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.


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.


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.


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!