Friday, December 28, 2012

Anna Karenina

Get off my back. I've never read Anna Karenina, okay. I haven't even read Android Karenina. And get this: I haven't seen a single one of the heretofore dozen-or-so notable screen stabs at this tome. I have, though, read Don Quixote and Moby Dick. And maybe the most faithful takes on these expansive canon-dwellers have been failures. I'm referring to Orson Welles's sometimes awkwardly earnest and usually stunning piecemeal recitation of Melville's text and Terry Gilliam's quixotic attempt at filming (sort of) the Quixote, as documented in Lost in La Mancha. In a previous post, I thought aloud a little bit about the Fitzcarraldian nature of dragging that big boat of literature up the steep, scree-laden mountain of film, and I think many of the points raised there apply here. That a dozen attempts have been made to film Tolstoy's hulk suggests that no one has so far managed to put a finger on it. I'm reminded of the three attempts made since the new millennium to get The Hulk right.

So how to take Joe Wright's stab at this hulk? The British director has so far tackled mostly books. Here's roll call: Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist. On the whole, his adaptations have been well-received. And this one--certainly the steepest of the mountains he's so far traversed--has been similarly approved. But the question remains: how does one begin to review a movie based on a classic book? Should it judged on its hermetic merits, or on its fidelity to the source material?

Well, there's no answer I can give you. This is a stone I've been swishing around in my own mouth lately. I'd like to proclaim that whatever art should have either a long and limp or else a non-existent tether to its source material, but we all know that fans of the book will always find fault with anyone's interpretation/digestion that isn't their own. And this may be your reaction to Anna Karenina. If it is, please keep in mind: when it comes to things you love, it's rare that anyone else's opinion/interpretation will ever be as articulate/invested as your own--but that don't mean said opinion/interpretation can't be interesting as hell.

- Andrew

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Sessions

The poster for The Sessions hawks it as being "destined to be a player at the Academy Awards," pointing, it would seem, to John Hawkes's portrayal of a man confined by polio overcoming his physical restrictions and reaching out to the world. The A.V. Club's review puts it best: "While his role feels like an import from an Oscar-bait prestige picture, the film around him has different aims. It’s funny and overtly sexual, rather than serious and stuffy, and it’s supremely uninterested in Oscar-esque gravitas."

Hawkes plays the real-life, now-passed poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, who, as a forty-year-old, engaged the services of a sex surrogate (played by Helen Hunt). The Sessions is based on O'Brien's 1990 article "On Seeing A Sex Surrogate," which you can read here.

The frankness of the subject matter could possibly deter the bashful, but know that there's nothing quite prurient about The Sessions. Here's the New York Times on that issue:
Arriving in a culture steeped in titillation, prurience and pornographic imagery, “The Sessions” is a pleasant shock: a touching, profoundly sex-positive film that equates sex with intimacy, tenderness and emotional connection instead of performance, competition and conquest. There are moments between the client and his surrogate that are so intensely personal that your first instinct may be to avert your eyes. But the actors’ lighthearted rapport allows you to rejoice unashamedly in their characters’ pleasure.
Whether or not The Sessions deserves its Oscar destiny on account of John Hawkes's portrayal of someone who doesn't get around as easily as you or I (which the Academy apparently loves) or on account of its own merits is unclear and unimportant. But if Oscar gold is important to you, it's worth noting that O'Brien as a subject won the Oscar for documentary short in 1996. You can watch that doc, Breathing Lessons, here.

- Andrew


Armageddon came on the heels of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon winning the Best Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting. The Michael Bay disaster flick wasn't the worst thing ever committed to celluloid, but it made fine grist for the hater mill. With just a few mainstream movies, Affleck and Damon went from wunderkinds to jokes. Then, when Ben human centipeded with J Lo--becoming Bennifer--making the disaster of a movie Gigli, the lingering scintilla of respect we had for the guy dried up. I always felt this derisive attitude was uncalled for. I liked Ben Affleck; still do. When Gone Baby Gone was released I remember there was an effort to dampen the fact that Affleck had helmed the film, so much so that there was a confused murmur in the audience when the Directed by Ben Affleck card hit the screen. It wasn't a corker of a movie, but it was good. His sophomore movie, The Town, was similarly strong and people must have been warming up to the idea of Affleck not being a chump enough that he was allowed to star. Now, with Argo, everyone seems poised to recalibrate their jerky knee-jerk Affleck hate.

Argo's a caper movie that manages to maintain all the classic will-they-or-won't-they-pull-it-off? tensions while also staying connected to its social and political impetus. The trailer sums up the background fairly well, but here's a primer: Reacting to the USA's sheltering of the just-deposed Shah, militants storm the embassy in Tehran. Six people manage to escape (approx. 50 others are taken) and hide out in the Canadian embassy. After having no better idea than sneaking in six bikes to peddle hundreds of miles to the border, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) concocts a The Producers-like ruse wherein he travels to Tehran posing as a filmmaker scouting locations for a sci-fi movie, Argo.

Hack got up and hay got made when the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. We Canadians felt like our role--specifically ambassador Ken Taylor's (played by the go-to Canadian, Victor Garber) role--in The Canadian Caper was under-represented. Affleck's act of contrition was to replace a snubbing card of postscript with this new one: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”

After you've seen Argo, why not check out this jenky, VHS-wobble copy of the TV movie Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper:

- Andrew

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holy Motors

Leos Carax's headscratcher Holy Motors is pretty straightforward. A man named Monsieur Oscar is driven from "appointment" to "appointment" by his limo driver, Celine. We get the idea, as the appointments are completed, that Oscar's been in this business--whatever this business is--for too long. Oscar isn't quite at Murtagh-level of exhaustion, but is beginning to suffer from onset French ennui. When Holy Motors comes out on "home video," can I recommend a drinking game that has you and your buds bottoms-up whenever Oscar lights a cigarette?

Now, what are these "appointments" that Oscar is ambulated to over the course of the movie? I'm not actually sure. Each appointment comes with a dossier outlining a scenario. Then, in the back of his limo--which is basically a refined tickle trunk--Oscar dons the appropriate disguise. He becomes a beggar woman, a flower-eating troll, a hit man, and so forth, and either foists himself into situations or slides into them seemingly seamlessly. In a no-brain way, Holy Motors is just a day-in-the-life of Mr. Oscar and whatever it is he does.

Cinema Captain Peter Henderson summed up Holy Motors best: "It's film school." It's a film about film, about performance, about genre, about mimesis, as referential as a classic Simpsons episode. The best comparison I can make is to Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, which is about You trying to read Italo Calvino's new book, only to find that, through printing errors and conspiracy, the book is constantly being replaced by other stories that cover the whole gambit of literary genres. Sounds annoying and laborious, huh? Holy Motors is anything but. As confusing as it may be, it's also completely entertaining--it may be complete entertainment. Oscar himself is an appointment performed by Denis Lavant, one of the most satisfying, challenging performers I didn't know about until now. The film would be alienating if it weren't for Lavant's grounding, inviting presence. 

Like Calvio's book, Holy Motors is just as much about You as it is about whatever it's about. The movie begins with a shot of a movie theater full of people, as though seen from the screen's point of view. You could ruin this movie for yourself by worrying whether or not you're understanding it, or getting it. If this movie's about anything, it's about surfaces. The experience of and maybe even the enjoyment of surfaces is just as important as whatever's underneath. The only thing you're really responsible for, at first, is watching. So watch Holy Motors, keep your appointment.

If you're looking for elucidation afterwords, this discussion and this ejaculation might be of interest. 

(Also, if you're with me on this, I'd like to start using "Holy Motors" as an expression of astounded amazement. As in, "Holy Motors, Batman!")

Friday, November 30, 2012


In and of itself, Looper's a humdinger of a movie. It's an articulately, unabashedly cool submission to the sci-fi, time travel genre. Outside of itself, though, it's an equally exciting movie. It's writer/director Rian Johnson's third film, following Brick and The Brothers Bloom. Brick has settled nicely as a teen cult film, a high school gumshoe noir, also notable (along with Mysterious Skin) for inaugurating Joseph Gorden-Levitt's adult career. Johnson's sophomore effort, The Brothers Bloom, while not irredeemable, was a bit of a let down, feeling a little too tethered to the twee, postured conventions of Wes Anderson. (Go ahead and start looking for the tallest tree in town, kids: Anderson bugs the hell out of me.) Looper's a pretty magnificent recovery from that stumble: in its genre, but not always of it. Watching Looper, I'm reminded of Reservoir Dogs, Memento, Rushmore, and Pi. Johnson, in this well-worn genre, speaks clearly in his own voice, paying the debt of genre expectation and finding himself with a whole lot of walking-around money. This guy's totally worth making a Google Alert for.

The success of the movie itself has a lot to do with a rather simple but stalwart premise. In 2070, the mob gets rid of its chaff by sending them into the past (the present of the movie), where hired guns are waiting. In a society that has a severely polarized economy, being a hired gun, a Looper, is pretty lucrative. An inevitability of the job, however, is having to kill yourself when the mob's through with you in the future. That's the simple premise. The complication comes when Joe's (JG-L) future escapes. And that's about all I'll say. For all its sci-fi-ness, Looper is essentially a human story aided and amplified by computer effects, as opposed to most recent submissions to the genre, where effects are barely justified by human inclusion.

And while I've got you here, a quick word about Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This kid's at an awkward age. He's much like a young singer with a big, mature voice. He has the chops to play more mature roles, but I think he suffers from what I like to call Leonardo DiCaprio Syndrome. He's got boyish good looks, but the looks are just that: boyish. Look-wise, he's suited just fine for movies like 50/50 and 500 Days of Summer, but he always feels a bit wasted in these roles. At the same time, he felt too young, too on tippytoes in The Dark Night Rises and Inception. As far as I'm concerned, Looper is a perfect fit for this kid. His portrayal of a young, pursed-face Bruce Willis is seriously one of the more impressive performances I've seen. It's studied and subtle, and done so well in mood and mannerisms that the fake nose and eyeliner seem overwrought and unnecessary.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Film Lumbering, Rancorous Meat

I don't know the numbers and don't care to whack this bush that is the Internet to spook them out, so let's just say that somewhere between a quarter and a half of movies that come out in North America are based on a book or published story or some other primary source. A quick survey of new and upcoming releases supports this lazy guesstimation: Midnight's Children, On The Road, Twilight, Jack Reacher, Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas. With the exception of Lee Child's and Stephanie Meyer's books, I've read and sometimes loved this list. Cloud Atlas and Life of Pi, by my reading, rely so much on their being texts (I won't elucidate this point for fear of ruining their fine payoffs) that it's frankly hard to image these being dis- and then recombobulated onto the big screen. And while I hear that both adaptations are real humdingers, I don't know if I'll ever get around to seeing them. 

His whole weird, stubborn life, that wonderful crank JD Salinger refused to let Hollywood get its meathooks into Catcher in the Rye. Part of this stalwart aversion is owing to a bad experience when his story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" was turned into My Foolish Heart, but JD also maintained that his writing was unfilmable, unactable. This resistance story on its own has a tinge of pretension to it, but a sterling core can be found, I think, in Salinger's refusal to have Holden Caulfield pictured on any of the jacket art.
We get some idea of Holden's looks from the text--redheaded with a grey streak, mature-looking for his age, a backwards "people-shooting" hat--but otherwise, Holden's a bit of a ghost when I read him. He's animated feelings, opinions, and meanings. I think of Ignatius from John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces in about the same way. He's such a lumbering absurdity full-up with these rancourous  fusty opinions that it's somewhat difficult to picture him up and moving in a real world of meat and bone. But Hollywood's been threatening to make this movie since it won the Pulitzer, originally envisioning John Belushi in the role, and over the years I hear that Chris Farley, Will Ferrell, and Zach Galifianakis have been in talks to man this impossible man.

Watching a movie is a considerably passive act compared to the active challenge of reading. Books come with assembly required. Don't get me wrong: films at their best demand an astounding amount of work from the viewer, an ability to harmonize what you're being shown, how you're being shown it, what you're being told, and how you're being told it. While all good art requires participation to create meaning, books alone require the animating spark. Or maybe it's more like disposing of a body: the author gets the head, and it's up to you to get the feet (I'm doing my best not to drag Barthes into this...). Movies tend to drag away and bury the body; the viewer kinda keeps a look-out.

There's a famous story from the making of Alien. Originally, said alien was to appear prominently on screen but dailies revealed that a guy in black leotards would snap the suspension of disbelief. The fix was to barely show the titular alien, relegate the creature to shadows and peripheral blurs. It's rare that an imagined fear will be lesser than a shown one. I'm wondering if the same thing can be said about a deftly wrought literary character.

- Andrew

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Routinization of the Fantastic

Writing about the glut of special effects disaster movies at the millennium's ass, author David Foster Wallace pointed a damning finger at Terminator 2--or, simply, T2. DFW's view was that T2 ushered in and defined a new genre: Special Effects Porn. "'Porn' because, if you substitute F/X for intercourse, the parallels between the two genres become so obvious they're eerie. Just like hard-core cheapies, [Special Effects Pornos] aren't really 'movies' in the standard sense at all. What they really are is a half a dozen or so isolated, spectacular scenes--scenes comprising maybe twenty or thirty minutes of riveting, sensuous payoff--strung together via another sixty to ninety minutes of flat, dead, and often hilariously insipid narrative."

It's been twenty-one years since T2 blew my eight-year-old hair back. I was besotted with that movie, spent a few years afterwards obsessively drawing huge, mechanically nonsensical weapons and the T-100's mangled face. Maybe five years ago, in lieu of doing absolutely anything else, I watched the movie again. Apart from a few effervescent memories of being young and wowed, I couldn't stand T2, found it flat, dead, and often hilariously insipid. I got the same feeling from this summer's The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises. There might have been instances where I enjoyed myself, when the eight year old inside me got tickled (sorry, that sounded weird...), but on the whole I just didn't care. 

Maybe I've missed something, or maybe not seen the right movies, but I don't think anyone ever said the point of porn was to make its audience care.

I try not talk taste with people because in the end that's all it is. There's nothing snobbish about my not liking these movies; I just don't. I don't care much for Ethiopian food or Odd Future or Maru either. But I'm starting to wonder whether or not taste has anything to do with anything anymore. In the same gush of enthusiasm over some fight scene, I'll see a movie-goer roll their eyes over how corny whatever movie actually was. People enjoy all these movies--otherwise they wouldn't go--but less and less am I convinced that people actually like them.

Here's New Yorker movie critic David Denby in the introduction to his book, Do The Movies Have A Future? 
Moviegoers who first saw this stuff at ten may still love it. For those of us, however, who first experienced the startling beauties of the early CGI movies as adults, and were ravished by them, the omnipresent spectacle--it quickly moved into television shows and commercials--may often seem fatiguing, even brain-deadening. You can never get away from the stuff. The liberation of the fantastic has led, in less than twenty years, to the routinization of the fantastic, a set of convulsive tropes--crashes, flights, explosions, transformations--that now feel like busy blank patches on the screen. At this point, the fantastic is chasing human temperament and destiny--what we used to call drama--from the movies. The merely human has been transcended. And if the illusion of physical reality is unstable, the emotional framework of movies has changed, too, and for the worse. In time--a very short time--the fantastic, not the illusion of reality, may become the default mode of cinema.
Denby goes on to argue that this "default mode" and the business sense that propels it is in no certain terms destroying movies: "If movies mean less to people than they once did, it's because of something more central than changing leisure habits and simple-minded scripts. The language big movies are made in--the elements of shooting, editing, storytelling, and characterization--is disintegrating very rapidly and in ways that prevent the audience from feeling much of anything about what it sees. The creepiest part of this is that the distancing of the audience from its own natural responses is intentional, and the audience seems to like it that way. Or not know what it's missing."

Denby continues, "You leave the theater vibrating, but, a day later, you don't feel a thing; there's no after-image, no deeper imprint, just the memory of having been excited. The audience has been conditioned to find the absence of emotion pleasurable." Denby may as well be describing porno here.

This summer, because I needed to kill some time and sober up in the early afternoon, I paid actual money to sit through That's My Boy. Not once did I ever consider whether or not it was going to be good. And the filmmakers weren't trying for that--they were trying only to fill up an hour and forty minutes with things happening, I think. If I sit down and really cogitate, I might get furious at the thinness of the story and characters and the uselessness of the resolution, but getting mad at movies like that for those reasons seems to me like blowing up at your cat for not understanding the English you're screaming at it. I'm reminded of that parable of the man who keeps a snake for a pet. One day the snake bites him and the man's offended, asks his snake why it bit him. "Because I'm a snake," the snake explains. As viewers of shitty movies, we're kind of stuck: we can't get mad when a movie we knew was going to be shitty shakes out to be just as shitty as we thought it was going to be. So what are we left to feel? Nothing, I guess.

The Master's been playing at the Cinema for a few days now and it's so far been fairly divisive. People come out either scratching their heads or verbally ripping at the movie like it was some great gift that might have a bit too much wrapping on it. I've also heard "That was the best movie ever," or, on the other side of the coin, "That was the worst movie ever." For some, that's a lot of time and not an insignificant amount of money to spend on the worst movie ever. However, when the other option is to see a movie that inspires zero reaction and expects the same, I feel like the price is pretty slight. 

Too, I've heard from reliable sources that the internet is just chockablock with free smut.

- Andrew

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Clean Up Time, The Sequel: This Time It's Postered

I couldn't resist following up my last post with a sequel segue. The movie biz, or certainly Hollywood, loves a sequel, which then becomes a franchise.

And while we are currently entering another round of sequel/franchise siege, I thought it best to remind anyone living in or near Guelph that we have been cleaning up our storage space of old posters and are offering them for sale on Saturday, Nov. 24 from noon to 4:00 p.m. Stop by the cinema (and it may spill into the Greenroom/eBar) on the 24th and check out the deals. Whether you're looking for a favourite from recent years, a Xmas gift, or just Xmas wrapping paper (a very cool way to impress family and friends), the poster sale will be the place to check out on the 24th.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

Honestly, it's hard to know what to make of Seven Psychopaths. Going by the trailer, the movie feels a little out of time, something I would have expected to come out in the late '90s, when the Tarantino effect was still being felt. The promised wit and quirk and panache and ensemble cast stands out in our current mainstream dichotomy of earnest violence and Superhero CGI.

Seven Psychopaths is about slick mugs who abduct the toy dogs of the rich for the reward money, and the oddball mayhem that ensues when they nab a Shih Tzu belonging to a particularly violent gangster. The roster includes Colin Ferrel, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits. From the reports coming back on this one from the Star, Rolling Stone, the Herald, Huffpost, and Paste, it sounds like this film is the best kind of self-aware, and just good, clean, stylized, raunchy, violent fun.

Personally, this could be the worst movie ever and I'd still see it. I'd watch Tom Waits paint a fence; Christopher Walken rototill a garden.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Master

It isn't exactly apt to say that There Will Be Blood came out of nowhere. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson made a quick and deserved reputation for himself with the sprawling films Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but that reputation had as much to do with his youth and perspicacity as it did with his talents. Both films, owing much to Scorsese and Altman, as stylizing and sweeping as they are, feel now more like verbs than nouns--they are sometimes more filmmaking than they are films. Punch-Drunk Love was somewhat overlooked, I think, because it seemed, in its tightness and atmosphere, an odd direction for Anderson to take. But really, it was something of a return to the director's first and under-appreciated effort, Hard Eight. All things considered, though, the leap Anderson made from his previous films to There Will Be Blood is at times, watching the movie, befuddling. There Will Be Blood is patient and contemplative and, ultimately, sublime (in the Romantic sense) in ways that make the previous films feel a little, well, twee.

The Master has been anticipated for a few years now, with nerds eager to see how Anderson would pull off a film about Scientology that is not about Scientology. The basics are these: Joaquin Phoenix exits the navy jangled and self-destructive and is corralled by a charismatic polymath and luminary and possible crackpot, played by the ever-doughy Philip Seymour Hoffman. The anticipation was answered by a film that is not as straightforward as the nerds and fans were hoping for. By all accounts, The Master is abstract, confounding, and beautiful--a seemingly amorphous thing corralled by stalwart performances.

While his stabs have heretofore been varied, Anderson's interests have been consistent, and those who might find The Master somewhat bewildering would do well to latch on to the filmmaker's prevalent themes. There is the constant struggle between parent and child, mentor and mentee, and the exploration of American upward mobility with wafts of the Icarus myth. On the surface, it might seem like Paul Thomas Anderson is becoming more complicated, but I think it could be argued that his ideas about the world and about filmmaking are coming into better focus as he understands that the story he has been trying to tell is more complicated than he may have first thought.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Clean up time and rotten tomatoes...

Last week I was cleaning up our rental garden space, a task I much enjoy. With or without the catchy John Lennon ditty ringing in my ears, I was struck by the number of rotten green tomatoes on the ground--a product of too-tightly-packed planting (my fault), a rainy autumn, and a frost the week before. But surrounded by the gorgeous quiet of the farm fields, my mind often wanders, and I found myself mulling over the November film program that was then just taking shape.

Believe me, I wouldn't use a segue this cheesy had it not occurred in my head, full of nature's silence and bird trills (not tweets), but I was reminded of the movie website, Rotten Tomatoes. I only visit the RT site occasionally, but with the November program taking shape, if only in my mind and the pencil-scrawled page, I thought I'd see what the site was saying about our choice of titles.

Well, don't I wish this was a grade school report card (unlike my childhood report cards saying, "Peter has fine grades but he is easily distracted and his clowning-around often disrupts the class"), since most of our November titles came back with Grade A ratings from the RT site. Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Master both received 86% "fresh" ratings (as does the returning Beasts of the Southern Wild),  Arbitrage and Seven Psychopaths were 85% and the returning titles Samsara (73%) and The Intouchables (76%) were quite respectable.

I have lots of films on my must-see list this month, but when it comes time to put the Dec program together, I think I'll walk through the fields around our garden, watch the winter clouds roll in, and only go looking for rotten tomatoes after the program is finished. It would feel like "peeking" and it's more fun to compare after the program is complete.

Hey, check out our film fruit, I hear it's quite fresh.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Perks Of Being An Adult Remembering Being A Teen

The idea of the teenager didn't much exist until after World War Two, but the plight of the years bookended by adolescence and adulthood have been the subject of popular culture since Rebel Without A Cause.

I didn't have a seminal, generation-defining movie. Growing up, my favorite John Hughes film was Home Alone. It wasn't until the end of high school that I saw The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, at which point any angst and alienation had been turned wry, weird, and black by Kurt Vonnegut. What I found in those Hughes movies was a burnished, eloquent, cool ennui--a romanticized version of the inarticulate travails I'd been through before. The troubled kids I grew up with were not especially well-spoken or good-looking. The most frustrating aspect of adolescence is the lack of experience, and the failure of your language to organize whatever morass you're slogging through.

From the soil of Hughes grew the chatty erudition of Dawson's Creek. Again, I was a little old for Dawson, and when I'd see the show in passing, the whip-smart rhetoric of these small-town teens seemed highly dubious. No one talked like that. Most people in their twenties couldn't string those lines together. The thing is, the kids that grew up after Dawson's Creek and the John Hughes canon, and Juno actually--to my old ear--talk in this highfalutin', slangy, irony-rich hybrid. Everyone now seems so much cooler, so much smarter than everyone was twenty years ago.

It's odd to think that a puffy, bespectacled thirty-four year old was behind the films that seemed to have articulated the garbled expressions of teen strife. Of course we were all teenagers once, and so long as that dirty bomb that is the pituitary gland ticks, the experience will be similar from generation to generation. In a way, I think it helps to have a stylized version of your ungainliness to refer and escape to in that period. However, I can't help but think that some voice-cracking yawp is being lost the more kids refer to an adult's idea of how their clumsy teen years should look and sound. The meat of those years is about finding your own voice, and I guess I worry about that voice being given instead of found. And I know that's totally a fusty, fuddy old worry to have.

- Andrew

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


noun /ˈärbiˌträZH/ 
The simultaneous buying and selling of securities, currency, or commodities in different markets or in derivative forms in order to take advantage of differing prices for the same asset.
Dumb this concept down one or two more shades and I think I'd still be scratching my head. I don't have a head for money or strategy, and the only use I think I'd have with a functioning knowledge of either is to avoid being taken advantage of. White collar crooks have been getting away with the dirt they do for years because, on the whole, that dirt is beyond the ken of most basically functioning people. And it's hard to villainize someone for something you don't have a tight grasp on. In recent years, however, that esoteric dirt has become so egregious and ignoble that us head scratchers are starting to realize we need to smarten up.

In Nicholas Jarecki's first major film, Richard Gere (who, though Buddhist and probably a good dude, I think works best a slime ball) plays a hedge fund manager who has monkeyed with his company's books to cover up a major boner he pulled. Running parallel with his financial skulduggery, Gere flees a car crash that kills his mistress. The crash and Gere's role in it become a sort of tangible example of the financial deceit.

I can't help but think that our notions of right or wrong are mostly empathetic. If we can imagine ourselves doing something or having something done to us, then we can better form an opinion about it. But when crime is committed outside the spheres of our knowledge, reacting becomes difficult. Money and its movements are so ethereal it's hard to grasp the ethics of it. By coupling a financial thriller with a more recognizable one, Jarecki, I think, gets a stranglehold on that ether.

- Andrew

Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell is about just that. There are a lot of story levels to this documentary, Sarah Polley's first. (We showed her previous film, Take This Waltz, a few months ago.) Let's do some accounting: there are Sarah's interviews with her siblings, father, and family friends; there is the narration by Sara's father, Michael Polley, from his own memoir; there is archive footage of Sarah's mom, Diane Polley, and Super 8 from the family, all commingled with contemporary footage shot by Polley with actors hired to play her family; finally, there is the story of the compiling of all these stories. Late in the film, Michael Polley points out to Sarah, his interviewer, that the process of her film making is ultimately akin to the story that each participant is telling; what one considers worth telling is just as important as what one leaves out of a story, the details and opinions the teller deems irrelevant. From all her footage and from all her sources, Sarah decides how the story of all these stories will be told.

The secret--the reason for this layer yarn--is not much of a secret at this point, but I won't spoil it. It's enough to say that it's a family secret having to do with Sarah's mother. One interviewee (I won't say who) raises the point that the documentary might be somewhat futile. Diane, the "owner" of the story, doesn't have a voice. In her absence, what authority do the people she left behind (Diane died of cancer in 1990) have to tell her story for her?

Polley doesn't answer this question outright, but certainly addresses the issue in the make-up of the film itself. We are reminded throughout the documentary that we are watching a story that has been compiled and arranged by one person. We see Sarah filming her family during interviews, we see Sarah filming her fake family for the re-creation scenes. We see Sarah in the sound booth directing her father as he reads from his memoir. One of the last scenes is Sarah recording with her father, who, as the film is ending, is presumably reading the end of his memoir. In the middle of one line--his own line, about his life--his director interrupts him, asking for him to try the reading again.

- Andrew

Friday, October 26, 2012

Short Childs & Thrills Film Fest: The Lineup!

OK folks, here are some brief descriptions of the films Peter Szabo has selected for the Short Chill and Thrills Film Fest screening Sun Oct 28 at 9:00pm. I'm looking forward to the showing and hope to see you there.

- Peter


Directed by Zsolt Gyöngyösi
Hungary 2012

While confessing to his priest, a man recalls a life-changing drive with a mute hitchhiker and the dark reflections about his adulterous wife that he revealed to his mysterious passenger. The two confessions--in the church and in the car--connect and lead to a crushing ending. Based on the short story of the same name. 

Maxwell Edison

Directed by Warren Ray
Louisville, Kentucky, USA 2012

Based on the story "The Man Who Loved Flowers," this colourful short follows Maxwell Edison, a man who loves life, flowers, and women, as he prepares for an exciting date with Joan, while avoiding the shadow of the local serial killer. 

Grey Matter

Directed by James B. Cox
Long Beach, California, USA 2012

Based on the short story of the same name, Grey Matter explores the life of Isaac, who must care for his alcoholic father, a war veteran, after his mother abandons them both. Issac finds release from his troubles at home by acting out in school, mainly by telling lies. Unfortunately, these lies have consequences when Issac's father begins a horrific transformation.

Love Never Dies

Directed by Peter Szabo
Guelph, Ontario, Canada 2012

Based on the short story "Nona" by Stephen King, Love Never Dies is a psychological thriller about a drifter who wanders the night, seeking to escape his tormented past. One night he meets the mysterious and seductive Nona, a woman cast from his darkest fantasies, who lures him on a deadly chase to uncover the horrifying truth he so desperately wants to avoid. Inspired by the creepy corners of King’s imagination, Love Never Dies explores the razor-thin line that separates the allure of love from the romance of murder. Love never dies…but sometimes it kills!

See also this contest for the fest:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Human Ambiance

I'm not much of an eater at the movies. I'm there to watch. At my most sensitive, the sound of people eating in front, behind, and to the side of me can be infuriating and completely distracting. I think it might have something to do with the disordered ambiance of a theatre full of munching and crinkling rubbing against the grain of the ordered, intentional experience of the movie itself. But I'd never hiss at someone to quit it with the loud chewing. Food and movies go together like beer and absolutely everything. My tolerance craps out with cellphone glow and unrelated chitchat, but even then it's hard to fault people for being faultful people in what is, essentially, a social setting.

As coddled Westerners, we're becoming cagey, suffering one another--whether foolish or otherwise--less and less. So much of our lives has become about control that we start to unhinge a bit when control over our environment is mostly taken away from us. So we stay home or we wear headphones in public, steering as clear as we can from having to deal with each other. But there's an old fashionedness stained in our cloth. Some part of us still likes cramming together in a dark place to share an experience with strangers, no matter how annoying those strangers are. 

There's just score in Samsara, no dialogue. When I saw the movie the other night, the theater was replete with drink sipping, wrapper crinkling, mindless mastication, but also with whispers back and fourth about what was on the screen, or what what was on the screen reminded someone of; there were disjointed little gasps, tsks, and sighs when someone was moved or disgusted or bummed. There was no end to coughs, and sniffles, and shifting in seats, and the theater door opening and closing without a sense of delicacy. With no plot, no talking, the people in the theater were threatening to overwhelm the movie in the theater. For the first half hour or so, I was losing my mind.

But here's the thing: I mentioned in my previous post that, if it's about anything, Samsara's about us. So it makes a kind of perfect, beautiful, maybe unintentional sense that the people you're watching the movie with are contributing to the thing itself. We experience so much of life completely alone nowadays (yes, I said "nowadays") that I think, even when we're surrounded by each other, we try to ignore that fact.

Think about this: when you're watching TV or movies at home, how often do you laugh out loud? Or gasp? I'm going to guess rarely. It's not a coincidence that we laugh more, laugh louder, when we have others around us doing the same. For reasons beyond my ken, shared experiences are elevated, sensitized experiences--for better or worse. Doing a thing in public is as much about being in public as it is about the thing itself. I remember that when the idea of Letterbox Vs. Widescreen became common knowledge, my dad became incensed that he was losing a few inches of detail on either side of the image. When we watch movies or TV alone, I can't help but think we lose peripheral and important elements of the experience, as annoying as some of those elements might be.

- Andrew

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The question I've been getting about Samsara is, "What's it about?" After seeing the film yesterday, the most acute, accurate answer I can come up with goes like this: "It's about us. About how we're the absolute best and the absolute worst. And it's about how beautiful that is." And holy cow is Samsara ever beautiful. Here's a roll call of filming locations: Indonesia, Burma, Mecca, India, the Philippines, Versailles, the Wailing Wall, Tibet, Petra, Namibia, the Himalayas, Epupa Falls, China, Yosemite Valley, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Turkey. The film isn't necessarily capital A About anything, yet is About everything.

Anyone over thirty living in the downtown core of Guelph is probably familiar with the Buddhist concept of samsara. But for those unfamiliar, samsara describes a cycle of birth and rebirth which can only be escaped through enlightenment; and with birth comes, along with the certainly of taxes, death. Not a word is spoken in the film--the images are left to speak for themselves. If there's any narrative here, it's to be found in the juxtaposition of these locations and events. Whether or not the samsara that is this film leads to enlightenment is kind of up to you. The only thing that's certain is that, while you don't have to go home after the movie, you can't stay in the theater.

Coming of age in Guelph in the '90s, filmmaker Ron Fricke's last film, 1992's Baraka, was the film I associated with the Bookshelf Cinema. It always seemed to be coming soon, or playing, or coming back soon. The poster image of a painted child peering out from behind verdant foliage, maybe as amazed by us as we are of her, is the image that encapsulates the Bookshelf for me. Full disclosure: I am employed gainfully by said business. Still and all, while I was having my mind blown and heart stomped by Mr. Fricke's follow-up, I couldn't help but cogitate just slightly on how lucky I and everyone else in that packed little theater were to have a venue to see the spectacular, troubling results of five years of filming. When something so rare is so available, the easiest thing to do is take it for granted. But I'm serious guys: Samsara, in addition to being a humbling mirror held up to our complicated humanity, is a gentle reminder of how lucky we are to have a place like the Bookshelf in our community that lets us hang out with descriptions of ourselves that are kind of disappearing from our lives lately.

- Andrew

Farewell My Queen

A few weeks ago we were playing the doc The Queen of Versailles and now with Farewell, My Queen filling our screen, I can't help but make comparisons. The Siegels were building the largest house in America, and they dubbed the thing, without a shred of irony, Versailles. Of course the reference points towards the superciliousness of the project, but the Siegels chose this name seemingly without any understanding of how that historical opulence popped.

Farewell, My Queen takes place over three days of Versailles's fall, as observed by young Sidonie, Marie Antoinette's reader. Benoit Jacquot's film is based on the novel by Chantal Thomas, also the author of the study The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette. From all appearances, this films owes much to that earlier book of history. Here's a precis of that text: 

Almost as soon as Marie Antoinette, archduchess of Austria, was brought to France as the bride of Louis XVI in 1771, she was smothered in images. In a monarchy increasingly under assault, the charm and horror of her feminine body and her political power as a foreign intruder turned Marie Antoinette into an alien other. Marie Antoinette's mythification, argues Thomas, must be interpreted as the misogynist demonization of women's power and authority in revolutionary France. In a series of pamphlets written from the 1770s until her death in 1793, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as a spendthrift, a libertine, an orgiastic lesbian, and a poisoner and infant murderess. In her analyses of these pamphlets ... Thomas reconstructs how the mounting hallucinatory and libelous discourse culminated in the inevitable destruction of what had become the counterrevolutionary symbol par excellence.

All of this is present in Farewell, My Queen, but is more implied than belaboured. The young Sidonie is our lens, and her naivete is ours. She is besotted with the queen at a time when that same woman is subject of national rancor. Early on in the film, discussing Marie Antoinette's love of tapestry with another attendant, Sidonie remarks, "That's when she forgets she's queen." The other attendant replies, with a creeping scorn, "I never forget who I am."

As a period piece, Farewell, My Queen spends a lot of time on the literal dirt and indecency of the time. Where most films of this genre revel in the grandeur of what we consider the past, Jacquot's falling Versailles is intimate and frenetic, and Diane Kruger's Marie is human and flawed and as fallible as anyone else in the court. The building revolution lives very much beyond the grounds of Versailles, but the grist of is tangible in the court itself. Farewell, My Queen is all about the intersection of how we view a person and who that person is, in ways both loving and hateful.

- Andrew

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Random Roles

I have a lot of love for the nerdlingers over at the AV Club. They've got the quippy, mordant tone of their father site The Onion, but levelled at popular culture and the maybe-less-popular culture that they're ebullient about. Daily they offer a great pulse-taking of what's new and what's awesome and what's lame, but definitely worth checking out are their running features. Especially edifying are My Year Of Flops, I Watched This On Purpose, and Commentary Tracks Of The Damned. If ever you're feeling like a hopeless lame-o, subsisting solely on the Cheetos and Funyuns of our garbage culture, you can buck up, because you're freaking Fonzie compared to these ostensibly pocket protector-wearing geekazoids.

It's the AV Club's love of and for the ancillary that's laudatory, for culture's a quilt... or a rich tapestry... or something like that. Whatever thing in your linen closet that culture's like, it's animated more by people you've never heard of or rarely hear of than by the people who end up on magazine covers and talk shows. But even if you don't know the names of peripheral proponents of culture, you'll probably recognize them. Random Roles offers a nice cataloging of some of your favorite characters as well as those you didn't realize were your favorites. Recognize these guys?: Stephen Tobolowsky? William Atherton? Wallace Shawn? Jean-Claude Van Damme?