Category Archives: movie review

The Strange Case of Hou Hsiao-Hsien and the Very Very Long Take

Tony Leung is torn between two companions in the sumptuous Flowers of Shanghai

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.

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Fierce: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck cons clueless millionaire Henry Fonda in Preston Sturges’ hilarious screwball comedy The Lady Eve

 

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.

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J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller deliver an acting clinic in Whiplash

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.

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Who’s got short shorts? TIFF’s Oscar short-film showcase: Part II – Animation

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.

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Who’s got short shorts? TIFF’s Oscar short-film showcase: Part I – Live Action

Boogaloo and Graham might have something to crow about this Oscar season

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.

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In the Belly of the Beast: The Films of Alex de la Iglesia

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.

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The Dumberest: Mel Brooks at TIFF

John Candy, Daphne Zuniga and Bil Pullman star in Spaceballs, mocking some sci-fi flick or other

With the Farrelly Brothers Dumb and Dumber To (2014) bumbling into theatres now, it’s fitting that TIFF has chosen this moment to look back at one of the great purveyors of goofball comedy, the legendary Mel Brooks. With films like The Producers (1967), Blazing Saddles (1974), and Spaceballs (1987), Brooks has carved out a huge swath of send-up satire that comedy directors today are enormously indebted to. Too?

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31 Days of Horror 2014 – Ravenous (1999)

ravenousDo you ever get those hanger pangs that are so deep, so full of want, that you could eat a whole steak (yes), a whole beef roast (yes!), a whole cow (YES!)?

No matter how hungry you get, there is one food source that is strictly taboo, firmly off-limits, and definitely not for civilized consumption. So it’s no wonder that gorging on human flesh is too harrowing and far too repulsive an act to ever consider – no matter how dire the (pardon the pun) stakes.

The idea literally turns our stomachs.

And that’s what makes the 1999 dark humour horror film, Ravenous, so much fun!

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Free Spirit: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Any film from Studio Ghibli is a treat. The Japanese anime house has put out some great movies over the years, including Hayao Miyazake’s films Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). Now officially retired, Miyazake’s worked slowly but steadily, putting out a film every five years or so. His Studio Ghibli cofounder Isao Takahata is even less prolific. The director of the masterful WWII story Grave of the Fireflies (1988) has only made three films since, his last My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) released over fourteen years ago. His return at age 78 with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2014) shows that Takahata hasn’t missed a beat. Beautiful and moving, he delivers another anime masterpiece.

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31 Days of Horror 2014 – L’Inferno (1911)

LInferno 1911Think of the high pitched screech of metal across metal, the low guttural growl of a wild animal or the rapid plucking of violin strings again and again to illicit a sense of tension. Undoubtedly, one of the most important elements of any horror film is sound: both in music score and in effects.

Still, visceral imagery and the underlying text that a film is based upon can have an enormous affect on the mindset of a viewer.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, at the origin of the art form we call film, the black and white L’Inferno, released in 1911, silent and arresting, tested the relevance of this treatise. The result was an overwhelmingly popular and horrifying experience for all of those that viewed the film then, as well as those that view it today.

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