Category Archives: movie review
Savage and beautiful, Toa Fraser’s The Dead Lands (2014) is a gripping warrior’s tale. A tribal chief’s young son finds himself the only survivor of a massacre, and vows vengeance. But to have any hope of repaying the grim blood debt, he must enlist the help of a mad warrior, feared by all. So begins a remarkable Maori action epic, featuring the little known art of mau rakau, a Maori martial art based in part on the brutal wielding of a serrated paddle called a patu. Kind of like a nasty ping pong paddle, properly wielded it can slit your throat or bash your brains right the fuck out. I was fortunate to be able to interview director Fraser, from a safe distance. Let’s leap into the fray, after the jump.
There’s a traveling retrospective of Ruben Östlund’s work going around; it was in New York earlier this year, and lands at TIFF in Toronto starting tomorrow. While four films is a bit light for a retro, the Swedish director does have a definite perspective, and seems on the verge of something. The same words keep cropping up to describe Östlund’s films: unsettling, provocative, audacious, perceptive. And the critics aren’t wrong. This guy likes pushing your buttons. Hard. He knows where they are and he goes after them with slow determination. So with his static camera and glacial skewering of public mores is Östlund a sadist or a satirist? You say tomahto, I say let’s make some soup after the jump.
You know how it goes. We all do it. The barista gets your name wrong, it’s awful. Rogers raises their internet rates again, it’s terrible. Kanye acts like an idiot at an awards show, again again. It’s appalling. But really, these complaints are the frills of cushy Western living. We’re pretty lucky to live in a society where we can freely bitch about these things (just don’t talk about the environment if you’re a Canadian government scientist, but nevermind). And it’s both astounding and so very depressing to see how easily such cherished freedoms can be tossed aside by governments ostensibly founded on those very principles. What’s awful is being persecuted for your beliefs. What’s terrible is being unlawfully imprisoned for years without representation, a trial or even formal charges. What’s appalling is being held prisoner by a nation founded on basic rights, when that nation itself acknowledges your innocence, but then lacks the will to set you free. That truly is absurd, and it’s the unsettling reality that the documentary Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd sets out to reveal.
I was fortunate enough to watch a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2014 Australian film called Predestination. This science fiction story is about time travel and it was written and directed by Spierig brothers, Michael and Peter. The film is based on a short story called “All You Zombies” written by Robert A. Heinlein and stars Ethan Hawke, as a Temporal Agent (time cop) on the search for a terrorist known as the Fizzle Bomber. Noah Taylor plays Mr. Robertson, the head of the Temporal Bureau and, the fabulous Sarah Snook plays a male writer named John. Using the pen name of “Unmarried Mother”, John is famous for writing confessional testimonials in a magazine. Sarah Snook gets to play two different versions of her character, starting out as female and ending up as a male. Sound confusing? Thanks to the wonderful acting of the two main stars, I was able to keep up to all the time jumps and gender switches. I was very excited to speak with Sarah Snook about her role in Predestination. Read the rest of this entry
TIFF’s got a retrospective of Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien on right now. Which could make you swoon, if you love lush cinematography, oblique story-telling and very long takes with a free-wandering camera. Or it could be as exciting as a long night with your second cousin’s family, driving around aimlessly, wishing these people you barely know actually had something to say. Beautiful, meditative, complex, tedious, distant, and meandering are all words that could apply to Hou’s mesmeric take on movies. Sometimes the spell works. Others… Join me after the jump to find where you fall on the Hou scale.
Heard of her? Probably. Name a film she’s done? Not so easy. Barbara Stanwyck earned a deserved spot in the A-List of classic Hollywood celebrity in her day. She played in 85 films over the course of 38 years, a Nick Cage-like pace punctuated with terrific range from comedies to tear-jerkers to hard-boiled film noir. She was nominated four times for Best Lead Actress but never won (though she did take home several Emmys for her later work in television), and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. To contemporary eyes she’s in a bit of a fog, not as clear a classic figure as the sharp-witted Katharine Hepburn or the tough gravitas of Bette Davis. Part of that haze is due to Stanwyck’s chameleonic range, the ur Meryl Streep if you will, as she tackled so many different kinds of roles with fluid aplomb. For the next two months, TIFF Cinematheque shines a light on Stanwyck’s wide-ranging career, revealing a fierce, independent icon from a bygone era. Bold and brassy, she’s all the reason they’re calling the program Ball of Fire.
If you’re living in the world of genre love like so many of the writers at Biff Bam Pop are, you’ve no doubt heard all the worries about the upcoming Fantastic Four film, directed by Josh Trank (Chronicle) and starring Jamie Bell, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller. On set strife, new origin stories, yadda yadda yadda. Hopefully, the trailer from a few weeks ago has helped allay some of your fears. It certainly has me jonesing to see what everyone involved can come up with. And now, having watched Miles Teller in the absolutely fantastic film Whiplash, I’m even more excited and optimistic about the new Fantastic Four.
The Oscars are coming up, airing Sunday, February 22nd for over 40 million people. Yesterday I looked at one of the hardest to follow Academy categories, the award for best live action short. Today we’ll take up another short category, certainly the most fun, the Oscar for best animated short. TIFF in Toronto is showing these for at least the next week, as well, and if you’re in the States, you can find listings for the Academy Awards short programs here.
Every year at the Academy Awards, there’s a lull, one even more numbing than the Oscar for special effects or the latest garish train-wreck of a dance number. It’s when the awards for short films roll around, and it’s a damn shame. The winners are starstruck and elated and you have to feel thrilled for their tremendous spirited breakthrough, but nobody’s seen the film. Or any of them. Shorts have such restricted windows, watching them can be tough. They circulate on the festival circuit, which bars them from appearing on TV and often the internet. This year if you’re in or around Toronto, TIFF’s got you covered, with two separate programs, one for the Oscar-nominated live-action shorts, the other for the animated ones. If you’re in the States, you can also find screenings for the next few weeks all over the country here. They’re the cream of the crop, a handful on each side chosen from all over the world.
The great filmmakers are often celebrated for their extraordinary control: the exacting science of Hitchcock’s suspense, the omnipresent symmetry of Kubrick’s vision, the dour Wagnerian pomp of Christopher Nolan. But there’s a lot to be said for id, too. The chaotic subconscious mind is its own glorious school, a place for the likes of Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi and David Lynch to stretch out and just, you know, get really fucking crazy. With Spain’s Alex de la Iglesia, add one more to that subversive list. TIFF is running a retrospective of de la Iglesia’s films from January 30th to March 28th, and amid all the batshit bonkers onscreen are some really indelible moments of brilliance. From the apocalyptic satanic horror of The Day of the Beast (1995) to the jet-black comedy of A Ferpect Crime (2004), de la Iglesia isn’t for everyone, but if putting the words wild satirical dark guignol together gets you salivating like Pavlov’s dog on a leash, you’re gonna wanna dive into this head-first.