Tuesday, September 27, 2005


There are times when a film is made that doesn't necessarily bring anything new to the genre, but it is so exceedingly well at going about itself that it becomes a classic nonetheless. Such is the case with Fabián Bielinsky's Argentinian grifter classic: Nine Queens.
The movie starts out deceptively simple. A young con-man pulls the classic small-con involving sleight of hand (and quick-talking) around getting a store clerk to make change for a large bill, and paying too much. But, when a second con-man, his various criminal contacts, and his sexy firecracker of a sister come into the picture, the tricks and one-upmanship begin to escalate from the small-con up to dizzying layers-within-layers of the big-con. In this case, it involvs a rare set of German Stamps (the source of the movies title), a rich buyer hiding from the international police (in town for only one day naturally), and an expensive hotel managed by the aforementioned sister.
One could perhaps argue that the film is commenting on the state of Argentina, with dirty deals leading to the collapse of the economy (and may folks savings as the currency went into the toilet due to government con-artists and the IMF) in the early 2000s. In fact the camera often looks like it is peaking around corners at its anti-heroes as they spin their dazzling display of dialogue on the streets of Buenos Aires. However, the movie is about entertainment first, politics a very, very distant second.
Things build up like a top which gets spinning so fast, you are never sure who is conning whom, and who is in on it and who is not. Nevertheless, Bielinsky manages to craft detailed characters who are fully fleshed, despite the fact that they exist in a world so full of deceit, it could fall down any second, like a house of cards.
Ricardo Darín (one of the giants of Argentinean Cinema) is particularly good as the experienced and incorrigable scam artist who would take his own family for a ride. He has such a world-weary presence that you want the guys schemes to work, even though he is a world-class jerk. He's like a down-and-dirty spanish counterpart to Joe Mantegna in David Mamet's House of Games, a film to which Nine Queens owes a lot. It is the fine performances and the vérité look of the film which prevent the elaborate story from ever riding off the rails. The conclusion is actually satisfyingly simple after all the running, faking, posturing and hustling.
Nine Queens has turned out to be a real ground-breaker for the country. One has only to look at the trailer for Fabián Bielinsky's next Film (El Aura) and even more-so, Marcelo Piñeyro's The Grönholm Method to see that Argentina is now dominating the genre. The fact that Hollywood remade Nine Queens in 2004, with John C. Reilly, Diego Luna and Maggie Gyllenhaal, (re-titling it Criminal) further cements this is an analagous way that Hollywood has been pilfering it's Horror films from Japan for the past 4 years).

Indeed, Nine Queens is the real deal.

Tuesday Night, come out for a drink (or two) at 7:45 pm. Note the EARLIER Showtime at 8:00. (Yes, we're bumping up the start time a bit as an experiment, but you can say hi to the kiddies before their bed-time).

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Rejoice! Commenting is Back!

Blogger has a setting that allows for 'word verification' prior to commenting. So if you wish to leave a comment, you will have to type in the word on the screen before your type your stuff. Simple. Got That.

Is this the end of Comment Spam?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I mentioned in my TIFF wrap-up yesterday that the cinema of Denmark is on fire at the moment, with a wealth of intelligent and stylish features spanning multiple genres, all coming out of a country of about 5 million people. KBT this week presents Danish director Christopher Boe’s debut feature: Reconstruction.

Reconstruction is a curious piece of noir cinema. It shot with enough visual flair (a gritty high-contrast colour image) for the folks at the Cannes Film Festival to hand the film the Camera D’Or, the festivals top prize for cinematography. The film is full of shadowy close-ups of faces that have a intriguing glance or a small flirty upturn of the lip. It has a coldly scientific way of using satellite photos to show the geography of the scene before getting to the scene itself and a methodical introduction of it's concept and four leads. Sandwiched between those two scenes is sizzling hot introduction to two characters of the four.

If I have confused you by that above description, it is sort of akin to the feeling of watching Reconstruction. The title itself is overtly suggestive of something not quite put together right the first time. Boe & Co. brashly throw the gauntlet down in the very opening sequence which features a magician floating a lit cigarette between his hands. In a voice over, he clearly states that what you are about to see has no bearing on reality. It is just a film. Over the course of the following 90 minutes raw humanity shines though the construction, nonetheless.

Ok, this sounds a bit on the arty and possibly pretentious side, and the film could have easily slid off the cliff and turned dry and arch. But Boe and the three lead actors (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Krister Henriksson and Maria Bonnevie (who plays both women in the film) have the talent to pull off a film which not only puts the whole genre of the love-story thriller under the microscope, but is also a steamy love story in its own right. You need only to watch the first scene with Lie Kaas and Bonnevie flirt in an upscale bar to forget about constructs and scenes and just savour the romantic sizzle, the noirish feel and the jazzy score.

The story is a wholly unusual one that is best discovered rather than read. Suffice it to say that it involves crumbling relationships, memory loss, disorientation, suspicion and jealousy. One character needs a mysterious and red-hot attraction (and maybe something more) to hold onto his sanity until he sorts his confusion out.

If you are a fan of mysterious and obsession driven love stories, a genre where Hitchcock was the master, such as Vertigo, Rebecca, Charade, Blow up, Body Double, and the mother of them all, Casablanca, come out Tuesday Night for Reconstruction. It is a very post-modern take on the genre with style to burn.

Tuesday September 20th, 8:15pm drinks, 8:30pm showtime.

Monday, September 19, 2005

2005 Toronto International Film Festival Wrap-up - 36 Films

After 36 films, too much caffeine, not enough sleep, jovial conversation at the Imperial and a total divorce from 'real life' for 10 days, this entry of the Toronto Film Festival comes to a close. It was a great festival this year and as I sit here with my appetite for world cinema whetted, I count the days until next years festival. Here are my thoughts in general on this years TIFF, followed by a very short comment and numerical rating (out of 10) for each of the films I caught.

Danish cinema is on fire. I caught 6 Danish films at the festival this year: The Pusher Trilogy, Adams Apples, Manderlay and Dear Wendy. And they were uniformly excellent.

South Korea remains a country to watch for quality cinema: While I though The Duelist was too inconsistent to warrant a recommendation, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance was the triumphant closer to Park Chan Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy and April Snow was nearly perfect as well, I missed The Presidents Last Band and I regret that little bit of scheduling conflict.

Mainstream Hollywood Cinema can still be good: David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence walks the delicate line between genre and drama and is a mainstream film to boot. Another solid entry into the fascinating Cronenberg Canon. Also, Walk the Line was a solid tribute to Mr. Cash with compelling performances and great music. Finally, Thank-You for Smoking is a light and very fun satire on the Lobbying Industry.

Hong Kong action cinema can still Kick Ass: We will be raving about SPL until every fan of the K film industry, which has been ailing as of late, has seen it.

The Midnight Madness program has it’s strongest year since I’ve been attending: From stand up comedy to bovine horror played with nary a joke; from cult Thai madness to splatterfest horror-comedy; from a Miike family film that pushes the envolope of what a family film should be to an animated version of Romeo and Juliette which set to hip-hop; and finally from adrenaline pumping wish-fulfillment horror to the ultimate brand of HK coolness and French Parkour madness, this years line-up offered a host of fantastic fringe cinema. I’m speaking for everyone at Twitch when I say Thank-You Colin Geddes for a top-notch selection of the most twitch-friendly films at the festival.

Below are very brief thoughts (and a grade) of the 36 films which I managed to catch at this years TIFF:

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic – Sarah is the best working female stand-up working today. Period. Other than the opening musical number, however, drop the sketches. (7/10)

Tideland – The film is watchable, but should have been a 45 minute short, not a 2-hour film. Rambling and redundant at times. A disappointment from a director that can’t seem to get a break these days. (3/10)

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes – The Quay Brothers have an endless imagination and the film looks great. It is way to long, and the (intentional) lack of narrative coherence becomes intolerable around the 80 minute mark. (5/10)

Takeshis' – You will get out of the film what information on Kitano you bring in with you. The ultimate insider film. (7/10)

Pusher – Gritty, visceral and willing to go to the bitter end with the story. Drug films are rarely this good. (9/10)

With Blood on My Hands - Pusher II – Bringing family into the equation elevates the sequel above the original. Stunning performance by Mads Mikkelsen. (10/10)

I'm the Angel of Death - Pusher III – Hard hitting, and often blackly comic, the third entry of the trilogy is the weakest, but only barely so. (8/10)

Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés – Visually and thematically interesting, but a little bit overwrought at times and just didn't completly grab me, probably because I'm already familiar with Twin Peaks. (6/10)

Evil Aliens – Energetic, Funny, and gory entry into the Splatterfest genre. Wears its influences a little to closely on its sleeve though and ends up playing like a cover-album to innovators Raimi, Jackson and Coscarelli. (6/10)

A History of Violence – Successfully walks the delicate line between genre and drama. It is a mainstream film with something to say and another solid entry into the fascinating Cronenberg canon. (9/10)

Shark in the Head – Tiny, intimate film with something meaning to say about schizophrenia. Also melancholic for the loss of something that has just always been there. (7/10)

Isolation – Surprisingly solid straight-up suspenseful horror-pic. The scenes on the farm are creepier than when the film decides it wants to be Alien. (6/10)

Revolver – Guy Ritchie’s attempts at the deconstruction of the art of the con are not nearly as smart as he think it is, but the film is harmless fun. (6/10)

Caché – Creepy and unsettling take on racism, classism and terrorism. The violence in the film is about 5 seconds long, but it will haunt you for a while. (9/10)

The Proposition – Gritty Aussie western which paints the taking of the interior frontier as a string of incompetent blunders. Bloody and affecting and a cast that is willing to get down and dirty. (7/10)

A Little Trip to Heaven – Set in America, filmed in Iceland. A truly original look, sound and feel that is coupled with a fine Forrest Whitaker performance. (8/10)

Bangkok Loco – Thai Insanity that manages success despite overwhelming odds. One of the best opening credits sequences in a film. EVER. (7/10)

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story – 24 Hour Party People meets Adaptation. Not a single moment of this film is unfunny. (9/10)

Souvenir of Canada – Let’s celebrate the mediocrity of Canadiana. Go Canadian Shield! (6/10)

The District! – Gorgeous Animation, well executed idea. Curiously light on humour. You have to read fast if you want to keep up with the subtitles of Hungarian Gangster Rap. (7/10)

Walk the Line – Top-shelf performances from Phoenix and Witherspoon. Great Musical numbers. Not as dark as I thought it would be. When given the choice to print the Truth or the Legend: They should have printed the Legend. (7/10)

Manderlay – Solid, but slightly more conventional than Dogville. Lack of a couple key actors from Dogville hurt the film a tad. (7/10)

Diameter of the Bomb – Not as impactful as I thought it would be. Too much focus on one victim of the suicide bombing to the detriment of all the other stories. (5/10)

The Duelist – Some gorgeous stuff in this incoherent genre-mash. Bad direction choices and inconsistent tone may be a result of my expectations, but I still didn’t like the film as much as I wanted to. (4/10)

The Grönholm Method – My biggest surprise of the festival which creates a new grifter-classic by blending the styles of Mamet, Lumet and LaBute. (9/10)

Time to Leave – Lightweight Ozon. Melodrama which offers a fresh take on 3-way sex, but doesn’t say much new on the subject of dealing with a terminal disease (6/10).

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance – A sublime closure to the Vengeance Trilogy, which appropriately deals with Atonement. Great visuals and direction anchored around a complex performance by Yeong-ae Lee. (10/10)

The Great Yokai War – High on creativity. Pushes right through the envelope of what exactly is a family-friendly adventure. Overlong by about 15 minutes and a weakly written lead character keep it from truly shining. (7/10)

April Snow – Pitch perfect tone and acting. The nature of the subject may cause some to find it a tad slow though. You’ll find yourself comparing this to In the Mood for Love, and it is just up to that standard. (8/10)

Seven Swords – Biggest disappointment of the Festival. Bad acting, bad lighting, bad direction, bad storytelling. Just Bad. (2/10)

SPL – HK cinema has a new shining star in the Firmament. Enough praise cannot be heaped on this new classic in the genre. (10/10)

Dear Wendy – Von Trier and Vinterberg give this rumination of what guns mean to Americans a lot of sizzle to go with the substance. The ending is telegraphed, but getting there is a blast. (8/10)

Adam's Apples – Pitch black comedy which is audacious and warmly charming. It breaks nearly every form of political correctness with a certain glee and gets away with it too. (8/10)

Hostel – Solid entry into the genre which pumps the adrenaline and isn’t shy about the violence or the sex which are mixed nicely in the subtext. (9/10)

The Willow Tree – It’s hard to like the selfish main character in the film, but you can feel his pain as he has to cope with the gift of restored sight after 38 years of blindness. It is watchable, but nothing special. (6/10)

Thank-You For Smoking – Lightweight and unabashedly mainstream satire. Not as good as wag the dog, although it really wants to be. The large ensemble of talented actors are game to the movies sprawling meanderings. (6/10)

Seven Swords

Seven Swords is a film which attempts to capture the epic look and intimate scope of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai and the classic wu xia structure of the Shaw Brothers prolific library of films, including the work of King Hu, Chang Cheh as well as Tsui Hark’s own early work along the lines of Legend of the Zu Mountain. The fact that Hark fails on such a colossal level may in part be to the recent overhaul of the genre with art-directors taking over the reigns. War Kong Wai, Ang Lee, and the one-two punch from Zhang Yimou have elevated the genre to a such a high level that I don’t think we can easily go back to The Bride with the White Hair or The New Dragon Gate Inn. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Ronny Yu’s film or even Harks update of the King Hu classic, but they have their time and place and the acting and directing standards are just higher these days. Seven Swords is also not a nostalgic return to the original form. It is just a mess.

The story (based upon the wu xia novel Seven Swordsmen from Mountain Tien) is set in a period of Chinese history when the emperor has put up bounties on those practicing the martial arts. Mercenary and bandit gangs are roaming the countryside killing just about anyone, as the price is for the head of the practitioner of martial arts. It is difficult to prove from a severed head that the body could actually practice the art, so basically the gangs kill anyone who cannot defend themselves and collect bounties en masse. The movie opens up with a small village that is quickly wiped out. One martial artist escapes to warn the next village. The new village does not want to listen, because this they recognize him as an executioner for a past government, and the suspect treachery and lies despite his pleas that he has reformed his past ways. Two villagers, a brother and sister, do believe the story and they bust him out and travel deep into the mountains to seek the legendary sword-masters to help the village. They find the wise ancient sword-maker four sword-masters and seven very unique swords of power. Thus the martial artist and the two peasants are round out the group of swordsmen to make the titular seven. After an attempt to defend the village results in a marginal victor with a lot of casualties, the remaining villagers attempt flight through the mountains. Meanwhile, the swordsmen take some of the fight to the bandits lair, and there they kill a number of them, but not enough. In the process, they free the Bandit leaders Korean Slave girl and bring her back to flee with the villagers. In the course of fleeing a traitor signs of a traitor being in the midst makes everyone suspicious. Is it a villager? One of the Swordsmen? The Korean girl?

From that description, you would think you have a pretty interesting story with a lot of characters and potential. So where to begin with the colossal mess that is Seven Swords. In the 39 films I caught at this years Toronto Film Festival, it was easily the worst film I saw. And I love wu xia, I truly do. Lets take a slide down the ladder of hackery on Hark’s incompetent opus.

First, the film looks like it was lit entirely by candle light. 75% of the film is brown and orange and indistinct. It is the worst aesthetic I’ve seen in a genre known for its visual flourishes. Then there are 10-15 scenes which are so colour de-saturated as to be nearly black and white, but for what purpose? To point out how inconsistently you can colour time a film? It certainly has no context in the story. Actually, part of me is now convinced that the print of the film I watched was not colour timed yet. It would explain the just-plain awful look of the film. Colour timing could however, not fix the 90% of the film, which is shot with an unmoving camera at boring ‘medium’ distance. There are a few wide shots and even fewer close-ups. And the stagnant camera gives the feeling of watching a badly lit high-school drama. If it is all very badly staged and filmed, it is the one thing in the film that Hark is consistent in. Humour, tragedy, tone and mood are whipped though the blender on frappe.

Second, the acting is flatter than the visuals. A lot of characters yell at each other without any feeling, or brood and sulk like Donnie Yen. You have only to watch Yen in the instant classic SPL (which through a quirk in scheduling, I watched less than 1 hour after seeing Seven Swords) to see that the man is capable. But here he is pure rubbish. The rest of the cast are non-descript and uninteresting with the only two exceptions. Lau Kar-leung as the executioner turned noble, and village woman turned swords-woman (Charlie Young) carry themselves with some degree of confidence and talent. The swordsmen in particluar are poorly developed as the film spends way, way, way too much time on the sub-plot between Donnie Yen’s swordsman and the Korean slave-girl, Green Pearl, played by (admittedly gorgeous) So-yeon Kim. Both are wholeheartedly unconvincing, and this element of the movie bogs it down for an unnecessary 45 minutes…at the very least. A better estimate may be greater than 60 minutes. This leaves some of the master swordsmen as no more than footnotes in the story. Hark doesn’t even bother to properly introduce them at the appropriate time in the story. This is sad, considering how far the two villagers when to find them and how much time is spent on other things.

Third, the wu xia scenes are boring. Yes, hundreds of people flying though the air attacking each other. It takes a special brand of director to make this flat out suck as much as it does here. The only shining light in the film is a tightly filmed scene in a narrow stone corridor between Donnie Yen and bad-guy bandit Fire-Wind (Honglei Sun). It is the only sequence in the entire film really worth watching, and even that was done to some degree in one entry of the Once Upon a Time in China series. Considering the talent on board for this (important) aspect of the film (Donnie Yen, Lau Kar-leung), it is a waste all the time and talent involved.

Special mention should be made for the particularly laughable 5-10 minute long sequence involving stable-boy turned swordsman Han (Yi Lu) and his horse, which has been made lame by the arduous journey. If perhaps Hark had set this sequence up with the horse being involved in the movie earlier we may have had some context for the overwrought sequence. But as it stands here, it just made me count the minutes which Hark was imprisoning me in my chair and wasting my time with his film. Now there are rumours of several much longer version than the 150 minute version which I barely made it though. A longer run-time may flesh out much of the poorly executed story and character elements, and colour timing could fix the visual mess. But from this experience, I shudder even at the thought of sitting through a 240+ minute version of the film. Pray for that miracle, as the chances for Tsui Hark, at this moment in his career, to have the ability to fix things, are slim.

If I had seen Seven Swords in 1985, I may have liked this sweeping mess of a story, which looks like it was made during this time period. Of course, I would also be only 10 years old with little context of the actual art of modern filmmaking, Chinese or otherwise.


Hostel is Eli Roth’s follow up film to his wildly successful (but polarizing) disease ‘stalker’ film Cabin Fever. It is not hard to see that Roth is a horror film Uber-geek who is living his dream to be able to add to the genre he loves so much. It gives him a certain smarts with the genre, but runs also into the danger of letting the homage to his favorite films/directors overshadow the content of his own film. (Again this is a common complaint with regards to Cabin Fever, however I thought the rough around-the-edges feel that film a certain charm). Roth has grown tremendously as a genre filmmaker and his loves are integrated in a much more satisfying way in Hostel. With Hostel, he is firing on all cylinders: Great tension building, maximum performances from his actors and a solid, satisfyingly sick, idea to wrap a film around.

The first half of the film plays like a straight up teen stranded-road-trip film, not uncommon to either American Werewolf in London or Evil Dead. Two American friends are backpacking across Europe, more to meet women and get a little European sex than say, look at the architecture or visit the museums (it is amusingly ironic that the only museum they step foot in is more of a side-show funhouse of medieval torture). Paxton is the Stiffler-esque party guy who wants action, and wants his friend to loosen up as well, this is their last great 'experience' before joining the mundane world of finding a career and moving on with life. Somewhere along the line, they’ve picked up the wildly enthusiastic Icelander Oli. Calling himself the Sultan of Swing, Oli is constantly chipper and constantly successful at getting women. Josh is the shy fanny-pack wearing responsible one who is a bit of a spoil-sport, and doesn’t want to have sex with hookers if the fail to pick up. Oli and Paxton have no issues here, sometimes they even share.

When Josh, Paxton and Oli cruise the Amsterdam streets looking for red-light district sex, they salivate over the live flesh on display in the windows and party it up with hookers. After being locked out of their hostel after staying out to late, they drift around town and meet a young kid who tells them about a hostel in Slovakia which, like an urban legend, has the best looking women who are always willing to please. They hop aboard the next train for Slovakia and have a stock horror-film encounter with an eccentric 50-ish European man who likes to eat garden salad with his hands instead of a fork, and makes a casual sexual pass at Josh who reacts as the typical young American homophobe. When they arrive in the small picturesque town and check in at the Hostel it is way too good to be true.: All opulent and expensive looking, with detailed frescoes on the wall and large stately rooms. They boys are told they will have to share a room with two others. This initially bums them out until they discover that the other two are busty and attractive Slovakians, Natalya and Svetlana. They are on thier way to the Hostel's Spa (!) and are willing to party with them at the disco and in the bed. Oli goes missing with out a trace, making Josh uneasy, but Paxton writes it off. This sort of thing happens when you are travelling around Europe; you travel with people for a bit, then they move on. But, when Josh goes missing the next morning, Paxton looses his confident asshole persona and becomes worried, lost and confused. The film follows his descent into a private and European torture experience.

When Hostel begins, it gets mean and intense very quickly. The first half of the film is justified, because it makes the second half of the film that much more intense. Roth has now established realistic enough characters to let the horrors have maximum impact.

There are really smart touches to the film, not the least of which is having the film follow the asshole character over the ‘nice’ character. While he plays Paxton and Josh as typically ignorant and boorish Americans initially, he breaks down some stereotypes by having Paxton speak German and Josh being a fair more sensitive than the average Jet-setting American Jock. It is perfect that iconic cult director Takashi Miike acts as the gate-keeper to hell in the film, as Hostel does liberally reference Miike’s films. He also borrows a few things from Anthony Shaffer’s The Wickerman, and subverts them as well. Take for example the way he uses Britt Ekland’s temptation song from that film (actually, he is using a Sneaker Pimps version of the song called “How Do”). He also takes some of the concept from Marc Evan’s dreadfully unsucessfuly My Little Eye and does the whole thing right.

There is enough substance here to make the journey not just to a masturbatory or titillating genre romp. Although Hostel does want to have its cake and eat it too, and Roth wisely integrates the initially gratuitous elements of the first half into visceral and pounding second half. The gore and blood and guts are there, but like Miike’s Audition, it things are not shown as graphic as the effect they generate. By pacing and teasing the scenes appropriately, you get the overall effect maximized without showing too much visually. Rest assured though, this is one of the most explicit horror films to come out of the United States in a while, and for the effect fans of the genre want, Hostel is top shelf. Roth could still improve in his visual set-ups, as some of the establishing shots looked a little flat in contrast to when the movie really gets going, but this is a minor complaint, and I was after all, viewing a rough cut of the film, sound and music effects may fix this.

While the movie doesn’t spend too much time on subtext in favour of being quick moving thriller, there is nevertheless social commentary buried into the story. What is entertainment for some people? Where is the line drawn between consenting adults and exploitation in terms of prostitution. And when hookers and drugs get boring, where do extreme experience seekers turn? The guys are stalked for a different form of entertainment, but one that is grounded in the same need that their journey started out: An experience divorced from their real world lives, which will soon be beginning a career after University (or for in the case of Oli, just a break from the daily routine). A large abandoned factory with one large smoke stack jutting like a giant phallus into the sky is a prominet image, and there is every imaginable act of penetration in the film. For that matter, freshly opened sliced flesh could fall into vaginal metaphors if you wanted to go (probably a bit too deepy) there. If the film was carried all the way to its original conclusion (expect that 'alternate ending' to appear on the obligatory 'unrated' DVD), Hostel may have been even more interesting in it commentary on the dark corners of human experience.

In the end, Hostel is best of breed in American horror film. It pushes the genre away from the typical dreck for PG-13 horror being foisted on the multiplexes just because it makes money to an undiscriminating audience. Hostel is smart enough to mock the past two decades of American Horror cinema without descending into post-modern parody. It plays the situation straight and means business. Roth proves adept at integrating the some elements of 1970s American horror, as well liberal dashes of European and Japanese flavour, while making still making it feel like his own and also quite accessible.

April Snow

Let us get this out of the way early. For the wrong reasons, April Snow is a film that will forever sit in the shadow of Wong Kar Wai’s stylish romantic tragedy In The Mood For Love.

During a highly unusual snowstorm in late spring, a car accident leaves a local man dead, and a man and woman from Seoul beat up badly and in comas. In Su works as a lighting co-ordinator for pop concerts, and has to leave right in the middle of setting up a large concert due to a phone call from his wife being injured small coastal town. When he gets there, he meets Seo Young, a woman attending to her comatose husband. For both of them, the abrupt situation is both tragic, and also very awkward. Their spouses were in the car togther, driving drunk to a location neither knows. This is never clearer than when they have to sift though a bag of possessions recovered from the car. Which one of their spouses owned the condom? On the cellular phones and digital camera, In Su and Seo Young find intimate phone messages and an explicit video of their worst fears, their spouses lounging in bed in a state of casual and intimate humour.

Both In Su and Seo Young are put through the emotional wringer over the weeks of waiting for their partners either to wake up, or pass away At times both wish for either of these two ends for their silent partners. In a particularly awkward scene, at the request of one of their insurance adjusters, they attend the funeral of the local man who was killed in the accident. The mother, deeply mired in grief, as the accident was the result of drunk driving, at first thinks the couple are friends of her son. When they awkwardly explain their relationship to the deceased, the mother sends them away and the family members threaten violence. That particular form of guilt (how are In Su and Seo Young at fault here?) is convincingly examined though a distanced and unusual relationship, which starts with unanswerable, questions and ends with love.

There is a multitude of compelling reasons why In Su and Seo Young get together. They are both away from home in the static limbo of hospital corridors and long wait between doctor visits. They are both grieving for their partners who secretly betrayed them in one of the worst possible ways, in other words: these are very scarred souls. And there is an undeniable attraction between them that cannot be ignored. But the trump card here is that the emotional baggage of their situation hovers over every word, gesture and thought.

April Snow works as a film at every possible level. It defies the obvious trap of melodrama inherent in the situation. The acting and chemistry of the two leads is impeccable, as is the distanced and silent tone of the film. Director Hur Jin Ho and actors Bae Yong Jonn and Son Ye Jin scripted the film as they were shooting it. This often ends in a messy muddled film (see Dancing at the Blue Iguana for a good example of this concept done really bad), but here, the film is flawless in its storytelling. Admittedly, a mainstream audience may have trouble with the very, very slow pace, but it is perfectly in line with the story, situation and isolated and uneasy tone of the film. I cannot think of a single wrong note in the film.

So, what about the comparisons to In the Mood For Love? Well, it is reminiscent of that film, obviously from the concept, but also because it goes about itself different in every way. April Snow is contemporary and crisp where wkw’s film is nostalgic and ethereal. April Snow does offer answers and a conclusion, where In the Mood For Love is vague and not forthcoming. Does this make sense? It will when you see the film. And if you are a romantic at heart, you should. A snowstorm in the summer is a bitter sweet moment captured in yet another solid film out of South Korea.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Sha Po Lang, or SPL for short, is a welcome throw-back to the heady days of Hong Kong Action cinema emerging onto the world scene. It is a pleasure to see the big old melodrama, prominently used in John Woo's The Killer and Hard Boiled as well as Ringo Lam's City on Fire, back in full form. Even better, director Wilson Yip marries that classic melodrama to more sophisticated camera work, faster action choreography and a stunning visual palette. All of this adds up to the best film shown in this years Midnight Madness Program and the best Hong Kong cop thriller since Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs.

Sha, Po and Lang are three Chinese constellations which represent destruction, conflict and greed. Those qualities are all on display as an investigative taskforce of the Hong Police Department are at war with underworld gang boss Wang Po (played to maximum effect by long-time veteran Sammo Hung). The head of the taskforce, Inspector Chan (Simon Yam) is Godfather to a child who lost her parents in an incident involving the gang. He is being forced into retirement because of health problems, and has his team turning to illegal methods such as evidence planting and video tape alteration to get a conviction to stick on Po. It seems in the past, Po keeps getting his lawyers to beat whatever charges they lay. Things get complicated as the new Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) comes to take over the team, which is now waist deep in serious lies. The cops are doing corrupt things in the hopes of achieving a good end, but Ma has had a rough past, and is playing things by the book these days. This brings a fair bit of tension into the police dynamic of the film, with a lot of tough-guy chest thumping and male bonding.

The bulk of the film takes place on a Father’s Day in the late 1990s, and the melodrama is amped up by phone calls and meetings and phone calls between the police officers (as well as Wang Po) with their children in between action sequences. Yip is not afraid to walk the line of questionable taste by bringing children and babies into the high-stakes war between the cops and gangsters.

But where SPL really shines is in the action sequences. There are not that many of them, and they don't come until after the 45 minute mark (barring a couple teases), but they are so fine. Yen and newcomer Jing Wu tear up the screen in a knife/baton fight that absolutely begs to be rewound and re-watched over and over again. It’s lightning fast and done in long, coherent takes (something which is often lacking in action cinema, even in Asian martial arts flicks, these days). But the capital kicker sequence involves icons Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung (both of whom have worked as fight choreographers in the past, and adlib a good chunk of this fight). These two masters tear an upscale bar apart in a visceral fight scene which involves martial arts, grapples, fist fighting and maybe a WWE move or two.

SPL is slick and stylish, uncompromisingly nihilistic with little humour, excepting a very nice gag involving Po’s cellular ringtone and the occasional Sammo Hung act of extreme coolness. For fans of the genre SPL is an absolute MUST SEE. To fail to catch this film in the cinema is to miss a milestone in Hong Kong Action.

Note: After the screening in the fun Q&A with Yip, Hung and Wu, Yip confirmed he is working on another project with Donnie Yen titled “DRAGON TIGER GATE.”

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Grönholm Method

Every year at the Toronto Film Festival I pick several films nearly blind, having only a programmers brief description and a single image from the film to go by. Discoveries made this way are one of the chief delights of the festival and in the past (for me) have included Memento, Jeux D’Enfants, American Movie and Requiem for a Dream. This years discovery, which put my jaw on the floor several times, and had me smiling with excitement when the end-credits rolled, was the Spanish/Argentinean corporate thriller The Grönholm Method.

Seven applicants arrive at the gigantic tower of the headquarters for Dexia, a multinational corporation. They are all there to apply for the same position, some high-level executive job within the company. The first clue that something is not quite the right and the usual protocol is not being followed is that typically companies bring in applicants separately for interviews whereas here they are letting the applicants mingle. The candidates are as suspicious of this aberration as Dean Keaton and company were in The Usual Suspects. The second clue is that the company makes them all redo their applications in the front office in front of each other. You can feel the competitive juices begin to flow as each candidate sizes one another up. They are brought into a large conference room near the top of the building and told that the company has a new method for recruiting for senior positions. They all are going to have to go through a bunch of tests against one another (in each other presence and at the mercy of each others judgements) until it is last man or woman standing.

This is the latest and greatest corporate recruiting system: The Grönholm Method. If you have ever done job interviews or businmeetings which employ consultant designed systems (from 6 Sigma to Myers-Briggs) you will quake in fear from this unholy incarnation. For example, one of the tests involves simply selecting a ‘leader’ for the group. Considering that all of these people are power-players, just the act manoeuvring for, or around, this position is fascinating. Another test poses the hypothetical situation of the earth being ravaged by some disaster and there is bunker that will hold a number, which is one less than then the number of candidates. Each has to justify their worth to the society within this bunker, using only what is on their resume, and vote would be the most expendable. Much like a certain successful reality-based TV show, when the person is voted off, they are out of the interview process. Several of the candidates are even on to this, immediately expecting one of their fellow interviewees as a company planted mole. The psychology, power struggles, and scheming is taken about as far as one can take it as office politics are played on dizzying level which includes humiliation and cruelty so savage, you might even accept that these executive wannabes might kill one another for the position.

The seven characters are all types, but are so well written and distinct that they manage to go beyond 2 dimensional cut-outs. This is helped by the solid acting across the board which make the film as perfect as this type of pure dialogue film can ever get. The dialogue is razor sharp, insightful and always crackling, but in a way distinct from say the ratta-tat-tat of David Mamet.

There is not a weak note in the entire film, which manages to sustain the mystery and ‘what is going to happen’ nature of the film right to the very last, sublime minute. The tension and black humour are exceedingly well crafted and directed with a nice audio-visual palette: Impersonal blue-dye wool, crisp white shirts, sparse hardwood conference rooms and brushed metal executive bathrooms are scored to that harmless Musak, because, ironically, anything else may be offensive to someone. There is also the bleak irony of a globalization demonstration going on at the base of the skyscraper, as the battle the very power that is being condemned goes on in the Ivory Tower well above the rabble.

The Grönholm Method brings to mind the best elements of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, LaBute’s In the Company of Men, Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and fellow Argentinian director Fabián Bielinsky’s top-shelf grift flick, Nine Queens. The mask that is put on in the guise of a pin-striped ‘power’ suit for the dance of worst aspects of business: The pitch, the con, the betrayal is pulled off, put on, and switched (sometimes quite literally) across the applicants. The folks at Dexia aren’t working for a win-win situation. They are playing a zero sum game, and the human resource department have clearly spent a lot of time reading William Poundstone’s explanation of game theory, The Prisoners Dilemma. Wordplay and structure suggest that The Grönholm Method may have been based on a play, much like all of the films mentioned above are. There is even a warped corporate team-building version of the tennis-match from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

If you like films that deal with the art of the con, The Grönholm Method will make your year. In fact, I’m so impressed with director Marcelo Piñeyro’s film that I don’t think Mamet need bother heading into this territory as this is already the definitive film in this area. I’ll be mining Piñeyro’s C.V to see if there is anything else worth noting in his other 6 films based on the quality of work on display here.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

“It has to be pretty, everything should be pretty” The kind lady Geum-ja wistfully intones this phrase to the machinist who is going to build her instrument of vengeance.

Rejoice fans of Chan Wook Park, for Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is the fitting conclusion to his Trilogy of Revenge. In fact, this film represents some growth over Old Boy. Do I have Your Attention? Those disappointed by this film are probably going to be so only by expecting a dizzying mind-trip along the lines of Old Boy, and not getting that expectation fulfilled. Here Park plays his hand a little (but only a little) more out in the open and aims for understanding and empathy over blowing minds.

*Potentially MILD Spoilers - Beware if you want to go in COMPLETELY fresh*

After being sent off to prison for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of an 8 year old boy, young teenager Guem-Ja quickly loses her naïveté as she adjusts to prison life. She flirts with Christianity, and offers charity to many of the inmates she shares a cell with. She is very helpful and constructive in prison, and does a lot of favours for a lot of the inmates (the film nicely digresses to fill in several portraits of Korean women in prison and how they got there). No one has committed a crime as heinous as Geum-Ja though, and she goes exceedingly out of her way to atone for her crimes, to the point of giving lectures to the other inmates on finding her spirituality.

But the story is never so simple. Geum-Ja has left a daughter behind herself. She took the fall completely (although she is not innocent herself) for her accomplish who was the more vicious half of the kidnapping duo to prevent him for killing her daughter. Now she has missed out on many years of her daughters life, who we learn was quickly put up for adoption in Austraila after Geum-Ja was jailed (to the point where the girl didn’t learn Korean, only English).

Geum-Ja has a plan which she puts into motion. First, her form of atonement to the parents of the dead boy is filled with a shocking image and some pert irony. But then, it is a plan of simple revenge; that is until she discovers something horrific and tragic. This prompts a change in plans to something far more elaborate and diabolical an aim to achieve some kind of catharsis.

Park continues his sometimes poetic, sometimes down and dirty look at the effects of Violence on normal people in a cruel and unjust urban landscapes. If Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was about silences and Oldboy was about disconnection, Lady Vengeance is about ritual and most importantly for the closing chapter of such a surreally violent trilogy, atonement.

The film is achingly beautiful, laced with dark humour and darker images, and captures a diverse and increasingly macabre collection of tiny rituals, many of them involving food. One fascinating sequence involves an invested group of people folding a bloody sheet of plastic like a flag at a military funeral. Another surreally violent scene shows her building the nerve to act on something, but destroying something innocent. It stretches any sympathy you may have from Geum-Ja while adding layer upon layer of complexity for both her character and her situation.

Yeong-ae Lee is magnificently up to the task of portraying such a complex character who goes through so many transitions but intentionally maintains a distances from both the other chracters in the movie, as well as the audience. Geum-Ja Lee is the harbinger for moving on, although it is clear she never will be able to. The relationship between Geum-Ja and her daughter has only a small amount of screen-time, but it is crucial to the story working, and is told with a bittersweet combination of hope and tragedy. The 13 years which were lost for Geum-Ja have such far reaching consequences. Prison and planning have made her a strong-willed, confident, competent and capable woman, a far cry from the victimized wallflower she was as a late teenager.

I’m very impressed with the career of Chan Wook Park. The 'Revenge Trilogy' is such an incredible success, with each entry being both different and successful. I hope he moves on and does something different still, bringing his unique sense of cinema to another worthy subject.

Raise expectations. When this film plays comes to DVD in Korea, or plays North American Cinemas come January, it is going to have a big fan-club.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Duelist

With an international market hungry for wu xia films and the explosion of visually rich and thematically complex South Korean Cinema, The Duelist has the pedigree to achieve 'instant classic' status. So what went so terribly, terribly wrong?

The basic story is about par for the genre. The political intrigue, investigation police officers and love on top were even recently covered with Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers. Detective Ahn and his young female protégé Namsoon begin an investigation regarding thousands of counterfeit coins being brought into the province. Because merchants and peasants alike are having trouble distinguishing the coins, the economy is threatening to collapse. Roads begin to lead to the Minister of Defense who controls all of the militia in the province and may be making a play for greater power, even rulership of the country.

The Minister has a deadly henchman, Sad Eyes. Introduced in a fascinating sword-play demonstration in a town market, Sad Eyes wears a steel mask (not unlike V in Vendetta) and is all flowing robes, he is the classic brooding young-boyish warrior so often featured in Manga. Namsoon immediately falls in love, and an early fight sequences plays out more like an elaborate mating sequence than an actual blade-fight (more on this later). As the web gets tighter, so does the inexplicable bond developing between Namsoon and Sad Eyes with the Minister and Ahn serving as helpless witnesses to a mounting tragedy.

That sounds intriguing, and worthy of the first big Korean entry to the genre. But director Lee Myung-Se takes every opportunity to destroy flow, character development, and story telling. The movie is a tonal mess. One minute the film has a pounding chase, the next it is a Benny-Hill/Tom Jones sped-up chase. One moment the characters are in an embrace of timeless love, the next a secondary character is talking about ejaculation. There is a framing story, of a blacksmith telling a tale of intrigue and seduction which sets the dark and sultry mood, only to break out with extreme overacting and posturing in an outside tavern. If this is intentional I applaud the ambitious experiment, but that doesn't undo its failure.

What makes it all the more painful is the level of artistry involved to the whole messy affair. The cinematography is as good (and in several scenes, even better) as the recent wu xia films Ang Lee, Chen Kaige and master Zhang Yimou. The martial arts sequences structured as formal dances, while not entire original, are executed in a fresh and suitable exotic fashion. That is when the director bothers to film the fight (several sequences, including a big show down with Inspector Ahn and half the town militia, are just cut away from). There will be no debate as to The Duelist being visually seductive, but I have a theory that several of the fight-tests may have failed due to the industries inexperience with the genre, and are therefore have just been completely excised.

In so many scenes the actors show that there is no shortage in the talent department. Ha Ji-won as Namsoon has great timing in the comedy scenes and can go from ice-queen to sultry-hot convincingly. Sad Eyes, played by Gang Dong-won makes the most out of clichéd and stock Manga character. And both Song Young-chang and Ahn Sung-ki carry themselves with a quiet dignity when the direction allows for it. But herky-jerky story doesn’t allow any of them to shine on the whole.

Other genres creep into the film when they clearly do not belong. There is even a sequence where the police chief demands Anh and Namsoon throw in their badges. It is woefully bad. A scene involving Namsoon as the Korean equivalent of a Geisha, serving tea to Sad Eyes works on its own terms, but is poorly integrated into the story. And that is what The Duelist needs, a story continuity editor, or a work shop with Steven Spielberg in narrative construction. The Duelist becomes a larger disappointment because it has everything going for it except tone and story (yes I’m fully aware of how much I’m repeating this), making the failure all the more acute. It is the definitive film for showing the weakness of Manga adapted to long-form feature film, if the Duelist was instead a series of 25 short films, it would could have been a contender.

Souvenir of Canada

Here is an idea that should be a CBC executive’s wet dream: A documentary based on Douglas Coupland’s quirky coffee table picture-book Souvenir of Canada. Let’s all get together and celebrate the iconic mundaneness of Canada! Go Canadian Shield!

Normally I can get pretty testy when it comes to the ‘Look how great we are. Look at how NICE we are. Just look at us, We’re CANADIAN!’ attitude which occasionally seizes our government, and often rubs off us from all the provinces and territories in Canada. Coupland is very much aware of this and plays it out with the droll irony so often present in his novels. In fact, Coupland provides an ongoing voice-over narrative for the entire run of the doc, as well as serving as a character in two of the three story threads (namely Coupland’s life and family). His earnestness comes through the layer of irony and prevents Souvenir of Canada from ever looking like a vanity project. One key scene has his dad mentioning a scene from one of Coupland’s books. Coupland feels awkward that either parents even read one of his books, and both parents felt awkward for reading it, not because they didn’t like it, but more as if it was an invasion of their son’s privacy (like cleaning up his teenage bedroom). That thread of the movie plays out very, very well. It is impressive how director Robin Neinstein avoided making Souvenir of Canada from coming across as a great big love-in. Perhaps many will still see it as just that; I did not.
Anti-americanism, and general international bewilderment of what Canada actually is, is skimmed over, along with an extremely ironic scene meant to contrast the paradox of the Canadian love of Hockey Fights with the muted reaction to beheadings and suicide bombings on Al-Jazeera (yes it's awkward and out of place here, but that is the point).

As I said, there are three narrative threads: (1) Canada as geography and history. (2) Couplands family and childhood in the 70s in Vancouver. And (3) The building of an art installation (also based on the book) in a suburban home, called Canada House. They are all connected in a string of off-beat images of both the stretching wilderness of Canada as an awe-inspiring and dangerous beauty with the counterpoint of kitschy Canadiana and suburban consumer products. What he calls secret handshakes of Canadians: Ookpik, Chimo, Ryder Beer, Robin Hood Nanaimo Bar Mix, Dad’s Ginger Snaps, Beehive Golden Corn Syrup. (Admittedly, depending on how old you are, many of Coupland’s references may go over your head.) It goes so far as to be an ode to the inside of a middleclass Canadian cupboard.

Digressions on wood paneling, Moose hunting, Terry Fox, the Canadarm and great high-school 16 mm films (“Let’s Talk About Weeds!”, “How to Build an Igloo”) are laced with a melancholic lament for the loss of many of these images as Canada becomes a more hi-tech and global country. Coupland is charming and the film is a happy place to go for 75 minutes, like looking through old photo albums. The next day you cherish the experience, even it you don’t remember much in the way of specifics. Expect it to be played to death on the CBC, like those Hinterland Who’s Who bits always shown in between re-runs of the Beachcombers.

Diameter of the Bomb

This Canadian documentary, which was made jointly between the National Film Board and the BBC, retells the events of a suicide bombing of the #32A bus in Jerusalem in 2002 which claimed the lives of over 20 people and injured 50 more. This bus travelled past a series of buildings right on the border of Palestinian and Israeli territory, and the passengers where always a diverse mix, in race, religion, and political stripes.

Diameter of the Bomb is an ambitious project (if ultimately an unsuccessful one) which attempts to not just show the media-eye of the story, but to trace a circumference around all the folks in which this bombing had an effect on. From the forensic workers to the families who lost loved ones, from the suicide bomber's parents to man who drove him to the bus, and from the doctor who treated the injured to the coroner who did the autopsies.

Graphic footage of the destroyed bus, including a gruesome shot of the remains of the bombers head on the side of the road, is not sensationalized, as the film spends much time establishing context for the images. There is no voice over narrative, but rather a chorus of voices all uniquely affected by this tragedy. At the end of the film, is shown the BBC news story, which is probably under 90 seconds in length. This highlights how little depth we get from Broadcast and Cable news television and how far the smoke tendrils of such a tragedy spread out.

If there is a strength to this film, it is how the film-makers managed to take a subject and region where everything is political and tell the human story without the politics. If you think about it, this is no easy feat. This is one of the very few documentaries which manages to come as close to the ideal of ‘unbiased’ as I’ve here seen. If there is a weakness it is too much focus on the ‘pretty’ girl on the bus, Shari, which takes emphasis off some of the others, including a school-aged Ethiopian Christian girl and an all-around generous Israeli graduate student who gave as much time to the community as he did to his studies. Despite the horror of these events, the runtime is somehow overlong. There is often a lack of immediate connection between the innocent images of daily Jerusalem life shown on screen and the voice over stories of the participants. That ennui set in more than once over the length of the film (which is 86 minutes) may be a disturbing comment on my own inability to be truly shocked at the horrors in this world. How exactly does one deal with the horrors inflicted by suicide bombers? There is not even a body left over to blame or set to rest. You can only just pick up and move on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Nyocker! (The District)

According to the producer of Nyocker!, theirs is the first feature length animated film out of Hungary since 1986. This unusual little film is a fusion of the visual styles of South Park, Angela Anaconda and Appleseed. The animation is amazingly rich in detail and is simply gorgeous and the film is kinetic, ambitious and stylish (All for less than half a million dollars...are you listening Hollywood?). It takes Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliette and turns it on it's side, then guts it from the inside out. Pimp/Gang/Thug culture, Hungarian Hip-Hop musical Numbers and over-the-top satire on machismo, racism, and global politics are only a few of the elements on this films overflowing agenda. In other words, it was worth the wait.

It follows the children of two rival gangs in a poverty stricken and multi-ethnic urban district in Hungary. Ricsi Lakatos, teenaged son of the districts Gypsy gang-boss, is in love with Julika Csorba daughter of the Hungarian gang-boss. After getting some Scarface inspired advice from his crotchety grandfather (You gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women), Ricsi decides that is the way to win his true love. He gathers all of the children of both gangs together and comes up with a brilliant get-rich quick scheme:

Step 1: Invent Time Machine
Step 2: Go back to Prehistoric Times
Step 3: Kill as many Mammoths as possible and bury the corpses under the district
Step 4: Back to present, drill oil wells
Step 5: Get into the world Oil Market and make Billions

The plan goes surprisingly well, aided in no small part by the genius physics student in their class. Having learned about Romeo and Juliet in School, Ricsi realizes that he doesn’t want his and Julika’s lives to end up in, well…tragedy. He wisely turns the oil-business over to both sets of parents on the condition that they bury their differences, work together, allow his courtship of Julika and of course the kids get to skim 20% off the top. As the district gets rich, President Bush and the rest of the world leaders don’t appreciate a new player in the oil business, and nuclear war is now on the horizon.

Nyocker! is unconventional animated feature. It is certainly made for adults, as the language is quite raunchy, and nudity abounds. It is aggressively political, both in its anti-American-foreign-policy and using the pixellation-blur effect to hide the faces of the Hungarian politicians, essentially casting them as criminals (much in the same way as Fox TVs COPS!). Director Áron Gauder is not afraid to cast the President Bush, the Pope, Vladimir Putin and Osama Bin Laden in small supporting roles. And what struck me as the oddest creative choice, Nyocker! actually plays the story straight most of the time. I may be wrong on this, as some of the humour may be lost in translation, but I think despite the ludicrous time-travel elements, and wacky police-surveillance sub-plot, it is playing its characters more or less seriously.

While it does get a bit slow in parts and you have to read very, very fast to keep up with the subtitles for all the rap-lyrics and dialogue, Nyocker! is well worth a look for those who love a good cult-animated film. I am certainly in anticipation of Gauder’s sequel to the film (which was confirmed in the Q&A at the Midnight Screening), and I’ll be keeping my eye out for a subtitled version of the TV series that Nyocker! is based on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


The question many people are probably asking themselves of Revolver is whether or not Guy Ritchie is back in cheeky-gangster form after the Swept Away debacle. The answer is yes, but Ritchie is more ambitious than that. Here he is attempting no less than a full-on deconstruction of his first two films both structurally and thematically. Whether or not anyone will actually enjoy the film is another question entirely. It took some pretty big brass balls to do something this ambitious (for Ritchie). The movie does however, collapse under its own weight somewhere around the halfway point. Deconstruction is perhaps too big a goal for films as shallow as Guy Ritchies. The man is most known as the best of the Quentin Tarantino rip-offs with an even bigger emphasis on style-over-substance.

Fresh off the Transporter 2, Jason Statham is a bit more nuanced as Jake Green than Frank the Driver. He has switched to a pinstriped suit (which he is always wearing) and has a lot of hair on his head and a beard. He is the typical calm and collected type, a Statham specialty perfected in both Lock Stock… and Snatch. But in Revolver, Jake has more of an edge. He constantly doubts everything around him and is very much on edge internally and closterphobic to boot. Jake wasa low level thug who went to prison after his boss betrayed him. After a 7 year stint where he studied gaming theory and the art of the con from two anonymous inmates, he aspires to new heights in Londons gambing underworld. He is immediately successful upon his release from prison, amassing massive amounts of cash, and hurting he ex-boss by taking much of his money in a serious of showy and audacious bets. It all goes to hell however, when he is blackmailed by two mysterious loan-sharks and forced (for incredibly convoluted reasons) to work for them, starting a massive war between the Britsh and the Chinese gangs in the city. Frank goes from issuing gaming lectures right out of John Dahl's Rounders to questioning whether or not he is in fact the 'sucker.' This is one of the best stengths of the film.

Ray Liotta plays a reckless and unstable crime boss. If flying into red-faced rage while spitting on your underlings is the path to power, it is quite obvious how Liotta rose to where he is. But even Liotta is a small fish in the sea next to the mysterious Gold, a Kaiser Soze type who has an Edna Mode woman handle his business arrangements with the mid-level crime bosses. You know right off, that a live wire such as Liotta doesn’t stand a chance in the con-game, but Liotta chews up the role (and the scenery) with gusto and is a pleasure to watch, even it he often is wearing a skin-tight leopard skin speedo which wouldn’t look out of place on Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast.

Another stand out in the film is a sniper (Mark sorter looking like a cross between Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub) who experiences a change of heart in one crucial scene. What follows is Revolvers best sequence, not surprisingly, a highly stylized shoot out.

Revolver is a chess game within a chess game, within a chess game. At some point you may ask yourself whether or not it is actually worth trying to keep up with the film and just enjoy one implausible scene after another. Take for example the 3 day timeline the film sets out with. The wardrobe and exotic-location changes on the loan sharks (Vincent Pastore and Andre 3000, both very comfortable with this material, are clearly enjoying themselves) alone would take a pretty serious level of co-ordination.

Part of the fun is to see just how far Ritchie is going to go after he has jumped the (loan) shark. One interesting thing to note is that Ritchie has also turned down the humour here, make no mistake there are laughs in the film, but things are not played as broadly as Lock, Stock… or Snatch.

Revolver shameless rips of from Mamet’s many con-game films, The Usual Suspects, Fight Club and P.T. Anderson’s Hard Eight. I kept being reminded of Donald Kaufman’s screenplay in Adaptation for some reason. The operatic and ambiguous finale is bound to test the patience of the multiplex audience, but hey, I enjoyed the ride, it is excessive and silly fun told in the snappy language Ritchie has been developing for his humourous gangster confections.


Five minutes into Caché you are still looking at the same unobtrusive city street in a upscale treed neighborhood. The credits crawl across the screen one letter at a time. Why does this feel ominous and forboding, when nothing is actually happening yet? Well that is because you are in the latest Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf) film, and that is what Haneke does best.

Georges (Daniel Auteuil), his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky) live happy and are well provided for. They are upper middle-class French liberals who have a house decorated almost entirely with books, and dinner parties with lots of wine and witty French intellectual friends. Georges remarks at one point to his mother that things are well. Even if there are no highs, there are no lows either. The family begins to receive a series of anonymous video tapes dropped off at their front doorstep. On the tapes are images of their house. Nothing is happening (the opening shot of the film) but it is creepy to have someone filming you. They go to the police, but the police won’t do anything until something actually happens. When a video of Georges’ old family home shows up, things get even creepier. First, because the voyeur seems to know something of Georges past and second, because the tape is wrapped in a sheet of paper with a crayon drawing of a face with a smear of red. Georges begins havnig unsettling and violent dreams of himself as a boy witnessing another boy cutting the head off of a chicken. Anne begins to get on edge, not just from the video terrorism, but also because Georges seems to be unwilling to talk with her on the subject. The strain on their formerly bump-less marriage is palpable.

Over the course of its two-hour runtime, Caché, using Haneke’s effective minimalist narrative approach, deals with issues of responsibility, trust, honesty, guilt, blame, terrorism and racism. All of these are shown as personal, but the subtext swims in these issues in the collective cultural sense. It is a savage attack on the archetypical French liberal bourgeois. The film brings a form of terror right to the doorstep in a scene, where Georges and Anne cannot find their son one evening. While their panic rises, on a TV in the background between them, there is news footage of some sort of vague middle-eastern violence with people and children covered in blood. The strain of terror on normal people is transformative and ugly. That most of the impending fear in the film is delivered through means of mass communication, the video and television medium specifically, is a fascinating subject. And Haneke gives it a thorough look, even as we watch from a distant vantage point. A point which is underscored by the final extended shot of the film.

Caché succeeds brilliantly because it manages to keep you on the edge in perpetual apprehension and dread, watching normal folks go about their mundane daily lives with an aura of fear layered over everything. The 9/11 allusions here are impossible to miss, this may just be the best 9-11 film since the Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour. Casual and vindictive acts commited in the past, for whatever reason (or even lack-thereof) come home to roost on Georges, not unlike events with America and the middle east. Make no mistake though, this isn’t some first year college diatribe on the global political climate.

Haneke is equally interested in the characters in this film, particularly Georges transformation of disconnected, aloof liberal to vindictive and harsh conservative. It is a complex transformation and to get into it would involve a lot of spoilers, so suffice it to say, there is a brilliant performance from Daniel Auteuil. Juliette Binoche is relegated to very much a supporting role, but she brings a lot to the table as a woman consumed with fear and feeling any bonds of marriage being stripped away from lack of communication.

There is violence in Caché (one act caused several members in the audience to shriek in horror) and it is, abrupt and chilling, not unlike an act of modern terrorism.

A Little Trip To Heaven

“Why is God in Heaven and The Devil underneath the Ground?” is a question posed by A Little Trip to Heaven, a small scale, noirish mix of drama and thriller set in early 1980s Minnesota. “Because it is easier to just to lay down than to it is to fly” is the answer.

The film opens with three unusually staged vehicular crashes, which couldn’t be further from say Michael Bay or Johnathon Mostow style mayhem. These accidents are filmed with stark beauty and the weight of crunching metal and glass. Arriving on the scene of one of these accidents, involving a city bus, is insurance investigator Holt (Forrest Whitaker). He gives a speech to the passengers, some of whom may have climbed on after the accident looking to get in on a possible lawsuit against the city. With the speech Holt plays both good cop and bad cop, sounding more like a Mamet style grift, than an insurance adjustors dry duty. Nearly all the passengers shuffle off the bus because of it. His boss (Peter Coyote) quickly drops an assignment to investigate the death of a petty scam-artist in remote and crumbling North Hastings, Minnesota. It seems that Kelvin Anderson died after ramming his tan coloured Malibu into a tunnel wall and his body was burned to a crisp . The local police are convinced it is an open and shut case, as Kevin’s drivers licence is found, the plates on the car match, and on the other side of the tunnel lives his sister Isold.

Holt is of course immediately suspicious because the charred body is conveniently unidentifiable and Isold (Julie Stiles), the beneficiary of the $1 Million dollar policy, is skittish, nervous and wasn’t even suspecting her brothers visit. Then there is Isold’s husband Fred who is ominously cheerful and nearly all of his body-language is vaguely threatening. This guy has wife-beater written all over him. Holt’s investigation digs up a number of dirty little secrets, as he attempts to get to the bottom of the things. At the same time, he begins to sympathize with the plight of crushing poverty, which defines the lives of Isold, Fred and her 6 year-old son.

Icelandic Director Baltasar Kormákur gives us a Minnesota that is much, much different than say the similarly set neo-noir, Fargo. A Little Trip To Heaven is stylized, decaying, alienating, and lacking almost completely in that down home cheery warmth that characterized the Coen Brother’s masterpiece. The look of the film is all driving rain, wet, slushy snow, barren landscapes of rusty power-lines, spongy permafrost and broken down buildings. It is filmed mainly at night or in grey, desaturated daylight. There is a delightfully odd, twangy soundtrack, which plays counterpoint to the otherworldly feel of the rest of the film.

The film wants to re-define the modern noir structure, and it is partly successful at that. It jettisons the Femme Fatale, and recasts the role as a vulnerable, damaged, perpetually on-edge woman who is never in control. Our hard boiled investigator is anything but that. Forrest Whitaker essays a stand-offish and awkward man who is sharp and competent but is beginning to get a distaste for the nature of his work. He is
crying out for scarred Isold and her lot in life, but still has his job to do.

Ambiguous morality weighs heavily on every character in A Little Trip to Heaven. Holt is not above lying, impersonating police, or breaking and entering to do his investigation but he is a generally likable guy. Insurance adjusting is cast in a viscously negative light, perfectly tuned to the Regan-era setting. The Quality Life Insurance Company runs banal, fear driven commercials are laced with a paternal sense of comfort if you come into their fold. The company is several times compared to a casino, where the house always wins. This is captured no better than Peter Coyote’s false sympathy towards a policy holder whom he convinces to sign on the dotted line for a only a paltry fraction of their rightfully allowed amount. Halfway through his canned explanation to the widow, he is passing her the Kleenex. Surely this is just as evil as a man willing to commit arson or murder for money? Lives are wrecked in both cases.

One weakness in the film is that the characters are not well enough realized. The actors all carry themselves well, however, the performances are all very internal and are often at the service of the plot, which you would expect to play better as a novel than a film. On one hand the film is very straightforward in plot, on the other hand, it is surreal and unsettling in execution. This style will surely alienate many of the viewers, but I found it unusually gripping. For better or worse, the film attempts to ground down excitement or titillation in favour of moody bleakness. This is no better observed than the ending which reaches for the sublime, but is curiously just, well, there.I am doubtful there are any commercial prospects for this movie as it plays bleak, slow, with little action, and walks the line between a police procedural and a moody character driven drama.

If you like commercial styled films which are ambitious in their attempts to go experimental directions, give A Little Trip to Heaven a try, it is highly unusual.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Jack-of-all-Trades superstar Takeshi Kitano makes an ambitious attempt to deconstruct, reconstruct and just have fun riffing on his various celebrity personas in his new film promising 500% Takeshi. Kitano rides the Spike Jones/Charlie Kaufman wave with a movie that defies narrative and whips reality and fiction into well…something more of a bauble than the epic deconstruction Kitano is (I think) attempting. But then again, maybe it is me that is the ignoramus. (More on this later…)

Kitano plays a fictionalized caricature of himself, a conceited, phoney diva/superstar who walks onto a TV set, fires a gun once or twice and then gets flowers from the cast for doing such a bang-up job. He ignores his entourage and imagines his publicist naked. He is hounded by stalkers, gift-bearers and by people who just want a piece of him, or want strings to be pulled in casting decisions. Kitano begins to wonder if life would be easier as say a convenience store clerk or a cab driver, or even as a less established actor. The film then fragments and follows the several different imagined Takeshi’s around. Sometimes they hold one of these roles, sometimes several. The Takeshis interact with one another as well as many of the actors, comedians and performance artists who have previously worked with Kitano in the past, each of these playing often multiple roles in a decisively non-linear narrative. It plays out like a good stand-up comedy routine, frequently coming back to several details or situations, which get more funny through repetition and changing context.

On this side of the ocean, Kitano is probably best known for his art-Yakuza pictures (Sonatine, Hana-Bi), as well as his recent remake of Zatoichi or worse yet, his villain role in Johnny Mnemonic and his badly dubbed visage in Spike TV’s Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (the heavily edited American version of Takeshi’s Castle), coming into a movie like this with background on “Beat” Takeshi and Takeshi Kitano (and the distinction between the two) is going to make-or-break the experience. Almost every scene is layered with at least two or three in-jokes. This is a far more complicated territory to navigate than, for example, Kevin Smith’s similar for-our-crowd-film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I’m certainly not an expert on the man, so I’ll fess up to being a bit out of my depth here. I enjoyed the film only in a muted fashion, possibly directly proportional to my knowledge of the man and his career.

Takeshi’s is all very heady and complex, even to the point of referencing other autobiographical films like for instance he is often dressed as a clown which would point to Fellini and 8½. Far too often, however, the film resorts to the joke of pulling out a lot of guns and shooting everything in sight. Sure it gets a hearty laugh or two, but grows a bit tiresome as the film goes on.

**Note: For a thorough primer on the man, which I recommend you do if you have any intentions of seeing this film, I direct you to one of the best Kitano Websites online: www.kitanotakeshi.com.


With all the X-Files style shows shot in Canada, it is strange that only Vincenzo Natali is making attempts at slick and moody head-trip science fiction on the feature film level. Enter Robin Aubert, French Canadian actor turned director. This is his first feature and it will never be used as by the Quebec Tourism Bureau to drum up business for small town Quebec. The town of Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés draws easy comparisons to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. That Aubert is a fan is more than obvious, except here, the locals are even more withdrawn, angsty and antisocial.

Flavien Juste is an orphan who has grown up into Weekly World News styled tabloid reporter. He is sent by his editor-slash-adopted father to investigate a small town in Nothern Quebec. The town has an abnormally high number of missing persons, with the supernatural being the expected cause. He is sent with a companion, his best friend and the publications photographer, to bring back a whopper of a story with the goal of restoring some class and funds the ailing publication.

It takes less than 1 hour in town before they encounter an abandoned and creepy gas-station, a lodge run by two extremely odd twin sisters (who share the same name), a steakhouse in which the owner serves the customers in lingerie and an effective jump scare or two in the form of a ethereal corpse bride. Oh and the photographer along with the car go missing too. Flavien’s only hope of figuring things out, and not being assaulted or arrested, lie either in a young man with Downs Syndrome or an attractive young woman who appears to be at odds with the rest of the towns folk and has the odd haibt of taking baths in a tub perched in the middle of the rapids of a small creek.

Where Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés is really strong in its striking visuals and sumptuous set-design, it is often lacking in narrative flow. Think an MTV styled Alejandro Jodorowsky and you are on the right track. The town is a cornucopia of bizarre inhabitants, most of them menacing and unfriendly. The acting is solid across the board, with the exception of a duo of 1950s dressed street thugs, which are played more for comic relief than menace (or it could just be bad subtitling). Then there are subjective cut-aways to the strange factory and creepy goings on, which are more convoluted than mysterious. The film is wrapped up somewhat with a final set of revelations which attempt to put humpty dumpty back together, but by then, I was pretty exhausted with the poor narrative flow and sprawling story. There are some great ideas regarding individual identity, the flesh, the spirit and human connection, but it just doesn’t come together in a compelling enough package to warrant a full recommendation. I can’t fault it for being an ambitious first feature and will be looking forward to anything else Aubert has a hand in.

A History of Violence

**Allow me a bit of a rant here**
Fuck You Mr. Cronenberg for not showing up to your own film at this years Off-Gala screening. That's two films in a row (Spider) you were a no show, and this is the town which has supported you since day 1. Not Classy. I loved your Film though. **End Rant**

A new Cronenberg film is always an event. The Canadian Auteur delivers every single time and A History of Violence continues his stunning string of successes. With this film he continues to explore the darker regions of the human psyche, but without the technology melding of the flesh (Crash, eXistenZ, The Fly). Gone is the gloomy and foreboding atmosphere which typify his work. In fact, this is the sunniest Cronenberg film to date, set in charming small town middle-america complete with diners, lemon pie, baseball and rich fall colours.

I suspect that subsequent viewings of A History of Violence will reveal more layers to the subtext, but one of the charms of watching it the first time is that you never, ever know where it is going to go.

It begins in pure genre territory, in fact, the beginning is not unlike the opening of From Dusk Till Dawn of all films, following two tough-guys in a murder fuelled road trip. Quickly shifting gears, we meet the Stall family, hard working restaurateur dad (Viggo Mortensen), smart and confident lawyer mom (a sublime Maria Bello), and their two school-aged children. The family gets along quite well, with the only visible sign of trouble being with Jack being bullied at school. He has been handling the bullies locker-room intimidation with a self deprecating wit not often used in these types of teenage situations, but the situation is simmering to a boil. Back to the murdering thugs, as they arrive at the quaint little town and into Tom’s Diner. A hold-up is followed by gunplay and an incredible act of heroism on Tom’s part. This particular scene brings Cronenberg’s direction into sharp focus with its shocking, graphic and bloody display. Tom becomes a bit of a CNN celebrity as he gets his proverbial 15 minutes of fame. He is demure and shy, fitting with his small town lifestyle. However, shifting gears again, the TV exposure eventually attracts another comic-book-styled unsavoury into town (a one-eyed Ed Harris, in fine form) who claims to have a past with Tom. Meanwhile, confused by dad’s violent heroics, Jack unleashes his inner demons onto the school bully squad.

The path of the film could go a number of ways at this point. Does he play it like Egoyan in The Sweet Hereafter, a town dealing with violent tragedy? Nope. Does he play it like Oliver Stones satire of the media and violence a la Natural Born Killers? Wrong again. Instead Cronenberg plays it like an archetypical Western in a contemporary setting and a character driven one to boot. Plus, he manages to heighten the genre aspects and also the dramatic aspects with no loss to either approach. In other words he is able to have his cake and eat it too.
Take the complexity of both the leads. In no small part due to superb performances from Viggo Mortenson (No Aragorn or Hidalgo in sight here) Maria Bello and young Ashton Holms. But through two sex scenes alone, he manages to put where the film stands at that point completely in context. Both scenes are very, very steamy (and crammed with subtext) and it was a masterful stroke to get both of them by the MPAA watchdogs. That tidbit alone adds a hint of meta to the proceedings further mystifying the bizarre dichotomy that is sex and violence in modern-day America.

Demons lurk just beneath the surface of a thin veneer of community. But the scary thing is the fact that here it is so casually accepted. The end scene is quietly haunting and burns with a searing intelligence on the state of the union. A History of Violence opens wide September 30th, and it may just find the massive audience it is going after. It is already a classic entry into the Cronenberg canon.

Evil Aliens

Jake West, a self-professed Phantasm nut and director of the splat-stick horror-sci-fi-comedy Evil Aliens, is not afraid to wear his references on his sleeve. For those paying attention, his film draws heavily from the template of Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, and combines a smattering sample platter of Brain Dead, Alien, Predator, Evil Dead II, Krull, Near Dark, Jaws and Night of the Living Dead to his own finely tuned sense of self-awarenes in the genre. And to push the envelope a tiny bit further, he adds a dollop or two of gratuitous sex (often inter-terrestrial).

The ridiculously simple story (with tongue firmly in cheek) takes a while to set up, but when things get going, the splat really hits the fan. A sexy reporter for an alien abduction trast TV show follows up on a lead about an alien abduction in the Welsh countryside which may have resulted in an alien pregnancy. She gathers her crew of misfits including the testosterone laden cameraman and boom operator, a gay actor and a blonde stripper to do the 're-enactment' scenes, and an internet space-sightings geek who is more than just a bit similar to Peter Jackson's Derek. Of course the abductee lives in an ramshackle farmhouse with three exceedingly hick brothers on an island that gets surrounded by water as the tides come in. As one characters puts it resoundingly well: "How'd I not see that one coming!"

The aliens exist mainly as cannon fodder for the increasingly gory and elaborate set pieces featuring an array of farm equipment (occasionally accompanied by the appropriate musical number) and familiair zombie-hunting weaponry. West comes up with a startlingly novel use for a full sized crucifix. The interior of alien space-ship is explored both for purposes of skewering abduction-and-probing paranoia and a hilarious riff on Disney's Flight of The Navigator and the old Red Neck Rampage video game.

Evil Aliens is very, very heavy on the in-jokes, and will probably play best to fans of the genre (and will require multiple viewings to catch all of West's verbal and visual references), but there is enough in there as well for the uninitiated to have a good laugh. The only thing that is keeping it from becoming a classic in its own right is that it often plays as a greatest hits record than standing fully on its own.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


There is no doubt that Tideland is a Terry Gilliam film. All the elements are there: a tragic reality intertwined with a dark faerie tale, tangential flights of fancy, delightfully odd supporting characters which help or hinder or just confuse our heroine. And of course, the meticulous attention to costume and set design which all together add up to a familiar sense of Gilliam branded whimsey.

Jeliza-Rose is a child perhaps too perky and well groomed to be raised by burned out rocker parents. But then again, she is more parent than child, as she diligently prepares mom and dad’s heroin needle ‘vacations’ with some competence. She is also cautious of dangling cigarettes or awkward posture of dad as he enjoys his trip. She gets though the day by talking to her array of imaginary friends, a collection of doll heads each vying for her attention and the coveted spot of being perched on her finger tip. When dad decides to take her to visit her grandmother out on the picturesque Saskatchewan prairie, Jeliza-Rose wanders the wheat fields looking for adventure in her own imagination.

She stumbles across the eccentric neighbors. She befriends Dickens, a handicapped man who ‘swims’ through the wheat (in wetsuit and mask) in his submarine and hunts the shark which periodically rides by on the railway. She also has run-ins with Dickens shrewish sister, Dell, an eccentric taxidermist who dresses in a witch-like costume which is a cross between an Italian mourning shroud and a bee-keepers outfit. Jeliza-Rose’s growing feelings for Dickens and his treatment from his sister threaten a show down for his attention between self-reliant little girl and tyrant Dell.

So what went wrong with Tideland? Well, it feels as though it should have been a short film, but got blown up to feature length. Gilliam films tend to find their strengths in his rough-around-the-edges and everthing-but-the-kitchen-sink narrative style. But oh does it hurt this picture, where too many scenes feel redundant or unnecessarily long. The doll-headed characters are never fully realized, and the references to Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz feel more tacked on then fully enmeshed into the story.

The wide prairies are perhaps the wrong venue for Gilliam, as his oddball costumes and characters feel curiously dwarfed by the wide open sky and endless sea of wheat. His style worked better in the closterphobic environs of Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Twelve Monkeys but here it unfortunately looks like well-shot high-school drama theatre.

Tideland also rests completely on Jodelle Ferland’s shoulders. She is in every scene and she even does the voices for all of her doll heads. It is a pity that she is not quite the actress to carry the whole film. Her performance is adequate, but not compelling enough to add any weight. Scenes go on for too long, with many sequences feeling redundant. Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly exist only in glorified cameos. Tilly, nearly unrecognizable as a bloated and disgusting chocoholic junkie, has so little screen time, if you blink you’ll miss her.

The final revelation treads the same territory as the marriage of grim reality with fantasy so well achieved in the final scene in Time Bandits. In fact one could look at Tideland as a (far too extended) riff on that final scene, and sadly, litte else. There are some elements that work, but you could squeeze these into perhaps 25-30 minutes at most.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic

My familiarity with Sarah Silverman pretty much starts and stops with her subversive and sublime segment in the recent documentary: The Aristocrats. While the bulk of the comedians there are taking scatological humour to the breaking point, Silverman turns the joke into an awkward confessional with herself as a charmingly naïve rape victim (Hey, it’s all in the delivery). It is funny on its own, but also because it is 180 degrees from everyone else.

For her one-woman show, Jesus is Magic, she capitalizes on her own good looks, building a persona which is both Jewish spoiled-brat-princess and ditzy young starlet, not unlike the one Ana Farris played in Sophia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Her deadpan in-character delivery implodes the entire notion of starfucking, as popular culture and media look to pseudo-celebrities to comment on racism, religion, and global tragedy.

Not only that, she gets a lot of mileage out of “I can say this because I’m beautiful and white,” which is sure to rub at whatever is left of the veneer of political correctness and offend those unwilling to see these hypocrisies repeated again and again within America (and back-patting 'aren't we great' Canadian culture which is amusingly represented by the the self-congratulatory circle-wank, complete with a multiude of black&white hands, of this years Toronto Film Festival promo-bumper shown prior to each TIFF screening). Silverman wittily deconstructs ‘degrees of racism’, and runs with the notion of: If I can make fun of Jews because I’m Jewish, why can’t I make fun of any other minority out there. Remember that scene from Office Space where Michael Bolton is loudly signing to gangster rap while stuck in traffic, only to turn it down and go rigid when a black guy pulls up in the car next to him? Silverman nails that feeling again and again in fresh and interesting ways. She drags phoniness into the limelight by being as blissfully phony as she can.

There are sketches and musical bits in between interspersed which break up the simple flow filming her live stage-act. The opening sketch where she listens to the success of a couple of her friends, while simmering with awkward jealousy is winning in a Christopher Guest sort of way. Likewise, the opening “I want to be a star” musical number (complete with 1950’s bad-bluescreen matteing) and eschewing hiring Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman or Sandra Bullock for her show, because she is “better than those twats!” perfectly set up her tone. But later sketch material cuts away from the stage and only undermines the sophistication of her style by too (painfully) obviously underlining some of her best material.

After the show, during the Q&A someone asked why after Mocking blacks, Asians, Handicapped, Midgets and the Elderly, did she not go after fat people. Her response “Oh, they’re sensitive.” It’s all in the delivery.
Somebody ought to hook up Sarah and Todd Solondz. That would be something.