Film quote of the day

“Buster, I’m going to try to explain something to you that you probably don’t understand. When a man’s hurt he bleeds until he either dies or the blood coagulates. If the bleeding stops, one day the wound becomes a scar and then, if he’s lucky, one day that scar will become only a memory. Now, Eddie, you’d better just let me bleed a little or I’m going to throw you right through that fuckin’ window.”

Budd Boetticher, film director
(from his memoir When in Disgrace)


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“Jodorowsky’s Dune” (film review)

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014)

jodorowskys_dune_ver3Director:  Frank Pavich


Pure madness attempting to translate Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel into a feature length movie in the first place. The production was bound to be difficult, the special effects alone pushing mid-1970’s film technology to its very limits (and probably beyond). This is pre-“Star Wars” remember, pre-digital. Which means big, elaborate sets, no green screen; utilizing rear projection, hand-painted mattes. Real exotic locations, using a real human cast and crew.

Very expensive.

And on top of that, it’s complete, utter, incomprehensible madness to put a maverick like Alejandro Jodorowsky at the helm of such a daunting project. A quick glance at A.J.’s small, unique body of work is all one needs to realize we are dealing with a singular and, let’s be honest, irrational talent. A mind with a surrealist bent, an aesthetic that embraces the bizarre and baroque.

Mr. Pavich’s documentary ably depicts the extensive pre-production efforts undertaken to convince potential backers that “Dune”, the movie, was a viable project, with enormous commercial potential. A storyboard was constructed, each shot in Jodorowsky’s script meticulously described, the sketches accompanied by beautifully rendered, color reproductions of costumes and scenes from the movie by top flight artists and designers like Chris Foss, H.R. Giger and Moebius.

Unfortunately for “Dune”‘s courageous and naive French producer, Michel Seydoux, the folks in Hollywood had seen some of Jodorowsky’s work or, at least, heard enough about him to know he wasn’t likely to deliver a movie North American audiences would turn out in droves to see. While they were impressed by Seydoux’s presentation, it was clear that Jodorowsky’s affiliation with “Dune” was a deal breaker and, in the end, the single biggest reason why this incarnation of “Dune” never made it to the big screen. The writer-director couldn’t even provide the money men with any idea of how long the finished film would be—to this day Jodorowsky doesn’t seem to know.

Is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune” one of the great “lost” films of cinema? I have my doubts. A.J. readily admits that his take on “Dune” was vastly different than Frank Herbert’s Dune. At one point I believe he talks about “raping” the book, in favor of his personal, spiritual vision. What would Herbert have said to that? How would science fiction’s notoriously prickly fans have responded? Not favorably is my guess.

And if the film had somehow gone ahead, the production would’ve been drastically scaled back, the special effects slipshod, the whole thing painted with the broadest possible strokes. I think it would have ended up resembling a slightly higher end “Flash Gordon” (complete with tawdry rock ‘n roll soundtrack).

Mr. Pavich’s documentary posits an interesting “if only”, but my hunch is this is one movie that is better off for remaining unproduced. As Jodorowsky and Feydoux point out, a number of their creative collaborators (Giger, Moebius, Dan O’Bannon) went on to bigger and better things, Jodorowsky’s “Dune” continuing to cast a long, peculiar shadow on fantastic films for decades to come.

Perhaps that’s sufficient.

ΩΩΩΩ (out of 5)

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“The Zero Theorem” (Directed by Terry Gilliam)


Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenplay: Pat Rushin
Cast: Christoph Waltz, David Thewlis, Melanie Thierry, Lucas Hedges, Matt Damon

Terry Gilliam wants to know what makes us special.

What separates us, as individuals, from the hive mind of humanity, the constant background bzzz-bzzz-bzzz informing us what’s hot, what’s not and what is absolutely indispensable and available for only a limited time on approved credit and through bi-weekly payments with no cash down?

It’s a battle for reality, ladies and gentlemen, and our minds the killing ground, subjected to a flood of stimuli meant to excite our basic instincts and prevent us from thinking about the actual state of the world…and our benighted souls. God help the Powers That Be should we ever wake from the nightmare of invented history and discover what crimes they’re committing, the lies they so readily concoct and embroider to conceal their culpability. To avoid that possibility, governments and corporations conspire to pound it into our heads that the pursuit of happiness involves the acquisition of material possessions and the accumulation of debt, and that the spiritual ennui and colossal sense of unease we’re currently experiencing can be cured by a restorative trip to the nearest mall.

Qohen Leth (that’s pronounced Cohen, but spelled with a Q, no u) has been given an impossible task, solving the ultimate insoluble paradox (how can nothing = everything) and his mental exertions are driving him insane. Management (Matt Damon) has decreed that Qohen (Chistoph Waltz) be provided with the necessary resources, all the latest hardware and tools to achieve his goal—and that includes Ainsley (Melanie Thierry) to entice and reward him and Bob (Lucas Hedges), a fifteen year old prodigy who spends his waking hours writing endless streams of computer code in an effort to please his near omnipotent father. Qohen sequesters himself like a Medieval monk, pale and doughy from long hours at his console, devising his equations, trying to build a perfect, plausible, sustainable model for the Theory of Nothing and failing every time. His supervisor (David Thewlis) is sympathetic but makes it clear to Qohen that it is imperative he produce results and never mind that no one else has ever managed to lick the Zero Theorem or that Qohen’s exertions may leave him a burned out husk.

Christoph Waltz takes on the daunting responsibility of trying to get us to relate with a man who, throughout most of the film, is little more than a cipher. Monotonic, indisinct, robot-like. An individual disconnected from himself by a trauma likely prompted by his wife’s departure. Now he lives only through his work as a highly prized number cruncher for ManCom. Indeed, it is his mathematic aptitude that recommends him to Management. But as detached and removed from humanity as Qohen may be, he still feels a yearning for something beyond his present circumstances, an epiphany or insight that has nothing to do with his vocation. There is an emptiness inside Qohen, a void…and part of him dreams of pouring something like purpose into it, filling that great silence. Waltz never falters in the central role; he gradually comes to life as the film progresses and by its conclusion we realize we have been treated to a subtle, psychologically astute performance.

Director Terry Gilliam has devoted great efforts detailing the damage exposure to our gaudy consumerist society is having on us and has collaborated with his admirable cast and crew to create a near future that equates individuals with ambulatory shopping bags and translates our every whim into a disposable commodity. To stand out in such an environment is to invite unwanted scrutiny, even ridicule; to speak of God or the spirit suitable grounds for involuntary confinement. Qohen, as weird as he initially seems, is the final result of someone who can no longer cope with the speed and intensity of modern life and has withdrawn from the outside world to prevent further injury.

Surely we can sympathize with his stance. How often, these days, do we feel under siege, inundated by a deluge of information and programming too ubiquitous to escape? And who among us hasn’t searched for meaning amidst that turmoil, a whisper of reassurance lost in a whirlwind of change?

ΩΩΩΩ (Out of 5)

Note: “The Zero Theorem” is currently playing at the Roxy Theater in Saskatoon.  

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“The Double” (Directed by Richard Ayoade)

%22The Double%22“The Double” (2014)

Director: Richard Ayoade
Screenplay:  Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Noah Taylor, Cathy Moriarty, Wallace Shawn

It’s a question of identity, the most basic, fundamental notion of who we are and the way we are perceived by those around us.

Are we unique as individuals, as personalized and singular as a fingerprint—and if that is the case, doesn’t that almost automatically lead to a sense of isolation, existential loneliness, a separateness that reduces each of us to a tide-battered, remote “I-land”?

Thus the continuing appeal and fascination of the doppelganger, a dark twin existing somewhere else in the world, possessing a face similar to mine/yours, a life that might be better or worse or eerily paralleling our own. Tradition has it that our shadow usually contains some malign or repressed aspect of our personality and contact should be avoided at all costs. An encounter with our lookalike almost certainly means the destruction of one of us (and I don’t like my chances against an evil version of myself, do you?).

Director Richard Ayoade’s second film, “The Double”, cites, as its source material, a novella of the same name by Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoevsky. Which, if nothing else, proves that he and his writing partner, Avi Korine, certainly aren’t lacking in the ambition department. But while they may have adhered to the spirit of the original story, their screenplay has other influences and touchstones. The ghost of Franz Kafka is in evidence throughout, flitting about the periphery of almost every scene. There are also affectionate homages and nods to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”, Orwell’s 1984, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant”.

The script is intriguing and occasionally baffling. Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is a non-entity, toiling in a data collection center for seven years and making almost no impact on those around him. Then one day a new man, James, joins the firm and immediately distinguishes himself with his charm and winning personality. The added complication: James is a dead ringer for Simon. Inevitably, the two doubles meet and Simon’s world begins to fall apart.

Ayoade’s direction is accomplished and his aesthetic sound. He knows how to employ a camera to maximum effect without detracting from the footage that’s created. But while the cinematography and acting on “The Double” are excellent and the script solid, it’s the film’s sound design that really distinguishes it. The ambient backing track is something else, loops of apartment noises, muffles moans and thumps that add an extra dimension to what’s happening on-screen. Let’s have a round of applause for “The Double”‘s sound  & foley artists (Adam Armitage, Stuart Bagshaw & Martin Beresford, among others) who all too often toil without recognition or reward. Without them, “The Double” wouldn’t have been nearly as haunting or effective.

A few quibbles: the film should’ve been shot in black & white, which would have emphasized the grimness of Simon’s world, deepened the mystery and enhanced that sense of impending disaster surrounding him. I also wish people would stop employing the lamentable Wallace Shawn in their movies—he plays the same recurring and annoying role and it’s time to put him out to pasture with the other old war horses.

“The Double” is not faultless but it is original and that erases a lot of sins, at least as far as this reviewer is concerned. It’s a spooky and maddening treat, a dark lullaby to Prague’s most famous literary denizen, a Kafkaesque reminder that we aren’t who we think we are and that mirrors often lie.


*Click here to read my review of Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut, “Submarine”


ΩΩΩΩ (out of 5)

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“A Field in England” (movie review)

FieldA Field in England (2013)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley
Cast: Reece Sheersmith, Michael Smiley, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover, Peter Ferdinando

A film so defiantly weird and consciously anti-narrative that one can’t help wondering, how was it pitched? Who in their right mind would sign off on a project entirely denied saving graces like, well, a great story or likable characters or even a coherent plot line? What kind of maniac would invest good money on a script where the cast spends most of their time stumbling about in a psychedelic haze?

Whoever it was, they have our thanks.

“A Field in England” is unique and original and these days that goes a long way with me. In an era of comic book movies, CGI fests, rom-coms and Michael Bay, I cherish, I celebrate any cinematic effort that attempts to break new ground, while playing havoc with our carefully cultivated preconceptions.

“A Field in England” surprised, shocked and amazed me. I’ve never seen anything like it. Two hours later and I’m sitting here, still trying to accommodate what Wheatley et al were trying to communicate.

Do you know the story?

During the English Civil War (1642-51), three deserters from Cromwell’s ranks are forced to assist an alchemist seeking an unnamed treasure in a field near the site of a recent skirmish between the Royalists and their adversaries. The meadow, it turns out, is liberally sprinkled with a potent variety of hallucinogenic mushrooms, which some of the men ingest.

And then things really go off the rails.

Imagine a mix of Jodorowsky and Ken Russell at their wildest and wooliest and you’re starting to get the picture. Abandon any thought of cohesion or a classic story arc and just hang on for the ride. The cast, despite the daunting material, are wondrous–Michael Smiley as “O’Neill” and Reece Shearsmith as “Whitehead” are particularly fine. The ugliness and dinginess of the period are well-delineated; life is short and brutish, the quality of mercy in short supply. No one, back then, lived to a ripe, old age.

I note that this film has its detractors and fares poorly with audiences on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. I think this is largely a case of viewers attuned to facile, superficial visions being confronted by a motion picture that offers them few precedents and very little reassurance. It demands discussion and welcomes conjecture. Not content with merely entertaining, Wheatley and Ms. Jump have presented us with a scenario that takes us out of our comfort zones, disorienting and dismaying us, requiring under-used mental muscles to divine the brilliant purpose and guiding intelligence behind this magnificent mess.

“A Field in England” is ambitious, maddening, riveting.

Most of you will undoubtedly hate it, turned off by its unabashed strangeness…refusing to recognize, of course, that your disavowal reveals your own silly prejudices, the paucity and stubborn rigidity of your imagination.

ΩΩΩΩ (out of 5)

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“Le Weekend” and “The Act of Killing” (Film Reviews)

Le Weekend (2013)

Director: Roger Michell
Screenplay: Hanif Kureishi
Cast: Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum

The cast shines but it’s Hanif Kureishi’s savvy, wise script that is the real star of “Le Weekend “.  Kureishi is a gifted writer, his screenplays and novels always populated by believable, well-wrought characters, dignified and funny and oh-so flawed. He makes us care about them, identify with them, hurt with them. He and director Roger Michell collaborated on three previous projects (including “Venus” in 2006), and theirs appears to be a creative partnership between two very different individuals (Michell, clearly, the more commercially minded).

Actors as accomplished as Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent must relish the opportunity to work with material that allows them to employ their talents with subtlety and to maximum effect. Both are at the top of their game in “Le Weekend”, delivering performances that are excruciatingly honest and compelling.

It’s their thirtieth anniversary and Meg (Duncan) and Nick (Broadbent) have returned to Paris, the site of their honeymoon, trying to recapture some of the passion that has, over the past three decades, gradually leached out of their relationship. There have been bumps in the road, including a fling Nick had with one of his students, and they’ve never been the same since their son (“a thirty-year-old pothead”, as Nick describes him), was finally convinced to move out on his own.  Their marriage is at the point where it must either be redefined…or abandoned outright. This weekend in the romantic city of their youth is their last shot at saving what remains (or beginning the process of divvying up the spoils).

Credit director Michell and his screenwriter for continuing to present us with intelligent, adult-oriented movies in an era when the marketplace, demographics and opening weekend gate receipts determine the type of films being made—their stubborn persistence is admirable, if quixotic.

“Le Weekend” is not over-wrought, bombastic, cartoonish or dull-witted; it is an intimate, richly detailed portrait of an older couple and the shared history that keeps them together, even as the growing distance between them denies them the affection and closeness required to maintain a love affair into old age.

ΩΩΩΩ  (Out of 5)

* * * * *

TheActofKillingThe Act of Killing (2012)

Producer(s): Errol Morris & Werner Herzog

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

Cast: Various

Deservedly shortlisted for an Academy Award, “The Act of Killing” never makes it easy on viewers, plunging them into the murderous atmosphere of the Indonesian civil war, a bloodbath that brought a dictator (Suharto) to power and virtually annihilated any political opposition.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s brilliant documentary makes it clear that historically Indonesia is governed by a cabal of militarists, fascists and gangsters, who collude in order to preserve power, silence critics and prevent discussion of the horrific acts perpetrated during the 1965-66 conflict. Official history has been rewritten, distorted to the extent that it no longer conforms to anything approaching reality…but no one is allowed to say so, the killers still alive, still in positions of responsibility, still able to wreak their revenge.

In fact, the killers are so secure, so immune from prosecution, they are only too happy to describe their atrocities and, for Oppenheimer’s benefit, re-enact their crimes, demonstrating their techniques, while providing graphic details of their victims’ suffering.

It makes for difficult viewing, to say the least.

But Oppenheimer’s decision to encourage his subjects to employ their favorite film genres to illustrate their narratives is a smart ruse, transforming a “deleted” scene from one of the “Godfather” movies into a gruesome torture session. The individuals involved initially seem to relish the play-acting but soon, very soon, reality intrudes, old memories surfacing and a darker aspect emerges that is absolutely blood-curdling.

It is one of the many unforgettable images I shall retain from “The Act of Killing”.

Retain it, remember it…no matter how hard I might try to forget.

Mr. Oppenheimer, for the foreseeable future, “hath murdered sleep”.



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“Agassiz” (A film by Sam Burns)

<p><a href=”″>AGASSIZ</a&gt; from <a href=”″>Sam Burns</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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