The Fighter

The Fighter (PG-13) ★★★

As I stroll around cinemas in the last weeks of 2010, I can't help but feel a sense of disappointment in what I'm seeing. Take for example David O' Russell's Mickey Ward/boxing biopic The Fighter , it has undeniably great performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo as mother and brother of boxing legend Ward -played straightforwardly by Mark Whalberg- their performances are the heart and soul of an, otherwise, conventional narrative. The Fighter is NOT groundbreaking to say the least, which is a real letdown considering Russell's previous, visionary films. There's the ups, the downs, the final bout and the mandatory love story with a rural girl (an amazing Amy Adams). It all amounts to a predictably enjoyable but nevertheless disappointing film from people we expected much more from. However, Bale's Dickie Ward is the real deal. Whatever you've heard about him is all true. He's practically guaranteed a nomination if not a win at the upcoming Academy Awards. Getting the twitches, speech and mannerisms of his character in a dead on fashion, he create a haunting portrait of a junkie brought down by his own demons. If you think you've seen the best from Bale, wait until you 've seen this.

I also enjoyed Melissa Leo's gritty performance as Mickey's mother Alice Ward, a woman that can be seen as a kind of villainous figure but one who actually has much more to her than meets the eye. Here's a woman that believes in family first before anything else, which comes back to haunt her when she keeps on turning a blind eye with Dickie's drug addiction and constant visits to a crack house in a shady part of town. Alice believes he's Dickie is the right guy to train Mickey. Forget about the final bout or the constant cliches that sometimes appear in The Fighter, at its center, the best of the film is focused on its two most self destructive characters, Alice and Dickie. They are both played by fearless actors that brings out an intensity that can sometimes be lacking or forgotten in Whalberg's portrayal.

It is no surprise that Leo and Bale both grew up and started off in the independent film circuit before making Hollywood films, they are artists through and through and will likely get rewarded for their artistry come Oscar time. Just know that it's not the boxing stuff that resonates here, it's the family stuff. Russell know that the ties that bind are much more forceful, stinging and important than a punch in the boxing dream. Even when the film seems to focus a big chunk of its time on Ward's training and pre-boxing preparation, it's the humanity that breaks through and makes this a worthy watch this Holiday season. This might not be as ambitious as Russell's other films but it's got the best acting he's ever had the chance to direct.

An Image. Holy Smokes.

As much as I thought Jane Campion's Holy Smoke was an ambitiously overwrought mess, it did feature an impeccable performance by Kate Winslet and proved once again that when she had curves- notice the past tense- she was smoking hot. An indelibly talented actress that doesn't mind going naked very once in a while. What more do you want?

Jim Carrey acting crazy

I Love You Phillip Morris (R) ★★½

Jim Carrey has been a real enigma for many movie fans over the years. I dig both his comedic and dramatic roles with equal measure but fear that he's been on a downfall the past few years. What with stuff like The Majestic, The Number 23, Yes Man and Fun With Dick & Jane coming out the past 6 or so years, I'm skeptical at that the audacious actor we've come to like has all but vanished. Which brings me to I Love You Philip Morris, which is audacious and genuine Carrey. the kind of genuine that we've come to like from him, with none of the conventionality we've come to expect the last few years. Carrey's Steven Jay Russell is gay, dangerous and completely absurd- it's a showy role that does justice to the actor's talents and gives a certain kind of hope for more of these type of roles to come in the future.

Don't forget he was in some truly great films over the years (The Truman Show & Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) films that have proven his ability to engage not just commercially but artistically also. Lately he's been bogged down in the commercial by focusing on clunky scripts that do not effectively show his range. His physical comedy used to have an incredibly vibrant freshness to it that he made what was supposed to be below average fare into real comic gold (Dumb And Dumber, The Mask & Ace Ventura). Philip Morris represents a Carrey actually excited about the material, it helps that directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa scripted the absurdy brilliant Bad Santa in 2003.

If he's a real highlight, the film itself is all over the place, going from one subplot to the next without the least bit of intention to slow down. Which is a problem. Ficarra and Requa have come up with some outrageous stuff here, which keeps things interesting, rolling along but messy. The film is a gay, prison love story on acid with a severe case of ADD. Jay falls for Phillip -a solid Ewan McGregor- in prison and they embark on a twisted relationship that has no trust and no boundaries in its ambitions. Jay is a greedy, manic depressive that is clearly messed up and confused about his own existence. I don't need to reveal more but to just say that this isn't a groundbreaker nor is it a great film, but it is an interesting companion piece to Carrey's own The Cable Guy, which also dealt with an obsessed individual on the brink of losing it and endangering the people around him.

The Social Network ...

David Fincher's The Social Network has been immensly praised the last few weeks by critics groups ranging from Boston, Los Angeles all the way to this week's -not very surprising- Best picture win over at the New York Film Critics Circle. Which begs to ask the question: Is it really the best picture of the year? Fincher aided by an amazingly layered Aaron Sorkin script has created a film that is as relevant as any other in 2010. It is not only about a social networking site -Facebook- that has completely changed the way the world thinks but it is also about university students that have taken control of businesses and settled themselves as 21st century entrepreneurs. The main protagonist in the film is Mark Zuckerberg -impeccably played by Jesse Eisenberg- the main creator of Facebook and a guy that is being sued by his former best friend Eduardo -an amazing Andrew Garfield- and the Winklevos', a set of muscled Harvard rowing twins that claim Mark has stolen their social netwoking idea.

This isn't a film that I would necessarily call entertainment for the masses but those willing to give it a chance and pay attention to the zip zap words of Sorkin's screenplay through and through will come out of this film feeling like their IQ was just raised up a notch. This is a film that demands its audiences attention in every word uttered and every gesture formed, it does not dumb down the viewer but instead trusts the viewers' intelligence in grasping its social, economical and political themes. This says a lot about the overall manner Fincher and Sorkin play along with the film's structure and -more importantly- editing. Add a marvelous soundtrack by The Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, which brings real depth and -dare I say- hipness to the surroundings. Reznor's sounds are not conventional, they come out at us like whiplash and enhance the overall mood of the film. This might be the best soundtrack of 2010.

Although I've always been a big admirer of director Fincher's work over the years, this film is far more low key than his usual exercises in style (Fight Club, The Game, Zodiac) However, what we have here is Fincher letting the screenplay talk and putting small but effectively realized touches to the film. If you ask me I prefer the former films mentioned in that they were more originally conceived and provocative, then again I don't think that's what Fincher and Sorkin are out for here. They let the material do the talking, they know that what they have here, the subject is incredibly interesting stuff that relates to everybody with a Facebook account or interested in the way communication has evolved over the past decade. Zuckerberg was the world's youngest billionaire and he did it in a way that had many puzzled by his unusual working methods.

The performers bring their A game. Eisenberg's Zuckerberg is not necessarily being judged by Sorkin but is left within our hands to judge. Is he really the backstabbing friend that Eduardo claims he is? Did he really steal The Winkelvus twins' idea? The film asks questions about what our rights are as human beings, when a simple idea can be consumed, stolen and then made into its own unique product. Andrew Garfield's Eduardo comes out as a revelation, he may in fact be the only true heroic figure in a film filled with greedy assholes. Hell, even Justin Timberlake gives a solid performance playing Napster founder and Zuckerberg confidant Sean Parker.

A film such as this one relies on characters more than plotting. The characters populating the film stay etched in your head way after the film is done, which is in fact the highest quality of the film. There is an almost irresistible vibe created, Fincher uses low lit cinematography to ehance the dreary atmosphere happening throughout. The hallways of Harvard feel cavernous and nightmarish, whereas the look and portrayal of University life is nothing short of condemning but truthful. Sorkin can sometimes seem to fly high, too high, with his own words and sometimes does not know what a limit is to his smart ass dialogue. It's a theme that has always followed him throughout his career, the pompous, almost too literate high brow writing style he is known for. however, It works here cause, well, the characters are pompous and full of themselves just like Sorkin. It's like a marriage made in heaven.

The King's Speech. Thoughts ...

Here's a film that has been packaged and processed for the Oscars. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad film, it's just a very safe one. There's not much of a rebellious cry for originality and it is just a film that wants to entertain and touch as many viewers as possible. Nothing wrong with that I suppose but definitely not my cup of tea, if you know what I mean. Colin Firth is the titular king, he has a stutter that has been with him since his childhood and he decides to engage a speech therapist played by the very fine Geoffrey Rush. There's not many surprises that await the viewer in The King's Speech, just conventionality and British royal wisdom. The performances are above average, especially Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter as the king's wife, in a non flashy but effectively realized performance. Suffice to say, I dug most of the scenes between Firth and Rush but felt like it was all too facile for these -let's face it- great actors. Come Oscar time you will hear their names but as good as the film is, it doesn't deserve any of the buzz it is getting in the press.

Gaspar Noe's new head trip

Enter The Void (NR) ★★★★

Gaspar Noe never seems to settle for a conventional narrative. His latest is called Enter The Void and runs at more than 160 minutes. It is long, flawed, repetitive but is also something I have never seen before in cinema and I do mean that as a good thing. If he shocked us all with a 10 minute rape scene in Irreversible, the shock is not as nasty here but he instead decides to resort to trippy psychedelia and images that represent an other worldly existence. His inspiration is clearly Kubrick, most notably the last 20 or so minutes of 2001 expanded into 2 hours. Although there is a story at hand here and a clear belief of an after life, Noe's interests vary from the connection of drugs to the after-life and the spirituality that comes in living above everything else.

Taking place in Japan, the film uses the colorful and surreal imagery of this country to tell the story of two Americans -brother and sister- that are literally lost in translation, but don't worry it isn't a sequel, there is no Bill Murray in Enter The Void, nor is there any Scarlett and her infamous butt. The brother, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) has turned into a junkie that is hooked on the drug DMT (the chemical your brain unleashes when you're dying) and his sister Linda has resorted to stripping for money- she also has a semi creepy affair with her Japanese manager. The brother gets shot and basically wanders around the entire film in an undisclosed life form going through flashbacks, present time and another dimension.

Talking about creepy, there's hints of Incest throughout the film although it never really is fully revealed, what that's all about? don't pay too much attention and just let filmmaker Noe transport you into a world of cinema you have never sene before. Suffice to say, I dug this film quite a bit because of its visionary reaches and the way Noe tried to bring a new way of expression to a cinematic medium that has all but failed in inventiveness the last few years. There's no shortage of originality here, although I felt completely drained by the time the film had ended. It's an experience that you will likely not forget, to say the least and I'm looking forward to his next twisted venture into surreality and cinematic boundaries.

127 Hours or What happens when you don't tell your parents where you're going

127 Hours (R) ★★★½

I'm not one that has completely warmed up to Danny Boyle's stylistic flourishes over the years, however I don't deny the guy has talent. I dug Slumdog Millionaire for what it was, a preposterous but exciting movie-going exercise and I still think Trainspotting is his best film. 127 Hours, his latest exercise in stylistic overkill is a rather Jekkyl and Hyde type of film, it represents the best and worst of Boyle's mannerisms. However, here the good outweighs the bad. If you haven't read the news of late, it's based on Aron Ralston, a man that so it happens went hiking one day and ended up in a freakish fall that got his hand stuck underneath an immovable rock, even worse nobody knew he went out to hike, given his loner personality, thus he was left to fend off alone and find a way to get out of his rather astonishing situation. Supposedly, the only way to get out of there was by amputating his own arm, which is part of what makes this astonishing true story even more remarkable and -wait for it- touching.

I won't go into further detail, not that I need to considering the film is basically Ralston -impeccably played by James Franco- stuck in a cave, screaming for help and finding ways to survive. Because this is a Danny Boyle film , he brings overkill to what is in essence a story that should be simply told, considering the thinness of its dramatic surprises and momentum. Boyle gives us flashbacks to Ralston's youth and adolescence but he also showcases the hallucinations that end up happening in our main protagonists' head during his surreal, grueling experience. All of this leads to the amputation scene which is, needless to say, harrowing to watch and accentuated by a soundtrack filled with needled, spiky and uncomfortable sounds. The deliverance in the film's final moments is touching and uplifting, which gives this film a kind of crowd pleasing vibe to it, even after the graphic details of the amputation have already passed.

The film starts to run its course a bit in its mid section, by resorting to Raston's flashbacks and visionary hallucinations but when the amputation scene hits, you won't even know what hit you. It's tough to watch but also represents one of the most memorable scenes of any movie I have seen in 2010 ditto Franco's acting, he pulls a Tom Hanks here and is alone for close to 80% of the film, which is all the more remarkable considering he is stuck in the same setting and in the same standing position throughout the film. When he craves that last drop of water, we crave that last drop of water, when he stabs his arm, we feel it too. It's not an easy watch and although flawed in its stylistic excess, at times it had me hooked in its hero and the perpetually harrowing experience he must have had. But I found the writing lacking. There's really very little to the movie other than Franco's face and survival efforts. Very little depth/revelation. It is a stunt and one that Boyle admirably decides to overcome, giving his viewer every possible trick in the book. Don't get me wrong, 127 Hours is a good enough movie but there's only so much you can do with a one man story such as this one.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (NR) ★★★★

Grasping a film such as this one may require some major attention from the viewer himself and even when the attention is there, frustration may come about as a result of the film's abstractedness and non-linear narrative. This is all not so surprising when you consider Apichatpong Weerasethakul's filmography and his constant acknowledgment of nature and the way it binds to us as human beings. Have I lost you yet? snoozing? That's how some folks might react when watching Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

The plot involves a dying man who lives in an unknown countryside with his wife, son and Thai helper. It gets complicated when a ghost-like monkey and dead family member shows up one night to his front porch. We are then transported into a world that is spiritual and essential to understanding the world Weerasethakul conjures. There's a subplot involving a horny catfish and a princess, a cave sequence that will have you scratching your head and an ambiguous finale that will most likely have you thinking for days on in about what just happened. It's a puzzle and one that has -for some- a comatose pace to its structure. Weerasethakul has always had a knack for taking his time and slowly developing in narrative.

It was surprising to watch Weerasethakul's film getting the palme d'or at Cannes earlier this year. It must have hit a real chord with the jury headed by Tim Burton- who was very open in his acclaim for the film. However coming out of the screening I attended earlier this year, there was a kind of head scratching vibe in the air. It was as if Weerasethakul's film had not only confused to the general public as to its overall praise but actually angered them in frustration with what they had witnessed. After all, a word of caution is always necessary before going into any of his films, because this is really the definition of an art film, capital A in art of course. I dug it for the its mystery and its dream like tendencies.

Romance & Breillat

Catherine Breillat's Romance is not pornography. No matter what you hear people say about it, it is instead a film with a lot going for it. The main character that goes into a kind of transformative sexual odyssey is someone that is unhappy and unsatisfied with her dead-beat boyfriend, who's libido is practically non existent. Of course, she feels trapped and does not know what keeps her from escaping her relationship with him. It is however not surprising that we see this woman madly in love with a man that doesn't give her any attention because, well, he doesn't give her attention. It's all psychological and has gotten to her head. She's always been the one that's been chased but this time she's chasing the guy. Well, we of course as the viewer pull her for her to dump this schlub, yet she doesn't. However, because she can't let go, she does end up cheating on him through numerous sexual encounters which include her boss, a man she meets at a bar and a random street howler. I'm not encouraging this kind of behaviour nor am I encouraging what she does at the film's howlingly hilarious and interesting climax but hell, i had a blast which might give you an idea of my frame of mind or telling some of the folks condemning this film to not take it so damn seriously. It's another feminist, theoretical cinematic endeavour for Breillat and it reminds you of a time when she was making focused, real films instead of the fairy tales she's making now.

Image Of The Day 10/18/10

Oh Sharon. You trusted the Verhoven and this is what happened. Good for us. Bad for you.

Happy Birthday Martin Scorsese

The great American director is 68 today and he's still releasing great films -Shutter Island anybody? Maybe it's time to name a street after him or something, because as far as I'm concerned this guy has contributed far too much to the American arts and their overall impact around the world. I still think the man has another genuinely great film in him and that it won't take long for that film to get released. Maybe one last Deniro collaboration? that would be one anticipated film, although I do genuinely like what he has done with Leonardo Dicaprio the last decade or so with Gangs Of New York, The Departed, The Aviator and the aforementioned Shutter Island (which will surely make my ten best list when I publish it next month).

One thing that has always astonished me is how Scorsese always seemed to adjust with the times. His style has somewhat changed and adapted to the 80's, 90's and today but whatever the change, when watching something like -say- The Departed, it is a Martin Scorsese picture through and through. I don't know many filmmakers that have learned to adapt so well, decade after decade. Which brings me to my next point, which is that we don't have many like him left anymore. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the mavericks that shaped the 70's are slowly fading away, what with the deaths of Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick, a now irrelevant Coppola and Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet getting turning 85 and recently hospitalized. What are we left with? Scorsese and Polanski, whom incidentally have made two of the best pictures this year and are still making personal, relevant statements in the art of cinema.

Image Of The Day 12/10/10

I'm Still Here (R) ★★★½

If Casey Affleck's absurdly goofy documentary -or is it a mockumentary?- I'm Still Here is a look into his step brother Joaquin Phoenix's downfall, it is also meant to not only mirror tragedy but has comic touches that are impeccably laid out in its framework. You see, this documentary is proof that Phoenix, no matter how crazy or goofy he might seem to look with his Hassidic-like beard, overgrown hobo hair and usual dark shades , is a master craftsman and quite possibly the best actor of his generation. I'm saying all this based on the fact that Affleck has personally come out recently and confirmed that this was in fact all an act and that even David Letterman was in on it when Phoenix had that legendarily awkward appearance on his show more than a year ago now. To say that Phoenix's performance is something to be seen is besides the point. He embodies a man that quite frankly was sick of all the consumerist bullshit that had surrounded him in Hollywood. His performance is that of a man trying to break the chains that are attached to him and follow his own road, whichever road that may be and in this case it's a considerably failed Hip Hop career. Good for him, now if only Oscar would listen up and give him a well deserved nomination. Then again I doubt that, I'm Still Here is as avant guard as American cinema comes to be.

Another Year is another Mike Leigh triumph

Another Year (R) ★★★★

Mike Leigh’s Another Year owes a lot to the British Free Cinema movement (1959-1963). In fact, most of Mike Leigh’s pictures from Secrets And Lies to his incendiary Naked are inspired by Free Cinema. The Kitchen Sink movement had to happen because of the lack of relevance in British cinema , as Colin Gardner points out ”British cinema seemed to us out of touch with what was going on, and stiflingly class-bound: it was due for a radical shake-up.” These new wave movies focused on “urban, working-class life, at work and play” and were grim in their depiction of what it meant to be British and Working Class in the 60’s.

Another Year is Leigh’s chronicling of a year in the lives of a thoroughly civilized and harmless London couple in their 60’s called Tom and Jerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen). Jerri's troubled, alcholic co-Ken worker Mary (Leslie Manville), the couple's single, positive son Joe(Oliver Maltman), and a few others, most notably Tom's Hull-based pal Ken (Peter Wight), another hard drinker and Tom's very quiet older brother Ronnie (David Bradley) who appears at the film’s end. Tom and Jerri are a working class couple that are surrounded by death in the family, alcoholic friends and a working class lifestyle, yet they come away from life with such positiveness that it is almost infectious on the viewer. The people around them are down and depressed, especially their close friend Mary (Lesley Manville), an alcoholic co worker of Gerri’s that turns to alcohol for her lack of a man in her life.

Leigh’s film is a focus of what Elizabeth Sussex would call Kitchen Sink “the relationship between art and society”. It’s a mélange of what was happening to the working class during the 60’s, mixed with dramatic elements that had a relevance to the targeted audience, for example poverty, work and relationship issues. All those themes are present in Another Year which– just like Karl Weisz’s 1967 movie Saturday Night and Sunday Morning- is conceived with no flashiness and is just a simply told but effective story. The working class was not necessarily explored in British cinema pre Kitchen Sink, in fact if there was any mention of it, it would be to drive comic relief to the story. Which is why films by the likes of Weisz and Tony Richardson were seen as a fresh new vision.

However, the one thing that distinguishes Leigh’s film as a relevant, contemporary twin to its New Wave predecessors is its realist style and the way every word and every scene is made to have a realism that can sometimes be hard to watch in its authenticity. Leigh doesn’t flinch when telling the story, it’s clear he knows people like these in real life and does his best to tell their story. Leigh's realism allows for few narrative devices of preparation, and since the camera is only allowed to show plausible slices of reality, the viewer must supply a great many explanations for herself. Accordingly, the film operates on viewers' experiences to produce results which can differ widely for different viewers. Leigh doesn’t condemn his characters’ actions nor does he make fun of them in his film. Instead he just sits back and let’s them be who they are. In example the character of Mary can easily be mocked at if treated by a different director, especially with all the desperation and alcoholism that is injected into her life but Leigh doesn’t comment or force us to judge. His camera just tells the story and we are left with our own interpretation of Mary.

Although Leigh still makes Free Cinema-influenced films such as Another Year, they are rare and few in British cinema, Film Critic Glenn Kenny puts it this way “at this late stage of his career it seems that the alikeness is beginning to wear on certain critics. I'm not one of them, and I would (gently) counsel those who take him for granted that they ought not. Because nobody makes films that feel and play the way his do, for better or for worse, and after he's gone, it's doubtful that anybody else is going to. His deep-dish method of creation—involving intensive preparation with his actors and a huge amount of controlled and oft turned-over improvisation—has been much discussed in various venue” (Some Came Running).

It all has to do with Leigh’s constant search for a social realism in his film(s) and to achieve that realism with the same spoken words people would be inducedto churn out in real life. In Another Year, we rarely notice Leigh’s camera, it’s as if we are glimpsing at a form of reality where grittiness and slightness are in co existence, a far cry from the flashiness of Godard or Truffaut’s French New Wave films. Plotting is thin in Mike Leigh’s film, which makes way for a harder, more concentrated look at the social troubles of the middle class and the small things that matter most in their daily unflashy routines. Another Year has a carefree attitude towards having a plot. Its overall impact is on the characterizations of its characters and the small things that resonate in life. From these small things, come big things in the overall punch the movie gives it viewer with its shattering final shot.

She spits on your grave

If any one's seen the original I Spit On Your Grave from back in he 70s, you know just know how gruesome, exploitative and gory it was. So, much to that film's haters dismay, here's a remake of that film, which featured a 40 minute rape scene and the victim taking brutal, bloody revenge on her attackers (and by brutal, bloody I really mean it). This remake directed by Steven R. Monroe has all the exploitative fever of the original and then some. The only thing that got tamed was the rape scene, which lasts 10 minute less but is just as unbearable to watch as the original. The revenge this time is more brutal and more inventive in its bloody celebration of -well- revenge. You see, what some critics are missing out with this one in their negatively written reviews is the fact that this is exploitation cinema with a certain kind of intrigue to it.

That intrigue is simple; how far is too far when you try to avenge a deranged act (rape) and how low would you go to attain the level of your very own attacker? What the main female victim is avenging is in fact the loss of her dignity and identity- it was stolen with the rape and she knows that she has nothing to lose at her disposal, because quite frankly she sees no reason to live without an identity. Am I siding with her and the criminal activity she does in the film? I believe so and quite frankly these thugs just had it coming. Call it what you want but I Spit On Your Grave was a tremendously entertaining exploitation film, hard to watch but never without interest to see what sick, twisted thing will happen next. The substance might not be in high quantity but some of it is there to see.

Watching Fellini's classic for the first time is like walking into an empty room and diving into a conversation with people you don't know. While talking to them, you are not sure whether what is happening is fantasy or reality yet you still go on visualizing everything and trying to piece it all together. A dream? reality? a mix of both? That's what Fellini's means to me. It's a classic of cinema and deserves repeat viewings. It is an art film through and through, and one of the most personal statements and visions a director has ever given to us. This film is a landmark of cinema because every time you see it you discover new things about its plotting, background action and the characters that you might not have payed attention to the first time around. This is a must for anybody that claims they know movies. is a dreamy vision from a man that wasn't scared to make us think and get us to to see him naked, with his darkest, deepest secrets laid bare on-screen.

So what else makes this film so remarkable? The fact that every image, every sound and every word is important and integral to the story. People have tried to distinguish what Marcello mightbe dreaming and what he might be living. Chances are the more you see it, the more you uncover its deeply pristine secrets. 8 1/2 is the perfect choice for a shot by shot examinations that Roger Ebert used to give at his film classes. It's also interesting to think of the reaction of bewilderment this film got in the 60s with Pauline Kael calling it a "structural disaster".

Just like Fellini at the time, 8 1/2's film director has creative block and is looking for inspiration through fantasy and the diverse people around him. At the time Fellini was struggling to make his next film, but couldn't come up with anything new to say and so he decided to make a film about his actual struggle to find creative nirvana.  8 1/2 is about a filmmaker that is looking for ideas but can't find them. It's a Charlie Kaufman movie made before Kaufman as even born. A meta-exploration of what it takes to be an artist. This might have, quite possibly, been the first full-on meta movie of the cinema. The film has so much depth and so much going for it that it should get studied in Psychology classes as its depiction of the human mind is nothing short of exhaustive and revolutionary.

Reviews, Reviews & Reviews

Hereafter (PG-13) ★★

Clint Eastwood has done himself good as a filmmaker. Ever since his 1992 masterpiece Unforgiven, Eastwood's resume as director reads like a contemporary blackboard of flawed movie heroes/heroines, his newest one does not belong on a list that includes Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino. It's a real clunker that shows our man can't only do good. The difference here is that he doesn't have a script to accommodate his old school style. He concentrates on a variety of different stories, all involving death or the after-life without a sense of direction. Matt Damon is a psychic that wants to just find love and be normal, a french couple try to cope with the after effects of a natural disaster and a British boy loses his twin brother and tries to find a meaning to it all.

The opening sequence is astonishing as we see a tsunami wiping out an entire vacation resort and market. It's a powerful opening that sets the table for the after effects of an after life that is fascinates the characters inhabiting Eastwood's world of mystery. Too bad the rest of the film can't compete with the first 10 minutes and we are left with a hyperbole of sentimentality that negates what Clint is all about. It's a valid effort and I can see what he was trying to do but that does not mean it's a success. The reason why such an effort has turned into a dud is simple; As many filmmakers have found out over the years, it is an arduous and ambitious experience to translate the meaning of the after life on screen, just ask Robin Williams.

Soul Kitchen (R) ★★★½

German director Faith Akin has built his young filmmaking career over films that have had darkness in their souls. Head On and Edge Of Heaven were heavily subjected with black all over them, themes of isolation and death were the words of the day. With Soul Kitchen, Akin does a complete 360 in subject matter and films a comedy that is so silly yet so irresistible in content. Zinos -impeccably played by Adam Bousdoukos- owns a grungy restaurant that is quickly going down until he hires a crazy chef to take over the menu. The people start coming but Zinos feels a dissatisfaction with his life, it doesn't help his girlfriend has moved to Japan and his troubled brother has come out of jail and needs work. Worse, a scheming man with mob related ties is trying to steal away Zinos' restaurant to get more groundwork for his prostitution ring. I didn't believe a minute of it but it's all crazy, zany fun and Akin knows it. He makes the implausible plausible to our eyes and entertains us like no other Hollywood film can. I had a blast.

Never Let Me Go (R) ★★

Some are calling this one a sleeper. It isn't, then again if these people mean it could induce you to a nice, awesome sleep then yes it is a sleeper. Based on Kazy Ishiguro's masterful novel of the same name, it's a sci fi story unlike any other where cloning is done to have organ doning for human beings suffering of diseases such as cancer. It's a heavy subject that doesn't translate well on screen. If Ishiguro's novel had all the beautiful details right, the film version feels like one big messy edit. Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Alex Garfield play the clones that are guaranteed a short life span once their donations start. They try their hardest to bring out life to the surroundings but they can't ditto Mark Romanek's visionary eye, which can't help in the translation of this difficult and dark story.

Carlos (R) ★★★½

This is not a review of the 5 hour version which has been screened a bit everywhere around and has had its TV debut on IFC not too long ago. This is the reduced 160 minute version that nevertheless brings a real jolt to your nervous system. Director Olivier Assayas directs Carlos with an excitement that is near palpable. His telling of the renowned terrorist of the 70's and 80's, who shared an affinity for the Palestinian cause, has an urgency that you rarely see in film. Too bad most of it is disjointed due to the fact that it was cut in half for a normalized theatrical version.

There's an astonishing sequence that involves the hostage taking of OPEC members that can be described as a mini movie of its own. That very part of the film is its heart and soul as Assayas takes our breath away and induces pulse pounding intensity to what could have been a real drag to sit through. It zips along from room to room, plane to plane, country to country in a brazenly kinetic pace as Carlos tries to find a way out from his botched plan. Assayas' use of colors, lighting and camera stylization is breathtaking to behold. It's a 60 minute hypnotic ride to behold.

It's a real shame I didn't wait to just view the 5 hour cut, which from what I hear is just awesome. I'm gonna have to guess that that one is the inferior version of Carlos, which is why Assayas' film feels so disjointed and flawed in execution. Taking away close to 2 hours of time, the version I saw felt to me like it was missing character development and a sense of structure with its plotting. I'm recommending the version I saw solely based on the brilliant flashes that it possesses at its disposal - aka the Hostage sequence, a nifty, tense assassination at its beginning and an earth shatteringly great performance by Edgar Martinez as Carlos- but once I review the original cut I'll let you know how it really is and I'm sure it's even better.

My recap of the Film Fest

After close to 2 weeks of covering the local film fest, I'm completely movie'd out but I've had time to write about it through The Link and Awards Daily. You can read my thoughts over at Awards Daily by clicking HERE & The Link coverage HERE. If you're too lazy to click and can only scroll here's what I wrote on Sasha Stone's web site.

Montreal’s Le Festival Du Nouveau Cinema concluded its 39th edition on Sunday with Palme D’or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, a mesmerizing journey into the nature of life and death. Its puzzling nature was a reassuring sight to see at a fest that was filled with disappointing efforts from the likes of Clair Denis and Catherine Breillat. Sadly, I wouldn’t bet on Weerasethakul’s film getting nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, it is too visionary and ahead of its time to likely get recognized. However, Japan’s official entry in the Oscar race, Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions won a deserved Audience Award which is a good sign for its chances come nomination time. Nakashima’s film was THE summer hit in Japan this season and is riding high as a crowd pleaser in festival circuits worldwide. Was it as good a movie as Uncle Boonmee? Of course not but Confessions has an accessibility that the academy will likely cuddle to, in its depiction of a high school teacher seeking revenge on the students that killed her daughter.

Canada’s official submission Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies will also most likely get recognized with a Foreign Film nomination, in fact it might just be a masterpiece & has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classic for a 2011 release. Take that in mind and the fact that it won Best Canadian Film at the recent Toronto Film Fest and you got a real contender. Meanwhile Mexico’s Official entry, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful got a rapturous applause at its screening more than a week ago. I dug Inarritu’s first three directorial efforts but thought this new one didn’t live up to them and was a slight letdown in its depiction of a dying man trying to leave his children a better future before he dies. Javier Bardem is guaranteed a Best Actor nomination and is the reason why the film is even worth watching. As Uxball, a man haunted by his past and worried about his future, Bardem infuses a raw and unforgettable grittiness to his role. The film, despite its exciting visual style, was too conventional to get me all excited.

Although Bardem impressed, Lesley Manville gets my award for Best Performance of the fest as an alcoholically depressed middle aged woman looking for love in Mike Leigh’s great Another Year. Just like Leigh’s other films, Another Year is an actor’s delight and something truly special. We should cherish the films this man gives us because not many people make them like this anymore, simple and wonderful. The film is worth watching alone for Manville’s master class in acting. She infuses the film with a comedic and touching gravity that will astound you from the get go. As far as I’m concerned she will be competing with Annette Benning for the critics’ awards come December, they might just boost her to a nomination.

As far as animated film goes, nothing came close to touching Sylvain Chomet’s follow-up to Belleville Rendezvous, The Illusionist. It’s a real shame that this year has been wonderful in terms of animation but If I were the Academy this would be a cinch for a nomination. Chomet’s breathtaking visual style is a wonder to behold and if The Illusionist might not be as Inventive as his first film, it’s still got more to give us than any other animated film this year, save for maybe Toy Story 3.

Other films that I dug at the fest were Gaspar Noe’s incendiary Enter The Void which, just like Uncle Boonmee, gave a new voice to how cinema could be told with its frenetic camera movements and trippy images that test the patience of its audience- It reveals a spiritual side that I never thought Noe had ditto Mathieu Almaric’s Tournee (On Tour), which won him a Best Directing prize at Cannes. It’s his ode to the American Burlesque performance and he directs the film like a true veteran, infusing hand held camera with a loose narrative to give a kind of cinema verite style to his film.

7 Days with Podz

7 Days (NR) ★★★

Quebec cinema has truly hit a boom the last few years and I do mean that both Commercially and artistically. I'm obviously concerned on the artistic side and director Podz -yep that's how he wants to be called- released earlier this year 7 Days, which is quite a gruesome experience. I wouldn't exactly call it a great movie but Podz' visual style is very assured and overcomes the scripts' lapses in sappiness towards its finale. This comes at at time when Denis Villeneuve's Incendies is storming Quebec and -I bet- will storm the world with recent news that it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for a 2011 release and was also chosen as Canada's entry for the Best Foreign film Oscar. Back to Podz' film, it concerns a couple that have just lost their via a sick pedophiles murderous tendencies. The father decides to exact revenge on the pedophile buy torturing him throughout the film and those scenes are brutal but invigoratingly real and truthful.

The best thing I can say about this film is that it asks the question how far would you go to revenge a thing such as murder or sexual abuse, you begin to see the consequences and wonder if it is all worth it after all. I won't go into detail as to what I thought was right or wrong but suffice to say this is thought provoking stuff for the most part. For the most part. Meaning, I had a few minor quibbles with the direction the movie would take from time to time, instead of focusing on the two men, it would at times linger away to the police chief looking for them. Even worse there's a dreamlike sequence film's end that did not belong there and is the sort of sappiness I was referring to at the beginning. but really this is just good stuff and I recommend just for the curiosity factor. It premiered at Sundance earlier this year and might get some sort of release in the months ahead.

To dream the dream or nightmare

Le Festival Du Noueau Cinema Day (Day 6)

Mike Leigh, one of the greatest directors alive, has built a career over lower British class dreams and nightmares. His filmography reads like a master class in cinema (Naked, Secrets & Lies, Happy Go Lucky) and add his latest, Another Year, to that list of his best movies. It's a real treat to watch Leigh direct a film such as this one, cause there really isn't any other filmmaker that does movies like Leigh does anymore. His way of making movies is simple, yet affective. He gives us a slice of life in British society, a melange of characters and vignettes that are designed to be character and societal studies. Another Year is a character study of 3 main people. A couple in their 60's called Tom and Gerri (played by Jim Broadbent/Ruth Sheen) and Mary, an alcoholic, depressed, middle aged woman that works with Gerri in an office an has a thing for her son.

Lesley Manville plays Mary and it's a knockout performance that will likely get awarded by year's end. Manville, in her fourth decade of acting and a Leigh regular, might have just given the performance of the year with this one. Another Year rests on the shoulders of her character as its dramatic and comedic centerpiece. Don't get me wrong, Broadbent and Sheen are incredibly subtle and effective but Manville does Leigh proud in investing her heart and soul into a destructive and touching characterization of alcoholism and depression. I loved how she could change the expressions on her face so effortlessly, it's a performance that goes along well with Leigh's bravura filmmaking.

Another film that has gotten much buzz here is Jean Luc Godard's latest, Film Socialisme- which I can't really explain cause, well I didn't really understand it + the buzz is mostly coming from the name Godard alone. I guess that's the point Godard was trying to make in his attempt to put out themes and stories that are clearly in his head these days. What themes might you ask? well I guess that's what I'm trying to say, the themes are never pronounced very clearly but only hinted at in context. It's a mess of a film but will clearly get eaten up by folks that have liked some of his later career fare, I haven't necessarily cuddled up to those films just so you know my stance. It's a real shame that Godard has resorted to making movies such as this one because you can still see immense talent in the shots he gives us in this film, there is a visionary flair that has not been lost over the years by the Breathless director. His lack of plot or story is a real shame, he refuses to gives us anything straightforward because, as I understand, he has lost all hope in contemporary movie making and probably thinks it is a lost art. To each his own I guess.

Festival Du Nouveau Cinema (Day 4)

Gaspar Noe never seems to settle for a conventional narrative. His latest is called Enter The Void and runs at more than 160 minutes. It is long, flawed, repetitive but is also something I have never seen before in cinema and I do mean that as a good thing. If he shocked us all with a 10 minute rape scene in Irreversible, the shock is not as nasty here but he instead decides to resort to trippy psychedelia and images that represent an other worldly existence. His inspiration is clearly Kubrick, most notably the last 20 or so minutes of 2001 expanded into 2 hours. Although there is a story at hand here and a clear belief of an after life.

Taking place in Japan, the film uses the colorful scenery of the country to tell the story of two Americans -brother and sister- that are literally lost in translation. The brother, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) has turned into a junkie that is hooked on the drug DMT (the chemical your brain unleashes when you're dying) and his sister Linda has resorted to stripping for money- she also has a semi creepy affair with her Japanese manager. The brother gets shot and basically waders around the entire film in an undisclosed life form going through flashbacks, present time and another dimension.

Talking about creepy, there's hints of Incest throughout the film although it never really is revealed what that's all about. Suffice to say, I dug this film quite a bit because of its visionary reaches and the way Noe tries to bring a new way of expression to a cinematic medium that has all but failed in inventiveness the last few years. There's no short of originality here, although I felt completely drained by the time the film had ended. It's an experience that you will likely not forget, to say the least.

Romanian cinema has just been boomin' the last few years, what with that incredible stunner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days garnering worldwide acclaim in 2007 and of course The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu. I had high expectations for Radu Muntean's Tuesday After Christmas which explores infidelity with long takes and a retainment of emotions. So far, so good right? and for the most part it is but there's only so much you could do with the a story about adultery and with the limitations Muntean sets out. The man in the marriage is cheating on the family dentist's assistant. even worse, Christmas is around the corner and our old buddy is thinking of making a decision that will likely change his life in a major way. Starring Dragos Bucur as the husband, Maria Popistasu a the mistress and the brilliant Mirela Oprisor as the lost and bewildered wife, a memorable performance that sneaks up into you. A Pitch perfect ending helps the film hve a bit more of a groove near its conclusion. A bewildering film I will likely need to thoroughly think about.

Greg Araki's new film has not found a distributor since its auspicious debut at Cannes in early may, which kind of sucks considering I enjoyed many parts of it. It's just a plain old, goofy, stoner comedy with lots of female (and male) flesh. Kaboom will not change the world and will likely not get the cult or critical acclaim Araki managed to get with his last film (Mysterious Skin) but Kaboom has enough interesting bits that I'd recommend it for a night of good old debauchery. Its College humor is unlike any comedy out there- whereas its last 20 minutes are so ridiculous that you need to just uncheck your brain and go along with whatever is fed to you. It all has to do with these damn cookies our main protagonist devours at a party. Lesson of the day- NEVER EAT COOKIES YOU DID NOT BAKE YOURSELF.

Festival Du Nouveau Cinema (Days 2 & 3)

Not that I should complain much but Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's latest film is a real downer I tell you. Oh is it ever. Then again, his first 3 films (Amorres Perros, 21 Grams & Babel) wouldn't qualify either as feel good cinema. His latest is called Biutiful and it has an incredible lead performance from Javier Bardem. In fact, I'd shocked, just shocked I tell ya if he didn't get a Best Actor nomination. He plays Uxball, a man that has to take care of his two children because his ex-wife has lost custody since well, she's an alcoholic. To make matters worst, Uxball is dying of cancer and there are quite a few scenes in the film that umm show his symptoms in quite a direct, in your face manner (blood with urine). The man also makes a living with numerous jobs, most of them illegal such as helping out illegal Chinese and Senegali immigrants. Oh and he can see things too, by seeing things I mean he can actually SEE things, dead people and such- he gets payed by desperate families at funeral homes to try to relay messages from their loved lost ones.

All in all, it's an exhausting experience that definitely is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. What makes it worth seeing is Bardem, who's Uxball is slowly but surely losing his mind and disintegrating on screen, his weight lowering, his eyes getting sleepier and his lip moving less and less. Bardem never loses sight of his characters' fight to leave his children with a better life once the cancer has taken him down. The film's flaws are marked and noticed but Bardem fights them all at once with his knockout performance. Now I just wish Inarritu, a talented filmmaker, can make a fresher movie next time around, one that does not involve the predictable disintegration of a lead character ala 21 Grams or Babel. His pleasure in making films about suffering and death is starting to get to me. Then again it might just be like telling Peckinpah to stop making violent movies or Lynch to stop dreaming about dreams.

Another film that came into the fest with some heavy buzz is Claire Denis' White Material which recently screened at the New York Film Festival. Denis comes back to Africa with this one and casts Isabelle Huppert as a woman that resides in Africa with a Coffee Bean business at her disposal. Of course, Coffee has nothing to do with the picture. In fact, African Civil War is the layout of this excitingly tense and violent picture. Huppert's family is dysfunctional to say the least, her husband (played by Christopher Lambert) tries to negotiate a deal with the mayor, her father in law just wanders around the house like a lazy bum and her son, well let's just say her son goes crazy and wanders off in thin air, disappearing into the African night.

Compared to Denis' other films, this is conventional stuff. Then again, it is nevertheless an interesting piece of cinema done by one of the great filmmakers around. The violence that Denis shows us is brutal, as child soldiers roam on the streets, not scared to attack or kill a civilian. The setting is pitch perfect and brings back Denis to a childhood she clearly remembers in colonial Africa. There are scenes that are unforgettable here, yet the mystery that lingers in almost all her other films is missing. Instead she decides to tell her story in a conventionally paced manner and doesn't feel the need to bring a little more of her trademark nasty darkened mystery. This is a well recommended picture but clearly not one of her best.

Another picture I saw was Carl Bessai's Fathers And Sons and it is one of those movies that you see every once in a while at a film fest. I'm talking about the kind of movie that makes you wonder why it was picked to be in the damn program. Its interwoven story lines all have to do with, well guess Mr. rocket scientist, fathers and sons. There's an Indian family, a Jewish family, an Irish family and a black family. All this and maybe I should have just chugged that glass of wine to make the pain go away a bit. uggh next time.

Festival Du Nouveau Cinema (Day 1)

Le Festival Du Nouveau Cinema has been over the past decade, the best film fest in Montreal. Year after year, the organizers have practically outdone themselves in concocting a program that would satisfy the most fervent of cinema fans. Over the next 14 days, I will be cramming into my schedule close to 40 movies from more than 20 countries. You can call it a film geek's wet dream or you can call it overload. I'm looking forward to having a chance to visit the new world's of such masters as Britain's Mike Leigh, Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Romania's Cristi Puiu, Denmark's Thomas Vinterberg & French auteurs such as Jean Luc Godard, Clair Denis and Catherine Breillat. Serge Losique's Montreal World Film Festival has long been overshadowed by a film fest that has decided to overtake it in terms of creativity and substantial programming. If you are a fan of cinema and always think outside the box, Le Festival Du Nouveau Cinema is for you with its eclectic selection and all around satisfying vibe.

Portugal's Manoel De Oliveira is 102 years old, yet age has not been a factor for him to direct films in an almost yearly basis. The Strange Case Of Angelica -his 51st movie- has themes of love and death and an almost comatose structure. De Oliveira's movies have either been hit or miss the past 2 decades and there's no doubt in my book this one is a miss. The film talks about a strange young photographer that is given the task of photographing a dead girl, he grows a strange admiration for her as the days go by, an admiration that ultimately turns futile and scary as our photographer friend starts hallucinating and coming to terms with a breakdown. The film is beautifully shot and has an original way of telling things but it is also uninvolving to its viewer and not all that satisfying an experience. Oliviera has nothing to prove and thus has made a movie that is mostly for himself and nobody else- that's problematic and at the end quite disappointing.

Talking about strange. In a film fest that takes pride in its weirdness and originality, Bruce LaBruce's L.A Zombie might just take the prize for weirdest film. Clocking in at a mere 63 minutes, LaBruce's film is a strange gay porn gorefest that will likely puzzle and frustrate many at the fest. LaBruce wouldn't want it any other way. His film casts porn star Francois Sagat as a Zombie -or is he just a schizophrenic?- that goes around Los Angeles looking for dead male bodies to have sex with and literally bring back to life. Yikes. Talk about infuriating the masses. LaBruce doesn't care. His film has been categorized as a Queer Cinema Zombie Film, but it is more than just that. I saw a parallel and hidden metaphor to the AIDS epidemic. You don't necessarily have to think that much when watching LaBruce's film. It has practically no dialogue and lets the images speak for themselves. You will likely come out puzzled. I know I did.

French actor turned director Mathieu Almaric won the Directing Prize earlier this year at Cannes for his tour de force directorial debut, Tournee (On Tour). His film has an incredible atmosphere as it follows American Burlesque performers and their idiosyncratic French manager (also played by Almaric). Almaric's film and direction owes a big debt to the sprawling character driven epics of such American masters as Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese. There are well over a dozen characters to pay attention to here but Almaric's hand makes the surroundings incredibly vibrant and entertaining to watch. Miranda Colclosure gives an astonishing performance as one of the Burlesque ladies that has a peculiar friendship with Almaric's manager. In making the film, Almaric hired some of the best, most talented Burlesque performers in the States to portray his ladies. It worked, these non-professional actresses feel genuine and natural on camera. The film isn't perfect but the overall vibe Almaric creates is incredible and -like all great road trips- feels like an experience. Tournee confirms Almaric as a true talent of cinema, both in acting and directing.

Banksy takes on The Simpsons

Bansky has gotten some much needed ink this year, ever since that documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop made its way to cinemas across the country. Now here comes something that has already gotten 3 + million hits on Youtube and is surely the next big video online. It is Banksy's take on The Simpsons and -through the creators' consent- his own unique vision of the opening montage. Knowing this is Banksy, it's no surprise that his version of things is both nastiy funny and political to the bone. Enjoy.

Let The Right One In REDUX

2008's Let The Right One In
2010's Let Me In
Let Me In (R) ★★½

It's no surprise that Hollywood decided to remake 2008's Let The Right One In, a Swedish import that has garnered more than its fair share of fans during the past 2 years. The original, with its bracingly original story and flashy Gothic decors, had something that could please even subtitle deractors. The remake -directed by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves- is surprisingly stale and has a few stunning surprises up its sleeves, it's a real shame that I was expecting almost everything coming in the way of plot (I mean it IS a remake after all). The problem is that Reeves doesn't try anything new or ingenious and instead decides to follow the same atmospheric hypnotics that made the 2008 movie so popular.

There's something very wrong in remaking a film that was already good in the first place. Don't get me wrong stuff like what Scorsese did with The Departed is great, there Scorsese took the source and twisted it upsid down to make well, a Martin Scorsese movie. I'm also lost for wods as to why critics have fallen for the remake so damn much, then again maybe they didn't have the chance to see the original and some film critics -more notably Lou Lumenick- have come out and stated their overall enjoyment with the fact that they didn't see the original source material.

The story, which is about a 13 year old vampire girl that starts a unique friendship with a bullied neighbourhood boy, is a real genre twister that re-invigorated the vampire genre, coincidentally the same year the first Twilight movie came out. You won't see any Bella or Edward sappiness in the original or -even- remake. There's no love triangle or high school dramatics. The stakes at here are real and the feelings psychological. I just think it is somewhat of a useless thing to remake such a film in an almost similarly told way. Reeves could have put his own spin and made something a bit more beneficial for both the fans of the original and newcomer, alas that does not happen at the least bit. If you've seen the original one, skip this one but if you haven't check it out or rent Let The Right One In.

The Link/Burning Water

The writing has been non stop for me, here's my thoughts on Burning Water, which comes out in limited release all across Canada but will likely not get one for the States. A shame considering there is a relevant subject matter here that touches more than just Canadian provinces. It's a slight, not very stylish documentary but its importance is immense and will likely change government stances on such issues. Review can be read if you click HERE.


Incendies (NR) ★★★½

With his fourth film, Denis Villeneuve has hit a new career high. Incendies -based on Wajdi Mouawad's stage play- is the firecracker I've been waiting for this fall. Political, angry and thoroughly engrossing, Villeneuve's film is one of the year's best. It's then no surprise that it is Canada's official selection for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2011. Don't be surprised if Incendies -brimming at a gripping 130 minutes- is one of the selected five nominees. Sony Pictures Classic has picked up the film for an early 2011 release & has put its hopes on a film that has garnered nothing but buzz since its current bows at the Telluride and Toronto film fest- where it won Best Canadian Film.

The film's central story takes place both in present day Montreal & in a Middle East filled with corruption and violence. Brother and Sister lose mother and then consequently find out that they have a father they thought was dead and a brother they never thought existed. Through flashbacks the story of their mother's ordeal is told and through current day events, the sister finds out things she never knew about her mother, a past filled with pain and sorrow. The torching and shooting of a Muslim filled bus by christian radicals is the centerpiece of this tough movie. It's a sequence breathlessly shot and horrifying to watch in its authenticity. Villeneuve means to shake us and he does.

Villeneuve proved with last year's Polytechnique that he hadn't lost the touch that gave him his reputation with Maelstrom more than 10 years ago. Here, his style is more low key as he pulls a kind of Aronofksy with this picture. This is his Wrestler. A film that has a more low key style that isn't substantiated for plot and is inspired by classical Hollywood cinema. The film had me hanging by every tread as it drew closer and closer to its conclusion. Villeneuve tries to manipulate time by going back and forth from past to present day to show us the similarities between mother and daughter in their quest to find a sibling.

The performances are extraordinary, starting with the mother played by Lubna Azabal- she brings a quiet intensity to her ordeal as a christian good girl gone rebel bad- in a shocking scene, she sets out to shoot a top political figure by working with him and teaching his son how to speak and write french. When the time to kill finally arrives, you feel every inch of nervousness she has at that moment. Notable kudos must also be given to Melissa Desormaux Poulin, who plays the daughter that tries to retrace her mother's every step and consequently finds out deep, impenetrable secrets her mother once had. This is a movie all about images and moments and Villeneuve invigorates his movie with everlasting images that will stay in your head.

The way Villeneuve tells his story is original and visionary, something missing in current day cinema. His middle eastern nightmare vision is a film that creeps up on you from its first frame to its last. I was also completely taken back by its final twisty revelation that only puts the icing on the cake. The film will more than likely find a comfort zone from both critics and audiences when it finally gets released in the States. Villeneuve hasn't really gotten the reputation he deserves south of the border and I think this film might just finally do it for him- it's a hell of a triumph an I couldn't be more proud it comes from Montreal.

The other Facebook movie

Catfish (R) ★★★

If a film like Catfish was able to give me the creeps then I guess anybody can make a movie with their hand held camera and hope for the best- didn't The Blair Witch Project prove that? Then again, the filmmakers of this finely tuned documentary hit a kind of gold mine with their story of a buddy -Lev Schulman- adding a "friend" on Facebook and forming an unlikely online bond with the entire family, including a hot stepdaughter that he ends up having online hookups with.

This being the Internet, I suppose there is always a downside to a story such as this one and boy is it ever a downside as our boy Lev finds out as the story goes along.The first 2/3 of the movie have a Hitchockian vibe that literally had me hanging on every word, then of course...well I won't spoil it for you but suffice to say that they try to put a moral to their story at its conclusion, that the film ends up falling apart and dragging its ass down to the final credits. Too bad cause I kinda dug the buildup that director Ariel Schulman -Lev's brother- brought to the surroundings.

You can call this the other Facebook movie -along with The Social Network- and because we live in a Facebook dominated society, the relevance brought in is justifiably suited for our needs and wants of the moment. Will it be this gripping 10 years from now? I really don't know but for the time being, at its best Catfish gives the viewer a real treat in trying to figure out its mysterious ways.

However, don't think of it as high art or resonant stuff- on the contrary, it's a movie that doesn't have much of a face and rather focuses on its highly interesting concept. Unlike quite a few people out there in the blogosphere, I do believe this was pure fact and the filmmakers didn't make up any bit of it but if only they did- its conclusion would have been slightly more interesting to watch unravel.

Guess The Movie?

This should be quite easy to figure out but I nevertheless wanted to relay this image out of a classic film from the 70s. Recently released for auction with a starting bid of close to 700 dollars. It's a hell of an image but I personally wouldn't dig out the dough and just resort to watching the film instead.

Lisbeth Salander kicks the Hornet's Nest and puts herself in a heep of trouble

Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (R) ★★½

Coming out later this month is the final chapter of this trilogy that has basically swept up the entire world with its intriguing novels by Stieg Larsson and interesting films. If the first film, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was an investigative drama and the second film, Girl Who Played With Fire, was a thriller, Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is pure and simply a courtroom drama filled with spectacle and numerous speeches that basically tie up the knots left vacant by the first two films. Is is a good film? no doubt about it, We care so much about the characters because of the first two films that we cannot help but keep our attention throughout all the hokey courtroom drama that at times appears on screen.

The best of the series is without a doubt The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which -despite being 15 minutes too long- had the atmosphere and direction of a first rate picture and brought some much needed cinematic fervor to the surroundings. Hornet's Nest is a conventional way of ending the series, with its multiple speeches, climactic ambivalence and knot tying. I didn't however appreciate how the book's ending was somewhat changed in the film's final conclusion and resorted to a kind of weird inessential goodbye. In the novel, there is a final scene that is kind of expected -very anticlimactic- but also very satisfying and very appropriate for a series of novels about two main characters.

Which is not to say that there isn't an inch of excitement in director Daniel Alfredson's movie. From a hospital shooting to a final battle with a muscled giant, Lisbeth Salander's exciting persona rings true in every scene. Kudos must go to Noomi Rapace, who deserves a nomination for her portrayal of the femme fatale. I found her captivating throughout the series and -although I'm very much looking forward to it- almost irreplaceable in the American remake of the first film, coming out in 2011 and directed by maverick American filmmaker David Fincher. She's the heart and soul of the series and is the key reason to even watch the last two films directed by Alfredson. If you want something more effective check out the first film of the series, directed by Niels Arden Oplev.

"Dance, Girl, Dance"/Feminist Cinema Pt 1

Director Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance is a feminist narrative, about women in a male-dominated society, made in male-dominated film industry. It encompasses ideas and a language that was well ahead of its time & although the film is conventional, one cannot help but notice the importance this movie has had on an audience that was ignorant to the rights a woman should have. In fact, I took Maureen O’Hara’s Burlesque-hall speech to a packed audience of hollering men as a brave indictment and condemnation of a male dominated society that hadn’t totally advanced in Woman’s rights issues. Arzner’s camera focuses on the faces in the crowd, astonished by the display of courage Ohara’s Judy O’Brien puts forth with her case. It’s a stunning scene that stands up in a film that I admired more than liked.

Arzner is not only condemning the actions of the people on screen but also that of the audience watching her film. I truly believe that to make a film such as this one in 1940 must have taken a lot of backing from producers, then again the message is subtle and never entirely drawn out. Arzner doesn’t mean to give a lesson and just lets her characters do the talking for a change. I loved the way the film’s conventional narrative took on ballsy, important issues of the era. Lucille Ball’s Bubbles/Tiger Lilly gets fame and fortune by playing the whore, whereas Ohara’s good girl Judy struggles to find a place in a world dominated by men and those that want their women in scantily clad clothes & acting dumb on stage. The latter-day acclaim this film has won in its advanced feminist angles is reminiscent of Douglas Sirk’s 1950’s melodramas, with their dark messages hidden underneath glossy colors and characters that are more than meets the eye.

However, hidden messages notwithstanding, Arzner’s film is conventionally made and not entirely essential. The problem I have is that Arzner’s films—at least those I’ve seen—simply aren’t anything to get excited about. There’s always something interesting to catch or glimpse at, but stylistically, she has never been someone to brag home about. Dance, Girl, Dance started out strong but quickly became routine as it went along in its “girl tries to make it big in the city” conventions. I appreciated what she was trying to convey and the walls she was trying to break in her feminist themes but one comes out of the film thinking more about the layed out groundwork & themes than the actual story. As a piece of Hollywood history, it’s a real beauty but as a source of entertainment I’ve seen much better.