Jul 31, 2012


The new international trailer for Skyfall, Sam Mendes's take on 007, has been making the rounds. While it absolutely kicks ass in every way, it did make me wonder about Javier Bardem's questionable hairstyle. Is the man doomed or what? It's as if the only way to make him look menacing is to mess with his hair. Not that I'm complaining, you see. It's not like the "Dorothy Hamill wedge cut" didn't work wonders in No Country for Old Men. Just saying, it's a little distracting. Take a look at the trailer and see for yourself.

Jul 30, 2012

Chris Marker (1921-2012)

There is a folder on my laptop called 'Favourite Films' where I keep a DVD rip copy of a few films that are, well, my favourites. I've seen each of these films more than ten, maybe fifteen times. They're with me wherever I take my laptop and I've gone back to them repeatedly over time, sometimes watching a scene or two, sometimes re-watching the whole thing.

Sadly, the man behind one of these films, La Jetée, passed away earlier today. I watched his half-hour masterpiece in his memory again and it remains as unique and powerful as ever. It is cinema taken back to its roots, distilled to its most basic elements and at its most ferocious. I don't have enough words to express how sad I feel and how essential his work has been to my affection for the art form. But if you've never crossed paths with his films, I encourage you to do it as quickly as you can. You will see films in a new light.

"Nothing tells memories from ordinary moments. Only afterwards do they claim remembrance on account of their scars."

Jul 25, 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Royal Tenenbaums

*This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot Series at The Film Experience and contains SPOILERS.

One of the things I really appreciate about Wes Anderson’s films is their distinctive visual identity. I admit upfront that I’m not his biggest fan; I’ve always found his work to lack an emotional punch, though his last two films – Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom – have shown significant improvement in that department. But irrespective of what one thinks of his films, I’d argue that all it takes is looking at a single frame from any of them to recognize the man behind the camera. With dioramic settings, flattened central compositions, costumes perfectly coordinated with the decoration and brightly saturated colours, Anderson has created an aesthetic character for his work that belongs only to him.

The Royal Tenenbaums, one of Anderson’s stronger films, is filled with such delicious images. I could have chosen any of the shots featuring the identically clothed Ari and Uzi for their sheer comic value, or any of the ones featuring a desolate Gwyneth Paltrow with a cigarette in her hand. In the end, the shot I found myself drawn to the most was the one that moved me the most.

Richie (Luke Wilson), former tennis professional who’s heartbroken ever since his adopted sister and love interest married another man, enters the bathroom. He stands in front of the mirror and cuts, first, his long hair, then his beard, and then his wrists. Though Wilson’s dialogue portends what’s about to happen, the outcome still comes as a shock both because of its graphic nature and because in a film with generally manufactured emotions, it feels uncharacteristically, intensely real.

Jul 23, 2012

Thoughts on Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Director: Benh Zeitlin; Screenwriters: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar
Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly
My Grade: A-/A

- There’s a certain degree of expectation that comes with a film that manages to win over critics and audiences alike at festivals all over the world. Beasts of the Southern Wild manages to exceed that level of expectation. I understand that I’m making the burden even larger on the shoulders of the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but what can I say; this is as astonishing a debut as last year’s Sundance darling and you know how much I loved that one. Although, whereas that film exhibited the confidence of its director in his cool, calm and controlled presence behind the camera, Beasts is unhinged and energetic.

- While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about Benh Zeitlin. What a terrific first film this is for him. Magical realism is a tricky realm for any director, let alone a newcomer, but in his vision, fantasy is so seamlessly integrated with reality that the boundaries between them have been rendered unimportant. The audience is lost in Hushpuppy’s world; we live in her real and imagined spaces. And for all its unruliness, Beasts is actually very carefully constructed, meticulously art directed and intimately photographed. The score is rousing and the mixers incorporate sound into the film’s narrative. This film can be dissected and praised for every element, but as a whole, it’s even better than the sum of its very impressive parts.

Jul 18, 2012

Take This Waltz: Sarah Polley's Love Letter to Toronto

Most people in the world rarely get to see their hometown portrayed on the big screen. Now, some certainly get luckier than others: Parisians have had that luxury for decades; Berliners have enjoyed it intermittently; London has been central to many films, and of course, only the aforementioned French capital even comes close to New York and Los Angeles in terms of the quantity of cinematic depictions.

Tehran, the city I was born and raised in, has its large share of portrayals on film, but the picturesque vibrancy of the city is often sacrificed in favour of the hard-edged coarseness of its urbanity. Poeticism in Iranian cinema will forever be associated with the countryside vistas of Kiarostami and Ghobadi – with Majid Majidi’s Oscar-nominated Children of Heaven being the lone exception that comes to mind.

That leads me to my adopted hometown of Toronto. Lovely as the city and its residents *ahem* are, it’s fair to say that Toronto isn’t world renowned for its glamour. Upon first visit, it is the mosaic of architectural styles under an oddly detached grey coating that attract attention, not the colourful bay and gables of College or Queen, or the energy of Chinatown. The city's name brings to mind images of snow-covered avenues much quicker than the pastel-coloured summery backstreets of downtown. On the silver screen, too, the portrayals give that vibe. If, indeed, the city represents itself at all, for in many of the films shot here, Toronto is merely a stand in for other locations – Mean Girls’ Math Contest sequence is something of a cult among University of Toronto students who have all spent quite some time in Convocation Hall - the building where the scene was filmed - but never see the school’s name mentioned.

So it was breath of fresh air to watch Sarah Polley’s bittersweet, but impossibly romantic ode to Toronto. The story of the film – a married woman who becomes attracted to another man – isn’t Toronto-specific, but Polley’s direction leaves no doubt about where she hails from. Putting aside the not-so-subtle Canadian references – from the film’s title taken from a song by the legendary Leonard Cohen to a screening of Mon Oncle Antoine at The Royal – it’s obvious that Polley knows the city like the back of her hand and as a director with a heavy emphasis on visual storytelling, uses this background to map out the characters' emotional arcs. Never has the beach looked as beautiful or as relevant to me as it does through Polley’s lens, neither has Little Portugal ever felt so dreamily languid.

Of course, it works in Toronto’s favour that the film that takes place within it is such a powerful piece too. Reductive as it may sound, one can think of this film as a lighter, breezier, but equally potent version of Blue Valentine, not only because the two films share the same leading lady – more on Williams' excellent performance to come in the next few days – but also because similar to Valentine, Polley’s film details the inevitable ups and downs of a relationship with painful honesty. In this film, the work seems even more effortlessly assured.

Whatever the reason, Take This Waltz never managed to gain the attention it deserves. Its TIFF debut was met with a politely appreciative, if divided, reaction that didn't give the film the critical foothold it needed. It was never going to be a major commercial success either, so chances that the film will be an important awards player come the year's end are very slim. But don't let any of that discourage you. Torontonian or otherwise, it is well worth your time.

Jul 11, 2012

Road to Perdition's Best (Gun)Shot

*This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit Me with YourBest Shot series and contains GRAPHIC IMAGES.

I’ve always thought Sam Mendes’ second feature doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. There is so much to admire, from performances that transcend the characters they inhabit to a story that, while never fully exploring its potential, manages to dig deeper than the machinations of the crimes at its centre. But among all the film’s powers, legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning work takes the cake. 

Choosing a favourite shot from such an abundance of options isn’t easy. Hall’s somberly lit atmosphere captures the era beautifully. His lens gives a poetic quality, however colourless, to the violence. It’s the type of cinematography that attracts attention to itself, but when it seems so fitting, so elegant, it isn’t something to complain about. 

As is often the case when I participate in this series, my favourite shot in the film is one that’s been etched in my memory from previous screenings. It’s from an early sequence in the film. Michael Sullivan Jr. has hidden in his father’s car to ride with him and Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig) to a meeting. As his father (Tom Hanks) and Connor confront their associate Finn McGovern (Ciaran Hinds) things get out of hand, Connor shoots Finn and Sullivan Sr. is forced to gun down his guards. Michael witnesses the proceedings through a hole in the wall. 

Jul 6, 2012

It's a Miracle!

He's quite literally walking on water!
Have I mentioned just how excited I am for this? Not enough, I'd say.

Jul 4, 2012

Coming Back...

A few weeks ago, I wrote up something here, saying that I was leaving the virtual world for a while to get my real life back together. For reasons unknown to myself, I decided to delete the post, but the amount of love and support I got from my small but loyal readership at the time proved to me that there is no boundary between "real" and "virtual" friendships. You guys really rock!

So, even though life isn't exactly all rosy yet, I feel like I've been away from this blog for too long. I should let July, which is coincidentally my birthday month, be a new start for this space. There will be more of the same old stuff, reviews, etc. but lots of new things as well. And the Recent Screenings page will be updated regularly as before with grades and tweet-length reviews of everything I see in the theatre.

Finally, and strangely enough, I've been asked to put up the old post again because it was more heartfelt than anything I'd ever written, which is true. It was. So here it is. Besides, the friends I'd thanked then for helping me out with my Pixar series totally deserve their names mentioned again.

Generally, I don’t like to post anything on this blog that isn’t relevant to the cinema and I particularly try to keep my personal life completely separate. But in the past few weeks, this has become increasingly difficult for me since movies are slipping further and further away and my real life concerns are taking over. So I feel like I owe it to my readership, small as it is, to let you know about the hiatus that’s to come.

Last year at this time, I’d done quite a few reviews and Oscar predictions and such, but as I said, my mind is not remotely close to that stuff at the moment. It hasn’t been the greatest of summers. I’ve done terrible things that I shouldn’t have in my personal life – causing so much hurt in the process - and there are some things that really didn’t go my way in my professional life, and all this has left me emotionally crushed and exhausted. So it’s only logical that I take some time off from the world, clear my head, heal my wounds and regroup. Maybe I will come back in time to cover TIFF again.

Before I sign off though, I owe a huge Thank You to Mayukh, Andrew and Jose who agreed to help me out with my Pixar series. When I told them about it, what I had in mind was an organized and coherent series. Sadly, it didn’t turn that way but I’m sure they’ll understand. Mayukh’s article was posted here, and Andrew and Jose’s were planned but I never got far enough to get to their topics. They’ll hopefully join back in at a later time. I also owe an apology to Dave, who wrote the final piece of the series and I never got around to linking to it. It’s an interesting piece as it shifted gears, taking the series in a more technical direction. It’s totally worth your time.