Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Kick-Ass Review: How Kick-Ass can the sequel be?

Sequels can be pretty difficult to pull off. Take a look at films like Back to the Future, The Matrix or Ginger Snaps and you can see that things don’t always work out. Back to the Future 2 was great, The Matrix Reloaded had its issues, and Gingers Snaps 2: Unleashed did well but was handcuffed by a lot of the things that happened in the original film. Superhero sequels can be even worse. Sometimes the original was great and the sequel just can’t measure up. Other times they surpass the original and that makes it difficult for the third film in what ultimately becomes a trilogy.
All you have to do is look at The Dark Knight, Superman 2 or Iron Man 2 for evidence of how things end up. The Dark Knight and Superman 2 were at least better than the original, whereas Iron Man 2 just didn't have what it takes. Of course, part of the reason why Iron Man 2 wasn't what it should be is because it was the backdrop to start setting up The Avengers, and if you read my review you know how I felt about that film. Then you have a film like Kick-Ass, and with the sequel shooting here in Toronto right now, I thought I would take a look back at the original to see where they could go. Kick-Ass was a good film. In an age where superhero films are coming out of the wordwork, Kick-Ass is a commentary on the superhero genre. As a big fan of the superhero genre, I think it was a necessary commentary as well.

To quote a previous blog about the importance of the superhero genre and what they stand for, superheroes are designed to be updated and reinvented for the times they live in. Most of them are not the same as they were when they were created and there are examples of various updates along the way. Superhero films are much the same. They need to examine the world we live in and speak to that. Kick-Ass is the definition of such a film. If you go looking for them, you can find instances where people dressed as superheroes are going around doing work like a realistic superhero would. I can't imagine they do much in the way of actual crime fighting, but they exist. And that is at the heart of a film like Kick-Ass. An every day guy tries to actually make it as a superhero. Unlike the real world versions that are out there, Kick-Ass does in fact do some real crime fighting. There's even a super-villain for them to face but he's a realistic super-villan for today's world.

They use a lot of the traditional building blocks of the genre to tell a new type of story with a very modern angle. It works perfectly for what they are doing because the people involved understand the superhero genre. Mark Millar after all has written for various comic books in the superhero genre and he has been very well received in everything he has done by the fans. So it's no wonder why he is doing so well with his own property. But where does that leave him to go? Can he succeed where many have failed in the past? In interviews he often talks about how he prefers not to do ongoing stories because he gets bored very quickly with them but with this he can see himself doing multiple stories. The sequel then, must be the continuation of that feeling.

Based on the details which have come out regarding Kick-Ass 2, I think he has a lot of room to grow and he might just pull off the second one as well. But that leaves a potential third film becoming ever more perilous. Will he burn out on the second installment and have nowhere to go with the third? Or is he thinking big and held something back for a trilogy? Let's hope he is because I want to see this go well for him and for the actors involved.

How Kick-Ass can the sequel be? It could be really great, but it could also fall flat much like a certain winged avenger from the first film.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Beast Within Review

People have a strange relationship with animals. From the time we learned to tell ourselves apart from them we have held the idea that we live to control them. Our intelligence gives us the right to view them as lesser beings put here for our use. Yet at the same time we view them as our friends, as a companion through life that can bring comfort to us in our lonely journey through life. It's a strange contradiction in viewpoints that for many people seems perfectly logical and rational. You can argue the logic and rationality of looking at the world this way but in a lot of cases you can't argue with the results. One such result is the idea that we view them in human terms. We attach thoughts and emotions to them which they may or may not have depending on which animal you talk about and how much we know about them from a scientific perspective. This can lead to great compassion for animals, but it can also lead down some unfortunate paths. At the heart of The Beast Within, is an examination of some of those unfortunate paths. Trying to come to terms with the tragic circumstances it creates.

As much as we attach our own emotions and thoughts to animals, we also attach some basic principals of the animal world to ourselves. Chief among them is the survival of the fittest mentality. The idea that all animals fight for their survival and it's a natural process of nature to let the strong win and the weak die. When applied to other humans we often see disastrous results, but when applied to animals along with our own emotions and thoughts something even more tragic occurs. We get things like dog fights and cock fights and those who participate often see it as just as natural as anything else. Despite a drive and a focused effort by many to dispel these ideas through laws and other means it persists, people just figure out smarter ways to have them without getting in trouble with the law. So we continue to fight against it. Like many of our ancestors fought wooly mammoths and other predators to protect their families and the communities they were building, we fight against that dark part of ourselves which needs to be vanquished.

We fight against The Beast Within. If you've ever had a problem in your life, something or someone that you needed to fight against to prove yourself and your worth, this is the film to see. It's at times both a condemnation and a celebration of that struggle, and despite being at times a hard thing to watch if you've ever had a pet, but you will come away feeling better for having taken the journey. This isn't a film I would recommend for parents to show their young kids, but I definitely think it's one worth showing to a teenager or young adult who needs a good perspective on the issues they will face in their lives. It's definitely worth the watch.

It is available on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Youtube. You can also stream or download it here:

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Lincoln Review: How did Lincoln do it?

"Four score and seven years ago..."

Famous words, some of the most famous words that have ever been spoken in human history. Spoken by a famous man with so many words in the history books. So much of what Abraham Lincoln did has ended up in the history books and yet very few ever really know him. They don't really understand what he did and how he did it. Figures in history often have that problem. We spend hours upon hours trying to figure them out and putting them in a modern context. What would they think of what we are doing today? How would they feel? What advice would they give to us about today's problems? Rarely though do we ever look at what they actually went through in their own time. The hardship and the struggle of every day life giving us the structure of what exists today.

Which is not to say that the details aren't out there. Volumes upon volumes of text books are dedicated to these people and the lives that they led but we are always discovering new things about them. And that's because the context, both historical and emotional, can only really be understood with that often get lost over time as history moves forward. That is until the invention of film. With film, meant in broader cinematic terms rather than the physical medium, we can attempt to capture the reality of the struggle in a new and exciting way. Not to mention with technology and techniques being what they are today, the process of capturing it can be even more accurate and honest then ever before.

As a result, we have a film like Lincoln. Directed by Steven Spielberg someone that many might consider a historical figure of the modern age, and starring Daniel Day Lewis, an actor who is on his way to becoming one of the best of the modern age if he isn't already. Through attention to detail and command performances by all involved, Lincoln paints a beautiful portrait of one of the most incredible and well known men in history. What makes the film even more remarkable is the fact that littered within the film are great lessons for the modern day. A nation divided by political and economic differences shows that little has changed in the past 100+ years and yet everything has changed.

How did Lincoln do it? Even in seeing this film I'm not entirely sure because I am left with a sense of awe at the fact that he was able to accomplish anything at all. I am left with this same sense of awe after seeing this film. For all the ways in which Spielberg could have approached this film, he chose the most difficult way and yet the most relevant to modern times. Kudos to him for that.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Can the Canadian Film Industry go commercial?

No matter how you look at it, the visual art of film is a business. Whether you call it show business, the film industry or anything else one of the biggest pieces of making it work is understanding the money behind it. Where it comes from, how to get it, how to spend it and most importantly who has it. Some people don't think of it as business. They think of it as support for art or creativity. But if you really look at the way it works, I'm not sure anyone could really call it anything other than business. You spend a lot of time looking and acting like a business person and working like an entrepeneur, even when you make it to Hollywood studio level there's a certain amount of schmoozing and business. So what part of that is art exactly?

Don't get me wrong, the film industry is incredibly artistic, even in Hollywood (you can read my thoughts on that here and here). With all the creativity and thought that goes into just producing something worth selling there has to be art involved. Otherwise it wouldn't be interesting or beautiful or funny or whatever it is that the art is supposed to be. But people don't always pay money for something that's beautiful or funny or interesting. Often times the best, most beautiful things in the world are the things you don't pay money for. At least not in any direct sense. But an industry that's built upon the idea of getting people to sit down in a dark room and watch something has to be built on the incentive to do so. That incentive is usually that it's worth paying money for.

So why is it that the Canadian film industry is so concerned with the art of it all? Trying to be the opposite of Hollywood's big business model by focusing on our culture and identity that we insist is so different from our neighbors to the south. Yet despite that we live with the contradiction that we can't compete with Hollywood and the big business model. We all want the money and the fame that comes with a big Hollywood business model but have a problem with doing what we need to in order to make that happen.

Last night, I went to see Cinecoup present a pitch to the Canadian film industry in Toronto about how to change all that. Putting forward a business plan that in a sense sounds like a Hollywood idea but has its own unique Canadian twist to it. And it's a great idea. Canada needs to think more like Hollywood in its approach to film and this will definitely move the yard stick forward to thinking in those terms. The problem I see is that I don't think it will move the yard stick far enough forward to really make a difference. For many in the Canadian film industry it will be a shock to their system. It's a plan designed to get people to think about the bigger picture. To think about where your film will ultimately end up before you even put a pen to paper, metaphorically speaking, and to care about whether it might actually make money.

I love the idea, I want to be involved, and I may even apply with my own project if I can put it together. But I worry that there won't be a round two for the business model. Canadians for all their talk about a difference in culture and the pride of their heritage have a much bigger culture with a lot more pride in their culture beaming content into their laps at an alarming speed. The kind of culture and pride that at least on the surface appears to appeal universally enjoyed.

Can the Canadian Film Industry go commercial? I think it can, and recent changes suggests that it is moving in that direction. But I don't know that the speed of the industry is fast enough to really warrant this kind of program.

Kiri Wai, Inner Skin Review

I have never really understood tattoos. I know people who have them. I know people who love them. I have even considered getting some myself and I am still considering it. But that doesn't mean I really understood what makes people get them. Over the years I had many opportunities to get one or more and I always stopped myself. Partly out of fear, and partly out of worry that I won't be able to change it or get it removed when I do. It's always been something that I wanted to do though. No matter how much I worried, I never lost the curiosity of getting something that would always be true of me tattooed on my body. So when I see someone who has done it, I am always amazed.

The cultural tradition hasn't been something I had considered though. I knew that it had tradition and there were many generations who believed in doing it but I never really looked at it. And then along comes the film Kiri Wai - Inner Skin. A film which gives you a history of tattoos, or at least one aspect of it, the Moko tradition. Moko is from the Eastern island tradition first discovered by James Cook who traveled to the region during Western exploration. With time, many Western people who settled there got Moko tattoos and it has been spreading ever since. The film takes a look at why the tradition has continued and what the significance of it is. Should people from the West get tattoos like that or should we have our own? How do people who do Moko feel about how interested we are in it?

In today's modern world with everything that we have, why do we look to these traditions? What is it that we like about other cultures? Is it simply that we have lost our own? These questions are at the heart of Kiri Wai - Inner Skin. I think anyone who has ever gotten a tattoo or is considering getting one should check it out. It will give you a deeper understanding of what kind of tattoo you should get and why. If you just find the idea really painful and don't want to get into it, you can still appreciate a look at the culture and the importance of it in our lives.

It is available on Google Play, I Love, iTunes, Vudu, and Youtube.

You can also download or stream it here:

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How can we turn the Occupy movement into a cash cow?

Previously I made a blog post about the Occupy movement and my feelings on the matter, which you can read here. Since then a lot has happened, most notably the breakup of the heart and soul of the movement which is the protests congregating in public parks. The people themselves are still out there and they are actively looking for a way to affect change. During that time though came Velcrow Ripper, a filmmaker with a vested interest in the various movements that pop up from time to time and how they have evolved. I had a chance to see the film Occupy Love, a film referred to as the third in a trilogy about the importance of love in the movements and what they represent.
Now it’s worth saying that I have not seen his previous films and so the context under which I say this is primarily through what he said during the Q&A and the film itself. But given what I saw, I am not surprised that I have never heard of him before. In my previous review of the film Lost Rivers I talked about the importance of conflict and contrast in a film whether narrative or documentary. You can find out whether or not Lost Rivers had it here. But when it comes to Occupy Love, we have a different problem regarding conflict. The conflict is in a sense right in front of you, the Occupy movement had a legitimate gripe against the businesses and governments that they believe are bringing down the people and their individual ability to prosper.
But conflict doesn’t mean anything if you have no interest in contrast. Occupy Love is essentially a love story to the Occupy movement. All of the people being interviewed and discussions happening are all done through the prism of “What we are doing is awesome and the people in power are scared” without actually bothering to check whether or not that is in fact the case. Having listened to a lot of people talk about the Occupy movement in the news and elsewhere from outside the movement itself, I don’t think you can reasonably say that the movement had any serious effect on the status quo. The “powers that be” were interested in what the movement wanted and what they were doing, but the movement itself had no specific demands for them to consider.
You can’t affect change with an abstract idea and without a functional hierarchical power structure to report to, which is part of what the movement was fighting against. By the same token, a film can’t be entirely one sided without something to contrast it with. At no point did a Wall Street insider get interviewed or a politician of some kind who could have presented another viewpoint for the audience to see. They made no attempt to look at it from a business perspective or any other perspective then the one it supported. That doesn’t make a movie and you ultimately will end up losing any audience that doesn’t already agree with the perspective being put forward.
Most problematic of all when it comes to this film, is the repetition of the question “How do we turn this movement into a movement about love?” It’s supposedly the central focus of the film but it’s one that is never really answered by the filmmaker and the people he asks the question to seem to all have the same answer. After two or three times, the question becomes rather annoying, much like the film itself about half way through, the other half of which is most likely torturous to a general audience. But it won the Best Canadian Feature Film award at the festival, so I have a better question to ask.
How do you turn the Occupy movement into a cash cow? You make a movie called Occupy Love.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shame Review: Just how much Shame should you feel?

People have a lot of ideas about what’s right and wrong. There are just some things you shouldn’t do, or talk about, or acknowledge as part of people’s lives. Even those things which people know everyone is doing anyway. Of course this tends to vary between people, depending on their upbringing and personal history. It also differs between men and women generally. What’s right for some people isn’t always right for other people. But you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t agree that they had something they didn’t talk about. You might not be able to get them to admit what those things are, but the fact that they won’t tells you something anyway.

One of the most common things people have trouble talking about though, is sex. Recent years have changed a lot of the conventions about sex, but there are still a lot of hang-ups that people have. These ideas even exist in the porn industry. You may be able to see just about anything you could want on the internet these days, however if you take a good enough look you’ll notice that certain people don’t do certain things. In an industry based upon satisfying the urges and desires of a population no matter what it might be, there is a sense of respectability based on what you do and what you won’t. Doing one of these “wrong things” is at the heart of the film “Shame Starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, they explore the concept of shame from the perspective of a man who doesn’t appear to have any. Fassbender plays Brandon, a man with a good job, a decent social life, and no real problems with women. At least that’s the way it appears on the surface. Upon deeper analysis, very much explored in the film, we see that his life might be financially and socially fulfilled, he clearly has a hole in his life that just isn’t being filled. Despite everything that he has and his ability to pick up chicks, Brandon can’t make a lasting emotional connection to his family, friends or any of the women he gets involved with, to the point that it’s almost psychologically damaging to his ability to perform.

Enter Sissy played by Carey Mulligan, his sister and a woman equally looking for connection that she can’t seem to find. Where Brandon has taken to an emotionally distant approach to people, preferring to keep them at a distance, Sissy appears to have taken the opposite view of dealing with her problems. She throws herself completely into a relationship, emotionally and physically, leaving her devastated when it inevitably falls apart. A tragic reality that seems to leave no way out.

There are people in this world who actually live this way, going from relationship to relationship searching for meaning in someone other than themselves. Or in some cases even avoiding relationships all together and looking for meaning beyond simple relationships. They even get portrayed on film from time to time, often though they end up becoming the quirky and cute character that eventually overcomes it or learns to find it all despite their way of life. Not true of a film like Shame. The director and actors take a more honest and realistic approach to people who live this way and it shows in the way the film plays out.

Just how much Shame should you feel? It’s unlikely that anyone watching this movie won’t feel at least somewhat disturbed by it in some way, but sometimes people need to be reminded of the parts of life we don’t tend to talk about that much. And this movie will definitely do that.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Accordion Tribe Review

What do you think of when I say the word orchestra? I'm guessing that most people think of the instruments like the violin, the flute or the piano. Either that or the music of Beethoven, Bach and the endless array of beautiful classical tunes that are out there for everyone to enjoy. What do you think of when I say the word band? More than likely you think of your favourite band of the moment or all time. Groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or modern bands like The Killers or Maroon 5. I would be willing to bet that most people when they hear either of these words never go directly to the word accordion. It's not generally thought of in either context. When you hear it generally you think of gypsies or a strange guy on the street doing a one man band with a monkey on his shoulder. You don't generally think of them in the sense of a group that tours around Europe playing in music halls and other venues to large audiences.

And yet there's The Accordion Tribe, an unusual group of musicians playing an unusual instrument. Each of these members, whether they are from Eastern Europe or New York or some place in between, have found a common truth in the accordion. They all love to play it and they all believe in the music they are playing. An instrument which is not quite classical but not quite modern. It occupies this weird in between place that no one really talks about but everyone knows exists. Bring five of them together and you have a group that's making beautiful music. You wouldn't think that there would be much range in an instrument which compared to a full orchestra or a computerized synthesizer doesn't seem to have what it takes. But listen to this group play together and you can't help but marvel at the melodies and compositions that come out of the group. From the style and the range of music they can play, their relationships with each other, much like their music, flows along and works in concert with each other to the point where you're never entirely bored.

The film, thankfully, is very much the same way. Each member of the group is given equal time and equal consideration to tell the story they want to tell about where and how they came to play the accordion and the group that is featured within it but you never get too much of either one to feel like it drags on in any serious way. Weaving back and forth between them you get a sense of what it is that drives them and how they make it work with each other. Music is a beautiful thing, and so is this film which at times plays like a song itself. Anyone who wants to see a fresh take on a new instrument, and a fresh look at a documentary about a music group should check this film out.

You can do that through Amazon, Vudu, Fandor, Youtube, and iTunes.

What's next for my blog?

So I started my blog about a year back now and I have done my best to have consistent content. Now it appears that I will be adding more content to the mix for the near future. I've been hired as an intern at Syndicado, which you can learn more about here, for my reviews and I am going to be uploading those reviews to my blog for them on a regular basis. I still plan on reviewing my own content from time to time and voicing my opinion on the film industry and other things whenever possible. The only major difference now is that I will have more content and links to where you can see it for yourself if you're interested.
My normal schedule for this has been to have content available every Wednesday, and that will remain the same for the time being, although I have been considering moving it to Friday and adding something else for Mondays recently. If there is a change, I will definitely be letting you all know. But for now, my blog will be on the same schedule with regular injections of content from Syndicado. Where things will seem to change is in the way I title my blogs. I am going to continue to title and close each review with a question for my own content, but the Syndicado reviews will be a little bit more straight forward.
I'm really looking forward to putting out this content for you guys to see and hearing your opinions.
What's next for my blog? At the moment, a lot of good things.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Moon Review: There are many sides to the Moon, which side are you on?

I love actors, no really I do. They have this quality about them that I like. Some might call it an intangible quality, but it’s very easily explainable. As a writer, it’s my job to create a character’s motivations. To know them inside and out so that I know how they would react in just about every possible situation imaginable. An actor has to find a way to understand those motivations and bring out the emotions they cause. The way I see it, writers and actors go hand in hand. When I see an actor take on a difficult role, it gets very exciting.
This was the case with Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Reynolds in Buried, and most recently Sam Rockwell in Moon. Another film in my long list of movies that I always meant to see but never got around to until now and again things are interesting. Where Moon is different from the previously mentioned films is that it used a visual effect to tell a major part of the story. Mainly that Sam Rockwell played several (two specifically) distinct versions of his character to play off of. This technique is one that is used often these days when dealing with characters who are twins or multiple characters.
The first time I remember this occurring is in The Nutty Professor with Eddie Murphy playing his character’s entire family with various prosthetics, but since then it has been used in movies like The Matrix, The Social Network, as well as TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville and the recently cancelled Ringer. This can be a really effective technique if used in the right way. It can also go horribly wrong if not done properly. Unfortunately I have seen both in the multitude of films and television that I watch.  When it comes to Moon, I think that it is used properly. Through most of the film I had my concerns, but as things progressed I was able to understand why they did it.
And that’s true of things not limited to the use of the doubling visual effect when it comes to this movie. The story centers around the character of Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell), a man on a three year contract to harvest the moon’s resources for clean energy that can be used on Earth. One of the main things that bugged me about the film is the idea of a single person on a moon base. If you’re going to put a mining camp on the moon why have only one person running it? This, along with most of my questions about the film, gets answered by the end and I am left generally satisfied with the story as a whole.
What really hits home for me more than anything though is the performance of Rockwell. He manages to make two versions of himself very much distinct in their mannerisms and approaches to the situations they face that you might almost believe they were entirely different people despite their obvious similarities. The only other character to play off is the full on robotic helper droid GERTY, played through voice work by the great Kevin Spacey. And even there Mr. Spacey is able to bring a certain amount of nuance to an inanimate object that has you questioning the robot’s motives much in the way that you did in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This movie is a perfect example of how acting can make or break a film. And in the case of Moon, I definitely think it makes the film.
There are many sides to the Moon, which side are you on? I honestly could tell you because they all make such a great case.