Please excuse this self-indulgent post, but the latest episode of my side-project "The Monster Show", "Shrink-Ray," just went live, in glorious 1080p. Thanks for checking it out, I hope it's a pleasant waste of your time. If you like what you see, you can catch up with previous instalments here.
by Bill Chambers Recently, my brother Derek
and I--a failed screenwriting team if ever there was one--took advantage of the new technological democracy and decided to make our own web cartoon, spun off from
a short story Derek wrote ("The Monster Strikes") about a closet
monster who goes on strike and becomes roommates with his intended victim. For
years we had scribbled ideas for a potential TV show based on the concept,
though our initial desire to satirize sitcom tropes changed (evolved?) over
time as we realized we wanted to get away from meta humour and do something
more organically stupid.
by Jefferson Robbins Kathryn Bigelow's Zero
Dark Thirty is politically abhorrent, an ideologue's digest
of how torture "works" on behalf of democratic governments seeking to
defend from or avenge themselves upon terrorism. There's no debate: by
means of torture, CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) digs her way
from Osama bin Laden's outer network to his inner circle, one, two,
three. As journalist Malcolm
Harris put it, "That Kathryn Bigelow used to be involved in left aesthetics
should make us shiver in fear about who we may yet become." But subtly,
in the way Bigelow presents her lead character's view of the
battlefield and the flag under which she strives, Zero Dark
Thirty betrays mixed feelings about its own ramifications.
by Angelo Muredda When Michael Haneke's Amour met its first wave
of hosannas at Cannes, the press seemed eerily unanimous with respect to all
but the film's place within the German-Austrian taskmaster's oeuvre. Although
some were quick to call it the warmest of his many portraits of couples in
crisis (it would be hard not to be), others saw it as of a piece with his
austere horror films about complacent bourgeois hoarders reduced to ashes by
external invaders--in this case, not the home intruders of Funny Games or Time
of the Wolf (though there is a break-in, for those keeping
score), but the more insidious threat of age-related illnesses. The truth is
probably somewhere between those poles. It's no surprise that the key
players in this two-hander are named, as they always seem to be in Haneke's
pictures, Anne and Georges Laurent--sturdy middle-class monikers for tasteful
piano teachers. But it's difficult to wholly ascribe the universal quality we often
associate with Haneke's Laurents to the familiar, if weathered, faces of
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who--far more than the chameleonic
Juliette Binoche or Isabelle Huppert, other Haneke collaborators--recall a
bygone era of French cinema.
There are common themes in hate mail--a fact no doubt nettling to those benighted souls putting hardscrabble pen to paper for perhaps the first non-"doomed community college application" purpose of their artless lives. They are as wanting for imagination and grace as the films they choose to defend. Without logic and without information, they respond kneejerk-like, rising in defence of films that, for the most part, they haven't seen with points that are indefensible and harangues impotent, ignorant, and occasionally disturbing.
by Bill Chambers There's something a little ghoulish about
still reviewing TIFF movies at this late date, I know, but I wanted to briefly touch on
a few of this year's selections I never got around to reviewing in full, before they became indistinguishable dots in the rearview.
by Angelo Muredda Following the boys-only slate of the Cannes Film Festival, which made room for tepidly-received efforts from the likes of Andrew Dominik and Lee Daniels but shut out women in a comparable phase of their careers, June has been a surprisingly fruitful month for female directors of North American independents. Not that it's compensation for that snub, but it's heartening to see Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister and Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz get the lion's share of positive indie press in recent weeks, putting them in good company with Wes Anderson, whose Moonrise Kingdom did make Cannes's official selection. You could think of the Female Eye Film Festival, now entering its tenth year and running through June 24th at Toronto's Carlton Cinemas, as a low-key companion to those higher-profile releases.
The first TIFF movie I saw this year, a Canadian teen-gambling thriller called The Odds (**/****, Canada First!), is unfortunately a tiny dot in the rearview now. What I remember of it is that writer-director Simon Davidson, shooting in 'scope presumably to announce his transition to a bigger canvas (he's a veteran of short films, all of which previously played at the TIFF), seemed to have a good eye but trouble maintaining momentum for the length of a feature. With its Psycho-esque shocker a half-hour into the film, in fact, The Odds comes to feel like a short with two more acts tacked on. And its distinctly "Degrassi"-esque vibe of kids playing dress-up affirms the wisdom of Rian Johnson's Brick in stylizing its high-school setting to abstraction.
originally published September 10, 2005 Because Cameron Crowe considers it a work-in-progress, critics at last night's TIFF screening of the interminable Elizabethtown were asked, in not so many words, to handle the film with kid gloves. (Apparently the folks at Venice saw a completely different cut.) So to avoid a flap, I won't be posting a capsule review at the mother site, but let me just say that the version I saw--which looked polished but by no means finished--makes one long for the subtlety and finesse of Garden State. (And really, how much more warning do you need?) Its epiphanies are so processed and its characters are so inorganically whimsical that the movie verges on self-parody (and it's possible that a performance of "Free Bird" by the Stillwater-esque Ruckus pushes it over the edge, albeit consciously)--the suicidal hero (Orlando Bloom, channelling Crowe surrogate Tom Cruise (Elizabethtown's producer)), for instance, plans to do the deed by rigging up his exercycle with a butcher knife to simulate a stabbing motion! While it may say more about my proclivities than about Kirsten Dunst that she still turned my knees to jelly even though I found her Claire insufferable, there is distilled in one aspect of Dunst's characterization virtually everything that is wrong with the piece as it currently stands: she does this thing where she pretends to take a picture, and the first time, it's fetchingly spontaneous; but by the third, you can smell the screenwriting. (I'm reminded of something Alex recently wrote concerning the cigarette-lighting motif in Now, Voyager.) And the presence of Susan Sarandon actually increases one's respect for the similarly-themed Moonlight Mile, which at least knew when to get the hell out of Dodge (hint: before Sarandon had a chance to embarrass herself with an impromptu stand-up routine/tap-dance number). Know that I really want to go to, er, town on this flick, but some form of chivalry is holding me back.
originally published September 15, 2005 Wassup Rockers (d. Larry Clark) Somehow the most humanistic film of Clark's career is also his most nihilistic. Nice to see him acknowledge the "other," but they're still skater punks. *** (out of four)
Romance & Cigarettes (d. John Turturro) A fugue. In the words of David Lynch, "Fugues make me crazy!" Actually eager to rant about this one. *1/2 (out of four)
All the Invisible Children (ds. Various) As with any omnibus film, hit-or-miss. I think I liked Kátia Lund's segment best, but John Woo does his best work since heading West. Your mileage will vary. **1/2 (out of four)
originally published September 9, 2006 Seems we're all a little constipated right now but rest assured reviews are on the way; here's a quick rundown of TIFFpix screened thus far by yours truly.
BABEL (d. Alejandro González Iñárritu) It coheres better than 21 Grams, but Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are really spinning their wheels at this point. A few funny extratextual lessons are imparted: never take a Fanning to Mexico (Elle has almost as harrowing an adventure there as sister Dakota does in Man on Fire); and never trust a director who includes a post-script dedication to his children. As with 21 Grams, though, Babel doesn't make room for any intentional levity, eventually desensitizing you to all the calculated anguish. *½/****