Films viewed in 2011

Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

494. 8 1/2

In Foreign Language on August 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Dir. Frederico Fellini

A harried movie director retreats into his memories and fantasies.

MY TAKE

Tricky business this film reviewing 50 years after the fact. Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) is still widely regarded as a cinematic masterpiece after creating a small firestorm on its release, winning two Oscars along the way. The visuals remain striking and bizarre, and the overall atmosphere manages to capture the chaos of an artistic mind desperately grasping for both creative and sexual releases. But I couldn’t help feeling like more context was required for piecing together this poetic puzzle. The title may refer to the number of times you need to see it before the whole thing really clicks.

493. Helvetica

In Documentary on August 20, 2012 at 11:17 AM

Dir. Gary Hustwit

A documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture.

MY TAKE

Forget what’s in a name, how about what’s in a font? Gary Hustwit’s unlikely subject for a documentary about Helvetica, the teacher’s pet of typographers and designers around the world, will appeal to more than just sans serif addicts. The film may not earn its full feature length runtime, but there are historical lessons about modern aesthetics that will interest most modern artists. Keeping the approach and length minimal, however, might have made for a perfect one-hour TV doc instead. So don’t feel bad if you scroll through the film for the fonts that interest you.

492. Shadow of a Doubt

In Thriller on May 28, 2012 at 4:40 PM

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

A young woman discovers her visiting “Uncle Charlie” may not be the man he seems to be.

MY TAKE

Often cited as the favourite of his own films, Aflred Hitchock’s Shadow of a Doubt is a deliciously suspenseful slice of domestic thrills.  Joseph Cotton plays the shady uncle who brings just right balance of intrigue and terror with his menacing portrayal of a killer that’s a little too close to home. Without the same visual flourish as some of his more famous work, the story manages to grab the viewer all the same and pull you in before nearly pushing you off the train. Hitchcock may have stronger films, but aside from some quaint plot points, this one holds up nicely.

 

491. Before Night Falls

In Drama on April 18, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Dir. Julian Scnabel

Episodic look at the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), from his childhood in Oriente province to his death in New York City.

MY TAKE

Following up from his impressive debut feature film Basquiat, writer and director (and celebrated painter) Julian Schnabel created another splendid achievement with Before Night Falls. The struggles of a Cuban writer in the 1960s, in a breakout performance by Javier Bardem, combines an impressive balance of hand-held grit and smooth artistic flourishes in the camera movements. The story is equally moving, providing a perfect portrait of a martyr to a cultural revolution. The film’s content earns it a special place in Queer Cinema, and one of Johnny Depp’s dual roles (the cross-dressing Bon Bon) risks making the straightest of men question where they stand.

 

490. 30 Minutes or Less

In Comedy on April 3, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Dir. Ruben Fleischer

Two fledgling criminals kidnap a pizza delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest, and inform him that he has mere hours to rob a bank or else.

MY TAKE

An unwilling suicide bomber hardly sounds like fodder for comedy, but Ruben Fleischer’s terribly titled 30 Minutes or Less diffuses that political landmine pretty quickly. By never venturing into taboo Four Feathers social commentary, the story is far safer than it could have been, and the laughs suffer as a result. Instead we rely on Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride and Aziz Ansari all playing versions of the same characters they always play. Again, these risk free decisions mean for some light laughs, but nothing you’ll split a gut over – even with a bomb strapped to your chest.

 

489. Two-Lane Blacktop

In Drama on February 24, 2012 at 4:52 PM

Dir. Monte Hellman

Story of two men drag racing across the USA in a primer grey 55 chevy.

MY TAKE

Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider may have gotten all the praise and cultural cache, but Monte Hellman’s thematically similar rebel road trip movie Two-Lane Blacktop from a few years later certainly holds up as a better film. Starring folk hero James Taylor in one of his only ever film roles, and Dennis Wilson (of The Beach Boys) as his mechanic, we follow the hard-luck gear heads as they “race” across the country. Warren Oats, however, easily gives the most compelling and memorable performance as their competition. The film is directed with incredibly calm confidence and provides just enough misdirected discontent to still connect with audiences 40 years later. The story in fact feels more influenced by films like The Hustler, and would certainly have inspired modern movie like Drive before anything like The Fast and The Furious.

488. Terror Train

In Canadian on February 24, 2012 at 4:46 PM

Dir. Roger Spottiswoode

A masked killer targets six college kids throwing a large New Year’s Eve costume party aboard a moving train.

MY TAKE

Jamie Lee Curtis is best remembered as the “scream queen” from the Halloween franchise, but a couple of Canadian films helped her secure the title. Prom Night is the classic of the two, but Terror Train is still worth keeping track of. The film has fun featuring a young David Copperfield as a mischievous magician, and his routine pulls off the trick of keeping you guessing about his allegiance throughout. The story is otherwise a pretty cut and dry tale of teens being terrorized in a confined space, but looks good and chugs along at a nice pace. In other words, don’t be surprised when they remake this film because it already has a fan base of about 12 people.

 

487. Trespass

In Thriller on February 24, 2012 at 2:52 PM

Dir. Joel Schumacher

As they’re held for ransom, a husband and wife’s predicament grows more dire amid the discovery of betrayal and deception.

MY TAKE

Dust off the Hollywood A-list from the 90s and you’ll find the people responsible for making Trespass. Hit-and-miss master Joel Schumacher is at the helm of this well-worn home invasion thriller that pits a rocky marriage against thugs and clichés. Without ever aspiring to reach a level of social or artistic commentary close to (the original) Straw Dogs or Funny Games, the film is far safer than such a threatening premise should allow. Nicolas Cage yet again employs an accent and cadence from places unknown as the deceptive father, while Nicole Kidman just seems happy to show off how her tear ducts weren’t sewn over by plastic surgery.  There’s enough left-over glow from these stars to keep us invested until the end, but the only thing that shines are the glossy sets.

 

486. State and Main

In Comedy on February 17, 2012 at 4:45 PM

Dir. David Mamet

A movie crew invades a small town whose residents are all too ready to give up their values for showbiz glitz.

MY TAKE

At the intersection of American ideals, a small town gets swallowed up by Hollywood big shots in David Mamet’s State and Main. A colourful cast of (mostly white) characters portray film crew personalities the actors themselves are probably all too familiar with. Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin are the “big three” of writer/director/actor (respectively) each with varying degrees of depression, delusions and debauchery (again, respectively). The on-set machinations aren’t as rewarding as the actual relationships, which take a while to build, but eventually provide comfort and pleasure beyond stereotypical familiarity and industry in-jokes. The humour is also headier than just a succession of gags, which means the comedy usually evokes more smirks than laughs.

485. American Movie

In Documentary on February 17, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Dr. Chris Smith

An aspiring filmmaker attempts to finance his dream project by finally completing the low-budget horror film he abandoned years before.

MY TAKE

I don’t know if I’ve ever loved two “characters” in a documentary more than Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank. The hell-bent hero and his loyal sidekick make American Movie so damn touching, hilarious and determined that I wanted to cry. Director Chris Smith brilliantly goes behind the scenes of an average man’s dreams to craft a cautionary tale and love letter to filmmaking.  If Ed Wood managed a career, it seems unfathomable to me that no one has given Borchardt his big B-movie shot by now. My constant pleasure and (nervous) laughter watching the film, however, was probably reminding me that if I had never left Saskatchewan, that could have been me and my buddy up on screen.