Thursday, September 29, 2011


Whoever cuts the trailers for Andrea Arnold's films is an artist. They're always perfect. In the last year it seems like a lot more care has been put in to movie trailers ('Carre Blanc', 'Melancholia', 'Drive', 'Heartbeats', 'Bas Fonds', 'I Saw The Devil', etc). I didn't think anything could top 'Tree Of Life', which was apparently SO good that upon its official release a critic actually wrote a review about the TRAILER (the movie wouldn't come out for another few months), but this video below gives it a run for its money. I seriously think I've watched this 20 times. And I'm not even familiar with the story of 'Wuthering Heights' (i know the basic story, but I've never actually read the book or seen any of the movie adaptations). What pisses me off is that I had a chance to see this in Toronto a few weeks back but i didn't wake up on time and missed it! Had i seen the trailer before going to Toronto (at the time there were barely any video clips on the Internet of Wuthering Heights) this would've been one of my top priorities.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


After reading The Movie Snob's last 2 blog entries (Directors Swell & Friday Scatter-Shooting), I found myself thinking about who the new group of great filmmakers will be.
Every era has their key group of directors that make a lasting impression on the world of cinema. The 60's brought the french new wave directors like Godard, Truffaut and Rohmer. In the 70's we had the "new hollywood" era filmmakers like Scorcese, Coppola and George Lucas. The mid 80's- early 90's brought about people like Soderbergh, The Coens, Spike Lee, Van Sant, Jarmusch, etc. At the moment Christopher Nolan, David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky seem to be running things on the studio/commercial level, while Claire Denis and Michael Haneke are the top directors in the independent/arthouse world.
But who do you guys think are the next class? The directors who 5-10 years from know could be considered the BEST. I've put together my own TOP 10 list and tried my best to not only be unbiased, but to also represent the WORLD of cinema (we've got directors from Greece, Mexico, Thailand, Argentina and more). Half the directors on this list are still in their 30's (which is young for a director in my opinion). But at the same time, the requirements for being on here aren't just based on age. Some people listed below are in their 40's but have only started making feature films in the last 10 years.

So here's my list in no particular order...

Key Movies: Red Road & Fish Tank
An important female voice who's managed to go from neo-noir (red road) to family drama/coming of age (fish tank) to the adaptation of a period drama (wuthering heights) without breaking stride. I'm still kicking myself for not seeing her new movie at TIFF when I had the chance...

Key Movies: ALPS & Dogtooth
He has a unique (and dark) sense of humor that no other director can touch at the moment. 'Dogtooth' managed to get nominated for an academy award which, for a movie like that, is an incredible feat if you ask me. His new movie, which i had the pleasure of seeing in Toronto, is just around the corner and I'm sure it will please people just like 'Dogtooth' did.

 Key Movies: Japon, Battle In Heaven & Silent Light
One of the few (maybe only) directors left who can work with all non-professional actors and still make an amazing film. He keeps the film making style of Tarkovsky alive (something we've explored before in this blog), but gives it a realistic touch. He's also co-signed by Martin Scorsese.

Key Movies: Oldboy, Sympathy For Vengeance, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
We cant have a list full of sad, serious artsy directors, right? We need a little bit of violence and action. In a few short years he's managed to become the most influential director in modern Korea cinema. Oldboy is one of the greatest movies to come in the last 10 years and everything from 'Mother' to 'The Host' has borrowed something from it. Even the use of the actor Choi Min-Sik in 'I Saw The Devil' is right out of his performance in 'Oldoby'.

Key Movies: Uncle Boonme & Tropical Malady
In my eyes he's an important figure in southeast Asian film because he's managed to gain popularity without making a martial arts or action movie. In fact his films couldn't be any more different from an action movie. He's also the first southeast Asian filmmaker to win best picture at Cannes (at least I think so). 

FATIH AKIN (Turkey/Germany)
Key movie: Head On, The Edge Of Heaven, Soul Kitchen
Kind of like how Claire Denis is a voice for immigrants and people of color living in France, Fatih Akin is the same for Turkish people and just "outsiders" in general living in Germany. His films are harsh (Head-On) and at times heartbreaking (The Edge Of Heaven) but he also has a sense of humor (Soul Kitchen) which shows versatility.

Key movies: Shame & Hunger
Simply for the fact that he's a black director and hasn't been compared to Spike Lee yet is a great accomplishment in itself. And lets not forget that his films are great and have won numerous awards from all over the world (if awards matter to you).

Key Movies: La Cienaga, The Headless Woman & The Holy Girl
She has a talent for addressing class and race in a clever/subtle way. She has yet to make a bad movie in my opinion.

Key Movies: Drive, Valhalla Rising & Bronson
Now that 'Bronson' has become a cult hit and 'Drive' is the best movie playing in theaters right now, Nicolas Winding Refn is kind of sitting on top of the world. All eyes are on him for his next feature (which will star Ryan Gosling again) and I don't think he'll disappoint.

Key Movies: 'After The Wedding', 'Brothers', 'Open Hearts'
She's already had one of her movies remade (Brothers), and there's plans to remake 2 more of her films as well (after the wedding and open hearts). And lets also not forget she's already won an academy award, took part in the danish film movement; dogma95 and her name was kind of immortalized in Lars Von Trier's controversial Cannes speech from a few months ago.

Below is a list of even younger directors who clearly have a lot of promise, but still have some growing to do as filmmakers or don't have an extensive body  of work yet. Look out for these names in the future...



Friday, September 23, 2011


'House Of Tolerence' is about the downfall of an upscale French brothel leading to the inevitable rise of the kind of prostitution we all know of today (hookers, street walkers, pimps, etc). This rise and fall coincides with the dawn of a new century (the movie starts in 1899 and ends in 1900). Even though the story focuses on one specific brothel and the closely knit group of women who live & work there, it essentially represents all brothels during that period that were on their way out. The film is highly stylized (the elaborate & authentic-looking costume designs) and sometimes surreal (there's a dream sequence where one of the women cries tears of semen), but it's also realistic (there's plenty of not-so glamorous scenes like the women getting tested for STD's and attacked by their johns). Bertrand Bonello is no stranger to exploring sex and/or sexuality on the silver screen ('The Pornographer' being about the obvious & 'Tiresia' being about a transgender person), so 'House Of Tolerance' fits right in with the rest of his body of work.
I know the topic of prostitution has been done a million times before (something a few different critics have noted in their ridiculous reviews of this movie) but as many of us know, most films that deal with this subject create this false image of what life is like for prostitutes (pretty woman, best little whorehouse in texas and even Bresson's the ladies of the bois de boulogne). I think Lodge Kerrigan's 'Claire Dolan' may have been one of the last great films on this subject until now.
'House Of Tolerance' shows a dark, twisted and sometimes freaky side of men that most people wouldn't expect from a film about around sex set during the 19th century.
What also sets 'House Of Tolerance' apart from other films about prostitution (along with half of the lineup at TIFF this year) is that it has style. Sorry to sound so vague and pretentious but that's one of the things I loved about it. Style and a cast of BEAUTIFUL French actresses...

Like I said before, the story follows a group of sisterly prostitutes who all live together in a brothel. The main characters are...

"The Jewess" (later nicknamed: "The Woman Who Laughs" due to the joker-like scars on her mouth given to her by a sadistic client at the beginning of the movie)
After getting stitches on the sides of her face she obviously cant work as prostitute anymore (the head madam still keeps her around as the house keeper). Later on in the story one of the regular clients grows fascinated with the jewess and hires her as the main attraction in a group sex party (one of my favorite scenes). Her nickname, as well as the scars on her face, are a clear reference to the 1928 film 'The Man Who Laughs', which also inspired Christopher Nolan's joker character from 'The Dark Knight'.
'The Man Who Laughs' (1928)
The full figured "new girl" who is the most emotionally unattached from the lifestyle and the only one who seems to treat prostitution like a job and nothing more.

An opium addict who becomes somewhat attached to one of her regular clients and grows jealous when he chooses to be with another girl. This character is also used in a very pivotal scene in the end where we see the same actress 100+ years in the future as a modern-day prostitute walking the streets in a grimey area of what I assume to be Paris.




"Marie France"
The head madam of the brothel.

For something that's almost 140 minutes long, I never looked at my watch once or got bored. Had any other movie shown so many scenes of women sitting around, hanging out and just looking pretty I would have eventually grown bored. But it didn't seem to bother me in 'House Of Tolerance'.
I'm also a sucker for a dark, modern ambient score, which is another thing this had going for it.
This is bound to spark some heated debates. It's one of those films that could either enrage or please a female viewer depending on how they look at it. There's also elements of the "New French Extremity" in 'House Of Tolerance' (a genre of somewhat violent & "provocative" french films from the late 90's & early '00's like 'Irreversible', 'I Stand Alone', 'Humanity', 'Basai Moi' and a few more). The face slashing scene of "The Jewess" (which we actually see twice), made a few people get up and leave.

Black Venus (2010)
While watching this I was reminded very much of another recent french film: 'Black Venus' (as well as the FEW good moments in Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut'). Both 'Black Venus' and 'House Of Tolerance' are sad, 2+ hour-long, unapologetic looks at the sex trade and the spread of STD's in 19th century Europe. They both have a great eye for detail and really make you feel as if you're in the 1800's. I hope 'House Of Tolerance' doesn't fall victim to the same problems that 'Black Venus' did like misunderstanding movie critics who didn't really give it a chance. Hopefully 'House Of Tolerance' will play at a nice theater here in the city with a good screen so the audience can get the full effect (the "look" of the movie is very rich and colorful).

house of tolerance

eyes wide shut

This is the last of my highlights. To read up on everything else I saw in Toronto make sure to check out the TIFF roundup on the Pink Smoke website as well as my other highlights on this blog if you haven't yet...

L'Apollonide - Clip Génériqueby hautetcourt

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I'm having some seriously conflicted thoughts about this film. On one hand, 'The Invader' is a somewhat insightful and blunt look at the so-called taboos of interracial relationships (for those of you who are STILL interested in that subject matter in the year 2011) from the perspective of someone who clearly studied Claire Denis' early work like 'Chocolat' and 'No Fear No Die'. On the other hand, it comes off like racist propaganda against black males from the perspective of an angry (racist) white guy who's wife left him for a black guy.
'The Invader' - a noir-ish tale about an African man ("Amadou") who takes a one night stand with a shady blond statuesque femme fatale ("Agnes") a little too seriously - was one of the last movies at the Toronto Film Festival to really spark my interest. This was a truly thought provoking film. Without knowing about about this movie I knew where it was going after the beautifully shot opening sequence (below) which has quite a few (not so hidden) messages...

The Invader by Nicolas Provost from Wallonie Bruxelles Images on Vimeo.

See what I mean? The women in the opening shot is beautiful (even though this movie makes me feel guilty about thinking that) and the slow motion just enhances her beauty. But the camera slowly pans over to a group of African Immigrants washing up on shore which almost comes off like a metaphor for slavery (it should be noted that the Africans in the film are exploited by a white man and they live in a dirty underground warehouse almost like how slave quarters). But as soon as "Amadou" sees the naked white women, he stops everything just to gaze at her. Is this some kind of (projected) symbolism for the black man's obsession with white women? He just stops what he's doing and starts gazing at her, breathing heavily like some kind of a beast about to attack its prey. And speaking of portraying the black male as a beast, that's part of my problem with 'The Invader'. "Amadou" is a big guy and at certain points in the film he acts like a big man-child. Very immature & dumb. As the film progresses, Amadou becomes more & more maniacal and starts to stalk Agnes. Half the film feels like he's just roaming the streets looking for this white lady so he can "have her".

There's a very unsettling vibe to 'The Invader'. It kind of reminded me of a Lodge Kerrigan film (specifically Claire Dolan) with the creepy music and cold & hostile characters.
And some people will think I'm reaching here but 'The Invader' also plays off of the possible coded/hidden fears expressed in classic films like King King, Planet Of The Apes and even The Night Of The Living Dead. I don't think the racial overtones in King Kong & Planet Of The Apes need to be spelled out, but some people kind of graze over the symbolic ending of Night Of The Living Dead where the last survivor of a zombie apocalypse (who happens to be a Black man) is killed by the police because they mistake him for a zombie...

White people aren't off the hook in 'The Invader' either. Agnes (the female lead) is unfaithful to her husband (obviously), does illegal/under the table business with immigrant workers, and her encounter with Amadou almost seems like a fantasy of hers to have a fling with a black guy more than anything concerning attraction. Just like the stereotype about black men wanting to be with white women, 'The Invader' also plays in to the stereotype of white women viewing black males as sexual objects. The other white supporting characters in the film are either patronizing or hostile. Another major criticism that I had with 'The Invader' was that the director never really delved in to the Agnes' illegal business dealings.

Watching this film hit home. Not because I have some fascination with white women, but because I watched Bill Duke's documentary; 'Dark Girls', a documentary about the discrimination of dark skinned black women, a few days prior. Watching 'The Invader' afterwards only made my head hurt. I was also in Toronto. For those of you who haven't been to Toronto, there are attractive women of all races. But the majority of women there are white. Being the straight, single (at the time), non discriminatory guy that I am - I look at women that I think are attractive. Because I was in Canada, most of the women that caught my eye were white. After watching 'The Invader' I almost felt dirty looking at an attractive white women. It's kind of rare that a film can have that effect on a person. I don't think there's been a film since 'Jungle Fever' to really deal with racial taboos' like 'The Invader'. And I give the director credit for throwing some of the political correctness out the door. Any artist should feel free to say or do what he/she wants. But just remember that sometimes the outcome can turn in to movies like 'The Invader' which not only enlightens, but also potentially offends & alienates people. I don't think the director is racist, but there's some serious racial subconscious demons he's dealing with.

I want people to see this movie so I can have a continued discussion about it. But I doubt a movie like this will get a wide release in the U.S. If any of you happened to have been at Toronto and saw this, or if you get a chance to see it in the future, please let me know your opinion or if you think I'm completely off base.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TIFF HIGHLIGHT #5: MONSIEUR LAZHAR (had to hold back tears) & SHAME (nenette & boni 15 years later)

Today was a pretty awesome day at the festival. I saw 2 films that were instantly added to my TIFF Top 5. 'Monsieur Lazhar' became the first (and will probably be the only) film that made me fight back tears. And the thing is, the powerful scene that almost made me shed tears happened early on in the film lol (like 30 minutes in). In a way, 'Monsieur Lazhar' kinda made up for Lynne Ramsey's disappointing 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'. It also falls in to the same category of films like 'Elephant', 'After School', 'Chalk', one of the stories in 'Donoma' and especially 'The Class'.

'Monsieur Lazhar' is made up of 2 stories that intertwine:

Two 11 year old elementary school classmates; "Alice" (played by newcomer Sophie Nelisse) & ."Simon" (Emilien Neron) witness the suicide of their beloved teacher (she hangs herself at school early in the morning before class starts and the 2 students find her body). Their friendship is put to the test when Alice threatens to reveal the secret as to why their teacher may have committed suicide. Alice is forever changed and broken up by the suicide, but seems to move on. Simon is the one that has a more difficult time accepting the fact that his teacher is gone and struggles with anger and aggression. I have a hard time believing the 2 lead children had never acted in anything else before. Their performances are so amazing and so mature (especially Sophie Nelisse who delivers a heartbreaking/powerful speech reminiscent to Yang Yang's funeral speech to his grandmother at the end of 'Yi Yi'). At some points in the film Sophie reminded me of Alice Houri in 'U.S. Go Home' (there i go mentioning her again). 

The 2nd story is about the children's replacement teacher. Mr Lazhar is an Algerian refugee who's entire family was assassinated because his wife wrote a book that someone found offensive. After finding political refuge in Montreal, he's hired as the students replacement. Naturally him and the children struggle to get a long at first but eventually they come to accept him (especially Alice who's clearly his favorite). Later on in the film a secret from Lazhar's past comes back to haunt him. 'Monsieur Lazhar' makes a great companion film to 'The Class'. What made 'The Class' so great and unique was that not only did it portray teachers in a realistic manner, but there was no subplot involving the teacher's life outside of school. Everything about 'The Class' took place in the school. The same thing applies to some of the other films i mentioned earlier like 'Elephant'. 'Monsieur Lazhar' deals with things outside of the class room, but keeps it to a minimum.

I cant tell you how happy I am that Steve Mcqueen didn't succumb to the dreaded "sophomore jinx". In fact I think 'Shame' is better than his first film 'Hunger'. When i first heard of his 2nd feature film, I was a bit disappointed because it had been reported he was supposed to make a biopic on the the life of Fela Kuti (which I still hope is on). But after seeing the amazingly acted and emotionally draining 'Shame', this will more than hold me over. I've been describing 'Shame' as "Nenette & Boni all grown up". And please understand that this blog entry isn't a cheap excuse to mention Alice Houri and/or Claire Denis again (if you notice I made an Alice Houri/Claire Denis comparison in the 'Monsieur Lazhar' review as well), but that 'Nenette & Boni' description is so fitting. 'Shame' is kinda like a Claire Denis film with a lot more aggression. It plays on hints and implications instead of completely spelling things out (something Denis is a master at). If only i was a film critic on the level of Amy Taubin I'd have that quote on the cover of this DVD when it comes out.
'Shame' is the story of a sex addict brother; "Brandon" (Michael Fassbender in the performance of his career so far) and his dependant suicidal jazz singing sister; "Sissy" (Carey Mulligan). When Sissy has nowhere to stay she shows up unannounced and stays with her brother indefinitely (a plot somewhat similar to Denis' 'Nenette & Boni'). The longer Mulligan stays with Fassbender, the more tense things become between them, leading up to a powerful and (somewhat) explosive finale. Hopefully you're able to put all the pieces together by the end of the film. Things are somewhat subjective and open-ended, but the siblings issues with one another is pretty evident even though they aren't spelled out.
Just like in his debut ('Hunger') Mcqueen's photography skills are all over 'Shame'. So many shots (which are mostly uninterrupted long takes, sometimes with minimal movement from the actors) look like beautiful photographs out of some upscale magazine. And he makes great use of New York City's architecture, expensive apartments and night clubs. After a weeks worth of films at the festival, I've scene a ton of cheaply looking digitally shot films that look awful ('take shelter', 'twixt' and even 'dark horse'). Its good to know there's directors out there that still care about the "look" of their work...

And with only 2 features under his belt, it looks like Steve Mcqueen has already created his "signature" shot/scene. In both; 'Hunger' and 'Shame' (which both star Michael Fassbender), there are pivotal scenes where the 2 main characters face-off against each other in a battle of words in a long continuously shot scene with no cuts...

climax in Mcqueen's 'Hunger' (2008)

climax in 'Shame' (2011)

The climax between Fassbinder & Mulligan is just one of a few similarly filmed scenes in 'Shame' where we see our characters facing each other, shot from a side view...

brother & sister in 'shame'

pick up scene in 'shame'

Michael Fassbender just won best actor at the Venice Film Festival for his performance in 'Shame', and hopefully this is only the beginning. I'm not a big fan of movie awards, but he was so good in 'Shame' that its only right he be rewarded as much as possible. It would be criminal if his performance went unnoticed by the academy this year.
'Shame' has earned a comfortable spot on my top 10 of 2011.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Its Funny. I come to one of the biggest festivals to see some of the best and most "critically acclaimed" films from all over the world, yet so far Bobcat Goldthwait seems to have blown almost everyone out of the water with his latest film; 'God Bless America': a killing spree/road movie dark comedy co-starring Joel Murray and newcomer Tara Lynn Barr. Even though the humor in 'God Bless America' is quite fucked up (the film features a dream sequence where Murray shoots a baby with a shotgun), it may also be the sweetest and most heartfelt killing spree movie I've ever seen (if that's even possible).
In 'God Bless America', Murray (who i haven't seen in anything since 'Scrooged') plays a middle-aged loser that gets fired from his job on false accusations of sexual harassment then gets the news that he has a brain tumor all in the same day. In addition to that he's divorced, gets no respect from his daughter or his noisy neighbors and no matter how hard he tries, he cant seem to ignore all the news and reality television he hates so much. Finally he kinda snaps and sets out to kill a reality television "star" (a bratty teenager from one of those MTV-esque "sweet sixteen" shows). Along the way he picks up a partner in crime in the form of a young teenage girl with her own problems who convinces Murray to continue his killing spree. So together they travel all across America killing everyone from people who wont shut the fuck up in the movie theater to shitty parents.
I know I JUST saw this movie but I feel confident in saying that this is one of the best movies of its kind (better than 'Natrual Born Killers', 'Basai Moi' or 'The Living End'). The film may be over the top and crazy, but the message that Goldthwait tries to convey (through Joel Murray's character) is pretty socially conscious and something that we can all relate too.
The 2 lead performances are great. I've never seen Tara Lynne Barr in anything, but her performance destroys recent stuff like the young female lead in 'True Grit' or Chloe Moretz in just about anything she's ever done.
'God Bless America' follows along the same path as stuff like 'Heathers' or 'Louie' (the TV Show). Its difficult to compare this to Goldthwait's other work because i haven't seen 'Shakes The Clown' since i was a kid and I've never seen 'Wolrds Greatest Dad' or 'Sleeping Dogs Lie'. 'God Bless America' even references a scene directly out of 'Taxi Driver', lines from 'Jackie Brown' and shares MANY similarities with 'Super' (a partnership between a middle-aged man and a teenage girl, the over the top violence and the dark humor). These days almost any comedy that features a dead baby joke is labeled "edgy" or "dark". But Bobcat Goldthwait has the balls to show a scene of a baby being splattered all over its mothers face.
I really hope this doesn't turn in to one of those independent films that gets a quick run at the sunshine or angelika and then goes straight to DVD (although I'm worried that's whats gonna happen). Obviously this wont be shown in any big theaters, but if you're lucky enough to see this when it comes out, don't pass up the opportunity.


This is the first Todd Solondz film in 10 years that isn't connected to any of his previous work (Palindromes being the sequel to Welcome To The Dollhouse and Life During Wartime being the sequel to Happiness). This is definitely his best work since 'Storytelling'. He followed up 2009's 'Life During Wartime' pretty quickly, as there usually seems to be a 5 year wait between each of his films in the last decade.
'Dark Horse' is the story of "Abe". An immature 30-something year old manchild that still lives with his parents (Christopher Walken & Mia Farrow), collects actions figures (there's a scene in the film when he buys a thundercats action figure for $450), lives in his younger brother's shadow and is socially awkward (some scenes are almost painful to watch when he interacts with other people). At the beginning of the film Abe falls in love with the depressed "Miranda" (Selma Blair): another 30-something year old who lives with her parents and battles depression. After one "date", Abe asks Miranda to marry him and she accepts for all the wrong reasons. Like any other Solondz film, he masterfully mixes tragedy with comedy. Just like the bullying Dawn faces in 'Welcome To The Dollhouse', the pedophilia in 'Happiness', the maid murdering the family in 'Storytelling' and the abortion...and more pedophilia in 'Palindromes', we find ourselves laughing at things that really shouldn't be funny.
Abe is just another signature "loser" character in a long line of "Todd Solondz loosers" (Heather Matarazzo in 'Welcome To The Dollhouse', Phillip Seymour Hoffman in 'Happiness', Paul Giamatti in 'Storytelling' and Solondz himself who starred in 'Fear Anxiety & Depression').
The performances were good. Selma Blair may annoy some of you as her character is so depressing to the point where you don't want her to even talk anymore. And something about Christopher Walken's natural creepiness seemed to go perfectly with Todd Solondz' style. It was also nice to see him NOT play a cartoonish version of himself.
Todd Solondz comes off like a modest guy, but something tells me that he got so tired of seeing the common themes of his movies copied for the last 10 years that it kinda forced him to switch up his own style. This is his first film to not feature pedophilia, masturbation or rape.
One of my issues with the film was that it wouldn't end. And its not even that long of a movie to begin with. 'Dark Horse' felt like it ended 3 times. Just put a period on the movie already! Also, every Todd Solondz film (including his rarely seen first feature 'Fear Anxiety & Depression') features a dream sequences and his films often play on reality vs. fantasy, but there was a little too much of that (for my taste) in this.
I'll be giving this one more viewing tomorrow evening.

One of my goals here at the Toronto film festival is to try and see as many of the movies that may not be coming right out in the U.S. any time soon ('carre blanc', 'house of tolerance', 'wuthering heights', etc). 'The Ides Of March' clearly doesn't fall in to that category of films (if I'm not mistaken it has a release date for the end of the month), but there was seriously NOTHING else on the schedule playing that caught my interest, so I figured I'd give you guys a scoop on this a few weeks before it hits theaters.
I think it would've been criminal if a movie with a cast made up of; Ryan Gosling (who's 2 for 2 at Toronto this year with this and 'Drive'), George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marissa Tomei and Jeffery Wright had turned out bad. But thankfully 'The Ides Of March' did not. I don't normally go for most recent political thriller/dramas. Sometimes it feels like once you've seen 'Clear & Present Danger', 'Syriana', the Jonathan Demme 'Manchurian Candidate' or 'The Sum Of All Fears', its like you've seen 'em all. They're usually just angry white guys in suits running around, whispering loudly & growling all while double crossing each other every 5 minutes. It gets a little tiring after a while. But 'The Ides Of March', which didn't really have the "action" aspect of all the previously mentioned films, was a surprisingly entertaining political thriller. Of everything i saw on Thursday ('melancholia', 'we need to talk about kevin' and 'le havre'), this was the ONLY film i didn't have to struggle with as to whether i liked it or not. For a film that's only 90-something minutes long, Clooney (who directed and co-starred) didn't rush anything or cram a bunch of convoluted and unnecessary sub-plots in to the story.
In 'The Ides Of March', Ryan Golsing plays "Stephen Meyers": a young up & coming campaign manager for Democratic presidential hopeful "Mike Morris" (played by George Clooney) that gets caught up in an abortion scandal involving a young intern. Things become even more stressful for Morris when his friendship and loyalty are put to the test with his mentor (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman).
There's a few nods to real life political figures like Gary Condit and his scandal with his intern or Clooney's fictitious campaign logos that look VERY similar to the real life "hope" ads used by Obama during the 2008 presidential election.
With the exception of Tomei and Wright, all of the other cast members had shining moments in the film (and that's not to say that Tomei and Wright weren't great in this. Its just that they were only in a few scenes each). I did find it odd that at certain points in the film Gosling would go in and out of acting like Clooney (smug and cocky) to acting like himself.
So for those of you who were on the fence about this one, I'd say go for it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

TIFF HIGHLIGHT #2: DRIVE (my favorite movie of the year so far)

Remember the last 10 minutes of 'Thief' when James Caan took out an entire mob all by himself? Remember the elevator scene in 'Sonatine' when Takeshi Kitano massacres an elevator full of people? Or how about the classic car chase scenes from 'Bullit', 'French Connection' or 'The Bourne Identity'? Nicolas Refn's 'Drive' is all of those things with additional nods to the film making styles of Stanley Kubrick (which can be seen in other Nicolas Refn films like 'Fear X' and 'Bronson') and Quentin Tarantino. Ever since 'Pulp Fiction' there's been a decade and a half of ultra violent and/or multi character films that get an undeserved comparison to it ('smokin aces', 'snatch', '2 days in the valley', 'Boondock Saints', 'Go', etc etc etc). But 'Drive' is one of the few films that actually deserves some comparison to stuff like 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'Pulp Fiction' as well as the films of Michael Mann.. Even the font used in the ads and the opening credits for 'Drive' are reminiscent of old action films from the 80's like 'Thief' or 'To Live & Die In LA'....

'Thief' (1981) 

1. Ad for 'Drive'

'To Live & Die In LA' (1985)

2. Ad for 'Drive'

In 'Drive', Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stuntman by day and a getaway car driver by night. On his latest getaway car assignment (which he takes out of the kindness of his heart to help out a girl he's in love with) he gets caught up in a somewhat convoluted double crossing that goes terribly wrong (at no fault of his own) and now gangsters are after him. Instead of running and hiding, he takes the fight to them, showing that he can do more than just drive cars. In fact, Gosling's violent temper is quite over the top at times. Through the course of the movie we see graphic close-ups of shotgun blasts to the face, people being beaten with hammers, repeated throat stabbings (courtesy of Albert Brooks) and a face smashing scene that rivals the opening of Gaspar Noe's 'Irreversible'. ‘Drive’ has more than its share of clichés. But Nicolas Refn seems to embrace all of that. There’s plenty of moments in the film that Nicolas Refn clearly put in just because it looked cool. But for some reason that doesn't seem to bother me. It’s SO entertaining and fun. And all of these clichés are mixed with great film making and cinematography, so it balances everything out. Prior to 'Drive', Nicolas Refn had pretty much been labeled an "art house" director. But in just about all of his films he seemed to dabble in violence and action more & more. Looking at his last 2 features like the 'Clockwork Orange'-influenced 'Bronson' and the tripped out 'Valhalla Rising', which were both action films disguised as art house films, it only makes sense that his next movie be an all out entertaining, crossover action movie for ALL audiences (and not just snobs like me). 

the calm before the storm - 'Sonatine'

the calm before the storm - 'Drive'

violence erupts in elevator

The beauty of Drive's existence is all of the movies that it either references or has similarities too (whether it be intentionally or subconsciously). Just about anyone who loves good action films should be able to enjoy this. I mean just look back at all the movies that I've name dropped in this review so far. If you're a fan of the 1980's William Freidken, Michael Mann, Cronenberg, Quentin Tarantino or Stanley Kubrick, you're going to LOVE this movie.

steve mcqueen in 'Bullit'

Gosling in 'Drive'

Willis w/ hammer in 'Pulp Fiction'

Gosling w/ hammer in 'Drive'

Scorpion Jacket from Kenneth
Anger's 'Scorpio Rising'

The Dirver's scorpion jacket that he
wears all through out 'Drive'

The lead role in 'Drive', which was originally intended for Hugh Jackman, was important for Ryan Gosling. He needed to establish himself as an all around leading man. He's considered one of the best young actors out today, yet action is the one realm he hadn't conquered. ...Until now. He's clearly shown that he can hold it down in dramatic films ('Half Nelson' & 'Valentine'), psychological thrillers ('Murder By Number' & 'Frantic') and heartfelt comedies ('Lars & The Real Girl'), so it was only right that a great action film was his next conquest. It’s as if he called upon the spirit of Alain Delon (with a quietly violent temper) and gave one of his best performances. The rest of the cast, made up of everyone from Ron Perlman & Bryan Cranston to Carry Mulligan & Christina Hendricks is great. But the standout performance, aside from Gosling, is from Albert Brooks who plays a more than convincing villain. This is probably Albert Brooks' best performance since Steven Soderbergh's 'Out Of Sight'. Anyone familiar with Brooks' career should know that not only is he recognized for comedies, but the roles he plays are usually weaselly and/or dorkish characters. He's quite ruthless in 'Drive'. This may be one of the best ensemble casts in a LONG time. Everything just seemed to fall in to place. You have 3 of the most popular TV actors at the moment: Ron Perlman (sons of anarchy), Christina Hendricks (mad men) and Bryan Cranston (breaking bad), 2 of the most popular young actors out right now (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan) and a veteran actor (Albert Brooks), all in the same film. 


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