Five Best Films I Saw in July and August

Though it was off to a shakey start, Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival proved to be THE film event of the summer. Even the truly terrible films made for irreplaceable experiences due to the uniquely passionate Fantasia audience. The closing night… Scott Pilgrim and then, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Could it have been any better? Most of my home viewings were pretty radical too. It wasn’t easy narrowing down the list to just five!

August on the other hand was more subdued. Most of my viewings were slanted towards recent hollywood releases, for better or for worse. I am hoping to delve back into the work of foreign and older filmmakers in September. Let’s hope I can discover some new gems.

Five Best Films I Saw in July

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (Eli Craig)

Fish Story (Yoshihiro Nakamura)

The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne)

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright)

Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

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Five Best Films I saw in August

Closely Watched Trains (Jiri Menzel)

Gimme Shelter (Albert Maysles & David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin)

Hot Fuzz (Edgard Wright)

Les Beaux Souvenirs (Francis Mankiewicz)

Missing (Costa-Gavras)

Five Best Movies I saw in June

I’ve been insanely busy and have only had time to watch movies in theatres, and suffice to say, they’re all pretty much crap. I think this is my lowest average of movies seen by month in years.

The Exterminating Angel (Luis Bunuel)

Get Him to the Greek (Nicholas Stoller)

Holy Smoke (Jane Campion)

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)

Yellow Sky (William A. Wellman)

Emoting about Things that are not The A-Team

I kinda hate Bradley Cooper...

Since summer started, it seems the only movies I’ve seen are blockbusters. It’s almost a given that once school is out, regardless if something interesting is playing or not, I am in that theatre at least once a week. I enjoy the experience, especially since I share it with my friends, but these past few weeks have been difficult… perhaps it’s because I’ve been so focused on catching up on True Blood and Mad Men and haven’t had the time to watch as many films on DVD as I’m used to. The saturation of bland and terrible cinema is starting to get to me and I feel as though I’m slowly losing my mind. I am not only struggling to find something nice to say about the films, but even trying to mute my elitism among my non-film fans is becoming more difficult.

Tonight I watched The A-Team, and though it’s the best of the three films I’ve seen in the past three weeks (the other two being Prince of Persia and Splice), it has pushed me past the breaking point. Though the film has some entertaining moments (mostly due to some charismatic performances) and isn’t particularly inept, I just could not enjoy it. Walking out, I couldn’t help overhearing people proclaiming how awesome the movie was. All I could think was what about this movie is great? I couldn’t think of a single reason why someone would think it was.

Generally, I don’t see why anyone would think most blockbusters are interesting, worthwhile or  even memorable. They are more akin to a good ride at an amusement park than a great “entertainment”. Even if I were to approach and look at them as simply being “rides”, most of them fall short and fail to deliver on a very basic level. Prince of Persia is a perfect example of this, not only presenting an incoherent video game storyline, but presenting uninspired conflict and character interactions that makes Pirates of the Carribean seem like a great Shakespearean comedy. Yet, people eat it up.

DAGGER DAGGER DAGGER DAGGER DAGGER DAGGER DAGGER DAGGER

Even if I were to look at blockbuster films I enjoy and have watched on more than one occasion, I can’t say I’d be sad if I never had to watch them again. I can’t help feeling I come off as elitist and judgmental, but I just cannot fathom why someone would prefer a film like Aliens, The Dark Knight or Star Wars over The Red Shoes, L’Avventura or The Double Life of Veronique. I can see the entertainment value of the former films but their broad themes and archetypical characters and conclusions have never struck me as being moving or evocative. I am not suggesting that people who like those films are dumb, far from it, I don’t have any less respect for people who like those films, but I can’t help feeling they are also missing out on a world of experience and challenges.

In a perfect world, there would be room for both kinds of movies. I like both kinds, or else I wouldn’t bother to watch movies like the ones that I do. On a good day I can even enjoy a mediocre or bad film from a more anthropological level, looking at the ideals, values and queues the film takes that it presents and how that reflects my understanding of society. I know so many people I know would claim I overthink or overanalyze very simple works, but I find it enjoyable. If anything, these are the kinds of movies that deserve this kind of close scrutiny because they are consumed by such a high number of people.

I feel like I am contradicting myself in a certain sense. Though I wish people watched better movies, I am fascinated by the fact that certain movies draw millions of viewers. To a certain extent in our day and age, it is largely about marketing and advertising, but even films that get the full treatment are not guaranteed success. Some films with barely any press are able to rise to the top. Audiences are still fickle.

Thoughtful contemplation

Thinking is a crime, and most people seem completely averse to having their ideas and perceptions challenged. Shutting off your brain now and then isn’t the worst thing, but some people see working towards learning and experiencing new things as being relevant only for work and school. This makes me sad. Even if you were to just put more consideration into movies like Prince of Persia or The A-Team, try to think a bit more critically about why you do or do not like a film, would result in valuable self-knoweldge. Why are people so afraid to open their selves up and peek inside, are they afraid of what they might see or feel? Why do we relate so positively to violence and hate? Learning about yourself and the people around you seems to ultimately the point of our existence, or at least the most rewarding aspect of it, so why are so so quick and willing to shut ourselves off completely from that aspect of our life?

Do I think or even want people to flock to the newest Alain Resnais film? No, I don’t even know where I am getting with this. I just wish I could expose people to new ideas and emotions that great film has opened to me. It is one thing I like to share with people I love and care about, because I think it’s so important and beautiful. My frustration over the mediocrity of these films stems from the fact that most people are not even aware of what they’re missing. Does that make me an elitist or a snob? Yes it does, but my intentions are good, it’s about love man.

I blame this post entirely on Von Samuel. What an ass.

Capsule Reviews

Ellie Parker (Scott Coffey, 2005)

The most disappointing thing about this film is that Chevy Chase does not play with food, which I have been lead to believe is awesome. The best thing about this film? Naomi Watts. Everything else is mediocre. Shot entirely in digital video, Watts plays an actress who goes from one audition to another, and suffers something a nervous breakdown which causes to re-evaluate her chosen profession. The film’s format naturally allows Watts to demonstrate the true extent of her talent, though ultimately the film’s narrative and thematic scheme do not do her justice. It is simply another film about the soul sucking entertainment industry, without very little insight. Even as an exercise in style, it is not particularly successful. It is definitely one of the better “mockumentary” style films I’ve seen (it isn’t REALLY a mockumentary though, the characters are not aware they’re in a movie), but I’m not sure how it serves the film’s narrative. The humour is hit or miss, it has some really hilarious moments, but some of the twists that are clearly meant to be humourous, simply fall flat. Also, I think it’s going for that whole awkward Ricky Gervais The Office style comedy, but it’s not really that awkward.. or maybe I’m way more awkward than I thought. Watts makes this film worth seeing though, because it’s hard not to fall in love with her… I love the last audition though, it’s absolutely insane, in a good way.

Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)

It’s been over a decade since Martin Scorsese has made a good film. Despite some great moments, none of his recent work seems to capture the vivacity and passion of his greater, earlier films. Is this the resignation of old age? Or has Scorsese’s taste for awards tainted his films. Even though I’m no fan, only The Departed has even come close to being a shadow of a shadow of what his talents were once capable of. Then there’s Mean Streets, Scorsese’s second feature length film, a story of small time gangsters in his old New York Neighborhood. It is rough around the edges in nearly every sense of the word, but it is alive. It has been a very long time since I’ve watched a Scorsese film, new or old, and been thrilled by the action, characters or film making style. I’d probably have to go back to when I was around fourteen or fifteen and watched Taxi Driver for the first time, and had never seen a film like that before. I’ve since seen many crime films and many Scorsese films, but Mean Streets is still able to move me. It is not a film about multi national criminals, but a group of stupid friends who want to get ahead in life anyway they can. They’re all more or less involved in the criminal element, but not in the same way that the gangsters of Scorsese’s later films would be. Mean Streets is a somewhat episodic film, that if it were to have a narrative is following Charlie’s (Harvey Keitel) rise to the top, as owning his own restaurant/club is within his reach. Unfortunately, his sense of loyalty and responsibility is what is holding him back, especially his friendship to the destructive and toxic Johnny Boy (Robert Deniro) who compromises his career and reputation. This is a film about the unexpected, and in this milieu, the unexpected often comes in terms of violent outbursts. Few scenes pass without a fight, and nonetheless the film’s climactic bloodbath finale is unexpected and unrewarding… in the most rewarding way possible. It might go without saying, but the blending of action and music in this film is incredible, especially since I think nearly the entire soundtrack is actually integrated diagetically within each scene. Also, performances are incredible, especially Keitel….

Who’s that Knocking at my Door. (Martin Scorsese, 1967)

Though I’d say this film is a little more than just rough around the edges, and some the premise of the character’s “confusion” decidedly outdated, Who’s that Knocking at my Door is still an invigoring and intimate first feature for Scorsese. The film reveals more intimacy than I ever thought him capable of. Camaraderie and male bonding is always something I associated with his work, but this film reveals a true instinct for true interpersonal relationships. The love scenes in this film are at once wildly sexual, entirely liberated from the norms and expectations of the era, while simultaneously matched against scenes of true tenderness and respect. The dichotomy represents within the mind of the protagonist, two different kinds of women and two different kinds of feelings that are ultimately at odds with one another, however irrational that may be in modern times. The conviction of Scorsese’s form, and Keitel’s performance sell the dilemma, even though I wish the writing had the foresight of universality to create something more narratively enduring. The film is still undeniably male, but in an admirable way. Macho-isms are taken with a grain of salt and a heap-load of irony, something that I think is missed in a lot of Scorsese’s oeuvre, as male identity is taken into question especially in a transforming world of art, where women are no longer whores and virgins, but real people with a set of experiences and world views that were formerly untold. The film could have perhaps been stronger had the female lead been a little better, her wide eyes though offer to the audience something to project onto, and it is often easy to forget she is not as good a performer as Keitel.

Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton, 2009)

I am not an enthused supporter of Burton, it’s not since the release of Ed Wood in 1994 that I’ve fully embraced one of his films. Since then, there have been isolated moments in most of his oeuvre that have captivated me… but they were fleeting, in some cases barely worth mentioning or even remembering. Alice in Wonderland is no exception. I will give it, there are some moments of laughter and even some stylistic flourishes I admire, but even those seem to be well executed recycled ideas from previous films. The film’s first ten minutes, before we even enter Wonderland are nearly unbearable. The references drawn between Alice’s life and that of Wonderland are painfully obvious… not remotely clever or engaging, they are genuinely cringe-worthy. I will admit though, the film picks up when it moves to Wonderland/Underland. The world itself is typically Burton-esque; this is not a good thing. The one exception is the extravagant world of the Queen of Hearts though, which is extremely visually engaging. Perhaps it is my adoration of all and anything red, but at the very least, that nightmarish palace seems to be a departure in style while still being typically “Burton”. I don’t necessarily dismiss his style, his apparent “auteurism”, simply the lack of vivacity and creativity that he lacks in recent years in this department. Helena Bonham Carter is also a joy, and brings a lot of humour to an otherwise lame film. Most of the performances are decent, even Depp who tends to grate on me, somewhat escapes into his role… though his character design is atrocious. I like the lead actress as well, perhaps less for her performance, then the innocence and simplicity of her beauty. Anne Hathaway though gives one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. She misses the mark on so many levels. She is actually painful to watch, and as much as the Burton “style” can annoy me, she fails to fit the world…

The Crazies (Breck Eisner, 2010)

Most cinema is far too vague, far too populist to be taken seriously as critical essays on the state of our society. I’d even venture to say, at least in it’s mainstream incarnation, to even attempt to make some crucial political point is pretentious… Yes, I’ve joined the ranks of the elitist witch-hunts. Those damned elitists… cinema should be about escape, not your fucking agenda! Wait, that’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is, the films that aren’t shoving ideas down our throat are far more interesting as critical and reflective documents about the current state of the world we live in. The question always remains, do we take queues about “normal” behaviour from cinema, or does is it simply a mirror to our true selves? The easy, uncomplicated answer is probably that it’s a hybrid of both…

In horror, there is an opportunity to really understand the emotional state of a nation. More than most genres, it’s easy to map out pervading anxieties and social pre-occupations within the horror genre that are probably far more telling and apt than the year’s big message picture. What does The Crazies say about us? Not much that we haven’t seen before, at least from an anthropological point of view. What do we fear? The Millitary, chemical/biological warfare, social dissolve, government conspiracies, etc. You only have to look at films like 28 Weeks Later or the Mist to get an understanding of what I’m getting at. The Crazies perhaps refines some of these ideas, bringing them to new and perhaps outrageous extremes. We have soldiers in masks, who if they show their face will “die”. One of the characters speculates that perhaps the disease is now airborne, but this seems to be refuted by the protagonist’s apparent survival. They will die because they need to remain anonymous; they have to be an institution, not an individual. A face is dissent; dissent is unacceptable in every and any respect.

What other extremes? We have soldiers’ shooting down innocent people in 28 Weeks Later. It’s disturbing. We have that in The Crazies? What else do we have in The Crazies? We have organized killing. Not a random call, an act of impulse that is refuted… we have organized murder. The Holocaust is never mentioned, but the charred bodies piled up, the medical bracelet’s still around their wrists, we understand the association. These are images that never fade.

We no longer trust government institutions. They have the weapons, they have the man-power, they have the violence. We can fight back, but for how long? If our government can wage an unjust war, one that the people do not agree with, one that the people find abhorrent, what else can they do? If people are dying in the streets, and they do nothing, how are we supposed to respond? Even with new government, we have lost faith in the safety net that the government provides. We may no longer be in a cold war, but the sentiments of repression and fear have been re-ignited. Institutional violence is and always has been the most widely accepted kind of violence, since it is most often perceived as being “what’s best” for us. The enemies and the methods fluctuate but it remains a social constant. Sometimes the scales tip though, and people become aware or wary of what is happening. What was once sure is now a carefully veiled “conspiracy” and paranoia ensues.

It is not the individual who is responsible, because individually, we find this behaviour abhorrent. We know it’s wrong, and we would never commit ourselves to such violence. You assemble a mob though, or an organization, and it suddenly becomes easier… suddenly, it’s no longer violence, but an act of the State. This is essentially what we fear most. We fear that we are a part of these institutions that we knowingly engage in the “machination of death”.

What about form? The Crazies form is better than it ought to be. As potentially interesting as the screenplay may be, it is somewhat repetitive.  The editing is spot on, absolutely precise to inspire the strongest reaction from the audience. There are very few shots that are superfluous, which I have to say is absolutely refreshing. The horror is succinct, the way that it ought to be. Tonally, the film is wonderful. Though some of the imagery, notably some that I’ve mentioned, is disturbing, the film never takes on a tone of overt-seriousness, which is an almost unforgiveable crime in horror. Both Joe Anderson and Timothy Olyphant seem to have an unconscious understanding of the nature of horror writing, and spike many of the phrases and actions with a giddy kind of levity. Despite the horror that surrounds them, they never allow it to remove the sheer absurdity of the trappings of genre cinema either. Aside from a bit too much chase and fight, chase and fight, the film’s only other major “malfunction” is the use of the satellite POV… it’s ridiculous and feels out of place. It makes some interesting reveals, but is poorly executed, and feels as though formally, it belongs in a different film. Overall, I liked the film, especially for it’s outrageousness. It’s effectively scary, and pulls off a bunch of crazy shit that I normally wouldn’t let fly.

Or maybe the film is simply a deluded fantasy concocted by the Sheriff as a means of handling his own act of violence at the onset of the film. It’s a disease, we are not capable of real violence… a bit outrageous, and as much as I hate crazy readings of films, I think it’s one worth considering. The CRAZIES in the film remain somewhat human, they have memories and affectations. They are not soulless monsters, they are too close to being one of us, to the point where we are unsure who is and isn’t one of them. The line becomes more blurry as the film progresses, which I find ultimately fascinating. The film plays with these expectations and tricks constantly, and to a very disturbing effect.

Guess Your Top Ten of 2010

This will be the third year in a row I undertake my “Guess My Top Ten for the End of the Year”. I usually have absolutely no success, with most of the films not being released, or at least me not seeing them. This year is little different, though I am still excited to see some. One or two will even pop up on my list for this year. So, let’s begin by looking back. I’ll provide thoughts on films I have and have not seen.

LAST YEAR’S LIST

Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar)

NOT SEEN: Still something I desperately want to see, I’m kicking myself for missing it in theatres TWICE!

The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh)

SEEN: Nowhere near as good as I would have hoped, The Girlfriend Experience was still an interesting film. It has a lot of interesting ideas, and I did like Sasha Grey… then again, the role is tailor made for her. Still worth my time.

Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

NOT SEEN: Pretty obvious why I missed this one… will be on my list for this year.

The Road (John Hillcoat)

NOT SEEN: Still high on my anticipation list, the mixed reviews were a little discouraging, but the word of mouth among people I trust is still fairly high. Will get to this sooner rather than later.

Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze)

SEEN: A beautiful movie, though it didn’t quite resonate as strongly as I would have hoped, I still greatly admire it’s passion and original approach to familiar material.

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)

SEEN: I underestimated this one, though in my defense, it was a guarded kind of expectation that it would either be amazing or a terrible flop. The highest ranked film on the list to make my REAL list.

Up (Pete Docter)

SEEN: One of Pixar’s best, I don’t think I could have ever guessed how incredible the opening montage would have been. It would be interesting to see Pixar continue to tackle challenging material in that way.

Coco Avant Chanel (Anne Fontaine)

NOT SEEN: Not too hyped about this one, I just pegged it as an underdog last year, and was fairly wrong… might catch it eventually.

Public Enemies (Michael Mann)

SEEN: I liked this far more than most, love the digital filmmaking and the sort of non-linear/episodic storytelling.

Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee)

NOT SEEN: The trailer was enough to make me not want to see it. I might catch it eventually, but it doesn’t look good at all.

BACK-UPS

Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)

SEEN: Had to wait until 2010, but it came. Ultimately disappointing.
Whatever Works (Woody Allen)

SEEN: Enjoyable enough, still a very minor Woody Allen film as far as I’m concerned.
The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch)

SEEN: Did not enjoy, despite some okay moments.
Nine (Rob Marshall)

NOT SEEN: Yea, it didn’t take much to convince me that this was a disaster.
Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama)

SEEN: Terrible, and unfortunately a huge disappointment. I wanted this to be good.

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Okay, now for my Top Ten of 2010 and five back-ups for possible non-releases and movies failed to see. There are a few films I’ve left off that are listed as 2010, because they’re in pre-production or are foreign, usually both.

Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

True Grit (Coens)

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Edgar Wright)

Black Swan (Daren Aronofsky)

Somewhere (Sofia Coppola)

Chloe (Atom Egoyan)

Inception (Christopher Nolan)

Centurion (Neil Marshall)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Oliver Stone)

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen)

Five Back-ups

Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)

The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)

The Green Hornet (Michel Gondry)

Jonah Hex (Jimmy Hayward)

Suspiria (David Gordon Green)

Might add pictures, but most of them are pretty sparse :/ So little picctures makes a sad post 😦