Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Favourite Film of the Decade #4 - Funky Forest: The First Contact

Have you ever loved something so much you just assume that it is only logical that everyone else loves it? When you find out someone does not like it, it's tough for your brain to compute? Such is the case with this wonderful, funny and inventive film that is surprisingly (to me anyway) not a fan favourite.


Upon seeing this at the Toronto After Dark festival (my favourite film festival by the way. Thought you needed to know) I left so joyful and elated at seeing one of the best films I'd seen in a long, long time. Sure I had seen "crazy" Japanese films before, the DVD for Survive Style 5+ I bought in Japan is one of my prouder possessions and there is a chance another "wacky" Japanese film will show up further down this list, but Funky Forest really got to me. It seemed to be a celebration of love, music, dance, film, anime, comedy... you name it. And it didn't play by the rules. However, my good lady wife and good friend who left with me did enjoy it, but mostly found it weird. "Yeah" I said, "Weird is good!". But two and a half hours of weird with no real narrative? Ain't that pushing it?

In my opinion, the film is not about story, plot or characters, but about the feelings it elicits in the viewers. And to me at least, all of them were enjoyable. Kind of a positive version of Enter the Void. I've heard movies compared to drug trips, and to say that about Funky Forest wouldn't be too far off, but there is also such a positivity to the material that it would also seem unfair. It would seem like dumbing down the movie to compare it to an LSD trip. It's closer to a kid's film for weird adults, trying to bring out the genuine emotions we felt so non-chalantly when we were children.


As for the movie itself, it's essentially a series of vignettes held loosely together by stories of urequited love. There's the "unpopular with woman brothers" consisting of the incredible Susumu Terajima, Tadanobu Asano and a white kid. Then there's a teacher and his student/crush that share an afternoon together. Both stories start out a little strange, but by the end they're absolutely surreal. Just type in Funky Forest into YouTube and you'll get at least a dozen small samples of the film's strangeness.


After buying this for a good buddy on his birthday, and him disliking it quite a bit, I am a tad hesitant to recommend this film for just anyone. But if you enjoy off the wall films with loads of imagination and heart, I would definitely say.... look on YouTube and see if it's not too weird.... then rush out and buy this one of a kind film. Then check out Katsuhito Ishii's other masterpiece, A Taste of Tea, a more melancholy Funky Forest type of film.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Favourite Film of the Decade #5 - The Spider-Man Series

You read that right holmes. I'm counting the Spider-Man trilogy as one movie and there is absolutely sweet dick all you can do about it.


Now for a little history about me and this Spider-Man fellow. My first Spider-Man memory harkens back to when I was 3 or 4 and my parents bought me one of those black velvet posters with Spider-Man seemingly coming right out of the picture at you. Unfortunately, once it go dark out, the poster terrified the fuck out of me. Spider-Man looked like a masked creature intent on killing me in my sleep. Only one problem though, I loved Spidey so much that I couldn't bear to ask my parents to take it down. I decided to live with the fear since it was so awesome having a Spider-Man poster.

Throughout my childhood Spidey remained my favourite comic. Peter Parker was a great guy, though it could be argued that he is a tad nerdy, and once he put on that costume he transforms into the wise cracking, heroic webhead that is virtually impossible not to love.

During my high school years I stopped buying comic books (and my little brother who go into comics was only buying Punisher, Wolverine and Groo), but still watched The Amazing Spider-Man every lunch hour whether I've seen it or not. I could be a nerd without any of my friends finding out. Ha!

Extreme poverty kept me away from comics for the most part until my late twenties when I got a decent job and some disposable income. I must have bought more comics that year than most people do in their lives. Picked up Kraven's Last Hunt and various other Spidey titles, but the single issues weren't all that hot, Byrne was rebooting the series with Spider-Man Chapter One which was a little interesting but I found more than enough Vertigo titles to keep me occupied. But once Straczynski took the reigns I think I've pretty much bought every Spider-Man title since (and after the rocky One More Day and Brand New Day Spider-Man's better than it's been in ages).


Now let's move on to my love for Sam Raimi. I saw Evil Dead when I was around 13 and getting a little bored with horror. I had seen so many horror flicks and at around this time I no longer had to hold a pillow over my face at the scary scenes, in fact, I hadn't been that scared by a film in a long time. Evil Dead kicked my mind's ass. Not only that, it got me interested in the filmmaking behind it as well. Sure I'd read Fangoria for a while, so I knew the basics of film, but I became obsessed with the "style" of Evil Dead. From that point onward, Sam Raimi became my favourite director. And since he's kept evolving and can usually be counted on to bring "the goods" he's never even been close to being knocked off his throne (The Gift and For Love of the Game did have me scared).


So when my friend visited me at work with the news that Mr. Raimi would be directing the new Spider-Man movie I immediately thought how cruel this "friend" was being. How dare someone play games with my heart that way. It turns out they had also brought an article from the paper to back up their claim, so until May 3rd 2002 I lived my life highly anticipating this film that should only exist in legend. And I wasn't disappointed.


SPIDER-MAN

Ecstasy. After months of anticipation the morning of May 3rd came along and I finally got to see the most perfect combination since chocolate and peanut butter, Sam Raimi and Spider-Man. Unlike many of the gloomy superhero movies that came before it, this film was filled with colour, spectacle and a pure sense of joy. Sure, I missed the constant wisecracking I got from ole Webhead in the comics, but that was nitpicking when considering everything that worked in the film. Dafoe as Norman Osbourne/The Green Goblin was amazing and Tobey Maguire did a fantastic job as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I've heard some complain about Maguire being too nerdy, and not being the "Spider-Man they know". I'm from the school that there are different variations on this great character, and that's the way I like it. The Spider-Man in the comics now is much different than the one created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. And the Ultimate Spider-Man is different from that. Raimi's Spider-Man is just another variation of the awesomeness that is Spidey. My favourite film in the series.


SPIDER-MAN 2

Here's the Spidey that even the critics got behind. Where some complained about the first one for being too "comic booky" and that they were disappointed with the characters wearing masks too much (much like my complaint that the sky is "always" blue in The Unforgiven. C'mon Eastwood, use some creativity!). Raimi once again casts the film perfectly, having Alfred Molina playing Otto Octavius/Doc Ock. He brings a lot of humanity to the villain as opposed to a lot of the stunt casting we had gotten so used to from the Batman series. Imagine that, actually casting great actors as villains rather than whoever's hot at the moment. No one has really commented on Raimi's casting when it comes to the villains in the series, but he really is to be commended. The film is just as exciting and dramatic as the first, with the perfect amount of melodrama. Just fantastic.


SPIDER-MAN 3

Alright, alright, alright. This film is definitely flawed, but it's not the abomination so many claim it to be. Let's get the flaws out of the way first: Venom is not used well, Harry Osbourne's story is wrapped up in an extremely disappointing way and the end fight is more confusing than exciting. The pros: everything else. Thomas Hayden Church plays an awesome Flint Marko/Sandman and the story was very involving. I know I'm part of the minority, but I loved when Peter Parker was infected with evil, and since he's the nicest guy in the world, the worst he could become is a douchebag. The scenes when Maguire plays Parker for comedy are hilarious and I was pleasantly surprised that Raimi managed to put a musical number in a superhero film. Great stuff. Unfortunately whereas part one and two seem like something as fantastic as Kraven's Last Hunt part three does resemble the Venom saga, that is just a good story with characters coming in and out of the story at random. It's a fine comic book film and a nice addition to the series, even if it's not the best (not the best!? The nerve!!).


These films made a nerd very, very happy*.


*and me too

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Favourite Film of the Decade #6 - Oldboy

Oldboy. Really, what else is there to say? I write that Oldboy is one of my favourite films of the decade and your correct response should be, "Of course it is". A no brainer really. But I feel like drawing some pictures, so let's continue.


Chan-wook Park has created a whole new breed of revenge films with his Vengeance trilogy, starting with Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance then Oldboy and ending with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I love all 3 films but Oldboy was the obvious standout.

Loosely adapted from the manga Oldboy, Park actually improves on the source material making a stylish, smart and exciting morality tale. But be forewarned, it does get really nasty (it seems a lot of the films on my list have a tendency to be that way. What's wrong with me?). Imagine if Death Wish ended like it did in the novel (Bronson's Kersey character goes bonkers and has to be gunned down by police) and Oldboy's climax is about 20 times more depressing. There is no wish fulfillment here. Park even admits on the commentary track of the excellent Tartan tin edition, that he really doesn't respect much of what the main character does. He's selfish and petty until he finally learns the error of his ways... horrifically.


If you have not seen Oldboy (an error you should correct immediately) it does have a lot going for it despite it's nastiness. My lovely wife usually does not enjoy overly violent or mean spirited films, yet even she came away from the film calling it a masterpiece (I rented it very early in our dating period. I got lucky, it could have gone terribly wrong by the ending. Warning, this is not a date movie!).

The film is stylish, well acted and unpredictable, so if you're put off by the many critics who mention how violent or disturbing it is, there are enough amazing aspects of the film to risk viewing anything that you might consider distressing (and it is only a movie, it's not like going to the dentist or even getting a paper cut. Be a man!).

And no review of Oldboy would be complete without mentioning Min-sik Choi's masterful performance as Dae-su Oh. Dae starts off as a pathetic drunk in a scene that is shot differently than anything in the film. Dae is an overweight, sad and drunk businessman who is waiting at a police kiosk for a friend to come and get him. He gets obnoxiously loud and belligerent as he waits. Park uses mostly jump cuts as Dae becomes more and more agitated, as opposed to when he later becomes "the monster" when the film changes to apparently make him look "bad ass".


So the story goes, after he leaves the police kiosk and calls his daughter, Dae is kidnapped and held prisoner for 15 years in a hotel room. He is never told the reason why and has no human contact. Once he has almost escaped he is knocked out and set free to discover the reason he was imprisoned. Dae is now the embodiment of vengeance. Where it goes from there I'll let you discover for yourself, I really hate giving away too much from a movie that is so plot oriented.


I wouldn't be shocked if Oldboy wound up on a lot of critics "best of the decade" lists. It's been highly praised since it's original release and the fanbase seems to be growing all the time. We narrowly missed an American remake directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Will Smith (and not the cool Will Smith who stars in Grave of the Vampire) but I'm sure there will be one eventually. If you want to be the cool kid watch the film now so you can tell all those phonies and losers what a winner you are since you've "seen the original" when the remake inevitably comes out. Then who'll be laughing? You, that's who!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Favourite Film of the Decade #7 - Shaolin Soccer

Hey, how about that? A movie on my top ten of the decade that isn't nihilistic, depressing or about people getting shot.


If you had told me 10 years ago that one of my favourite films of the 2000s would be about soccer I would have called you a goddamned, piece of fucking shit, worthless, ass raping, cum guzzling, smelly liar. But I would have been wrong, and you would have been right. Sorry, that was very thoughtless of me. Forgive me?



Had I seen Shaolin Soccer when I was a kid I'm fairly certain it would be a movie that would be up there with Evil Dead, the Star Wars trilogy, Raiders/Temple of Doom, and other legendary films of my youth. Because I saw it as an adult, it's a shame that it wasn't part of my childhood, but you can bet your booty that I'm forcing it to be a component of various nephews' childhoods ("Oh, thanks Uncle Guitarbrother, a Chinese film about soccer. You shouldn't have.").


Mr. Awesome (known to some as Stephen Chow) has made a comedy film about soccer that equals the imagination put into most fantasy epics. And it's incredibly funny as well. Whether it be the soccer field turning into a war zone or a soccer ball being kicked so hard that it becomes a flaming tiger, the viewer is kept in constant amazement at what Mr. Awesome will deliver next. And when your jaw isn't agape at what you're witnessing, you're laughing your ass off at Mr. Awesome's karaoke skills or the fittingly named "Team Evil". Plus the blending of martial arts and soccer seems so perfect I was surprised it hadn't been done before (granted Gymkata blended the wonderful worlds of acrobatics and kung fu, but I digress).


In both this and the almost equally amazing Kung Fu Hustle, Mr. Awesome invokes the spirit of Bruce Lee and gives both films, despite their craziness, heart. Both are about improving oneself and reaching an enlightened place where we can be the most we can be. The theme is a lot more prevalent in Kung Fu Hustle (a scoundrel becoming the "Chosen One"), but in Shaolin Soccer it works just as well. Mr. Awesome has stated that Lee is one of his heroes, not just his films, but his philosophy, so these films also play as a wonderful tribute to the star who died far too early.


And the humour may have some scratching their heads (the script comes from the same man who in The King of Comedy had our hero get distracted from his sentry by playing with a young boys pecker) but to those who are open to it, it's delightful (and not a joke that could get someone arrested in sight!). And the supporting cast is great. Mr. Awesome has to gather a bunch of has-been martial artists to comprise his rag tag soccer team, and each one has something hilarious about them. Even the love interest in the film is a great character, and seriously, how many times can you say that about a comedy?


As for the plot, it's nothing you haven't seen hundreds of times before, a bunch of losers need to pick themselves up to win the big one, but it's performed with such inventiveness and fun that it seems like it's original despite itself. Sure it's predictable, but you'd be disappointed if it turned out any other way.


No matter what your taste in movies, Shaolin Soccer is a must see. It's a joyful, funny movie that could cheer up the gloomiest of Guses. The only critical thing I could possibly say about the film is that I'm not watching it right now.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Favourite Film of the Decade #8 - The Pledge

"No good deed shall go unpunished". That was Sean Penn's mission statement while making his best film, The Pledge, and it seemed to keep audiences away in droves. And all those finicky folks out there complaining that Jack Nicholson keeps playing the same character over and over couldn't be bothered to see what I consider the finest performance of his career. In fact the film is littered with great performances from Michael O Keefe, Mickey Rourke, Benicio Del Toro and others. But "Excuuuuse meeee" if the subject of a retired policeman losing his sanity while pursuing a brutal child killer isn't up your alley! Drone.


I was intrigued by the advertisements for The Pledge, which made it look like an old fashioned police story about a cop who won't rest until he puts a child murderer behind bars. And knowing Penn's previous work, The Crossing Guard and The Indian Runner, I was fairly certain there would be some depth to the story as well. Penn wound up giving me much more than I had anticipated. The Pledge is a fascinating character study on a man who is compelled to do the right thing no matter what. He makes bad choices for very good reasons.


Penn makes certain to show the murderer's crimes in full detail (through photographs) so the audience can get behind Nicholson's as he tries to take this monster off the streets. However, at the midway point it seems Nicholson's character actually tries to achieve some peace and happiness by forming a relationship with a single mother and her child. Or is he only with them to use the child for bait? I think the answer is quite surprising and very well handled as the movie reaches it's inevitable conclusion with Nicholson and the child murderer coming head to head. By this time the audience may not be behind Nicholson's character anymore.


Penn has created a thoughtful morality story, where nothing is black and white. I remember talking to a friend who owned a movie poster shop (sadly closed down now) about how Nicholson's character, if looked at in a certain light, is a hero. My friend immediately laughed and said he was going to move The Pledge poster to the James Bond section because he's such a "hero". As I wiped the tears from my eyes I did have to admit that some people may just loathe the Nicholson character by the end, but I felt a great amount of sympathy for a man who the universe seemed to conspire against to prevent him from doing good. There are no easy answers in The Pledge and nor should there be. The film is about real situations involving people with unreal expectations.


And boy oh boy is Nicholson ever fantastic in his role as Jerry Black, a retiring policeman who can not find peace. In every scene he shows Black as a complex character who the audience can never tell exactly what he's thinking. There are moments when his character's real nature seems to come out, but through most of the movie he seems to exist inside his head. An Oscar worthy performance that never even got a nomination. Shame.


Though most folks would find the movie too downbeat and far too depressing I would urge anyone who enjoys a good morality tale to seek his one out. Just remember, no matter what you do, it's probably wrong to someone.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Favourite Films of the Decade #9 - Irreversible

What happens when a filmmaker wants to beat the shit out of his audience? Not just give them a grueling experience, but fuck them up for life? Gaspar Noe's masterpiece in nihilistic filmmaking, Irreversible, is the film equivalent of a drop kick to the face into a vat of acid while your significant other makes sweet love to a close relative.


There's a quote I quite like from Chan-wook Park that goes, "I don't feel enjoyment watching films that evoke passivity. If you need that kind of comfort why wouldn't you go to a spa?". I may not agree with him 100% of the time, I love the odd mind numbing movie, but I certainly love me some dark, dark stuff as well. I get a certain type of enjoyment when I can feel emotions that I don't ever want to experience in real life within the safety of a film. Once the film is over and the emotions wear off you have either learned a valuable lesson, seen a different worldview or just had an experience that isn't easily duplicated (and in Irreversible's case, thankfully so).


Noe does all in his power to assault the audience with his film. There is an ever moving sweeping camera seemingly designed to induce vomiting, a sound design laced with white noise that police use to end hostage situations and a script with atrocities committed with and without consequence. But behind these shock tactics is a filmmaker with something to say. Life isn't fair, and neither is Irreversible.

The film starts in chaos (following a little cameo by our friend The Butcher from I Stand Alone and Carne. Why wasn't he in Enter the Void Noe!?) as we enter The Rectum, a gay S & M sex club, and our 2 crazed male leads hunt down "The Tapeworm". What follows isn't for those with weak constitutions, but anyone who entered the film by accident (I remember when I went to see John Hillcoat's The Proposition, there was an old couple beside me wondering why Kenneth Branaugh hadn't showed up. I guess it happens) hopefully will have fled by then. There be mucho gay S & M sex before any of the really rough stuff starts.


We soon realize the film is being told in reverse (so it is reversible!) and what we have is essentially a rape/revenge film viewed in a different light, where we see the revenge before we see the crime. That's a pretty cool idea in it's own right, but add to that Noe's distinctive, though nihilistic voice, tons of style and great performances and you have a must see in my humble (that's fuckin' right, humble motherfucker!) yet correct opinion. The three central characters are Alex (Monica Bellucci) who is dating Marco (Vincent Cassel) and the third wheel and Alex's former boyfriend Pierre (Albert Dupontel). The viewer is meant to sympathize with Pierre, the sensitive ex boyfriend, as he tags along with macho and prickish Marco and Alex. He obviously still pines for her, but hides it in order to still be with her even if it's only as a friend. And it's obvious he is so much better for her than that Marco cretin! Sounds like something out of a romantic comedy, don't it? With Noe's expert handling of the material and all the actor's great performances it seems very real and not at all manipulative. The way their stories end (which is at the beginning, but I'll still avoid spoiling anything) is heartbreaking as more and more is revealed about their characters. We see them at their worst at the beginning of the film, and the more that is revealed on how they got there, it becomes clear that the way the story is being told makes perfect sense. Unlike most stories, once the crime is committed, the character essentially becomes their crime, where in this, their crime becomes a character (hopefully that makes sense).

Much has been said about the long and unflinching rape scene and I really won't add much more than to say I definitely admired Noe in his attempt to give the audience absolutely no thrills during the scene and it's a troubling and disturbing scene to watch. With no edits and a single wide shot, the audience suffers through the scene, which seems right. It is rape after all (well... pretend rape, but in the context of the movie).


At the screening I saw at the Toronto Film Festival, it seemed that a lot of the audience I was overhearing sounded more like they were going on a roller coaster ride rather than seeing a film. Irreversible's reputation seemed to precede it and it sounded like some people were there more to test their stamina and endurance rather than having a genuine interest in the subject matter. I believe that though Noe did his best to command your attention, when an audience member goes in already resisting getting involved with a film it also makes a film harder to like. If you watch any film as an outsider I don't think you can get the same out of it, though it is completely understandable why people would be trepidatious about losing themselves within this film.


Noe set out to make a film that was about darkness, hopelessness and the meaningless of all our suffering and he did so in such an interesting, cinematic and sometimes heartbreaking way and that is quite an achievement. I really believe that this film will be remembered for a long, long time as masterpiece by one of the true innovators of cinema. But it won't be remembered forever, time does destroy everything.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Favourite Films of the Decade #10 - Exiled

What's a top ten list without a Johnnie To film? And I mean any top ten list. Top ten recipes? Gorgonzola gnocchi while watching The Mission at #7. Top ten automobiles? A brown trans-am driving to the theater so I can see Vengeance at #3. Top ten films of the 2000s? Johnnie To's Exiled at #10.

I had a hard time choosing between his and To's 2 Election films (that's right, if they were picked I would have counted both parts as one film!). Whereas the Election movies are gritty looks at the evil behind the Triads with some very surprising and shocking moments, Exiled is a heroic bloodshed type of film where the characters are tough, cool, honourable and ass-kickers. I love all the films, but maybe what put Exiled over the top was it encompassed everything I love about Asian action films with just a sprinkling of Leone.

As you'll see later in this list (if you continue to read my poorly worded ramblings) the last decade was essentially when I became enthralled with Asian cinema. After an amazing year for Hollywood in 1999, it seemed that with the exception of an occasional American Psycho or Traffic, American films had become predictable, routine and above all else, boring. Where was the invention and creativity? I really wasn't seeing anything new. Then I stumbled upon Takashi Miike films and Battle Royale. Here's what I was fuckin' looking for. And then the rest of the decade was spent discovering the many amazing genres of Asian cinema.

I had previously seen The Killer and Hard Boiled (like any cinema lover worth their salt) and, of course, loved them. But when John Woo left for America, there was a big hole where Hong Kong's kick ass action used to be. Granted, I don't hate a lot of recent HK action as much as some fans, but there wasn't a director that a fan could rely on the same way they could on Woo. Then good ole Johnnie To entered into the picture. I had seen Full Time Killer at the Toronto Film Festival, followed by PTU and loved them dearly. The Election films I unfortunately only saw on DVD, but it seemed To was stepping up his game. Not only were they great, intense films, but dramatically they were possibly the best he's produced.

So it was with much anticipation me and my good lady wife went to see Exiled when it played the fest in whatever fucking year it was there. Waiting in the massive line I was happy to see that so many folks out there loved To as well. And I don't think anyone but the motherfucka sitting beside me (of course) were let down. On the bright side though, despite the dude sitting beside me complaining through much of the film, I was loving it so much I couldn't be bothered to be upset. That never, ever happens.


Exiled starts out with a CU of a hand knocking on a door. A haggard looking but beautiful woman opens up and is greeted by two ruffians looking for Wo (no that's not a cute euphemism for sex). She tells them she's never heard of him and they leave. Moments later, another CU of the door being knocked on and two more scallywags (one being a surprisingly cool looking Anthony Wong) are asking for Wo. Same response. As the four obviously shady characters wait outside the home for Wo to show himself, it's obvious that at one time they had all been friends. 2 are there to protect Wo, and 2 are there to kill him.

Leone is immediately brought to mind. All of the criminals are wearing overcoats and smoking cigars (though not cigarellos) much like The Man With No Name, and even as they wait for Wo, it somewhat reminded me of the killers waiting for The Man With Harmonica at the beginning of Once Upon a Time in the West. Essentially, the audience knows some shit is going to go down. And when it does, it's spectacular. Wo arrives and one person from each set follows him up to his home as the other two wait outside (when a cop shows up there is a scene with a can that seems plucked from A Fistful of Dollars). The gunfight that follows is great, but what is even better is how it's followed up. After they try and kill each other, and only stop because of Wo's infant son, they decide to talk about Wo's crime instead, and help the small family cook and cleanup while they're at it. It's this feeling of kinship, honour and friendship that elevate this far beyond a gangster shoot em up. After To gets us worked up with the scene leading up to the gunfight, and the fight itself, he makes us laugh as the ruthless hitmen roll up their sleeves to move a crib or make soup that still has bullets in it from the gunfight. Amazing opening for a film. This film is about memories and regrets. And people getting shot.

As for the action scenes, it seems To keeps trying to outdo the previous set piece. There are shootouts in a hallway, a restaurant, a makeshift doctor's office, a field and a hotel, and each scene is more impressive than the last. Sure it could be argued that the CGI Red Bull can in the last shootout takes one out of the moment, but it could also be argued that whoever thinks that is actually just an asshole.

Also, the characters in Exiled are fantastic. Not only are our protaganists cool as fuck, but we really care about them because they care so much for each other. Anthony Wong is amazing as the ringleader, completely changing his usual image as a weirdo or a sage like mentor. Here he plays a man whom I suspect may have become a hitman to make him feel better about himself. During a scene where he is being bullied by a former boss, it felt like this wasn't something he was unaccustomed to . Also, one of the final shots in the film is of him putting on his shades, trying to remain cool despite what has just happened.

Also, I loved at a certain point in the film, he decides to leave everything to chance. His decisions were not helping anyone, so he let the flip of a coin decide their fate. The payoff to this is very powerful.

Also, Simon Yam was hilarious as the villain in the film, hamming it up while remaining a complete asshole. He would have made a great heel in wrestling in another life. Also, who couldn't love the hotel owner/pimp/gangster Jeff? A scumbag until the very end. And the female characters are great. As opposed to the usual love interest, our central female character is Wo's wife, heartbroken because of Wo's choice of lifestyle and the friends that go with it. As much as you like our group of criminals, it's hard not to side with her by the end of the film.

I could go much more into the film, but if you haven't seen it I'd hate to spoil anything for you. There is definitely more of that "Leone" feeling nearing the end and some wicked tough guy bonding with a corrupt cop.

Exiled is a semi follow up to To's The Mission in the same way Fierce Creatures is a follow up to A Fish Called Wanda. It's not necessary to see The Mission before seeing Exiled (I didn't) but the two films are great companion pieces. The Mission explores much of the same themes and has most of the same actors playing similar parts. So if you happen to love Exiled you'd really be doing yourself a disservice in not seeing The Mission.

Almost done, just wanted to say I was surprised when this film came and went in North America. I didn't think the film would connect the same way Woo's films did, but I did expect some fanfare. It seems a lot of people I know, when it comes to foreign films, think that if they've seen what is considered the best from a certain genre (Woo's heroic bloodshed films) that they've done their job as a filmgoer and there's no need to explore further. Maybe I'm being critical of them since I love discovering films that don't have a lot of shelf space at Blockbuster, but I really expected To to be a household name by now.

Exiled is a great place to start if you want to get into To's films. It's got everything you need in a heroic bloodshed film. And if you're a fan of Leone (and really, who the hell isn't?) you'll be even more satisfied. Considering it's on my list for best films of the decade, it goes without saying that this is a must see.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coming Soon! Favourite Films of the Decade!

You read that right. I'm going to get an early start on counting down my favourite films of the decade. I'd never be so bold as to call them the "best" films of the decade, but look into your heart and you'll know I'm right with every one of my picks. I figure, if I start the countdown now, there is a good chance I can have it done by the end of the decade. And seriously, what are the chances that a film will come out between now and 2010 that will make the list? One trillion to one? Maybe more. It's only Oscar season coming up. Nevertheless, most lists I make up (and I loves me my lists) are out of date once I see all the movies I've missed from such and such a time. I'm confident that the first couple films will likely stay put, but #8 and up are on very shaky ground. It's not like I've seen every film of the decade (just the ones that matter holmes).

Also, I probably won't have many recent films on the list. It's easy to get gung-ho after seeing a Drag Me to Hell or Watchmen, and maybe want to throw them high on the list. I'd like to give them a little more time to gestate, and who knows, something like Drag Me to Hell may eventually make number one once I watch it multiple times and make a tradition out of it. So remember, this list is really fucking unfair to new films. That's the kind of piece of work that I am.

These films are not up for debate, because I'm actually using scientific methods to judge their merit. After I've done all the tests in my laboratory, I'll put them up you lucky devils and then you can nod your heads knowingly are rearrange your list accordingly. Have fun!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Crank: High Voltage - The most negative insanely positive review ever!

First there was Crank, an over the top action film that reminded the viewer of Grand Theft Auto. Thought the movie didn't do overly well theatrically, it did well enough on DVD to merit a sequel. And hence this masterpiece was born.

I was immediately reminded of the work of Takashi Miike, particularly the beginning and end sequences from Dead or Alive. Crank: High Voltage is like a feature length version of those scenes, keeping the energy and insanity throughout it's entire running time. And much like another great sequel, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, though it always keeps the pedal to the metal, it never becomes tiresome. That's partly because it stars Jason Statham, the best action star out there today, who seldom could be accused of being a pretty boy. Granted, he doesn't have the rugged, hard assed features of a Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin, but he's got charisma and believability when it comes to kicking ass. Even in his worst films he is quite watchable. What also helps the film is it's unpredictability. Whereas the first part may have been outrageous, it stayed grounded in reality for the most part. Crank 2 is batshit crazy. For the audience members who said, "Yeah right" when Statham fell out of a helicopter, made a phone call, landed on a car and survived in the first part, they're throat will get sore from saying "As if" every 5 seconds for it's complete running time. The sequel could give a rat's ass about realism and is all the better for it. The first Crank was certainly entertaining, but this one is swinging for the fences, and for the most part succeeds. Another factor is the stellar soundtrack by Mike Patton. Though it is very much in the forefront and demands attention, it never gets in the way of the film, but only enhances it. During a recurring musical theme, Statham himself starts whistling along to the soundtrack, somewhat recalling Eliot Gould singing along to the score of The Long Goodbye (could have I picked 2 films more further in tone?)


One problem I did have with the film though was it's continuous use of racist comments and names throughout. I'm not a prude when it comes to this (says the white middle-class man who grew up amongst mostly his own people), but I have to admit I didn't really find it that necessary. I know it's a response (by white people) against being politically correct, and it adds to the lewd, "we don't give a fuck about nothing!" attitude, but this film really doesn't need that. Having Statham call people chinks, slant-eyes and cuntonease really did make me uncomfortable after a while. And it also feels cheap because it seems Asians are one of the last races white people can make fun of and ridicule. Oh yeah, and Mexicans too, which this film mercilessly makes fun of. As long as it's a minority group that they won't be vilified for making fun of, it seems some writers take great pleasure in doing so. Take the latest Die Hard, where the Chinese woman was constantly referred to by our hero as a "Chinese bitch". Nice. Being Chinese and a woman are both derogatory.

Still, though a little put off by the constant racism I really love the film and I'd love to hear the writer/director's reason for it. Hopefully it's not, "We all just need to lighten up". I always hate when white dudes tell minorities to, "Whoa, calm down. It's cool that I'm making fun of you. Take a chill pill minority". It's like that guy who has a black friend that doesn't mind that his white friends poke fun with him. Now reverse that. You're one of the few white guys amongst a country of black people, and you learn that if you make a fuss you will not fit in. Suddenly you're much cooler with people poking fun at you. And it makes the white folk feel so good that you think they're cool enough to call you names. (Must stop typing.... turning into rant). It's just funny how a lot of white people are "cool" with being politically incorrect. Why the fuck wouldn't they be? It's not about them, it's about other people. Fucking white people.


Anyway, much like Antichrist, I'm such a fan of the filmmaking, storytelling and style that I'm just hoping the filmmakers aren't just assholes when it comes to their reasons for being "provocative". I hope they don't just find making fun of other races funny much like I hope Von Trier doesn't just hate women. I pray they are just shit disturbers since I want to like their films so much. (on a side note, since so many people are "cool" with Von Trier's Antichrist potentially being about woman's inherent evil, a woman I know said she wonders if as many people would be okay if instead of woman, Von Trier made the movie about black people being born evil. I said the critics would have a shit fit and the movie would probably be banned. To this she responded that today it's still okay to hate women. Good point.)

But don't get me wrong, I don't hate any of the films I've mentioned. Crank: High Voltage is a 5 star film, Antichrist is 4 and a half stars and even the Die Hard flick is 4 stars. It just seems intolerance in movies is getting overlooked. When it's done in South Park, it's done for parody, or to point out the ridiculousness of it. Sometimes it feels like this movie has that South Park attitude, and I just hope it also has the brains to go with it. (another side note, when I complained about the racism in Crank to the same woman I talked to about Antichrist, she asked why I was put off by the racism in movies, but not by all the people killing each other. I guess we choose what we are a prude about). I should also mention, I'm not one of those people who think everyone else are sheep, easily lead into believing violence, sexism or racism are fine because they see it in the movies, so despite my criticism of Crank: High Voltage and other films, I don't believe they are dangerous in any way. I also realize that everyone in the film is essentially a villain, and "that's how they talk" (if that is where the filmmakers decide to honour realism). So essentially, forget what I'm saying, sit back and enjoy the insanity.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TIFF - MOTHER

The last movie I saw this year, and a darned good one at that.


It was the last day of the festival, only hours after seeing the fantastic Symbol, and I had a hankering to see the new Bong Joon-ho film, Mother. Only one problem, when I went to buy tickets beforehand it had already been sold out for a while. It was nearing 5 pm and the movie was set to start just after six. Dare I try the rush line? After debating (with myself) for another 15 minutes I decided, what the heck, the theater's a short walk from where I live and the worst that can happen is I won't be let in. So with my trusty iPod in hand, playing the book podcast from Mondo Movie, I headed out to try my luck. Upon my arrival I realized there was no fucking way in hell I was getting in. I had convinced myself that it was the last day of the festival so maybe everyone had gone home and there would be seats galore. One look at the ticket holders line, then the rush line told me I'd been an idjit to think as much. But I had to try, it was Bong Joon-ho for crying out loud.

I approached one of the film festival volunteers and asked what she thought the odds of me getting in were. Much to be expected, she said she didn't have a clue, sometimes they let in 50 people, other times nobody. Well, I guess you can figure out that I was headed to the rush line.

Wait! But you're wrong fuckers! Much to my amazement (the volunteer's too) a nice lady came up to me and asked if I was looking for tickets to Mother. I managed to say, "yes" before my jaw hit the ground. I thanked her and reached for my wallet, but she would have none of it. She had been given them and she would not accept one penny in return. Luuuucky (imagine being said in the voice of Napoleon Dynamite). I walked with my head held high to the ticket holders line, laughing at all the fucking losers standing in the rush line. Goddamned assholes.



So then the movie started. Right from the opening credits it's apparent that Bong Joon-ho is behind the camera. Not that it is similar to his other works, but every frame of this film exudes the confidence he's seemed to have since his Memories of Murder (I still haven't seen his debut). Surprisingly, though it starts out peculiar, it settles into what could be called a borderline mainstream Hitchcockian thriller. Kim Hye-Ja turns in an amazing performance as the desperate mother out to prove her son's innocence after he is arrested for murdering a schoolgirl. Her son is slow-witted, suffering from memory loss and is easily coerced by the police into signing a confession. The movie moves along at a nice pace while still maintaining quiet moments as the mother uncovers clues and suspects leading towards the devastating conclusion.


With this film Bong Joon-Ho has skyrocketed onto my shortlist of favourite directors. Though I still prefer Memories of Murder and The Host, Mother shows a director who is willing to take chances while telling a great story. Also, whether the film is about murder, or a giant monster, there is a very human element and a deep sense of sadness. I anxiously await his next film, and will try and get the tickets beforehand, I can't imagine getting that lucky twice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TIFF - SYMBOL

My favourite film of the three I saw this year. The director purposely has allowed barely anything to be written about this great little comedy/surreal flick. From what I could tell from the trailer, a man in pajamas wakes up in a white room, sees a baby penis sticking out of the wall and is suddenly surrounded by cherubs. And an old guy barks at a bunch of dogs. From this little trailer I knew this was a must see. Also, it was directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, the genius behind Big Man Japan. I remember when I finally got around to watching BMJ I did not expect to be near as amazing as it was. Along with being crazy, surreal, and visually stunning, it was also a melancholy story of a man who has difficulty with the life before him and sadness from the life behind him. Brilliant stuff.

Much to my shock, I think I may have enjoyed Symbol even more. Though I was confident it was going to be good, I was given a little reason to worry. While perusing DVDs in Suspect Video (awesome video store) I overheard a fella who had just seen Symbol at the midnight showing the night before. "It was terrible," he proclaimed, "I don't know why Colin would even choose this for a Midnight Madness film. Everyone hated it!". Yikes! I didn't want to hear that! I had even managed to talk my wife into seeing it with me (more like she volunteered to see it, but I still didn't want it to suck. It's hard enough convincing her to see crazy films with me). But then this guy continued, "I mean, Big Man Japan sucked as well!" I breathed a sigh of relief as he went on, "Remember the good old days, when it was Nick Zedd films?". Nick Zedd? Yuck! It looked like I had averted trusting this guys opinion even slightly. And anyway he was wrong as a thong (put on backwards).


I don't want to give anything away about the film except that it is a hell of a lot deeper than the trailer makes it out to be (much like BMJ). It seems Matsumoto tries to shed light on the unfairness of life and the frivolity of a higher being in an entertaining way. I don't know if he has suffered himself or has just seen various injustices throughout his life, but this film seems like a fair response. Geez, on second thought I hope I'm not giving too much away, but I really hope everyone sees this and doesn't just dismiss it as another "craaaazy" Japanese film. This really is a wonderful work by an amazing artist. With this and BMJ, much like Noe, Matsumoto has proven that he is a distinctive artist with an original vision that audiences should stop and pay attention to. Trust me, if Symbol isn't the movie to make him breakout, eventually film fans will know his name by heart. A great movie and a great theater experience.




Monday, September 21, 2009

TIFF- ENTER THE VOID

It was with much anticipation that I was going to be seeing Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void at this year's Toronto Film Festival.I had previously seen I Stand Alone at TIFF, knowing nothing about it before the screening, and afterwards having a new favourite filmmaker. Next was the rapey, head-bashing-inny, Irreversible, another masterpiece in nihilistic filmmaking. Now came Noe's epic, the 2 1/2 hour plus Enter the Void. I avoided finding out anything, wanting to go in with as little info as possible. Even after reading the one line imdb plot synopsis, I felt I knew too much.
As the lights dimmed and I took another swig of my large Coke I prepared for a trip akin to David's in 2001. I wasn't far off either. The film follows a drug dealer/junkie, Oscar and his misadventures in Tokyo. The film is shot from his POV, even to the point where we hear the thoughts in his head, like, "This is the good stuff" referring to the drugs he is going to smoke, and "This stuff is shit!". However, once those drugs kick in, Noe does his best to give the viewer as real an experience as Oscar himself. I won't go to much into detail, but it did remind me (and I'm sure everyone else who's seen it) of the end of 2001.

Later, his buddy Alex shows up, explains the Tibetan Book of the Dead, setting up the rest of the movie that I wouldn't dream of spoiling, and off they go to visit Oscar's stripper sister.

Enter the Void could possibly be the most cinematic film I've ever seen. After Irreversible I remember thinking how much would be lost in viewing it on even the largest home theater system. However, watching Enter the Void in anything but a cinema would seem ludicrous. Whereas Irreversible at least had some shocking and entertaining moments and characters that the audience is intrigued with to go with it's style, Enter the Void is all about the style. It's absolutely hypnotic.

Now here is where my warning should come in, and dammit, please heed it. I was a foolish, arrogant bastard, laughing merrily while going to the confection area and ordering a large Coke. Now anyone who has tried this Coke drink (also known as Coca Cola) knows that it is a very delicious drink. Heck, I'd go as far as to say it could be one of the best beverages out there. So I strutted in the theater, sipping my Coke from a straw without a worry in the world. "Fuck not drinking Coke" I thought as I took my seat in the crowded theater.

Now about an hour and forty five minutes into the film I realized the error of my ways. After being completely mesmerized for the running time suddenly my bladder was demanding my full attention. It's hard to fall under the film's spell when your thoughts are something like, "Oh my God do I have to pee. Should I go to the bathroom? But I don't want to miss it. On imdb it said this is the short version so just hold it in punk".

Shortly thereafter I realized imdb was as full of shit as I was full of piss. If only I had taken an aisle seat. Was missing 5 minutes of the film worth enjoying the rest of the film without crossed legs and fears of waterfalls suddenly appearing on screen?

I decided to stick it out, and though I was begging the film to end so I could empty my aching bladder, I still really loved it. In fact, I will definitely see it again, in the theater, with a small Coke.


Now some folk may call Enter the Void pretentious, which I guess can't be argued. But in my mind some filmmakers are totally allowed to be that way. Lynch, Jodorowsky, Noe and others know a lot more about their personal artistic vision than anyone else does, so let them do their thing. I know some people who seem to want to put restrictions on some of the more visionary directors. Kind of like, "Okay, you made your crazy, personal films, now conform so we can take you seriously". Heck even Ebert essentially said that the ideas in Noe's film are shallow, but to hear Noe explain, "I'm just showing the story of a little mammal amongst millions of other little mammals" is modest yet ambitious at the same time. If the filmmaker isn't audacious then it's never mentioned that the film is shallow. A lot of Woody Allen's films (most recent anyway) won't change the way anyone is living, but since he is telling a linear and fairly simple story, "shallow" never even enters the picture (also, was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls incredibly deep?). Irregardless (yes, irregardless holmes) Enter the Void will live on long after any detractors and Noe is one of the top writer/directors to look out for. You'd really be missing a once in a lifetime opportunity if you miss this when it comes out in theaters, so I urge to go to you local multiplex, where I'm certain it will be playing on multiple screens, and see it.





Sunday, September 20, 2009

About this blog


Well lookie here. Another guy who thinks his opinion means jack squat. Like people should stop everything they're doing and listen to his pearls of wisdom. God forbid someone not pay attention to him, the arrogant prick. Maybe his mommy should have played with him more. What a loser.
(Just letting you know, I'm not talking about me. I'm talking about you. I'm pretty wicked)
Enjoy.