Thursday, June 04, 2009

KBT Presents: Smiley Face

ne of the films from 2007, a particular strong year in film, that sort of slipped under the radar was the asinine yet thoroughly endearing Smiley Face. A meandering script with a barely finished quality becomes a work of art due to the acting talent on Anna Faris. While I can take or leave the Scary Movie parodies, her small role as a ditzy starlet (rumored to be a parody of Cameron Diaz) in Lost in Translation made a big impression, as did her tiny part as a leggy blonde uber-bitch, in Lucky McKee’s May.

In Smiley Face she is not shuffled to a supporting role but rather gets to anchor the entire film, as Jane F., a dimunitive and frumpy stoner with eyes far-off and ponderously crinkled brow. The movie is unsympathetic, framed in such a way for the audience to laugh at her, not with her. Jane is high for the duration of the movie, about a day in 'real time.'  Starting off a full on pot bender at 9:00am, (bong, Joints, cupcakes) she is barely on earth.  This is shown wonderfully by her voice-over narration, her flash-backs and even her waking dream sequences.  The 'plot' of the film is her attempting to complete her 'to do list' of mundane objectives:  Pay her bills, go to an audition, etc. which become staggering quests (with plenty of tangential meanderings) due to her reduced capacity to, well, much of anything. Director Gregg Araki exploits her state of mind with all sorts of the structural goofiness and the film starts to blend together in a series of hazy short-circuits (a particular strength of the movie that plays with the stoner mind-set, and why Smiley Face has been hailed as one of the better flicks to offer subjective-experience of being baked).

The epitome of which is this scene while Jane is waiting for the wife of an ex-professor to hand her the original manuscript of Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto (don’t asked it is easier to watch the movie to find out how it gets there). While waiting on the couch, she sees a photo of a cob of corn and manages to make some interesting cognitive connections to how best to express her love of lasagna. This is done in pantomime with the help of voice over, and you can just see the bubbly enthusiasm on Faris’ face. The fact that she is like this for the entire film (with the occasional paranoid outburst) is a feat all in itself. The performance is pretty fearless. You love her as you laugh at her and you want to hug her even though you’d probably react like many of the other characters if you met Jane F. in real life - that is with annoyance or outright disdain. Despite its low budget, happy-shiny aesthetic, it flirts with going to pretty dark places (many of Gregg Araki’s other films which explicitly go there, the flirting with it here is more satisfying). Oddball and unexpected acting, particularly a woman in this type of role, endear me to watching movies and continually seeking out gems like this one.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


For over 75 years, Disney has been the dominant force in animation in the United States. To the point where the animated film is generally understood to be made for children (or occasionally for the whole family) and they come off the assembly line tick, tick tick, with animal side kicks and princesses and musical soliloquies. Occasionally slightly more subversive animators such as Ralph Bakshi or Don Bluth manage to get a film off the ground at a different Movie Studio, but rare is the animated film that is not aimed at the younger set. Sure all the big studios turn out computer generated blockbusters with an army of digital artists, but rare is the feature length feature that is hand-crafted by a single individual. I can think of maybe half a dozen at most, and nearly all of them made in the past 15 years. They end up looking alien and fragile compared to the monster-sized blockbusters from Pixar and Dreamworks.

And that brings us to 2008's Sita Sings The Blues. Unusual does not even begin to encompass it.

Director Nina Paley has morphed a classic piece of Hindu mythology, The Ramayana, into a cunningly crafted and offbeat chick-flick. A chick-flick with blood, war, treachery and monkey warriors. It tells the story of Rama and his exile at his father's request (via a scheming step-mother, natch) and the troubles of living with his wife in exile. A kidnapping by a neighboring King complicates matters further by instigating a blood bath where nobody gets out unscathed.

The narrative alternates three parallel 'stories' to form the gist of the Hindu tale: A scratchy hand drawn autobiography of the director's crumbling long distance relationship as she futilely attempts to stick by her man despite his indifference; a water-cooler styled conversation between three Indian thirty-somethings chatting casually about the myths specific details with Monty Python 'moving cardboard' collages; and gorgeous musical numbers set to music of obscure 1930s jazz-pop vocalist Annette Hanshaw which are accompanied by graphics rendered in Macromedia flash animation. While all the threads are woven in a complicated yet effective manner (plugging some holes and tightening the scope of a piece of massive Indian mythology), it is Ms. Hanshaw's fantastic voice that becomes the take-away memory of the piece.

Sita is a one of a kind experience that has the inspiration to fuse together things that aren't obvious fits. Like chocolate and peanut-butter, clam and tomato juice, or cola and ice-cream, you'll walk away buzzing pleasantly with the combination.

Come out Thrusday, March 19th @ 8pm for cocktails and chat prior to an 8:30pm showtime. Sita runs a lean 81 minutes, so expect plenty of off-the-wall trailers in front of the show.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Folks that spend too much time watching and thinking about movies are often the first to complain (well, more like moan) about the onslaught of remakes of classic films that has been more intense in the past decade.  However, if one looks for the positive effect on this phenomenon (which is not necessarily new and has in fact been going on since the early 'silent' period when filmmaking was still new) it is that a bad remake can still call attention to a good classic film that may have been highly influential but is more or less fogotten by the culture at large.  Case in point:  Joseph Sargent's heist caper The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three.  It is due in 2009 for a big budget hollywood remake with Tony Scott directing and Denzel Washington, John Travolta and James Gandolfini (and glossy lit big effects and stunts).  

But let us consider the 1974 original film (itself based on a popular pulp novel at the time).  Four men in costumes with colours for names (Mr. Blue, Mr. Grey, Mr. Green, etc.) walk into the New York Subway system and hijack a train, all to place some pretty big ransom demands on the transit authority and the city and walk out with some big time moohah.  But the question remains as the movie plays:  How will they get out of this situation?  Is there something larger at stake going on?  If this sounds familiar to you reading this, it is because Quentin Tarantino borrowed the Colour names for his debut picture, 1991's Reservoir Dogs and John McTiernan borrowed the set-up and overall style for his 1988 mega-blockbuster Die Hard.  Despite Pelham's popularity at the time and the influence it had on other films, the film has not been given the status of 'classic' crime pictures like The French Connection or Dog Day Afternoon (the latter came out one year after Pelham).  Modern pictures like Spike Lee's wonderfully entertaining The Inside Man, or Bill Murray's comic Quick Change are still plucking tidbits from this classic heist/ransom flick.

Perhaps it was the casting of Walter Matthau in the lead that made this one mainly disappear into the ether.  Hardly the testosterone powder keg of Al Pacino, or the sly manliness of Bruce Willis, yet Matthau imbues Pelham with a  wry wit, a self-deprecating competence, and yet after 35 years of hindsight, he is the gruffy, scruffy reason why the film has aged exceedingly well despite the slew of people who went with its newly found formula.  The no-nonsense storytelling (clues and hints are seemlessly integrated without being overbearing) with a realistic on-location subway shoot and authentic sounding dialogue should be a lesson in how many things have changed from the 1970s to he 2000s.  It is an interesting window people talked and how 'blockbuster' movies when that term meant something quite different:  No special effects, solid character acting, good dialogue, fun storytelling and as a bonus - one kick ass theme song.  And it is a damn good time at the movies.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

KBT Presents: KING OF THE HILL (El Rey de la Montaña)

KBT returns after a 5 month hiatus!  And with a gorgeous Spanish thriller that is at times intriguing, confounding and rewarding (and about in that order).  It is a mystery that is heavy on thrills which involves an urban man very much out of his element.  He is hung out to dry in the wilderness in a way that recalls John Boorman's Deliverance as much as it does Gus Van Sant's Gerry.  Yet it is shot with the visual splendour of a grainy 16mm ode to House of Flying Daggers. King of the Hill (not to be at all confused with the animated TV show) is a heady cocktail of familiar and upsetting elements that uses a very simple hook, one that is familiar enough to filmgoers:  folks hunted by unknown assailents; although it is nowhere near the horror/stalker variety (albeit some might find a tangential link to Michael Haneke's Funny Games.  To reveal more is to detract from the films very purpose.  Suffice it to say that morality, enginuity, trust and resolve are key ingredients juggled in the air by the few characters being stalked and eventually the stalkers.  Visceral and cerebral (and eventually fueled by a strange form of 21st century hysteria) in equal parts rarely mixed in a genre film, I find it difficult to believe that Hollywood will ever get the brass cojones to attempt a remake.

For fans of the existential thriller Intacto (whose director went on to make the fabulous 28 Weeks Later), this is another chance to watch intense and charismatic leading man Leonardo Sbaraglia run through gorgeous through the dangerous and beautiful Spanish wilderness; not in the 'test your luck' sense, but more in a feral survival mode.  I'm wondering if talented and envelope pushing director Gonzalo López-Gallego will do the same.

Hopefully I've sold you on King of the Hill without really telling you anything.  To walk into this type of film blind is necessary for it to weave its determined spell.  Do not go onto the internets looking for a trailer (or god forbid a review that drops a bomb of a spoiler).  Come out Thursday, January 29th for this sly suckerpunch from Spain.