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.


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-TraĆ¼merei/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...