Based on the Swedish Novel: Bork Bork Bork [Muppets]

Everything about this films has screamed sensational from the get-go. And the Muppet train just keeps on chuggin’. I have no idea if Jason Segal has anything to do behind the marketing campaign that the new Muppets movie has going on, but if the movie is half as good as the trailers we’ve been getting (and this newest is probably the best so far) then we’re all in for a real treat. A few more cameos revealed here too…

 

 

MorePop: Portal 2 and Open Forum

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As you may know, Row Three has long had a sister site called More Pop, where Row Three contributors talked about music, books, television, video games, basically whatever pop culture stuff we wanted to that wasn’t film. With the end of Lost, which generating our most active threads over there, it’s gotten harder and harder for us to maintain on a regular basis and we’ve made the decision to go ahead and shutter it. HOWEVER. We still have other pop-culture stuff we want to talk about besides movies once in a while, so we’re resurrecting the idea as a column over here. Might be weekly, might be less, but never more. We’re still very focused on movies, and that’s never going to change. But once in a while, we’ll bring you our thoughts on video games, music, books, and more, and then open up the comments as a forum to talk about, basically, whatever the hell you want to. This is the space for all those things you never quite knew where to talk about before. Post it here.

To kick things off, I was going to talk about playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game I’ve been dying to get pretty much since it was announced. The first Deus Ex game for PC was really a watershed moment for me as a gamer – I’d been playing Myst and other adventure games (which I still love, don’t get me wrong; I’d like nothing better than for that style of gaming to make a comeback), but then a friend gave me Deus Ex, my first FPS/RPG of any type, and I was hooked. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be a gamer at all now.

But what actually happened was Gamefly (the Netflix of video games) finally sent me Portal 2 after weeks of waiting, and I’ve been consumed with that for the past two weeks. The first Portal game was a sliver of an add-on to The Orange Box, Valve’s combination of their previously-released games Half-Life, Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress. But it was Portal that got all the word of mouth in that set, thanks to challenging puzzles, a witty script, a catchy song, and one of the most memorable AIs of all time.

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TIFF Review: SHAME

There is a shot early on in Steve McQueen’s Shame, a frame filling close-up on Carey Mulligan as she sings a desperate, melancholic version of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” that is such pure cinema, albeit in a highly stylized and perhaps melodramatic form, but it gets at truth. Mulligan portrays Sissy, the emotionally need sister to Michael Fassbender’s, intimacy challenged Brandon, and her song, performed in an upscale New York City club is one of only a couple fleeting moments that she gets through to him emotionally. Earlier, for a instant or two, you see Fassbender’s face slightly out of focus with low lighting, the visage of a skull, as if to imply he is a drug addict or dying or dead. Shame is a movie about unfulfillment in a time and age where anything is possible, instant gratification for a buck, at any time during the day, particularly in a city like New York.

Brandon has some sort of successful corporate job, and a solid relationship with his boss, David. Despite David’s established domestic life, a wife and two kids await at home, the two of them cruise the nightclubs with after work. David is all manic and eager to please as he tries to pick up, whereas Brandon is silent, mysterious, cool. Brandon has a lot more success at the bars, leading to a series of one night stands. In the mean time, a steady diet of internet pornography, the occasional stalking of an random attractive woman on a subway train. That scene, actually a pair of scenes which form narrative bookends for the film, is also telling. There is an instant, honest – if that is the right word – attraction between this married woman and Brandon, a glance that recalls Nicole Kidman’s speech about mental infidelity and lust Eyes Wide Shut. This woman flashes her wedding ring as if some kind of ward, and nonplussed, Brandon practically chases her up the platform. She escapes, if only narrowly. A tryst with a co-worker in the film further underscores the tug and push of Brandon’s particular condition, there is a hint that something intimate and real might come out of things, and that shuts him down. It must be terribly confusing for her, after they share a warm and charming evening of food and conversation the night before. The movie flits from the woods and incandescent lighting of street level New York clubs with the press of flesh and life, to Brandon’s stark black and white apartment, trapped and isolated on the umpteenth floor of a glass and steel condo. Displacement is further underscored when Brandon listens to a series of desperate answering machine messages which echo in the cold space.

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TIFF Review: Urbanized

Gary Hustwit’s final film in his design trilogy is essentially a call for engagement in the democratic process and a treatise on the power of community action. You should walk out of his film talking, arguing and, most importantly, thinking. Thinking about your city, thinking about your living conditions and thinking about what you and your government should be doing.

The previous two films in his trilogy focused on tangible and real objects – things you could hold and examine closely for all their foibles and finer points. With Urbanized, he dives into the topic of urban design – a look at how our cities are put together and the problems that will face them and their denizens in the decades to come. Though it certainly discusses and shows real implemented solutions, it deals far more in the theoretical realm than his previous efforts. Therefore it becomes a much more politicized film by default – which becomes both its strength and one of its weaknesses. For the surfeit of ideas the film presents and for its ability to lead its viewers to consider their own situations, it will likely never be seen by those people that “need” to see it. And if they do, then it likely won’t be viewed with unbiased eyes.

Granted, the film isn’t exactly unbiased itself. It leans heavily towards a specific viewpoint – away from suburban sprawl and towards a non-car culture (a point of view that I mostly share) – and doesn’t provide as much counter-balance in ideas as you might expect. As I walked out of the screening a friend and I were extolling the virtues of what we had just seen and just as I praised its vast array of ideas, a third friend jumped in to say that he thought that was what the film was lacking. His point was that it had some great examples of one form of urban planning, but not as diverse a set as he wanted to see. He too agreed with the basic leaning of the film’s point of view, but thought that it needed to allow further arguments some time in the spotlight. In essence, he was killing our post-show buzz, but he had a point. A prime example is the consideration of the suburbs. One section of the film focuses on Phoenix Arizona – apparently the poster child for suburban sprawl as the city crawls its way out into the surrounding desert – and finishes with its main interview subject stating in very honest fashion: “Look, I like my big house and I like my pool. And so do a lot of other people.” Whether you felt that guy was being overly selfish or not, he has a point – a lot of people fall into that category, so where do they fit into the considerations of planning our living spaces?

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TIFF Review: Life Without Principle

“It’s the economy, stupid!” Johnnie To’s latest film starts off its one-day odyssey with an unmotivated murder in a low rent tenement building and a sales-motivated showcase of a high end condo with fabulous views. A cop tours both, one for his job, and the other for his wife -who is probably more orgasmic about the space than she is during sex. Since the honest working cop has a solution to neither of these situations, he opts to wait and see. This is a strategy that nobody else uses in the ‘go-go-go’ tone of the market-obsessed Hong Kong depicted in the film. In the meantime, a securities and mortgage sales lady is at the bottom rung of her sales team, and is concerned about being turfed from her job by her no nonsense boss, and is forced to hard-sell high risk investments to just about everyone who walks into her office. This includes a wealthy loan shark who delights in exposing and subverting the nickel-and-dime service fees and petty incentives of the big banks right down to the free coffee and mints with each visit. It also includes a senior who knows nothing about the stock market and merely wants to ‘make money.’ Don’t we all? Further complicating things is Panther and Buzzard who each scam in their own petty crime circles, and have gotten themselves in desperate need of some real money really fast. All of these characters see their collective fortunes rise and fall with the rough and tumble way of financial market fluctuations. It is a fun bit of satire in how everyone in Hong Kong is obsessed with the financials of things, and they’ve all gotten into the high stakes gambling world of 21st century money markets. A scene near the end of the film has almost every character in fear and ecstasy waiting for their particular horse to cross the finish line. One might consider this a less-bloody companion piece to Pang Ho-Cheung’s Dream Home, a film where its heroine will commit gore-soaked murders to lower the price of her condo, but Life Without Principle is a far more complicated story and a fair bit more fun.

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DVD Review: The Iron Horse

Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Charles Kenyon & John Russell
Starring: George O’Brien, Madge Bellamy, Fred Kohler, Cyril Chadwick
Producer: William Fox
Country: USA
Running Time: 150 & 133 min
Year: 1924
BBFC Certification: PG

The Iron Horse was John Ford’s breakthrough film. At the tender age of 29 Ford had already directed around 50 films (most of which were shorts), but it was his involvement in this, one of the earliest blockbusters, that gave his name clout in Hollywood and set him on his way to becoming one of, if not the most famous and celebrated of American directors. I must admit, despite the pedigree I was a little hesitant to sit down and watch The Iron Horse. As open-minded as I am in my film-viewing, a two and a half hour silent film about building a railway sounded a bit dull. I was expecting to appreciate watching some big epic visuals but grow tired of a dated, slow narrative. In actual fact what I got was pretty much the opposite.

The film charts the construction of America’s first transcontinental railway from a mere dream to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the bill to start work, all the way to the last nail being hammered in as the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines meet in the middle. Of course, simply watching the rails getting laid wouldn’t make much of a movie though, so the massive achievement is used to frame a classic love story. Davy Brandon’s father dreams of the day East and West were linked and takes his son West to fulfil this, leaving behind the boy’s best friend Miriam Marsh. On the way Brandon senior is killed by a group of Cheyenne, led by a two-fingered white man, but Davy escapes. We jump forward several years to the start of work on the tracks where we follow a now grown up Miriam (Madge Bellamy) who lives with her father and fiancé, working on the Union Pacific line. Deroux (Fred Kohler), a nasty piece of work, wants to persuade Miriam’s father to take a longer route through land that he owns, which seems to be the case until Davy (George O’Brien) shows up out of the blue. Through his travels with his father he found a shortcut through the mountains. This of course causes problems for Deroux and Jesson (Cyril Chadwick), his right hand man and fiancé to Miriam. These two therefore plot out numerous ways put a stop to the righteous Davy.

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DVD Triage: Week of September 13

A few arthouse heavy hitters plus some blockbuster action this week, as well as the biggest hitter of them all – Star Wars on Blu-ray. A bunch of other great films get Blu-ray upgrades as well, and one of the best shows on TV comes to Instant Watch.

New Release Picks of the Week

Meek’s Cutoff
One of the best movies so far this year, with Reichardt turning to the old west, but not the old west of heroism and expansive vistas, but a constricted, oppressive, and almost hellish old west. It’s not a barrel of laughs, but it isn’t an experience you’ll soon forget, either.
2011 USA. Director: Kelly Reichardt. Starring: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood.
Amazon DVD | Amazon Blu-ray | Netflix

Incendies
One of Canada’s major front-runners for last year’s award-season, I still haven’t managed to catch it myself, but it seems to be a huge favorite of everyone who has.
2010 Canada. Director: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin.
Amazon Blu-ray/DVD | Netflix

Thor
After a terrible ad campaign, Thor actually ended up being quite enjoyable, certainly a good kick-off to summer blockbuster season and a fine lead-in to next year’s The Avengers.
2011 USA. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins.
Amazon DVD | Amazon Blu-ray | Netflix

The Tempest
The reviews for Taymor’s flamboyant version of Shakespeare’s final play weren’t particularly kind, but I’m still really interested in checking it out for myself.
2010 USA. Director: Julie Taymor. Starring: Helen Mirren, Russell Brand.
Amazon DVD | Amazon Blu-ray | Netflix

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TIFF Review: ALPS


“There are many types of lighting receptacles, that come in both professional and consumer grades.”

“Cold is a word that winter swimmers do not know.”

This is the icy-precise line-reading one comes to expect from writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos. Those who got an offbeat intellectual charge out of his weird fable Dogtooth or simply enjoyed the alien-dance moves of actress Aggeliki Papoulia are in for more of the same with ALPS, perhaps a spiritual sequel which features similar visuals and narrative beats. Things are taken out of a singular location of the Greek director’s previous film, and the insular family dynamic is scaled up to a group of people who form the eponymous organization. The business concept behind ALPS is one of role-playing and empathy. People who recently lost of a loved one can hire an ALPS employee to impersonate the deceased for a few days or weeks to ease through the grief process. As the film demonstrates exceptionally well, the barrier between indulging a client’s grief and devolving into a form of prostitution is a rather thin and permeable one. The domineering boss of ALPS, a gymnastics coach who does not indulge his star pupil (also an ALPS employee) in song choices for her routines. Instead he makes unexplained demands: “You are not ready for pop music.” As CEO of ALPS he is more like a pimp. When his star employee (Papoulia), a nurse who spots potential clients from the pool she encounters – families attending to their dying loved ones at the hospital – decides to go rogue and take on a customer outside of ALPS, justice is swift and bloody, an arbitrary. It takes the form of a chastising game which obfuscates the use of naked power and authority.

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Rank ‘Em: Brad Pitt Films

With World War Z hitting the headlines as of late (not least because of controversial book-to-film changes being made to the overall structure), Terrence Malick’s magnificent The Tree of Life providing one of this year’s highlights and Moneyball recently premiering at TIFF, I thought it would be an apt time to highlight the films of acting megastar Brad Pitt.

Pitt has made a lot of films in his 20+ years in the business and I was surprised to actually look back and see that most of them have been at least good and some, I think you’ll agree, have been fantastic. He is a surprisingly consistent actor as far as choice of good films goes.

Below is my ranking of all of the Pitt films I’ve seen (the list will go by the quality of the film not by his performance). I must point out that I haven’t seen absolutely everything the man has done, with the likes of Meet Joe Black, Troy and Legends of the Fall being notable omissions (any others not on the list means I also haven’t seen them). Also, I’ve decided not to include voice works so the likes of Megamind and Sinbad won’t be listed.

Here goes, my ranking of Brad Pitt’s filmography (possible spoilers within):

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