21 December 2006

I Love Your Work (2005, Th!nkfilm)

"Fifth letter. Stalker??"

Gray Evans (Giovanni Ribisi) is at the top of his acting career -- rich and famous and living a tumultuous life with a beautiful actress, Mia (Franka Potente) -- but underneath the glamour is paranoia and a sense of failure. While his costars read their fan mail, giggling at the writers' sad desperation and earnest belief that they share a connection, Evans barely glances at most of the letters, pausing only to make notes on those from repeat fans whom he suspects could be stalkers. In the meantime, he befriends young wannabe filmmaker John (Joshua Jackson) who reminds Evans of his younger self -- Evans had been in film school prior to acting and left/lost his first love, Shana (Christina Ricci) to be with Mia.

I Love Your Work is full of "art school" techniques with jumpy edits, odd lighting and angles, and creative use of audio (or lack thereof). It is clearly a pet-project for writer/director Adam Goldberg, filled with navel-gazing about fame and fortune, fans and tabloids, and yet I still enjoyed it. The saving grace is Ribisi's performance and the fiery chemistry he shares with Potente on screen. Ribisi builds Evans' paranoia to a fever pitch and then pushes it further; there are few actors who could have believably pulled off the climactic scenes.

Also watch for Jason Lee in a small role. Almost unrecognizable with his hair slicked back and lacking his signature Earl Hickey (My Name is Earl) mustache, he portrays one of Evans' creepier fans.

Bottom line: this is an arty independent film, despite all the star power in the cast, but it is an interesting angle on the price of fame and the world of the celebrity.

*** 1/2

Buy I Love Your Work at Amazon.ca

06 October 2006

Jet Li's Fearless (Beijing Film Studios; Rogue Pictures, 2006)

Jet Li's Fearless (a.k.a. Huo Yuan Jia) is purportedly Jet Li's last martial arts film, though he will continue making American action films. Fearless is loosely based on legendary fighter Huo Yuan Jia, who fought for Chinese pride at a time when Western influence was pervasive. He also had to grow through tragedy before understanding the true meaning of wushu. Jet Li has been quoted many times on the press tour for this film reminding reporters that Wushu actually translates as the art of not fighting or the art of stopping war -- not exactly the typical Western view of martial arts.

Part of Jet Li's reasoning behind making the film was to provide an alternative to the violent revenge films that make up so much of the genre. Instead, Fearless is somehow both action-packed and also a meditation on the significance of wushu. And, I might add, it's a tear jerker, too.

Fearless starts at the climax then shoots back thirty years and moves forward to rejoin the great battle that made Huo Yuan Jia a hero to the Chinese. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed, elaborate and tense -- everything you could wish for in a martial arts epic. The lessons in the film are obvious, but there's enough action to temper the saccharine.


tags: film, review, Fearless, Huo Yuan Jia

30 August 2006

Random Acts of Malice, edited by Sharon Grehan (Liason Press, 2005)

The full title is actually Random Acts of Malice: the best of happy woman magazine. This book looks like a collection of clippings from a typical woman's magazine (think Woman, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, etc.) albeit with a little more -- no a lot more sarcasm.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I ended up liking it. It has a nice hip look to it and I love the idea of skewering that genre. I was happy to find out they were the best selections from Happy Woman Magazine online. I figured a compilation drawing on 5 years of material would be filled with biting sarcasm, humour, and even the malice as promised in the title.

The first few pages were pretty amusing, but then it got a little tired. Perhaps the most tedious sections were the agony aunt column, "Dear Madrone," advice from Donna Corleone. If you've ever watched a really bad gangster film -- one that packs every last sad mobster cliché into 90 minutes -- then you have an idea of what these segments offer.

Luckily the rest isn't so dire. There are plenty of beauty tips and mock diets (my favourite was the Soup Diet: rotate through three days where breakfast lunch and dinner each consist of soup) that cut almost too close to what you actually read in women's magazines; there are tales of triumph; and there are goofy do-it-yourself articles.

Maybe my mistake was reading it all in one go. Now that I think about it, my head might burst into flame if I had to leaf through five years of Good Housekeeping, so perhaps I got off lightly with just a mild headache. Random Acts of Malice provides plenty of smirks and the odd, guilty laugh out loud, but it's not a book I'd read more than once.


Buy Random Acts of Malice from Amazon.ca

Heavy Metal (Columbia-Tristar, 1981)

Heavy Metal came out at a time when people weren't really making animated films -- except for the Disney studios -- and certainly not adult-oriented musical animated films with just the barest excuse for a plot.

Naturally, it became a "cult hit."

Many of my friends in high school watched this show. They went on and on about it, doodling the large-breasted vixen from the poster on their binders. Somehow, despite frequent midnight showings and its release on both VHS and DVD, I managed to avoid seeing it until very recently. I wish I had continued to avoid it.

The film is a series of vignettes, tied together by the glowing green orb that calls itself Loc-Nar, the sum of all evils. Aside from the opening sequence, "Harry Canyon" which seems to be the inspiration for Bruce Willis' part in The Fifth Element, only one of the vignettes really appealed to me: B-17 about a bomber pilot plagued by zombies. Not only was the sequence tense and greusome, but the animation was much more crisp and focused and the plot had a very Twilight Zone feel to it.

Unfortunately, the other sequences feature varying combos of large-breasted women and bloody violence; most are so tedious that I very nearly dozed off a few times. I think there were two things I should have had before waching this film: 1. something to chemically alter my consiousness and 2. lived life as a 14 year old boy. I really don't think this film is meant to appeal to anyone watching it straight/sober or any adult who didn't first see it and love it as a hormone-riddled teen.

That said, I'm sure there are fans out there; I'd love to hear why.


Buy Heavy Metal on DVD (widescreen) from Amazon.ca

11 August 2006

Temple of Cod by Adrienne Jones (Creative Guy Publishing, 2005 )

note: this review is for the chapbook edition

Temple of Cod
is a perfect example of a book that should not be judged by its cover. The cover art by Chris Cox (whose cartoons are perfectly passable) is immature -- it reminded me of something the boys at the back of art class in high school would sketch on the front of their binders, between Led Zeppelin symbols and Heavy Metal heroines. But, should you open the cover, you will find a story that not only pulls you in but also drags you along by the left ankle, leaving more than a couple of bumps on the back of your head.

Do you smell fish?

For years Elliot has made a living selling painting after painting of the same lighthouse -- the one at his Grandfather's cottage where he was raised. When his girlfriend leaves, he tries painting something else but it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. Is he hallucinating? If so, what just chewed through his tires? Who is taunting him with rhymes from his childhood? And what the hell was that thing? When he can't take it anymore, he calls his friend Bobby who also happens to be a registered psychiatrist. Trouble is, Bobby can see the hallucinations, too.

Getting to the bottom of what Elliot unleashed takes him on a wild ride into his past that reveals some creepy, nasty truths and a few surprises. What starts as an odd story develops into something downright nightmarish that Jones then pushes over the top to a deliciously greusome conclusion.

I can't wait to read her next tale.


Buy the chapbook from Project Pulp
Buy the eBook from Fictionwise
Buy the chapbook, eBook or audiobook/podcast from Creative Guy Publishing

07 August 2006

Harold and Maude (Paramount Pictures, 1971)

Harold is young, rich, and gets his thrills by, among other things, attending funerals. Maude is a free spirit who befriends Harold after seeing him at several funerals. The relationship evolves over time as Harold opens up to Maude's way of life.

Along the way, there is a lot of very dark humour -- mostly around suicide and death, but also around his attempts to avoid dating the women with whom his mother has arranged dates. This film clearly has a 1970s sensibility -- Harold rejects his mother's expectations, the military, and society in general -- and yet like many great films from the era, it is still relevant today.

With my tastes, I am surprised I avoided this film for so long. It's very very funny and very very dark, but there are touching moments, too. In the end, Harold and Maude are two human beings who need one another. If you are a fan of Six Feet Under, M*A*S*H, or black comedies in general, Harold and Maude should be on your list to watch.


Buy Harold and Maude at Amazon.ca

02 August 2006

You're Not Very Important by Douglas W. Texter (Liason Press, 2003)

If you've ever thought that maybe you could be President, an American Idol, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company then you should stop everything and read You're Not Very Important. Inside you will learn about the dangerous potential of everything from education to diversity to self-actualization.

Douglas W. Texter pokes fun at self-help, self-improvement, and everything else self-centred in the space of just over 200 pages. Texter has a gift for taking any situation and following it through to the most outrageous conclusion imaginable -- in fact, many conclusions are unimaginable. The gag runs thin before the subjects run out, and there are a few too many references to European dictators, but the book as a whole is entertaining. There were many passages which made me laugh out loud:
  • on how to judge the effectiveness of a wedgie, "It is wildly successful if the said undergarment tears off completely."
  • on identifying philosophers,"In a sense, philosophers greatly resemble street people, except that the latter aren't able to apply for MacArthur Grants."
  • on changing the world, "When people ask you to embark on an adventure that promises to make the world a better place, you should do your part for humanity by running away screaming."
Each chapter takes on a Myth -- the Myth of Religion, for example -- by introducing a scenario, blowing it out of proportion, and closing with suggestions for how to avoid getting caught in the same trap. It's clever satire and would make a great gift for your manager, the coworker who talked you into attending that pyramid scheme meeting, or that in-law with visions of grandeur.

*** 1/2

Buy You Aren't Very Important at Amazon.com
Buy the eBook through Fictionwise

tags: self-improvement, humour

12 July 2006

Safe At Home by C. Dennis Moore (Creative Guy Publishing, 2002)

Safe at Home. The title conjures the standard feelings of comfort and stability; the spooky looking house on the cover conjures the opposite feelings. Inside, the story opens with a young couple, Jim and Monica, moving into their first apartment together. There's a lot of fuss made over security -- including the fact that the couple are only given one key between them. Shortly after they move in, there is a murder in the building. Then another. Then Jim finds himself the prime suspect.

The plot is interesting; the set-up, clever, but C. Dennis Moore is not a master storyteller. Not yet, anyway. It's pretty clear that Safe at Home is a freshman effort that could have benefited from a more strict editor, though overall the result is a well-paced horror/thriller where an everyman is accused of the unthinkable.

Safe at Home
is a short eBook (this review is of the pdf version) that bundles the short story (about 70 pages) with the back story, part of the screenplay version, and even deleted scenes which makes it sort of like a DVD. These "special features" are interesting, but once I had read the story, I didn't really want to read the screenplay, not even out of curiosity. For the sake of this review I did read it, however, and I can safely say that while the story is better off in it's published form, it does feel like something between an episode of Tales From the Crypt and CSI, if you were to tell the story from the point of view of the accused.


Buy Safe At Home through fictionwise.com
See more from Creative Guy Publishing

Also referenced:
Tales From the Crypt -- get the first season at Amazon.ca
CSI -- get the complete first season at Amazon.ca

tags: ebook, thriller, review, bookreview

02 June 2006

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown 2002)

The story begins with a murder. More specifically, it opens with the rape an murder of a young teen, 14 year old Susie Salmon. From this horrible nightmare springs the study of a family from the inside out as they deal with the difficulty of grieving before a body has been found, the reader watches them pull apart, and pull together over time.

Susie narrates the story from her version of heaven -- where fashion magazines are textbooks -- where she can watch and listen to those on earth. She watches her family, her dog, her neighbours, even her killer. She discovers that she touched others in ways she was not aware.

Bottom line: I loved this book. It read like my favourite young adult fiction -- the protagonist is a teen; there are supernatural elements; the story is layered yet not obtuse. The fascinating thing about The Lovely Bones is that it just barely skirts the falsely sweet and manipulative passages you would expect to find in a novel about the death of a teen, and author Alice Sebold pulls no punches when describing the crimes committed. The book is bittersweet; its final pages not what I expected, though exactly what was needed. I suspect when the movie is released in 2007, the ending will be different.


Buy The Lovely Bones at Amazon.ca

22 May 2006

Over the Hedge (Dreamworks, 2006)

When RJ, a raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis, accidentally destroys the food stockpiled by a hungry bear, he needs to find help fast. He hooks up with a group of foragers who are unknowingly living in a tiny patch of forest surrounded by suburban sprawl and a great big hedge. The head forager is a turtle named Verne (Gary Shandling); his family includes a pair of possums, a skunk, five hedgehogs, and a manic squirrel named Hammy (Steve Carrell). Hammy steals almost every scene, though some of the other characters get to deliver the best one-liners.

Typical of other Dreamworks Animation productions (Shrek, Madagascar), Over the Hedge is a family film, short and engaging enough for toddlers to sit through and funny enough for adults to weather. The plot is paper thin, of course, and several of the funniest moments were included in ads and trailers, but there is still plenty of fun to be had between the time Verne first ventures into suburbia and the time the credits roll. The animation is solid but the voice actors do the heavy lifting for this movie.

The film is based on characters from Michael Fry and T. Lewis' cartoon strip which has been running since 1995 and has produced four book collections. Much of the fun comes from seeing suburbia through the animals' eyes which is the centre of the comic.

Bottom line, Over The Hedge is a fun family film, suitable for almost any age.


Buy Over The Hedge: Stuffed Animals
Buy Over The Hedge 3: Knights of the Picnic Table
Buy Over The Hedge 2
Buy Over The Hedge

Watch an interview with Over the Hedge creators at Comics.com

17 May 2006

Paint it Black: A Guide to Gothic Homemaking by Voltaire (Weiser Books, 2005)

If you've always wanted your own Book of the Dead or have been considering Pimping Your Ride, Dracula Style, or if you just really like black and red, this may be the book for you.

Voltaire is by trade a stop-motion animator, though he uses the techniques he learned for animation to make the props he uses in his gothic decor. Paint It Black is a how-to book. If you can wield a glue gun, aim a can of black spray-paint, and aren't afraid to modify other people's cast-offs, then you too can have a creepy, dark, romantic, Gothic hideaway. Taken further, Voltaire explains how to throw a Goth wedding and even, yes, pimping out that hearse or black K-car in your driveway.

While this book isn't supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, it's pretty hard to take it seriously. Voltaire has a sense of humour about it all, and admits that this look is certainly not for everyone. I am sure there are more than a few seventeen year olds would be happy to follow every instruction to the letter, but more likely it will come in handy just before October, when you are planning that wicked Halloween party.

Buy Paint it Black at Amazon.ca

03 May 2006

The Spaces In Between (NeWest Press, 2003)

In The Spaces In Between, you will find poems about pioneers, the expatriates who lived in Montparnasse, Bob Dylan, love and loss, paintings and photographs, mountains, landmarks, and more. The poems run freely across the pages, as varied in form and metre as in subject matter. Some are light and airy, others are dense and resemble prose, though their rhythm betrays them.

The Spaces In Between collects poems that span of Scobie's career from 1965 to 2001. Many of them reference songs, paintings and cities that Scobie knows intimately -- in fact intimate is possibly the best single word to describe this collection. Consider "My skin is made of stars," only two lines long, it conveys an intimacy that other authors spend chapters to describe:

My skin is made of stars

My skin is made of stars
I want you to be my astronomer

Scobie playfully considers how pioneers named mountains; where Picasso found inspiration; how vampires comb their hair; and what would happen if Oedipus met Freud at the fork in the road. On other pages he writes of past loves, family and the love of his life, even a love song for the city of Edmonton and CBC radio. Perhaps the truest words of all are in the poems that close the volume: "Maureen: poems for the weeks of her dying," a cycle of nine poems that document exactly that, the last weeks Scobie spent with his wife, Maureen. I cannot read them without a catch in my throat. Each of Scobie's books, including The Spaces In Between is dedicated "For Maureen, as always, as everything."

Stephen Scobie is a contemporary award-winning Canadian poet. He is also a traveller, a teacher and a scholar, currently living in Victoria, BC where he teaches at the University of Victoria.


07 April 2006

King Kong (Universal Pictures, 2005)

When I was four years old, I saw the original King Kong. It broke my brain. A giant ape gets captured, taken to New York and climbs the Empire State Building.I heard Peter Jackson was going to remake the movie as a follow-up to his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was skeptical. How many version of Kong have I seen?There were the bad Japanese versions of the 1960s (though I liked the mechanical Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla). There was the big budget remake in 1976 (weird to watch what with Kong's ascent up the World Trade Center). In the 1980s there was a really lousy King Kong Lives that ironically seemed to kill the concept of a big monkey movie. Although I liked everything Peter Jackson turned out, I was waiting for a big, long flop.

I was pleasantly surprised.

King Kong is a masterpiece of movie making. It's broken into three solid acts. The first act is all about New York. The original was filmed during the Great Depression. The remake features the Depression and uses it to drive the plot. The second act is the sea journey and the peril. Nobody in Hollywood wants to admit that productions are done on a shoestring. Peter Jackson isn't from Hollywood. Jack Black's producer/promoter, Carl Denham, has no cash so he cuts every corner: he gets a tramp steamer, he houses the talent like animals; and there's more. It's great. When they get to Skull Island, the natives have Peter Jackson's spin. They look and act more like Orcs. Naomi Watts' Anne Darrow is snapped up by Kong and the men come to the rescue. If nothing else, this part of the movie has too much. There are as many dinosaurs as Jurassic Park; as many giant bugs as one of those schlocky 1970s movies; and on top of that is the big man himself. Leave the bugs for the next movie, Peter. Eventually Kong is captured and shipped back to New York. The third act is set in Manhattan. Kong is a miserable, pitiable and chained spectacle. There are parts that really tug at your heart strings, right up to the tragic ending that echoes the 1933 original. To the credit of the screenwriters, King Kong is painted as a sympathetic character.

I always had a big problem with Kong: what has he? A monkey man in a suit? This version is solidly a massive gorilla and the portrayal is so effective that could almost convince Jane Goodall. He acts like a 25 foot tall gorilla but he conveys a sensitivity. This movie walks a fine line of following the events of the original while updating it to survive a reality check and make for some real suspense and surprises. The acting is strong. I actually dislike Jack Black and think Adrian Brody used the Marisa Tomei clause to win his Oscar. The performances are spot on and the casting is ideal.

The basic edition is a little skimpy but the deluxe DVD version has three hours of behind-the-scenes material. If your enjoyed the movie, the bonus material should push you pop for the deluxe edition.


Buy King Kong on DVD (US) (UK)

04 April 2006

Ice Age: The Meltdown (20th Century Fox, 2006)

The original Ice Age (2002) was clever, cute, and above all entertaining. Ice Age: the Meltdown is not as clever, not as cute and, not surprisingly, not as entertaining. As with most sequels, this movie delivers very similar material with a diminished effect. It's not that Meltdown is a bad movie, it's just average.

The problem with animated movies is finding that delicate balance in the audience for crossover appeal. This can be achieved through a number of means but visual style, a good script, and great voice actors are key. Meltdown is visually impressive, although it's nothing more nor less than what we've seen from this and other CG animation studios recently.

The plot is simple: those creatures who survived the ice age are living in a large basin, surrounded by, you guessed it, ice. As the ice begins to melt, the creatures move toward a "boat" perched high atop a rock, a few days away. Along the way, Manny and the "herd" meet a mamoth who, having been raised by possums, believes she is a possum. They quarrel, the herd is separated at various times for various reasons, and we learn a little more about each of the main characters along the way.

There are a few visual gags to be gained from a mamoth clinging to a tree by her tail, but these get old pretty fast, the remaining humour is largely inoffensive. As with the original, Skrat (the prehistoric squirrel) breaks the tension with comic releif in his pursuit of the almighty acorn. There are also two villains in the movie -- underwater prehistoric predators who are just plain mean.

Overall, Meltdown is suitable for kids, especially a younger audience, but may have been more suited for a direct-to-DVD release.


tags: Movie review, Ice Age: Meltdown, Ice Age, animation

Empire Redeemed

A few months ago, we had a lousy experience at the new-to-Victoria Empire Theatre chain. Since then, we have returned for three different movies at the same location; all experiences were acceptable -- the last one I would even categorize as "very good." The service, especially at the concession, has definitely improved, so I am willing to chalk up the past problems to the change in management and having to (re)train staff.

tags: movie theatre, theatre experience.

18 March 2006

V for Vendetta (Warner Bros., 2006)

Borrowing from the legend of Guy Fawkes, a single man known only as V (Hugo Weaving) takes a stand against Britain's totalitarian regime of the very near future in V for Vendetta, based on Alan Moore's classic graphic novel of the same name. When V meets Evey (Natalie Portman), it seems like a coincidental meeting until it becomes clear that nothing in V's world is a coincidence -- everything and everyone is connected.

The film does stray somewhat from the novel which was written at the height of Thatcher's rule in the late 1980s but it strays so that it may seem that much more universal. Vendetta is still set in England and the idea that there can be hope even in times that seem hopeless remains the central theme.

While the film benefits from a strong script, based on a strong novel, it is carried by strong performances. In addition to Portman and Weaving, gripping performances are delivered by Stephen Rae and Rupert Graves as the detectives who come to fear the worst; and by Stephen Fry as Evey's boss, Gordon, a British Television Network celebrity who has a few secrets of his own. The casting of John Hurt as the totalitarian leader is also a wry wink to dystopian film fans who may remember his turn as Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty Four.

Rounding out what is good about this film are the direction (by James McTeigue), the costume design, and the set design. In fact, there is little about it that I take exception with. I wasn't sure how much whizz-bang to expect from the Wachowski Brothers (of Matrix fame) but they did not go over the top. There is some gore and there are some impressive explosions and even a few spectacular fight sequences. Overall though, V for Vendetta is more about V than his vendetta; the film's focus is on the ideas of justice and of rebellion rather than on the way those things are brought about.

Considering the subject matter -- the central character is a terrorist -- V for Vendetta is a film that fills its audience with hope. In the end, it's clear: not only can you stand up to your government and say, "Bollocks," but sometimes you should.


V for Vendetta is in theatres now.

Buy the graphic novel V for Vendetta (Canada/USA/UK)
Buy the soundtrack Music from V for Vendetta (Canada/USA/UK)

TAGS: , ,

10 March 2006

The Shaggy Dog (Disney, 2006)

It's been almost 50 years since Disney's original version of The Shaggy Dog (1958), starring Fred MacMurray, was released; long enough that even the parents of many of the kids who want to see the film will not have seen the original. Luckily, if they do remember the original, they will realize moments into the film that the only similarity between the two films is that the father hates dogs. In the original, the son transformed into a sheepdog; in the re-imagined version, the father (well-played by Tim Allen) transforms.

Tim Allen is Dave Douglas, a busy corporate lawyer aiming to be the next District Attourney. He's too busy for his kids -- political teen Carly (Zena Grey) and football-challenged Josh (Spencer Breslin) -- and even seems to have stopped listening to his wife Rebecca (Kirsten Davis), so it's only fair that a mystical dog should make him change his perspective. Allen is ideal for the role; his stand-up routine included comparisons between man and other animals; he's accomplished at both slapstick and drama; and after transforming into Santa, a sheepdog was not a big challenge. Rounding out the cast, Robert Downey Jr. puts in an over-the-top performance in the evil-scientist role and Craig Kilborn provides some punchlines as an annoying neighbour.

The comedy is classic Disney-family-style, with a few broad strokes of slapstick and some nods to other films thrown in (listen for Allen's Toy Story shoutout). The best shots in the film are those seen through Douglas' eyes as a dog and reminded me of some of the scenes from Cats and Dogs (2001). I walked into this movie with fairly low expectations but found myself laughing -- one ridiculous sequence in particular had me almost roaring -- and more or less enjoying this light little family film.


The soundtrack includes a half dozen songs about dogs; among them: Big Dog by Akon, the inevitable Who Let the Dogs Out by the Baha Men, Atomic Dog by George Clinton -- some of which didn't appear in the movie -- along with the original score by Alan Menken.

Buy The Shaggy Dog soundtrack on CD.
Buy The Shaggy Dog (1958) on DVD

28 February 2006

Mirrormask (Sony Pictures, 2005)

Let me start by saying you've never seen a feature film like Mirrormask. The visual style mixes live action with computer-generated imagery and other magic by Henson Studios. Several days after seeing the film, I'm still not sure what to think about the plot (which was a bit simple) but the creatures and characters are still front and centre in my mind.

Helena is at the centre of the story. Her parents run a small circus (somewhere in tone between a traditional circus and Cirque du Soleil) but she wants to run away and "join real life." To escape, she draws, endlessly; her walls are covered in fantastic charcoal sketches. When her mother falls ill and her world is thrust into flux, she again retreats into her drawings. On the eve of her mother's operation, she falls asleep and the dream world she enters seems all-too familiar.

Neil Gaiman penned the script after he was approached by Lisa Henson to create a story similar in tone and scope to The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. They then approached Dave McKean (who has collaborated with Gaiman on several children's books) to take the director's chair -- they offered him almost no money but complete creative control. The result is uneven (due to a plot that is too close for my liking to the aforementioned Labyrinth) but still worth seeing -- on the big screen if you get the chance.


Buy Mirrormask on DVD
Buy Mirrormask: The Illustrated Film Script.

25 February 2006

Eve and the Fire Horse (2005 - Golden Horse Productions)

<>Eve And The Fire Horse is set in 1970s, Vancouver BC. It focuses on two sisters, Eve and Karena, children of a traditional Chinese family. Chinese culture is full of bad omens: You curse a household by saying bad things during a birthday. Women should not chop down trees. The most profound superstition is that of the year of the Fire Horse. The year comes every 60 years, last in 1966. Women born into this year are supposed to bring nothing but trouble. In China, abortion rates spike as no one wants a baby from the year of the Fire Horse. In Japan, employers look down at women born on this year as they will be troublesome. Eve is a girl born from this year.

Bad luck befalls the household: Eve’s grandmother dies and Eve’s mother miscarries. Eve and her sister learn about Christianity. The girls begin to attend a Catholic church. At first, the family approve of their daughters’ new faith. They see it as a way of doubling down their bid for heavenly protection: with Jesus and Buddha protecting them, how could they go wrong? Their Catholic nun sees Buddhism differently: those who have not renounced all but Jesus are going to Hell.

This is Julie Kwan’s first feature length film. She has struggled to get out a film like this. Hollywood is run by old white guys. A film by an Asian, Canadian woman is triply cursed. When she approached people about turning this film into reality, they said, “oh, more Mina Shum? We already have a film from an Asian, Canadian woman.” It’s like saying, “sorry George Lucas. Spielberg already turned in a geeky film.” (bad analogy—somebody should have done that). Hollywood is a barrage of action movies, broad comedies and cookie cutter dramas. Kwan’s film is refreshing in its approach and its subject matter. It’s a period piece, but really it’s timeless. It’s Canadian, but it doesn’t have that cloying CBC feel.

Eve And The Fire Horse is a heartfelt and entertaining look at religion and family. It’s full of inspired moments that are reminiscent of movies like Amelie: where household gods come alive; and girls dress up their Jesus in Barbie clothes because he looks cold. The real shame is that you may never get to see this movie. The pessimism of movie distributors and theatre owners is such that this movie may languish in obscurity.

28 January 2006

The Matador (Alliance Atlantis, 2005)

Pierce Brosnan plays Julian Noble: an assassin who interupts his hits with boozing and womanizing. When in Mexico City on a hit, he meets up with Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), a businessman on hard times who is on a business trip that will make or break his future. Eventually, Julian confides in Danny and admits what his line of work it. Straight arrow Danny and hitman Julian part ways before long, leaving Danny with the mother of all anedotes. He goes home. Julian picks up his work but he's lost his edge. An assassin with the jitters is no good and he's in a crisis. Several months later, Julian arrives at Danny's doorstep.
The hitman in crisis is oddly a subgenre and more often plays as comedy than crime: Grosse Point Blank; Man Bites Dog; and the unfortunate Analyze This and Analyze That. Of these examples, this movie is the best of the lot. It's paced as a dark comedy with room for some pathos. Pierce Brosnan plays a bebonair gentleman in many of his roles. In this movie, he lets himself go in splendid style: scrubby looking, frequently drunk, banging women in most cities, angering women by trying to pay for sex in the other cities. He's an acidic and mean spirited wreck and because of his contrast, he really shines.
The Matador is a lean story. Like its title, this movie executes with precision.

tags: movies, Matador, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis

24 January 2006

Will "Bubble" Burst the Multiplex?

Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner owners of Landmark Theatres and cable channel HDNet has partnered with Steven Soderbergh to release Bubble in theatres, on cable and on DVD simultaneously.

Ebert and Roeper weighed in on the controversy -- they feel it can only be a good thing, increasing the audience for smaller films. The crunch comes for blockbuster movies: will they still find enough of an audience to justify their outrageous budgets? I think so. So does Mark Cuban.

Cuban perfectly nails the issue in this post: What Business are theaters in ?[Blog Maverick] where he describes the generation gap in movie-goers,

When a 16 year old goes to a movie, there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with answering your cellphone, talking back to the screen and texting your heart away during a movie. The movie is just there because its better than doing the same thing sitting or walking at the mall...

All of the above drives anyone not in that demographic crazy. So when a couple of 35 year olds go to see King Kong, not only can you pretty much bet that they arent going to have a great experience during the showing of the movie, but they probably didnt have a great experience before they even got their seats.

They are probably already pissed because the stereos were blasting in the parking lot, the lines to the concession stands were filled with kids chit chattering and taking their good old time, while you wanted to get into the movie so you could talk to your wife or date.

Yes!! YES!! There is someone, somewhere who understands why the multiplex cinema experience is going to lose money soon if it can't adapt -- it is annoying more people than it is attracting. And so, Cuban says, "Why not actually start making a profit off the DVD sales?" Excellent question, and I hope he makes a lot of cash out of the deal so the naysayers can eat their words.

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy movies wherever I can find them, even if that means giving the stink-eye to the gaggle of teens behind me at the multiplex.

04 January 2006

100 Greatest Discoveries (Discovery Communications 2004)

I am currently watching 100 Greatest Discoveries, hosted by Bill Nye (known to millions as "Bill Nye the Science Guy"). Now, my kid loves Bill Nye but she is in bed right now, so I can't give you her opinion. On the other hand, I've been watching Bill Nye since he was a regular guest on Seattle's late night show, Almost Live, and I also count myself a big fan.

Nye makes a great host for what is essentially an overview of science; the eight episodes cover discoveries in the fields of Evolution, Earth Science, Medicine, Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Genetics, and Biology. The show uses historical recreation, expert interviews, computer graphics and location shots to give the viewer the best possible introduction to those discoveries and theories which form the basis of modern scientific thought.

It's currently airing in British Columbia on the Knowledge Network, but check your local Discovery Channel or PBS listings in the upcoming weeks and months.

Or, you can pre-order the DVD set from the Discovery Channel.