20 Years of Christmas Releases: Yuletide Top Fives

 

creative

 

The winter holidays are the most high-stakes season at the box-office. Whether a studio film has Academy aspirations or merely aims to cash in on the intense market for Christmas break entertainment, December is box-office gold. Supposedly, this is the time of the year when the most exciting movies are released. That could mean the next Best Picture or a highly anticipated new film from your favorite director. Or it could just mean an old fashioned good time at the movies, via a fun matinee break movie. Perhaps, most entertaining of all are the movies that studios believe have a shot at the Oscar race but end up backfiring in notorious box-office bomb fashion. On the eve of an especially good Christmas release year, I thought I’d take a trip through some of the ghosts of Christmas past, considering the last 20 years of Christmas releases via four categorical top 5 lists. For most, Christmas is a time of unfathomable merriness and cheer. For me, this is Christmas as I have known it for the last 20 years.

Christmas Crap

Usually these films consist of over-sentimental garbage aimed to exploit emotionally vulnerable moviegoers by smashing them over the head with reasons to cry. Unlike the Schindler’s Lists and Pianists of the Best Picture Christmas release (see below), the Christmas Crap film, if it isn’t a Best Picture disaster, is otherwise known as the intended feel-good flick of the season. Though plenty of turkeys have been released over the last 20 years, perhaps no era was as severe as the mid-late 90s. 1998 saw an especially terrible Christmas year with the releases of the three of Hollywood’s most revolting projectiles. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it was the first Christmas of the 1998 multiplex boom, which saw the birth of the first Silver Cities, Coliseums, and Colossuses ie. the big screen experience as we know it today. The 90s were a very celebrity-centric decade when it seemed largely presumed by Hollywood that so long as you had Tom Hanks falling in love with Meg Ryan or Kevin Kline, time and time again, everything was gonna be okay.

Michael (1996)

Michael reflects a period when Hollywood treated John Travolta like he was Jesus Christ. Having been resurrected two year’s prior by Pulp Fiction, the world was ready to embrace the former reject in any shape or form, though the form of preference seemed to be Travolta dancing with a dog. This particular dog-dangling, feel good, gag fest features living angel Travolta – giant wings and all – line dancing to Spirit in the Sky. This scene along with the bed-jumping Motown sacrilege of Stepmom marks a shameful era in Hollywood drivel.

The Postman (1997)

Not as much a feel good movie as it is a complete box office disaster. Until 1997, it was inconceivable that Kevin Costner could mess up his career any worse than he had with his Waterworld debacle. And yet amazingly he did it! He succeeded in outsucking one of the great cinematic botch jobs. Waterworld, and its succeeding post-apocolyptic foray into the world of snail mail, would make a great triple feature alongside Dances With Wolves. I’d call the event the WTF Happened Marathon.

Patch Adams (1998)

A shameless yank at the heartstrings in the guise of an annoying-as-hell Robin Williams comedy about a goofy asshole with verbal diarrhea who entertains dying children with his nonsensical, semi-psychotic rants. The studio’s belief that this is the type of movie the world wanted to see, and – my God – award accolades, is one of the great insults to the general public’s intelligence in a very insulting pop-culture landscape.

Stepmom (1998)

An excuse for Julia Roberts to go head to head with Susan Sarandon in the type of safe dramatic confrontations you find in parodies of Hollywood movies. Worst of all, Stepmom features a scene where all the characters jump up and down on a bed while joyously lip-syncing to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Un Chien Andalou comes to mind.

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

In many ways, YGM is a hilarious attempt to cash in on the still very young novelty that was the Internet in 1998. The plot revolves around Hanks and Ryan courting via online chat and email! Can you imagine a love story today strictly about getting your emails? This is Nora Ephron’s follow up to 96’s Michael debauch. While I sometimes want to like Ephron, it’s hard to forget a handful of films she made in the 90s that played like poisoning.

The Bucket List (2007)

10 years after winning a well-deserved oscar for As Good As It Gets, The Bucket List is sadly the movie where Jack Nicholson finally said ‘fuck it, I’m out’. It’s a terribly sad note to end on, given that Nicholson is really one of the finest actors of all time. This entry in the geezer film (a genre that is not always as terrible as it sounds ie. Grumpy Old Men, Gran Torino, etc.) sees Jack and Morgan Freeman acting out a set of ‘things to do before I die’ activities. If Nicholson, one of the century’s bravest actors, really wanted to act like he was young, he should’ve gone out with a script with some balls.

Most Fun

This category embodies the true spirit of the Christmas releases. While the Best Pictures or Favorite Movies are all well and good, the Christmas holidays are just as much about turning off your brain as anything else. None of these movies have anything to do with Christmas, nor have anything in common with one another, other than their release dates, but it was the feeling of the studios that for whatever reason, these films were not shituary releases, nor summer movies, but end of the year events. Indeed, as far as my own tastes are concerned, this grab bag consists of the most enjoyably light Xmas watches of the past 20 years.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

While I’m no champion of the superhero genre per say, I’m unashamed to pinpoint 1989’s Batman as the pivotal movie going experience of my life. That film did something deep psychologically to me, turning me onto cinema as a transcendent experience early in life. In the following years Batman: The Animated Series was the favorite TV show of all my young pals and myself. To this day, I maintain that this was for very good reason. It was dark and really quite well-written. Thus, the animated Batman’s big screen debut was a cause for celebration. This film, as well as the series, is perhaps most valuable for it’s alternate portrayal of The Joker, who along with Hitler, is surely among history’s most fascinating villains.

Grumpy/Grumpier Old Men (1993/1995)

Who can possibly resist the site of two geriatric men fighting with shovels? That the answer is no one is perhaps indicative of the heavy presence of angry-geezer films throughout the 90s, which consisted of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon just hating each other. In the saga of the Grumpy and the Old, they play men who are bitter, tired, and have got a real problem with one another. The reason for the grudge doesn’t much matter, it’s the grudge itself that is rich. One might call these golden knuckleheads the great nemeses of the decade.

Dracula, Dead and Loving It (1995)

I can’t say I remember this movie that well. And while ordinarily I’d be ecstatic to have the excuse to re watch it, at this point I’m too busy writing this article. I think I recall mild disappointment. My hopes were very high, as a Leslie Neilson movie in 1995 was an extremely exciting thing. It’s the first film following The Naked Gun trilogy, which is, by far, one of the funniest series of movies I have ever and will ever see. That Dracula didn’t resonate is proof enough that the film is an unworthy follow up so, instead, if you’re looking to laugh this Xmas, just stick to the trilogy. I’m gonna watch them all right now. This article can wait.

Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996)

One of the funniest movies of the 90s. Also significant because it marks the retirement of Judge’s MTV show. When MTV’s B&B was good, it was amazing, and the film brings the best of its’ A-game to the big screen in a cross country adventure with stops along the way from Hoover’s (God)Damn to the sluts of Las Vegas. It also offers a wonderful dose of Mr. Anderson, who in the upcoming months would be transformed into Hank Hill of the brilliant new Judge vehicle, King of the Hill.

Scream 1 & 2 (1996/1997)

Both were released on Christmas. They were clever, self-reflective and given my age upon release, I remember them as quite scary. Over the years, the revitalized 80s Slasher genre Scream spawned – while rehashments like I Know What You Did Last Summer (great movie), Urban Legends, and Final Destination – would become a nuisance, but at first, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson were definitely onto something with this meta piece of genre-deconstructionism.

Oscar Movies

For film lovers, the autumn and winter seasons see the release of the year’s best films, which spend the first ¾ of the year garnering acclaim at festivals, and then open throughout last months of the year, as close to the Oscars as possible. In other words, the closer a film is released to the end of the year, the more memorable it will be to the academy come voting season. Thus the dramas released around this time reflect the material studios are counting on to win. There are two types of ‘for your consideration’ Christmas movies. I’ve broken this type of film into two categories, though really there are three – the third being the aforementioned best picture bomb (see Patch Adams, Stepmom…). But on the positive side of Oscar season there are two categories: First we have the For Your Consideration genre, which is typical Hollywood fare that predictably receives appropriate accolades. It’s an amusing contrast to the onslaught of Christmas cheer that occurs throughout December to see the release of heavy films with titles like Les Miserables and The Pianist Who Went To The Holocaust. This first list reflects the best of the classic Oscar dramas.

For Your Consideration

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)

Ah yes. On the eve of one of this Xmas’s most eagerly anticipated releases – The Wolf of Wall Street – it’s important to look back 20 years to Leonardo DiCaprio’s finest performance, which includes an unforgettable rendition of the beloved classic “Match in the Gas Tank, Boom, Boom”. Also famous for its trendsetting presentation of ‘The Moo-Moo’. The question of what specifically is in fact ‘eating’ Gilbert Grape is indeed one for the ages and probably one best left unposed. More to the point, would it have been too much to ask for a brief appearance, or perhaps ‘hello’, from dandy, Jessica Tandy? I think we all think not.

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

For a Hole fan in 1996 the idea of Courtney Love playing a stripper in a movie about Hustler visionary Larry Flynt made the Milos Foreman drama a scandalous must-see. I believe I know a few unfortunate souls who saw it with their parents. But all the sizzling details aside, The People vs. Larry Flynt is a kickass movie featuring one of/if not Woody Harrelson’s best performance. Love fares well too. Her acting even borders on impressive when she applies her real-life histrionics to the not-dissimilar whorish love interest she portrays in the film. It was a genius bit of casting in one of the 90s best films. In a decade divided between those who could or could not handle the truth, The People vs. Larry Flynt may just be my favorite courtroom drama.

Titanic (1997)

And here we have a Leo performance of Titanic proportion – his performance in Titanic. The film’s reputation is clouded by haters, as Celine Dion can be difficult to defend, but I recall at the time the thick hype surrounding the release followed by the wave of month-long sold out shows, packed with people seeing it again and again. Motion picture events in which movie goers would return for multiple screenings were historically common practice, perhaps in large due to the slow evolution of home video convenience, but these days, you just don’t really see that anymore. Looking back Titanic now represents an end-of-an-era type phenomenon. 1997 was the last year before the multiplex invasion, and perhaps somehow, un-coincidentally, also reflects the waning days of Best Picture clout. To briefly put my own hype for the film leading up to its release in context, it’s important to consider what ‘the new James Cameron movie’ represented at that point. His two previous films were True Lies and Terminator 2, action epics that both took the genre to new levels of quality. Titanic had best picture smeared all over it but for all it’s over-the-top extravagance, I maintain my initial opinion, which is that if you forget that you’re not supposed to like it and allow yourself to get caught up in the story, Titanic is a damn fine movie.

As Good As It Gets (1997)

As far as the feel-good genre is concerned, if it has a king it is James L Brooks. The academy loves him for Terms of Endearment but the world loves him more for his contributions to the best years of The Simpsons. Simpsons fans have Brooks to thank, not only for his next-level sense of humor, but his leniency towards heartfelt endings. The writing staff would even refer to beautiful endings such as Bart Vs. Lisa at Hockey and Mother Simpson as ‘The Jimmy’. In As Good As It Gets we have 90s Jack Nicholson at his finest. He plays a politically incorrect OCD case who comes to care for a single-parent waitress (Helen Hunt) and his gay neighbor (Greg Kinnear). Features some great comedy and even better drama but above all it’s a wonderful vehicle for Jack to act crazy, as he’s so damn good at. Like in Cukoo’s Nest, this performance would land him a Best Actor award.

Traffic (2000), In The Bedroom (2001), The Wrestler (2008)

These three films, and I can surely think of more, sort of fall in the middle of the “For Your Consideration” category and the “Favorite Movie” category below. I include them in the Oscar list because I feel they all have more legitimate shots at Oscars than the films in the succeeding ‘favorites’ list. Though, I never actually believed any of these movies would take home Best Picture, though all three were nominated, they are close enough that the academy tends to award the films with misdirected minor accolades such as supporting acting and screenplay. In other words, these are the edgier Best Picture films that, while they contain high-drama and are loaded with Oscar-reel performances, never really had a shot, and serve to round out the Best Picture nominations and exhibit (false) range.

Favorite movies

So considering my stance that the movies that tend to win best picture are usually more conventional, it rarely if ever happens that the year’s best picture coincides with my actual favorite movie of the year. And so we arrive at the best category of the Christmas movie release: The Favorite Movie. Most of the best movies of the year are released from September to November, leaving only a handful of truly special ones to keep film buffs eager for Christmas. This year we are especially blessed to have a handful of films from this category being released in Christmas week, such as American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street. But what makes Xmas ’13 an especially excellent year are the releases of Spike Jonzes’ Her and The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. Like films from Wes Anderson and P.T. Anderson, both past veterans of the Xmas release, Jonze and the Coens’ new films are what anticipating Christmas releases are all about.

12 Monkeys (1995)

This is the first movie I ever saw 4 times in theaters. I didn’t know much about it going in on that snowy afternoon in 1995, nor had I any real notion I was about to undergo a transformative experience. Now almost 20 years later, I still remember being glued to my seat during the credits, trying to wrap my head around the surreal experience. With movies like Seven, The Game, The Usual Suspects, etc, the 90s seemed very heavy on twist endings. Though all aforementioned films are some of the best movies to come out of the decade, none blew my mind quite as thoroughly as Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. And so it is one of the true holy-shit movies of my lifetime. But even having sat through the film theatrically for a total of 8 hours, come 1998, I was no less prepared for Gilliam’s follow up: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas… speaking of holy-shit movies.

Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown is not necessarily my favorite film on this list, though I do love it dearly, but I must give it the title of my all-time favorite Christmas release. This is because I can honestly say I have never been as excited for a movie as I was Jackie Brown. In the 3 years since Pulp Fiction, Tarantino had escalated into the king of the 90s, spawning a slew of flashy copycat crime flicks. It was hard to imagine what the next Tarantino flick would look like. The teaser publicity provided some glimpses, with super cool individual character posters and a really weird but awesome teaser trailer showing multiple takes of Pam Grier saying ‘Jackie Brown’ into an apartment buzzer. Also given that Tarantino was doing an Elmore Leonard novel, an author he’d openly praised in interviews as having turned him on to lurid subject matter, the idea of a Tarantino take on Leonard was too good to be true. It’s one of his best films.

Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia is a movie I definitely did not see coming. Having already seen Boogie Nights about 5 times, I was a huge P.T. Anderson fan going in and didn’t mind having to trek downtown to the one theater playing its exclusive run. The reward was great as Magnolia proved to be a serious bang for your buck. Clocking in at 3 extremely entertaining hours, Magnolia takes the P.T. ensemble of Boogie Nights and stretches it to the furthest realms of his Altman influence, with an expansive, interwoven Carver-esque tale of parallel desperation and the breaking points that unite us all, etc. It was quick to be called pretentious by haters, and admittedly, given its grandiose emotional ambition, it has not aged well in certain circles. In the making-of the DVD doc, Julianne Moore herself says in many ways it’s a very naïve script but that’s also what makes it such an epic win. PTA, at 26, had the gall to write a big emotional opera and, lucky for us, he was able to obtain the power to pull it off with a fluid, distinct style that confirmed his status as a cinematic wunderkind.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) / Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

O Brother marks a significant entry into this list given the timely event of the Inside Llewyn Davis release, a film that plays like the second chapter in the Coens’ roots music saga. Having now seen ILD, I can say that both films reflect my favorite aspects of the Coens’ cannon. ILD is the yin to O Brother’s yang, especially given the contrasts in tone. O Brother starts somewhere around the beginning of the roots music story in the innocent age of Alan Lomax field recordings i.e. the birth of recorded music. Up until field recordings, the practice of songwriting and performing was an aural tradition, existing for those present at a ‘performance’ alone. The three cousin roots genres were blues, country, and folk, all raw methods of storytelling and expression for no other purpose than expression itself. Somewhere along the line, the performance aspect of the hard luck singer got criss-crossed with entertainment, muddling up the purpose and nature of the craft.

By the time of the early 60s ‘folk-revival’ – the world in which Inside Llewyn Davis exists on the verge of – civilization had advanced enough for music to be valued and judged as a commercial entity, making the genre prone to the likes of ‘careerists’ cashing in on the folk boom, not unlike how starlets cling to what happens to be in at this point of pop-culture. Ironically, at the time of the early 60s, the moment in pop culture was “folk” music, thus it became a genre contaminated with whitewash novelty songs that bastardized the ethos of real folk. And so it was a melancholy time for purists who withheld the traditional philosophy that music is meant for expression and not commodity. But since expression cannot exist without commodity, the singin’ and pickin’ rambler cannot survive without exploiting the thing that makes him pure. In other words: square folk is a little careerist and it’s a little sad, but it’s also where the money is.

But before these big ideas of exposure and monetization compromised the tradition, O Brother presents a simpler time in which education was a privilege and music was the expression of the uneducated ailing soul. This is what makes O Brother, in addition to one of my favorite period pieces, also one of the best platforms for the Coens’ sense of humor. Though I often feel in the minority, O Brother is one of funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Inside Llewyn Davis has it’s comedy as well, but more than any other Coen I’ve seen, it’s my favorite straight up drama, and one that takes on a subject of deep passion with simplistic wisdom and perfect storytelling. Inside Llewyn Davis is a Christmas miracle.

20th Century Fox: Tales of a Franchiseless Major Studio

 

scrat

 

Marilyn Monroe once said, “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” It’s also a place to make movies that gross over $200 million, and compensate individuals handsomely to throw around those thousand dollar kisses. Don’t be fooled anymore by box-office revenues; now that 3D and IMAX have doubled the admission prices from merely a decade ago, $200 million is the new $100 million. It’s the benchmark for commercial success nowadays.

There have been many films that generated over $200 million recently. Heck, Hunger Games just opened to a $161 million weekend and is already the 12th highest grossed movie of the year, which might give Iron Man 3 a run for the number 1 spot in 2013. One thing I noticed, however, is that Fox has not had a movie in the top 10 grossing movies since Avatar was number 1 in 2009.

With the success of a $749,766,139 movie, the green light to build a franchise out of Avatar was lit brighter than Green Lantern’s light, but we won’t get to see Avatar 2 until December 2016. Avatar 2 will certainly open to similar success of its predecessor, but in the meantime Fox really needs to put their head down, roll up their sleeves look at other potential big-scale films that can turn into a mega-franchise. Long gone are the days when Independence Day was casting a huge shadow over every other Summer movie back in 1996. It’s time for Fox to move on from such glory days and get back in shape.

All major studios have franchises they can count on to generate top dollar for them. Disney unfairly has the Marvel Universe and Star Wars, which should put pressure on Fox to produce some good movies. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe Fox might miss the top 10 again, but I personally think that X-Men: Days of Future Past will past the $200 million domestic mark. The highly anticipated film should have a strong opening weekend against the other movies being released. Of the 4 X-Men ensemble movies and 2 Wolverine stand-alone ones, only X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand has crossed the $200 million mark. I think Fox realizes with the recent success of the superhero genre, this is their go-to franchise to bring in the dough.

Hence, they’ve turned to one of the most beloved storylines in the X-Men continuum to reenergize the studio. This is a film that combines all the X-Men movies together in one, and with the storyline of going back to the past to change the future, they open up an opportunity to branch out the X-Men franchise and spin off movies as they like.

20th Century Fox may not have had a movie in the top 10 since 2009, but they do have 3 in the top 10 in all time domestic grosses: Avatar, Star Wars: Episode 1 and Episode 4. Now that Star Wars is the property of Disney, it is expected that Fox will invest heavily in Avatar and make it a franchise that will bring them a movie in the top 10 box office grosses on an annual basis. The best thing about working with James Cameron is also the worst thing about working with James Cameron, however. The man redefines the meaning of perfectionist. He literally obsesses over his projects even well after his moive has been released (as you might remember, he was still diving within the remains of the Titanic years after his movie had broken box-office records). In other words, Fox needs him more than he needs them.

If Cameron comes back to Fox and says he needs another year, Cameron is going to get another year. They can penalize him somehow but it won’t matter. Avatar is his baby and he remains the director with the most leverage in Hollywood as far as studio negotiation. While they go back to the X-Men well for the seventh time next Summer, the executives in charge of their movie division really need to start thinking about brands that might not be recognized now but will be due to other highly appealing factors. They should regard this down period as an opportunity to create something fresh, something audiences wouldn’t normally expect.

In retrospect, it remains somewhat surprising that Fox hasn’t had a movie reach 200M for such a long period of time, and it doesn’t help when you have bombs like Runner, Runner and the Counselor stumble out of the gate opening week-end and have negative feedback from audiences and critics alike. However, it helps ease the pain when you have the highest domestic grossing movie of all-time bound to start sequelization within your studio’s portfolio.

One that can buy almost 750,000 kisses (with adjusted inflation).

– The Silent Shark

Video Stores: The End of the Beginning

 

url

 

On November 6, 2013, Blockbuster LLC announced that it will be closing its 300 remaining U.S. stores by January 2014. The company will be ending its DVD-by-mail service by mid-December. The move is expected to affect 2,800 employees, to say nothing of the countless bags of Clodhoppers that will now surely go uneaten.

Blockbuster’s announcement was not entirely unexpected, since the company has been languishing on its corporate deathbed for several years. At the company’s peak in 2004, there were approximately 9,000 Blockbuster stores in the U.S. The company’s market share was steadily eroded by the rise of video-on-demand services like Netflix, Redbox video vending machines, and the increasing prevalence of illegal downloading through torrent websites. While movie studios and theatre chains have dreamed up increasingly gimmicky mechanisms to enhance the value of the theatrical experience, the notion of driving to a brick-and-mortar store to rent a video remained hopelessly low-tech. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, and was acquired by Dish Network Corp. Dish steadily divested Blockbuster’s international assets, and slowly began to shut down the 1,700 stores that the company acquired. From a shareholder standpoint, news of Blockbuster’s demise was met not with a bang, but a whimper – Dish’s stock has increased 34% over the course of 2013, and the November 6 announcement barely made a dent in the price per share. In fact, the price per share has slightly increased since the announcement was made.

If the most ubiquitous video rental brand in history ceases to exist and nobody cares, how truly valuable was their service in the first place?

When considered in the context of the entire history of cinema, the life of Blockbuster Video, and video rental stores in general, was remarkably short. The first Blockbuster store opened in Dallas, Texas in October 1985. By 1986 there were over 20 Blockbuster stores operating in the U.S. In 1987, former Waste Management International executive Wayne Huizenga and two partners purchased a controlling interest in Blockbuster for $18.5 million. By 1990, a mere 5 years after the company’s founding, there were 1,300 Blockbuster stores across the U.S.

In 1997, two software entrepreneurs founded a DVD-by-mail service called Netflix. The idea was inspired by an incident where one of the founders had to pay $40 in late fees to return an overdue copy of Apollo 13. Like a disease that lies dormant before manifesting as something fatal, the seeds of the video store’s demise had been sewn.

The news that Blockbuster, and video stores more generally, had a lifecycle of only 30 years is likely jarring to anyone born between 1975 and 1990 or so. Of course, video stores aren’t going to become entirely extinct, just like record stores haven’t become entirely extinct. However, like records stores, video stores seem destined to become destinations for self-identified members of a cultural niche living in large urban centres. The days of the video store as a mainstream cultural institution are over.

As video stores transition from ubiquity into a boutique industry, it’s perhaps appropriate for cinephiles of a certain generation to let out a nostalgic lament for the romanticized past. After all, creating a romanticized collective memory is exactly what movies do. When I was a kid my dad used to take me to our local video store almost every Friday night. Week after week, I rented Disney’s Pinocchio. As I got older, my education in film happened in video stores. They were like museums where you could rent the artifacts, take them home and study them. If the box art looked good, that was enough to get me interested. What was Blade Runner? I didn’t know, and there was no Google to tell me, but Harrison Ford was in it and the poster looked cool. Lifetime love affairs with films began so ignominiously, just wandering up and down the aisle of a video store, waiting for the right image to speak to me.

While those were my own formative film experiences, they aren’t necessarily better than what future generations will experience when they watch films using Netflix, or similar services. Several recent examples have caused me to wonder whether we should mourn video stores at all.

Over the Labour Day weekend I was at a friend’s cottage in northern Ontario. While picking up groceries at Wal-Mart, we rented a movie from a Redbox vending machine. Three days later, I was able to return the DVD to a Redbox in downtown Toronto. The convenience was remarkable. Brick-and-mortar video stores require heat, electricity, staff to run the place, and customers to pay for it all. A small community in cottage country may not have the resources to sustain a video store year-round. That Redbox may be what introduces a kid in that community to a world of cinema that they would otherwise have limited access to.

More recently, I was at home on a rainy Sunday with some time on my hands. I saw that The Heat was playing on demand. It was one of the few major studio releases that I had missed over the summer – I wanted to see it, but not badly enough to go out of my way for it. Within seconds, I was watching the movie in my living room in glorious hi-definition for about the same price that it would have cost to rent it. I didn’t have to leave my house. There was no risk that the store would be out-of-stock. Think of the benefits of this to parents of young children, or to someone sick or disabled who has trouble leaving the house. On demand services provide more access to more films for more people; as film fans, we should be excited by the increased proliferation of something we love.

For years, films were something that could only be enjoyed in a theatre. The mere notion that a film can be watched in your own home is still relatively new. Video stores were only the very first manifestation of this concept. As studios experiment with new modes of delivering new releases directly into people’s homes, our ideas about how we consume film, and where we consume film, are likely to evolve with technology. The end of video stores is the beginning of something different, and arguably greater. No one is going to miss late fees, or pounding the tracking button on a VCR, or finding that the film you wanted is out-of-stock. Let’s celebrate video stores for the place that they occupy in our shared cinematic upbringing, then embrace the new frontier ahead.

– The Sarcastic Squirrel

What’s the Big Deal with Benedict?

 

BC

 

I really (really, really, really) like Benedict Cumberbatch. Like so many legions of screaming, rabid fangirls, I consider myself a Cumberbitch. Or a member of the Cumbercollective. Or a Benaddict/Cumbertadpole/Cumbercookie/Cumberperson – whatever the current vernacular permits.

Whether you’re a Cumberbabe or not, there is no denying that he has taken the world by storm. With roles in five high-profile movies this year alone, Benedict Cumberbatch is seeing his stock as an actor rise even more quickly than his newfound status as a sex symbol. Which is definitely saying something – whether they are tailing him around the world to watch a 10 minute stint on a talk show, queuing for hours to catch a glimpse of him at a film festival, or gathering in the thousands to greet him at the airport – the actor’s fans are both widespread and highly dedicated. He is the object of a whole other class of fandom so reminiscent of the likes of Beatlemania and Bieber Fever that it has garnered its own name: Cumbermania.

But why? Benedict Cumberbatch certainly receives much attention for his remarkable acting skills, but there is something particularly unique about him that drives his fans wild. With his oddly angular face, unruly mop of Sherlockian curls and geeky demeanor, he is far from your run-of-the-mill heartthrob. So really, what’s the big deal with Benedict?

REASON #1: He can act

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first – the man can act. Whether we’re talking about his stint on stage in Frankenstein, his breakout role as Dr. Stephen Hawking or the role in Sherlock that made him a near national hero – most people agree that Benedict Cumberbatch is very competent at his job.

Such was the case when Star Trek: Into Darkness was released. Despite a flurry of epic Abrams-esque special effects, a gorgeous cast, featuring the Ken-doll-like Chris Pine, and the equally striking Zachary Quinto, the world was fixated on Benedict Cumberbatch. His fearsome, yet layered portrayal of the villainous Khan demonstrated his signature ability to bring great depth to characters, who otherwise left in the hands of a lesser-skilled actor would seem two-dimensional and flat.

While the characters he plays are quite different – the modern, fast-talking Sherlock Holmes, the ruthless space-age villain in Star Trek: Into Darkness, or the tortured Ford Maddox Ford in Parade’s End – there is something they all have something in common: they are all exceptionally smart. Benedict Cumberbatch has made a name for himself playing brilliant, cerebral characters – but did you know that he’s also quite adept at comedy?

If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend you give BBC Radio 4’s sitcom Cabin Pressure a listen. In the series, Cumberbatch plays the hilariously unlucky and insecure Captain Crieff – quite the divergence from his usual gigs. Whether he’s uttering lines like “The code word for the real Ouagadougou is Ouagadougou Ouagadougou!” or putting on an intentionally awful French accent, he delivers John Finnemore’s script with hilarious aplomb.

While Cabin Pressure is a personal favourite of mine, you can also catch Benedict Cumberbatch flexing his comedy chops in Starter For 10, a comedy starring James MacAvoy about a mismatched university trivia team. Once you’ve seen him as the gangly, painfully nerdy, turtleneck donned Patrick Watts, you’ll never quite look at his menacing Khan the same way again. And that’s a good thing – Cabin Pressure and Starter For 10 both showcase Benedict Cumberbatch’s great versatility as an actor, proving that he is just as comfortable in a situational comedy as he is in a drama on stage or screen.

REASON #2: He’s actually smart & fascinating in real life

It’s no coincidence why our hero is always cast as interesting and intelligent characters; he is indeed both of these things. Benedict Cumberbatch is someone who radiates intelligence, without being a know-it-all (Proof Here!). He is easily excitable and long-winded, but at the same time can be quiet and pensive (Proof Here!). He has lived a life of adventure, travel and thrills, yet covets simpler things in life, like reading, and time with his family. And, to top it off, he is all of these things without taking himself too seriously – for all his deeply profound and intelligent moments, he has many goofy and eccentric ones to make up for it (Proof Here!; Also Here!; And Here!). It would take several volumes to compile all the research I’ve done as a dedicated Cumberfan on this subject, but take it from me – Benedict Cumberbatch is a truly fascinating person, who is full of surprises.

 

REASON #3: He is not handsome. Or is he?

Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t find himself overly handsome. While he does acknowledge some of his more attractive features, he finds his head much too large, his eyes too far apart, likening himself to and alien, or Sid the Sloth. I do agree with him – he does not have the perfectly balanced features of an Abercrombie model, and his head is disproportionately large and asymmetrical. And while the tens of thousands of “Benaddicts” would vouch for how incredibly magnetic he happens to be, most people wouldn’t have even considered the 37-year-old thespian to be anything resembling a sex symbol prior to 2010.

But somehow, he has become just that. Beating out the likes of Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and George Clooney, Benedict Cumberbatch topped Empire’s “100 Sexiest Film Actors” this year, after also being ranked number 1 on Glamour Magazine’s “Sexiest Actor Alive”. Evidence of his ascent from average British chap to bona fide Hollywood heartthrob is everywhere. It is impossible for him to attend any sort of public event – be it a theatre production, film festival, a reading for a BBC radio program, or a taping, without being surrounded by throngs of swooning, smitten young women. Type in “Benedict Cumberbatch” on Tumblr or Twitter, and read the thousands and thousands of fanatic captions, pictures, collages, fan art, fan fics, and gifs that lovestruck fans have posted about their paramour (admittedly, some of these might even be mine!).

Being the modest chap that he is, he bashfully deflects this sudden attention as a product of his work and the characters that he plays, as opposed to what he actually looks like. Which is partially true on one hand – Benedict Cumberbatch’s appeal is primarily rooted in his great intellect, wonderful personality and talent as an actor. Because of these traits, his odder features are often overlooked, and his more appealing features are compounded. But on the other hand, he is completely and utterly wrong about this. He is tall, lean, athletic and chiseled, with a piercing blue gaze that could floor anyone caught in it. In other words, Benedict Cumberbatch is a certified hottie!

 

REASON #4: He’s a lovely person

Despite his recent meteoric rise to fame, legions of screaming fans, and an increasingly star-studded group of friends – Benedict Cumberbatch remains as humble and grounded as the day he started acting. Watch any of his interviews, and you’ll find that he is so friendly, earnest and forthcoming that it is easy to forget how big of a star he truly is. While I do realize the folly in judging a celebrity’s character based on their outward persona alone, it is difficult to imagine that Cumberbatch’s modest charm and self-deprecating humour to be anything but genuine.

Don’t get me wrong, most respectable actors are likely very kind and respectful to their fans. But Benedict Cumberbatch – having been largely in the shadows of celebrity fame until a couple years ago – still has this wide-eyed, boyish excitement when it comes to his newfound fame. Because of this, he holds a great deal of humility about himself, and deep gratitude towards everything that has happened to him in recent years. With all the reports of celebrities being cold and distant towards the most fervent admirers, I’m all the more grateful that Benedict Cumberbatch is around.

Most of my friends (my friend the Sleepy Skunk included) scoff at my devotion to Benedict Cumberbatch, and dismiss my praise for him as a product of fangirl lust. I’ll admit, this is partially true. But yet the points I have outlined seem to be universally apparent in almost every other icon Hollywood has ever produced. A true versatile talent with a good, genuine heart is the formula a movie star needs to become timeless, and Benedict Cumberbatch truly embodies all of that. To those of you who see it, I salute you! Come visit me on Tumblr. To those of you who don’t see it, just keep keep watching. He will win you over when you least expect it.

– The Skeptical Sloth

The Sleepy Skunk Reviews: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON

 

awil

 

Well folks, Halloween is here. And since we’re among the sites who believe that topical content resorts to better traffic, we’re joining in the fun and offering you a fresk take on the 1981 John Landis classic An American Werewolf In London. I have seen the film more than once before but had not revisited it in a while. Then, I remembered how Edgar Wright considered it to be a major inspiration for his Simon Pegg/Nick Frost Cornetto trilogy and I wanted to see how it relates. From the opening scene involving unfriendly townfolks to the gratuitous amounts of desensitized violence, I could not only see the correlation but also how the film created a genre of its own in the 80’s: the light-hearted horror flick.

John Landis penned the first draft of the script at the tender age of 19, and from the very first scene, you can sense the energy and the excitement of a young up-and-comer trying to prove himself. The characters are hopping around on the roads of the Yorkshire moors of Northern England and they have conversations about a childhood female friend who has grown up into an attractive woman. They walk into a pub named The Slaughtered Lamb, where the patrons are about as unwelcoming as they can be. From that very scene, you get a sense that every part of the movie has been carefully planned to be entertaining and special. The characters are colorful and the setup is wonderfully crafted.

And then a copious amount of gore gloriously shows its muzzle. The lead character David manages to barely escape a viscious werewolf attack at the detriment of his best travelling pal Jack who gets mangled like a mix of berries in a blender. It’s the kind of buckets of red paint that will make you believe the human body might be 99% filled with blood. The skin is cut loose and pieces of it remain half attached. Though practical effects do look dated from the perspective of younger generations, everything you see in An American Werewolf in London is the finest display of make-up and prosthetics you’ll witness from that era of filmmaking.

Following the Spielberg rule established in Jaws, Landis understands the importance of not showing the werewolf too clearly on the screen in order to retain a sense of threat and only revealing its clearest angles towards the end of the movie. And then something wonderful happens – a mesh of genres within the horror realm. The victims of the werewolf – mainly one of the two lead characters Jack – reappear at random moments and provide key pieces of information regarding the transformation that the lead character is about to experience.

We jump from one scene to the next and the tone refuses to stay the same. One dream sequence involving Nazi monsters with machine guns is incredibly immature and unexpectedly silly. Another scene where a late night commuter starts to hear suspicious noises in the London underground is effectively suspenseful and brilliantly paced. While one would expect that such inconsistencies might disengage the audience, the complete opposite seems to happen. There is so much originality and cleverness presented on screen that the movie almost plays out like a series of vignettes on the recurrent theme of werewolves. Considering that more than one movie based on short stories appear on Landis’ filmography, perhaps we can assume he has a taste for that style of production.

I find it most fascinating that when movies are praised upon release for featuring groundbreaking special effects and cinematography, all the attention get focused on that and the general consensus is that the movie was mediocre but benefited from groundbreaking technical achievements. However, time goes by and allows us to look back and realize that in almost every case, these movies had much more to offer than that starting with an inspired script, tight character development and the resolve of an uber-confident director. Jurassic Park would be the quentessential example, but I also feel that An American Werewolf in London strongly qualifies in this case.

The editing is a bit choppy at times and you get a sense that it was put together in a hurry. Irrelevant, however, are the fine details of filmmaking polish when you enjoy such a juvenile piece of pop culture entertainment. Rick Baker’s makeup is so well-conceived and scary looking that its award wins lifted the movie from the obscure B-shelves and onto the Oscar spotlight. Regardless of its production values (positive or negative), An American Werewolf in London excels in keeping audiences engaged, surprised and astonished at every turn.

Fun movies all share one thing in common: they fail to have a single moment that doesn’t trigger some sort of emotional reaction. An American Werewolf in London is the textbook definition of a fun movie. There is no filler, no superflous character development, and no stretched out plot points. It’s a concentrated can of pure fun, and a prime example of how to create effective mainstream cinema.

– The Sleepy Skunk

Tales From The Marvel Universe: The Pressures of an ROI

 

Rocket-Raccoon

 

One thing remains certain in this world other than death or taxes: Marvel as a property breathes incredible financial success. Everyone in the world now knows who the Avengers are, demonstrated by being one of the highest grossing films of all time. Iron Man 3 was the first film to spin-off the events of the Avengers and was easily the largest box-office hit of the year both domestically and worldwide. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron has officially been announced and has everyone excited to see Joss Whedon repeat his monstrous success one more time. In the meantime, however, some strange happenings have been coming out of The Walt Disney Company with regards to the Marvel Universe. The kinds of behaviors that investors normally have when their tie is starting to slowly strangle them.

The weird feeling started pointing its nose three weeks before the release of Iron Man 3. Disney/Marvel decided to change the pieces on the chessboard and asked all major theatre chains to take a smaller percentage of movie ticket sales. The bad press started dripping some serious ink and the studio was characterized as overly aggressive and unreasonable in their business dealings with distributors. The chains decided to stand united in response (a little bit like The Avengers when they’re all standing around in a circle) and chose not to sell tickets for Iron Man 3 unless Disney got off their backs. The Mouse House did. Referring to Disney’s revenue demands, AMC’s Chief Executive Gerry Lopez told The Los Angeles Times: “The depth and the breadth of the ask puts us in a very, very uncomfortable situation (…) clearly they are under some kind of financial pressure.” RED FLAG #1: MARVEL IS BULLYING ALL MAJOR THEATRE CHAINS IN ORDER TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK.

Fast foward to the end of Summer 2013 where Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has clearly positioned itself as one of the most anticipated TV shows of the Fall. The show kicks in with a great pilot episode and seemingly promises to satisfy our Avengers cravings until 2015. However, only 4 episodes in, the show begins to show signs of weakness in terms of action and character development. Let’s look at a superhero TV show that’s done it right before in comparison: Smallville. Smallville followed a great format in the beginning of the series: a mysterious event occurs, Clark and Chloe play Sherlock to unravel the mystery, a big action filled climax, and finally what they learned from the episode. This is what made Smallville a great TV show – action mixed with good character development. However, it also worked because we actually cared about the fact that Clark was eventually set to become Superman.

When it comes to S.H.I.E.L.D., we don’t actually know who we’re supposed to be cheering for. Agent Coulson? Skye? The dude agent that never smiles? Marvel might forget that we don’t even know much about Coulson in the first place because he was merely a cameo in the other films. Though Clark Gregg does a great job playing Agent Coulson, our need to focus on him isn’t really defined. I’m sure if he died in the next episode (which he clearly can’t because of The Avengers), the show would still carry on and not have much impact. The show lacks an anchor, which is probably why viewers find it unsatisfying and have already started tuning off according to Nielsen ratings. Bottom line: It’s a bad show and since it wasn’t due to lack of resources or caring, it’s fair to assume that was due to a rush in production, script, and the overall creative process. But who keeps rushing them like that? The same folks that AMC’s Gerry Lopez was talking about? RED FLAG #2: MARVEL IS PUTTING OUT BRAND DAMAGING, LESSER QUALITY CONTENT IN ORDER TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK.

Next up: Who are the Guardians of the Galaxy? Anyone? I consider myself a humble reader of mainstream comics, and yet all I know is that there is a racoon on the team and that Thanos has something to do with them. I can tell you about Spider-Man’s date of birth or all the characters that came and went through the revolving door at Avengers Mansion, but I honestly know zilch about the Guardians of the Galaxy. Who has decided to green-light that property when so many movies in recent years (cue in John Carter and Green Lantern) should have served as a warning sign?

According to IMDb, Chris Pratt plays Star Lord – an interplanetary policeman. I guess he might be considered the Green Lantern of the Marvel Universe. Zoe Saldana plays the daughter of Thanos, which could be a critical plot line of the movie (but again, what do I know about this movie?). And the two biggest names of the cast; Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, aren’t even physically in the movie – they are voice-acting for a CGI raccoon and “hyper-intelligent tree-like creature”, respectively. My guess is that they lacked the starpower to attract an audience, and neither Bradley Cooper nor Vin Diesel could turn down the publicity involved in attaching their names to Marvel just for a couple of headphone-wearing line delivery sessions. Same reason these sub-Pixar animated movies are always packed with big names. And if you aren’t shocked by the decision to make a GOTG movie, wait until Ant-Man shows up in 2015. That’s right, ANT-MAN is getting his own movie. Ant-Man. RED FLAG #3: MARVEL IS GREEN-LIGHTING B-GRADE LEVEL COMIC BOOK PROPERTIES IN ORDER TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK.

If you disagree with my piece, your defense mechanisms should have kicked in by now. Every major entertainment brand does that! Marvel was giving sub-level heroes their movie properties back in the nineties! Distributors should thank their lucky stars they had Iron Man 3 this Summer! Okay, okay. But I have one more red flag for you. It’s when licensing goes beserk… The official news that Disney… are you ready? are you sitting down? Okay. That official news that Disney Consumer Products will market Marvel-branded fruits and vegetables. Holy cabbage, Thor!!! RED FLAG #4: MARVEL IS WHORING THEIR LICENSING ONTO ANY CONSUMER PRODUCT AVAILABLE TO MANKIND IN ORDER TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK.

Up until April 2013, the rule of thumb for Disney/Marvel was always to carefully build their brand and universe around Iron Man and The Avengers. That universe alone has limitless storytelling possibilities and one movie per annum sounded like the perfect release platform to keep audiences engaged for decades. Decades, however, don’t give you the cash flow necessary to pay your interest rates back. Interest rates, however again, that you might have incurred by spending 7.4 BILLION to buy Pixar, 4 BILLION to buy Marvel and another 4 BILLION to buy Lucasfilm. That’s over 15 BILLION dollars so regardless of how low-interest Disney’s borrowing plan might be, even The Avengers won’t come to their rescue fast enough.

Speaking of thunder, Thor 2 is coming out next month. I, for one, couldn’t be less thrilled to see it simply for the fact that I feel Marvel has been in overkill mode. It’s like I’ve been eating my favorite dish of pasta every single night for a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love pasta, but not as much as I used to. As a huge Joss Whedon fan, I sincerely hope he has a plan to make Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Guardians of the Galaxy tie-in more cohesively with the incredible universe he was able to craft with The Avengers. I’m just afraid that all this piggybacking might prove so heavy that he won’t be able to lift them up; instead, they’re simply going to bring him down.

– The Silent Shark

The Curious Career of Robert Rodriguez

 

machete

 

This week-end marks the release of ‘Machete Kills‘, Robert Rodriguez’s grindhouse sequel to a grindhouse movie based on a fake trailer that appeared during Grindhouse. It once again stars Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo as a knife-wielding ex-Federale mercenary with a knack for disemboweling the bad guys, and disempanty-ing the ladies. The film promises to give us more of what we’ve come to expect from Rodriguez: equal measures of violence, sex and wry humour, all carried out by a surprising array of actors who might seem to be slumming it, if only they didn’t seem to be having such a great time. After over 20 years in Hollywood, Rodriguez is still an outsider filmmaker who operates with a level of creative freedom virtually unthinkable within the confines of studio blockbuster filmmaking. By choosing creative control over the traditional standards of Hollywood success, Rodriguez has stood the test of time as a pioneer of do-it-yourself filmmaking.

Before digital cameras and YouTube made filmmaking success attainable to anyone with talent, an idea, and the will to see it through, there was El Mariachi. Rodriguez first burst on to the Hollywood radar in 1992 with his simple tale of a man, a guitar case, and lots of guns. The film was famously produced for the still-low price of $7,000 ($2,000 cheaper than what he had originally projected to spend). As discussed in his thoroughly entertaining memoir Rebel Without a Crew, Rodriguez raised the money, in part, by working as a human “lab rat” testing a cholesterol-reducing drug. The gig paid him $100 a day for 30 days. He was a one-man crew, acting not only as director, but also writer, camera operator, editor, visual effects supervisor, sound recorder – virtually the only job that he didn’t do on El Mariachi was act. Rodriguez’s original ambition was for the film to break into the Spanish-language direct-to-video market, but it was received so well at the Telluride, Toronto and Sundance film festivals that Columbia Pictures bought the film and spent close to $1 million on promotion and additional post-production work. In the end, Rodriguez’s $7,000 exercise in do-it-yourself filmmaking earned over $2 million and was seen by audiences around the world.

Following on the spurs of El Mariachi, Rodriguez made 1995’s Desperado. Although ostensibly a sequel to El Mariachi, Desperado is essentially a Hollywood-ized version of the same Tex-Mex Western motif with bigger battles and prettier actors. Desperado nevertheless showed that Rodriguez could transfer his aesthetic to a larger canvass – the film was literally 100 times more expensive than El Mariachi.

Rodriguez then went on to direct his first filmmaking collaboration with Quentin Tarantino (excluding Tarantino’s brief-but-memorable cameo in Desperado), 1996’s From Dusk ‘Till Dawn. Rodriguez and Tarantino will forever be linked as indie filmmakers who emerged in 1992 with a similar taste for violence and irreverence. From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, which Tarantino both wrote and co-starred in, is a perfect meld of what they each do best. Tarantino’s dialogue and sharp eye for character gave audiences their first glimpse of the easy confidence that would make George Clooney a movie star. Rodriguez restrains himself for the first half of the film, then goes balls-out crazy in the vampire bar-set second half, directing a hand-held frenzy of throat-eating, limb-ripping, and Salma Hayek dancing with a snake. From Dusk ‘Till Dawn makes you laugh, then it makes you throw up, then it makes you laugh at how much you just threw up. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time.

Following 1998’s modestly successful sci-fi horror outing The Faculty, Rodriguez shifted his focus and made 2001’s Spy Kids. While it seems hard to believe that the director of this scene could make a family film, Spy Kids really works. The film features Rodriguez regulars like Antonio Banderas, Cheech Marin, and Danny Trejo (playing “Uncle Machete”) and successfully captures the frenetic energy of his earlier work while playing to a broad family audience. The legacy of the film has been somewhat diminished by its 3 sequels, the most recent of which (2011’s Spy Kids: All The Time in the World) is perhaps most notable for giving us “Aroma-scope”. Even while making large scale, expensive-looking family films, the budget of the Spy Kids films has never exceeded $39 million, and Rodriguez continues to act as his own cinematographer, editor, composer, and special effects designer. Collectively, the films have earned more than $550 million at the global box office on a budget of $154 million.

After completing the first 3 Spy Kids films (and returning to the Mariachi franchise with 2003’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico), Rodriguez stayed in the world of family films with 2005’s The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D. The film was poorly received by critics and not very successful at the box office, but it remains an example of Rodriguez’s innovative, uniquely personal filmmaking style. Rodriguez’s name appears in the credits 14 times, including credits as director, producer, writer, visual effects supervisor, editor, director of photography, camera operator, and composer. The film’s story is credited to his son, Racer Rodriguez.

In 2005, Rodriguez completed his long-awaited adaptation of the cult comic book Sin City. Rodriguez collaborated closely with series creator Frank Miller on the project, and wanted Miller to receive a co-directing credit. The Directors Guild of America has rules that permit only one individual to receive a directorial credit, with certain exceptions. Ever the indie auteur at heart, Rodriguez quit the DGA in protest in order to enable Miller to receive a co-directing credit. He continues to direct films as a non-member to this day. This decision has had significant commercial consequences for Rodriguez. Major film studios, such as Disney and Paramount, are signatories to the DGA’s basic agreement, meaning that these studios can only hire directors who are Guild members. By remaining outside of the DGA, Rodriguez has essentially blacklisted himself from working for major studios and directing the properties that they own. At one time Rodriguez was in line to direct John Carter of Mars for Paramount, but he was forced to drop out of the project after relinquishing his Guild membership.

Rodriguez teamed up with Tarantino once again for 2007’s Grindhouse, one of the most innovative cinema going experiences of recent years. The film was conceived as a tribute to B-movie double features of the 1970s. His installment, Planet Terror, was about a zombie outbreak and features Rose McGowan with a prosthetic machine gun leg. Tarantino’s installment, Death Proof, gave us Kurt Russell’s best performance in years as a murderous stuntman. Grindhouse was something of a dismal failure at the box office, taking in about $25 million domestically on a reported budget of $53 million. The film was a genuine double feature, and it turns out that getting audiences to sit through 191 minutes of neo-exploitation cinema was a hard sell. Dimension Films attempted to salvage the project by releasing Planet Terror and Death Proof as separate films internationally. However, Grindhouse has left behind a surprising pop cultural legacy. Two of the once-fake trailers that preceded the film (Hobo With A Shotgun, Machete) have gone on to become real films themselves, with at least one more trailer possibly coming to life in the future. Machete Kills has the unique distinction of being the first sequel to a “fake film”.

“Uniqueness” is the quality that seems to define Rodriguez’s filmography more than anything else. On one hand, it’s fair to suggest that Rodriguez has been disappointingly stagnant in his ambitions. While Tarantino achieves higher and higher levels of critical and commercial success with each subsequent film, Rodriguez is still making movies about tits and guns . But they’re really fun! And more importantly, after 20 years, Rodriguez has never lost his indie credibility. He keeps his budgets down by solving problems with creativity rather than money. Need a location that you can’t afford? Create it with a green screen. Even when working with names like Mel Gibson and Lady Gaga, Rodriguez is still a do-it-yourselfer at heart, and serves as a godfather to the digital cinema revolution that has enabled an emerging generation of filmmakers to tell the stories they want to tell and upload their work directly to an audience.

Rodriguez will probably never win an Oscar for Best Director, but he doesn’t have to – his legacy is already larger than that.

– The Sarcastic Squirrel

The Sleepy Skunk reviews: CITIZEN KANE

 

Citizen-Kane-title3

 

The best film of all-time! A marvel above all cinematic achievements! The Eight Wonder of the World! Behold my young-lings as I take advantage of a bad case of early flu season and an overdose of Neo-Citran to revisit a classic that has been mentioned a thousand times more than it has been seen:

Citizen KANE!

I will admit that I never actually sat through this film in its entirety before. Countless clips have been featured over the years which makes me familiar about its look, but I never really took the time to get into it until now. More interestingly, however, is the fact that I never researched it nor did I indulge in all the praise that other reviews have thrown at it. This review does take into account that the film was made in 1941 and that Welles was only 26 years old at the time but aside from that, no external sources have affected my opinion. This is my honest assessment, fair and square.

Citizen Kane follows the life of a very interesting man who has the brains, the riches, the charm, and the assertiveness to lead a meaningful and consequential existence. He chooses to stand by his morals and becomes the editor of a small New York newspaper in order to cave into his sense of idealism. The only difference with him, however, is that he has so much money to his name that he holds the means to make his larger-than-life desires come to fruition in an instant. When he comes across a competing newspaper who gathers more credibility and success than his because they have all the best journalists, he instantly manages to buy them all off.

To anyone whose interests are not being served by Charles Foster Kane – namely those who prefer for the poor and the underprivileged to remain exactly where they are – the man represents an undeniable threat. Kane’s marriage grows cold and distant as he focuses his effort and attention on his striving New York paper. Him and his wife eventually lose their spark and he starts chasing after his youth by having an affair with a young singer. This new, secret relationship gives him renewed optimism and the required energy he needs to fight for his ideals. He throws himself into a race to become Governor and pulls all the stops which makes him climb in the polls.

Kane became the one politician who couldn’t be bought by special interests. The great man who actually had the talent and work ethic to inspire the masses and the zeal to make things right for the working man. More than just a political facade, the man was independent of all the things that makes politics such a corrupted place. He didn’t only spread his ideals but he also believed them and embodied them. How I wish we could have a politician like Kane out there in the real world – a man of integrity and principle who won’t let power change his views on what society truly needs.

But then, everything falls apart. On the eve of his sure-fire election victory, his opponent presents undeniable evidence of Kane’s infidelity and contacts his wife in order to plot a classic case of blackmailing: You either withdraw yourself from the race or tomorrow’s headline will paint you as a cheater and a liar. Driven by ego and emotions, Kane decides to take the wrong path (in a pivotal scene I re-watched twice to fully grasp). He proceeds with the election as his wife leaves him, gets defeated and goes on to marry his young singer who gave him a second lease on life and a tarnished reputation.

The difference in age, values, and interests becomes evident over time and his constant obsession with providing her with everything she wants cannot hide the undeniable fact that they share nothing in common. What he believed was a more meaningful connection for him turned out to be a selfish need that she could only satisfy for a defined period of time. They grow old and unhappy and she decides to leave him without looking back. His life is over, his ideals are burnt and shredded into pieces. He is now a mere shadow of the man he was supposed to become.

Citizen Kane carves the portrayal of a life betrayed by bad choices but still worthy of being examined because of good-hearted intentions and incredible potential. The performances and the exchanges are great in every scene and the pace is quite frenetic considering that this is a 1940’s motion picture. Every scene leads to the next with great logic and nothing ever drags on as we get to admire a man from his rise to his fall. And then, we also get to ponder about the mysterious meaning behind his last word:

Rose… bud.

In a press statement issued by Orson Welles on January 15, 1941 regarding his forthcoming motion picture entitled Citizen Kane, the man himself wrote: “Rosebud” is the trade name of a cheap little sled on which Kane was playing on the day he was taken away from his home and his mother. In his subconscious it represented the simplicity, the comfort, above all the lack of responsibility in his home, and also it stood for his mother’s love which Kane never lost.” Simply a case of nostalgia for Kane, who was longing for the days in his life where he was truly loved, not the ones where all the people who no longer needed anything from him decided to leave him behind.

There are some ambitious and fascinating shots that clearly must have inspired so many filmmakers in the decades that followed. One scene in the Thatcher Memorial Library showcases three enormous beams of light that create an astonishing reflection on the protagonists. Another has the camera panning around in the middle of a thunderstorm, making it go through a deceivingly larger-than-life El Rancho neon sign and then blurring right through a window. This is the type of footage that only a perfectionist can capture. This is what happens when directors no longer vow to achieve perfection in order to simply ‘wow’ audiences. They’re doing it to challenge themselves and are obsessed with making the contents of their reel feel exactly the same as what their imaginations cooked up in their mind.

The transitions of atmospheric sounds, fades and music are also top-notch and keep audiences so involved that even today, it can hold up with our ADD-driven level of retention. The characters are complicated and the dialogue is so rich and witty. The movie is about an inspiring man involving himself into a series of interesting opportunities and pursuing his ideals until his bitter end. There’s a Charles Foster Kane that everyone of us wish we could be – someone who has it all, chooses to do what he pleases, and puts all ambition and resources at the service of the greater good.

And for every aspiring filmmaker out there, there’s also an Orson Welles that everyone of them wish they could be. An artist at the height of his inspiration and in full creative control at such a young age that everything remains ahead of him as he joyfully savors every minute of his success.

– The Sleepy Skunk

Brave Films, Boogie Nights: 2013’s Top 5 TIFF Memories

Boogie3

 

There are few things more annually depressing to me than the final days of The Toronto International Film Festival. For almost 15 years, TIFF has provided me with the unthinkable incentive to actually anticipate the end of summer. The only problem is once the TIFF festivities come to a close, so too does the coveted season, leaving only memories to hold onto as Toronto summer fades into the decaying sunshine, before the yearly cycle can start anew. Fortunately, TIFF 2013 has made for an abundance of top-shelf memories for future nostalgia.

In truth, I would say this year has provided one of the best film festivals of recent years. There are many features of TIFF that make it amongst the most beloved fests out there, but for me, one of the key ingredients that sets it apart is its increasing emphasis on extra-special presentations. An example in recent years might be the Elgin premiere of Guy Maddin’s hyper-silent film Brand Upon the Brain! back in ‘06, which, with the help of live voice over narration, symphony scoring, and foley sound effects, certainly burned its way into my brain with flying colors. Quite an accomplishment for a B&W.

This year saw no shortage of special events. Some were so shockingly special that they simply must dominate the upper crust of this top 5-highlight list of TIFF ’13 by default. To put that plainly, if Spike Jonze drops into town for a 90 minute conversation with Kelly Reichardt, any other ticket would have to be pretty damn special to compete. But besides these super-special presentations, what of course matters most are the films themselves. As always, TIFF ’13 also provided a stellar lineup of films from established talent and new voices alike. Some films were so good that waiting until a second screening seemed unbearable. Roger Ebert always described TIFF as an extremely special festival and one incomparable to the other majors. There are many reasons for this, from the receptive audiences to the very special presentations to the burgeoning talent. I’ve always liked to think it also had to do with the city itself. TIFF is founded on the all-are-welcome principles of a public festival, and as a result, it has the film-goers of Toronto to thank for the passionate energy that drove it to thrive. In return, TIFF has given this city a wealth of art and culture, and after 30 years, continues to provide in generous doses. Consider the following highlight list the top 5 examples of why Torontonians should feel grateful to call TIFF our own.

5. Generally Stellar Lineup of New Films

One of the most enjoyable days in August is when word finally drops of the directors and films that’ll be passing through Toronto each year. Somehow the list always seems to go on and on. This year TIFF saw the likes of Bruce MacDonald, Errol Morris, Mayazaki, David Gordon Green, Alfonso Cuarón, and many more legends of cinema. As in every year, towards the end of the week it seemed I’d seen so many quality films in such a tight amount of time, my head was gaining weight. Each of the films in the following copout sub-genre are deserving of an entire review, but for the purpose of this list, I’ll mention some of the few films that cinephiles can look forward to upon their impending releases within the next few months. There was Jarmusch’s curious take on the vampire film. In keeping with Jarmusch’s pre-occupation, it’s delightfully fitting that his point of his interest lies in the age-old lead vampire’s taste in music. Being centuries old, Jarmusch’s vampires, suavely portrayed by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, have seen great musicians pass through their lifetimes, from Mozart to Screamin’ Jay to Jack White. But what happens when the reclusive rock-god vampire loses his thirst for life while his thirst for blood simultaneously escalates. The story is a meditation on rock and roll mortality and one told with style and well-placed moments of golden humour. It’s a delight to report that Only Lovers Left Alive is another win for Jarmusch.

Following the loose sequel to Hard Core Logo, Bruce MacDonald’s new film The Husband offered further proof that MacDonald has never stopped being an exciting filmmaker. In The Husband, MacDonald still finds fresh ways to take chances, from the film’s challenging and untraditionally suspenseful content to his unflinching directorial approach. Another nice thing about his films is that they often take place in recognizable Canadian locales. Location-wise, even more than Scott Pilgrim, The Husband is perhaps the most Toronto-based-film I’ve ever seen. It even includes a shopping trip to our city’s beloved and sadly endangered Honest Ed’s.

Hirokazu Kore-Eda, whose film I Wish was among the most moving experiences of TIFF ’11, was back in Toronto with his new masterpiece, Like Father, Like Son. Like all of his work, the film is a beautifully shot and genuinely written experience. Nobody Knows, Kore-Eda’s fascination with childhood perspectives is again at play, only now that the director is himself a father, the focus is shifted to the nature of parenting and cycles of family history. It’s no wonder the film won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year. Of this batch of returning talents, many of whom have grown into Mavericks, perhaps the film that impressed me the most was David Gordon Green’s Joe. With Green’s recent foray into comedy, Joe is somewhat of a return to form for the director, who revisits more personally local territory. The performances by Nicolas Cage and youngster, Tye Sheridan – who’s been lucky enough to appear in films by several Maverick directors of late – were among the year’s best. Even more impressive than the seasoned actors, young and old, were the amateurs who Green and his casting director plucked from the streets. Like the great Neorealists Rossellini, De Sica or even Henzell, Green feels like one of the last directors working with ordinary faces to achieve utmost realism. How some of these townies were able to pull off the performances they did is nothing short of astounding. Joe will certainly be high up on my year-end top 10.

4. Live Music at The Elgin

As mentioned earlier, back in 2006, Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon The Brain! utilized The Elgin Theater in a remarkable way. BUTB! and its unique premiere, turned the silent film experience on its head, in an explosion of style befitting Maddin’s ability to morph ancient cinema into an intensely surreal and expressionistically personal trip. In 2013, the example of this type of larger than life Elgin experience came with Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors. As if screening Reggio’s first film in 11 years wasn’t enough, the film was accompanied by a live score performed by the TSO and written by Philip Glass, who was in attendance. And as if this wasn’t already too good to be true, the whole thing was presented by Steven Soderbergh, who also conducted a wonderful Q&A between Reggio, Glass, and, editor Jon Kane, after the film screened.

As for the film itself, I can honestly say this was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. If you’ve seen Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy, you know what type of film to expect, at least insofar as what not to expect, such as narrative or things to do with pop-structure. Viewers would be best advised to open their minds as wide as possible when taking in this film. It is an experience that somehow demands your attention while using only 70 cuts. With a film clocking in at 87 minutes, that’s 74 seconds per image. And the images are indeed captivating. As Reggio says in the Q&A, the film acts as a sort of moment of clarity, a pause in the hustle and bustle of this modern rush-hour life. The film presents a collection of beautifully photographed faces of all ages staring at you with expressions which each viewer will interpret differently, depending on where his/her head happens to be at during the screening. For this reason, I suspect Visitors will make for substantial multiple viewings.

One thing uniting the viewer with the film itself is the act of spectatorship. “The film looks back at you!” Reggio said in the Q&A. Though you could also imagine hearing these words blurted out of a bug-eyed art school kid with wild hair, in the case of Visitors, the mad director achieved his vision with blazing colours – within the black and white format no less. Some of the plethora of faces staring back at the viewer weren’t even human, as was the case with the film’s Triska, a female lowland gorilla. After the final shot of the film faded out and the credits began, my 2013 TIFF compatriot turned to me with a look as satisfied as my own and, and said, “Man, that ape was staring at you with look as if to say, ‘y’all just passin’ through’.” As for Soderbergh’s comment, whose only affiliation with the film seems to be his awe of it: “If, 500 years ago, monks could sit at a bench and make a movie, this is what it would look like.”

3. Programmers like Colin Geddes

Every walk of cinematic life is represented by TIFF’s 19 Programmes, each of which offer lineups brimming with visionary films from across the earth. Film are selected with deep thought by TIFF’s programme curators. These unsung heroes of the festival, responsible for the content itself, are all worthy cinepheliac zealots in their own fields, and can be counted on by audiences with similar thematic persuasions for their keen eye. For my money, nobody is programming cooler films than Colin Geddes. Normally I go nuts for Midnight Madness, but this year life made the task of staying awake in a dark theater at 1am a saddening struggle. I fought my crammed schedule, undergoing ungodly long days, but it caught up with me each night.

Fortunately, of the midnights I was able to catch, I was at my most alert for Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno. Throughout his career, Roth has contributed to the cult horror genre with love and insight. He takes horror tropes from the genre’s rich history, such as his pleasure in featuring the victims as privileged and entitled. His career-making premiere of Cabin Fever in ‘02 took a crew of American Apparel teens, dragging them through an ironic hell with a flesh-eating virus – not a good look. Then, back in ’05, Roth returned with his status-cementing Euro-nightmare, Hostel. As a little nod to the obnoxiousness of rich Americans cruising Europe, Roth himself makes a cameo appearance at an everything-goes bar, taking a slapstick splash of bongwater in his mouth like a jerk. That particular screening was an odd night for MM as it was held in the Varsity 8 as a one-off. It’s kind of funny that Roth holds the MM record for being the only directors I can think of to screen at 3 separate MM venues. But I digress.

In The Green Inferno, we have a batch of left-wing radical college students, who feel strongly about the issues without necessarily knowing the facts. They venture out on an anthropological journey to right international wrongs but get lost instead in a nefarious green jungle which they know nothing about. As most cult-horror fans knew to anticipate entering the theater, think Cannibal Holocaust meets The O.C. or maybe Saved By The Bell: The College Years. Or, if movies called Cannibal Holocaust are below your taste, think Fitzcarraldo and The Burden of Dreams meets, well, a movie called Cannibal Holocaust. In the Q&A it was revealed that the tribe who acted in The Green Inferno was first shown Cannibal Holocaust as a performance guide. Apparently, none of the hundreds of tribesmen knew what a movie was going into the screening. Now all they know of cinema is a movie called Cannibal Holocaust… and they loved it. How’s that for anthropology?!

Since the midnight hours proved difficult for me, it was my extreme pleasure to get my rocks off during the day with Colin’s older-sister Programme: Vanguard. Colin is only one voice in Vanguard team who showcase a variety of films. It’s here where the fests’ hidden gems are buried and I only wish I could have seen them all. Most regrettably, I was very sad to miss The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears – a Vanguard selection that looked just off the wall. Colin himself noted in an introduction for another film that Strange Colour was very close to being on the MM lineup. Despite that fail, I did manage to catch a few key titles in programme. One was the insidiously curious Borgman, a bizarre tale of class distinctions from the Netherlands, via one very gradual home invasion.

I also took my hat off to Blue Ruin, a very smart and original take on the revenge film. Given the modern film market, Blue Ruin’s creative team assumed they were making a VOD film. Instead they were shocked to receive an invitation to the Cannes Film Festival where a movie of such quality belongs. The director wrote the film for his good friend to play lead. Their mutual trust paid off in spades as the performance and direction were surprisingly excellent. PROXY is one of the best films I saw at TIFF this year. I suppose it’s a thriller but it’s one that exists on its own shocking terms. PROXY is a mystery unlike any other. It embodies everything I love about seeing films among TIFF audiences. The story surrounds two new mothers and the dangerous personality quirk that unites them . Joe Swanberg also appears in the cast with an impressively moving performance. But the real star, of this movie, chock full of talent, are the writer and director. You cannot guess where PROXY is going so you’d be best advised to not even try. PROXY is 10 steps ahead of the viewer at every turn. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to look at the stranger next to you and ask, “are you getting this?”

Some films were so good that the wait until a second screening seemed unbearable. This is especially true of the madcap hitchhiker cartoon, Asphalt Watches. I knew I was going to see this film the second I saw the stills. Unable to make heads or tails of the images on the website, I grabbed a ticket immediately. At first, the crude-by-design animation and surreal, bizarre dialogue was overwhelming to digest. The audience was laughing but you could tell most people there hadn’t the slightest notion why. Gradually, this Dali-esque road trip bromance, reveals itself to be richer and richer with each passing scene. The film is a genius interpretation of the filmmakers own 8-day hitchhiking trip to Toronto, told by portraying the ordinary people who picked up the two hitcher/artisan, as represented by their animated qualities. The trip, which only lasted 8 days, took almost 8 years to complete. This type of dedication always makes for favourite movies. It dares to ask the tough questions like “What do children want?” the film’s answer: “GARBAGE!!” Asphalt Watches would win best first Canadian feature. I consider that a victory for independent filmmaking. Especially since the audience reception at the small Scotiabank theater, though mostly positive, saw a plethora of ’how do I respond to this film’ reactions? I must say these uncomfortable responses only enhanced the experience. Given that audibly mixed response of that screening, I can’t help but wonder how it would’ve played at MM. It is my feeling that Asphalt Watches would’ve killed at The Ryerson.

2. In Conversation

The In Conversation series has always been my favorite feature of TIFF. Over the years it has taken on many incarnations from the early Dialogues: Talking With Pictures program, where I’ve seen Kevin Smith introduce Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. One of my longtime favourite things to do while killing time in bookstores is pursuing TIFF programme books from the 90s and gawk at nights I’d have killed to attend. One such example from the mid-90s was when Gena Rowlands introduced the perfect A Woman Under the Influence. The first time I flipped to that page I felt a familiar feeling of being robbed. Around 15 years after that screening, to Toronto’s extreme good fortune, The TIFF Bell Lightbox opened, making TIFF-style programming a yearlong event. In doing so, what was Dialogues became ‘In Conversation’ – a format which scrapped the ‘influence-driven screening approach, and turned it into a broader in-conversation-with style that didn’t lose discussion time to the film screenings themselves. When the Lightbox began hosting retrospective screenings with year-round guests, I was shocked at my good fortune when TIFF held a similar screening during the recent Cassavettes retrospective in the off season. That Rowlands was to appear as a special guest was nothing short of a TIFF blessing.

This year provided me with one of my all-time favorite In Conversations to date. After years of seeing favourite directors come through Toronto, one of my all time heroes, Spike Jonze, has never premiered a film at TIFF. While that can still be said, at least in 2013, Jonze stopped by TIFF’s In Conversation With program to discuss his not-quite-ready to premiere film Her, which stars Joaquin Phoenix and is set for release this winter. What was so especially cool about In Conversation With Jonze was that it was conducted by Kelly Reichardt, whose Night Moves, was among my favorite films to screen at TIFF – and one followed by an amusingly weak Q&A spun into gold by Reichardt, Eisenberg, and Fanning. Reichardt is a down to earth director out of Portland. I’m a fan big fan of all her minimalist films. I especially enjoyed attending a screening of Wendy and Lucy – a favorite of TIFF ’08.

Reichardt and Spike were almost equally bare-bones in the best way possible. The two friends laughed with each other through their mutual uncertainty of how to conduct the event. Clips from Her were screened. And might I say, in this day and age, with so much weight bestowed on the medium of Television (to think it was once a format where actors went to die), it’s refreshing to anticipate a film as much as I do Her – (Her and Inside Llewyn Davis – my hype for these films reminds me of a time when the release of a new and exciting film seemed to mean exponentially more to people). Under ordinary circumstances I’d never spoil as much of Her for myself as I had to, but what I saw just makes me want to see the damn thing even more. Sure enough, there is a new Spike film around the corner. By the looks of things, if you still have a DVD (Blu-Ray) shelf on your wall, in due time, Her will soon be amongst the most beloved films in your collection. As for this presentation’s audience Q&A, a nice example was when a typical question that began with “Er, in this stage of your ‘hic’ career-“ was answered with Reichardt’s telling Spike, “Hey, I think that guy just called you old…”

1. Jason Reitman’s Live Read Series

TIFF favorite, Jason Reitman first brought his live read series to Toronto last year with a live reading of the American Beauty screenplay. There’s only one reason I wasn’t in the house for that American Beauty reading – and I should add that AB is a film dear to TIFF’s heart, as it won the audience award upon its premiere in ’99 – was because I didn’t know about it. That my sound cocky or something, but had that screening not been kept a secret, there is simply no way I would’ve missed it. This year they cut Toronto cinephiles some slack and made it an official ticket in the 13 lineup. I further applaud TIFF for not allowing it to be selectable in the advance purchase window, offering it only in the general public onsale. It is only right for a presentation this special to be offered in a lottery scenario. Sadly it is too often the case that TIFF’s hottest tickets are the ones swept up by those with patron-circle privileges (not that rewards for donors or gold visa members aren’t a necessary bolt in the machinery) before the general audience has a shot. Money doesn’t always deserve the right to the highest quality of ‘entertainment’.

That said, the Live Read series was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my entire life. It didn’t hurt that the screenplay was one of my nearest and dearest films, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. The film, conceived by a 17-year-old PTA and shot when he was only 26, is one of the reasons I love movies. As Jason Reitman himself said upon first taking the Ryerson stage to introduce his insane cast, that when he first saw the film at a mall test screening (probably around early ‘97 when he was 20), the film “blew his fucking mind”. When it finally came out on video in early ‘98, I remember walking 45 minutes to Videoflicks at 13-years-old. Like Reitman, it blew my fucking mind in ways I couldn’t begin to digest or understand. And yet on many levels I understood the film as a lesson in empathy and humanity, and one of the great PTA themes, forgiveness (even in the context of “adult”-entertainment). Whatever it was I just saw, I knew it meant a lot to me, as it did to a great many wide-eyed, mind-blown youngsters.

One of the very special treats of Reitman’s Live Read is being able to see a collective favorite movie read by an alternate cast, who are themselves great fans of the material – and on professional levels probably wish they were affiliated or at least included in Anderson’s Mercury Theater. So on the one hand you’re rejoicing alongside celebrities as collective fans of the material. On the other, Live Read offers the rare experience to see what these words might’ve sounded like had casting decisions gone in other directions, or perhaps if it were filmed in another decade. The cast of Reitman’s Live Read was stacked. There was Josh Brolin as Jack Horner, Olivia Wilde as Amber, Jesse Eisenberg as Dirk and other appearances by the likes of Jason Sudeikis, Scott Thompson, Dane Cook, and perhaps most tickling, Dakota Fanning as Roller Girl. The cast did an admirable job in delivering the heaven-sent lines, seeming to enjoy the writing just as much as the audience, for the most part. Olivia Wilde – to her credit, did a powerful reading as Dirk Diggler’s mom in the “I’m a gonna be a big shining star, you’ll see” suburban runaway scene, brought tears to the eye – though that was in large part due to Eisenberg as Dirk and PTA having simply written a perfect scene, which in the film contains the finest performance of Mark Wahlburg’s career.

Alongside the brilliant minds of, Spike Jonze, Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Payne, the early years of PTA represent a bygone era when film, like in the late 60s/early 70s, felt new and exciting. It was an onslaught of voices that demonstrated the places cinema could go if only allowed in the right hands. Every once in awhile a window of time opens up in which groundbreaking art is able to sneak into the limelight. It only takes the wisdom of a few to push the world into the next level. This specific generation of cinematic voices of the ‘90’s-early-00’s is the reason I am passionate about film. Like most modern film-lovers, I was hooked-in as a kid by the blockbuster, but once I mentally came of age, I became aware of ways expressionistic filmmakers were pushing the medium into a holy realm of the visceral cinematic experience. I became aware of themes far older than myself and the ability of others to package them into powerful 2-hour massages.

Boogie Nights was such a movie to me and even simply hearing the words read – action and all – was enough to pull me into the world of PTA. I picture a kid in his early 20s typing away at a computer, on fire with passion, empathy, and profound ability. Visions like Anderson’s are the reason for this top-5 list. Films like Boogie Nights, which had its premiere at TIFF, spell out the joy of film festivals like the one Toronto is fortunate enough to host annually. Ever since my own first mind blowing TIFF experience – Sweet & Lowdown at Roy Thomson Hall back in ’99 – the festival has offered me early glimpses into an exciting future.

Fifteen years have now passed since my first TIFF screening in ‘98. First time directors of that year are now considered Mavericks… But, enough mourning the passage of time. Yes, TIFF is gone for this year. So is summer. But if you need help getting through the change of season, see you at the Lightbox.