Blindspotting: A Night At The Opera and The Navigator

BlindspotANightAtTheOpera4

 

I remember a Saturday evening many years ago sitting down with my Dad to watch the Marx Brothers. I think we had tuned into PBS around 7PM and a double bill of Monkey Business and Horse Feathers was showing. Together they didn’t even total 2 and a half hours, but holy crap did we cram in the laughs. It was silly, goofy and appealed to every juvenile instinct I had in my body (and still have). It seemed to have the same effect on my Dad since he sat in his chair giggling in that “Dad” fashion and shaking half the house along with him. Of course, that just made everything that much funnier. I was probably about 10-11, so I was also old enough to catch some of the puns, banter and sharpness of these obviously practised comedians and realized that this was a craft. A well-honed one.

BlindspotANightAtTheOpera1
BlindspotTheNavigator1

And speaking of artists and their crafts…Buster Keaton remains to this day one of my all-time favourite artists in any medium. Far more than just simple slapstick, his silent comedies of the mid-to-late 20s were things of beauty and marvels to behold that would make you smile, laugh and question basic laws of physics. A somewhat “life changing” experience was watching a 3 hour American Masters program on PBS dedicated to Keaton (which I fortunately taped to VHS and wore down to microscopic width). His life had tragedy, regret and failure, but also contained some of the greatest work to ever be caught on celluloid. As the “great stone face”, Keaton rarely broke a smile or showed a sense of fear while throwing himself (or mostly being thrown) info a myriad of dangerous stunts and physical gags. Though he was also an obviously well-rehearsed funny man with razor sharp timing, the falls, leaps and tumbles seemed almost improvised. It was part of his brilliance and was fascinating to hear him reflect on the broken bones and sets of cat-lives that he had. Those interview clips of Keaton in his late 50s also greatly reminded me of my Dad – there was just a certain way he told a story.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: A Most Violent Year

 

There’s really not a great deal of violence in A Most Violent Year. Though set in 1981 New York City (a low period for the city marked by high crime rates), there are few visceral moments of bloodshed and brutality. What does exist is an almost constant threat of violence – around every corner and edit in the film, it feels as if some form of foul play sits in wait. The landscape of this version of New York City is bleak, crumbling and empty. The barren streets and rundown manufacturing plants aren’t exactly conducive to strolling about, but the lack of people in the background of the film gives you the feeling that they too are worried about those threats lurking in the shadows.

The real violence of the film, however, refers to the damage done to its main character’s (Abel Morales played exceedingly well by Oscar Isaac) view of the American capitalist framework and his moral approach to honest work resolving in honest returns. Morales wants to behave ethically – though he’ll take every advantage in marketing ploys, he doesn’t want to game the system or cheat his competitors. He feels he should reward those who succeed in his business (an oil company for home heating) and coach those who don’t in order to give them an opportunity to grow. Morales is a sharply dressed man with focus and drive that leads you to believe he WILL get what he wants. When he stares at you, you listen. He’s at a turning point in his business as he puts a huge down payment on a new parcel of land for expansion, but needs to come up with the rest of the capital to close the deal. He is warned up front by the old owners that they are happy to do business with him, but on their terms for their benefit. As Morales tackles problems of his trucks getting hijacked and being investigated for possible shady financial reporting, he struggles to gather up the remaining money needed to close the deal.

Would you like to know more…?

Blindspotting: East Of Eden and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

BlindspotEastOfEden3

 

There are some who believe that Good and Evil are two very distinct objectively defined entities and that things and ideas are black or white, true or false, moral or immoral. Some would say that thought could be extended to define people in these terms and to categorize them in one of two camps: “Pure as the driven snow” and “Face of an angel” OR “Pure evil” and “Rotten to the core” (phrases we all use to describe people with no middle ground). Of course, these are a fool’s definition and try to provide easy answers to explaining behaviours that please or enrage us. The “truth” is that it all depends on your perspective and viewpoint. The landscape is made up of thousands of shades of grey and they are all relative. And speaking of relatives…

BlindspotEastOfEden6
BlindspotWhosAfraidOfVirginiaWoolf2
BlindspotWhosAfraidOfVirginiaWoolf4

The sibling rivalry within East Of Eden and the spousal feuding of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf traverse many degrees of that light to dark spectrum between good and evil. Hurting the one you love is always a complicated and confusing thing to do and that’s certainly the case in both films. You could be forgiven, however, if you didn’t see a lot of shading in that good/evil spectrum during the onslaught that is Virginia Woolf. From the first words spoken, it feels like a two hour blitz of spiteful bile and vituperative arguments. Most of the insult flinging occurs between the middle aged George and Martha, but they aren’t shy in sharing it and spreading it around. George (Richard Burton) is a History professor who lives within the campus grounds with his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and after an evening at a school social (with a few drinks) they set about their favourite sport – a little verbal sparring with each other. It seems to begin harmlessly – a barb here, a curt word there – but as it escalates, one can tell this is much more than just tiredness and booze stirred together into a cranky cocktail. It seems to be their lifeforce. The only way they can get through the day at this stage of their lives together is by tearing each other down. Even the moments of true passion which still exist between them can’t stem their craving for a verbal attack fix. “I disgust me” says Martha, sounding every bit like a drug addict. And when the young couple Nick and Honey arrive for some nightcaps (Nick is a new professor that Martha flirted with at the social event), the mixture of booze and disgust becomes downright toxic for all.

Would you like to know more…?

My Movie Moments of 2014

MovieMoments2014-LEGOMovie

 

A cobbled together list of some of my favourite moments from 2014’s films as well as older ones I saw for the first time this past year…

 

2014 films:

MovieMoments2014-Noah
  • – The story of creation in Noah – beautifully composed as it also worked in evolution and epic timescales into the mythology of the story.
  • – “SPACESHIP! SPACESHIP! SPACESHIP!! SPACESHIP!!” – The LEGO Movie.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – every perfectly centred frame.
  • – Those final credits of 22 Jump Street – they’re funny cuz their true…
  • – Being in the same theatre with Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch) and James Randi within the same week during Hot Docs.
MovieMoments2014-Nightcrawler
  • – The breathless car chase in Nightcrawler.
  • – The bracing last 10 minutes of Whiplash.
  • – The wonderful sing-a-long in A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (more fully described here).
  • – And then followed later in the film by the gut punch…
  • – The docking scene and entry into the black hole sequence from Interstellar.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Nightcrawler

 

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is essentially a perfectly crafted film. As it tells the story of naive scammer/thief Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), the film never once seems to hit a sour note or lag its pace. Through our initial intro to Lou, some fleshing out of his character, his discovery of a new possible career path and the film’s gradual shift to action and cynicism, there aren’t any dead spots or moments where you might question the film’s direction. It’s not due to any attempt to dull the audience’s senses through too many fast paced cuts or loud obnoxious songs, but simply because the damn thing is so incredibly engaging from start to finish.

Would you like to know more…?

Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown

 

 

Easily the biggest surprise and possibly my overall favourite film of this year’s Toronto After Dark film festival was Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s (director of several American Horror Story episodes) take on the 1976 early slasher The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Though that little film from 1976 has its supporters and certainly has some choice moments, it seemed like an odd pick for a revisit. The original as directed by Charles B. Pierce (director and star of the head-shakingly bad Boggy Creek II – And The Legend Continues – best known for being one of MST3K’s victims) is an awkward melange of horror/docudrama/slapstick comedy that tries to tell the actual events of a masked serial killer who terrorized Texarkana in 1946. And yet…There were some well-realized moments of genuine horror and interesting filmmaking. For his first feature, Gomez-Rejon seems to have focused on those positive aspects and has built a compelling, moody, surprising and absolutely gorgeous film.

Of particular note is the way he composes his frames. More than once during the film, I found my eyes roaming about the square footage on screen, trying to pick up all the little details and contrasting different colour combinations. I’m sure I missed some clues lurking in the background, but the simple pleasure of being pulled into this lovingly created canvas and wanting to savour each little corner, shadow and object was more than enough. If that sounds like a bit of an overstatement, it’s partly due to having very few expectations regarding not only the story but the level of filmmaking. It’s not that I thought the movie was going to be bad (the trailer is quite handsome actually), but from its opening tracking shot that pans down from a Drive-In screen playing the original film (and which continued through the parking lot filled with many of the films primary characters) it was obvious that Gomez-Rejon had very strong stylistic ideas for the film – all of which actually help move the story forward and engage the audience.

Would you like to know more…?

Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: The Babadook

 

 

Ba Ba-ba DOOK DOOK DOOK!!

Silly made up sounds to fit a children’s verse or shudder-inducing syllables to remind you of the darkness that exists in all our souls? In the case of first-time feature filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s critically praised creeper The Babadook, it’s not an either / or situation. The cute can definitely coexist with the terrifying.

Young Samuel typically celebrates his birthday in tandem with his cousin even though the date isn’t right. His mother Amelia likes to avoid discussing his actual date of birth since it was the rather auspicious occasion of the car crash that took his father’s life (as he drove Amelia to the hospital to give birth). As he closes in on turning 7 years old, Amelia seems to be having a harder and harder time coping with single parenthood. Samuel is a handful as his imagination gets the better of him on a regular basis – his certainty that monsters are after him, his magic tricks and his creative construction of weaponry are all putting Amelia right on the edge. One night she finds a storybook called The Babadook that she’s never seen before and they decide to read it together. It illustrates a tall, top hat-wearing, cloaked in black man-beast called The Babadook who will come a calling and knock three times. And Once you let him in…he never leaves.

The book seems to leave quite the impression on Samuel as he starts worrying about the dagger-fingered Babadook and warns his mother repeatedly about it – especially after something knocks on their door one evening. Amelia’s sleep patterns start getting messed up, Samuel appears to be harder and harder to control and she starts having issues at work. She’s a complete wreck and begins pushing away those that can and want to help her – she is caught up in a crushing concern for her son while also being way past the frustration point with him. The house starts closing in on her…

Would you like to know more…?

Occultober – Day 28 – The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror
There’s something about those 70s horror films – the steady creep, the look and feel of their surroundings and, as exemplified by the original The Amityville Horror, the pace. This particular film grabs you early and then ever so gradually reels you in with only a very few slow spots (e.g. that sex scene between James Brolin and Margot Kidder went on a bit longer than I was comfortable with…). And to be honest, not much happens for most of the movie…But it still manages to keep you just a little bit nervous throughout and always waiting for the next incident. It’s that compounded and built-up dread that is almost its own reward and forces an engagement with the story and characters. It also hopefully pays off towards the end…In this case, the ending sort of gets away from the film a bit and it sputters just when it should be vrooming, but when a movie can build the tension this well (and throw in a bleeding stairway too), that can be forgiven.

After its release, the movie became the largest grossing independent film ever and held the record for a good 4-5 years afterwards. Short of the lovely job it does in building up that fear throughout, the reasons are pretty obvious. The film (and its book) purport to be about a “true story” of a family living in a possessed house which tries to make them leave (“GET OUT!!”). The occult was certainly a trendy thing at the time and with a storyline that feels so relatable (big rambling old houses do seem rather spooky…), you can understand how word of mouth spread as many people wondered if their own house’s bumps and creaks during the night may be similarly attributable to restless spirits and demons.

I put off seeing this box office winner until just recently as I had always assumed it would be a fairly tedious affair with much mumbo-jumbo. Instead it’s quite intriguing…And though there certainly is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo spewed (with a whole lot of gusto from both Rod Steiger and Helen Shaver), just like many of the occult practices and beliefs, it’s all in service of tightening its grip on its audience. Not so great if that’s done to suck in unsuspecting people to believe in demonic acts, but perfect for a horror movie.

Would you like to know more…?

Occultober – Day 27 – Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural

Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural
The full title of the film is the key to its real meaning (and is much more accurate than the straight up horror title Lady Dracula that it is also known as). The supernatural is certainly afoot in the movie, but this is a young girl’s viewpoint and it’s her own impression as to what the temptations and changes are that she is facing as she moves towards womanhood and how they manifest themselves. Though not quite as gorgeous and creative as something like the amazing Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders was in depicting a teenage girl’s whirlwind of life changes or as scary and bloody as that same aspect is depicted in Ginger Snaps, Lemora does bring a dreamlike, slightly off-kilter feel to the story of the very sheltered and religious 13 year-old Lila.

She leaves her hometown after receiving a cryptic letter from a woman named Lemora asking her to come see her sick father. He had recently run off without a trace after murdering his wife and her lover. On the way there, she experiences a creepy bus trip, sees ghoulish creatures chasing them and witnesses a battle between those ghouls and a group of cloaked dracula-like beings after the bus breaks down. After passing out, she ends up at Lemora’s house and winds up being kept in a cell. She is eventually welcomed inside the proper house after being told the cell was to protect her from what was outside – not to keep her inside. Lemora, though extremely pale and with dead eyes (possibly just a side-effect of her terribly wooden acting), claims that after a ceremony the following day she will be able to see her diseased father. Lila is swept up in the witch-like Lemora’s promises, but when she catches her sucking the blood from a young boy, the jig appears to be up…

The blood-like wine, the blue moonlit nights and the danger that seems to be everywhere around her all serve as stand-ins for Lila’s confusion over her changing body and the number of choices she now has as a growing young lady. Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith, who became quite the B-movie queen, is very good as the young Lila and perfectly captures that transition from innocence to awakening. The film ran afoul of many Catholic groups for its immoral attributes (a lecherous priest, implied lesbianism, Lila’s fall from grace, etc.), but seems to have found traction with many film fans. Go ahead and give in to the temptation…

Would you like to know more…?