LAFF 2010 Review: The New Year



To give a plot summary of Brett Haley’s The New Year is almost a disservice to the film, not because it would spoil important plot developments (there’s really nothing to spoil in the film), but because it makes the film sound mundane and uninteresting, and it’s anything but. Sunny Elliot dropped out of college in her junior year two years ago to care for her father in Pensacola, Florida, after he was diagnosed with cancer. During that time she’s also been working at a bowling alley, dating a nice but fairly bland guy she met at the bowling alley, and hanging out with a few other friends. Then Isaac Briggs, a high school friend and rival who left for New York to become a stand-up comic, returns to Pensacola for the Christmas holidays, and Sunny starts thinking about all the things she wanted to do with her life and hasn’t been able to. See what I mean? Nothing particularly new or innovative there.

Yet as I watched, I found myself more and more drawn in and connected to Sunny. Part of this is because except for the relationship specifics, Sunny is me at age 25 – this is one of the best and most genuine portrayals of the quarterlife crisis I’ve seen on screen. It matters not at all that very little actually happens in the film beyond a series of scenes following Sunny and her friends and her dad at the bowling center, the bar, her home, the hospital, etc. The moments of emotional weight are subtle ones, a hug here, a touch of the hand there, a glance or a half-smile. Though everything plays well from a cinematic perspective (nothing feels awkward or uncomfortably improvised the way off-the-cuff indie realism sometimes can), it feels absolutely un-manufactured.

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DVD Review: Dirty Harry (1971)

With Clint Eastwood’s birthday a few weeks ago, just about every movie he’s ever been a part of was re-released on DVD. The subsequent upgrade of my home theater to Blu-ray incited a need to relive some of these great films. Eastwood is arguably best known for his portrayal of the relentless cop with no tolerance for bullshit rules and red tape titularly known as “Dirty” Harry Calahan. This franchise seemed like as good of a place as any to start with some Eastwood magic.

The original Dirty Harry film is loosely based off of the Zodiac killer who terrorized San Francisco in the mid-60’s – the killer even identifies himself as Scorpio (one of the signs of the zodiac calendar). In fact, David Fincher’s film, Zodiac, even has a sequence in which his characters are at the movies watching Dirty Harry and they remark about the “rules” of the film within the film. A psycho is on the loose, killing indescriminantly while simultaneously taunting and bragging to the police and mayor’s office. In this fictitious version however, Scorpio is asking for money. While the mayor’s office scrambles to find the money to pay off this psycho, Calahan will none of it and sets off on an investigation of his own – hell-bent on capturing, or preferably killing, this maniac on the loose.

It’s been years since my last viewing of the original Dirty Harry film. As a kid it scared the bejeezus out of my fragile soul and this time around the film does its best to do the same. Though I’m older, desensitized and more mature, nevertheless the movie does a fantastic job of setting up an ominous mood when it needs to and the villain is just as I remember him – creepy, insane and worst of all utterly insane – thereby maintaining a very notable position in my top ten favorite villains of all time. The actor, Andrew Robinson, has an odd sounding voice, wide, bugging eyes and a strange mouth that articulates his menacing verbiage and maniacal laughs with shuddersome peculiarity.

Interestingly, the movie itself is only about 100 minutes, yet somehow really manages to take its time with the case and developing Calahan as someone more than just a cop with a gun. There are a few side plots involving unrelated bank heists, suicide attempts and street vigilantes. The story always weaves its way back to the central story line, but in between there is all manner of fun stuff to behold – “do you feel lucky? Well do ya punk!!?”

What makes this movie work and still hold up remarkably well today is its all-around style. Not only are there side tangents in the plot, but there’s a great sense of director Don Siegel really taking his time to show off and linger on the things that help encompass the mood. We don’t just see Harry Calahan answer a pay phone. Instead we see him running from a long distance to get there. It seems like five minutes go by as we wait for a little speck of nothingness on the dark horizon to slowly materialize as Calahan running towards the camera. We don’t just see Calahan enter a building and start talking to someone; we inexplicably have to watch him walk up about a hundred steps to get where he’s going. This is NOT a complaint. On the contrary, the longer we are able to look at and appreciate our surrounds, the easier we familiarize ourselves with the location and even have time to gather thoughts about what just took place or what is about to happen. This occurs alot throughout the film and not only is it there just to linger on great shots or put ourselves in the shoes of a character, but at times it also adds to the tension in the scene.

With regards to the music in the film, at times I swear Soderbergh was around to help collaborate with these decisions. In most of the scenes involving Scorpio, we get to watch his goings-on with just a funky drum kit beat pumping in the background. The occasional jazz flute or bass line may accompany, but for the most part it’s just a funky rhythm that paces itself depending on what is happening within the scene. In darker, more ominous scenes, the film might as well evolve into a pure ghost/horror film with some of the haunting vocals and ambient instrumentals that accompany the visuals. It’s seriously one of the coolest and most effective scores I’ve ever heard.

Dirty Harry, as iconic as it is, doesn’t get mentioned very often in discussion about great cinema; which is a shame. Because watching again after all these years and with much more in the way of a frame of reference, I see this picture as one of the best “cops and robbers” movies I’ve ever seen. The style and mood is what sells it, but the addition of great and (at the time) innovative characters solidifies this film as a must-see staple. Dirty Harry changed the landscape of American cop movies for the better and I look forward to checking out all of the sequels to the film over the coming days/weeks.


Mamma Mia Indeed!

In a flurry of “We need to watch something light and fluffy,” my sister and I hunkered down with Mamma Mia! (review). You remember it right? That ABBA sing along sensation that played like gangbusters and which I loved? Yeah, that one.

My first thought partway through the film is that it’s still as much fun as it was the first time around. We laughed, we sang, we cringed… can’t fault a movie that’s so darn entertaining. And then I remembered what was coming. The best closing sequence ever. OK. Maybe not ever but it’s so gloriously awesome it’s worth posting, even two years later.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, let me prepare you. What you’re about to see could knock you off your chair so hold on tight. And if you hate ABBA (I don’t believe you), turn down the sound and just watch the video.

3rd Annual Brazilian Film Festival [Vancouver]

3rd Brazilian Film Festival of Vancouver Banner

Amidst the excitement of World Cup and the advancement of Brazil (like there was any doubt that would happen), we have something else related to Brazil to celebrate in Vancouver. The Brazilian Film Festival of Vancouver is returning for its third year and it looks like the little show that could is starting to gain some steam, topping last year’s festival.

The festival is setting up shop at the Vancity Theatre from July 15 to 18 and this year’s selection of films features everything from music documentaries to hard hitting drama. Titles include Elvis & Madona, a romantic comedy about love between a a young lesbian named Elvis and a transvestite called Madona, Tamboro, a documentary about deforestation in the Amazon, and Beyond Ipanema – Brazilian Waves In Global Music which features interviews with a wide range of dynamic performers speaking on the influence of Brazilian music.

More information on the festival, including a full line up, can be found on the official website. Tickets are available through the Vancity Theatre website.

More Inception. More Awesomeness.

I know there are a lot of you out there resisting all the details and spoiler-y visual opulence of Christopher Nolan’s science fiction blockbuster, Inception. I simply cannot resist looking at how they are slowly easing a multiplex audience into the world they have created. This new trailer focuses on the wonderful cast, and their unusual jobs within the world of the film. It is a great way to show off the star wattage, but still give people some sort of grasp of what the story is going to be . Nonetheless, I have no fear that this movie will be still blowing peoples minds on July 16th, no matter how much they give away in the marketing materials. I wonder if Nolan is a fan of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika as this film does seem to borrow a few of his images.

Cue deep-voiced man (or check out the character posters):

Leonardo DiCaprio is The Extractor
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is The Point Man
Ellen Page is The Architect
Tom Hardy is The Forger
Marion Cotillard is The Shade
Cillian Murphy is The Mark
Ken Watanabe is The Tourist

Trailer is tucked under the seat.

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Trailer for Anton Corbijn’s THE AMERICAN

I am posting this perhaps a tad late, because this new trailer for Anton Corbijn’s The American popped up on the internet a few days ago. But it is just as much of an excuse to show off this handsome one-sheet for the film. This new trailer may be trying to fool the viewer that this is an action packed revenge thriller, but the initial teaser and the marketing materials clearly indicate that this is going to be the closest film to John Boorman’s Point Blank since either Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control, or Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey. This is in fact, great!

The American stars Clooney as Jack, and is based on Martin Booth’s novel, A Very Private Gentleman about an assassin who hides out in an idyllic Italian town before carrying out one final assignment. His cold, distant approach is snarled up by a number of emotional complications. Focus Features is opening the film wide on September 1st.

Trailer tucked under the seat.

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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: The Godfather, Part II (1974)


My history with the Godfather trilogy isn’t that of your typical movie buff…and by that I mean I’m not a ginormous fan of The Godfather. The first time I saw it several years ago I really wasn’t a fan – I disliked Marlon Brando’s mumbling, I thought it was overlong with not much interesting happening, I didn’t like how it ended, I just…didn’t get it. I rewatched it a few months ago and appreciated it a lot more – I like the ending now, for example, and I can handle the pacing better, though I’m still not really a big fan of Brando (not just in this film, I’m not a Brando fan in general), and I still don’t particularly care for the way the Italy-set section plays out. But I can definitely understand now why people do like it, and I’m prepared to give it props for the many, many things it does beautifully. Anyway, from what I’d heard I was hoping to like The Godfather Part II a bit better. And I did, quite a bit better.

While The Godfather focuses on the changing of the guard from Vito Corleone to his son Michael and how Michael deals with becoming the leader of a family business he’d once hoped to escape, The Godfather Part II has a two-pronged story – alternating segments tell the story of Vito Corleone’s emigration to America as a boy and how he became a Mafia boss, and the continuing story of Michael as he tries to manage the family in the years after his father’s death. Perhaps predictably, given my ambivalent feelings towards the first film, I still found myself a little uninterested in Michael’s problems, but every single scene in the Vito story had me totally rapt.

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Cinecast Episode 172 – pixaR

So sedate you could get a lullaby out its dulcet tones, this episode of the Cinecast has the podcasting players considering death and slavery and obsolescence (and Easter Eggs) in the wake of Toy Story 3. (*SPOILERS*) Gamble comes up with his best idea yet: A hard “R” Pixar animated film. The debate ensues whether it should be an adaptation (Watership Down or Animal Farm?) or a straight up original War film a la CatShit1. I hope Emeryville is listening. Jonah Hex is thrown to the wolves – particularly for wasting such an interesting supporting cast. James Mangold’s star vehicle Knight and Day is previewed as being a fun popcorn flick with a saggy final act. Also Day & Night, the Pixar short, (but not Day For Night the Truffaut film or the Curitz film Day and Night or terrorist bombing flick Day Night Day Night) is talked about, confused yet? Andrew takes back his love for Public Enemies and lavishes it instead on Soderbergh & Damon’s pontificating corporate shlub in The Informant. He is diggin naked running men and gory kills from the natives in the Criterion release of Naked Prey. Kurt finally finds a fairly consistent stretch of Lost (Season 3.5 *SPOILERS*) and is in danger of flirting with satisfaction in the show which is eating up ridiculous amounts of his time. Finally, we attempt reader mail to mixed results.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:

ALTERNATIVE (no music track):

Full show notes are under the seats…
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Shane Carruth’s Next film: A TOPIARY

Shane Carruth

Six Years. That is the duration that has passed since Shane Carruth‘s magnificent no-budget science fiction film Primer was launched on the festival circuit to thunderous applause. It was a Donnie Darko for the cooler kids. The engineer and mathie turned director has been quite silent ever since, although quiet rumblings have been around for about a year that he was cooking up something big and exciting and dense as a follow up. Now The Playlist has gotten a hold of this script, A Topiary, and are scratching their heads in an attempt to summarize the film. Do I want to know more? Hell yea, but really, if Primer is any indication of what Carruth is just getting started with then I want to go into the follow-up film as cold as possible, but resisting is difficult and below is enough plot outline to get you started:

“The main story, at first ambiguous in its relation to the prologue, revolves around ten boys aged seven to eleven living in a small rural town. The boys are in possession of a mysterious black box which in turn creates mysterious white discs. The group of kids are at once puzzled and fascinated by the nature of the box, and eventually manipulate the discs into other peculiarly named artifacts (petals, arcs, fronds, etc.). Their creations and constructions lead up to their manufacturing of seemingly sentient quasi-mechanical beings. Almost as if ‘Topiary’ were an abstract arthouse take on Pokémon, you can imagine the competition and troubles the beings create amongst the children.”

Intrigued yet?