Monday, August 23, 2010

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight screens on Tuesday, August 24th at 9:00pm at Toronto Underground Cinema.

Following up on his success with Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan was once again given the chance to direct another Batman film. That film would become the third highest grossing film of all time, and quite possibly the most iconic Batman film to date. It is beloved by many and hated by very few. Oddly enough, for a film that is both darker in tone and scope than it's predecessor, it is also a much brighter looking film.



Batman (Christian Bale) is still cleaning up the streets of Gotham City with help from soon to be police commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, who really needs more roles like this instead of the more offbeat roles he usually gets saddled with) and Gotham's district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhardt, in a role that is usually overlooked when this film is talked about). Only this time around, Gotham has a more homegrown enemy instead of the League of Shadows. A mysterious face pained anarchist has risen to power in Gotham. That man is The Joker.

As played by Heath Ledger, Nolan reminds us why The Joker was always the strongest of Batman villains. Joker is someone who can not be tamed or easily reasoned with. Almost every word out of his mouth is a lie and he is absolutely fearless in his conquests. In terms of determination and using misdirection to conceal whatever his identity might be, Joker really isn't that far off in tone from Batman himself.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Batman Begins

Batman Begins screens tonight at 6:45pm at Toronto Underground Cinema.

After a film as toxic as Batman and Robin (which director Joel Schumacher fully atones for), there are only two ways to go with a franchise. You can either end it all together or wait a really long time before going back and starting all over again. Warner Brothers, very keen to keep the Batman name alive made ultimately the right decision by waiting the better part of a decade before commissioning their next Batman film.



This was a Batman far removed from the campiness of the 50s, 60s, and the Schumcaher films, and also pretty far from Tim Burton's overly Gothic entries into the series of films. Under the direction of Christopher Nolan (who had previously only directed Knowing, Memento, and a remake of the film Insomnia), Batman Begins became an origin story behind the enigmatic hero and his alter ego Bruce Wayne. There isn't much to say about this one because it is a film you shouldn't say very much about to begin with.

Christian Bale plays billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, who's backstory we probably already know as an audience. His parents were murdered when he was a child and he used his fear of bats to strike fear into the hearts of others. That is all well and good, but even with all the money at his disposal, Wayne still had to actually learn how to fight, develop weapons, and create an iconic way of masking his true identity. This is the film that gives the Batman purist pretty much everything he or she would want in a Batman film.

While on what seems like a mental sabbatical in the far East, Wayne hooks up with a group known as The League of Shadows, headed up by emissary and trainer Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson, who as of late has been at his best kicking the crap out of others) and their equally enigmatic leader Ras al Ghul (Ken Wantanabe). It is here that Wayne learns his ability to take and dish out punishment. Upon his return home, his faithful servant Alfred (Michael Caine) helps to create a headquarters where his master can work in secret. Wayne also buys out the applied sciences division of his own corporation in order to cherry pick through years of abandoned military contracts for his own personal gain. The head of applied sciences Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is more than happy to turn a blind eye to Wayne's interests.

The villain of the film isn't really where most of the fun comes from. Cillian Murphy is pretty awesome as the mind bending Scarecrow and Tom Wilkinson has some great moments as a crime boss, but they are all a smoke screen for the big twist at the end of the film. It is a twist that you can probably see coming from far away, but it is a great blast to get to that point. Thankfully this was not Nolan's only turn in the directors chair for the Batman series.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Batman Forever

Batman Forever screens tonight, Saturday August 21st at 7:00pm at Toronto Underground Cinema. It should also screen FOREVER. But alas, it only shows again one other time: Wednesday August 25th at 7:00pm.



ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmYovieevermade.ThisisthoebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevuermadne.ThisisthebestBatgmanmoveieevearmade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevernmade.ThisisthebestBadtmanmovDieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieuevenrmade.ThidsisthebaestBatmsanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevSermade.TqhisistheubestBatmanamovierevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThiseisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmov5ieevermpade.ThisistmhebestBatmaNnmovieaevertmade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovhieevearmade.TnhisisthebesPtBathmainmovieevelrmade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermlade.ThisisithebestBpatmansmovieSevermade.
ThisqisthebeustBatmanmoavieervermade.TehisisthebestBatAmanmovifeevtermade.
ThisisthebestBeatmanrmovieevermadUe.ThisnisthebedstBatmanemovieervermade.
TghisisthebrestBatmoanmovieeuvermande.ThisisdthebestBCatmanmiovieevernmade.
ThisisthebestBatmeanmovieevermmade.ThisistahebestBatmanmoavieevtermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatman7movieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatpmanmmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBaAllnextweekyoutmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatwillfearmemanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.
ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.ThisisthebestBatmanmovieevermade.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Batman (1989)

Batman (1989) screens tonight, Friday August 20th at 9:00pm. It screens again on Monday August 23rd at 7:00pm.

When I was a young child I was pretty deprived in terms of what films I got to watch. My father hated anything and everything science fiction, which means I had to watch anything Star Wars or Star Trek related in secret and without him knowing about it. He hated it that much. If he ever caught me watching anything science fiction related, he would literally tell me to turn that shit off and put something else on instead.

So what exactly does this have to do with Tim Burton's 1989 Batman? Well, in terms of how I viewed the film as a kid, quite a bit.

You see, my father might have hated science fiction movies, but he loved comic book movies. As a young child, I might have been too young to get caught up in the Batmania of 1989 and I could have cared less that the movie was the highest grossing film that year (and almost of the 1980s in general). My dad wouldn't let me watch what I wanted to watch and I honestly thought that Batman was a character for old dudes. I was given the VHS by some family member one year for my birthday. It sat unopened for two more years until my father finally watched it. I took no part in watching it and stayed in my room building a blanket fort (true fact).

I honestly didn't see the '89 Batman film until about two years ago when I decided to break down and take it out of the public library. I still find that funny because despite hating Batman Returns (which I did see in theatres and gave several second chances to after everyone kept raving about it) and seeing every subsequent film that followed almost religiously. I was very glad I did. I might have disliked my father for a lot of things, but when it came to Batman, he was genuinely on to something I would have actually liked.



Michael Keaton plays Bruce Wayne, the billionaire industrialist turned vigilante thanks to the death of his parents at the hands of a mugger while he was a child. Batman stalks the streets of a seemingly lawless Gotham city that is overrun by the mob, lead by Jack Pallance's Carl Grissom. After a struggle and a shootout one of Grissom's henchmen falls into a vat of chemicals and becomes horribly disfigured. The former number two man sees some very dark humor in the situation and rechristens himself as The Joker.



The Joker is played here by Jack Nicholson in one of his best performances. Nicholson doesn't walk the line between insanity and reality. The Joker is so far over the line that he almost has no basis in reality at all. This makes The Joker the perfect Batman foil simply because Bruce Wayne really isn't all that far off in terms of insanity, either.

I will go on record as saying that I am really not a huge Tim Burton fan (especially in the past 5 or 6 years), but I still think Batman remains one of his best. Strangely enough, for the longest time, Burton was really unhappy with how the film turned out. Burton was happy it was successful, but he maintained that it wasn't the film he really wanted to make. The much darker Batman Returns was a lot closer in tone to Burton's original vision, but for my money, the first Batman actually feels like a Batman film should. It is serious up to a point and if it injects humor into the story, it doesn't feel as labored or mean spirited.

As for Keaton, he delivers the best performance as Bruce Wayne in the entire series. Keaton does have a dark, tortured look to him in the role of a billionaire playboy so unhappy in his normal life that he has to resort to literal darkness in order to see the light. I would still love to see Keaton return to the Batmobile at some point in the future. Actually, I would just like to see Keaton make a full time return to acting in general.

Batman is a film that I might not have appreciate as a kid, but I have an affinity for now. I think a lot of people have movies like that. What are some of yours? Leave a comment and tell me. I am really interested to hear what you guys think.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate Kid screened August 11th-15th at Toronto Underground Cinema.

There. Now, I am officially caught up. Now I can take a breath-

What? I have a whole week of Batman films to review? I never did Grown Ups (which "sadly" I will not get a chance to sit through this week) or do my follow up on Exit Through the Gift Shop (which screens tonight, Thursday August 19th, at 7:00pm and you should definitely check out if you get the chance) And I have a new Romero film to review this week? Plus actually start doing interviews with independent filmmakers showing their wares at the Underground?

It's enough to make someone go mad.
It's enough to make someone go mad.
It's enough to make someone go mad.
It's engh t mae smne ho md.
It's enigma. (uoyrofdoogsitahwwonkuoy)
It's an enigma. (fiyadruttaSdunorgrednUehttaebdluohs)
It's... a clue clue clue clue. (ouyemslletgnihtemos)

Sorry about that. I lost my train of thought. We are here to briefly touch upon the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid and I wanted to tell you that even though I fell behind on writing about it, the remake decidedly does not suck. Well, at least no more than the original did.



Jaden Smith is Dre, the kid of the title this time around, and in Karate Kid II style, the action is transported to Hong Kong, where young Dre is forced to live with his single workaholic mother (Taraji P. Henson, who is really underrated as an actress in general) and is harassed daily by a bunch of Kung Fu trained bullies. Enter Mr. Miyagi, this time played by Jackie Chan in one of his best performances, a kindly old man who teaches Dre about self respect and the world around him through the teaching of martial arts.

Something people tend to forget about the original Karate Kid is that it really is just Rocky grafted onto a high school melodrama. There was never anything terribly original about it, and it was a movie simply meant to entertain. When I heard that a movie as mediocre yet entertaining as Karate Kid was going to be helmed by some people's hack of the decade Harold Zwart (The Pink Panther, Agent Cody Banks) I will admit I had some trepidation. Thankfully, Zwart makes a film that actually crafts a sense of time and place for the story and takes his time (sometimes a bit too much since the film runs 13 minutes longer than the already overlong original) to let things unfold naturally. Smith is also not nearly as annoying as the trailers make you think he will be. He still has a ways to go to be a great actor, but he has his father Will's natural comedic timing down and he has also inherited a great deal of daddy's charm.

In the end, much like the original, The Karate Kid is perfectly serviceable matinee fodder. The kind of film that you can very easily throw on any afternoon and get a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling from.

Micmacs

Micmacs screened at the Toronto Underground Cinema on August 10th-12th.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet has only made one bad film in his career, and it wasn't even his fault that the movie turned out as poorly as it did. Alien: Ressurrection was an anomaly for all parties involved from Jeunet, to co-writer Joss Whedon, to the franchise itself. This means that Jeunet has one of the best track records amongst directors in the past 30 years. His hits are always solid despite any slight flaws they might have. Micmacs is most assuredly one of his hits.



Bazil (Dany Boon) is a former orphan (who lost his father to a claymore mine while he was stationed overseas) working in a video store who is one day accidentally shot in the head during a drive by shooting/car chase outside the shop. Upon his release from the hospital, and despite being perfectly capable of leading a normal life despite a bullet being permanently lodged in his brain, he has lost his home and his job. After about a month on the streets, Bazil is taken in by a rag-tag group of misfits and outcasts who make their way in the world by salvaging people's trash for scrap.

During his scrap metal adventuring, Bazil finds out that the company that made the bullet lodged in his head and the company who manufactured the mine that killed his father are located across the street from each other. Bazil, with the help of his friends who include a former human cannonball record holder and a contortionist with a dark past and a short fuse, concocts a scheme to get the two rival arms manufactures to take each other out.

Jeunet has created a film that feels like a high brow circus act; melding different genres and styles. Jeunet is clearly influenced by all matter of Warner Brothers films from the 30s and 40s, especially Casablanca, The Big Sleep, and Looney Tunes shorts. These loving references really speak to the healing power that films can have on someone when they feel they have been cast aside. The film also uses elements of more modern corporate espionage stories to great effect and essentially the film is really a heist film where instead of stealing money or product, revenge is what is being taken.

Micmacs might not be Jeunet's best film, but when you have already made films like Amelie, City of Lost Children, and Delicatessen, that is a pretty tall order. I can say that Micmacs is definitely one of the most playful films I have seen all year and is pretty much all but guaranteed to put the viewer in a good mood.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rushmore

Rushmore screened on Sunday August 8th at Toronto Underground Cinemas as part of director Edgar Wright's Wright Stuff film series. For the last time on this blog, I beseech you to check out Wright's latest film Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, now showing in multiplexes also showing the Expendables and Eat Pray Love everywhere.

Due to time constraints and the fact that I am far behind on these blogs, I will keep the joys of Rushmore simple. Rushmore is a brilliant dead pan comedy from a director I seem to have a love/hate relationship with. Wes Anderson has created a film that kind of works as a new genre unto itself and stands nicely alongside Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I like to call it, the reverse slacker film.



Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman, in his first ever leading role) loves his extracurricular activities at Rushmore Academy, but seemingly detests the actual school part of things. Max doesn't seem to have many friends, but at the same time he has his hands in everything possible and is probably the most widely known person on campus. Max is a bit full of himself, but he uses everything he has at his disposal to make everything he does the biggest and best thing possible.



Max begins to have a crush on a first grade teacher (Olivia Williams) and soon finds himself embroiled in a battle for her affections (even though she wants nothing to do with him) with a much older and wealthier man played by Bill Murray. Both men act like small children and ultimately both end up alienating the woman of their dreams.

Schwartzman plays Max Fischer perfectly from Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson's script. Max is very sure of himself, but also hopelessly naive. He is all street smarts and no book smarts, but all his street smarts comes from books that he wanted to read and not the ones he should have been reading in the first place to stave off his impending expulsion. Murray has also rarely been better, and that is saying quite a lot. He is the one who actually paid attention, but let life pass him by in the process. Their rivalry is one of the best in film history.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Ferris Bueller's Day Off screened this past Sunday, August 8th, at Toronto Underground Cinema as part of director Edgar Wright's Wright Stuff film series. If you haven't guessed by now, this is the part where I tell you to go check out his latest film, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, in theatres now. Don't wait until a bargain Tuesday or anything like that. It is worth the full price of admission.

I think like a lot of film fans, I can think of maybe 4 movies that I will never get sick of watching because I love them so much, but I would be hard pressed to make enough cuts to come up with a top ten list of my favorite films of all time. I can't quite tell if it is simply because of the time period that I grew up in or because I genuinely admire him as a writer, but John Hughes would have two movies on that list that are actually only one of four movies I know would have a locked in place. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of those films and considering Hughes' output as the master of teen and familial angst, it is actually an anomaly in his filmography.

Hughes is probably best known for his more high school centered trilogy of The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Weird Science. There is a good reason why these films are packaged together quite often as a box set, and that is because they cover a lot of the same ground, but with different amounts of pathos and from different perspectives. They are all wonderfully written films and The Breakfast Club would probably just barely miss being the third Hughes film to make my favorite movies of all time list. What sets Ferris apart from these films, however, is the fact that just like the title character, the movie is so laid back that it simply allows things to happen rather than forcing situations to move the plot forward. Weird Science and Sixteen Candles are really entertaining, but I think we can all admit that to some degree they push the plot sometimes a bit too hard.



Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) wants to live a life of simple luxuries. He has been given a technological gold mine by his parents (but not a car) to pretty much fake sick as many times as he wants and even has the means to fix his own records at school. Ferris wants his neurotic best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck, giving the best performance in the film full of great ones) a great time before they part ways for college, possibly to never see each other again. Ferris also has a fiercely loyal girlfriend in Sloan Peterson (Mia Sara) who often accompanies them on their adventures.

On the other end of the equation there is Principal Edward Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and his secretary Grace (Edie McClurg) who are trying to use Ferris as an example. Ferris knows that in order to make an illness seem real, everyone has to believe it, and outside of Cameron and Sloan, no one else knows Ferris isn't really on death's door. It seems like the entire community is rallying around Ferris, but I am sure if anyone stopped them to ask what they heard, you would get several different answers. Rooney feels that Ferris is an affront to his control over the student body and decides to take a day off himself and take to the streets in an effort to take him down once and for all.

Ferris Bueller is ultimately a comedy about a snot nosed priviledged jerk who shows sociopathic behavior and doesn't want to do anything or take any sort of real responsibility. You can never tell for sure that he doesn't want to do anything in his life, he simply seems unengaged by the one he has now. This is normally the type of film I simply detest, but it has enough charm and wit to fuel a hundred movies instead of just one. Most social class based comedies actually forget to be funny (Royal Tenenbaums I am looking squarely at your unfunny and punishingly annoying ass), but Bueller manages to make jokes that everyone can understand and relate to even if they can't relate to the situation. Who hasn't wanted to take the day off from work? Who hasn't wanted to work their way into a fancy restaurant? Who hasn't dreamed of being the center of attention in the middle of a parade? Ferris Bueller is wish fulfillment at its best, and if you think about it, class doesn't really play into the things he is able to pull off. Instead, he uses cunning and smarts to outwit Rooney and keep his own parents in the dark.

Being able to watch this film on the big screen is probably my favorite highlight of the TUC thus far. I didn't even realize it, but I knew pretty much the entire movie by heart. I had to stifle myself to keep from laughing at the jokes before they even arrived. For the longest time Ferris Bueller was my "good time" movie. If I had a rough day, I would go home and watch it and pretty soon all the crappy feelings of the previous day would simply melt away. Edgar Wright stated that Ferris Bueller was kind of a good luck charm while filming Scott Pilgrim. It was the film that Wright and lead actor Michael Cera watched the night before shooting started. They created something known as the "Ferris wheel," by which Cera would gauge his onscreen performance based on whether he should act more like Ferris or Cameron. I think life should be lived by that same wheel. Sometimes you need to be sure of yourself and others you need to be a bit more sober than you normally are.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

Riki-Oh screened on Saturday August 7th at Toronto Underground Cinema as part of director Edgar Wright's The Wright Stuff film series. Did I mention that you should see Edgar's new film, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, which just came out yesterday in theatres? You really should. After you read this, of course. But that shouldn't matter. It would take you a while to get to the theatre anyway unless you live right next to one. Plus, you would have to wait for the next show to start. You have a few minutes. But after that, you should go.

A few days ago Edgar Wright retweeted the following astute observation:

"There are two types of people in the world. Those who love Riki-Oh and those who haven't seen it."

In terms of badly dubbed (this is a rare kind of film that you simply can not watch with subtitles) manga adaptations from the early 90s this is easily the best. I'm not even sure if another one exists. I don't really care to look, either, simply because after having seen Riki-Oh on the big screen and with an amazingly vocal audience, I can safely say that no other film could come close to Riki. There is nothing I could even compare it to. Possibly Evil Dead 2, but that is even a bit of a stretch. It is unlike anything I have seen in my life. I can't exactly put into words what I saw, but I know I saw something.



In the far off future of 2001, we learn that all public services have been privatized. This includes prisons. This really has nothing to do with the plot of the film. Maybe that is in place to explain why the prison we see in the film is so corrupt and run not only by the overbearing warden and assistant warden (who unless you see the film, you are not important enough to know about yet) but also by four thugs known as The Gang of Four (one for each wing of the prison).

Into this prison walks Riki-Oh, a young man with superhuman strength who stands up against the corrupt system. This is a man so bad-ass that he can punch clean through a 400 pound assassin and carries around bullets from a shooting in his body as souvenirs.

I really have nothing more to say about this film. I am simply at a loss. You just need to see it to believe it. A must for gore hounds, martial arts enthusiasts, manga lovers (despite straying very far from the original story, apparently), bad movie lovers, B-movie fans, geeks, dweebs, sluts, motorheads, wasteoids, dickheads, and anyone in the mood for something that quite simply defies any sort of explanation whatsoever.

Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon screened on Saturday August 7th at Toronto Underground Cinema as part of Edgar Wright's The Wright Stuff film series. Don't forget to check out Wright's latest film, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, now in theatres.




Flash Gordon is a terrific example of an entertaining bad movie. It has pretty much everything going for it, and could only have been made by truly talented people. No, I am not taking about producer Dino De Laurentis (Hurricane, the 1970s King Kong remakes), but the other people behind the camera. Director Mike Hodges (who was astoundingly the 8th choice to direct this film and only got the job after someone else got fired shortly before production began) was responsible for the original Get Carter. As for the writer, Lorenzo Semple Jr. was responsible for the De Laurentis flops I previously listed beside his name, but also wrote Three Days of the Condor, Papillon, and the original 1966 Batman. The adaptation from comic to screenplay was set in motion by Michael Allin, writer of Enter the Dragon. If you are going to make a cheese-fest like Flash Gordon, you couldn't do better than these three. They all understand the delicate balance between the tongue-in-cheek and the need to provide some actual entertainment value.

You also need Queen to do the soundtrack.



Flash Gordon (Sam Jones, probably best known as Bo Derek's husband in 10) is a quarterback for the New York Jets aboard a spaceship hijacked by Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow, hamming it up with great aplomb) who wishes to destroy the Earth simply because he is bored. Flash's girl Dale (Melody Anderson) is also kidnapped by Ming who wants to make her his temporary wife. Flash, with the help of rival princes Barin (Timothy Dalton, as bemused as ever, but seemingly having a blast) and Vultan (Brian Blessed), is the only man who can stop Ming (somehow), reclaim his girl, and restore some sense of order to the universe.



Flash Gordon is batshit crazy. Nothing that happens seems to make a lot of sense, but in the style of a 1930s and 40s serial, nothing really has to make sense. The audience is simply around for the ride and to have a good time. If you think about Flash too much, your brain might explode. Some people say that the film hasn't aged well since 1980. I beg to disagree with that point. I'm sure it didn't even look like it was of its time when it was released that year. Today, it doesn't look like a 30 year old film, it looks like a 50 or 60 year old film. I'm quite sure that such a decision had to be deliberate on the part of the production team.

Besides, in the year when Empire Strikes Back was released, who would really want to see another Star Wars clone? The Star Wars films wouldn't have even existed if it weren't for the original Flash, so the filmmakers wisely acknowledge this by simply doing the exact opposite of everything done in Star Wars. The sets are cheap and obviously miniatures in many cases. Things that float are obviously not floating. The script is filled with some of the most obvious innuendos ever committed to the page. The costumes are outlandish and excessive and there are people actually in the film with nothing more to do than cheer and boo the actions the audience watches. All in all, Flash is just a great dumb movie.

Still alive and kicking

I apologize to the two people who have asked in the past few days (and assuming that there might be a couple more) regarding the infrequent updating of this blog and how far it has fallen behind in the past two weeks. There have been a variety of reasons as to why this has happened:

1. Personal - Things have been a little rough as of late, and without getting into specifics, there were a few personal matters that took top priority.

2. Professional - In the past two weeks I have started a new job and finished helping out at the Underground with both Late Night in the Bedroom (a great indie rock and arts webseries that filmed their season finale at The Underground recently) and The Wright Stuff, alongside getting something off the ground for the upcoming Adam West appearance that is going to be extremely epic and fun. Plus, it leads to some of you lucky ducks winning stuff. Stay tuned for that.

3. Technical - I do not own a desktop. Only a laptop. The AC adaptor for my computer has decided to stop working and tracking down a replacement has been a bit of an issue (mostly because I am broke). The battery is fine, but I simply can't charge it and I have not been able to find a store that simply sells power supply replacements that are compatible with my old P.O.S. Compaq. I have been forced to use (shudder) the computers at the Toronto Public Library to post, which only work half the time. On top of all this, on Thursday, the only day I was actually available to post by backlog of blogs. my blog was down and I could not access it.

So if you get a bunch of RSS notifications from me all at once for films that have already passed, please either ignore them or realize that the intention was to post them well before this. Flash Gordon, Riki-Oh, Ferris Beuler's Day Off, Rushmore, Micmacs, The Karate Kid, Mad Monkey Kung Fu, and Africa Screams will all be up in the near future. The blog will be back on track for next week where you can look forward to Grown Ups, a follow-up on Exit Through the Gift shop, and a look ahead to Batman week and George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead.

Thank you all for your patience. Just the fact that people noticed the lack of updates and showed some concern, means quite a lot.

Here is a video of wrestler Scott Steiner (a university graduate!) describing your chances of winning this upcoming Batman contest:


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz screened this past Friday, August 6th at Toronto Underground Cinema as part of Edgar Wright's The Wright Stuff. Don't forget to check out Wright's latest film, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, in theatres this Friday August 13th.

Hot Fuzz is a brilliant film and quite possibly the best buddy cop film ever conceived. I know this blog comes hot on the heels of me saying that Shaun of the Dead is a classic, but if you look back at that blog, you should note that I didn't call it the best zombie film (that would be the original Dawn of the Dead) or the best romantic comedy of all time. Hot Fuzz unseated Beverly Hills Cop as the best buddy cop film of all time in my eyes simply because Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg do the exact same thing here that they did in Shaun of the Dead: they always put the characters first.

Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Pegg) with the Metropolitan Police Department is being reassigned to the countryside village of Sandford in the North country. He is being reassigned not because of shell shock or because he screwed up, but because he is so devoted to and so good at his job that he is making the rest of the force look bad in comparison.

Angel arrives in Sandford where he is immediately a fish out of water, much like Beverly Hills Cop. His superior, Frank (Jim Broadbent), is far too nice to be the chief of police and Angel is partnered with Frank's son Danny (Nick Frost, who steals the show even more here than in Shaun), who is desperate to live the life of a "real" police officer. Danny grills Nicholas every chance he gets about hanging from helicopters to firing your gun in the air for no reason other than dramatic effect.

Nicholas, however, can't quite get into the rhythms of Sandford, especially when most of the town's problems are things that Angel would himself overlook as being too petty to really arrest someone for (kids loitering, a missing swan, "crusty jugglers"). What does capture Angel's attention, however, is the fact that over the years a lot of residents have had very unfortunate accidents befall them that don't really seem like accidents at all. Unfortunately, Frank, Danny, and the rest of the police force in Sandford, which is once again in the running for the best village award, are willing to see them as anything other than a series of unfortunate incidents. Needless to say, Nicholas will turn out to be right about foul play being afoot, and it is up to him and Danny (after much coaxing and referencing numerous action films Danny loves) to restore order to this quiet community.

Part of the joy of watching Hot Fuzz, is letting the twists of the story unfold. There is quite obviously a red herring character in the form of Timothy Dalton's supermarket owner Skinner, but to see where the story leads makes it a better movie in my eyes than Shaun was. Hot Fuzz is really one of the best piss takes on suburban panic in recent years. Everyone in Sandford seems ignorant, avoiding the truth, or flat out blood thirsty and evil about how much they want their town to appear perfect in everyone's eyes. By the end of the film, the real problem is revealed and the viewer can't help but wonder if their diabolical plot is even worth it. Without getting into too much detail, think about if the killer's motivations make any economic sense in any way when you are don watching the film.

Wright has pretty much mastered the art of the whip pan at this point in his career, and despite a running time just barely north of two hours, he keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. Pegg is clearly having a blast firing off guns and generally acting like a supercop. But it is Frost, who shines the brightest in Hot Fuzz. Danny is a bit of an idiot, but he is actually quite lovable once you get to know him, and the movie's detailing of Danny's relationship to both Nicholas and his father, is quite touching. Danny is someone who has been sheltered his entire life, but he yearns for something more. But how can you yearn for something that is intangible, especially when all you know of the outside world seems to come from Hollywood action blockbusters.

To call Hot Fuzz a British homage to the films of the likes of Michael Bay and Katherine Bigelow, is to oversimplify matters and to do the source material a great disservice. Hot Fuzz is a smarter film than a lot of people give it credit for being, and definitely holds up over numerous viewings.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead screened this past Friday, August 6th, as part of Edgar Wright's The Wright Stuff. Be sure to check out Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, in theatres this Friday, August 13th.

Shaun of the Dead is a film that I have a great affinity for. Edgar Wright's zombies on the streets of London romantic comedy should be used as a template for how to create a horror comedy without being tongue in cheek.



Shaun has sight gags, one liners, and plenty of pop culture references, but it never rests on them. Much like Wright and Shaun star and co-writer Simon Pegg's BBC series Spaced, they both hold to a simple rule of writing that seems to get lost these days. Characters in an Edgar Wright production always come first. Wright and Pegg seem to share the same understanding that if you craft characters the audience can car about and identify with, you can put them into any situation no matter how outlandish it appears on paper and still play matters perfectly straight.

Shaun (Pegg) is a bit of a scatterbrain. In isn't very hard to see why. In the first 30 minutes of the film Pegg and Wright lay it all out for the viewer and it is hard not to feel sorry for how overwhelmed Shaun must feel about it all. Shaun has a dead end job at an electronics store and is visited by his overly dour and disapproving stepfather (Bill Nighy). One of his flatmates is an upwardly mobile hot-head and the other is a layabout who does absolutely nothing even if Shaun begs his (Nick Frost). His relationship with his girlfriend is on its last legs and he has to contend with her flatmates: a couple comprised of a woman who will always take her best friends side of any argument and a man who secretly wants Shaun's girlfriend as his own. With all this going on, it is hardly surprising that Shaun doesn't notice the dead coming back to life until they literally arrive on his lawn.

When the zombies begin their assault on London, all Shaun would probably like to do is escape to safety with his best friend and his love, but unfortunately all of his emotional baggage decides to follow him around. It isn't just that Shaun is ill equipped to properly dispose of zombies, but he has been stressed out to the point of almost being useless even to himself. In fact, if it weren't for the zombies and the constant threat of death, Shaun might have suffered a complete nervous breakdown by the start of the third reel.

Shaun of the Dead will also work with pretty much anyone who has ever been in a failing relationship. Personally, I have been on both sides of the equation. I have dated someone who could have been easily seen as a sheltered creature of habit and that is quit annoying at any rate. I have also been the person, however, that has been pushed so far to the breaking point that he is incapable of loving anyone including himself.

Shaun of the Dead is a film that successfully juggles a lot of heavy themes other than personal and familial relationships. Shaun also speaks about the media, economics, war, disease, death, and the nature of apathy in a capitalist society. Like many great horror films, a great academic paper could be written about it while still delivering the shocks and frights that genre fans demand. Like a great comedy, it puts the characters and situations above the gags while still allowing room for silly throwaway gags. And like any great film, Shaun of the Dead has more than earned the right to drop the word "cult" from its status as a classic film.

Harry Brown

Harry Brown screens this Tuesday, August 10th, at 7:00pm at Toronto Underground Cinema. It screens again on Thursday, August 12th, at 9:15pm.


Sometimes the write-up for a film simply writes itself. This may very well be the shortest review on this blog because I can't think of a single good way to dress up exactly what Harry Brown is. Have you ever seen a vigilante film? Death Wish, Death Sentence, Eye for an Eye, The Brave One? If you answered yes to having seen any of these films at some point in your life, you know exactly everything that is going to happen in Harry Brown.



Michael Caine plays the titular character, a former Marines special forces agent, now living as a grieving widower in the high crime Elephant and Castle district in London. When a bunch of hoodies kill his bast friend and chess partner, Harry decides to spring into action to avenge the death of his friend.

Well, he doesn't exactly spring. Harry's slow build towards violent reaction is more akin to the lead character from Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. Harry resists as long as possible, and even after drunkenly stabbing a crackhead, he is still pretty heistant. Caine, above all else, is the reason to see this film. As one of the great actors of his generation and ours, Caine imbues Harry with a lifetime of regrets simply through the use of facial expressions and the clipped turn of a phrase.

But essentially, this is a film that could easily please most genre fans. It really does end up becoming Death Wish 3 set in London (not just filmed there). The violence is brutal and unrelenting and could very well do for London what Hostel did for Eastern Europe. That's not to say that the film isn't competantly shot or isn't entertaining. It is both. But sometimes, a film just is what it is. Also, there really hasn't been a great vigilante film in a while. This should satisfy your bloodlust.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Triage

Triage screens tonight, Monday August 9th, at 7:00pm at Toronto Underground Cinema.

To some extent, I really wish that The Wright Stuff had not taken up 90% of my free time this past weekend. Don't get me wrong; I don't regret it for a second. The crowds were awesome, the reception was great, and the movies (which I will get back to later this week) were all classics in their own special way. But now it is back to business as usual and time to play catch up. And I want you all to know that one of the best films of the year is screening one final time on Monday night. It already screened Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, and even if you still can't make it out tonight, I highly urge you to rent Triage when it arrives on DVD in the U.S. and Canada on October 22nd. You will not be disappointed.



Triage begins as the story of two photojournalists who are sent to Kurdistan in 1988 at the height of the clash between the Kurds and Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army. Colin Farrell plays Mark, an Irish photographer who has seemingly become desensitized to the violence he sees on a daily basis as a war journalist. Jamie Sives plays David, a Scot who just wants to get out of dodge and become a fashion photographer for the sake of his wife and impending fatherhood back home. After capturing pictures of a school and a triage unit in the mountains (where the doctor performs mercy killings with a gun that seemingly gets more use than his scalpels), Mark gets word of an offensive that is taking place and tries to convince David to stay. David sticks to his goal of getting home and goes out into the countryside on his own.

The action then cuts to Mark waking up in a hospital with a concussion and a limp. He is going to survive and is sent home to his wife Elena (Paz Vega) and sets about working on his most recent collection of photographs. Not all is what it seems, however, since David never came home and despite healing physically, Mark is losing his ability to walk. Doctors suggest that Mark is suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and think that a psychiatrist is the type of doctor Mark really needs, especially if everyone involved wants to know just where David is and what might have happened to him. Elena warily enlists the help of her grandfather (Christopher Lee), a wartime therapist with a dark past, to try and coax any information out of Mark that might be of use.

Writer/director Danis Tanovic propels the action at a brisk pace and at times feels like the journalistic equivalent of The Hurt Locker (which might account for the film having a hard time finding American distributors following it's debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall), but also recalls such films as Salvador and The Year of Living Dangerously. In some respects, Triage goes even further by exploring just what kind of psychological toll it takes on a person who takes pictures of violent acts for a living. As a journalist you are taught to distance yourself from your subjects, but as a photographer you have to physically focus on the subject, point, shoot, develop, and remember. It also raises the question of just who can treat someone who has been through a war and seen such atrocities. When a doctor asks Mark if he thinks only a rape victim could accurately counsel another victim, Mark pauses and very curtly says that might be the case.

Farrell gives one of his best performances. This is easily on par with his work in Tigerland and his Golden Globe win for In Bruges as one of his best performances. Mark is a character that is subdued by psychological trauma and not because he is just being a jerk to everyone around him. In fact, Mark is a character that never explodes and barely raises his voice for the entire film. He is suffering from severe shell shock and he is at a loss to explain why after all this time his entire career has finally caught up to him. Christopher Lee shines as the therapist (he is quick to point out that he isn't actually a doctor) who could have very easily become Robin Williams' character from Good Will Hunting. Lee is someone who has lived and survived war while helping other people through it. Lee stated that he had more lines in Triage than any other film he has ever been in. This is astounding seeing that Lee doesn't even show up until the second half of the film, but his role is vital and illustrates why Lee is one of the best character actors of his or any other generation.

Triage is a must see that sadly, for one reason or another, simply got shuffled around too much and missed its chance to make a big impact with audiences. This is not only a great film, but the kind of film that has rightfully deserved its home at the Toronto Underground Cinema. And even if you can't make it out tonight or even rent it immediately, a few years down the road if you see it on cable late at night, remember I told you it was a great movie.

Recommended if you like: The Hurt Locker, Salvador, The Year of Living Dangerously, Good Will Hunting

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Wright Stuff

Director Edgar Wright rolls into the Toronto Underground Cinema this weekend, August 6-8, for three nights of films curated by the Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director himself. Doors open at 6:00pm. Single tickets, $8. Double bills, $14. Series Passes are the best deal at $25, but are in limited availability.

Screenings are at 7pm and 9pm.

Friday August 6: Shaun of the Dead, 7:00pm; Hot Fuzz, 9:30pm
Saturday August 7: Flash Gordon (1980), 7:00pm; The Story of Riki-Oh, 9:30pm
Sunday August 8: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 7:00pm; Rushmore, 9:30pm

Well, it is finally here. The biggest event at the Toronto Underground Cinema since the opening, and sadly I really don't have time to write about it at the moment. The blog is on temporary hiatus for the weekend. I will double back and share my thoughts on these films when I have a chance. I have very fond feelings and special memories from Shaun of the Dead, and I think Hot Fuzz is brilliant. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of my favourite films of all time and Rushmore is one of the best deadpan comedies ever created. As for Saturday night's double bill of Flash Gordon and Riki-Oh, I haven't seen either of them, but I am very much looking forward to it.

The reason the blog is on temporary hiatus is because I am the devious mastermind behind the Underground's scavenger hunt for free passes to the festival. It has been quite an undertaking, but also an overwhelming success and on behalf of myself and the entire Toronto Underground family I want to thank you guys for making this so much fun. I am sure the weekend will hold even more.

But I believe what you are here for is the next clue, so here it is:

Finding me here might be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Luckily I will have two pairs of passes to give away at this location. If you can find this spot on this map, in the accompanying picture you will see an advert for a different Michael Cera film that was released last summer while Scott Pilgrim was filming in the city.

Good luck and stay tuned. There will still be one more chance to win after this.



Hot Fuzz trailer in HQ





Ferris Bueller's Day Off Trailer