Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010


       Moviegoers walk into the cool, dimly lit confines of the theater venue hoping to find catharsis. The tacit assumption of the filmgoer is that the protagonist(s) of the film they’re watching will be “likeable”; and maybe even, like them, the viewer. It’s an arbitrary, and certainly unnecessary expectation; more of an idle wish-fulfillment on the audience’s part than an actual requirement for compelling filmmaking, if you ask me. And while we all enjoy the presence of an effective onscreen “Heavy” (What’s Star Wars without Darth Vader?), nonetheless it’s the rare film that would risk raising the viewer’s ire by portraying the antics of leads so flawed, arrogant and misguided as to be called the villains of the piece. The three characters who comprise the romantic triangle of Dark Arc may not be “villains” per se -- but you’d think twice before inviting them into your home; or even going to see a movie about them.

       It might take some explaining on my part to convince you that Dark Arc is a comedy; but all the right elements are there: our leads -- Viscount Laris (writer/director Dan Zukovic) and Juxta (Sarah Strange) “meet cute” when he answers her ad for a “non-sexual escort”. He orchestrates a plan to get her fired from her go-nowhere day-job (by terrorizing her customers); and they engage in an almost non-stop stream of verbal banter characterized by such a highfalutin level of veiled aggression that how could they not get together? I mean, who else could put up with them? Viscount and Juxta are... -- to put it plain, they’re kinda’ douchey, and when they’re not at odds with the rest of the world, they’re compelled to be at odds with one another. Which of course leads to various measures of romantic complication, both pre-meditated and unexpected, in the form of Laris’s rival, Ed. A graphic designer by trade, Ed possesses a similar set of visual obsessions as Laris -- in another film, this conflict might just lead to “zany hijinks” for the remainder of the movie; but romantic comedies don’t usually feature this level of... uhh -- pathology. Which keeps things interesting, if not harmlessly comic. The actors play it deadly serious; it’s up to the viewer to see how ridiculous it all is, and find the humor therein.

       If all this seems to smack of pretension, rest assured, it does, it does! What alleviates it -- and ultimately makes the film worthwhile -- are the brief moments of humanity that peek through. As characters, Viscount and Juxta are too labyrinthian-ly guarded to ever have a genuine exchange between them; it’s in the moments that we see them alone that their human qualities and foibles reveal themselves. Even the visual style of the film reflects this; in the “set-pieces” that feature multiple players there’s a high level of artifice: match cuts, color dissolves, keyhole wipes and other cinematic devices whose very presence calls attention to their use. It’s only when we’re alone with the characters one-on-one does the film “settle down” and begin to draw you in. Even under close examination, Viscount and Juxta are irksome characters; too wrapped up in exploring and exploiting their own flaws to ever directly address putting them right. What keeps the viewer watching is how much you find you have in common with them, all the same.

       Dark Arc is released on DVD today, August, 24th, and is available for rent on Netflix and for purchase through Amazon. Also released on DVD late last month was Zukovic’s freshman effort, The Last Big Thing, a film notable for two things: 1.) it might be Mark Ruffalo’s first big part in a movie (he’s just okay here), and 2.) when I finally go stark, raving, mad I will do so in just the same manner as Simon Geist (Dan Zukovic) does in this picture. CAW! CAW!!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

'09 At the Movies

       While deliberating if I should even bother to compile my ’09 year-in-film review at all, I was inundated with an overwhelming show of public support (i.e. -- requests from three separate people!!!) -- which convinced me that I should step up and give it a go. Given how long it’s been since I posted anything here at all, I’d be surprised if even the couple of folks who asked for it still have the URL for this page bookmarked. At any rate, here’s my take (and a partial one at that; as I’ve yet to see either The Informant or Enter The Void -- both on many of this year’s “Best of” lists), of the most worthy films from ’09. Not necessarily the best -- as if there could be an actual yardstick for measuring quality -- but just a dozen or so films that, to me, represented the cream of the crop from this year’s offerings. Here’s a brief rundown of each, presented more or less in the order they were released:

CORALINE - Neil Gaiman’s literary accomplishments -- in comics (like The Sandman), then in novels (the Hugo and Nebula award-winning American Gods) and short stories are undeniable, but his forays into things cinematic have always been a mixed bag (MirrorMask and Beowulf being the best of the lot, IMHO). So it’s a pleasure to finally see a story of his realized so perfectly for the screen -- in old-school stop-motion animation no less! Directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), the stop-motion style is so smoothly rendered here that I think many assumed it was CGI (and viewers should watch all the way through the end of the credits for proof otherwise). Fortunately, the story is equally well rendered -- and it’s the kind that both kids and their parents will appreciate.

STAR TREK - Yeah, that’s right; a remake -- of a 60’s TV show yet. But it makes it to my list exactly because so many TV-to-film adaptations are so downright miserably awful (including most of the prior Trek movies). Abrams (Lost, Mission Impossible III & IV) has worked extensively in both TV and Film -- so he seems to know what elements can successfully survive the leap from one medium to another, and what needs to be retooled to make the premise work as a stand-alone film. Set within the continuity of the original series, but with an entirely new cast, this ret-conned reboot-hybrid yields the years most entertaining blockbuster! See it -- even if you’re not a fan.

THE BROTHERS BLOOM - Rian Johnson’s (Brick) second feature film would seem to be an attempt to “channel” Wes Anderson -- fortunately for the viewing audience, it’s more Bottle Rocket than The Life Aquatic. It’s a tale of two con-artist siblings and the quirky -- and fabulously wealthy -- heiress, who first becomes their “mark”, then their partner-in-crime. Clearly, the film is an example of this newly identified-and-already-cliched film genre (and yes: thank you, Onion A.V. Club for your fine work in ridiculing all things Pop culture); but all the same, it’s by far one of the better examples thereof. Genuinely funny throughout, with just a touch of tragedy to keep it all interesting -- one of the few solid “date” movies you’ll find on this list (or any list of mine, for that matter).

UP - Pixar’s unprecedented streak of quality films continues unbroken -- they’re the only studio making movies today (or should I say “ever”?) about which the worst that could be said of them is that some of their product is merely “good” (as opposed to “excellent” or “great”). Up is better than that, if not their best (Wall-E or The Incredibles takes that prize, as far as I’m concerned); but well worth seeing -- for all the same reasons you loved their other films.

THE HURT LOCKER - I’m pleased to see Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraqi war-drama on most critic’s ’09 “Best of” lists, because it’s as good a film as was released this year. I’d just as soon not say much more, because it’s one of those movies that you should know as little as possible about before viewing. This much I will say, however; a lot of critics refer to the “message” of the film, as it applies to the current political situation both abroad and domestically -- and certainly it addresses those issues directly enough and otherwise -- but primarily it’s the story of one man, and why he does, what he does. To put it plain (for the “message-resistant” amongst us), at no time during the viewing of this movie will you be bludgeoned over the head with a subtext-shaped hammer (and yes, I’m talking to you, Paul Haggis!).

DISTRICT 9 - Ah, yes -- the other Aliens-confront-Humans film released this year; and to my thinking, the better of the two. Neill Blomkamp’s tale of disenfranchised outer-space refugees trying to cope with an Earth government that neither wants -- nor cares -- for their survival struck a perfect balance. On the one hand, there’s an intriguing sci-fi account of Human/Alien contact: a situation made all the more compelling by its analogies to apartheid in South Africa -- where the story is set (and where Blomkamp hails from). On the other hand, you have plenty of “pew-pew” to keep the fanboys happy -- and me too, to be honest (man climbs into armored exoskeleton = happy Grigorss!). What makes the whole thing emotionally satisfying is the fine performance from Sharlto Copley, as the hapless guy caught in the middle. He’s the center of the film, and he holds his own amongst all the excellent CGI and exciting stunt work.

A SERIOUS MAN - I can’t understand why this latest feature from the Coen Bros. didn’t garner more attention than it did -- maybe because their distributor didn’t think a film that has a 8 minute opening scene spoken entirely in Yiddish would play well in Wichita, Kansas? Well if so, that’s a shame, because A Serious Man is easily their best comedy since Barton Fink, with the brothers finally back at the top of their considerable form. What’s it about? Think of it as a coming-of-age film where nobody ever quite does -- that’s close enough...

BRONSON - You might notice that when I compile these lists I don’t actually numerate the films I mention in order of supposed greatness, because generally speaking I find that sort of hair-splitting arbitrary and decidedly annoying, HOWEVER... -- if you put me in a figure-four leg-lock, and threatened to shatter my tibia unless I revealed my most favored pic of the year, then, YES, I would admit (under duress, mind you), that Bronson: the factually-based bio-pic of England’s most violent, most-recidivist, penal-system-imprisoned criminal offender would top the list. Directed by Dutch-born Nicolas Winding Refn (he of the good -- but not as great as this -- Pusher trilogy), and starring soon-to-be “Mad Max” Tom Hardy, the film’s style is a refreshing Ken Russell-meets-Peter Greenaway melange (with just a pinch of Paul Thomas Anderson thrown in to brighten up the soundtrack). It’s a frenetic mix of mockumentary, stage show and music video, and it’s a complete kick-in-the-ass. Highly recommended.

ANTICHRIST - Lars von Trier’s supposed attempt at a mainstream Horror film is about as mainstream as Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle but fortunately only about 1/8th as long. It might be the ultra-slo-mo cinematography, the sub-aural low bass in the soundtrack, or maybe just the sight of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg pretty much, ya’ know, going at it, right there, 40 ft high, up on the screen in front of you, but whatever it is -- it has a... -- certain impact, let me tell you. While revealing details of the plot will only spoil the splendiferous surprises found therein, I will mention that the film has no discernible connection to that perennial Old Testament boogieman “Antichrist”. Besides, why go spoiler-happy when I can share with you the briefest, most accurate, and most entertaining movie review I read all year, as provided by that auteur-extraordinaire John Waters himself, from his 2009 “10 Best” movie list (yes, I will stoop to stealing -- but only from the best!):
“If Ingmar Bergman had committed suicide, gone to hell, and come back to earth to direct an exploitation/art film for drive-ins, this is the movie he would have made.”
And if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, stay away from this movie. Far, far away...

DER BAADER MEINHOF KOMPLEX - You can keep your James Bonds’, and your Jason Bournes’, because the best spy thriller this year is an all-Deutsche Kraut-fest and based on a true story to boot! The Baader Meinhof Complex recounts the true events around the genesis and fall of the RAF (Red Army Faction), a terrorist group who operated with a frightening level of efficacy in the 1970’s -- all the more frightening given that they were at their most effective during the period they were imprisoned. If you’ve ever wondered why and how terrorist groups form and thrive, then you owe it to yourself to see this film. It explains all the steps involved; methodically, impartially and with the minimum amount of hyperbole required to craft what would otherwise just seem to be a really exciting and suspenseful spy/espionage flick.

THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX - Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) beloved children's novel is all herky-jerky Art Clokey-style stop-motion in contrast to Coraline’s silky-smooth animation -- but that’s cool, because the world of “Mr. Fox” is one that Gumby would feel right at home in. Of course, Gumby and pals would have to put up with a fair amount of “cussin’” (no actual curse-words in the movie -- just the word “cussin’”) as well as the occasional pre-meditated murder and mid-life crisis. I’m not sure who the target audience of the film is intended to be, but I do know that everyone in the theater I saw it in seemed to enjoy the heck out of it -- kid, teen and adult alike. I can only assume that people -- of any age -- actually enjoy seeing characters grapple with real, even life-threatening, problems; Who ‘da thunk it? From what I see of most other films aimed at kids, not the people who make those, that’s for sure.

UP IN THE AIR - The romantic comedy is one of the most hackneyed, cliche-ridden film forms out there, so it’s pretty understandable as to why Jason Reitman’s (Juno) latest feature is so widely acclaimed; it’s not either of those things. Yes, I know it’s being marketed as just your standard-issue rom-com -- but it’s not; Go see it already, and then try telling me otherwise -- go ‘wan, I dare ‘ya.

While the above are what I consider to be ’09’s cream of the cinematic crop, there are a number of other noteworthy films that cannot be left unaccounted for -- which brings us to...

THE 10 LB. COJONES AWARD: which goes to Jody Hill’s (creator of Eastbound & Down) Observe and Report; it’s not the best film of ’09 by any stretch, but it takes a lot of unbridled chutzpah to say “Hey, ya’ know, I think I’m going to remake Taxi Driver. As a comedy. A Romantic Comedy!” That takes ballz -- big, brassy ones...

BEST REAL-LIFE “SPINAL TAP” AWARD: goes to Anvil! The Story of Anvil; it’s a documentary (that’s “doc”, not “mock”) about a Heavy Metal band that’s spent the better part of the last 30 years trying to “make it big” -- so it has a set-up identical to Spinal Tap and peculiarly, also ends exactly the same way... (for real-sies)

BEST “OUTER LIMITS” EPISODE MADE THIS YEAR: goes to Duncan Jones Moon; it’s exactly like (and as least as good as) an old episode of the TV show “The Outer Limits”; and if they let me cut it down to 55 minutes (instead of its current 97) it would no longer telegraph every major twist in its plot and, let me tell you, it would be GREAT!

THE ICARUS AWARD this year goes to Richard Kelly’s The Box; it’s an adaptation -- and an elaboration -- of a Richard Matheson short story (Button, Button). In the course of just three films (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales), Kelly has carved out his own genre -- “The Metaphysical Thriller”; this is a step up from his previous film, but it never quite came together for me -- worth a look though.

FUNNIEST TV SHOW YOU”LL SEE ON A MOVIE SCREEN: goes to Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop; which is undoubtedly the funniest film of 2009 -- unfortunately it has all the visual panache of a 3-camera sit-com shot in 1971. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that most of the characters featured in it are taken from the Brit-com The Thick of It. Hilarity aside, I demand a little visual foreplay from a film before I put it on my “Best-of” list, At the very least, it’s got to buy me dinner first...

And speaking of visual foreplay, for OUTSTANDING TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT IN EYEBALL F**KING the award goes to Avatar. Make no mistake about it; this film represents a quantum leap forward into any film tech you care to name: CGI, 3-D, heck, even Production Design. If the plot points set up so carefully early on (and even, for once, so well), kinda’ fall by the wayside in the last third of the film... -- well, it’s easy to see how Cameron got lost in his virtual world; you will too, especially if you see it on an IMAX screen. Must be seen in a theater.

       That’s my take on ’09; Not quite sure when I’ll next post, but it won’t be any earlier than Feb -- till then.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


       It seems frighteningly appropriate that this first entry of ‘09 emerges upon April Fools’ Day. Even more so apropos that this premiere post of the year concerns itself with the film from which so much on this blog is derived. The heading, inscription -- even my own pen-name -- all taken from Guy Maddin’s Careful; now re-released on DVD, after being out-of-print for the better part of this decade. It’s a film that many (including yours truly) feel is his best feature; and I can unhesitatingly say that you’ll not see a better example of the German-Mountain-Traümerei/incestuous-romance genre this year... -- and most likely not in 2010 either; after that, all bets are off.

       Without wanting to reveal anything that would spoil the unworldly onlookers’ initial viewing of the film; Careful concerns the rather... -- convoluted..., let’s say -- love-lives of two brothers: Johann and Grigorss, as they muddle through butler-school training in the isolated alpine village of Tolzbad. It’s a settlement so precariously perched, that any stray upsurge of sound threatens to entomb the entire hamlet in a thick blanket of snow (hence, the title). The two brothers grapple with their respective amorous and familial misadventures; and with the looming presence of the mountains themselves. It all sounds oh-so melodramatic -- and it is! But the histrionics are largely played for laughter, if of the nervous variety; and like all of Maddin’s films, the seemingly campy is just a dainty cover for the emotionally raw. It’s a mode of filmmaking that seems like it must be disingenuous -- yet curiously, provokes exactly the opposite result (or does so, at least, in this viewer).

       Maddin’s an assiduously literary filmmaker. Influences upon the film include German Romanticism (in general), E.T.A. Hoffman, Thomas Mann, and most prominently, Robert Walser -- who also influenced the Brothers Quay in their adaptation of his novel, Jakob von Gunten, entitled Institute Benjamenta; which, for the record, is certainly the most impenetrably opaque film I’ve ever sat through in my life. Although that hasn’t stopped me from sitting through it a couple of more times, I might add. Much of the reason for this literary bent is the fact that every Maddin feature film (aside from his debut, Tales from the Gimli Hospital) is a collaboration with screenwriter, George Toles, a professor of Literature and Film Studies who teaches at the University of Manitoba; and who is as responsible as the man himself for the “Maddin style” (at least at the script level). And on an even more tangential note, Kyle McCulloch, who portrays “Grigorss” in the film, now makes his livelihood as a producer on South Park; and in addition, provides occasional vocal talent for the show -- including all the voices for “Canadian” characters.

       This DVD re-release of Careful includes some extras that were available on the previous edition -- like the fine documentary, Waiting for Twilight; about the making of another Maddin feature, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs. New to this edition include a commentary track by Maddin and George Toles. To those who’ve never listened to a director’s commentary on DVD -- if the prospect of hearing a director describe his film as “lensed in repress-o-vision” doesn’t compel you to give a listen, then let’s just assume it’s a practice has that zero appeal for you, now and forever. Also much improved is the video transfer itself; scenes that were impenetrably murky in the previous release are now merely foggily indistinct -- as they should be! All in all, “it’s must-see TV! (for the discerning cinephile)”.

Some links:
A brief scene from Careful.

Zeitgeist Films the releasing company that produced this fine release.

A brief scene from Archangel, an earlier Maddin feature.

Next post -- 04/06/09

Friday, January 9, 2009

My Take on '08

       One of the reasons -- over and above inherent laziness -- that it takes me awhile to get around to compiling these end-of-year film review lists, is that I like to take a look at a random sample of the same as written by other critics. Not so much to sway my own opinions; those are pretty much gelled by the time the end credits roll -- but just to get a feel for what the media-at-large feels is the better quality work produced in a given year; and therefore to figure out what they’ve overlooked. Truth be told, this year the critics seemed to zero in on most of the finer films released in 2008 -- and if some seem overly-lauded (... Benjamin Button?), at least the copious praise is being heaped upon movies that one could reasonably regard as good; hardly the case every year, let me tell you. As such, here’s my own list (an incomplete one at that; as I’ve yet to see Milk or Slumdog Millionaire -- serious contenders, both, it would seem), of worthy films from ’08. Not necessarily the best -- as if there could be an actual yardstick for measuring quality -- but just a dozen or so films that, for me, had somewhat more buoyant non-submersible units, than any other I saw over the course of the year. Here’s a brief rundown of each, presented more or less in the sequential order I saw them:

THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE - A film I previously globbed about much earlier in the year. It’s a quirky film about quirky people who live in a quirky town -- if that seems like just too much quirk for you, stay away -- but I’ve watched it three times so far, and think it’s a fine, well-crafted, even poetic film; you might feel the same, if you bother to track it down and watch it.

SON OF RAMBOW - Critics were much harsher with this film than it deserved; its always struck me that movies intended to appeal to both teenagers and adults were a hard chord to strum (as opposed to, let’s say, a film intended to appeal to younger kids alone, for example); Son of Rambow manages to strike the right note, in my opinion -- without any maudlin tones or broken strings. Worth a look.

SMILEY FACE - Greg Araki is something of a critical darling with the media; but he’s never really made a movie I liked -- till now. Smiley Face is, quite frankly, a “stoner” comedy, but certainly nothing you’d see Cheech-n-Chong in; it’s the rarest example of its breed, an intelligent “stoner” comedy (thus possibly making it an unprecedented example of its breed, as well). Technically released in 2007, but with virtually no theatrical distribution, so I’m counting its DVD release this year as its “actual” release. Stars Anna Faris and John Krasinski; they’re funny, everybody else in it is funny -- you’ll laugh; in a year that saw the release of both The Love Guru and Meet Dave, isn’t that enough to ask?

WALL-E - Do I really have the extoll the virtues of this film at this point? I mean, hasn’t every other critic in the free world already done so? You’ve seen it, I hope. If you haven’t, you need to fix that, pronto. The opening thirty minutes or so are the best silent movie comedy since the days of Chaplin and Keaton. Sublime, and family-friendly.

KABLUEY - It’s the debut feature from Scott Prendergast, who made a couple of hilarious short films prior to this. As it’s his first full length movie, it’s not perfect; but it has a distinct and appealing style, and suggests better things to come. Be one of those who can say, years from now, “Oh yeah, I saw his first feature way back in ’08”. It’s now available on DVD.

THE DARK KNIGHT - Another film that I don’t really feel the need to extoll the virtues of. It successfully develops and brings to fruition themes hinted at in Batman Begins, and is not only the best Superhero film of the year, but also the best Crime and Action thriller as well. It’s not often that one watches a big-budget Hollywood extravaganza and walks away from it with one’s most salient memories being the characters involved -- but for me, at least, Dark Knight most certainly accomplishes that much. It’s the Superhero movie I’ve been waiting for; The Dark Knight is as much feared as he is respected; despised more than he is admired; and hunted rather than appreciated -- personally, that’s the Batman I’ve always wanted to see.

IN BRUGES - Another debut comedy, this time from British playwright Martin McDonagh. As comedies go, it’s as least as serious as it is funny -- but that’s what makes it so good. Colin Farrell stars, and Ralph Fiennes chews scenery; quite ably, thank you.

MY WINNIPEG - Also previously blogged about. Not his best film by a long shot; it’s rather too on-the-nose to be that. For me, the whole appeal of a Maddin film is how the personal themes are submerged into a familiar-but-skewed genre. In My Winnipeg all the cards are laid plainly upon the table, as it were, and the result -- while often hilarious -- isn’t as good as, lets’ say, Brand Upon the Brain!; which just might be his masterpiece; but spoon-fed Maddin is still oh-so more than palatable. Available on DVD exclusively through Blockbuster Video (at least, at the moment).

MAN ON WIRE - The best heist film I’ve ever seen in which nothing is actually stolen -- and it’s all true! James Marsh (who had previously done a rather lackluster adaptation of the non-fiction book, Wisconsin Death Trip) makes the best documentary of the year about an illegal attempt to walk from one of the Twin Towers to the other -- via high-wire cable! Incredibly gripping and should be seen by damn near everybody, quite frankly.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - Once again, previously blogged about below. Before this film, I quite frankly felt the whole vampire genre had been (excuse the pun), done to death. Let the Right One In puts a nice modern spin on it, and is just, in general, a classy piece of filmmaking -- rare enough in any bit of moviemaking; all the more so when the film in question falls within the Horror genre.

THE WRESTLER - Make no mistake -- the standout feature of this film is Mickey Rourke’s performance; but shying away from his usual penchant for cinematic razzle-dazzle, Darren Aronofsky makes a a very low-key, but downright beautiful film about a whole bunch of unsavory -- even unlikeable, characters. It’s effective, it's moving and nary a flash-cut to be found in the whole thing; Bravo, to all involved.

WENDY AND LUCY - Another subdued character study from Kelly Reichardt (and the only film on this list directed by a woman), maker of the excellent Old Joy a few years back. It’s a fine film, not so much a story as a just a glimpse into the life of a person who has to make some hard -- and quite possibly very bad -- decisions. Reichardts’ work much reminds me of the films of Lodge Kerrigan; but less concerned with pathology, so much as with simple human frailty. This is still in theaters, if you look for it.

This year’s BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL award goes to Frank Miller’s THE SPIRIT. Now, ordinarily this award would go to a "M - O - V - I - E". Which, one could reasonably regard as being an interconnected series of filmed scenes which more-or-less add up to a "S - T - O - R - Y”. Since I couldn’t really determine if any two random frames in this mess had any kind of cause-and-effect cohesion between them, I’m not sure that it could -- technically speaking -- be called a "Movie". Accordingly, you might want to steer clear of it -- if you value your sanity, that is. Let me tell you, Will Eisner is not just turning over, but actually spinning in his grave over this thing.

The BEST FILM SCORE (that nobody got to hear...) is Michael Giacchino’s symphonic piece, ROAR!, composed for Cloverfield; a terrible film, but the end title sequence (the only place in the film where the score is heard) is great. Incredibly evocative of Akira Ifukube’s music cues for all those Toho Godzilla films from my youth. You can download it from iTunes, if you’re so inclined.

And finally, THE ICARUS AWARD this year goes to Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK; like last year’s winner, Coppola’s Youth Without Youth (with which it coincidentally shares many thematic elements as well), it’s a very ambitious film whose reach exceeds its grasp. Which is not to say that it doesn’t have some fine performances, some stunning set-pieces and some engaging ideas. I’m not sure it all adds up to something you might call “entertainment”, however -- or even an experience that one might want to repeat.

       That’s my take on ’08; Not sure they’ll be anything worth gabbing about till late February -- but hopefully, once I do start globbin’ again, I’ll do so more consistently in’09...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


       With Halloween less than two weeks away, it seems appropriate -- and inevitable really, at least on this blog -- that the next couple of posts turn towards the Horror genre. As cinematic varieties go, the Horror film has a pronounced tendency to divide movie-going audiences -- there’s them that seem to watch nothing but; and then there’s others who’d sooner view a full season of Barney before the latest installment of Saw (and having had the unfortunate experience of sitting through the first one, you might count me amongst the latter...). Truth be told, there’s ample reason for the adverse reaction many people have towards the whole genre: endlessly repetitive plot-lines, gratuitous displays of brutality, acting that’s not merely bad but flatly incompetent -- Horror films have had more than their fair share of these offenses, and more. So when a truly exceptional film comes along that happens to fall squarely into the mainstream of the Horror genre -- but also works as a completely satisfying piece of filmmaking by any standard you might care to apply -- well, understandably it can be a hard sell to those who’ve been burned (Umm... Saw comes to mind again -- don’t see any of the Saw series; you’ll thank me one day...). Which is a shame, since Let The Right One In is most certainly one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far.

       It’s the year 1981 and some villages in rural Sweden are being plagued by a series of seemingly motiveless murders. Coincidently, 12 year-old Oskar is in his first year of high school and, having a hard time fitting in -- answering one too many questions in class to escape the notice of the class bullies. Lonely and frustrated, Oskar keeps to himself -- and on one cold autumn night, while outside on the playground, notices the just moved-in Eli; an oddly reserved and worldly-wise girl of about his age. Eli’s not too interested in befriending Oskar, but is fascinated by his Rubik’s Cube; managing to solve it in record time -- despite never having seen one before. Oskar can’t help but develop a crush on Eli; she seems completely unfettered by her unseen parents, is full of good advice for him and is decidedly unaffected by the snowy chill of their nightly playground visits. Meanwhile, the serial killings seem to be striking closer to home -- and the school bullies are developing a growing dissatisfaction with just pulling simple pranks on Oskar.

       Let The Right One In opens with a nearly silent credit sequence that may have you wondering if the projectionist forgot to turn on the sound system. The screen swirls with a light misting of snow as the soundtrack gradually gains in volume; only to reveal itself as the sounds one might typically hear on any dark wintry night; a light wind, cars driving by in the distance, and snow being compacted by heavy-booted footfalls. It’s an approach the film typically takes to reveal its story -- simple and understated -- with a refreshing absence of screeching violins and cats jumping out of cupboards. Things are simply revealed for what they are -- with the results revealed as being sometimes merely mundane, sometimes truly horrific... It’s worth pointing out the performances by the leads; they’re subdued, spot-on examples of film acting: Oskar (Kâre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson) simply seem to be what they are -- which makes what scares there are, all the more effective -- and prompts the audience to develop some genuine empathy for them.

       Let The Right One In opens in very limited release shortly; in L.A. and New York this upcoming weekend, then moving on to other major markets like San Francisco, Seattle and Denver in November. A DVD release is planned for some time next year -- and an English language re-make in 2010. Let The Right One In has such a perfect pitch as it is, that a re-make seems particularly superfluous in this instance. It seems pretty clear to me that this is the version to see -- But I'm not overly concerned, dear reader; I trust you to make the right choice...

Next post -- 10/27/08