Tuesday, December 21, 2004

KBT Presents: THE REF

In the spirit of the anti-Christmas movie, KBT presents an often overlooked showcase for the different comedy stylings of Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis and Denis Leary. Released in 1994 it was buried beneath much larger films such as Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump and The Lion King; add to this the fact that Kevin Spacey was yet to be seen in either The Usual Suspects or Seven and that this movie is viscous and dark (albeit with a bit of saccharine at the end...It is after all a Christmas movie) and perhaps you come up with Box-Office poison. It is a vastly underrated film that needs more exposure and Christmas time for those looking for a meaner-side of the holidays.
A cat burglar (Leary) gets caught by a security alarm system while robbing rich Connecticut homes on Christmas eve. He holes up in a neighboring house, taking the owners hostage (coming back home from an unsuccessful therapy session with a load of dysfunctional house-guests on the way). The hostages (Spacey and Davis) are more interested in using the burglar as fodder in their arguments and hang-ups than paying attention to the fact that he is armed and dangerous. In one scene he has to patiently explain to the couple that he is in fact arm, and should be allowed to do the talking.
Things get complicated when the rest of the family come over for a visit and now the burglar poses as their marriage counselor and even more confused when the son comes home from military school with a wad of cash bribed from one of his teachers.
In all, the film viscously attacks the spirit of Christmas, family gatherings, criminal lifestyles, mall Santas, community politics, mother issues, marriage and Scandinavian traditional cooking.
Come on out Tuesday Night and enjoy this Christmas Classic. Drinks at 8:15pm. Showtime at 8:30pm.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


Done your Christmas shopping yet? As a way to compensate for the sugary sweet Christmas gobbledy-gook this time of year, the next two KBT screenings will be nasty (but still fun) comedies. Tonight, a nice showcase of Michael Caine and Steve Martin as a pair of con-men working the French Riveria with two distinct grifting styles. Caine's character is debonair and cultured, swindling the rich and royal of their fortunes. Martin's character is a low rent, vulgar American looking for a quick buck here and there. Naturally, the clash of these two opposites creates some great comedy. This is Caine during his comedy phase (between his gritty 70's films such as Get Carter and his more recent oscar-bait films such as The Cider House Rules (we will completely ignore Jaws: The Revenge)). Martin is also very good in his particular hammy way.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was directed by Yoda himself (Brando famously ridiculed him on the set of his recent heist film, The Score, addressing him only as another previous vocal role: Miss Piggy), Frank Oz. As in all of Mr. Oz's films, there is a sense of playful fun about the well plotted proceedings, there is nothing deeper than that. I figured for the remainder of the year (including next weeks presentation) there would be no more reading subtitles, exploring eliptical narratives, or dissecting obscure themes. So, come by at about 8:15, relax, turn off the brain and enjoy two fine comic performances.

As a side-note and worthy homework assignment, check out another Caine comedy classic which was released in the same year as this film, the Sherlock Holmes parody: Without a Clue.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Seven Chances

Buster Keaton has always been a favorite of mine. He has a wry melancholy assoicated with his work and an intelligence which exceeds his often more popular contemporary, Charlie Chaplin. Don't get me wrong, Chaplin is a force of nature on screen, and he does it intuitively. From the sheer genius of comic timing that is The General, to the inventive self-awareness of Sherlock Jr. Keaton has to seemed to me, to have to work bit harder. His characters are a bit sadder, and more clever and complex due to his efforts. I don't want to get into right into this particular debate that has gone on between cineastes for more than 50 years, so...
Seven Chances belongs in the Have-to-do-something-wacky-in-order-to-inherit-a-fortune genre of films, but surprisingly is not the originator of the genre (which was Cecil B. Demil's Brewsters Millions in 1914). James Shannon (Keaton) stands to inherit $7 Million if he can marry by 7 o'clock on his 27th birthday. The difficulty is that he gets the legal document (a Will) the morning of his 27th birthday.
He begins by proposing to his girlfriend who in a hilarious set of misunderstandings refuses him. Then he spends time walking around town proposing to any woman he finds. They laugh in his face. Finally, his business partner puts an ad in the paper saying the first woman to arrive at the specified church (in full bridal attire) can wed Shannon and get a chunk of his money. This inspires several thousand women to show up, and thus begins a shoving match and the films signature chase sequence where Shannon has to dodge throngs of brides-to-be, various forces of nature and finally a massive avalance of boulders (which has to factor somewhere in the inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Arks signature boulder sequence).
Seven Chances is also great look at Hollywood in the 1920s, as it appears to be mainly shot on location. It is a blast of comic joy, free of subtext or pretense. Thank-you Kino Video for putting this gem out on DVD in all of it's sepia-tinged glory!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Screening time: 8:00pm Tonite (Dec. 7th).

Moving back into the 21st century, after successful screenings of 1970's classics Chinatown and Cabaret, KBT presents the Japanes expoitation/sci-fi/satire which is all but banned in Canada and The United States. Got your attention? Well, I must qualify that in all fairness it has screened at the Ontario Cinematheque and a handful of universities/film archives in the US).

The opening title has this scrawl: At the dawn of the Millenium, the nation collapsed. At 15% unemployment, 10 million were out of work, 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence, and fearing the youth, eventually passed the 'Millenium Educational Reform Act'...AKA: The BR Act.

Thus begins a film that has a class of japanese school kids (16-17) entered in a contest against their will by the fascist government. They are forced to kill each other until there is only one student standing. This student will become some sort of celebrity (the film is never clear on this) which enforces the will of the country on the uprising youth.

In Reality TV fashion, each student gets a survival pack which has a compass, a map, and a random weapon with which to kill rival classmates. They all wear collars around their necks that can be triggered to explode if they wander out of designated safe zones (they are on an isolated island). Also, to prevent alliances, if after 3 days there is more than one student standing, all collars are set off and nobody 'wins.'

All the dramas of high-school, self-discovery, cliqism etc. are captured here, but the stakes are amped up to levels of serious ultra-violence. This was Japanese Battle-Royale.

As a special treat, I have the trailer for Stehpen Chow's Kung-Fu Hustle before the film.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Thomas Crown Affairs 1968 vs 1999


One might ask the question: "Why watch both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair back to back?" My answer to that question would be: My wife has a thing for Pierce Brosnan and I like Faye Dunaway.
But it is not that simple. Beneath the surface glitz and wish-fulfillment of the premise of both films lurks a darker side of trust and competitiveness of the power-players in Western Culture. This hasn't really changed in 30 years, other than perhaps the way mainstream entertainment presents them.
In the Original 1968 version, both the characters (Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway) are given a cruel edge to their characters who ultimately double-cross each other out of any meaningful relationship because they can't trust one another. In the 1999 version, the same thing happens, but somehow it's OK with the girl (Renee Russo) who finds it charming and just another way continue the game. It gives the edge to the 1968 version.
Undoubtedly the 1999 version is much glossier, including both heists in the film are far more fluid and watchable. But the core of The Thomas Crown Affair is the relationship and foreplay of the leads. The 1999 version is just to obvious. The chess match in the original (I mean what is less sexy than Chess? -- That is why this scene works.) is replaced with some hot Tango dancing, eliminating the irony and reducing the effect of the sequence. The 1999 version also cheaps out with the 'other woman' making her asexual (Crown is her legal guardian -- and doesn't behave like Woody Allen). In the first one, McQueen's Crown does it just to spite and shake up Dunaway's character.
It is no surprise that the original is directed by a 'drama' director, Norman Jewison and the update/remake is directed by an action director, John McTiernan. The nature of the director underscores the strenghts and weakness of each version. I guess the Auteur theory is good for something.

You could do worse for a mainstream old-style star-vehicle, Like say, both versions of I Love Trouble, or both versions of Oceans Eleven (ok, ok, the Soderberg version is watchable in the same way the 1999 The Thomas Crown Affair is).