DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: February 2007

Wednesday, 28 February 2007


The Prestige (2006) dir. Christopher Nolan
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale


“Are you watching closely..” is the opening voiceover of the “The Prestige”, which is a magician’s line often used to distract the audience from something else which might be going on. “The Prestige” is a puzzle from start to finish and an under-appreciated brain-teaser. Much of its thunder was stolen by the ‘other’ magic film, “The Illusionist,” released 2 months prior, but believe me “The Prestige” is the one to see.

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play dueling magicians in turn-of-the-century London, one polished and upper-class, the other streetwise and ‘common’ - like David Copperfield vs. David Blaine? They are both equally determined to succeed in the art. They begin as partners until a fatal accident turns them into rivals. The rivalry escalates as they perform similar tricks, trying to one up each other with each new trick. They even infiltrate each other’s shows to discover their secrets and sabotage their performances.

When a new scientific technique is discovered by Nikolai Tesla (a real person, who once had a rivalry with Thomas Edison) which appears to perform “real magic”, both Jackman and Bale desperately want his secrets and will do anything to get it. But Tesla will only give the secret of his experiments to one man, and Christian is the first. Or is he? When Bale is imprisoned (for events I won’t reveal) Jackman steals Tesla’s secret and uses it in his show.

Is Tesla’s device real magic or not? “The film’s title refers to the final act of a magic trick where the disappearing object comes back. And what price do our magicians pay to keep the “prestige” of the trick secret. It’s a magnificent finale that keeps the viewer guessing up to the final shot – and what a doozy that final shot is.

Like Nolan’s other cryptogram, “Memento”, the film is told out of sequence, with a myriad of flashbacks. It isn’t until the final act that you start piecing the timeline together and learn the true motivations and actions of the characters. Nolan is a magician himself, hiding information and revealing them only at the right time.

The film has so much going on it’s a great exercise for the brain. Not only are we bombarded with a thick plot filled with lots of twists and turns, there’s a history lesson of the real-life Tesla/Edison feud, you can learn some behind-the-scenes trickery real magicians use, there’s a love triangle, as well as a cutthroat blood feuds of grand preportions.

The cast of Jackman, Bale, Michael Caine, Johansson, a cool-as-ever David Bowie, Rebecca Hall and Andy Serkis are a joy to watch. As expected the production design, cinematography and mood-inspiring music are top-notch.

With this film Christopher Nolan asserts himself as one today’s best filmmakers. Just released on DVD, this film is waiting for you to rent it. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007


The Oscars 2007 Recap
By Alan Bacchus

The Oscars were handed out last night. Let’s examine some of the minor stories to come out of the big night. Yes, yes, yes. Martin Scorsese wins finally. Detractors like the Liam Lacey at the Globe & Mail dismiss the win as based on his reputation only. Sure “The Departed” is not on par with “Goodfellas” or “Raging Bull,” but it is his most successful film to date, and standing alone, compared with the other nominees damn right he deserves it. Did he take the award away from anyone else who deserved it more, no, though I’d argue Paul Greengrass, but he’ll get one another day.

Now that we’ve gotten the obvious out of the way, let’s dissect the nitty-gritty. First, congrats to George Miller for winning his first Oscar. Who is George Miller? He won for “Happy Feet,” but he’s also creator of the “Mad Max” films and the “Babe” films. He’s a terrific director who unfortunately over the course of his career has been spartan in his output (usually making a film every 5 years). As a result, he’s like a Terrence Malick or Milos Forman of Australian film. He makes films on his own terms and doesn’t sell out to make a buck. He’s also the grandfather of Australian cinema, and has helped start the careers of Philip Noyce, Chris Noonan, Nicole Kidman and Mel Gibson among others. Good on him.

Poor Guillermo del Toro. His technical team won three Oscars that night before it was his turn to step up to the podium for best foreign language film, until “The Lives of Others” shocked everyone, including Clive Owen the presenter, and won. Though I liked “Lives of Others” better, I really wanted the genre-loving del Toro to win an Oscar. The thought of the director of “Hellboy” winning an Oscar? So sad, sorry Guillermo.

Poor Eddie Murphy. Even more shame that he was featured so prominently on Barbara Walter’s pre-game special. Back to donkeys and fatsuits for Eddie.

For a split second there, I thought the corpse of Peter O’Toole (he looked dead) was going to steal the award from Forest Whitaker. Thank god that didn’t happen. Sorry Peter. You are already cinema royalty for playing Lawrence of Arabia, you don’t need an Oscar.

Oh those Dreamgirls. First not getting nominated for Best Picture, losing Eddie’s award to Alan Arkin and the worst embarrassment, after the 10 minute-3 song medley featuring the reunion of the cast, they lose all three of their Best Song nominations to Melissa Etheridge. There must have been a serious hate-on for Dreamgirls in Hollywood. It’s a pretty good movie, but the hype machine PR just overdosed. A lesson to the studios – don’t show your footage at Cannes and declare the film the Best Picture frontrunner in May.

Gustav Santaoalla (“Babel”) won for best music. If you recognized him, or had a bit of Déjà vu, you’ve probably forgotten he won last year for “Brokeback Mountain”. Also, little do people know his main theme of the film was recycled from “The Insider” in 1999. So perhaps he wasn’t as deserving as people thought. Despite this, he’s now 2 for 2 in music awards. By comparison, John (“Star Wars”) Williams is 5 for 45, and Randy Newman is 1 for 17!

Question: Why do musicals (ie. “Dreamgirls” and “Chicago”) always have to win the Oscar for best sound mixing. Don’t they know the musical portions of the film are looped in post-production and technically fall under the sound editor’s work? Strange

The Cancon moment of the night - “The Danish Poet” (best animated short) for beating the mighty Pixar (“Lifted”). Good work Torvill Kove.

Best speech of the night: Ari Sandel for “West Bank Story”. Sincere, succinct and informative.

See you next year. Here’s some early prognosticating for 2008: David Fincher’s first trip down the red carpet? Todd Haynes for his Bob Dylan film, Michael Winterbottom and the Daniel Pearl story, the return of PT Anderson, Michael Moore, Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” and Wong Kar Wai’s first English language film. Lots to look out for.

Sunday, 25 February 2007


All the President’s Men (1976) dir. Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford


“All the President’s Men” is a film that will stand to the test of time as the quintessential political thriller. Yet, it’s a work of surprising matter-of-fact simplicity.

The film is based on the best-selling book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on how they broke the story of the Watergate Scandal. Woodward and Bernstein are the main characters, two young hungry journalists from the Washington Post trying to uncover a scandal involving a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in the famed Watergate Hotel. They quickly learn the break-in was not a simple burglary but an elaborately-planned wiretapping scheme organized by the Committee to Re-elect the President (appropriately acronymed, C.R.E.E.P.). Woodward and Bernstein unravel the conspiracy by tracing the cause and effect up the political chain all the way to the President’s office.

The title is appropriate because the film is a series of ‘connect-the-dots’ to solve the puzzle. One man’s information leads to another man, who leads to another man and so on and so on. These are the “President’s men”, whose the orders of an anxious President trickled down to his subordinates and caused such heinous crimes against the democratic system.

We learn a lot about the procedures and workmanship of journalists in a CSI-like procedural fashion. It’s fascinating. The telephone proves to be a powerful weapon for the journalists. Many of characters we don’t even see, only hear through the multitude of phone calls from Woodward and Bernstein. We learn of their techniques to gain credible information, yet keep the identities of their sources safe. It’s also a little history lesson in investigative journalism before the age of the internet and the cell phone. For a good companion piece to this, also watch Michael Mann’s “The Insider.”

The newsroom is exciting, the constant sound of typing, printing, ringing telephones, televisions, and news chatter permeate the working environment. Gordon Willis’ camera follows the characters across the expansive room, moving through cubicles like a football player towards the endzone.

All the actors are in top form and perfectly cast, Redford with his charm and suave good manners allows him to cut straight to the point, Hoffman portrays Bernstein like a bull, who’ll get the information he wants no matter what. The great character actor, the late Jack Warden, brings working-class humour to his role as their department head, and Jason Robards is perfect as the consummate editor-in-chief, who supports his staff to the end, but from whom he demands the absolute best work.

“All the President’s Men” breaks all the rules of conventional filmmaking, other than telling a good story. It’s a razor-sharp thriller, yet there is no action or fighting or death, there’s no physical antagonist, no subplots, no romantic relationships, and the main characters don’t arc in traditional ways, in fact, we don’t learn anything about their lives, they are simply instruments to uncover the facts. But these facts are like daggers, because we all know the stakes and the damage caused by the actions of these men. Despite these anomalies the film is suspenseful, dramatic and gripping from beginning to end. Enjoy.


Bad Boy Bubby (1993) Dir. Rolf de Heer
Starring Nicholas Hope

Guest review by Blair Stewart

"F-- You, God!" - -The Scientist to Bubby

This is a film that has a quality among cinema-lovers who have witnessed and discussed it similar to that of a shared devotion to a notorious underground comedian or a small pocket of the earth that few have knowledge of and less have trod upon. "Yes, yes, you watched 'Oldboy', that's all well and good, but tell me, have you seen 'Bad Boy Bubby?'.

Our hero Bubby is a 38 year old man-child who has never left his deathly grey apartment. He has no concept of the outside world except for his crazy Mother and a stray cat he befriends and inadvertently murders with Clingwrap. By the time you pick your jaw up from the floor after the opening scene Bubby's Pop will have arrived and the machinations of fate and nature will have thrust our bad Boy out into the big wide world.

A hardcore thrash-punk discussion of man's nature with a long streak of lewd Aussie humour, director Rolf de Heer has created a near indefinable work that is at times laugh-out loud funny, appallingly tasteless, disquieting, and in one glorious monologue/long-take, as challenging as anything the likes of Angelopoulos or Haneke have ever produced. Nicholas Hope in the lead role, (last seen in Scooby Doo and now living in exile in Norway, appropriately enough) is as brave and unique an actor in the world as one could wish while reacting off his environment with a demented cherubic intensity. Using such experimental techniques as binaural microphones sown into the actors’ hairpieces to immerse the audience inside the character's reality and employing over 32 cinematographers to form a unique perspective on individual scenes “Bad Boy Bubby” pushes the boundaries of how to approach the craft of filmmaking.

So, can you stomach full-frontal sexuality? Can you handle chalk-black gallows comedy that you'll be shamed if you giggle with? Can you accept the subversive thrill that runs underneath this film as civility and humanity and religion are tossed out the window? Can you brave a film that you will never, ever, ever, ever forget? Then let me whisper it to you quietly: “Bad Boy Bubby”. PS-Not a date movie.

Friday, 23 February 2007


The Game (1997) dir. David Fincher
Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn


Looking at David Fincher’s career, “The Game” is sandwiched between his two definitive films so far, “Seven” and “Fight Club”. That’s why I consider “The Game” to be Fincher’s “The Conversation” (in reference Francis Coppola’s 1974 film he made in between the two Godfathers).The comparisons go even further; both are minimalist, quiet films about control-obsessed characters that become manipulated by outside forces. Both take place in San Francisco, and both are largely forgotten masterpieces in both the filmmakers’ respective careers. I don’t just throw the ‘masterpiece’ away either. If you revisit “The Game”, you’ll find it an intense roller coaster ride and worthy of the highest acclaim.

Nicholas Van Orton (a perfectly cast Michael Douglas) is a high-powered divorced executive with the power to ruin lives. On the day of his birthday, his free-living brother (Sean Penn) gives him a special present - an invitation to play a game, run by “Consumer Recreation Services – CRS”. The Game is mysterious, not many details given. He shows up at the CRS office and is given a series of endless, mind-numbing psychological tests. The banality is tedious; it lulls Van Orton and the audience into a sleep – or a hypnosis. From now on, we are no longer in control; the Game and David Fincher are controlling us.

Van Orton’s ‘Game’ will be brought to him and it comes in a series of small mishaps and challenges starting with a conspicuously annoying leaky pen and snowballs into Douglas’ character being locked in a coffin and left for dead in Mexico (which incites a great moment of dry humour at the end). The stakes are raised even higher when Van Orton’s bank account is cut off, as it appears he’s been the victim of an elaborate scam. We are pulled through the twists and turns of the script. We’re in Van Orton shoes the entire time, and never have more information than the main character. This is the key to sustaining the momentum and suspense of the film.

The film is dark and shadowy, which is Fincher’s trademark. The music is quiet and brooding, and reflects the anti-septic life Douglas’ character lives in. Flashbacks to a painful moment in his past reveal a lot about the purpose of the Game and why Van Orton was chosen to participate. The puzzle slowly comes together in a riveting climax that had me guessing all the way to the end.

“The Conversation’s” Harry Caul and Nicholas Van Orton are cut from the same mold – private, obsessed individuals who are stripped of the control in their lives, and broken down to be built up again as better people afterwards. We only assume both Harry and Nicholas would have changed their careers and started new, more fruitful and productive lives. Therefore “The Game” becomes a lesson for all of us, whose careers and obsessive goals alienate our loved ones and distract us from enjoying the best moments of our lives.

But enough of being deep, “The Game” rocks!! Check it out. Enjoy.

Thursday, 22 February 2007


Hustle and Flow (2006) dir. Craig Brewer
Starring: Terrence Howard


Let’s go back to ancient history and revisit, last year’s Oscar race. It really was a miracle that Terrence Howard got nominated for an Oscar. Nothing about the film smells of Oscar-bait, yet, Terrence Howard was plucked out of relative obscurity despite years of bit-roles and given a career-defining Oscar nomination. Believe it or not, I think the Academy is getting smarter, because and he deserved it. His performance is so good, and in my opinion he should have won (as you may recall Philip Seymour Hoffman won for Capote).

“Hustle & Flow,” without Terrence Howard is just another “8-Mile”-wannabee hip-hop exploitation film, but with him it’s terrific. DJ (Howard) is an urban hustler and pimp who lives day by day pimping out his girls from his car. He’s 40-ish, probably over-the-hill for a hustler and tired of the lifestyle. He still hangs onto his dream of being a rap superstar. One day he bumps into an old friend Key (Anthony Anderson), whom he remembers as once a music DJ from his school days. But it’s been years since Key has thought about music – he’s a family man. The meeting is awkward. But, as the title suggests, DJ hustles for a living and decides to pitch Key on his rap lyrics. DJ’s desperation is painful to watch, but Key hears some talent, and despite his years away from the game, his drive for success in music is rekindled.

The pair embark on a “Rocky-esque” rags-to-riches journey. The pair employ a nerdy sound engineer, Shelby, to help with the recording. The three of them, using junkyard-type tools create their own makeshift recording studio and proceed to drop some serious beats and rhymes old school style. It’s raw but golden.

Of course, a demo can only get you so far, it has to get into the right hands. DJ’s target is a distant friend from his childhood – Skinny Black (Ludacris) – who has gone on to become a successful star. Skinny is on a pedestal for DJ – a leap of faith he must take to realize his dream. A meeting in a club gives him one chance. And the scene is electric – and Oscar-worthy. The final act/denouement moves in an unexpected direction that’s surprising and uplifting.

The entire film rests on Howard’s shoulder to convey the feeling of desperation, drive, and “hustle” it takes for a man like to become successful in a survival-of-the-fittest society. To bring it home personally, it’s like making a movie - there’s no formula, you do what it takes to “make it happen”. DJ speaks like a preacher, a hip-hop Elmer Gantry – philosophical and intelligent with street smarts. I wonder if anything in the film is related to the rise of Kid Rock – who for years in Detroit was the ultimate huckster and hustler of pure determination before finally achieving success (yes I watched his E! True Hollywood Story).

Craig Brewer directs with confidence and should be acknowledged as well. In fact, his new film BLACK SNAKE MOAN is getting good advance reviews.

“Hustle and Flow” towers over “8-Mile”, please rent it and enjoy.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007


In Praise of the Synthesized Score

NOTE: This is the first of a series of ‘essays’, which will be posted from time to time.

After posting reviews for classic 80’s films “Manhunter” and “Escape From New York,” I realized what’s missing from the myriad of remakes of 1980’s films these days –the synthesized score!

After Disco lost is cred, it took that genre a good 15 years before it became retro-cool. Unfortunately in the film world, synth scores have yet to make its return. Synth scores are still under lock and key as a credible cinematic ingredient. I hope to present a case for it’s parole – for good. It’s definitely overdue.

In the late 70’s, the film world started hearing a new sound in their scores. For much of the decade, jazz instrumentation dominated the new school of film music. Since film music and pop music naturally coincide, it was natural for synthesized instruments to find its way into films. Perhaps the first synth score was Kubrick’s innovative retooling of Beethoven’s 9th. Despite the popularity of the film, it took until the end of the decade for the trend to catch on.

Some of the late 70’s popular films to score electronically included Georgio Moroder’s Oscar-winner for “Midnight Express”. A favourite of mine is Tangerine Dream’s score for William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer,” a year earlier than “Midnight Express.” The sound was so new and fresh, it gave the film an eerie, disturbing quality, and perhaps out of place for a film that takes place in the jungles of South America. Oddly enough it works, fabulously. (Of course, for every good electronic score, there were 3 or 4 horribly dated ones as well, but we won’t mention those).

John Carpenter, who scores in own films, is also a pioneer. His score for “Halloween” became an instant classic, and horror films have been trying to catch up ever since, with “The Friday the 13th and “Nightmare on Elm Street” imitating it blatantly.

But it was Vangelis’ Oscar-winning theme for “Chariots of Fire” that opened the floodgates. Vangelis went on to score such classic films as “Blade Runner,” “Missing” and “The Bounty.” Tangerine Dream started getting more work as well scoring “Thief,” “Firestarter,” “Risky Business,” and “Legend.” And who could forgot those opening synthesized chords of Brian De Palma’s “Scarface”. Oh bliss.

Most of today’s top composers, such as James Horner, Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer started off with electronic scores and, of course, eventually evolved, matured and adapted their style to fit the times. But it was Carpenter, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and Moroder that lived and died with the style they invented and perfected. As result, we don’t hear of them at all in the present day.

Therefore I present a challenge to filmmakers: in your next film listen to some Tangerine Dream for inspiration and bring back the electronic score. Don’t be embarrassed, take a risk, and start a trend - all over again.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007


Days of Glory (2006) dir. Rachid Bouchareb
Starring Jamel Debbouze, Sami Naceri


Much praise has been heaped “Days of Glory” (aka “Indigenes”). According to the poster it received a standing ovation and won a special ensemble cast prize at Cannes, and has been nominated as for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. So my expectations were high going into it. The verdict is, it’s a good film, but not a great one.

We are put right into the story from the first scene. It’s 1943, WWII, A group of Islamic Algerian civilians are organizing to join the French military to fight for the Allies and free France from German occupation. They will be commanded by white-Algerian Captains and ultimately commanded by Vichy-French Commanders. We meet the main characters, the usual sort of crowd seen in war films. Some are there for nationalistic reasons, some for the money, but by the end of the film, there is a common purpose – allied victory, the pride of Algeria and the reclaiming the dignity of the discriminated French/Muslim people.

Their first battle against a hilled strong point in southern France is, as expected, a shock to the inexperienced troops. This first scene is played out with magnificent long shots of the hill being bombarded by German mortar. The film spans 2 years and several battles, and with each one the soldiers gaining confidence in their skills. But despite this, compared to their France-born white counterparts, they are treated as second-class soldiers. There are a couple of key scenes of defiance that bond the unit together, which are effective, though scenes we have seen before.

As with other war films, one of the soldiers falls in love and writes letters to his lover and there is the usual in-fighting among the troops. The events build to the liberation of Alsace. Much of the original Algerian unit has been decimated, and with their captain, hurt and unable to continue, the remainder of the unit must decide whether to fight on, or fall back. Is there ever a doubt which they will choose? The final scene in reminiscent of the final battle in “Saving Private Ryan”. They are outnumbered and are forced to fight with no other place to flee. The scene is involving and dramatic – though, again, derivative of other war films (SPR included).

There is a completely unnecessary denouement, which is very Hollywood, and in keeping with the ‘new school’ of history films – flashing forward to the present to see where the survivors are now.

I’m glad the film wasn’t shot with a bleach bypassed /desaturated palette as the Iwo Jima films were (again, the Spielberg-brand of war films), the old fashioned cinemascope image was breathtaking. Overall, I did get attached to the characters and by the end I really was rooting for them. This is probably a rental, unless you’re French and want to stir up your pride with another (albeit patriotic) cinematic rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’.


Breaking and Entering (2007) dir. Anthony Minghella
Starring: Jude Law, Robin Wright Penn, Juliette Binoche


“Breaking and Entering” is a film that seems to try hard not satisfy its audience. It’s a little bit of a heist film, part erotic thriller, part domestic drama, there’s even some chase sequences in there. The film tries not to pigeon-hole itself into one film, but tests the waters of all genres. As a result, it fails.

Jude Law plays a well-off architect (Will) who has recently moved his firm to the soon-to-be gentrified King’s Cross neighbourhood of London – perhaps the equivalent of Parkdale in Toronto. His grand plan is to build a new architectural design – part art, part commerce. He has a wife, Liv (Robin Wright Penn) and a daughter (Bea) with autism. The demands of his job and the stress of his daughter’s disability are taking its toll on their marriage.

After several break-ins Jude stakes out his own office attempting to catch the thief first hand. During the stake out he befriends a prostitute whom he only converses with, but is clearly enjoys the companionship. He discovers the thief (a Bosnian immigrant, Miro) and chases him through-out the neighbourhood. Miro is like an acrobat and nimbly leaps over fences, over buildings and up stairs, thus eluding him. But Will eventually finds where he lives, only to discover his mother is an attractive woman Amira (Juliette Binoche) whom he met the day before at the park. Instead of turning him in, he secretly makes friends with Amira, and in turn develops an attraction to her. Their relationship soon blossoms into an affair.

By not telling Amira of his initial intentions, Will is in a way cheating on both his lover and his wife. Of course, the secrets get out and Will is forced to make life-choices which affects all of the people he seems to love – his wife, daughter, mistress, Miro, his job etc. Somehow, he manages to reconcile all his problems. The scene at the end of the movie is horribly rushed and contrived, and seems like something out of a TV drama, or an episode of “Diff’rent Strokes.”

Minghella (also the writer) never punishes Jude Law’s character for his behaviour. His wife’s reaction to everything that has gone on is ridiculously implausible. But perhaps that was Minghella’s intention, to play her character against type – either way, it doesn’t work. By the end we ask ourselves, how has Will changed?

Many dramatic beats are set up but do not payoff, just teasing us perhaps into thinking the film will actually go anywhere, that the stakes might escalate into dramatic jeopardy. For example, the prostitute never returns in the second half of the film, Amira’s incriminating photos of Will never emerge as a threat, Will’s daughter’s accident becomes a false alarm.

The most exciting moments of the film are the acrobatic maneuvers of Miro and his thieving friends during the heist sequences. But, we’ve also seen those moves in “Casino Royale,” “District B13,” and countless martial arts films.

I respect all Anthony Minghella’s films, including “Cold Mountain”. He’s a natural filmmaker with panache for visually expressing characters’ deep, inner desires and anxieties. Will Francis is not without his anxieties and desires, but without dramatic jeopardy, he’s just having his cake and eating it too.

Monday, 19 February 2007


Last King of Scotland (2007) dir. Kevin MacDonald
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy


“Last King of Scotland” is a great film, but not just of because of Forest Whitaker’s, most-likely at the time of this review, Oscar-winning performance but because the film itself is great filmmaking.

The film is loosely based on a true story of Idi Amin’s relationship with a Scottish doctor in 1970. Idi Amin has just come to power in a violent military coup. Amin has the support of the people because of his charisma and oratory magnetism. A young idealistic Scots doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, has come to Uganda to escape the dreariness of his middle-class British life. Nicholas is naïve and innocent and the perfect candidate for Amin to manipulate, in fact, Nicholas chooses Uganda arbitrarily by pointing his finger at a spinning globe. Nicholas bandages Amin’s sprained wrist after a car accident, this chance encounter impresses Amin, who then asks him to become Amin’s personal doctor. He accepts.

Nicholas enjoys the luxurious life of Amin’s decadent compound. But he is isolated from the rest of the country and naïve to the atrocities Amin is inflicting on his people. Nicholas’s involvement with the dictator deepens, so much so that when he realizes the corruption he’s involved it, Amin refuses to let him go. His position is even more complicated when he becomes involved with one of Amin’s attractive wives. This sets up an intense final act, as Nicholas tries to escape during a hostage crisis, which saw an Israeli-hijacked plane land in Uganda.

Some of the credit of Whitaker’s performance must go to the director and cinematographer (the great Anthony Dod Mantle). Whitaker’s speeches are shot with long lenses, and crash zooms, complementing the intensity of Amin’s public performances. The film has the graininess and look of a 16mm documentary, which adds to the authenticity. The vibrant yellows, greens and reds burst out of the screen. The pacing increases throughout the film and is accompanied by a terrific African-beat soundtrack. Two scenes standout – the hypnotic scene when Nicholas seduces Amin’s wife (the editing of which reminds me of the end of “Apocalypse Now”) and the final sequence in the airport. The film doesn’t shy away from the gore, and showing the horrors of Amin’s brutality in graphic detail. Two specific scenes made me turn away from the screen.

Kevin MacDonald (“Touching the Void” and the Oscar-winning “One Day in September”) is a great British filmmaker, and along with Paul Greengrass and Michael Winterbottom, seems to have created their own “British New Wave” – a realist/global-conscious cinema-style. If this is MacDonald’s “Bloody Sunday”, perhaps will see him wooed to Hollywood like Greengrass.

This is one of the best films of the year and a must-see. Enjoy.

Sunday, 18 February 2007


Little Miss Sunshine (2006) dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin


“Little Miss Sunshine” is a delightful, comedy/road picture, which has been a hit in all stages of its life - starting off as a Sundance hit, then a mild box office success, multiple year-end awards/nominations and now a successful DVD release.

It deserves everything it gets, as its one of few uplifting films this year to receive all-around praise. “Little Miss Sunshine” is a fun respite from the serious downers of this year’s awards season, ie. “Babel,” “Little Children,” “Pan’s Labyrinth.” With no disrespect to these films, “Sunshine” will lift your spirits and give you a little piece of joy to get you through your day.

You know the story, a dysfunctional family travels the country so their precocious 7 year old can compete in a children’s beauty pageant. Each member of the family holds his or her own in terms of laughs. It’s a true ensemble, with neither one stealing anyone’s thunder. Greg Kinnear plays Richard, the ultra-competitive-motivational-speaker wannabe Dad, Steve Carell is a depressed suicide-attempting gay intellectual scholar Uncle. Alan Arkin is an “I don’t care because I’m old”, porn-loving, heroin-snorting grandfather. Paul Dano is the disaffected Nietzsche-reading teenager who has taken an oath of silence. Abigail Breslin is the Jonathan-Lipnicky-cute- but-not-gorgeous naïve daughter and Toni Collette is the rock, the mother who has to take up smoking to survive the chaos in the family.

The film follows a well-trodden formula of road movies, but it’s so genuine and sincere, everything works. There are half a dozen brilliant scenes and moments of hilarity. Dayton and Faris, whom we expect to ‘know their music’ based on their extensive music video work, adds pitch perfect songs to the soundtrack (a good way of introducing Sufjan Stevens to the mainstream).

Hopefully, this film will be Dayton/Faris’ “Bottle Rocket,” from which build a fruitful feature film career. (Wes Anderson, time to step back up to the plate)

I think the film just might win Best Picture Oscar as its gaining steam on the awards train than anyone else. It could be this year’s “Crash” – an accessible film everyone can love. Enjoy.

Saturday, 17 February 2007


In The Mood For Love (2000) dir. Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung


Guest review by Pasukaru

Oh, yes. Love is in the air. So I can’t help but think of the Hong Kong masterpiece "In The Mood For Love" by Wong Kar-wai. If one were to compile a list of the 10 best romantic films of all time, this gem would have to be considered.

The plot is simple: set in the early sixties in Honk Kong, two neighbors strike up a relationship after each discovers their respective spouses could be having an affair with each other. The ironic twist of fate is that they in turn develop an attraction. Now, here is where "In The Mood For Love" separates itself from the countless manufactured ‘romantic’ films that pollute our planet: they never actually consummate their love. What? No fleshy tryst?! The couple decides to not be like their spouses, despite the obvious fact that they are madly in love. Though of course this is not what makes it great, but everything -- from the luring soundtrack, to the understated performances by Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, to the lush settings, to the lyrical visuals -- serves the sexy atmosphere.

Wong Kar-wai had been a scriptwriter before turning to direction, which makes his preference to shoot without a script more worthy of note. Many directors have attempted this, but most fail in delivering a satisfying movie. You could call him experimental, never avant-garde, but the subtle approach simply works with astounding results. “Visual poetry” is a nice way of putting it. It’s a culmination of years perfecting an anarchic style with master cinematographer Christopher Doyle through maverick films such as “Chungking Express” and “Fallen Angels”. Here, they’ve tamed the camera to a fetish-like restraint. Interestingly, to the exasperation of actors, crew, and financiers, the shoot took a Kubrickean 15 months to complete! Oh, but it was so worth it.

This film oozes desire. This improvisational style and the fly-on-the-wall perspective in cramped corridors and matchbox rooms make us feel as though we are eaves dropping on two people who obviously yearn for each other, but can’t seem to bring themselves to give in. The hypnotic atmosphere seduces. There is no rush to climax, or an explosion of suppressed longing, but a staid eroticism nestled between every frame. It’s subtractive cinema we as Westerners are simply not accustomed to, especially in this genre. Thus, the smallest gesture becomes relevant. Another interesting technique employed is how Wong Kar-wai deliberately conceals the faces of the spouses, keeping the audience always firmly fixed on the leads (and Cheung’s hips). The story is told in fragments; the audience is never certain where or when they stand, yet the elliptical timeline functions to adhere a mosaic of unfulfilled love. It’s like a wistful memory of two people, and the rendering of that memory to celluloid. Finally when the film ends, we desire to return to that dream like the lead character recollecting after the fact: “The past is something he could see but not touch." ‘Nuff said.

"In The Mood For Love" is a sublime experience you owe yourself and your loved one. Check it out.

Friday, 16 February 2007


Escape From New York (1981) dir. John Carpenter
Starring Kurt Russell, Donald Pleasance


1981 introduced to the film world two quintessential American film heroes – one well known, the other, not. They are Indiana Jones and Snake Pliskin. To compare them, if Indiana Jones is a good ol’ glass of beer, Snake Pliskin is a cheap shot of Tequila.

Snake is the hero of “Escape From New York,” one of the best b-movie/exploitations films of all time. Here’s the awesome high concept scenario: in the Dystopian near future, Air Force One is high-jacked and crashes on Manhattan Island. Except, in this future, Manhattan has been converted into a prison. A giant wall surrounds the island and the inhabitants/inmates are forced to fend for themselves without law or enforcement. Lee Van Cleef, who plays the warden of the prison recruits bad-ass convict Snake Pliskin (Kurt Russell) to infiltrate the island and rescue the President (Donald Pleasance). But Pliskin doesn’t have a choice, he’s been implanted with a tiny bomb in his brain which will explode in 24 hours. Therefore he has to get the President or, he himself, dies.

Indeed, it’s so ridiculously far-fetched, but the film is so much fun you just play along with glee. Before the era of Tarantino, Carpenter was the first mainstream filmmaker to mix the b-movie genres - think a Spaghetti Western mashed with the Omega Man, Mad Max and the Warriors, with a splash of George Romero.

The dialogue and bad-ass characters sizzle. When Snake lands his glider (yep, a glider!) in Manhattan, he’s greeted by a gang of thieves who claim they have the President. To prove it, the envoy shows Pliskin the President’s chopped off finger with the Presidential ring still attached. No one flinches. A classic scene is the fight between Pliskin and an ogre in a makeshift boxing ring, where Pliskin kills his opponent with a spiked baseball bat to the head.

All the actors are having fun with their performances. Adrienne Barbeau flashes her assets proudly as Pliskin’s main squeeze, Mr. Exploitation himself, Isaac Hayes, steals scenes as the “Duke of New York”, and Ernest Borgnine giggles his way into a fine performance as Snake’s tour guide sidekick.

As with most of his films Carpenter created his usual deliciously mysterious electronic music score. Despite a very modest $7million budget, the special effects are effective- the lights-out Manhattan and the apocalyptic production design totally believable.

So have your shot of Tequila, there’s no disguising it, it tastes bad, but it’ll make you a helluva lot more fun. Enjoy.

Thursday, 15 February 2007


Lives of Others (2006) dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Mühe


Out on DVD this week is the surprise Best Foreign Language Oscar winner, “Lives of Others” - the first feature film from German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (what a mouthful). It’s a terrific thriller and character study drawn from a time period so far under-exploited in film.

It’s East Germany, 1984, the Berlin Wall is up and citizens are still under communist rule. Artists and their works are watched with scrutiny for subversiveness. Many great artists are blacklisted and not allowed to perform or create. In Orwellian fashion (hence 1984), the secret police, Stasi, keeps strict control on all activities of suspected conspirators. They are so determined and meticulous they collect samples of body odour from the seats of interrogated victims to have on file for future reference. The best of the best of Stasi agents is Captain Gerd Wiesler, a robot-of-a-man, who conducts his interrogation and surveillance with unwavering determination.

Wiesler is assigned the case of bugging the apartment of a talented playwright Georg Dreyman and his actress/wife Christa. Dreyman and Christa have been very careful with their work knowing full well the ramifications of counter-thought. They both know their work is compromised yet they still choose to conform.

When Weisler learns his mission is a personal vendetta by the Minister of Culture, who is having affair with Dreyman’s wife, Weisler’s idealistic attitude about the job is shattered. His attitude shifts as he slowly moves to the side of Dreyman and his wife. Unknown to Dreyman, he silently becomes their guardian, covering up information, reading Dreyman’s books and lying to his superiors about their actions.

When Dreyman writes an essay about the high suicide rates of East Germans, and manages to sneak it out to the West, Weisler must go the extra mile to protect them. The pacing up the film ramps up to ‘thriller-level’ in the cat and mouse game to find the anonymous writer.

Once you think the film is over, it continues another 20mins for an extended denouement. Some may think it unnecessary or overlong, but it’s necessary to put the entire film into context. I’m reminded of Adrian Brody’s search for the German captain at the end of “The Pianist.” Perhaps it’s a bit of von Donnersmarck copping Spielberg (or Richard Attenborough, whom he apparently mentored under) at the end, but it’s also a heroic and satisfying respite in an otherwise bleak story. Enjoy.

Buy it here: The Lives of Others

Wednesday, 14 February 2007


Casablanca (1942) dir. Michael Curtiz
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman


Happy Valentines Day! It only seems fitting to review the “Top Romantic Film” as surveyed by the American Film Institute in 2003. The film also happens to be my favourite film as well – "Casablanca". Identifying it as a romance is misleading. This is not a Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn film, its Bogart and Bergman in a classic hard-boiled war-time thriller.

In 1941 Casablanca (Morocco) was major point of traffic between Europe and America. Though occupied by the Nazis, all sorts résistance supporters, refugees, and criminals flocked to the city to find escape. The most popular place in the city is Rick’s, named after Humphrey Bogart’s character. Rick is unscrupulous and the typical anti-hero. He’s Indiana Jones, James Dean, or Clint Eastwood – enigmatic, elusive, and always in control. As his famous line goes, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Things change when Victor Laszlo, a wanted man from the Czech resistance movement enters looking for ‘letters of transit, which will allow him and his wife, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) to escape to America. Unfortunately for Rick, Ilsa is his former flame, whom she deserted for Victor.

The ‘letters of transit’ is the classic cinematic ‘Maguffin,’ in that it sets up a great love triangle and a cause for action. Sparks fly again between Rick and Ilsa, but she is torn between passionate love (Rick) and patriotic love (Victor). All sorts of interesting secondary characters arise which add to the fun – Peter Lorre, as the slimy Ugarte, Sidney Greenstreet as Signori Ferrari and Claude Rains as Rick’s worthy adversary, Capt Louis Renault.

It’s one of Hollywood’s earliest noir films – shadowy characters, smoky bars, crackling dialogue and taut melodrama. The atmosphere of the city and the restaurant is a major character. Michael Curtiz, a master of camera movement and staging, creates excitement and tension by cutting between the different subplots and scheming throughout the restaurant. Curtiz uses fast cuts to reaction shots of heads turning and eyes moving to create the hustle and bustle of the city. The crisp black & white cinematography stands up to any of today’s films. As a result, “Casablanca” has the feel of a modern film. No scene or shot is wasted. The mystery of the film of course is who Ilsa will choose, Rick or Victor. You probably know the ending, or at least the classic final shot.

Let me ramble and sing the praises of Michael Curtiz… he’s one of the unsung directors of the studio era. Though rarely is his name brought up in discussion of the great directors. We always hear about Ford, Hawks, Wyler, Huston. But Curtiz may have influenced more directors of today any other (Hitchcock not included). His style was all his own – pace, movement and light to enhance the drama and suspense. Watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” after “Casablanca” and then call me; watch “Star Wars” after “the Sea Hawk” and then call me.

But enough of that, this is about Valentine’s Day. So after you come home from seeing “Music & Lyrics”, cuddle with a little “Casablanca” before going to bed. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007


28 Days Later (2003) dir. Danny Boyle
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris


“28 Days Later” is the high water mark for digital cinema, and what can be done with today’s consumer digital cameras. It’s a marvel. Danny Boyle, an established and successful director, shot what could have been a big expensive $100m Hollywood action film, on a camera that cost, at the time, $7,500. After the first scene into the film you forget you’re watching a DV film, instead, it becomes a ballsout action zombie extravaganza and a masterpiece of genre filmmaking. Few other digital films have used the medium to better effect. (NOTE: please send your thoughts on other influential DV films).

A humble bike courier, Jim, awakens in a hospital to find it completely empty. Not a sole in sight. He ventures outside, still no one in sight. The entire city of London is vacant. The opening scenes are eerie, watching Murphy walk the streets of the busiest sections of London in broad daylight with no one around. Jim discovers the only people alive are ravenous madmen feeding on human flesh. He is chased through the streets but is eventually rescued by a group of human survivors. Jim learns that the entire country has been affected by a
‘rage’ virus which, when exposed, infects the person with rabid, mania-like symptoms (or “rage-zombies”).

The leader of the survivors is a feisty woman Selena (Naomie Harris) - tough as nails and ruthless when it comes to killing the zombies. They hook up with a father (Frank) and daughter (Hannah) who also have one of the only functional motor vehicles. The 4 of them leave the city in hopes of finding a safe house, which is being broadcast by a makeshift militia in the countryside. The four-some bond over the journey, until they reach the military base – a converted old manor fortified with barbed wire, land mines and machine guns. But the tables are turned as the militia turn out to be more of a threat than the zombies. The climatic battle isn’t what you would expect, and instead becomes an ironic commentary on human nature.

Boyle mixes suspense and horror well with character and drama. The emotional moments are as good as the action – when Jim finds his euthanized parents and when Hannah watches his father get killed by the infection. As with Boyle’s other films the pacing is fast, with terrific soundtrack to move the film along. The film is essentially about human nature, how we deal with crisis and how we reveal our true selves when all our defenses are stripped away. In times like these our neighbours are our enemies and bike couriers can become heroes. Enjoy the beautiful carnage.

Monday, 12 February 2007


The Elephant Man (1980) dir. David Lynch
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt


“The Elephant Man” is one of the all time tragic stories. Despite his other, more famous, Lynchian-typical works as “Blue Velvet” or “Mullholland Drive,” “The Elephant Man,” is one of David Lynch’s more straight-ahead films, and is arguably his greatest. It’s a perfect film.

It tells the real life story of John Merrick, a young man with severe facial and bodily malformities, who is rescued from the circus and brought into upper class society. The time is 19th century London at the peak of the Industrial revolution. David Lynch recreates the period to perfection. The dirty streets, smog, and the constant of noise of machinery are everywhere. It’s so authentic you can practically smell the garbage on the streets. We meet Anthony Hopkins who plays Frederick Treves, a doctor who has ventured into London’s lower class east side to find the Elephant Man, a big attraction circus ‘freak.’ Treves is brought behind the scenes by the Elephant Man’s “proprietor”, Bytes, (an intense and scary Freddie Jones) for a private viewing. Hopkins’ reaction to the ‘grotesque’ man is one of cinema’s great moments.

Merrick is brought to live in Treves’ hospital, where he undergoes a rigorous examination. We discover Merrick, has been abused all his life, and was beaten near death by Bytes just prior to his arrival. Treves shows off Merrick to his colleagues, which is another more acceptable way is being exploited once again. Merrick befriends the doctors and nurses and becomes a sensation within the upper class society. Just when life is good for Merrick, Bytes returns to reclaim his “property”. He takes Merrick away to France and puts him back in the circus. Merrick escapes from the circus with help from the other circus players. The scene is one of the many emotional scenes that brings tears to your eyes. The ending of the film is even more emotionally charged and unbearably heartbreaking.

Despite the tragedy of Merrick’s life, the story is uplifting, as it shows how nobility and dignity can rise among the bleakest of environments. Merrick accepts everything in life as a gift, no matter how revolting or depressing. Charles Dickens would have been proud.

Though its one of Lynch’s more audience-friendly films, it contains many of his most famous devices – the constant acoustic drone, dreamlike fantasy sequences, ominous camera movements into dark places. The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards including all the major awards - Best Picture, Director, Actor, Writing etc. It’s a forgotten masterpiece that needs to be rediscovered. Enjoy.

Sunday, 11 February 2007


Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972) Dir. Kenji Misumi


Guest review by Pasukaru

In the early seventies, Shintaro Katsu, of “Zatoichi” fame, produced a series of samurai films, based on the popular manga “Lone Wolf and Cub,” starring his older brother Tomisaburo Wakayama. These hyper-violent jidaigeki were to be so impressive and utterly original that some American producers would later compile the first two parts into “Shogun Assassin,” which subsequently influenced many filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”). Although I could recommend this version too, it’s only fair that I first endorse the original due to the significant differences of the American remix (i.e. voice over, soundtrack, dubbing, etc).

“Baby Cart at the River Styx” is the second part in a series of six, which is in fact an incomplete series (to the chagrin of this author), and the best, though all are excellent. Some have even sub-categorized it in the horror genre, because it’s that gory, but I don’t agree. It’s always stylized and absurd enough to not disgust. Seriously, it’s never been more fun chopping off a person’s extremities. One poor fellow has everything, and I mean everything, sliced off. Good stuff.

The glorious opening scene wastes no frame in setting the bloody tone, and it’s balls-to-the-wall until the fantastic finale. The story follows Ogami Itto, the former executioner to the Shogun, who wanders the countryside with his young son, Daigoro, as an assassin for hire. Alright, I could get into plot, which is solid, but who cares. What is so cool about this movie is that, despite the over-the-top gore and nudity, it manages to avoid being outright exploitive and maintain its artistic veracity. The scene in which Itto’s sworn enemy, Sayaka, breast-feeds Daigoro, for instance, is amazingly beautiful and poignant (yes, that’s right). You’d never see a scene like that in American films without it being painfully awkward, wrong-headed, or moralized. It just wouldn’t fly. But here, director Misumi Kenji has found ways to weave in humanistic touches with the grand-guignol sensationalism. It’s well paced and exceptionally choreographed. This director is a master, period. Also, Ogami’s relationship with his son Daigoro is devoid of sentimentality yet their bond is palpable. The picture of Ogami pushing his (adorable) son in a rickety baby cart (basically a Swiss army knife on wheels) is one of the most iconic images in the pantheon of chambara cinema.

Something worth mentioning is that 70’s cinema in Japan really was a free-for-all decade, like America, that produced inimitable samurai films (that were almost reactionary to the traditional samurai films made by the greats like Kurosawa, Okamoto, and Inagaki) such as ”Lone Wolf and Cub” brethren “Lady Snowblood,” “Shogun’s Samurai: The Yagyu Conspiracy,” and of course the original “Zatoichi” films. Oh, and rumor has it that Darren Aronofsky (“Pi,” “The Fountain”) is planning a remake of “Lone Wolf and Cub,” which makes me nauseous, but it’s understandable since these films really are touchstones of the genre.

Again, this film is a blast! It’s so visually stunning and mind-blowingly inventive, it stands out as a bold example of Japanese audacity. The sequence (among countless) on the rural trail in which Ogami must dispense of countless female ninja is out of this world, and downright surreal. This movie rocks!

Okay, I could keep going and drop more superlatives but I’ll stop here and let you discover it for yourself. This samurai film is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Check it out.

Saturday, 10 February 2007


Amores Perros (2001) dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring Gael Garcia Bernal


Before “Babel”, there was “21 Grams,” and before that, “Amores Perros,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s first and arguably best film. “Amores Perros” was described by some critics as a Mexican “Pulp Fiction”, mainly because of the triptych/non-linear structure of the film. Though there are similarities, “Amores Perros” is unique and brilliant.

As with “Babel” and “21 Grams,” the film is structured as a series of interconnected storylines. The first is Octavio, a naive teenager, who’s in love with his older brother’s girlfriend. Octavio and his best friend get involved in an underground dog fighting ring with their new rottweiler. The dog fights are tough. I don’t know how they filmed those scenes, but they are bloody, brutal and totally believable. Their cockiness gets the better of them as they manage to piss off the local thugs when their rottweiler kills another dog in the ring. As Octavio and his pal flee the thugs, they are involved in a serious car accident. This accident becomes the meeting place for all three stories.

The second story involves a TV producer and his young trophy mistress who recently injured herself in the car accident I just described. Their dog (no relation to the dog fights) accidentally falls in a hole in the floor of the apartment and gets stuck underneath the floorboards. They can hear the dog whimpering but can’t rescue him. The relationship of the couple disintegrates amid fear and frustration as they obsessively tear up the floor boards and destroy their own apartment in search of the dog.

The third story involves a street person (El Chivo) whom we discover is a former hitman, who’s trying to mend his ways and atone for his sins. El Chivo is approached by a man who asks him to kill his partner for money. El Chivo is about to, but has a change of heart and decides to turn the tables on the other man.

“Amores Perros” loves its characters and puts them through the worst agony and heartbreak. Since his brother is such a hardass, we want so desperately for Octavio to get with his girlfriend. We have such sympathy for El Chivo, whom we feel sorry for because he’s homeless but also because he's heroic and desperately wants to correct the mistakes he's made in life. The TV producer and his mistress are upper class snobs, who, unlike the other characters, can’t cope with the stress of their situation. Though I don’t know much of Mexican politics, the film may be more of a social commentary than anything else.

The film is bathed in the bright colours and intense heat of Mexico City. The film oozes humidity. It’s a lengthy two and a half hours, so make time for this film. Enjoy.

Friday, 9 February 2007


Fubar (2002) dir. Michael Dowse
Starring; Paul Spence and David Lawrence


If you’re a real Canadian, and love Canada, and accept who you really are deep down inside, you owe it to yourself to see “FUBAR. It’s an instant classic and more Canadian than the Trailer Park Boys, Bob and Doug McKenzie, or the Kids in the Hall. Terry and Dean embody the hockey-loving, beer-swilling, yet sensitive and unassuming qualities of all Canadians. They’re also complete idiots who manage to capture our hearts and make us want to cheer for them.

FUBAR is a mockumentary about two headbanger skids who refuse to grow up. A camera crew follows around 20-somethings Terry (David Lawrence) and Dean (Paul Spence) as they go about their regular lives, which involves drinking beer, playing road hockey, and listening to heavy metal. They decide to throw a party for their friend Troy (whom they call “Tron”), their former party ringleader, who has since settled down. Tron doesn’t show up, which sends the Terry and Dean into a drunken tailspin. They proceed to get heavily drunk and destroy lots of public property.

Later we learn Terry has developed testicular cancer, which cause the two to take a nostalgic camping trip and relive the memories of the past. On the journey they connect with the director of the film, a pretentious artsy/yuppy filmmaker. They get wasted and bond, like brothers. Another deadly accident moves the film into hilarious black comedy. Too funny to even describe. Note: the visit to the filmmaker’s parents’ house is a classic scene.

FUBAR ranks up there with “Spinal Tap” and “The Office” as one of the best-ever mockumentaries. Terry Cahill’s rendition of “Rock’n’Roll Is My Guitar” rivals David Brent’s “Free Love Highway” for cringe-inducing hilarity.

Michael Dowse, the director, is one of Canada’s most promising stars. His next film, “It’s All Gone Pete Tong”, although much different, is as good. And he apparently is going to camera soon on a Brian Grazer-produced film with Topher Grace. Good on him. Giv’r and enjoy.

Thursday, 8 February 2007


Primer (2004) dir. Shane Carruth
Starring Shane Carruth, David Sullivan


“Primer” is one of the great success stories of the indie-film world. Shane Carruth, a former electrical engineer, with a steady, high-paying career, quits his job to make movie. He’s never made any kind of film before, never taken a film course and three years later he wins the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and receives an international distribution deal. The film he made, is not just good, but it’s one of the great indie-sci-fi films of all time and is mentioned in the same breath as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Memento.” It’s intelligent, stylish, thought-provoking and wholly original. But it’s also ambiguous, confusing and frustrating.

The story is about 2 young engineers (Abe and Aaron), who, on their spare time conduct their own scientific experiments in their garage. One day, they accidentally discover an anomaly in physics, which they inadvertently develop into a time machine. The machine is not of the Jules Verne variety, but more “Junk Brothers” than anything else. Abe and Aaron describe the process to each other with the most complicated scientific jargon. It’s impossible to understand what they’re saying, but you don’t have to, because what they say sounds so plausible you just believe it could happen.

The men are careful using their new toy. They’re smart, and they know the pitfalls of manipulating the future. They play the stock market and make lots of money. But when they decide to do a good deed, and save a friend from being shot by an abusive boyfriend, their system gets fouled up. Their precautions fail, and are forced to go back and repeatedly correct their mistakes. Their mistakes compound, until they and the viewer just can’t keep up with the confusion. The time loops are confusing, but wikipedia will help you out. By the end the film will not make any sense, but that’s not the point. The film is about the breakup of a friendship and the dangers of exploiting science before understanding its ramifications.

Shane Carruth, himself, is a marvel. He not only wrote and directed the film, he also shot it, cut it, sound designed it, scored it and acted in it. Only Robert Rodriguez's "El Marachi" rivals this story. For filmmakers, the most interesting footnote is that he used a strict 1:1 shooting ratio, which means absolutely nothing was left on the cutting room floor.

Again, the film is definitely not for all tastes, but is a must-see for filmmakers, film buffs, sci-fi die-hards and techno-geeks. Please see it, you’ll either be amazed and confused beyond belief.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007


Manhunter (1986) dir. Michael Mann
Starring: William Peterson, Brian Cox


On the week of the release of the 5th “Hannibal Lecter” film, let’s revisit the original film featuring Thomas Harris’ famous character. "Manhunter" is arguably the template for today’s procedure crime dramas such as “CSI”, or “Cold Case.”

“Manhunter” has Hannibal Lecter featured only in a few scenes, instead the film concentrates on Will Graham (Peterson) investigating the case of a serial murderer who kills his victims once a month on the full moon. The story begins with a grizzly crime scene of a murdered family in their home. Graham is a seasoned cop, who analyzes everything with microscopic detail. You can see where Peterson’s character from CSI comes from. Here, Mann practically invents the forensic investigation genre of film and television. Graham's strength is the ability to get inside the killer’s head, and psychologically predict his moves. But eventually he hits a wall in the investigation and is forced to take drastic steps. He enlists his former nemesis, the recently imprisoned Hannibal Lecter for help. Lecter, as we know, is sly. Take note of the terrific scene when Lecter uses his one phone call in a creative way to communicate with the killer and trap Will Graham in the process. It’s a cat & mouse game between Graham, Lecter and the killer. Graham is on the verge of having a mental breakdown, but not before he figures out the crucial piece of the puzzle which enables him to track the killer.

Brian Cox, who plays Lecter, doesn’t have the magnificent Lecter-lair to act in, instead he’s given a humble, stark white prison cell. And despite not having Anthony Hopkins’ scene-chewing dialogue, Cox is a worthy Lecter - mysterious, manipulative and confident. William Peterson is good as the obsessive cop, especially when he dictates his thoughts into a tape recorder. Tom Noonan is extra creepy as an awkward and lanky photomart employee/serial killer. Even Cabin Boy himself, Chris Elliot, gives a brooding performance.

Technically the film has Michael Mann’s stamp all over it – blue & green-tinted look, steely cold performances, slick synthesized rock score - all elements we’ll see in later films such as “Heat” and “The Insider.” Note: I must acknowledge a couple nasty 80’s pop songs which also appear in the film.

The final sequence set to Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” uses some experimental camera effects, which put plainly, look really bad, but the scene is nonetheless pulsating and hypnotic. It’s a top-notch serial killer film and a grandfather of the genre, though buffs may also want to watch Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” or Fritz Lang’s “M” to see other similarities. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007


The Double Life of Veronique (1991) dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
Starring: Irene Jacob


“The Double Life of Veronique” is the film which launched Krzysztof Kieslowski onto the international scene. It’s a sumptuous film filled with beautiful imagery, music and locales. The narrative is dreamlike and lyrical. Plot is secondary to the mood and atmosphere.

We first meet Weronika, a young Polish soprano living in Krakow. She mentions to her father a feeling that she is not alone in the world. During a town square protest, Weronika catches a glimpse of a woman who looks exactly like her. Her twin quickly boards a bus without noticing Weronika, but not before she snaps a few photos of the crowd. We then learn about Weronika’s twin, Veronique, a French music teacher, who also mysteriously feels a similar sense otherworldliness about her twin. The two never meet, nor is there necessarily a direct connection between the two. Explaining the details of the story will not do the film justice. It’s about the nature of coincidences, unexplained behaviour and alternate realities. If you’re new to European art cinema, this might be a good start. It’s ambiguous, transcendental, and beguiling.

The film features many of Kieslowski’s frequent players, including a sexy Irene Jacob, composer Zbigniew Preisner and cinematographer Slawomir Idziak. Note: Idziak has gone on to shoot some major Hollywood blockbusters (ie. “Blackhawk Down,” and the next Harry Potter film), and the roots of his style are in this film. Of course, Kieslowski went on to make the “Three Colours Trilogy” and we also came to learn of his landmark 80’s Polish television series “Decalogue.” “Double Life of Veronique” is a good bridge between both works. Though the film may sound like a high concept thriller about sexy Doppelgangers, its not. It’s classy and high art, yet accessible to all. A new edition has just been released on DVD. Give it a try. But remember, don’t concentrate too hard, just dim this lights, put your feet up, let the film wash over you, and savour it like a fine wine.

Monday, 5 February 2007


Bloody Sunday (2002) dir. Paul Greengrass
Starring: James Nesbitt


Before “United 93”, there was “Bloody Sunday,” a minute-by-minute dramatization of the 1972 Irish Civil Rights March which ended in a bloody massacre by the British troops. Most know the events of the day from the U2 song, but director Paul Greengrass creates the definitive filmed account.

Member of Parliament Ivan Cooper (played by James Nesbitt) has organized a march in the Northern Ireland town of Derry. As a backlash against the ways of the IRA Cooper chooses to demonstrate in the peace traditions of Martin Luther King. It’s a noble effort intended to draw attention to the unlawful internment of Irish nationals without trial. But the city is heavily occupied by British troops thinking the march is a form of IRA subversion. But Cooper is determined to make good. The film cuts back and forth between the protestors and the operations of the British military, and we slowly see the tensions rise throughout the day. Everyone’s guard is up and it’s a matter of time before the British’s aggression escalates the march from peacefulness to war.

The drama is riveting. Using his trademark handheld verite shooting style Greengrass seems to eavesdrop on the action and drama. The camera captures the characters like a war-correspondent news crew in the middle of a battle. We get to know many of the townspeople, but the film focuses on 4 main characters – 2 Irishmen and 2 British soldiers. These characters are played by family members of the actual people from that day, or real British troops – all of whom are non-actors, but play the parts with utmost authenticity. In the end 14 men and women are killed, and many more shot and wounded.

Though largely unseen during it’s brief release, “Bloody Sunday” did win the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, and allowed Greengrass to make the next 2 Bourne films as well as “United 93.” Please rediscover this little gem on DVD. Enjoy

Sunday, 4 February 2007


THEM! (1954) dir. Gordon Douglas
Starring: James Whitmore, James Arness


It’s the height of the cold war, nuclear testing is at its peak, Joseph McCarthy is running wild. Out of this paranoia came one of the great B-sci-fi films - THEM!

A pair of beat cops stumble upon a destroyed house in the desert, there is no evidence of burglary, except for a jar of sugar broken into and devoured. Hmmmm. The only survivor is a young girl, who is so shocked she can’t recall the horrific event. The cops discover it was a large mutated ant, which, due to fall-out of unsafe nuclear testing, has grown to the size of an elephant. The investigation leads the cops underground to discover a whole army of mutated ants ready to strike at civilization. The U.S. military is called in to fend off the ant army, but it’s the two beat cops who fight them off by hand and save the day.

I know this sounds like something like a bad Roger Corman or Ed Wood-type of film, but the production values are surprisingly high, the drama effective and special effects, though tacky now, were top notch in its day. In fact, it was Warner Bros’ highest grossing film of that year. It’s atomic-age filmmaking at its best.

The film is comprised of mostly unknowns, with the only moderately famous faces being a young James Arness and James Whitmore. It’s interesting to see them play their roles so seriously, as, if this film were made today, it would be filled with self-reverential humour and pastiche. A movie like "Snakes on a Plane" wouldn’t be made if it weren’t for the classic sci-fi films of the 50’s. Other films of its era worth viewing include the original "War of the Worlds," "The Blob, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Fly." Admittedly, I haven’t seen as many as I should.

Next time "Them!" or any of these films are playing late night on Space, or AMC, set your PVR, it will make good Sunday morning viewing. Enjoy.

Saturday, 3 February 2007


Hi all,

Welcome to the first edition of many daily dose's of film. It's the day after my birthday, and I saw this as the best way to start my 33rd year of film-watching.

This site is easy.

Step 1: Each day, visit dailyfilmdose and receive a good film to watch.
Step 2: Go rent or buy or borrow the film from me
Step 3: Enjoy
Step 4 (optional): Send back or post comments to me

It's that easy.

Here's your first dose:

CARRIE (1976) dir. Brian DePalma

Starring: Piper Laurie, Sissy Spacek, John Travolta


Based on Stephen King's classic (and first) novel, CARRIE is the story of a sheltered teenager with telekinetic powers who uses her abilities to take revenge on everyone who has tormented her.

This was Brian DePalma's first breakout hit after several underground indie hits (ie. SISTERS and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE). Sissy Spacek's performance is awesome, as a naive waif and daughter of a god-fearing abusive mother played by Piper Laurie. Both were nominated for Oscars. Technical bravura makes up for some occasional bad acting and stereotypical characterization (some hammy performances from John Travolta and Nancy Allen add to the fun) The final prom scene is a masterpiece of choreography, editing and cinematography and is worth the price of admission. Despite the horror and terror, the film never takes itself seriously - the opening scene - a one-shot long take tracking move through a girl's high school locker room/shower - is notoriously naughty. Enjoy.