Hot Docs Review: Life With Murder


Anyone who is a parent will walk a fine line between empathy and judgment for the Jenkins family of Chatham, Ontario (Canada) while watching this documentary whodunit. When their 18-year-old Jennifer is brutally murdered in 1998 and their 20 year old son is the prime suspect, well, there are certainly some difficult loyalties to be sorted out. Especially when she was shot multiple times and dragged around the house a bit before passing on. Despite the lurid nature of the crime, the fact that it appears to be done within a family, and in a small town that probably has only a few murders a decade, director John Kastner (Rage Against the Darkness) manages to lay out the facts of the narrative with a look a the small details, both during the case, and of course, the difficult aftermath. This does indeed generate quite a bit of empathy for the parents, Brian and Leslie, although there is not much left in the tank for their incarcerated son, Mason, who is clearly an idiot. But nevertheless is still their son.

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Review: Passenger Side



[REPOST: You can soon catch this slacker comedy starting Friday, April 30th, in the following locations: AMC Yonge Dundas, TORONTO, ON; Cinemark Tinseltown, VANCOUVER, BC; AMC Forum, MONTREAL, QC). Also check out the trailer at the end of this post. For regulars, I am convinced Adam Scott is Jay Cheel’s onscreen alter ego, or could at least play him if Film Junk: The Movie ever takes off.]

Sadly, I missed Matt Bissonnette’s independent comedy, Passenger Side, at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival due to scheduling conflicts, but was able to catch it as part of this month’s Top Ten Canadian films of 2009, sponsored by TIFF, playing at the Cinematheque Ontario. Set in the greater Los Angeles area, in style and tone reminiscent of American independent greats like Two Lane Blacktop and Slackers, and with nary a Tragically Hip song to be heard, Passenger Side is a curious ‘Canadian’ film indeed. It is not until the name Theodore is dropped near the end of the movie (context momentarily withheld) that a knowing nod is made as to our heroes’ expatriate status. Though slight, there is something quintessentially Canadian in their absurdly deadpan views of each other and the world around them; as the title would suggest, they coast as passengers, lives and places kept at arms length from them.

THEY are brothers, Tobey and Michael, and this is a road movie, though more accurately, a slacker road movie, the distance travelled more circular than directional, more detours than destinations (a kind of West Coast Waiting For Godot). Their relationship, too, goes in fits and starts, bickering with a level of wit rarely encountered outside of a Tarantino screenplay, Olympic-grade verbal fencing at its finest. At times the clever quotient overburdens the narrative, but mostly its so damn funny that the indulgences are warranted. In between barbs, a crisis of sibling communication brews. You feel the history of the brothers in the very first ‘fuck off’ phone call. Tobey is the black sheep of the family, and yet the least hostile, as Michael, a noted Luddite and wallflower, plays offensive to a prior rift that makes this daytrip all the more awkward. The purpose of the trip is slowly revealed and the payoff at the end is both unexpected and fulfilling. Would you like to know more…?

A second trailer for Vincenzo Natali’s SPLICE


While none of the distributions houses has been putting posters out (there are a few sparse festival one-sheets, but they are not very elaborate, here comes a second trailer for Canadian genetic engineering genre-mash Splice.

Much better than the first trailer (here) this one forgoes the jump scares and gets more into the relationship, implications of letting loose a new species which is a collection of a lot of different spare parts. Frankenstein’s monster anyone? Well this is the 21st century version. And she is both more deadly and more cute.

Splice drops into wide release (!) in June.

BONUS: the release version is apparently uncensored version from the one I caught last September (My Review) .

The new trailer is tucked under the seat.

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Screen Shot Quiz #199

Tuesday’s quiz was from the Hammer film The Abominable Snowman. I am continuing on with Hammer Horror Films for the rest of the week. We had a last minute guess this morning and they were correct.

I will post the answer to the quiz on Thursday along with the next quiz. Please feel free to discuss the movie once you have made your guess. Even if you are wrong we’d love to discuss you guess. I also encourage you to put down your thoughts or opinion on the movie that you believe it to be. The quizzes are fun but the discussion that could come out of them is even more fun.

TCM Film Festival: Playtime (1967)


Recently I’ve ripped a bit on filmmakers for relying too much on editing and shallow focus rather than composition, lighting, movement within the frame, and sound design to create meaning and guide attention. Probably not quite as much here as I have on Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed, but it’s something I find increasingly annoying lately. Not that I’m totally against the use of shallow focus and editing, and obviously they’re the right choice in some circumstances, but it seems like most current films use them far more than any other possible techniques, and a lot of the time it feels lazy and tends to destroy the sense of cinematic space. When I talk about how great it is when a film uses deep focus and large-scale, long-shot composition (long in both distance and time), it’s films like Playtime that I’m talking about. I’ve been ambivalent on Jacques Tati films in the past, but I need to go back and revisit them, because Playtime is utterly charming from start to finish, and I would’ve been perfectly content if it had lasted all day. It’s shot in 70mm, but with a surprising 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which means that instead of composing shots wide, Tati tends to compose them deep.

Tati took his cue from silent comedies, especially those of Buster Keaton, with a largely implacable character who gets pulled into various comical situations through no fault of his own and deals with them as they come, sort of just going along with whatever happens around him and trying to adapt to it without causing a fuss. His films tend to unfold around a specific location and explore what humor could come out of that location – humor not centered only on Tati’s character (M. Hulot), but on everyone in the area. His films are largely plotless, based around recurring characters, sight gags, and themes. And they’re essentially silent in so far as there is rarely any dialogue that matters (French is not subtitled into English; a lot of Playtime is actually in English, but it wouldn’t matter if it weren’t), though he does make use of sound gags that true silent comedy could not.

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Cinecast Episode 164 – Flaming Tap Water

As we ride out the spring doldrums at the multiplex, we have to be flexible and bend with limited release schedules. But sometimes, things work out as both Aussie noir, The Square, and Polish ultra-high-concept-crime-drama, Zero, happened to be playing at the Minneapolis Film Festival and available in Toronto. Both films, high on technique, plotting (and visual storytelling) generated some discussion and hearty recommendations, especially the former. On the eve of North America’s largest documentary film festival, Hot Docs, Kurt walks us through a few titles in detail and it sounds like a great lineup for the Toronto Festival this year. Plus Soderbergh and Lynch. Finally, early summers preemptive strike against the A-Team, The Losers is also discussed by Kurt and Matt as much as empty calories can be. That being said, they both seemed to like it, particularly the films irreverent tone and the overall game cast.

No major spoilers this week so all are welcome to join in the conversation. We’ve got some more local film makers to talk about as well as the higher profile DVDs being wide released this week. All in all a fun show. Grab a seat in the third row and, as always, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Thanks for listening!

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

Full show notes are under the seats…
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Screen Shot Quiz #198

Monday’s quiz was from the Hammer film hound of the Baskervilles. I am continuing on with Hammer Horror Films for the rest of the week. Today’s goes all the way back to when they were filming in Black and White.

I will post the answer to the quiz on Wednesday along with the next quiz. Please feel free to discuss the movie once you have made your guess. Even if you are wrong we’d love to discuss you guess. I also encourage you to put down your thoughts or opinion on the movie that you believe it to be. The quizzes are fun but the discussion that could come out of them is even more fun.

TCM Film Festival: The Story of Temple Drake (1933)


One of the biggest joys of this festival has been the opportunity to catch new restoration prints of films that haven’t been seen at this level of quality since their original release, and even see a few that have been unavailable for quite a while. The Story of Temple Drake is an even more special case. The film was made in 1933, just when the Hays Office was cracking down, monitoring films more closely and exercising more control than they had in the previous few years. They ranked films according to whether they could be recut and exhibited, allowed to fulfill their existing runs before being suppressed, or outright banned. Temple Drake was outright banned, assumedly because of its frank (though non-explicit) depiction of sexual desire, rape, and multiple non-marital relationships. According to the Museum of Modern Art representative at the festival, the film was screened a very few times in 1933, then shelved until TCM asked MoMA (who had received a high-quality camera negative from Fox as part of a general archive donation) to restore and strike a print of it for this festival. As far as I could gather, it has been extremely difficult to see at all in the intervening years, outside of a few lower-resolution prints belonging to collectors. (One of these prints has been put on YouTube, but not in the kind of quality of the MoMA restoration.)

TempleDrake-poster.jpgThe film is based on a William Faulkner story, and you can definitely see his Southern Gothic style and themes coming through. Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is the flirtatious granddaughter of a well-respected judge. She flits from boy to boy, teasing and going further than a respectable woman of the time should, but not as far as the boys would like. She’s loved by the upstanding Stephen, a young lawyer who she refuses to marry. One night as she’s out with another boy, their car crashes and they’re intercepted by a rough family of bootleggers – a family with men who take what they want and won’t put up with Temple’s “no” the way the boys she’s used to do. This is a world where she’s not in control, and sex is a weapon wielded by men, not a game played by women.

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Director and writers talk recession drama Someplace Like America

I do my best to recommend indie gems like The Sensation of Sight any time that I get the chance to anyone that is willing to listen, be it a friend, a current woman interest, or the postman. Filmed in eighteen days with a modest $1 million budget, most of those who do catch the dreamy David Strathairn-starring drama are impressed, least of all because it is the debut feature film project of writer and director Aaron Wiederspahn (our 2007 interview), who crafted the strange, but beautiful tale from a recurring dream of his own.

I’ve been waiting patiently for his follow up (true independent filmmaking is no easy task and takes time, unlike the films pumped out by the Hollywood machine – especially when the production company is based in New Hampshire), which I first wrote about in February of last year. The story is “a contemporary tale set in [New Hampshire’s] North Country after the closing of its paper mills. Focusing on the struggles of people who find themselves suddenly unemployed or even homeless, it reflects in dramatic and cinematic terms on the possibilities of personal and communal rebirth in the aftermath of economic collapse.” Needless to say, this is a tale that is very relevant to our times.

While I am yet to see any footage, below are two clips of those involved talking about the project. One is writer and director Aaron Wiederspahn speaking with journalist Dale Maharidge about their initial interest in the project and how it has been in development for a good decade now. The other is producer Buzz McLaughlin speaking with journalist Michael Williamson on various aspects of the process. These three-time Pulitzer winning journalists wrote Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass, the book which this film in based on, which itself went on to inspire two songs on Bruce Springsteen’s album The Ghost of Tom Joad (which will both be included in the film).

You can follow the film progress on their official Facebook page, if you, like me, want to keep your eye on this.