Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Denial

October 19th, 2016 | Film | 0 Comments

denial

I saw the trailer for Mike Jackson’s excellent film Denial as a preview before a YouTube video. I remember thinking immediately that I had to see it. As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I wanted to know the (true) story of historian Debra Lipstadt, and how the facts of the Holocaust could possibly be debated in a courtroom setting. I am glad to say that Jackson’s film does a fine job of conveying the story, ably covering the nuanced difficulties of arguing a case like the one Lipstadt was involved in. Rachel Weisz also gives an excellent performance as Lipstadt.

In 1996, British historian David Irving sued Lipstadt and her publisher for defamation. He claimed that Lipstadt, in her book Denying the Holocaust, wrongly accused him of Holocaust denial. She fought the case in Britain and eventually won, with the presiding judge declaring her innocent of defamation, as Irving intentionally distorted the facts of the Holocaust to mislead others (basically, he lied).

Jackson’s film is ultimately a courtroom drama, not a Holocaust film, that nonetheless tries to convey the emotional weight of the trial, not just as felt by Lipstadt, but also by her legal team and Holocaust survivors following the trial. The film shows how the legal team made certain strategic decisions to win the case, even if those decisions – such as not allowing survivors or Lipstadt to testify – were perceived as objectionable by many.

Denial serves as a great testament to Lipstadt and her legal team, but it also serves as a potent reminder of the failures of humanity. The Holocaust showcased some of the worst aspects of humanity – indeed, perhaps the worst – but as is all too clear, these aspects did not cease to exist after the end of the war. As the world enters a era in which facts appear more and more negotiable, Denial reminds us that fighting for the truth is often difficult, but necessary.

Shlock Appeal // J.C.

July 15th, 2016 | Film | 0 Comments

jc

My favourite little theatre in Williamsburg, Spectacle, is playing this 1974 biker movie J.C. this month, so I decided to check it out. Yes, the guy is supposed to be like Jesus, but only sort of. Despite being kind of an insane movie, J.C. is actually incredibly enjoyable and features a strong social commentary.

The basic plot is that J.C. left his small Southern hometown when he was young to go off and become a biker vagabond travelling the country with his motley crew. One day he gets a little sick of the road and decides he and his gang are going to go back to his hometown to hangout with his sister, who he hasn’t seen in a while. Of course, the townsfolk and the two policemen in town don’t take too kindly to these hairy, non-comformist biker types. The bikers tell them they don’t want no trouble, and indeed, they are a very well-behaved bunch, but the townspeople just don’t like the look of ’em and decide they’re not going to give them any rest until they’re gone.

J.C. has a black friend, and in an unfortunate instance of timeliness, the police arrest him for some b.s., lock him up and repeatedly beat the crap out of him. J.C. and his crew try and negotiate with the police to let him go, but it doesn’t go anywhere. The bikers say they’ll leave town and never come back if the police just let him go. No deal. Eventually the bikers try to break him out…and all hell breaks loose.

The whole Jesus angle doesn’t get too deep a treatment in the film, but J.C. is a simple, relatively well-made film with strong characters. It deals with issues like intolerance – both of people’s race and lifestyle – in a blunt, effective way. I especially took note of how the barely-challenged power of the police seemed to be a corrupting force, and how defensively both the police and townsfolk reacted to anything outside of their ordinary, accepted culture. That being said, this is still a cheap grind house movie and there are plenty of WTF moments – as in any good grindhouse film. After Easy Rider, I’d say J.C. is now my favourite biker movie.

Shlock Appeal // Robot Jox

June 22nd, 2016 | Film | 0 Comments

Robot-Jox

Considering how much people love the idea of giant robots fighting, of course Pacific Rim couldn’t be the first movie to show that on film. I don’t know if Robot Jox was the first, but it’s the kind of movie that simply had to exist: an 80s/90s B-movie with bad acting and cheap special effects in which giant robots (or mechs, really, since they have human pilots like in Pacific Rim) fight each other. Even better: America beats the Soviet Union. And thankfully it was directed by B-movie master Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond).

The plot is that in the future there are no more wars – when countries have a dispute, they send in their best mech pilots to fight each other and whoever wins wins. America has this pilot Achilles (Gary Graham) who’s a real hot shot. He has to fight the Ruski’s hot shot Alexander (Paul Koslo) to decide who gets Alaska. There’s also a girl involved named Athena (Anne-Marie Johnson) who’s a real bad-ass. The love story between Achilles and Athena is kind of lame, but the heart of the movie is the frenemy bromance between Achilles and Alexander. Forgetting all that though, the reason to watch this is for the cheese factor and fairly impressive non-CGI robot fighting. And Robot Jox has plenty of both.

Anomalisa

January 15th, 2016 | Film | 0 Comments

anomalisa-poster

Charlie Kaufman‘s films are not happy movies. Neither is Anomalisa. The “most human film of the year” blurb and uplifting trailer music are deceiving. This is a depressing movie. It might be Kaufman’s most depressing movie.

Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a depressed, middle-aged family man in an unhappy marriage. He lives in LA with his wife and son. He flies to Cleveland to deliver a speech about customer service, as he is something of a celebrity in the industry for writing a popular book on the subject. At the hotel where he stays for the night, he meets two women (presumably in their early-mid 30s) who drove from their small midwestern city to see him speak, and are very excited to meet him. Stone ends up taking a liking to one named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). He especially likes her voice and face, as they are unique, whereas everyone else looks and sounds the same [all the other voices in the film are provided by Tom Noonan]. He invites her back to his room for the night and she accepts. The next morning though, the magic begins to wear off…

Unlike Kaufman’s other directorial effort – the epic, complex Synecdoche, New York – Anomalisa is small and simple. Like a good essay, it’s concise and makes a strong point. But like the prim and proper top of the class, Anomalisa is a little boring and predictable. Perhaps that’s the idea, though: this is, after all, a movie about boring people.

While characters in Kaufman’s other films are usually eccentric artistic types, Anomalisa‘s characters are boring customer service people. Stone’s perception of the monotony and homogeny of the world reflect his jaded reality, but it may also reflect his own inner boringness. He is not an intellectual. He is not an artist. He does not have anything really interesting to say. He is a prisoner of corporate philosophy and middle-of-the-road living. He’s full of frustration but can find no way to channel it into anything productive. Even when he starts cracking at the end, all he can do is lash out at the world in the most predictable of ways (“America is going down the tubes”). And Lisa, for all her fascination with being an ‘anomaly’, is also boring, timid, self-pitying, passive, and typical.

To his credit, Kaufman treats these characters with compassion and understanding, rather than derision and superiority. One of the most beautiful moments of the film is when Lisa sings Cyndi Lauper‘s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. Surprisingly, the lyric’s of the 80s radio staple, sung acapella, are quite poignant. Rather than the carefree anthem suggested by the chorus, the verses reveal a bittersweet, yearning reflection on the American female experience. Lisa’s connection to the song’s lyrics reveal a hidden depth and soulfulness to her character; the tragedy is that she has been so limited by her midwestern, working class circumstances that this aspect of her character seeps out only on rare occasion. And now fate is about to deal her another cruel little knock in the form of Stone.

Compassionate, however, is the best the intellectual Kaufman can be for “normal” characters like Stone and Lisa. Clearly unfamiliar with these worlds – suburban LA and corporate Ohio – Kaufman only presents a passenger window view of them. He lacks the familiarity or true interest to explore the humanity of these worlds in detail (for example, compare Kaufman’s depiction of the midwest in Anomalisa to something like Mark Kozelek‘s depiction of it on the Sun Kil Moon album Benji). As such, Anomalisa is an interesting, even efficient experiment that matches a Kaufman script with Duke Johnson‘s eerie stop motion animation. But not much more.

Tokyo Tribe

November 8th, 2015 | Film | 0 Comments

tokyo_tribe

I’ve heard that Sono Sion‘s other films are incredible. If they’re anywhere near as interesting as Tokyo Tribe, I should probably check them out.

Tokyo Tribe is a Japanese rap musical about a bunch of warring tribes in Tokyo who, due to changed circumstances, have to gang together to take on a mafia kingpin-type when he…does something…

Point is, there’s a lot of Japanese rap, kung fu, sexy stuff and bright colours. Sure, around two-thirds of the way through the film, it starts to grow a little tiring. Sure, none of the ‘songs’ are particularly incredible. Nor are any of the fights especially mindblowing. But the combination of all of the above in one movie is too awesome to not enjoy.