Guy Maddin Blogathon: Confessions of a Maddin Newbie

[Part of The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World! Contest Head over to that link for more Maddin-ness.]

Nobody can really tell you what watching a Guy Maddin film is like. Or maybe nobody really tried to tell me. My first Maddin experience was Brand Upon the Brain!, and it was less than a year ago. Despite having heard about Maddin from Marina and Kurt for years, I had no idea what I was getting into. Watching a Maddin film is like jumping into another world, and not just in the way that all cinema is a window into another world. Maddin makes films like none I’ve ever seen before, somewhere on the line between narrative and avant-garde, evoking very early cinema but with a soft edge of surrealism that most primitive films only gain through the degradation of nitrate stock, and infusing that very old style with a preoccupation with memory, repression, and sexual anxiety.

Thinking back now on Brand Upon the Brain! and Careful which I watched soon after is like looking through a mirror filled with murky memories – I remember snatches of Isabella Rossellini’s narration, and matted images harkening back to Maddin’s eponymous character’s childhood. I remember muted colors and highly stylized acting. I remember butler school and a lighthouse. I remember troubling mother issues and ghosts and cats. My memories of the two are not mixed up, because though both use a throwback visual style, they’re very different from each other. But both exist in the hazy nether regions of visual memory rather than as fully-formed narratives. Perhaps that’s appropriate. My memories of Maddin films, even ones I’ve seen within the past several months, approximate Maddin’s own slipstream way of visualizing and editing his films with a dream logic all their own.

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Guy Maddin Blogathon: Rank ‘Em: Guy Maddin’s Films

[Part of The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World! Contest Head over to that link for more Maddin-ness.]

I remember the day I discovered Guy Maddin. I was filling a gap in my film festival schedule and The Saddest Music in the World happened to fit. What I didn’t bargain for was Maddin’s style. Here was a director, Canadian no less!, making a movie unlike anything I’d seen before. It looked old, it sounded old, it was melodramatic and every moment was enjoyable. In a sea of film that all looked alike, this was something new and refreshing. That was my first run in with Maddin but not the last.

Over the years I’ve seen a dozen or so films from Maddin’s long filmogaphy and though I’m sometimes happy to simply let them wash over me in a haze of grainy film and crackling music, there are a few that I have come to love. Enter my list of favourite Guy Maddin films.
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TCFF Review: 50/50

Director: Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Wackness)
Producers: Ben Karlin, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Phillip Baker Hall, Anjelica Huston
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 99 min.


Watching two close friends go through the cancer battle over the last couple of years (one of them losing), I wondered how well a comedic (yet heart-warming) view of the entire ordeal was going to sit with me. And as we get older, it’s very unfortunately becoming an all too-close-for-comfort experience for many more of us. All the more reason for a project like 50/50 to fail miserably with cries of foul from audiences and critics alike. But with a screenwriter who understands the pains of the issue first hand and an incredibly talented cast, I’m happy to report the film is practically flawless and fires on all cylinders from the get-go.

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Guy Maddin Blogathon: CAREFUL!

[Part of The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World! Contest Head over to that link for more Maddin-ness.]

Outside of the pitch perfect, six minutes of pure cinematic bliss that is Heart of the World, 1992s Careful is very likely Guy Maddin’s best work – at the risk of splitting hairs, it is for me his best feature length film. A culmination of many of the things which keep film-lovers coming back to the Winnipeg maestro’s work: Melodrama heightened to the high of pure comedy, Freud punchdrunk on a cocktail of speedballs and laudanum, flirtations with genre, and the aesthetic of the primordial days of filmmaking at the turn of the 20th century. Although it should be noted that things are done with a subtle modern editing techniques and executed with more-than-a-hint of the grotesque generally not afforded at the time. When you enter the alien world of Tolzbad, leave reality at the door and soak in image and sound boiled down to an essence before being reconstituted as pure fantasy. The surrealism and idiosyncratic personality of Maddin’s work is often compared of David Lynch, but his idiom of resurrecting and reconstructing forgotten sub (-sub-sub) genres puts him in the vein of Quentin Tarantino with hints towards Powell and Pressburger by way of Fritz Lang and Jim Jarmusch. And lest I be branded some sort of leper for suggesting the first name in the previous comparison, I do not mean to imply the rock-star or mainstream appeal of the ‘Pulp’ director, but the idea of a filmmaker that pleasures himself in a video archives for days, weeks, months on end to soak up the juices of cinema before mixing and batching his own, unique and pleasurable concoction. For those of us who have drunk the Kool-Aid, we feel you should too…

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Review: Contagion

With no prologue, no set-up, we’re thrust into Day Two. Gwyneth Paltrow is visibly fighting a bug; she’s shaky, she’s sniffly, she’s sweating and shivering at the same time. Not how you want to feel while traveling through a busy airport, but this is more than just a personal discomfort. The next few moments track, via a frenetically-scored montage, the movements of every person she’s come into contact with in the past few hours, and all the things they touch. A martini glass left on a bar, a tiny bathroom shared by dozens of airline passengers, a touch of a hand using a railing to swing out of a bus – these innocuous commonplaces all become harbingers of death, each touch hitting us viscerally.

From there, the film spreads out like the virus, pulling in the CDC and the World Health Organization to investigate this Minnesota woman’s quick demise and the already world-wide spread of the disease through Hong Kong, London, China, Chicago, and more. Every angle gets its moment (and sometimes it seems like little more than a moment), from Matt Damon’s grieving husband and frightened father to Laurence Fishburne’s seasoned CDC coordinator to Kate Winslet’s professional but deeply sympathetic field agent to Marion Cotillard’s WHO investigator to Jude Law’s conspiracy theorist blogger to Gwyneth Paltrow’s unsuspecting viral carrier to Jennifer Ehle’s brilliant scientist, and more. If these sound like types, that’s because they are. The film has so many stories it wants to tell that each one is perhaps understandably underdeveloped, relying on familiar types and star power to give them power.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Win Win

2011 USA. Director: Tom McCarthy. Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Burt Young.

The always commendable Paul Giamatti headlines an emotionally sincere cast in Tom McCarthy’s modest family dramedy Win Win. The story follows a small town lawyer, family man and assistant high school wrestling coach named Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), who hopes to turn around the flagging fortunes of his team with the inclusion of a talented but troubled new student named Kyle (Alex Shaffer). Rarely descending into sports movie cliché, the film, like McCarthy’s previous effort The Visitor, is packed full of understated feeling, unpretentious humour and questions of everyday morality. Amy Ryan is excellent as always; Bobby Cannavale is very funny as the films most overtly jokey character, and newcomer Alex Shaffer is completely convincing as the polite but introverted Kyle, a teenager who, like real teenagers, speaks every word in the same disinterested tone. But the highlight of the film is lifetime character actor Burt Young, who is simply spectacular as Kyle’s dementia suffering grandfather Leo. Neither overly ambitious nor tediously trivial, Win Win is a top notch independent production. [See also Marina’s capsule] -TOM

Hunger

2008 UK. Director: Steve McQueen. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham.

Bold. Visceral. Heartfelt. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Epic. Hunger is the sort of film that is difficult to convey beyond the most basic of descriptions – rather, it is a film that must be experienced. The painstaking attention to detail places the viewer in the prison cell with Bobby Sands (Fassbender), allowing us to experience the disillusionment of one being betrayed by his body and the circumstances surrounding his perils, and the strength that it takes to overcome such misery. McQueen does not pull any punches, and it seems difficult to imagine any other fictionalized work having such an emotional impact without resorting to the cliché. Never before has waiting for dialogue felt so jarring, nor has any conversation been so exceptional as the seventeen minute unbroken exchange between Sands and a priest (Cunningham). Fassbender’s turn is equal parts traumatic and wonderful, and I cannot help but wait with eager anticipation for his future films. [See also Marina’s review] -DOMENIC

Netflix Instant (US and Canada)

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