Thursday, January 25, 2007

KBT Presents: THE 25TH HOUR

Spike Lee's 2002 film was one of the first to dive head-first into artistic post 9/11 fray. It is aspect of American cinema area which is as crowded and diverse indeed (2006 alone drips with it: Apocalypto, The Departed, Little Children, Miami Vice, Children of Men, Babel and of course United 93 all deal with it implicitly or explicitly.) I still believe that Spike Lee actually made the definitive statement (if not the most subtle) on the subject in a film released a mere 15 months after the towers fell. How is that for 'too soon'? Perhaps this is why the film seemed to be completely ignored or written off at the time of its release as a bit of a curio: A Spike Lee Joint starring mainly white people (not to underestimate Rosario Dawson's massive presence here) that takes place over a single day.

Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is out on bail for his very last day before being sentenced possibly to a lifetime in prison for dealing narcotics in his New York neighborhood. He doesn't know how he was set up or who did it, but is more or less resigned to his impending fate, even if it is thickly shaded with anxiety: His future is simultaneously known (prison) and unknown (how will his skinny young frame be abused during institution).

Biting back the fear, he instead rounds up all of his friends for one last party on the town before he is to be sent off. His friends are deeply upset for Monty, but are also caught up in their own problems, Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) lives a shabby and lonely existence, and harbors an attraction for one of his students (Anna Paquin). Frank (Barry Pepper) hides behind the veneer of his stock-broker existence and a comforting machismo. Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), Monty's girlfriend, deals with the notion that Monty may be blaming her for his predicament while knowing she will lose him to prison shortly. And Monty's ex-firefighter dad (Brian Cox) wants to spend as much time with his son as possible and maybe offer him a piece of advice or two. The cast here is really all in peak form, many of them

The story centers around the lead up to a night in an upscale New York Club, the party in the club and the aftermath of the party, with each of the characters going through a tough journey, mainly through David Benioff's stellar dialogue, adapted from his own novel. With Lee refracting the story overtly through Americas 21st century tragedy, to the point of having a pivotal scene filmed in a high-rise overlooking the actual WTC ground-zero clean up operation. His typical stew of racial tensions in the Big Apple dovetail nicely into the story, and give Norton a knock-out of a melt-down scene at one point in the film.

The unusual conclusion to the story is certainly reflective of how collective America will have to come to terms with the 'new version of the world' post 9/11. It is a remarkable achievement accomplished so soon after the events. The fact that you can watch this film 10 times and take 10 completely different things away from it is a testament of why this film should be re-evaluated. I believe it is one of those overlooked classics that will be canonized 10 years or more from now.

Whether or not you've seen this film, it bears a 2nd or 3rd or 4th look. Come out Thursday January 25th for one of the great films of the young new millennium. Drinks at 8pm. Showtime at 8:30pm.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

KBT Presents: A Case for Alien3

The Alien films have always been showcase films for directors of emerging talent. Ridley Scott became an A-list director based on the first films success. James Cameron may have made some big waves with The Terminator, but he cemented his name with Aliens. His film (which has aged a bit poorer than the original) decisively proved that a sequel, written and directed by a different team than the original does not have to be a step down (just a step different). David Fincher went from directing music videos to film director with his much-maligned third entry in the series. His film suffered both from the studio taking the film away from him, and the fans of the action-packed second film crying foul (very, very loudly). He probably redeemed himself with those very same fans with by making 1999's Fight Club. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who was sort of the French Terry Gilliam at the time, and had already made the dark whimsical tales of Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. He was given a script from Joss Whedon of all folks, who was somewhere in between Buffy and Toy Story. Even though the casting of the film is quite good, and Jeunet would go on to make Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, both cross-over successes from France to North America, I'm not a fan of the forth entry. And the less said about Alien Vs. Predator the better. That disaster is more fan wishmongernig (and bad pandering) than an actual film. Even though most fans of the series would rather that the powers that be had stopped after James Cameron's Aliens, I'm here to argue that Alien3 should be re-evaluated.

If you like your genres mashed together, you really cannot do worse than the Alien films. The first one perfectly blends the horror film with science fiction. The second one is a whopper of a action film with sprinkles of science fiction and lots of soldier of fortune posturing. This brings us to the third film, a film which really, well...alienated fans of the second film.

Gone is the machismo of the marines or the corporate slime of Paul Reiser's company man, or the maternal angled drama intercut between explosive action set-pieces. Instead, in the opening credits, Newt, the little girl Lt. Ripley worked so hard to save, along with very likable Corporeal Hicks, are both killed in a crash landing of the escape pod on Fury 191. Ripley is alone once more until her unconscious form is picked up by the local residents.

This is where Alien3 is actually very juicy. The script was story was conceived by New Zealand director Vincent Ward who likes to deal with apocalypse and spirituality in his films (See his haunting 1988 time travel film The Navigator or his the sugar-laced maudlin failure What Dreams May Come to see what I mean). Here Ward creates a prison planet where the residents worship some kind of Christian apocalyptic fundamentalism to keep level. It's a precarious balance maintained by a pragmatic doctor (Charles Dance) and bad-ass holy leader (Charles S. Dutton). The movie excels when placing pressure on this ticking time bomb, first with Ripley being the first woman seen in the colony in 20 years. Being that Ripley is pretty stubborn and pretty tough, she has no problem wandering freely through the prison to figure out what is going on. Ripley first gets her head shaved (lice problems in the prison) making her feminine form look like a lanky young boy. She then asks the doctor to perform an autopsy on the little girl to confirm that she didn't get impregnated by any left-over alien face-huggers. This autopsy is grim, and the colony hearkens back to sooty, damp interiors of the Nostromo in the first film. It is like Ward wanted to continually spit in the face of the audience friendly emotions generated in Aliens and I can only guess both he and David Fincher knew they were not going to achieve the perfect balance (not to mention surprise factor) of Alien. So the aim for the grim inevitability your time alive will come to an end. Grim material for a horror film, here the horror is loneliness, regret and inevitable hopelessness. That is actually the strength of Alien3. It deliciously drags out the first act, not unlike the first film, but it does so with the knowledge that the audience this time around knows whats coming. Visual treats abound, such as a cross cut a sombre funeral of an innocent, with the aggressively destructive birth of the alien, this time from a carcass of an Ox.

Hmmm. At this point if you have already visited Alien3, even if it was 15 years ago, you are probably thinking: An Ox? I thought it was from one of the prisoners dogs. You would be right. In the theatrical release, the film was edited all to hell by the studio who booted David Fincher from the film when execs were getting frustrated with how the film was going. Don't get me wrong, there was brilliance in the film that shone through the 'hacked' version which played on the big screens in 1992, even if the Aliens fan-boys cried otherwise. But in 2003, the original editor of the film, Terry Rawlings, reassembled what he believed was the work-print of the film that got David Fincher fired. This is what the film should have been. (Fincher has long since given up on the film, but didn't stand in the way of this 'assembly cut' of the film). Here, the many prisoners of Fury 191 are much more fleshed out. This time around the shaved-headed bunch are not a collection of faceless alien-fodder, but actual characters. The plot plays out quite differently in this version, particularly with the brain addled Golic (Paul McGann) who for no apparent reason just disappears in the theatrical cut. This version is nearly 30 minutes longer, and the atmosphere is more developed. Things flow so much smoother. The turn of the screw is much more tight.

Alien3 has always been terribly underrated as a film, and this 2003 version shows just how damn good the film actually is. Sure it lacks the surprise of the original or the steroids of the second one, but it has a look and feel all its own, with a very different take on the xenomorph creature and how Ripley (and the others) have to deal with it. I mean as much psychologically as the fact that there are no conventional weapons lying around. The religion aspects of the film round things out nicely, as religion was completely absent from its predecessors. Alien3 is an immersive experience (with directorial vision) that should be ranked along those that came before it, rather than be pushed off to the side and ignored.

Take another chance on this film and you will (hopefully) see things that you did not before. Come out Thursday January 17th for cocktails at 8pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

KBT Presents: EXILED

Welcome to the 2007 year and KBT Screening #81. Look a little further down the blog for my favorite films of 2006, most of them from other countries, and many of which had KBT screenings. I will admit that my interesting in foreign cinema started back in the early 1990s when discovering the hyper-violent gunplay cinema of Ringo Lam and John Woo. These movies were all about male-bonding melodrama (at times with Woo, bordering on the operatic) with tough guy bon mots to spare; but they always had a juicy tender centre. But, wait a minute... Perhaps even earlier, I was exposed to those Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef starring spaghetti westerns with my father on VHS in the 1980s. Again the macho-melodrama, this time with seriously cool long takes, tight close-ups and epic posturing against rugged back-drops.
So imagine my surprise to find these two types of film brilliantly combined into an instant-classic Hong Kong crime movies from Johnny To. You see, while John Woo and Ringo Lam wanked around with Hollywood budgets (and Jean-Claude Van Damme) from the mid-1990s onward, only occasionally turning out an fun actioner (Hard Target, Face/Off), To was building a serious gangsters and cops resume spiced with humour (PTU) and serious art-house ambitions (Election). With Exiled he has served up a robust meal of machismo spiced with humour, visual wit, and the niggling poser of how to properly deal with multiple loyalties. Ubiquitous character actor Anthony Wong, looking carries himself like a blend of Humphrey Bogart, Alain Delon and Clint Eastwood, standing out even as several black-bag carrying heavies converge on a whitewashed apartment. A woman with a baby tells the several times that the man they are looking for does not live there. There is to be a hit take place, and the stage is set with a twangy soundtrack and long meaningful glances between the various participants as a battered moving truck winds its way up the narrow streets.
To go further into Exiled it to shed the film of its many delights, needless to say, there is a gangland war about to go down with the Chinese Triads stepping into Macau (The film is set on that island in 1999, just days before Macau reverts back from Portugal to China), but also strangely enough, a heist of sorts, and a big final show-down worthy of the (Italians rendering of the) Wild West. There is even a Japanese Ronin vibe going on during Exiled, but perhaps this is not surprising, as Kurosawa's Yojimbo was itself remade as Sergio Leone's A Fistfull of Dollars.
The Hong Kong shooter film has had its ups and downs since the golden days of the late 1980s to early 1990s, but Exiled is certainly one of the jewels in the crown of the new millennium, even if it occasionally winks a bit slyly at its predecessors.

Come Out Thursday, January 11th and enjoy the film I had more pure fun watching than anything in 2006. Drinks at 8pm. Showtime 8:30pm.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Podcasting Over At

Just a quick note, I've started appearing regularly over at Movie's Podcast. Direct downloads of the Weekly Podcast (usually Monday or Tuesday Evenings) are usually available directly from the main page, or from the sites archives.

My Favorite Films of 2006 (or What To Do on A Lazy New Years Afternoon? Post the Millionth Top 10 list on the Interweb)

The waning days of December leading up to New Years eve sees traditional media and bloggers bombarding their respective media spaces with top 10s for everything. Amusingly (or not), The Reeler even has a top 10 list of top 10 movie lists. Perhaps even more interesting is the LA Times with a survey of how many of the American studio power players as well as the more common folk interact with the glut of media out there. David Hudson over at GreenCineDaily also looks at things from an online perspective. So do you dip into the mainstream pool or follow the long tail? I tend to do a fair bit of both.

The bulk of my Twitch-related content (the non-KBT screenings stuff has all moved over to tends to be viewed on imported DVD (If you want to wear the film-geek badge proudly, you better have an all region DVD player, and it cannot hurt to have DVDBeaver near the top of your FireFox bookmarks). Curiously, all but one of the films on the list below was actually watched in the cinema, proving (in its own small way) there is life in the old darkened house yet - in spite of endless commercials, electronic devices emitting rings, bleeps and back-light-pollution, not to mention the teenage skewed multiplex programming. Adieu 2006.

10. El Aura (Argentina) – A mature fusion of noir stylings, heist structure and a just a wee bit of mysticism, Fabián Bielinsky’s sophomore film was a movie that had so many individual scenes stick with me upon importing the DVD. Multiple viewings are in order to soak up just exactly what was accomplished here. The death of Robert Altman was certainly the most talked about film-wise in 2006, and with good reason considering just a fantastic career, but Bielinskys passing a such a young age (he was 47) so early into a promising career is more tragic. It is sad to think of the many great films that are not to be.

9 The Host (S. Korea) – Could we give any more coverage to a single film in 2006? What movie can withstand the weight of such high expectation? Joon-ho Bong’s blockbuster monster movie devoured the Korean Box Office (and screen counts). It is the film that War of the Worlds should have been (Spielberg toasts things in the end, Bong most certainly does not). The Host and Memories of Murder are required viewing on how to change tone and genre both effortlessly and gracefully.

8 Exiled (HK/China) – Easily the most fun I had in a cinema in 2006, Johnny To’s Exiled is a 180 degree flip from his tense and gritty Election films. Continuing to show the world what the phrase tour-de-force directing is all about To manages to splice macho gangster tropes and Spaghetti Western mise-en-scene into something very special. On top of all this he manages to poke a little fun at the HK guns and triads genre while still crafting one of the best entries. Anthony Wong, who is always top-notch, is a nothing short of a deity here.

7 Little Children (US) – I must admit that In The Bedroom left me more than a little cold for much of its run time. But Todd Field’s choice of adapting a Tom Perotta novel and taking the bombastic Lars Von Trier approach of moral fable-izing America is a winner. Black humour and across-the-board fantastic performances almost render the line between satire and drama moot.

6 King and the Clown (S. Korea) – I liked the other Korean Box-Office monster as well. A lot. I cannot think of a movie as relentlessly entertaining as this one all year. I think I watched the entire film with a grin from ear to ear. Shakespeare has never been brought to the big screen like this, and the world is a better place for it.

5 Prague (Denmark) – Can a story be told entirely through body language? Prague makes a bold and successful attempt to do just that. While he may have been a bit soggy as the Bond villain, Mads Mikkelsen is all presence and subtlety in Ole Christian Madsen’s tale of a crumbling relationship on foreign soil.

4 Brand Upon the Brain! (Canada) – Guy Maddin’s giddily insane self-portrait set in Iceland and featuring (of all things) brain-fluid harvesting would have been Number 1 on this list if it was not so similar to his previous film Cowards Bend the Knee. Despite not necessarily breaking new ground, Maddin pushes the exhibition art-form by screening the film with a live Orchestra, Narrator, Foley Artists and Castrato. The most unique theatrical experience for sure.

3 The New World (US) – OK, so technically this is a 2005 release, but most of us regular film-goers had to wait for the ‘cut’ version to expand outside of major US cities. Even missing 15 minutes Terrance Mallick’s epic and intimate retelling of the Pocahontas legend is sublime. I wish there was more of this big-budget arthouse fare at the multiplex, oh wait a minute…see #2.

2 The Fountain (US) – Unfairly savaged both critically and commercially, Darren Aronofsky’s often delayed film was a heady fusion of poetry and grand science fiction, religion and science, love and death. Was there a film that split its audience more than this one all year? I have little doubt that this film will be highly regarded 20 years from now much like certain other science fiction masterpieces which were met with questioning looks back in their day.

1 Pan's Labyrinth (Mexico) – Guillermo del Toro’s movie, for me, felt as hyped as The Host, with its bow in Competition at Cannes and when I caught up with it many moths later in Toronto, it fully met and exceeded expectations. Simple and straightforward as any children’s story, powerful and harrowing visually, and ultimately it packed a powerful closing punch, both emotionally and in dry consideration of faith. While 2005’s Chronicles of Narnia was offensive insofar as it was about as bland as bleached flour, El Laberinto del Fauno was sort of the Spanish re-imaging that got everything right.


I'll leave you with a grab-bag of other films from 2006 which did not make the list...Links go to Twitch Reviews where available.

Honorable Mention: A Prairie Home Companion, Children of Men, Miami Vice, Behind The Mask, The Departed, The Banquet, Brick, The Descent, Cashback

Curiosities: Curse of the Golden Flower (spectacle) Blood Tea & Red String (feminine whimsy), Apocalypto (fetishistic gory period actioner), Naboer & Hard Candy (both stylish psychological thrillers), Fido (Zombie Comedy), Borat (gleefully pushes the envelope of tastelessness), Severance (confident horror-comedy), Un Crime (Noir), Funky Forest (?), Special (alt-comicbook comedy), Idiocracy (Blunt Satire), Princess (challenging anti-whimsy, violence and pornography), Shortbus (it's feel-good hardcore sex drama!).

Animated - A Scanner Darkly.

Sequel/Remake - Clerks II, The Departed

Sad I missed - Marie Antoinette, When the Levees Broke, Paris Je T'aime, War of Flowers, A Dirty Carnival, The Queen, Taxidermia, Inland Empire, Volver, 4, CSA: Confederate States of America, Letters From Iwo Jima.

Some messes I would have rather avoided - Mission Impossible III, Macbeth. Invisible Waves has to be the biggest disappointment of the year - a total misfire of all that talent!)

A few 'Top-10-ish' films caught in 2005, but were released wider in 2006, in case you are wondering. - The Pusher Trilogy, Mindgame, El Metodo, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, The Proposition.