman, flawed but sympathetic, courageous but fallible, caring but selfish. Chigurh is untroubled by such dualities; he is Evil embodied, dealing death not with glee or remorse or grandeur but a chilling matter-of-factness. Bell is the idealist, the holdover from some sort of mythical past in which justice was always served and the good guys won. The last twenty or so minutes of the film have been misinterpreted by many as anticlimactic and arbitrary, but they are in fact an illumination of the film's philosophy, previously only seen in miniature. It's the kind of coda that makes your heart sink, in that good sort of way. The entire film seems to center around the question of the value of principles in an arbitrary world - not a new idea, but neither is it often explored with such grace and fluidity.

From what I've read on the Interwebs, McCarthy's narrative and dialogue are more or less unchanged onscreen. This frees the Coens to do what they do best, which is make movies that look cool and contain idiosyncratic performances; Roger Deakins' cinematography, as always, is remarkable, suffusing the barren Texas landscape with painterly dread, and the acting is uniformly stellar. The role of Chigurh demands that he essentially be unknowable, and after America's long-standing love affair with impossibly eloquent and charming serial killers (Lecter, Doe et al), it's a relief that Bardem is able to resist burdening his character with tics or witticisms. He kills people because killing people is what he does, and it'll give you the heebie-jeebies if you're looking for them. Brolin acquits himself nicely as well; he is destined to become a mainstay in what Vern calls Badass Cinema. The real surprise, though, is that Tommy Lee Jones is able to imbue a pretty stock Tommy Lee Jones role with legitimate pathos. He looks like he's lived for a hundred years; when he speaks, it sounds like a thousand.

I have no idea how to end this review. But that's okay because, with apologies to Robert Altman, death is the only ending. A

November 14, 2007

Mo' Money, Less Problems

Man, am I broke. I should apply to write reviews for some local papers, cos at least then there's an outside chance I could get into press screenings. Affluent ≠ me.

Anywho, two more reviews on the way this weekend. GET READY, no one.

November 1, 2007

Я люблю наблюдать кино.

Yeah, so those reviews I promised to write kind of took a backseat to doing Russian homework and sleeping for days on end. Whoops.

Anyway, the basic gist:

Michael Clayton: one of those rarest things, a genre picture for adults. Solid acting across the board, especially Tilda Swinton, whose work in the penultimate scene is maybe the best few minutes of acting I've seen all year. What could have easily been a one-man-takes-on-the-evil-empire yawner is instead an incredibly nuanced film with real people doing believable things. And it's a "legal thriller"! Talk about pleasant surprises.

Paranoid Park: awesome. Gus Van Sant's post-Finding Forrester attempts at buying back his soul have been variable in quality, but this is easily his best since Gerry. His formal choices suit the narrative perfectly, since the entire thing is the half-remembered nightmare of a sleepy-eyed teenager; individual scenes are chronologically disordered and often repeat themselves as he attempts to piece together what has happened to him. Christopher Doyle makes a case for himself as the most inventive DP currently working, especially in the shower scene. No, it's not that kind of shower scene.

The Darjeeling Limited: Wes Anderson-by-numbers: very nice to look at, and completely dispensable. Everything - the bandages, the shades, the Indians who essentially function as props - is an apparent attempt at signifying a pathos that is never earned. It doesn't help that the three brothers are virtually indistinguishable in terms of personality, which for the most part is plaintive glumness - it's like Luke Wilson's character in The Royal Tenenbaums wearing three different costumes and talking to himself in split-screen. Bonus demerits for a scene in which the brothers shed their metaphorical baggage by, no seriously, shedding their actual baggage. DUDE. NEXT TIME WRITE A SCRIPT AND NOT JUST A STORYBOARD. I SAW RUSHMORE. YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS.

Adrien Brody was pretty good, though.

October 20, 2007

October 18, 2007


Two new reviews are up at Schema: They Wait and 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days.

At some point over the weekend: longer thoughts on Paranoid Park and Michael Clayton.

16 Tons And Whaddaya Get

Yo dudes. I have been pretty busy, and there's been a bit of a backlog at Schema, but those two things will magically disappear over the next few days and a veritable geyser of reviews will take their place.

Shout outs to both of my readers!

October 13, 2007


The VIFF reviews just keep rollin' in.


The War on Democracy


October 11, 2007


A review of Battle in Seattle is up at Schema. There should be more soon.

On a related note, if I have to watch that fucking Kyoto Planet commercial one more time during this festival, I will buy a Hummer H2 out of sheer spite.

October 7, 2007


Two new reviews are up at Schema: Bare-Assed Japan and Echoes of Home.

October 5, 2007

An Observation Regarding Seating Comfort in Two of Downtown Vancouver's Repertory Theatres

The seats at the Vancity Theatre = a warm, luxurious bubble bath
The seats at the Pacific Cinematheque = Joe Rogan hitting you in the spine with an aluminum bat for two hours
Going directly from the first theatre to the second = probably a violation of Geneva standards

Oh yeah, I'm now covering a bunch of VIFF stuff for Schema Magazine so, you know, that's cool. Cos I'm broke. And press passes make things free.

I'll post some direct links to the reviews once they're up.

October 2, 2007

Don't Walk Away In Silence

CONTROL (2007, dir. Anton Corbijn, scr. Matt Greenhalgh)

Best known as a photographer and music video director, Anton Corbijn makes his feature debut with this biopic of troubled Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis (played here by little-known British actor Sam Riley), who committed suicide in 1980 just as his band was ascending to stardom. The subject seemed like the perfect fit for Corbijn, who had personally photographed Joy Division before their dissolution, and whose spare, expressive, and monochromatic mise en scène (which remains more or less intact from his videos with Depeche Mode and U2) aligns neatly with Joy Division's minimal but haunting recorded output. Control has its fair share of stunning images, particularly a noirish sequence in which Curtis succumbs to an epileptic seizure during a late-night car trip and his bandmates lift him out of the vehicle for air; cinematographer Martin Ruhe gilds the edges of the black-clad young men with light, as though they are souls passing through an abyss -- which in Curtis' case is a rather apt choice. It's one of the prettiest films I've seen in quite some time.

While Corbijn proves to be an adept visual stylist, he is considerably less successful as a storyteller. Curtis was a conflicted and mercurial man, but Control gives us little insight into his character; although Riley does an admirable job of capturing his mannerisms, especially on stage, the script is unable to turn him into a fully-rounded human being. In attempting to understand Curtis, the film falls prey to one of the most exasperating conventions of rock 'n' roll biopics; namely, that every one of the protagonist's actions and moods can be explained away by Something That Happened To Him When He Was Younger. Apart from a precious few lighthearted moments, Curtis is depicted as a perpetual depressive whose every erratic behaviour and infidelity is prompted by his epilepsy, his medication and his unhappy marriage to Deborah (Samantha Morton, excellent as usual despite being stuck in the thankless stock role of the Long-Suffering Wife). This reduction of character development to a series of narrative cues has the frustrating effect of distancing us completely from Curtis, a decision that I'm not altogether convinced is intentional on Corbijn's part. He remains essentially unknowable, as much to the audience as to his wife (on whose autobiography the film was based).

This is not to say that Control is without merit. The acting is uniformly excellent; Toby Kebbell in particular provides some much-need comic relief as the band's ad hoc manager. The concert scenes are exhilirating as well, doubly so for how starkly they stand in relief to everything else on-screen; Riley channels Curtis' stage demeanor uncannily, and the actors' playing is pretty spot-on (they learned and performed the songs themselves rather than lip-syncing). The band's first meeting with Mancunian punk Svengali Tony Wilson (the subject of 24 Hour Party People) is uproarious, and I wish the film had spent more time with Joy Division than Curtis solo. As a gorgeously-photographed document of a pretty damned vital time for music, Control is worth seeing; as a portrait of a troubled young man, it comes up short. B-

September 26, 2007


The Vancouver Int'l Film Fest is under way in two days. I figure now is as good a time as any to finally get my film blog going - something I've been meaning to do for a year now. With any luck, I'll get into some of the movies I actually want to see, as opposed to some of the lugubrious dreck I was forced to sit through last year when all the plan-A stuff sold out. Wish me luck.