Cronos is an early film from Guillermo del Toro which not many people mention when they are called upon to think of some of the director’s work. It lacks the polish and shine that his later efforts would be blessed with, but arguably has just as much heart and intelligence as those subsequent films, maybe even more so. Watching Cronos, it was quite clear to me that del Toro was absolutely giddy at the prospect of regurgitating all the morbid and off kilter ideas jumbled up in his mind. Film is Del Toro’s venue to not only create, but to liberate. More specifically, to liberate everything his unique imagination has to offer. Rather than witness the resulting movie become a discombobulated mess, the writer and director respects the venue of cinema enough to delivers something comprehensible, touching and out of this world all at once.
En Terrains connus/Familiar Ground (2011, Stéphane Laflame)
An exercise that could prove to be highly interesting and stimulating would be to survey Québec filmmakers, specifically screenwriters and directors, to better understand what their cinematic influences are. While the English-speaking side of the Canadian film industry produces a genuinely good hit and a genuinely noteworthy piece of artistic cinema every now and then (one thinks of Guy Maddin’s work in recent years and David Cronenberg’s more Canadian flavoured films before that), the Québécois film industry has been a fire storm of critical and box office successes for a solid decade, the latter component being evaluated in relative terms obviously. There are no Avatars around here. Frequent readers know that Between the Seats enjoys the the risk of a fun comparison every now and then, and so today I liken the modern Québecois film, specifically drama, to the modern Japanese film. Sufficiently engaging overalls plots to catch the attention, but mostly propelled forward by character driven narratives, ones that may camouflage themselves with quiet, still exteriors, but which often bottle up rich emotional journeys just beneath the surface.
There is a titanic struggle which lies at the center of almost all movies, one that frequently determines how a given film shall be remembered, and sometimes if it will be remembered at all. In essence, how much weight shall both the style and the substance of said movie carry? Tilted more to one side than the other, a project incurs the risk of feeling too heavy, its momentum stalled by too much exposition, or to being too didactic, or simply too complex for retain the interest of the viewer. If the pendulum sways too far in the opposite direction, then what the audience is left with might be too many ‘bells and whistles’ or a bunch of ‘pretty pictures’, but this time pictures that don’t say a thousand words. Describing this as a contest is not entirely fair, for the goal of the filmmaking team is to naturally find a balance between the two. Not necessarily a perfect balance, but something close. When things are weighed as evenly as can be, the results can prove incredible. In that way it resembles marriage, or better still, time travel. When done well, it can be a blissful, stunningly perfect thing, but you have to work at it. Marty McFly (Back to theFuture, 1985) didn’t have the option of just ‘winging it.’He had to work to save his own life, and did while singing Johnny B. Goode.
Warning. The following review will reveal details of the film’s plot.
It has been said many times before that the best science-fiction movies are those which succeed at tapping into our common humanity. Space travel, time travel and talking robots are dynamic tools for telling creative adventure stories, but those films which rise above the fray are possessed with a manner of speaking about who we are, what we would like to be and even what we fear about ourselves. In the science-fiction genre, movies does not require any specific, pre-packaged structure. Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go is among the more subtle versions of sci-fi storytelling, revealing a world where almost everything is as we already it, to the extent that the actual fantastical elements of the plot are carefully hidden away from regular societies. The oddities in question are artificially created individuals whose sole purpose is to donate organs to their ‘real’ human counterparts while still young and healthy. Given how each is perfectly modelled after human beings, two significant effects result. The first concerns their donation of vital organs, after which a certain amount of generous giving, they die off. The second is on another level altogether: being 99% percent human has cursed the doomed souls with the capacity for intelligence, individualism, compassion, hatred and love. It is the full simulation experience, only that one does not live past his or her late twenties and is burdened with the knowledge they will die at a young age.
What is this activity I partake in? Popularly referred as ‘blogging,’ it has become one of the most widely used online forms of communication between people from different cities, provinces and countries. This blog is used to review movies, as many others are too. Have you really paid attention to how many of such blogs there exists? Hundreds, most likely thousands. There is even a Large Association of Movie Blogs to gather around the varying opinions of all these people who write gleefully on the internet. The persistent emergence of internet reviews written by regular movie goers has, throughout the past few years, supplanted the traditional movie review, that which is written by the trained cinema critic. We have all read, heard and listened to stories about newspapers firing their movie critics because few people pay attention to them anymore. Film criticism, true film criticism (not the ‘pretend’ variety Between the Seats practices) is dying breed of film discussion. Sylvain Chomet latest exercise in animated storytelling, L’Illusionniste, is equally concerned with such a phenomenon, specifically in the world of performance art.
The more recent Korean films (say, movies released since 2002 up until today) this reviewer watches, the more one common truth becomes increasingly evident: the mountains of praise heaped onto the many popular modern Korean directors. The notion of ‘director’ needs to be stressed here. Although some directors are either the primary writers of the scripts they film or at least participate in some fashion in the development of story, it is the directing, specifically the transposition of the script’s ideas to the screen, that the argument is really taking into account. Bong Joon-ho, who had already earned the respect and admiration of film lovers the world over with such outings as The Host and Memories of Murder, saw his reputation only grow further upon the international release of Mother, a movie with a plot that sounds more like a joke than a serious drama. Then again, if memory serves me correctly, upon reviewing Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil not so long ago we even discussed how Korean filmmakers have a knack for concocting delicious mixtures of horror, drama, violence and comedy of all things, so maybe we should not taken aback at all.
*originally published on the Filmspotting message boards July 15, 2009. I love this 'mother' dearly and thought I should resurrect this review that earned some praise on the message boards. A bit lazy on my part? Perhaps, but new material will be coming in the next couple days.
M/Other (1999, Nobuhiro Suwa)
This movie is a love letter to two categories of people. Firstly, it is a movie that should speak to anyone who’s had to deal, in some way or another, with complicated familial situations, more specifically, when a father or mother introduces their children to their current partner. In the current age of marriages that fall apart more often than I can eat boxes of Reese Puffs cereal (trust me, you haven’t seen me gobble those down), this happens with frightening frequency. It can be very awkward, both for the child and for the surrogate mother or father. Secondly, the film is for those who like damn fine filmmaking. More specifically, quiet filmmaking.
There hasn't been a Blogging Around post for some time now. January was full of reviews and 'end of 2010' themed articles, so I admittedly did not spend as much time as I'd have liked to read the works of my fellow bloggers during the first month of 2011.
Life slowly returned back to normality as the month evolved, and now that we're already into the second month, I'd say it's about time we return to some old habits. Here is what has been happening around the blogosphere:
Sorry for interrupting your reading of the Forgotten Film Noir marathon (is anybody really reading it?), but I thought I should reveal what the results of last week's poll were. To refresh your memory, we asked if Between the Seats should engage in capsule reviews, and you voted yes, although not by much.
So, keep your eyes peeled for some briefer, more 'gut feeling' inspired reviews in a short while! More Between the Seats? We're here to please.
I was watching the documentary Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light, featured on the 6th disc in the film noir collection purchased a few weeks ago to conduct this marathon, and one of the many talented and intelligent people interviewed elaborated on some of the genres greatest qualities, one of them being that the ‘good guys lose.’ It is true enough that several entries in the genre prohibit their protagonists from attaining happiness by the end. Whether it is the cruel circumstances or poor decision making, oftentimes the ‘hero’, if we can describe them as such, end their journeys dead or their souls forever tortured. 1951’s The Racket, directed by John Cromwell, does not exactly follow that path despite many of the genres staples being clearly present. Cromwell’s picture is concerned with the perseverance of noble character paying off in the end. The ‘noir’ aspect of the film is littered throughout the supporting cast and the institutions in which those people operate. It is within this ring that two titans, each representing both sides of the law, clash for the final round in their long standing rivalry.
Where and how does one find light after long periods of darkness, figuratively speaking? If one lives a difficult, unforgiving life, how can that same person change their outlook? What they know is harsh and a constant struggle. Joy, pride, maybe even love are elements which might not figure prominently into their psyche and hearts. One job that I imagine comes fully loaded with its share of frustrations and depressing sights is that of a police detective. Death, rape, theft, blackmail, what these men and women deal with is human behaviour at the lowest level of decency, and this is a daily reality, morning, noon and night. Perform a quick survey on the streets of a city to get a very general idea of what people’s feelings are towards the cops. A serious portion of them will tell you they hate them, or at least display some form of dislike towards them. The fact still remains that they exist to serve and protect the innocent, and yet the loathing expressed emanates from those who are protected as from those who break the law. A lose-lose situation.
And so now the marathon gets into the thick of things. Diabolical plots from villains, a protagonist with a dirty past and clever throw away lines for every question and threat tossed in his direction, a beautiful woman who may or may not be trusted, twists and turns every step of the way which increase the prevailing sense of danger enveloping the characters, John Farrow’s His Kind of Woman! has it all, and so, so much more. Sometimes the best entries in a film genre or series are the ones that need to add different ingredients to spice things up a little bit. Certain conventions must be adhered to, but the development of some less expected qualities may prove to be much welcomed additions. With a movie that tries to be so big, brilliant and perfect, it is small wonder that the famous Howard Hughes filled the role of producer. What we end up with is a hybrid between a traditional Film Noir entry and something out of left field.