From Shorts to Features - Part One

Not your usual drop shadow BGFor some writer/directors, making a short film is indeed a stepping stone towards a career in the feature film realm, although sometimes a short’s success doesn’t guarantee an immediate film deal.

When Sean Ellis’s Cashback was nominated for an Oscar in 2005, the director managed to develop the short into a feature film, using most of the existing footage for his upgraded narrative. Cashback, the feature (Canada: Altlantis/Remstar, U.S.A.: Magnolia), was later followed by The Broken (2008) and though both films are very flawed (see reviews), Ellis’ short did succeed in giving the director a career jump; this was admittedly helped by Uncle Oscar, who perhaps gave 2005’s Oscar Winner, Martin McDonagh, an even bigger boost when his short, Six Shooter, led to In Bruges (2008).

For comparison, there’s Brain Hecker’s 1998 debut Family Attraction (Vanguard), which the writer/director made while at the AFI. The film went on to become one of the organization’s most successful shorts, and yet it took Hecker a bit longer to develop and produce his first feature, 2008’s Bart Got a Room (Anchor Bay/Starz). Granted, Hecker had to start from scratch (and draw from his youth years to create a tale of prom angst), but the success in moving from short to feature is very much a crap shoot, determined by factors other than mere luck, timing, or accolades.

Just uploaded are reviews for Cashback, as well as Magnolia’s short film anthology, A Collection of 2005 Academy Award Nominated Short Films, which contains the original version Cashback, as well as Six Shooter and several other notable shorts.

Coming shortly: Brain Hecker’s efforts, including Bart Got a Room and Family Matters.



Mondomark.com Construction Update

Takin' a break during construction...Updating a blog site is one thing, and prepping a new site is whole new monster that thankfully is being done during a period of the year when the release schedules of most labels are less heavy (like the fall, and the lead-up to Xmas madness).

Of course, Wordpress isn't a simple drop-and-drag setup, and neither is the merging of data. The new blogging site, Mondomark.com, won't just house the Editor's Blog, but provide links to archives of older materials from prior print sources, including my DVD and soundtrack reviews for Rue Morgue, and material written over a roughly 18 year period for Music from the Movies.

Now, that last one's the tricky thing, because around March of 2009, the site went kapoofy (folded) due to the obvious demands, both financial and time-wise, in maintaining an up-to-date soundtrack site.

My work of the past week has entailed salvaging my MFTM soundtrack reviews, interviews, articles, and DVD columns from diverse sources; everything from the magazine's print years was scanned a long time ago, so those pieces will be available as downloadable jpegs, but everything from the web years was saved in logical and amazingly idiotic places, so it's a bit of hunt, tracking down saved html copies or MS Word files of the original pieces.

The first stage - the print archive - is done, as are links to the print DVD columns where I covered every blasted composer-friendly DVD release with a commentary and/or isolated score track; it's a special feature that's rare, if not virtually dead today, with the exception of the rare DVD release from Fox (who've really scaled back their slate of classic back catalogue titles this year). Those scans will be available when the new blog site goes live - ideally by the end of next week.

The next batch of MFTM material to be integrated into KQEK.com's Film Music section is the defunct online DVD column, which will require fixing a lot of dead links.

See, when material is published, it's smart for a writer to link each piece to major search engines or websites, like the IMDB, so people know your review, interview or article exists. That's something I did when I still wrote for Told You So Productions, but when a site dies, as was the case with TYS in 2005, there were 500 DVD IMDB External Review links that were stone cold dead, and each one had to be updated, cutting and pasting new links and bylines into the appropriate fields.

Not fun, but necessary.

The first 'fixed' links and MFTM material to be integrated at KQEK.com are a selection of book reviews, which can be accessed via the Author or Title indexes. The reviews includes volumes from the Scarecrow Film Score Series, as well as Quincy Jones' autobiography.

Coming shortly: new soundtrack and DVD reviews. No, really.


Midnight Madness & Real to Reel series at TIFF 2009

Announced late Tuesday morning is the line-up for the Midnight Madness, Real to Reel, and Wavelength sections of the Toronto International Film Festival. Below is the tally for the first two sections, with IMDB links:



Jennifer's Body

(dir. Karyn Kusama, USA - World Premiere)

Jennifer's Body tells the story of small-town high-school student Jennifer (Megan Fox) who is possessed by a hungry demon and transitions from being "high school evil"—gorgeous (and doesn't she know it), stuck up and ultra-attitudinal—to the real deal: evil/evil. The glittering beauty becomes a pale and sickly creature jonesing for a meaty snack, and guys who never stood a chance with the heartless babe take on new lustre in the light of her insatiable appetite. Meanwhile, Jennifer's best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried), long relegated to living in Jennifer's shadow, must step-up to protect the town's young men, including her nerdy boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons). Written and executive produced by Oscar®-winner Diablo Cody (Juno).


A Town Called Panic

(dir. Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, Belgium/Luxembourg/France, North American Premiere)

An outlandish animation style captures the absurd wit and surreal adventures of plastic toys Cowboy, Indian and Horse.

Bitch Slap

(dir. Rick Jacobson, USA, World Premiere)

In this campy action comedy from the creators of Xena and Hercules, three hot-blooded women try to uncover some booty in the desert using feminine charms, fists and machine guns.


(dir. Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, Australia/USA, World Premiere)

Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill star in this sci-fi horror about a future populated by vampires where humans are the minority.

George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

(dir. George A. Romero, Canada, World Premiere)

Master director George A. Romero returns to his world of the undead, this time pitting two feuding clans in the middle of the fallout of a zombie epidemic.

The Loved Ones

(dir. Sean Byrne, Australia, International Premiere)

A troubled teen's prom dreams are shattered by a series of painful events that take place under the mirrored disco ball, involving syringes, nails, power drills and a secret admirer in this wild mash-up of Pretty in Pink and Misery.

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

(dir. Tony Jaa, Thailand, Canadian Premiere)

Martial-arts superstar Tony Jaa stars in and directs this epic tale of revenge set hundreds of years in the past. Featuring a huge cast and hordes of elephants, this prequel takes Jaa's skills to the next level, showcasing him as a master of a wide range of martial-arts styles - while proving him to be a promising director as well.

[REC] 2
(dir. Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, Spain, North American Premiere)

In the follow-up to the acclaimed [REC], a SWAT team enters the old apartment to control an epidemic with terrifying results.

Solomon Kane

(dir. Michael J. Bassett, United Kingdom, World Premiere)

From Robert E. Howard, the legendary creator of Conan, comes this tale of a savage mercenary in sixteeth-century Century England who owes the devil his soul and seeks to redeem himself by fighting evil.


(dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto, Japan, International Premiere)

Japanese comedy superstar Hitoshi Matsumoto (DAINIPPONJIN) stars in and directs this absurd and outlandish comedy about a man trying to escape a unique dilemma.



The Art of the Steal

(dir. Don Argott, USA World Premiere)

This art-world whodunit investigates what happened to the Barnes collection of Post-Impressionist paintings—valued in the billions—that fell prey to a power struggle after the death of owner Albert Barnes.

(dir. Mehran Tamadon, Iran/France/Switzerland International Premiere)

For three years, Mehran Tamadon immersed himself into the very heart of the most extremist supporters of the Islamic republic of Iran (the Bassidjis) to understand their ideas.

(dir. Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi, USA World Premiere)

The Mormon religion preaches against the content of R-rated films, so several Utah-based entrepreneurs started offering “clean” versions of Hollywood movies at specialty DVD stores. But the thriving industry runs into legal problems and its own sex scandal.


(dir. Chris Smith, USA World Premiere)

From the acclaimed director of American Movie, this portrait of radical thinker Michael Ruppert explores his apocalyptic vision of the future, spanning the crises in economics, energy, environment and more.

(dir. Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell, Ireland World Premiere)

Several beekeepers around the U.S. cope with colony collapse disorder - the phenomenon that has caused millions of bees to mysteriously disappear - in this beautifully shot debut from a gifted directing duo.

Google Baby
(dor. Zippi Brand Frank, Israel International Premiere)

In India, the latest form of outsourcing is surrogate mothers who carry embryos for couples who can’t have a child. Director Zippi Brand Frank follows an entrepreneur who proposes a new service - baby production for western customers.

How to Fold a Flag

(dir. Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, USA World Premiere)
The makers of Gunner Palace follow U.S. soldiers as they create new lives post-Iraq—from a Congressional candidate in Buffalo to a cage fighter in Louisiana—set against the backdrop of the 2008 election.

L’Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot
(dir. Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, France North American Premiere)
Film archivist Serge Bromberg uncovers a treasure trove of imagery from an unfinished film called L’Enfer starring Romy Schneider and directed by the French master Henri-Georges Clouzot, known for Wages of Fear and Diabolique.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
(dir. Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, USA World Premiere)
Daniel Ellsberg was a valued strategist inside the American government until he leaked the Pentagon Papers and exposed the lies of the Vietnam War. This thrilling documentary chronicles this momentous chapter in history and how Richard Nixon’s obsession over the case brought down his own government.

Presumed Guilty
(dir. Roberto Hernandez and Geoffrey Smith, Mexico World Premiere)

Two young Mexican attorneys attempt to exonerate a wrongly convicted man by making a documentary. In the process, they expose the contradictions of a judicial system that presumes suspects guilty until proven innocent.

Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags
(dir. Marc Levin, USA World Premiere)

Veteran filmmaker Mark Levin (Slam) looks at the past and present of New York’s garment district, from its heyday as a base for immigrant labour and unions to its recent decline.

(dir. Vikram Jayanti, USA/United Kingdom International Premiere)

Rachael Scdoris, a blind 23-year-old, doesn’t let her disability stop her from competing in one of the most gruelling endurance contests in the world: the Iditarod dogsled race traversing 1,100 miles of Alaska’s most rugged terrain. But being blind is only the start of her challenges.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
(dir. Leanne Pooley, New Zealand North American Premiere)

Fun, disarming and musically provocative, the Topp Twins are New Zealand’s finest lesbian country-and-western singers and the country’s greatest export since rack of lamb and the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

(dir. Erik Gandini, Sweden North American Premiere)

This penetrating look at the media empire of Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlosconi reveals how his reality TV shows full of bikini-clad women enriched his friends and beguiled a nation.

Good Hair
(dir. Jeff Stilson, USA Canadian Premiere/Special Presentation)

Rendered speechless by his daughter’s question—“Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”—comedian Chris Rock embarks on a quest to understand African American hair culture.

Turtle: The Incredible Journey
(dir. Nick Stringer, United Kingdom/Austria/Germany Canadian Premiere/Sprockets Family Zone)
Join a logger heard turtle on an extraordinary journey through the fascinating underwater world and witness how changes in the oceans are affecting marine life in this beautiful and spectacular ocean adventure.


And while this has absolutely nothing to do with TIFF, this does relate to Blogger.com.

Ideally, within the next week or two, the Editor's Blog will move over to Mondomark.com, due to several important reasons:

a) the blogs require media links that can't be easily fitted into the existing template

b) and I'm giving up on Blogger's wonkiness. Pasting text from MS Word no longer works; pasting html code from Dreamweaver results in double and quadruple spacing between paragraphs; the insertion of a top graphic causes double-spacing between paragraphs; back-spacing sometimes insn't functional when I use an older machine; inserting or trying to modify the template to house two or more pictures within the text body is a nightmare; and the scope of the existing blog template is limited.

I did try and update to a newer and similar themed template, but all the side links were corrupted, so I'm in the process of setting up a new site, using Wordpress (which, truth be told, isn't all that easy when it requires some customizing, and took more than the zippy five minutes...).

To follow, likely by the end of August, will be content from KQEK.com in mobile format. The easiest solution is Wordpress; the hardest is figuring out the template so it has wiggle room for future tweaks.

This is and isn't fun, because when it works and does what you want, it's great; and when it doesn't, you find yourself grasping for a mallet to smash a computer-like device.


Watching another Watchmen

Today Watchmen debuts on DVD via Warner Bros. in a longer form that clocks in just over three hours, and it begs a few questions:

Was director Zack Snyder (300) too faithful in rendering Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel for the big screen?

Could a tighter adaptation have been written?

Will audiences give the film a second life on home video, now that they have the Pause button at their fingertips?

Watchmen isn’t awful, but one could brand it as a faithfully rendered extravagance for a niche market, or maybe as a daring attempt to replicate the page-turning format of a comic book without graphically charged transition effects, like the way Ang Lee shifted around panels in Hulk (2003).


That’s something no one will know until it Watchmen penetrates the home video market, but the fact it exists in multiple versions – theatrical, a new director’s cut, and reportedly a longer cut slated for a December release – opens the forum not for a discussion on purely egotistical filmmaking, but whether a director should be allowed to present multiple versions of a single work that maybe should’ve been done right the first time around.

I know you’re thinking about Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004), but each successive edit on DVD has to be regarded as a vain and pointless effort by the director to save a dud in a post-theatrical setting. Normally, a film is cut down, tested and retooled prior to a theatrical release, and sometimes the agreement with the studio allows a director to release his ‘director’s cut after the film’s theatrical and home video debut. Stone just went bonkers, trying to fix a film he never should’ve made in the first place (something John Boorman tried in 1977, with a futile efforts to fix the odiferous ineptitude of Exorcist II: The Heretic).

Revisionism within the home video market – the post-theatrical, home video release of a Director’s Cut – is often the studios’ excuse to indulge directors and give back catalogue films a new life, but the process can also muck up a good thing.

When Ron Howard was allowed to expand Ransom (1996), he ruined that film’s perfect pacing with redundant footage; when executive producer/screenwriter William Blatty was allowed his cut of The Exorcist (1973) into “The Version You’ve Never Seen” in 2000, he screwed up William Friedkin’s shock beats, gummed up the editing, and tacked on a godawful closing scene the director admittedly loathed; and when Ridley Scott expanded Alien (1979) with footage he knew damn well was wrong for the final edit, he destroyed that film’s pacing, and made brilliantly paced character and mood development all wonky.

What’s sad about the above is that, while one can get the original theatrical cut of Exorcist on DVD, most theatrical prints in circulation show the Blatty cut. Same goes for Alien (which quite frankly is a travesty for franchise fans). Worse, the theatrical edit of Ransom exists on dead tech VHS, as the old laserdisc and existing DVD releases sport the longer cut.

The lone exception to this is Peter Jackson and New Line keeping both theatrical and expanded edits of the Lord of the Rings films in print – giving viewers the chance and choice of versions, although Jackson would go bonkers and release his wholly unnecessary 3 hour 21 min. cut of King Kong (2005) on DVD.

Jackson’s theatrical cut (much like Spike Lee’s Malcolm X) was a mixed blessing, because it contains material that’s powerful as well as dramatically redundant. The first hour is too long, the later weird bug attack in the island serves no purpose beyond killing accessory characters, and the film drags at times.

For his film version of Watchmen, director Zack Snyder was faithful in spirit, tone, and detail to the original source material (ending excepted), but should a film version be a distillation a source material rather than a filmic copy?

This is actually a no-win argument, because it literally rests on whether the film works for a group of fans or filmgoers, rather than a handful of oddballs who just happen to like a stinker. Watchmen is a good film, but its appeal may well be limited, and yet, according to fans, it’s far more faithful to the novel than expected.

Snyder’s efforts might be the best attempt at realizing an Alan Moore novel; it may match the book’s prose, visuals, iconic imagery, cultural references, and dramatic peaks and valleys, much in the way Luchino Visconti nailed Giuseppe Di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo novel in The Leopard (1963), but like the Visconti film, the tradeoff can also be a weak audience appeal.

Both films, however, weren’t derived from mainstream works, so should filmmakers rework the book into something alien?

When Twentieth Century-Fox released their English language edit of The Leopard in 1963, it didn’t fare too well, and in seeing Visconti’s longer Italian cut on DVD, once sees how many nuances and prosaic visuals were removed for the sake of mainstream pacing.

That’s probably the compromise Snyder settled for in the Theatrical Watchmen edit, which is why it’s theatrical performance wasn’t heavy or steady, and why, from early reports, fans seems to prefer the restoration of more important material shorn from the theatrical edit. The fact there’s another version on the way makes things frustrating, because it questions whether the project should’ve been developed with one design in mind, and not greenlit as something to be decided on during an assembly cut.


Two Big Feet

Why do the astronauts have convex niples?Monday July 2oth will mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing – the first time human footsies touched the surface of another orb besides planet Earth. Since that fateful day, countless sci-fi films and documentaries on space travel have somewhat numbed that miracle.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons NASA tweaked the original footage of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface, because back in 1969, the televised footage wasn’t all that pretty. The restored (really enhanced) footage looks far better, with more details and a more stable image, but maybe to newer generations it looks like a home movie, and lacks the oomph of much prettier Hollywood films like Aliens or Watchmen, for that matter.

For those wanting to rekindle the immensity of the moment, there are plenty of source materials to drew from: numerous documentaries, including the IMAX films, like 2007’s Magnificent Desolation (and the older ones, nicely gathered in a boxed set, and a few recently released on Blu-ray); a superb doc from 1994 called Moon Shot: The Inside Story of the Apollo Project (based on the non-fiction book); Criterion’s For All Mankind (the classic 1989 doc newly remastered on DVD and Blu-ray with mega-goodies); the superb HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (2005); In the Shadow of the Moon (2008); and one I covered back in 2007, Apollo 11: The Eagle Has Landed (2004).

There's also countless Hollywood films spanning pre-landing concepts of a lunar landing, fantastical tales of lo-fi landings (First Men in the Moon), and more intriguing fare like Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, a docu-drama on how a public bored with lunar travel returned to their TV sets when the ship’s astronauts were potentially stranded in outer space.

Leave it up to a near-disaster to ignite a blasé mindset.

Disasters in space and Man’s mismanagement or misunderstanding of space travel tend to be popular vehicles for filmmakers (Destination Moon, Red Planet), mostly because a disastrous event or series of inept decisions are more dramatic than a success story we’ve seen before, although nothing beats watching a genuine televised event.

I was still hugging teddy bears and playing with Hot Wheels (the good metal ones) when Armstrong left an imprint on the moon, but one of my earliest memories has me sitting with my parents on the sofa, munching on potato chips, and watching that familiar side-angle footage as a spacecraft moved closer and closer to the lunar surface before touchdown.

I remember asking my parents what we were watching on the 12” Admiral black & white tube, and actually being interested. Did I know what the moon was? Did I have a concept of space travel? Or was it just a mimicked reaction to what the parents were doing?

I think there was some subtle comprehension that what was being shown on TV was special, because for years I tried to track down what mission we saw (probably Apollo 12 or 17), and was surprised at the emotional reaction when I watched the aforementioned Apollo 11 doc.

The whole process of launching, orbiting, flying over to the moon, landing, shooting back up, swinging around the moon and slingshotting back to Earth was an amazing adventure to see, and is more gripping than a grand new sci-fi flick (well…. Let’s not go there).

The only similar themed event was the activation of the Mars Rover, and seeing the first pictures of Mars broadcast on TV. Actual pictures of the angry red planet showing awesome colours and landscapes, and the wave of pictures that followed were simply amazing. One can only imagine what images would come back if probes settled onto a few of Jupiter’s moons.

When Apollo 11 made history, Hollywood was already having fun with space aliens and planetary exploration, but those efforts – on TV as well as in theatres – were stories with formulaic and often comedic stories, and certainly one oddball effort to emerge in 1969 was Michael Carreras’ production Moon Zero Two – a terrible ‘space western’ set in an era when man has already settled on the cheese planet, and was opening up the land for prospectors to mine for mineral goodies.

If the execution wasn’t such a mess, the concept might have worked, because individuals and companies will always flock wherever money is to be made, and there’s that grey zone where abuse, bullying, and conflicts happen because local law hasn’t been able to catch up to innately bad human behaviour.

Of course, that’s too cerebral for Carreras’ script, so the tone is satirical, and even if it would’ve worked, one wonders if the public, having seen the landing three months prior to the film’s release, would’ve welcomed satire under a cloud of residual euphoria.

Any serious formulaic genre begins with straight drama, and degenerates to retread before someone spoofs the original idea, and Carreras’ concept may have been too silly, too soon.

Bad timing aside, Moon Zero Two is still a terrible, terrible film, hindered by an ill-conceived funky jazz score by Don Ellis (and I like Don Ellis). The film has evolved into a minor cult film and was given the Mystery Science Theatre treatment (which it deserves), but the original film in crisp widescreen hasn’t been available until the Warner Bros. 2008 DVD.

The problem? The damned thing was another of those Best Buy exclusives, and was reportedly pulled, making the DVD a collectible on eBay and Amazon. Is it worth the extra bucks? Well, the disc comes double-billed with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) with extra post-Neaderthal skin, so maybe.

I’ve uploaded a review of Moon Zero Two (the name refers to the freelance pilot’s spacecraft) and will eventually follow-up with the dino film, but here’s a salute to Apollo 11, and an event that forever changed the way we see and dramatize humans in space.

I just wish Hot Wheels licensed the sale of their Mars Rover toy in Canada.

Still want one.



Line-up for the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival

Announced this afternoon is the lineup of films at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Here’s the list, with IMDB links for the titles (Moloch Tropical and Scheherazade Tell Me a Story excepted) and directors:



(dir. Jon Amiel, United Kingdom)

Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, part heart-wrenching love story Creation is the story of Charles Darwin. His great, still controversial, book The Origin of Species depicts nature as a battleground. In Creation the battleground is a man’s heart. Torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place, Darwin finds himself caught in a struggle between faith and reason, love and truth.


Get Low

(dir. Aaron Schneider, USA World Premiere)

Inspired by the true story of Felix “Bush” Breazeale, this stately frontier drama stars Robert Duvall as a backwoods eccentric who stages his own funeral—while still alive. Ten thousand people arrive to hear him speak and to learn why this local legend exiled himself 40 years ago to the foothills of Eastern Tennessee. Set in the early 1930s, Get Low is a story of mystery and discovery that speaks of timeless things. Can we know who we are? Should we judge anyone? Is there redemption for those of us lost in the dark catacombs of our past? Also starring Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek and Lucas Black.

The Invention of Lying

(dir. Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, USA)

From Ricky Gervais, the award-winning creator and star of the original BBC series The Office and HBO’s Extras, comes the new romantic comedy The Invention of Lying, which takes place in an alternate reality where lying—even the concept of a lie—does not even exist. Everyone—from politicians to advertisers to the man and woman on the street—speaks the truth and nothing but the truth with no thought of the consequences. But when a down-on-his-luck loser named Mark suddenly develops the ability to lie, he finds that dishonesty has its rewards. In a world where every word is assumed to be the absolute truth, Mark easily lies his way to fame and fortune. But lies have a way of spreading, and he begins to realize that things are getting out of control when some of his tallest tales are being taken as, well, gospel. With the entire world now hanging on his every word, there is only one thing Mark has not been able to lie his way into: the heart of the woman he loves.

Max Manus

(dir. Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, Norway/Denmark/Germany)

The film is based on the true story of Norway’s most colourful resistance fighter Max Manus, and follows him from the outbreak of World War II until the summer of peace in 1945. After fighting against the Russians during the Winter War in Finland, Max returns to a German-occupied Norway. He joins the active resistance movement, and becomes one of the most important members of the so-called “Oslo Gang”, famous for their spectacular raids against German ships in Oslo harbour. Note: Trond Bjernes’ superb score was released in 2008, and is reviewed HERE.

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

(dir. Lee Daniels, USA)

Lee Daniels’s Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire is a vibrant, honest and resoundingly hopeful film about the human capacity to grow and overcome. Set in 1987 Harlem, it is the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones, an illiterate African-American teenager who is pregnant for the second time by her absent father and abused by a poisonously angry mother. Despite her experiences, Precious has a latent understanding that other possibilities exist for her, and jumps at the chance to enroll in an alternative school. There she encounters Ms. Rain, a teacher who will start her on a journey from pain and powerlessness to self-respect and determination. The film stars Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz and introduces Gabourey Sidibe.


The Boys Are Back

(dir. Scott Hicks, Australia/United Kingdom)

Based on the memoir by Simon Carr, Scott Hicks (Shine) directs The Boys Are Back, inspired by the poignant, comic and uplifting true story of a man who must suddenly raise his two sons alone. After the untimely passing of his second wife, the ill-prepared Joe (Clive Owen), who is dealing with his own loss, is confronted with the daily challenges of parenthood while coping with his young son Artie’s expressions of grief. They are soon joined by Harry, Joe’s teenage son from his first marriage, who brings his own personal “baggage” into the mix. Also starring Laura Fraser and Emma Booth.

Bright Star

(dir. Jane Campion, United Kingdom/Australia)

A drama based on the secret love affair between 23-year-old English poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an outspoken student of fashion. Intensely and helplessly absorbed in each other, they rode a wave of romantic obsession that deepened as their troubles mounted. Only Keats’s illness and untimely death proved insurmountable.

City of Life and Death

(dir. Lu Chuan, China)

From acclaimed director Lu Chuan comes a devastating and controversial epic film based on the most atrocious holocaust in Chinese history, the Nanjing Massacre. The story unfolds as the Japanese take over the city in 1937 and everyone is struggling to survive in a city where death is easier than life. Starring Liu Ye and Gao Yuanyuan.


(dir. Jordan Scott, Ireland)

In an austere and remote girls’ boarding school, the most elite clique of girls are the illustrious members of the school’s diving team. As they compete for the attention of their glamorous teacher (Eva Green), the arrival of a beautiful Spanish girl disrupts the delicate social balance. In an attempt to put differences aside, a secret midnight party takes place that will change their lives forever.


(dir. Bruno Dumont, France)

Hadewijch is a religious novice whose ecstatic, blind faith leads to her expulsion from a convent. Returning to her former life, Hadewijch reverts to being Céline, a Parisienne and daughter of a diplomat. However, her passion for God, rage and encounters with Khaled and Nassir soon lead her down a dangerous path.

The Informant!

(dir. Steven Soderbergh, USA)

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), suddenly turns whistleblower. Exposing his company’s multinational price-fixing conspiracy to the FBI, Whitacre imagines himself as a kind of de facto secret agent. Unfortunately for the FBI, their lead witness hasn’t been quite forthcoming about helping himself to the corporate coffers. Whitacre’s ever-changing account frustrates the agents and threatens the case against ADM as it becomes almost impossible to decipher what is real and what is the product of Whitacre’s rambling imagination. Based on the true story of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history.

Leaves of Grass

(dir. Tim Blake Nelson, USA)

Bill Kincaid, an Ivy League classics professor, returns to rural Oklahoma to bury his dangerously brilliant identical twin brother who had remained in their native state to grow hydroponic pot. Leaves of Grass is a fast-paced comic film that contrasts two distinct approaches to life. Featuring Edward Norton in the role of each twin.

London River

(dir. Rachid Bouchareb, United Kingdom/France/Algeria)

This intimate drama tells the story of two people, a Muslim man and a Christian woman, who are immediately affected by the July 2005 London bombings. Both of them are drawn to the British capital when their children go missing on the day of the attacks. Putting aside their cultural differences, they will give each other the strength to continue the search for their children and maintain their faith.

Mao's Last Dancer

(dir. Bruce Beresford, Australia/USA/China)

Adapted from his internationally best-selling memoir, the film tells the true story of Li Cunxin, a Chinese-trained ballet dancer. Plucked from his childhood village, subjected to years of vigorous training and threatened during the Cultural Revolution, Cunxin decides to leave China at great risk to himself and those he loves, for an uncertain future.

Moloch Tropical

(dir. Raoul Peck, Haiti/France)

A democratically elected “President” and his closest collaborators are getting ready for a state celebration. But in the morning of the event, he wakes up to find the country inflamed and the streets in turmoil. Despite the situation, the President does not want to face reality and refuses to resign. Overwhelmed, he plunges into a deep mental confusion as the events unfold. Set in a castle in the clouds, Moloch Tropical is a Shakespearian, behind-the-scenes depiction of the end of power.

Mother / Madeo

(dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)

A unique noir thriller that digs into the secrecy surrounding a terrible murder and the mystery of a mother’s primal love for her son. The films of director Bong Joon-ho regularly, and brilliantly, break with convention, thanks to an imagination that is not confined to the accepted parameters of humour, suspense or horror – Mother is no exception.


(dir. Neil Jordan, Ireland/USA)

A lyrical, modern fairy tale that tells the story of Syracuse (Colin Farrell), an Irish fisherman whose life is transformed when he catches a beautiful and mysterious woman (Alicja Bachleda) in his nets. His daughter Annie (Alison Barry) comes to believe that the woman is a magical creature, while Syracuse falls helplessly in love. However, like all fairy tales, enchantment and darkness go hand in hand.


(dir. Catherine Corsini, France)

Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a well-to-do married woman and mother in the south of France. Her idle bourgeois lifestyle gets her down and she decides to go back to work as a physiotherapist. Her husband agrees to fix-up a consulting room for her in their backyard. When Suzanne and the man (Sergi López) hired to do the building meet, the mutual attraction is sudden and violent. Suzanne decides to give up everything and live this all-engulfing passion to the fullest.

Scheherazade Tell Me a Story

(dir. Yousry Nasrallah, Egypt)

Hebba is the host of a successful political talk show in present-day Cairo. Karim, her husband, is deputy editor-in-chief of a governmentowned newspaper. When Party big shots imply his wife is meddling with opposition politics, Karim convinces her to start a series of talk shows around issues involving women. Hebba knows, of course, that women’s issues are political. But she could not imagine to what extent, and the tension eventually leads to the break-up of her marriage.

Solitary Man

(dir. Brian Koppelman and David Levien, USA)

Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) is feeling his age, but you wouldn’t know it from the company he keeps. A former mogul with a chain of car dealerships, until legal troubles knocked him out of business, Ben now keeps a grip on the world through his relationships with women – many women. The cast also includes Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary Louise Parker and Jenna Fischer.

Valhalla Rising

(dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, Denmark/United Kingdom)

It is 1000 AD. For years, One Eye, a mute warrior of supernatural strength, has been held prisoner by the Norse chieftain Barde. Aided by Are, a boy slave, One Eye slays his captor and together he and Are escape, beginning a journey into the heart of darkness. On their flight, One Eye and Are board a Viking vessel, but the ship is soon engulfed by an endless fog that clears only as the crew sights an unknown land. As the new world reveals its secrets and the Vikings confront their terrible and bloody fate, One Eye discovers his true self.


(dir. Johnnie To, Hong Kong/France)

A father comes to Hong Kong to avenge his daughter, whose family was murdered. Officially, he’s a French chef. Twenty years ago, he was a killer. Vengeance is a moody, noir-ish tour-de-force, starring French pop icon Johnny Hallyday.

The Vintner's Luck

(dir. Niki Caro, New Zealand/France)

Set in early 19th century France The Vintner's Luck tells the compelling tale of Sobran Jodeau, an ambitious young peasant winemaker and the three loves of his life—his beautiful and passionate wife Celeste, the proudly intellectual baroness Aurora de Valday and Xas, an angel who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Sobran. A fantastical creature with wings that smell of snow, Xas turns out to be an unconventional mentor. Under his guidance Sobran is forced to fathom the nature of love and belief and in the process, grapples with the sensual, the sacred and the profane—all in pursuit of the perfect vintage.

Visit the official website HERE.



The War Within: 1949 and 2009

This week's release of The Hurt Locker recalls another superb drama about war's effect on a bomb expert, The Small Back Room, made in 194p by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

It's worth comparing these films because they show how little things have changed in terms of how the high stress work of neutralizing a flesh-shredding bomb affects a bomb expert's psyche, as well as the progress of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), from neat little cylinders dropped from German planes to the present-day's crude but effective bombs made to inflict huge trauma in public places.

Back Room takes place on the British home front: German planes have been leaving little thermos-like bombs near seaside military bases almost like tests to gauge how to best kill British soldiers, whereas Hurt Locker deals with an American bomb team coping with the nasty plans of insurgents who use civilian deaths as a means to demoralize the U.S. and native Iraqi armies, and leave locals too traumatized to defend themselves, let alone side with a democratic regime.

Regardless of the time periods – the thick of WWII, and the second American-led war with Iraq – each film is painfully accessible because the personal dramas are very real.

Back Room does suffer from the romanticism of the era, but only briskly, because while Sammy Rice has a love interest named Susan (essentially the long-suffering girlfriend), their relationship is complex – particularly for the era. They're engaged in premarital sex, she more or less lives in his flat, and their understanding of each other is often conveyed through physical reactions instead of dialogue.

The Hurt Locker somewhat deals with William James’ love interest in the same fashion, but wife Connie is seen in two periods: via a phone call (and in shadow) while he’s in Iraq, and in person when he’s on leave, as he tries to be the father/husband he clearly has little interest in furthering. Like Back Room, the dialogue exchanges are minimal – often it's what the characters are skirting over that forms the centre of their dialogue – but they too are having a tough time making emotional connections.

Sammy's fate with Susan gives us more closure (more so for male viewers, since the script's viewpoint favours the needs of the self-destructive lead in dire need of support), whereas James chooses the only fate for which he's best suited: leaving his better half and child pretty much alone again after another failed poke at marital normalcy.

The teams of munitions experts are also quite different, because in Back Room, Sammy leads a group of experts who collectively help him solve the mechanics of the mysterious German bombs; James, in turn, is pretty much a solo brainiac: one man covers his back, and another provides support in scoping and mapping out the plan of action, but the knowledge base of disarming an IED resides in his man's head.

Jones is an often distant but decent leader who looks out for his men when their personal problems are mucking up their professional lives; he may ostensibly support and be willing to die for his team, but he's also abusive towards them, as when he rides one like a cowboy during a heavy drinking celebration.

The use of alcohol is also different in each film, because Sammy Rice uses the drinking to numb his sense of immense inadequacy as a man (his tin foot prevents him from dancing with his girl) as pops potent painkillers for the war injury that smarts him perpetually. He keeps a straight delineation between beer and whiskey, though: the fine bottle of aged whiskey that rests lucratively on the end table is both a challenge in self control as well as an antidote for when his loneliness reaches rock bottom.

Booze in Hurt Locker is purely recreational; it's a cool-down drink for the after hours, but it's not shown as a means to numb senses as regularly as in Back Room, perhaps because their work is wholly military, whereas Sammy is a civilian expert under contract to the military, free from routine military patrols or responsibilities, and is called onto site only when it's serious.

Music, as well as sound effects in both films are kept minimal, unless they're designed to emphasize an emotional point – whether it's the power of a bomb through its blast, or sound effects mimicking trauma or emotional turmoil.

The docu-drama style is more prevalent in Hurt Locker, since director Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark) mimics the grit and dryness of the locale, as well as the nerve-racking fear of insurgents luring American soldiers into their cross-hairs.

(There are several scenes in Hurt Locker where we’re treated to the differing levels of threat towards the bomb team: when they’re brought into an area secured by a large U.S. presence; when they have adequate support to fend off or keep away rogue factions; and when they sense a trap. Being baited is a major risk, and a scene where the group discovers they’re being videotaped by a terrorist awaiting a planned attack is just plain terrifying.)

Bigelow also incorporates cutaways of dust devils, a three-legged cat, and snapshots of sunsets or terrain, whereas Powell and Pressburger are more concerned in covering the civilian level stresses Sammy has to endure: bureaucracy, the quest for profit over human lives, and making an on site call when his own life seems to be disintegrating.

The Hurt Locker deserves all the accolades and attention, but it’s worth your while to check out The Small Back Room, which Criterion released in another fine DVD special back in 2008.

The film was part of the usual nods Elwy Yost made to Powell and Pressburger during the 80s and early 90s in Saturday Night at the Movies, and perhaps the key film that alerted me to the brilliance of the directors. The pair’s prior film – The Red Shoes (1948) – usually gets the lion’s share of critical attention (which it rightly deserves), but this quiet little wartime drama still stands out among the dated melodrama of the forties, and the heroic feel-good movies with neat wrap-ups. The Hurt Locker may never have been inspired by The Small Back Room, but it owes a bit of gratitude to the directors’ pioneering attempt to bring some grim maturity to theatres.



Caprica 2.0

Uploaded is a review of the Caprica pilot (Universal), which forms the teaser for the prequel TV series meant to cover the Adama and Graystone families in the fat Battlestar Galactica franchise. It's a well-paced little movie that affects even if you've never seen a single Galactica episode (which sadly, I haven't. Yes, shame on me - but I'm working on fixing that this summer).

Also uploaded is an interview with Caprica/Battlestar Gallactica composer, Bear McCreary, whose score was recently released by La-La Land Records on CD.

Coming soon in the realm of sci-fi is a review of The Invaders: Season 2, where ARCHITECT David Vincent tries to save our planet with his novel combination of basic self-defense skills and ARCHITECTURE.



Coming of Age Stories

Smile, darn ya, smile!Just released this week is The Education of Charlie Banks (Anchor Bay/Starz), about a college boy whose worst nightmare - a bully from childhood - suddenly shows up in his dorm room.

Directed by Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit) and written by busy TV writer Peter Elkoff (Ugly Betty), Charlie Banks isn't a standard coming of age tale, and the film is definitely worth a peek for Durst's decision to design the film as a low-key seventies drama, with gorgeous 2.40:1 cinematography.

In terms of recent film news, July has already started with another big name loss - Karl Malden - a fine character actor whose performances in classic Elia Kazan films - A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, Baby Doll - ensured a steady career in films as well as TV (The Streets of San Francisco).

The face (and the nose) were instantly recognizable, and even when he was stuck working in crap like Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, he played it straight, and often gave a silly film a few rare moments of dramatic sincerity.

In the world of home video, DVD Savant reports the classic 'I am not a number' series The Prisoner is headed for Blu-ray this fall. The real intrigue is whether A&E will give the show a friendly price.

A&E distributes a lot of classic British shows (The Avengers, everthing Gerry & Sylvia Anderson), but they pretty much pioneered the process of releasing seasons one at a time, and later offering a mega-set (a term apparently copyrighted by A&E) at a price significantly less than buying a series in individual installments, so the chocie has often been to buy them as they come out, or sit still and wait for the mega-set.

Then there's the repackaging of series in slim cases, which some consumers will recall made a big difference when series such as Space: 1999 and Monty Python originally came in standard alpha cases packed in boxes more that a foot and a half long.

In any event, here's hoping The Prisoner will be *resonably* priced, because right now the cost of Blu-ray TV series is still pretty steep. It's fair to charge a premium for optimum image quality, but labels should bear in mind that if they want the format to go wider when wallets are a lot lighter this year, the pricing has to be sweet.


Proud to be a Canucklehead

Oh she's Canadian, babyTo those unaware, July 1st marks Canada’s Birthday, and while I didn’t paint a flag on my face and run in red boxer shorts down my street spraying a custom blend of Bits n’ Bites (aka Méli-Mélo) and Smarties like confetti on passersby, I did manage to write up this quick if not slightly belated tribute of sorts.

Most people here are proud to live in a land where a garbage strike makes national news instead of a president being ousted by the military or protestors of a national election being brutalized by an oppressive regime.

We can call any government knucklehead the most colourful name we can think of in public, print, and web mediums (like this: “John Baird is a Toronto-hating schmuck”), or any corporation for what they are (like this: “Bell Canada is a monopolistic monster”), and brand government agencies as weak kneed lackies (like this: “The CTRC has no balls, and is eradicating any vestige of competition and fair market practices among internet and cellphone providers by handing over telecommunications control to egomaniacal Bell and Rogers”); or accuse local government of being cheap (like this: “Attention TTC: Finish the goddamn Sheppard Stubway, dammit”).

I like it that our past Prime Minster Jean Chrétien grabbed a protester by the neck in an improvised martial arts move, and that he and his wife defended themselves against a house invader with an object d'art until the RCMP came to the rescue.

The term “prorogue” is now an iconic part of our vernacular due to a beady-eyed idiot in a helmet hairdo who thought he could stomp on the faces of the official opposition back in November of ’08. (Mind you, the coalition of three-headed monsters wasn't much of a better idea, given Monster #1 made his pitch to the country in a blurry, badly composed message "from his bunker.")

I’m also proud that we have Coffee Crisp, Kit Kat, and Smarties, and pushed invader Krispy Kreme off the Canadian map (except at Petro Canada stations in prepackaged offerings).

We’ve had a few tragic cultural failures – in spite of using Dan Ackroyd in the press launch of “Roots Air,” the airline went poofty-woofty soon after its debut because the populace felt the whole idea of a clothier running an airline was dumb – but we’re still strong to the bone.

Artists are still allowed to do their thing – Atom Egoyan will forever figure out a way to weasel video gear or video footage into a film no mater what decade or planet is the setting – and we’re more open to nudity on major media outlets than the U.S. (When Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut debuted on Pay TV, we aired the pickles and beaver version, not the fuzzified hoo-ha version distributed in North America by Warners).

When spoken in its proper context (like a direct quote) on TV and in radio, the words “fuck” and “shit” are wholly permissible, including national TV station CBC – which is frankly just plain awesome, since the world thinks we’re too bloody polite.

We made a film called Young People Fucking in ’08, and in spite of prudish Conservative government knuckleheads angry that such a film could’ve received tax dollars and credits, I hope there’s more amusing boffing flicks in the pipeline this year, ready to make a big splash on international screens with ferocious power and vigor.

For every Celine Dion we inflict upon a generation, we also give the world Glenn Gould and Oscar Peterson, so we can’t be that evil. Sadly, we continue to poison ourselves with ET Canada and CTV’s etalk Daily, and we probably have to come to terms with the horrible truth that Ben Mulroney will never, ever go away. The tanned Max Headroom dollie is CTV’s entertainment tool, and he’s their permanent fixture since CTV has total vertical integration of the music and TV streams in cable, HD, and the world wide weebe.

A few people and things I’m proud of the most in our contributions to film:

Composers Jeff Danna, Mychael Danna, Howard Shore, Mickey Erbe and Maribeth Solomon. The tax shelter films of the seventies (see http://www.canuxploitation.com/ and get lost in our special fromage), from which we never would’ve been able to give the planet Circle of Two, The Kidnapping of the President, Prom Night, Death Ship, Heavenly Bodies, Curtains, My Bloody Valentine, and The Silent Partner (actually, that one’s a really good film). IMAX Lexx, Season 1 (a weird little quartet of TV movies starring green-haired German babe Eva Haberman).

And a few things I’d like to see change before July 1st, 2010:

All the dentists and doctors who own pieces of Canadian films should stop being greedy and make the films they own – those from the 70s and 80s – available in widescreen on TV, if not as downloadable films. You know you can’t sell hardcopies of Circle of Two. Live with it, dammit, and just free up a dead asset and make some money instead of none.

The CBC should stop sitting on a huge trove of live broadcasts and similarly make them available on their pay station, or for free online. (The NFB has already started the process, with partial and whole films available via Flash.)

Years ago, Elwy Yost ran a silent Canadian film on TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies, and unsurprisingly, I’ve no idea what it was because I was just a kid, and it were never shown again.

We produced films prior to signing over our cultural soul in the dumb Canadian Cooperative Film Act (or whatever it was called) that gave control of film distribution to foreign corporations in exchange for mere mentions of ‘things Canadian’ in Hollywood films (like 'Wow, that sure is a cold wind coming down to Texas from Canada!'), and unlike other countries – Britain, France, America – virtually none of those early Canadian films exist on DVD. (If they do – Please post a link to some online resources in the Comments section.)

I’d also like to see Canadian films available domestically on DVD, and not as IMPORTS; I’d like to see more Quebecois films available outside of Quebec with English subtitles (unless it’s purely a territorial agreement with the film’s owner); and see a few absurdities come to an end: the local bare bones edition DVD replaced by the special edition DVD available stateside, and see TV shows Canadians made available domestically on disc, like Friday the 13th: The Series; the damn thing was shot in my neighbourhood, for Pete’s sake, and I have to use an IMPORTER.

Years ago I recall seeing a few Canadian classics show up on DVD – Goin’ Down the Road, for example – but that wave kind of stopped. Note to distributors: if you own the rights to indigenous works, and you have a TV transfer, think mail order DVD-Rs (like Warner Bros.’ started doing) or the internet, because it’s a waste to have a back catalogue just sitting there.

Commercial stations often run reality crud and infomercials, leaving you with pay stations. That can’t be a satisfactory return, particularly since your target audience is aging, and new generations of Canadian filmgoers won’t have any idea your movies exist, let alone why they’re unique.

Even if film downloads are periodic, local media will publicize your catalogue through reviews, because once it’s in the mighty Google cache, it will never go away, so your films will indeed get some extra life – just don’t be greedy and demand $14.95 for a download; if Criterion can charge $5 for a classic film like The Third Man from the Janus catalogue, then a local production funded by four orthodontists and two up-and-coming podiatrists is fair-ware at $5 or less per download.

It’s Canada Day: make a corporate promise to do better, if not make a little money by putting some culture back into circulation, although please omit The Littlest Hobo from your efforts – enough of the damn pooch show (although if you really want it, you can order it from VCI, but it's an IMPORT).

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