Sunday, July 29, 2007


Written by Alex Garland
Directed by Danny Boyle

Cassie: There’s a difference between thinking you might not make it home and knowing you won’t.

Oh Mother Nature, why have you forsaken us? Are we really all that bad to you that we deserve what you’re giving us? Not only have you fought back with global warming and disastrous storm activity but now you insist on dooming us on film as well. SUNSHINE, from director, Danny Boyle, does not announce distinctly when it takes place. Regardless of the time, the sun is about to give out on us. It has been slowly dying over the centuries and its warmth is finally waning on earth. After one unsuccessful attempt, the people of earth have pooled their resources together to send one last chance into space. The crew of Icarus II must travel through space for what can only be millions of miles (it may even be billions but I’m no space enthusiast) to reach the sun and drop a bomb into its center in hopes of reigniting its flame. Boyle’s SUNSHINE is a visual hot bed that draws the viewer into its world of dichotomies. From light and dark to close and far, the opposing forces manifest on the screen to make for a gripping debate between whether it’s better to fight against fate or resign yourself to it.

Staring directly into the sun is damaging to your eyes while staring directly into Boyle’s SUNSHINE will delight them. Boyle makes calculated visual and sound decisions that allow the viewer to feel like a crewmember on this momentous voyage. Long corridors are often devoid of noise and shown stretching on toward far depths before cutting to tight framing of various crewmembers (Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh and Chris Evans, to name but a few). The rooms that find these solitary crewmembers vary in style from simulation rooms that show the glory of the sun’s power to the payload room that houses the bomb that will hopefully save humanity, from rooms with wall-to-wall computer screens to oxygen rooms dedicated to the growth of plants. With so many rooms to speak of, Icarus II feels like its own world. With the people of this world alone in each of these rooms that make up this separate existence, the detachment from each other is only second in intensity to the distance between this ship and the planet it has left behind and lost all communication with. Determined to complete the mission they have set out for must outweigh the fear they feel being so completely secluded as their drive in order to survive.

Author of THE BEACH, Alex Garland, has crafted a script that plays out like a morality debate. The importance of the individual is weighed against the significance of the masses in some moments, while the needs of the masses are then weighed against the natural progression of the species in others. Fate and the usual bickering over whether we have any say in the matter permeate the entire mission, mostly against Boyle’s better judgment. Garland’s exploration of God and atheism were not elements that Boyle wanted to devote much screen time to, if any, but they still manage to make their way to the forefront. It seems curious to me that he would want to avoid these topics, as SUNSHINE needs them to further enforce its own sense of urgency. If this mission is unsuccessful, the sun’s warmth will inevitably cease to reach the earth. Come the time when all of earth’s inhabitants begin to reach their freezing point, the existence of God is going to be the hottest topic around.

SUNSHINE will definitely draw comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (it’s doing it right now even) with its soft-spoken computer voice commanding the ship and eerie, quiet emptiness. While it won’t come anywhere near having the same impact, it is still a strong successor. Boyle modernizes the space solitude tale by jumping back and forth between quiet calm and frenetic dizziness, between dusty and stale and bright and explosive. As the mission wreaks havoc on the minds of the crew, Boyle plays with our senses, making SUNSHINE an engaging, tense and thought-provoking trip to the center of the sun. Really though, can you imagine it any other way?


Written by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti
Directed by David Silverman

Homer Simpson: I can’t believe we’re paying to see something we can see at home for free.

It has been eighteen years since America’s ultimate nuclear family introduced themselves to the television-watching world. Their popularity and critical favour have waffled in waves over the near-two-decade span of the series’ life, but they have also become pop culture icons and a source of constant comfort and laughter through widespread syndication and DVD sales. And so the question I’ve heard tossed around the most leading up to the release of their first foray in the land of the big screen is why did they wait so darn long to get here? The reason doesn’t matter really; it’s the sense of entitlement Simpson fans have regarding the series and these characters that is somewhat frightful in its level of expectation. (Although if you’re interested to know, series creator Matt Groening and creative mainstay, James Brooks, wanted to place all the focus necessary on perfecting the television series without having anything take away from that. When they finally decided to go forward, close to the turn of the century, there were disputes over final script approval.) The pressure alone to deliver a hilarious feature that will appease the fans, the masses and the studio execs alike would be enough reason for me to never consider making it. Yet THE SIMPSONS MOVIE is finally here and from the moment little Ralph Wiggum pops out of the 20th Century Fox tag to trumpet triumphantly with the tune we all know well, it is clear that the whole “Simpsons” clan is happy to have arrived. As someone who would subscribe to a 24-hour “Simpsons” channel if one existed, I am just as happy to see them too.

The “Simpsons” folks know this is big. They almost seem to acknowledge it right away when the film opens with the biggest “Itchy & Scratchy” cartoon ever created. Itchy the mouse and Scratchy the cat get on about their usual, violent antics, but they do so while taking the first steps on the moon. THE SIMPSONS MOVIE is one small step for Springfield and one giant leap for television animated series everywhere. What does a leap of this size entail exactly? Rather than string four episodes together, “Simpsons” creators opted to tell a story that was too big to encompass on a small screen. In doing so, there are both elements lost and gained. The expansion means longer stretches between punch lines, which can be frustrating at first, as you want director, David Silverman (a one-time regular director of the series and former creative player at Pixar) to pick up the pace. Also, the story itself is much more linear than most of the television episodes that find Homer & company starting in one place and ending up somewhere entirely unexpected by episode’s end. (A recent example would be beginning with weaning Maggie off her pacifier, which leads to Homer taking sleeping pills, which finds him causing injury to all of Springfield’s fire department and ultimately ending with corruption in volunteer fire fighter work.) The movie follows the Simpson family as they once again find themselves the target of all of Springfield’s animosity after Homer commits a selfish blunder to eclipse the hundreds of blunders that came before that. Once the film finds its pace though and adjusts to its newfound size and stature, or perhaps once this fan boy became accustomed to the grandeur of it all, the laughs roll out rapidly. It may be mostly tame but it is also riotous and faithful.

A bigger screen means an opportunity to take some of the Simpson characters further than they have ever been. (It also means some characters don’t get any spoken screen time – sorry Patty and Selma.) Lisa meets a boy who transforms her into the giddy girl she’s repressed so many times before. Marge finds an assertive voice that elevates her above the doormat status she all too often assumes. One of the more prominent storylines, which I’m carefully trying to avoid being specific about for those of you who are trying to go in to the movie as clear as possible, finds Bart questioning what his life would be like if he had a father figure who wasn’t such an impulsive goof all the time. In one of THE SIMPSON MOVIE’s greatest achievements, it breathes new life and depth into characters that have spent almost two decades trying to remain the same. The one constant that needs to remain that way to avoid throwing the world order out of alignment is, of course, Homer. As Homer is accustomed to making monumental mistakes and learning lessons from those mistakes shortly afterward, his movie mistakes are nothing new for him. And like usual, he will see the error of his ways and make many more mistakes by the time a sequel hits.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE is a rare, successful experiment in defying expectation and pressure to become a film that honours its origins while moving forward at the same time. As the town of Springfield breeds a self contained awareness that requires more than just a casual glance to appreciate fully, I’m not sure how well THE SIMPSONS MOVIE will play outside of its fan base. That said, anyone who has had the fortune to spend any amount of time with the people of Springfield since 1989, will find their first feature to be filled with a humoured familiarity that serves as a reminder for how they’ve been able to stick around for so long. And now that my Mac widget that has been counting down the days until THE SIMPSONS MOVIE has finally run its course, I can rest easy knowing that all my expectations were met and it probably won’t be quite as long until the Simpsons find themselves on the big screen again.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Written and Directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn
Co-Directed by Tommy Walker

Unidentified Lost Boy (holding a bottle of Pepsi up to the camera):
This is, in my country, we call it Coca-Cola.”

How often do critics and audiences agree on something? I think we can all admit it’s somewhat rare. So when I heard that documentary, GOD GREW TIRED OF US, had managed to win both the Audience Prize and the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance festival, I was certainly intrigued. However, when I finally caught the trailer, skepticism settled in. The film appeared to be some sort of social experiment where young, African men were transplanted into America with an array of comedic mishaps to follow. What could be funnier than watching the unexposed baffled over how to use an escalator? Still, I was not deterred. I would see with my own eyes what movie had managed to appease the masses and the minutiae-oriented. Proving once again that you cannot judge a movie by its proverbial cover, GOD GREW TIRED OF US is a unique and rare experience that burrows its way into your mind and soul, forcing you to see your world and the world outside your world through the eyes of a wide-eyed stranger.

In 1983, the second Sudanese Civil war began. Over 27,000 young boys and girls (many more boys than girls as girls were often snatched up by attackers to be raped and/or turned into slaves first) fled their villages and journeyed to refugee relief camps in bordering countries, Ethiopia and Kenya. The treks lasted a few years and only 12,000 managed to reach their destinations. These camps became their new homes, in some cases for fifteen years. In 2001, an aid program was put in place to bring 3800 young men over to the United States. The program was called The Lost Boys of Sudan. It was at this point that filmmakers Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tommy Walker made their way to the refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. They would follow three lost boys as they traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to begin their new life. Using archival footage to demonstrate the horrendous experience endured by these young men in their boyhood, Quinn ensures that his audience understands where these men came from and what family and community means to them before he shows their worlds being turned upside down.

Though the Lost Boys’ coming face to face with electricity and the subtle differences between turning a light on at the source or by using the wall switch can be comedic, their introduction to Western society is more telling of the natives than anything else. Coming from a past that at one point included eating mud as a source of water while in the desert, must make the concept of testing the water coming from your shower head until it is just right before stepping underneath it seem downright extravagant. Excessive is a Western way of life for those who can afford it. Even those who can’t live above their means to appear that they can. When the Lost Boys walk down the aisles of a large chain grocery store, awe beams from their eyes. The point is only further proven when they are offered a taste of a sugar doughnut smothered in sprinkles. They each take tiny bites as if unsure of what form of ridiculousness they’re biting into. Everyone around them walks up and down the grocery store aisles as if they do it every day and think nothing of it. I would be doing the same and GOD GREW TIRED OF US, without being accusatory or judgmental, draws your attention to how much you take for granted on a daily basis. It’ll get you thinking about your supposed needs the next time you bite into a doughnut of your own.

What gives GOD GREW TIRED OF US its deeper, more substantial meaning is the decision to not just expose the culture shock the Lost Boys endure as if they were guinea pigs put on screen for our privileged perspectives to devour. The film goes further when it follows the Lost Boys as they cement their lives in the United States over a period of three years. The illusion wears off when you have to work three jobs to afford your basic needs while sending money to your family back in Africa that you haven’t seen in over fifteen years. America the beautiful quickly becomes a very lonely place that feels very far from home. Despite having opportunity and an abundance of everything, the Lost Boys still miss the Sudan. GOD GREW TIRED OF US is respectful of both its subjects and its audience, always sure never to demean one for the sake of the other. Maybe this is why it has captured the attention of critics and audiences alike; its humbling, thought-provoking nature levels the distance between the two, where each group feels better than the other, allowing each to see that they are no different from each other when faced with the bigger picture of humanity and its arduous journey towards global compassion.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Numbing the pain with Christian Viel

The D.B. Clarke theatre space is hidden away in the basement of the downtown Concordia University campus in Montreal. While it normally plays home to student productions of varied results, on July 14, 2007, it opened its doors to the North American premiere of DEADEN, by Montreal filmmaker, Christian Viel. Playing as part of the Fantasia Film Festival, the premiere brought out the director himself as well as the screenwriter/star, John Fallon. Taking the stage before the film, each gentleman took a turn to say a few words. Fallon began by announcing how drunk he was. The crowd, mostly male, erupted in cheers. He went on to say how fucking amazing it was for this fucking movie to finally be getting its fucking North American premiere and how fucking difficult it is to get any fucking funding in Canada. This was peppered with bursts of cheers throughout, mostly after each usage of the word, “fucking.” Viel then took the mic. Meek in comparison although similar in stature, Viel forewarned that the first ten minutes of DEADEN have made people leave the theatre in previous screenings. He wanted to make sure we knew he would not be offended if we felt we needed to do the same. I couldn’t understand how these two polar opposite forces managed to collaborate on a film, let alone remain actual friends.

I had already been warned about the potentially horrifying opening scene in DEADEN by Viel himself when we met for coffee shortly before the premiere. Without going into too much detail, more so to save you from bringing up your lunch than giving away too much about the film, DEADEN opens with its hero, Rane (Fallon), tied up in his living room and about to be beaten and killed by three other men and one woman. His pregnant fiancée is brought in and Rane is subsequently forced to watch as she is raped and killed, along with her unborn fetus. When Rane is finally able to break free to fight back, he too is killed … or so we think. I’ve only given you the bare minimum here. The details are much more horrific. And even though his neighbours reported domestic disturbances when he was editing the sequence, Viel is surprised by the reaction …

“It’s probably the most harrowing scene in the whole film.
It caused us a few problems at screenings because it really
freaks people out. We knew it was a tough scene but we
didn’t expect the organic reactions of the people. It’s funny
because it’s all very suggestive. We didn’t have that much
money so everything is suggested. It seems though that
when it’s suggested it feels even stronger. People see
what they want but it’s all editing.” - Viel

As far as I could tell, no one walked out of this particular screening. (I've since learned that two people left.)

Fallon and Viel were inspired to make DEADEN after watching 2004’s interpretation of the Marvel comic, THE PUNISHER. The two were so disappointed with the film, (“The only thing they got right was the T-shirt.”) they originally wished they could remake it. As the rights for Marvel comics tend to be costly, they decided to make a straightforward revenge flick. The rest of DEADEN follows Rane as he snorts obscene amounts of cocaine and avenges the memory of his fiancée and unborn child, one bad guy at a time. With more and more kills to his name, who is the bad guy really? Each scene attempts to out do the one before by upping the violence and gore factor each time. Although, DEADEN walks into clichés from time to time (ie. spitting at the feet of a statue of Jesus), Fallon’s Rane has plenty of charisma to get you rooting for him at each turn of his killing spree, making it a solid addition to the revenge film sub-genre.

Another sub-genre of film DEADEN flirts with is the horror offshoot, torture porn. The idea behind the term is a film that gets its kicks and gives you yours by twistedly torturing its characters for viewing pleasure. When you have a contemporary pioneer of the genre like SAW 2 & 3 director, Darren Bousman, referring to DEADEN as “not only raw and brutal but unforgiving,” you’ve got to wonder if maybe you’ve gone too far. Viel thinks not …

“There are elements of torture porn in the opening sequence
but at the same time, it’s not something we tried to do on
purpose. It has its own purpose; it’s the motivation. It’s vital
to the story. It’s not just for shock value. I don’t like that.
Good drama involves pain and sometimes torture because
you need the motivation for the characters to move on or
an actual reason for things to happen. There may be a primal
pleasure to be derived from that but beyond that, there’s
nothing." - Viel

Regardless of or perhaps thanks to the film’s violent nature, DEADEN has found an American distribution deal which will likely see the film rolling onto DVD this fall. This success, as well as the international success of Viel’s RECON trilogy, are great signs for the Montreal film community and their development and production should serve as models for future generations of local filmmakers. Ever since the Canadian government became involved in the decision making process for funding film projects, it has become increasingly more difficult to get mainstream or even excessive yet accessibly violent films made. The emphasis is placed on more experimental or supposedly artistic fare. At the other extreme, Hollywood is busy recycling ideas and cannibalizing themselves to make the most money possible in the least amount of time. In response to this, Viel founded Movie Seals Productions. Movie Seals Productions does not wait for funding to come its way. Their logic is to make the movie any way you can but make it well. Then, get it seen and start generating revenue with it in any market that will take it so you can get to work on your next movie. In the world of home movie libraries and pay downloading, each movie made has the potential for a long life ahead. More importantly, Movie Seals Productions makes movies that Viel wants to see.

“It’s starting to feel like a sausage factory. That’s why
I want to make movies that I would want to watch. More
and more, the movies I want to watch, I don’t see anymore.
Maybe it’s old school, maybe I’m getting older but I know
what pleases a certain portion of the population and it
makes us enough money to keep making more so why not?”

Judging from the cheers DEADEN got every time Rane crushed someone’s head or lit someone on fire, Viel is not just making movies for himself anymore.

For more information regarding DEADEN, Movie Seals Productions or Christian Viel, please visit the following websites:

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Written by Michael Goldenberg
Directed by David Yates

Harry Potter: The more you care, the more you lose. Maybe it’s better to …
Hermione Granger: To what?
Harry Potter: To go it alone.

Consistency oddly both enhances and takes away from the Harry Potter experience. Like the books, the films have a built-in structure that allows for them to not bother with coming up with fresh ways to start and finish each film. A new academic year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry begins and ends with the film following suit. While this familiar structure doesn’t allow for surprise, it is the adventures the take place between these two bookends that define each film. And despite a new rule of conservative values and repression falling upon Hogwart’s, it is the constantly appreciative and awed faces of Harry, his few friends, his professors and the legions of fans watching that make HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX one of the most solid in the series. Being a part of one of the most successful film and literary phenomenon of all time has not jaded a single player in the least. Doing justice to a lushly imaginative world without making itself into something more serious than it is and managing to have fun while working hard has allowed Harry & co. to find a comfortable, satisfying stride.

Under the new direction of British television director, David Yates, Harry finds himself facing a darkness that is brooding and growing inside of him. In his fifth time out as Mr. Potter, Daniel Radcliffe continues to add new levels to Harry’s personality, becoming increasingly more introverted throughout the series. Here is a boy whose parents were killed and dons a scar that certifies him as the wizard the world has waited for. Dealing with his own demons and the weight of being something of a chosen one is so much for this young man’s shoulders to bare that social interaction and expectation become more difficult. Radcliffe’s Harry is a boy becoming a man. He knows he is destined for great things but he also knows how much there is still to be learned and how far there is still to go. The storm that goes from raging to calm in his mind on a regular basis is so taxing that his instinct is to cut himself off from those that always have his back. It is noble to wish to spare those he cares for from his pain but it is also telling of his fear to be close to people who might one day also be taken away from him.

Detachment and repression are common themes in THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. While Harry imposes rules upon himself, new addition to the Potter cast, Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) ushers Hogwart’s into conservative times, placing value on paranoia and control. With this comes the greatest challenge for Yates. How do you make a movie about magic where the characters are forbidden from performing any? Yates overcomes this by driving the magic underground and pitting the students against enemies both frivolous and frightful. Staunton’s tart persona has plenty of pucker, making her the teacher every kid wants to exact sweet revenge upon. Despite her stern hand, she is merely an irritating distraction when compared with the looming return of Lord Voldemort. The denial steeped around his return and the subsequent nondisclosure to the public make THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX an atypically topical Potter film. The implications made when the ruling powers manipulate the press and silence those who oppose them are unexpected and yet never take away from the plight of Harry and friends. Suffice it to say that come the end of this film, their growth as people will ensure they are no longer treated like simple children. What is most striking about their maturity is they don’t even know it’s happening.

With so much emotion being forced inside, it is exhilarating and liberating by the time the climax comes and all is finally unleashed. It’s an awful lot like being in the head of an adolescent. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX also manages its own magic by cramming the longest book from the Potter series into the shortest running time of any of the films while maintaining all the elements necessary to make the story whole. Weaving in layers of thematic insight and giving more depth to Mr. Potter himself brings the film from magical to meaningful. And after five installments, bringing something new to the spell without ruining the recipe or changing the consistency is a pretty impressive trick unto itself.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Directed by Michael Bay

Optimus Prime: Sorry, my bad.

No, it is I who is sorry, Optimus Prime, for I do not accept your apology. You can hardly be held accountable for the two-hour plus mess that is TRANSFORMERS, 2007’s tent pole original blockbuster, but my anger needs to be directed somewhere. Seeing as how director Michael Bay is not standing here in front of me, you my fictional friend will have to do. It could have all been so simple. You had a pretty solid cartoon back in the 80’s. The Autobots and Decepticons had their crews in check and their goals set. Both teams found themselves here on Earth. The Decepticons were bent on bleeding the world of its energy to bring back to your home planet somewhere so that they could rule while you were here to stop them and protect us simple humans at the same time. They would plot and you would plan and battles would go on with very little involvement on the part of the human race. Why then, in your live action feature film debut, do we see no trace of you but instead a few unpopular Decepticons and a ton of one-liner jokester humans for the first half of this film? Could your agent not negotiate you some more screen time?

The Transformers from the cartoon series had personality, ranging from a corny sense of humour to loyalty to caring. The movie machines, well, they have names and that’s about it. Gone are the neurosis and power struggles, replaced by supposed strength and stature. Standing and looking pretty for our enjoyment only takes us so far. Without squabbling between Megatron and Starscream to scoff at, we’re left to seek out personality from the human faction of this ensemble. Unfortunately, like any “good” action movie, actual colour in a character or a performance is entirely optional. Army boys anxiously await their return to their loved ones at home; high school jocks mock the dorks to look good for their girls; and those same girls can twist their hips just right to catch the setting sun against their bare stomachs. With such reusable filler characters, no actor actually has to try to craft depth into the fold. Luckily, the “IT” boy himself, Shia LaBeouf, is young enough and hungry enough to not forsake his own talents to the point of banality. As Sam Witwicki, TRANSFORMERS’ central human character, LaBeouf is charming, shy and earnest. His performance shines like the brightest piece in a sea of scrap metal and solidifies his face as one that will be seen for many years to come.

Why do I find myself going on and on about people in a review for a movie about machines? Perhaps this is because TRANSFORMERS treats the Transformers like an afterthought most of the time. Granted, they are very elaborate and exquisite constructions but how can they be seen as anything but secondary when some of the most popular Transformers don’t make an appearance until the last third of the film? And as beautiful as the talented folks at Industrial Light and Magic made these reincarnations, they are a bit too complex for their own good. Watching all the metal pieces swerve in and around while the machines transform made me think of the toys I had as a boy. If they were ever that complicated to transform, I doubt I would have played with them for as long as I did. The abundance of detail gets even messier when the Transformers start to rumble with each other. Through what he believes to be fancy camera work, Bay over uses close-up’s and quick editing to turn his machines into metal monstrosities that are at times near impossible to distinguish from one another. You can’t tell who’s who until the metallic mess breaks apart and one machine stands while another has fallen. There’s an awful lot of fighting but it’s also a lot of not being able to tell who’s winning.

It is pointed out to me time and time again that big budget action movies require a good chunk of our brains to be shut off in order to be enjoyed. Are we not tired yet of filmmakers giving us the bare minimum and the same old conventions while expecting us to fall over ourselves at the sight of awesome movie magic? TRANSFORMERS is not horrible because it is a special effects driven action film. It is horrible because it took the enormous potential to be a cheeky, geeky visual wonder and diminished that by dumbing it down to a mess of gunfire, product placement and hollowed-out, clunky machines. While it can be fun to relax our minds and enjoy the good times, it is not acceptable to dangle a shiny piece of metal before our eyes to distract us from seeing that that’s all you got.