March 05, 2006

Movie: Nightwatch

Nightwatch/Nochnoi Dozor is a Russian supernatural thriller telling of the struggle between the Light and Dark vampire-like beings called "Others". Interesting cinematography, convincing acting and ambiguous heroes and villains make this a cut above the usual thriller. The narrative structure devolves from very organic at the beginning to somewhat muddled by the end. Every drop of suspense was squeezed from what had to be a limited (compared to North American movies) SFX budget.

A lot of fun, nothing too deep.
It should be fun to see the sequels.

Posted by JAY at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2004

Movie: Facing Window

We saw Facing Window at the Southlake Cinemania viewing today. It was very good, though hard to explain without ruining the story. A married couple, Giovanna and Filippo, take in an elderly amnesiac. The old man encourages Giovanna to pursue her gifts while he pieces together his fragmented memory.

Much more goes on, enriched by picturesque cinematography, humorous dialogue, moments of suspense and a beautiful string orchestral score. Acting was uniformly very good, right down to the children in the cast. A couple of scenes lacked needed chemistry, but overall that fades into a very good movie. Probably one of my favorite films from Southlake Cinemania this year!

Posted by JAY at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2004

Movie: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring

Southlake Cinemania time again. This Korean movie takes place entirely around a floating Buddhist temple with a tiny cast of characters. As its title suggests, the film follows the cycle of life through the metaphor of the seasons.

The cinematography is amazing. The serenity of the lake and mountains sharply contrasts with the uncontrollable emotions of the protagonist, a young monk.

In many ways, this movie is simplicity itself - a tale of corruption and redemption stripped down to its barest essentials of plot and character. It manages to be religious without being preachy and gently introduces the viewers to the core Buddhist concepts of the Dharma Seals (Anatta, Anicca and Dukkha).

Posted by JAY at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2004

Movie: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Saw Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow with Rucell and Trevor today. It was a really fun movie and I enjoyed it a lot.

The plot is straight-forward - save the world from a mad scientist! The witty dialogue elevates it to something a bit more special. Gwyneth Paltrow occasionally grates a little as the plucky reporter while Jude Law is dashing as the hero pilot. Their comedic chemistry is very good.

All of the sets are digital and the result is surprisingly immersive and stylish. I've a minor quibble about how the cars glided smoothly over the roads but other than that it was perfect - just realistic enough.

Enjoyed it a lot and would recommend it.

Posted by JAY at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2004

Movie: Fahrenheit 911

Tried to see this on Thursday, but we ended up walking out and getting a refund. Not because of the movie or anything, but because the sound cut out for about 10 minutes.

So a group of us (Eric, Rucell, Trev) went to see it today.

It was a deeply affecting movie, but I'm a bit unsatisfied with some of the inconclusive evidence that Moore uses to tie together his theory that Bush ignored Saudi links to terrorism to concentrate on oil in Iraq, partially because the Saudi's had provided Bush friends and family with billions of dollars.

It's not that I disbelieve his theory - more that I don't feel that he adequately proves it. I'm not a fan of the rhetorical questions, either. It seems that when people don't have enough evidence to prevent a charge of slander, they instead ask an insinuating question.

(An example of this: The Conservatives in the last election released a poster saying "[Liberal leader] Paul Martin Soft on Child Porn?" -- I mentioned to a friend that the Liberals should release a poster saying "[Conservative Leader] Stephen Harper: Dog Fucker? -- we're just asking!")

Moore does this several times, and it always draws attention to conclusions that aren't on solid enough ground to make a direct accusation. And there are the usual Moore antics (though not as many as Bowling for Columbine) where he chases after Congress members, trying to convince them to encourage their children to enlist in the army. More effectively, he follows two army recruiters as they try to enlist poor black men into the army.

At its funniest, candid footage of Bush quite scathingly shows him as an idiot with high connections. Bush's own speeches are damning - at a fundraiser he greets "important people", the "haves and the have-mores" ... "some people call you the elite -- I call you my base." The have-lesses would do well to consider who he represents when it is time to vote.

Emotional depictions of a mother's grief over the death of her enlisted son are moving, though anecdotal. Footage of soldiers' abuses in Iraq are troubling, but without evidence (or even claims) that the administration condoned such behaviour, they are irrelevant to Bush's motivations. (The argument used is that "immorality begets immorality", which is weak.)

Moore's depictions of a biased American media are persuasive. They include footage of the wounded and maimed that are usually ignored by the media in favor of fatalities. Linking the media, though plausible, to the Bush clan via family relations is a bit weak and done indirectly through rhetorical questions.

I do think that this documentary is an important bit of propaganda - it raises questions and issues that should be investigated. As always, it's the responsibility of the other side to provide an opposing viewpoint - something that they have not adequately done. It's also effectively filmed, mixing deep emotion with comedic moments. There's more to it than I discuss here. People should definitely see this one.

Posted by JAY at 11:36 AM

June 18, 2004

Movie: Zatoichi

Saw The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi, a subtitled Japanese movie that is very much the product of the writer/director/star Takeshi Kitano.

Gory yet very plot driven, this film was a pleasure. Musical interludes sometimes fall a bit flat, but others work. Shot very simply, most of the time the movie's artifice (special effects, etc.) blends seamlessly into the rest of the movie.

The wandering blind warrior wanders into a town that is rife with corruption and gang warfare. He quickly makes friends and enemies with the town's inhabitants, which include a kindly aunt who does a lot with a rather limited role, a gambler and two geishas.

Schizo in tone, there's a lot of action, melodrama and comedy. Really cool.

Posted by JAY at 11:03 PM

May 17, 2004

Movie: La Grande Seduction

A Quebecois movie directed by Jean-Francois Pouliot, this movie is quietly funny and well acted. The premise is that Saint Marie-la-Mauderne needs to lure a doctor into its tiny welfare town in order to attract a factory.

To this end, the villagers cooperate to make Sainte Marie attractive to the new doctor, hoping to get him to sign a 5 year contract. Their plans involve much hastily planned deception that is humourously portrayed.

The actors do a great job, especially the lead plotter Germain (Raymond Bouchard) and the doctor (David Boutin). Both of them are ruthless and somewhat selfish, though in different ways. Predictably, they're also very sympathetic as they pursue their goals. A large cast of funny characters fill out the tiny island.

There are no cheap laughs here - everything is character driven. I liked that a lot, though a friend of mine didn't and got rather loudly bored. But the consensus of the Southlake Cinemania crowd seemed to enjoy the movie, and so did I.

Posted by JAY at 10:27 PM

May 15, 2004

Movie: Troy

Saw Troy today with friends.

It was entertaining - the battle and fight scenes were impressive, the characters and plot were classic (sort of). The dialogue and acting was pretty clunky, with the exception of Peter O'Toole, who gave an impressively spiritual portrayal of Troy's King Priam.

I can't approve of all of the alterations made to the classic, but that's to be expected, I suppose. The coins over the eyes were a bit jarring - I could handle the odd anachronism, but they were doing it all the time, emphasizing the ritual that didn't exist yet.

Maybe a wait-for-dvd-release... it just wasn't that good. Of course, the best parts of this film were visual, so maybe seeing it on a big screen is worthwhile.

Posted by JAY at 11:06 PM

May 07, 2004

Movie: Super Size Me!

Super Size Me! is an entertaining documentary/reality show about obesity and fast food (specifically McDonalds) in America.

Its gimmick is that the film's subject/maker, Morgan Spurlock, is eating solely at McDonalds for one month. Thankfully, the gimmick works, due to Spurlock's sense of humor and timing.

As his health deteriorates for the entertainment of the viewing audience, the movie depicts many of the problems that are causing an obese America. The result is quite funny - but it leaves me craving a double quarter-pounder! Those things are awesome!

The documentary isn't as strident as Michael Moores' tend to be. It is very entertaining and reasonably informative - and recommended! There's not much in way of rebuttal from the food industry, but they were at least given the opportunity to participate.

Posted by JAY at 11:39 PM

May 03, 2004

Movie: Osama

Soapbox warning!

Southlake Cinemania showed Osama today, one of the first movies out of post-Taliban Afganistan. Siddiq Barmak's film unrelentingly depicts the hopeless plight of impoverished women under the Taliban.

Inventively filmed to incorporate the filming process into the story, the film is bleak and unforgiving. Uncomfortably, I'm aware of my ignorance with any rebuttal to the film's emotional argument. Certainly, it raises important issues with regards to the role of women in strictly Shara Islam. However, its timely release and popularity could be misused to justify a war that was never about human rights.

Like medicine, it may not be what I wanted, but it could be what I needed.
Certainly a significant film.

Posted by JAY at 11:14 PM

April 19, 2004

Movie: Goodbye, Lenin!

There's a lot going on in Goodbye, Lenin! The German film deftly blends the personal and the political - a nice change from the intense but narrow focus of the last few movies shown by Southlake Cinemania.

Mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) falls into a coma when she sees her son Alex (Daniel Brühl) at an anti-Socialist protest. When she finally comes around, the Berlin Wall has been torn down and East/West Germany has been united.

To spare his mother a possibly life-threatening shock, Alex recreates Socialist Germany in his mother's sick room, with predictably funny results. As the scheme gets more and more elaborate, Alex drags the neighbours and friends into the act. The ease with which everyone falls into a socialist fantasy contrasts with the uncertain results of a newly capitalist state.

Humorous and poignant, the film does seem to drag a bit at times. Overall, though, it was very enjoyable. My favorite performance was by Katrin Sass, who manages to be frail, luminous, iron-willed and cowardly in natural succession.

Posted by JAY at 08:10 PM

April 17, 2004

Movie: The Punisher

Saw The Punisher. I like comic book movies in general, and this one was mildly entertaining. Very mildly. But I still enjoyed it.

It basically had no plot at all. Bad guy kills good guy's family, good guy returns the favor. And that's it. The implementation wasn't particularly stylish, though nothing grated badly. Some self-awareness of its limitations would've helped a lot.

Posted by JAY at 07:50 PM

April 10, 2004

Movie: Eternal Sunshine

... of the Spotless Mind

Through the first third of this movie I was feeling that it was heavy and ponderous, though skillfully done. By the end, however, I was really enjoying the movie.

It avoided most of the cliches that it set up and though it's ending was just slightly trite, it wasn't enough to detract from the stunning middle. Inventively told with a complex narrative structure, Eternal Sunshine manages to be suspenseful, funny and emotional at the same time.

It truly begins when Joel (Jim Carrey) decides to have the memory of his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) erased. From there, the movie quickly begins to become a morality tale - with "be careful what you wish for" as it's main message. The sacredness of memory and experience is also expressed throughout.

Thankfully, by the end, it becomes more complicated than that. Told in a carefully non-linear narrative, the lives of the awkward "professionals" performing the procedure become entwined with their patients'.

I ended up enjoying this movie a lot - which was a pleasant surprise, given my reaction at the beginning.

Posted by JAY at 10:47 AM

April 06, 2004

Movie: The Color Of Paradise

Southlake Cinemania showed The Colour of Paradise yesterday. It was pretty, but not very entertaining.

Filmed in Iran, the story centers around a blind child named Mohammad and his family. The film contrasts Mohammad's joy in life with his father's bitterness. I felt that I was being preached at, hardcore.

While I enjoyed the vistas, I just couldn't begin to feel for the family. Apparently, others didn't feel the same way.

Posted by JAY at 09:20 PM

March 15, 2004

Movie: Elling

Southlake Cinemania showed Elling tonight, a subtitled Scandinavian comedy. Light-hearted and unsubtle, this movie chronicles a pair of mental invalids who have been transfered from an institution to inpendant housing. They find that after some initial difficulties, they can cope with the rigors of the outside world.

The movie was very enjoyable, after a somewhat slow start with some audio problems (from the projection booth, not the film). The two leads give fine performancesthat don't immediately endear them to the viewers, but gradually become sympathetic.

As a feel-good, non-gross-out comedy that's entertaining and not too heavy, Elling succeeds marvelously.

After the movie, we went to Kelsey's where I tried the Seafood Platter ($14). Greasy and heavy, I probably won't order it again.

Posted by JAY at 10:59 PM

March 01, 2004

Movie: The Barbarian Invasions

Southlake Cinemania showed The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions Barbares), a French-Canadian film. Having gotten used to the somewhat muted "Canadian" films that I've seen up till this point, The Barbarian Invasions was refreshing in its chaotic erudition.

It's too difficult to sum up this movie in any way that would do it justice. Suffice it to say that the movie was intelligent, funny and emotional. It certainly deserved it's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.

Support Canadian film making and go see this movie!

Posted by JAY at 10:04 PM

February 29, 2004

Movie: Monster

Just saw Monster and got back in time to see Charlize Theron win the Best Actress Oscar. I have to agree, it was very much her film and she did a great job with it, her eyes conveying all of the tortured emotions of her character.

The movie itself was very impressive, managing at the same time to portray serial killer Aileen Wuournos (Theron) sympathetically yet objectively. Aileen's love interest, Selby, was depicted with appropriate immaturity by Christina Ricci.

Overall, a very impressive movie.

Posted by JAY at 11:50 PM

February 16, 2004

Movie: The Station Agent

Who would have thought a movie about loneliness could be so funny?

In The Station Agent, Peter Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, a dwarf train-lover who seeks isolation in an abandoned train depot and finds lasting friendships instead. This role was made for Dinklage, and he lends a long-suffering dignity to the role with his rich voice and expressive features.

Entirely character driven (that seems to be a theme for Southlake Cinemania movies this year), The Station Agent follows Finbar as the various townfolk intrude upon his solitude.

There are emotional performances by all the principal actors and a deft touch for humor and drama. Deceptively casual directing and cinematography lend sincerity to an otherwise slick production.

The only slight criticism that I could come up with is that for a character driven moviewas that the characters, for all of their sympathetic natures, were defined by only one aspect of their personality.

But hey, with 95% on the Tomato Meter, how likely is it that you won't find several things to really like about this film?

Really, really recommended.

Posted by JAY at 09:49 PM

February 02, 2004

Movie: American Splendor

Southlake Cinemania screened American Splendor tonight. It's the humorous semi-biography of comic writer/character Harvey Pekar. Rather than write about superheroes or animated ducks, Harvey Pekar chronicled his ordinary life as a hospital file clerk.

First illustrated by R. Crumb, his comic character became very popular. The structure of the movie mirrors the self-referential character of his comics, but neatly avoids becoming irritatingly meta.

The principal performers, John Giamatti and Hope Davis, do a great job of making us care about the people they portray without ever getting overly sentimental. Harvey Pekar and his wife Joyce Brabner also appear as themselves, giving a sort of narrative/interview-like running commentary.

The plot (I don't really know how biographical the movie is) smartly avoids all of the usual cliches - and given that, I won't spoil the movie by revealing them.

The audience as a whole really enjoyed the movie - there was a lot of laughter in the theater. Certainly, it's one of my favorite films of those shown on the Southlake Cinemania Film Circuit.

Posted by JAY at 11:04 PM | Comments (1)

January 20, 2004

Movie: Falling Angels

Southlake Cinemania has started up again for the year and the first movie shown was Falling Angels. Falling Angels is a Canadian film about a dysfunctional family in the late 1960s. Scott Smith, the director of the film, and Kristin Adams, the actress who plays one of the three sisters in the film, attended our screening and answered some questions at the end.

Drama and humor are nicely interspersed and all of the performances were great. The three sisters are each spirited in their own ways. Norma, while insecure about herself, has a great sense of resolve and responsibility. Lou is fiercely intelligent and militantly rebellions. Sandy, the youngest, is easily influenced but still knows what she wants. Contrasting this, their mother is a semi-comatose drunk with barely any spirit left. Completing the family is the authoritarian father who struggles with his own paranoia and sense of duty.

Scott talked a bit about how the movie differed from the book (the ending, mainly). He seems to view the movie almost as an allegory to war, at least on a small scale, with the characters all contributing in different ways to the tense family dynamic. As the movie ends, he sees them owning up to some of the responsibility for their dysfunctional family life. This is very different from the finale of the novel on which this movie is based.

He also talked about some of the filming techniques that they used to "age" the movie appropriately, such as shooting on 16mm film (if I remember correctly) and using older, slightly softer focus lenses.

The audience seemed to enjoy the film a lot and some audience members commented on how accurately it portrayed the 60s/70s lifestyle. I enjoyed the film a lot, but it wasn't one of my favorites.

Posted by JAY at 11:28 PM

December 29, 2003

Movie: Big Fish

Went to see Big Fish.

It was a very enjoyable movie - it kind of took Tim Burton's trademark wierdness and put it into a sort of logical framework. Is this a good/bad/indifferent thing? I don't know, but I did enjoy the movie. Good performances by everyone involved.

What I didn't enjoy was the people behind us talking throughout the movie! One pair of women were old enough to know better. "Oh look, Trudy, it's Danny DeVito! That's Danny DeVito!" The other was a 7 year old girl who was discussing the movie with her father. Note to parents: teach your kids to SHUT UP at the theater!

Posted by JAY at 10:09 PM

December 27, 2003

Bad Movie: The Medallion

Watched a bad movie with friends while writing that last post: The Medallion. Man, was it ever bad. Thank goodness I had my laptop and it wasn't a TOTAL waste of a couple hours. Not quite as bad as City Hunter, another Jackie Chan movie, but still.

Avoid this movie.

Oww...

Posted by JAY at 12:00 AM

December 17, 2003

Movie: Return of the King

Went to see the last movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy: Return of the King

I don't really have anything profound to say about it - it was very enjoyable but very loooooong. I think I liked it best out of the 3 installments. Though I've read the books, I enjoyed the movies more - an unusual opinion from this book-lover. At least I didn't have to deal with Tolkien's crappy poetry!

Visually, it was stunning - but that was to be expected.
Minor quibbles aside, it was a good movie.

Posted by JAY at 11:40 PM

December 11, 2003

Review: The Last Samurai

I don't intend to do a lot of mainstream movie reviews, because you can read about them everywhere else and it'll probably be better written. But The Last Samurai surprised me so I thought that I'd write about it. So it's not a review, it's a journal entry!

Ordinarily, I don't particularly like Tom Cruise movies, but at the office Christmas lunch today a co-worker told me that her husband and son really liked the movie, Tom Cruise notwithstanding.

So when my friends called and said they wanted to see it, I agreed with some reservations. To my surprise, I enjoyed it immensely.

The Japanese vistas were breathtakingly shot, and the story depicting the (highly fictionalized) end of the samurai era is poignant but avoids being overly dramatic. Anime fans of Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X in North America) will be amused. So will Lord of the Rings fans - look out for the Japanese Legolas, who also amused me.

Seriously, though, Cruise's performance as a disillusioned American soldier with haunting memories of slaughtering natives is quite adequate. Does that sound like faint praise? It's the highest praise I can really give. While Tom Cruise may have been the titular star of the movie, the movie's dramatic tension arises from the conflict between western capitalism and Japan's traditional values. However, Cruise is competent enough not to obstruct that.

Several of the Asian actors, however, do give great performances. Koyuki, in particular, gives a beautiful performance as the widow of a samurai that Cruise kills in battle. Her polite discipline emphasizes the conflicting emotions that her character can barely restrain.

In most respects, Cruise's character is simply an observer and that's just fine with me. And while Cruise does nothing wrong, it's just that he doesn't really add anything special. But it's ok, because he doesn't need to and he probably shouldn't.

Anyway, go see the movie - it's good!
Wow, what a boring journal entry. I don't think I'll be doing another movie review anytime soon.

Posted by JAY at 09:32 PM

October 20, 2003

Movie Review: Together

Southlake Cinemania Film Circuit is a division of the Toronto International Film Festival Group. Last night, we saw Together, in which a young violin prodigy and his father move from their small town in China to Beijing to seek Conservatory training.

Performances by all of the principle cast members were entertaining and layered(as far as I could tell, with the dialogue being in Chinese and subtitled in English). The plot was well paced through to an unconventional, yet satisfying, conclusion.

Visuals were stunning. Aside from the plot, the insights into living in both rural China and Beijing were intimate yet unobtrusive -- unlike the Tokyo-based Lost in Translation.
While Lost in Translation featured an outsider's perspective of living in Japan, Together portrays China from the Chinese director's (Chen Kaige) familiar viewpoint. The result seems subtler and more textured.

Of course, the impressive violin-based musical score is also emphasized throughout.

Slight focus problems during the entire screening detracted from the experience somewhat.

Highly recommended.

Posted by JAY at 11:45 PM | Comments (1)