Tuesday, December 22, 2009


It has been more than 20 years since Walt Disney Pictures released The Little Mermaid to rapturous universal acclaim and wide-eyed, astonished wonder. That film, a sumptuous, lovingly-crafted visual banquet, arrived at a precarious time in the studio’s history — at the tail end of a creatively bloodless string of derivative carbon-copy features (Oliver and Company, The Fox and the Hound and The Great Mouse Detective) and flat-out disasters (The Black Cauldron) — and brilliantly re-imagined the seemingly antiquated tropes and archetypes of the Uncle Walt’s Golden Age heyday, making them exciting and fresh once again.

Dazzled viewers found themselves swept away on a bracing fantastical journey into the pixie-dust tinged childhood dreams of yesteryear, a treasured time when richly-illustrated enchanted creatures loomed large and powerful in their impressionable imaginations.

Unfortunately, despite providing Disney’s talented parade of animators and storytellers with a rejuvenated artistic spark — resulting in modern classics such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast — the rapidly approaching brave new world of the 21st Century proved mercilessly unkind to the studio. With 1996’s dawn of the full-length CG-feature, in Pixar’s Toy Story, the established Mouse House brand began to fall by the wayside, a victim of rising production costs and escalating audience apathy. By the time the cow-toon Home of the Range limped dismally into the marketplace and collapsed in an exhausted, clumsy heap, the grim writing was all over the wall; that classical hand-drawn Disney motion pictures were fast going the way of Bambi’s ill-fated, tragic mommy.

Now, five years later, the studio has regrouped and embraced their innate mastery for lush, 2D animation anew with The Princess and the Frog, an ambitiously-conceived attempt to replicate the Mermaid effect and lovingly crawl back into the warm, nurturing confines of the ticket-buying public’s nostalgic hearts. However, whereas the former film added a sophisticated edge and more epic sense of adventure to the time-worn formula, The Princess and the Frog too often feels inert and insubstantial; a blandly pleasant family-friendly bedtime story that’s far too similar to the many, many told before.

Set in Jazz Age-era New Orleans, opens on Tiana (voiced as a child by Elizabeth M. Dampier), an idealistic young African-American girl, whose mother works as a seamstress for the impossibly wealthy “Big Daddy” La Bouff (John Goodman), a big-hearted buffoon who dotes endlessly upon his spoiled blonde southern belle daughter — and our protagonist’s closest confidante — Charlotte (voiced as a child by Breanna Brooks and, as an adult by Jennifer Cody). Returning to her modest home after an evening spent enraptured in fairytales with her bubbly friend, Tianna wishes upon the North Star that one day her beloved father (Terrence Howard) and she will be able to open their own homey Cajun-style restaurant.

The film then flashes forward roughly 10 years, and Tianna (now voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is a beautiful and tirelessly hard-working waitress, slowly saving her tips with the hopes of achieving her now-deceased dad’s dream, and too busy for romantic adventures – despite the recent arrival of the dreamy, but irresponsible, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos). Nevertheless, after the sinister “Shadowman” Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David, and resembling the menacing lovechild of John Waters and Little Richard) transforms the goofy Prince into a frog in a bid for power and wealth, Naveen finds himself brought into contact with the impatient young princess-to-be during an moonlit gala at the La Bouff residence, wherein she is inadvertently also converted into a croaking, amphibious state. On the run from Facilier, and in search of a cure, the two hopping heroes escape into the swamps, encountering new friends and foe alike, and slowly growing to realize that their hostility towards one other may be masking something far, far deeper and tenderer.

As a template for an animated fable, there’s nothing wrong with the set-up for The Princess and the Frog. Tianna comfortably follows in the well-worn glass slippers of many of Disney’s more recent headstrong, independent-minded heroines; doe-eyed and graceful, but containing enough of a sarcastic edge to make her an engaging and relatable presence. She makes a good sparring partner for Naveen, who is forced to make the most significant personal changes over the course of the film.

If only writing/directing duo Ron Clements and John Musker — the masterminds behind The Little Mermaid, along with Aladdin, Hercules and Treasure Planet — had mined this winning relationship for more than biting quips, snark and a painfully musty romantic reveal. Even more frustrating is that the two bickering prospective lovers are quickly overwhelmed by a succession of goofy and broad supporting characters, including Louis the trumpet-playing Alligator (Michael-Leon Wooley), old voodoo priestess Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis) and the Cajun firefly Ray (Jim Cummings), who are all cut from the same cloth as Timon and Pumbaa, Sebastian, Genie, et al., but poorly thought-out, flat and tiresome — like bland escapees from one of Disney’s lesser by-the-numbers efforts — and only serve to instigate dull action beats and witless comedy.

Heck, even the wonderfully creepy villain Facilier — who has a nice unsettling song number, a great vocal performance from David and a superbly wicked and intimidating design — is given little motivation or much to do beyond commit evil for evil’s sake. Compared to hiss-able baddies like Scar, Cruella Deville or Ursula, we never feel the true extent of his menace and his final comeuppance, while appropriately spine-chilling and iconic, feels too extravagant and harsh for an under-developed character we’ve spent so little time with.

And therein lies one of The Princess and the Frog’s biggest weaknesses: it never feels like the filmmakers were able to figure out how to make the film feel remotely involving or original. Certainly, Disney animated features follow a fairly strict story structure, but the best of the studio’s output found thrillingly novel ways of reinterpreting and expanding upon the recognized conventions. This flick hits all the expected beats (Minus one key death that earns a glimmer of emotion, but would be a true powerhouse moment in a more confident work), offers few surprises and is often sluggish and trite. Even the majority of the Jazz-infused Randy Newman-penned songs are instantly forgettable and, as they come fast and often, gradually drag down the movie’s energy level. Only the villain’s aforementioned solo and a fairly rousing, gorgeously-staged number in Mama Odie’s shack come close to quickening the viewer’s pulse.

Although it will doubtlessly entertain really young children, the whole project feels like a stale leftover from the latter days of Disney’s more luminous era, relying solely on the studio’s characteristically striking visual artistry to breathe life into its dusty lungs. At an earlier point in time, The Princess and the Frog would probably be able to skate affably by on its generic colorful sights and brand-value alone. But as a flagship vehicle for the intended relaunching of a historically-important, treasured cinematic art-form, it’s a major disappointment; a film content to halfheartedly hop for an audience yearning to soar.

2.5 out of 5

Epi-Cast: Episode 20 - "Uncaged Road Warriors"

The world may split and fracture into a splintering mass of shattered rock and twisted steel. The seas may run wild and violent, sweeping life as we know it into the bleak, all-emcompasing void of the deep. Our homes and towns may burn in an endless inferno of crackling flames, red-hot cinders and falling ash. But, no matter what, there will always be a new Epi-Cast just around the corner. Take what comfort from that you will.

Epi-Cast: Episode 20 - "Uncaged Road Warriors"

Tired of reviewing up-lifting films, Cam and Tom dye their hair black, put on matching eye-liner and wallow in the misery of the film adapation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. After that, they reeeeaaally crawl into the muck, Fallout Boy blasting, with Nic Cage's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. As well, Cam pummels the living crap out of Ninja Assassin and half-heartedly snickers over The Twilight Saga: New Moon (TEAM JACOB! WHOOOOO!), before the two review a gaggle of trailers including the Clash of the Titans remake, Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, the Nic Cage (Theme!) summer family epic The Sorcerer's Apprentice and the destined-for-Oscar-gold Crazy Heart. It's a rollicking good 90 minutes to listen to while you and all you hold dear dance helplessly into the waiting arms of grim, grim, apocalyptic death! Oh, and it's funny! (Tee-hee!)

P.S. We are also available on tha iTunes! No guff! Simply do a store search for "Epi-Cast" and, LANDO-LOBOT!, you can subscribe to our feed and receive insta-dl's (Net speak for downloads). Oh, and we are the "Epi-Cast", not the "Epicast". Avoid those pretentious clowns like teh aids.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

About That DEADPOOL Spin-Off...

Remember when the prospect of a “Deadpool” spinoff movie felt like a fun idea?

That was before April’s super-zero non-event “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” belly-flopped into theatres, figuratively treating the character like Ned Beatty in “Deliverance” and violating him like a parking meter.

Recall, if you will, those sun-streaked, carefree days of yore, when rosy-cheeked, cheery-eyed fans frolicked gaily amongst the spinner racks, lovingly cradling armfuls of crisp, glossy tales featuring a certain jumpsuit-clad soldier-for-hire, blissfully oblivious that a grim, pitiless future would reward their buoyant spirits and dedication with only sewn-up mouths, impractical arm-blades and laser eyes?

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

About That Next CHRONICLES OF NARNIA Movie...

My relationship with the “Narnia” franchise has been a rocky and tumultuous one, alternately filled with moments of bitter resentment, fanciful amusement, weary dismissal and heartfelt admiration. Honestly, I can’t think of another major property that has been more disconcerting to determine my definitive stance on than the literary and cinematic adventures set in C.S. Lewis’ creature-filled fantasy-land.

For the record, I’ve never made it the entire way through a single one of the seven celebrated young adult novels. There was a meager attempt made, around the age of 11, to read “Prince Caspian,” but it was promptly aborted in favor of the Hardy Boys and “Tom Sawyer” (to be fair, I’ve never been a fan of fantasy literature, no matter how brilliant. Although I did later undertake and enjoy Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” “The Fellowship of the Ring” worked on me like a sleep-aid). Likewise, while the stuffy weekly British television program “Chronicles of Narnia” — which aired on YTV here in Canada — was, alongside “M*A*S*H,” at the top of my childhood list of “Most Boring Shows EVER!!!”...

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Monday, November 30, 2009


Lieutenant Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) shuffles along with a stooped gait, one lop-sided shoulder blade jutting grotesquely skywards. Wearily fighting back the urge to scream from every piercing sting emanating from his chronically injured back and bearing a facial expression that’s twisted into a clammy, rat-like mask, he hides his racked lanky frame under an ill-fitting grey suit which messily hangs open in the front so as to reveal the comically bulky revolver tucked into his belt.

Tasked with leading a team (which includes Val Kilmer, Shawn Hatosy, and Michael Shannon) in discovering the culprit behind a horrific drug-related gangland slaying, McDonagh more closely resembles a brain-deteriorated zombie from a Romero film than an upstanding member of his impoverished New Orleans community. Subsisting on an endless stream of pain medication and narcotics, all he desires is to get high with his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes) and close the book on the messy homicide case. If only those pesky iguanas would just stop staring at him, he’d be able to concentrate.

And so it goes in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, director Werner Herzog’s off-the-wall spiritual remake of Abel Ferrara’s gritty 1992 cult hit (perhaps best remembered for the chill-inducing scene wherein Harvey Keitel sexually assaulted a quivering, teary-eyed pair of teenage girls with little more than cruel, coarse words and commanding menace) that dares to turn its protagonist’s reckless, tortured journey into a blackly funny cosmic joke. The celebrated German auteur isn’t remotely interested in crafting a by-the-numbers procedural, where good triumphs through determination and proper ethics. No, he’d rather follow McDonaugh into the muck, tenaciously observing, without judgment, the junkie lawman undergoing his dismal daily routine; crudely shaking down intoxicated club kids for drugs, betting away his life savings on college football games — much to the chagrin of his frustrated, unpaid bookie Ned (a nicely understated Brad Dourif) — and terrorizing suspects and their families for vital information.

As embodied, gnarled body and crazy soul, by Cage — in his best performance since 2002’s Adaptation — McDonagh is a truly original creation; a man whose demons have been driving him so long that he wouldn’t know what to do without them. In one of the film’s best scenes he attempts, while blitzed on heroin, to shakedown one of his girlfriend’s clients for cocaine. Using his perpetual hangdog expression to its full electric elasticity, Cage browbeats the man with sullen lids, eyes bleary, only to triumph when his opponent throws up his hands in exasperation and, head shaking, exits the scene. Don’t let the massive handgun fool you: McDonagh couldn’t be more impotent, not only authoritatively, when he irately confronts an abusive John (hilarious scene stealer Shea Whigham); but also sexually, especially during a pathetic liaison with a former partner (Fairuza Balk).

Occupying a New Orleans which is perpetually overcast with grey clouds — symbolic of both the morality of the protagonist as well as his consistently down-in-the-dregs mind-set — Herzog fills The Bad Lieutenant’s sad world with ramshackle architecture and dirty little touches suggestive of a crime-infested wasteland, where everyone’s scrambling hand-overfist to feed some sort of addiction. Only the quiet, unkempt country home of Terence’s recovering alcoholic father Pat (Tom Bower) offers any hope for rehabilitation, and even it has its own resident unstable force in the form of Pat’s perpetually drunk, sad-eyed lover Genevieve (Jennifer Coolidge, in a very strong noncomedic turn), who understands Terence’s plight even if she can’t quite form the words to communicate it.

Bad Lieutenant seems intent on testing audiences with its druggy, meandering pace, which operates on the same shapeless, disjointed level as the title character’s psyche. Herzog wants to immerse us in the movie’s corruption and suffocating dreariness, offering sporadic relief only through McDonagh’s jolts of substance-induced energy, which walk a precariously fine line between being amusingly depraved and offensively revolting. When Cage’s character cuts off an elderly woman’s oxygen and hurls malicious insults at her and her caretaker we laugh not at his behaviour, but at the filmmaker and his star’s go-forbroke fearlessness. Similarly, a climactic crack-fuelled, staccato monologue, delivered in the presence of a local crime lord (a suitably imposing Xzibit), where the actor messily spits out an unintelligible volley of seemingly disconnected thoughts becomes a viscerally spellbinding study in the joys of complete, unfiltered performance with a capital “P.”

Although the film has a propensity for merrily flying off the rails in spots (the price of channelling insanity, I suppose) and Cage’s inconsistent accent draws some raised eyebrows, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans deserves attention purely for being, hands down, this year’s most skilfully chaotic nuts-o gem. It’s a sweat-stained cinematic trip that, with Herzog and Cage proudly on duty, feels dangerous and bracing. So, don’t be too surprised if you feel a little numbed and dopey yourself when the film reaches its brutal conclusion. Just watch out for stray iguanas.

4 out of 5

*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Nov. 30th, 2009.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

About That INDEPENDENCE DAY Sequel Buzz...

Last weekend the world as we know it ended to thunderous applause as Roland Emmerich’s 2012 decimated the competition, proving once and for all that there are few sights movie-goers desire to witness more than the complete and utter annihilation of mankind’s proudest architectural achievements. (“Take that Sistine Chapel!” “Up yours Washington Monument!” “See you in Hell Eiffel Tower!!!”) And, for the most part, I shared their cackling, borderline-sadistic glee, as who doesn’t love a good fromage-scented Disaster Movie epic, replete with cartoonishly broad stereotypes, vividly rendered, huge-scale destruction, sudsy soap opera storytelling and ludicrous manufactured peril?

The answer appears to be precious few, considering that 2012 opened with a colossal bang, accumulating an impressive $65-million domestically and even more impressive $120 million in foreign ticket sales, practically paying off the flick’s considerable price-tag in a mere three days. Not too shabby, especially considering that it’s the latest work from a notoriously inconsistent director still valiantly attempting to fight his way back to the level of glory and power he held in his pre-Godzilla hey-day...

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Film Review - 2012

Does anyone else remember those petrifying Time-Life commercials that used to run in the late eighties? The ones attempting to hock expensive, oversize coffee-table books and videos about the Mayan civilization by using apocalyptic imagery of lava-spewing volcanoes and cracked land masses while an ominous booming narrator sternly warned, with alarming relish, that the world would come to an end on December 21st, 2012 *Insert deafening thunder-crack here*?

When I was about 9-years-old, myself and my younger sister Janine stumbled across one of those sanity-shaking ads one evening at my Grandparents while searching the dial for an episode of Dog House or Deke Wilson’s Mini-Mysteries. Needless to say, our initial transfixion, gazing wide-eyed at the unsettling cataclysmic visions and absorbing the bombastic chanting choir-from-Hell soundtrack, quickly turned to teary-eyed anxiety attacks, fretful nausea and more than a couple sleepless nights for the entire family.

Those life-long unpleasant memories lingered in the darkened air as I took my front-row seat for director Roland “Master of Disaster” Emmerich’s 2012 - a CG-slathered exploitative attempt to play upon the infomercial-fuelled Armageddon-apprehensions of saps like me – prepared to have my worst childhood fears realized for 158 long minutes (!). And indeed, the film’s early shots, scored to Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander’s low, seat-rumbling score and depicting our spherical, blue homeland lining up portentously with the surrounding planets, seemed to set the stage for a traumatic personal déjà vu experience to take place.

But as soon as Chiwetel Ejiofor’s determined scientist Adrian Helmsley strode confidently onto the screen, demanding answers for the global-warming epidemic from a sweaty colleague played by Jimi Mistry, I relaxed entirely. For, in wide-grinning, goofy spirit, 2012 is nothing if not a through and through spiritual cousin to Emmerich’s previous smash-the-Earth spectacles The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla and Independence Day; a super-sized cheese-ball epic where the wobbly dialogue and performances are infinitely more tragic than any amount of catastrophic carnage on screen.

With doomsday acting as a clothesline (our planet’s core is being micro-waved by an influx of neutrinos – not those elf-life aliens from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, but rather energy particles originating from the sun – which causes rapid crust heating and plate destabilization) we’re left with an intentionally diverse, broadly-sketched group of survivors who must undergo soap opera-style character arcs while racing to safety or, more often than not, their own grim demises. Each of these deaths can usually be telegraphed, in typical Disaster Movie style, by separating those who are pure-of-heart and have precocious young children and/or prospects for future importance from those who are just along for the ride.

Besides Ejiofor’s Helmsley, the rag-tag group consists of failed sci-fi writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), father to Noah (Liam James) and Lilly (Morgan Lily) and former husband to Kate (Amanda Peet, working in three modes: hysterical, nagging and adoring) – who’s now living with yuppie plastic surgeon Gordon (Tom McCarthy). There’s also a wing-nut conspiracy theorist (real-life wing-nut conspiracy theorist Woody Harrelson) as well as Jackson’s creepy, greasy Russian boss (Zlatko Buric, sounding like Jabba the Hutt after a week-long bender) and his cosmetically enhanced trophy girlfriend (Beatrice Rosen). Lastly, the American government is represented by Danny Glover’s gracious and noble Prez, Oliver Platt’s slimy, wrong-at-almost-every-turn Chief of Staff and Thandie Newton’s first daughter.

Movies of this genre have never been known for their rich characterizations, but the better ones – Independence Day included – intentionally chose larger-than-life charismatic actors to fill in the blanks and inspire an effective, if completely hollow, emotional connection. 2012 is noticeably deficient of these strong A-type personalities, with only Cusack, Platt, McCarthy and Ejiofor – a masterful actor capable of delivering even the most awful verbal swill with complete, authoritative conviction – managing to create any real impression amidst the computer-driven effects surplus.

Obviously the effects are the true star of the film and they are certainly sensational – for the first half of the film. Cusack and co.’s limo escape from the fissure cracked streets of L.A., where houses crumple like gingerbread and cars slide into the yawning abyss, is among the year’s greatest technical achievements. There’s an ugly magnificence to Emmerich’s devastation and one white-knuckle moment, in which a plane takes off from a collapsing runway and soars through a disintegrating office building – you can even see little people clinging to tables – is jaw-droppingly astounding. Unfortunately, the pandemonium grows a tad stale midway through, when the action leaves the U.S.A. and the environments become murkier and more indistinct and a tacked on Poseidon Adventure finale takes over, that is, considering what’s preceded it, a bit of a yawner.

2012 by no means qualifies as a “good film”; it’s too long, stuffed stupid with hoary speeches about humanity and the meaning of existence, and often disturbingly cynical (especially in portraying the unceremonious, cruel deaths of two heroic characters). Yet, as a messy big-screen, big sound experience, it’s strangely engaging. Few filmmakers are working on as gleefully gargantuan a scale as the German Auteur of Annihilation, and he proves once again that no one grasps the earnest ludicrousness and Rah-Rah! camp of the Irwin Allen 1970’s Disaster blockbusters quite like he does. It may be the end of the world as we know it but, with Emmerich in charge of conducting the chaos, I feel just fine.

3 out of 5

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Hard to believe, but it’s been almost a decade since Robert Zemeckis, the tech-whiz mastermind behind whimsical popcorn confections like Forrest Gump, Contact, Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future series, has made a film with flesh-and-blood humans on-screen. No, rather, the Oscar-winning director has been toiling in his secret equipment-packed lair, like a classic Universal Horror mad scientist, concocting crazy experiments utilizing motion-capture technology. The process, wherein an actor’s recorded movements are translated into 1s and 0s and pasted onto a computer-generated character, has been hit or miss and inspired rigorous debate over whether the talented auteur’s determined vision is misguided and Quixotic or legitimately important and revolutionary.

Phase 1 of Zemeckis’ mo-cap trials led to the unpleasantly synthetic The Polar Express, an adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s beloved picture book, which mistook stomach-churning rollercoaster rides and creepy vacant-eyed children for fanciful holiday fun. However, despite its considerable narrative failings, the movie was a box-office smash, which, of course, led to Phase 2: Beowulf, a balls-to-the-wall take on the classic medieval poem. That hearty picture, while uneven and a mite unfocused in the mid-sections, was saved by the director’s aptitude for outlandish, demented violence and show-stopping images (Who can forget the ambitious dragon battle and even more epic naked CG Angelina Jolie?).

Now, to bring things full circle, the director has returned to the yuletide season for inspiration with the Jim Carrey-headlining A Christmas Carol, a visually striking tribute to Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, which is surprisingly faithful in both look and vernacular to the original work’s chilly Victorian origins. Make no mistake, despite the Disney-approved family-friendly marketing push, this is a bleak and frightening film, destined to haunt the dreams of sensitive children for many, many winter nights to come.

The story feels almost as old as time itself, what with the already voluminous cornucopia of existing film translations – The Muppet Christmas Carol, Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the1951 Alistair Sim-starring version being my personal faves - absorbed into our collective consciousness, so we all know precisely what eerie events await wicked ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey) on Christmas eve. Visited by the ghostly form of his deceased partner Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman), and three fateful spirits (all voiced by Carrey), the bitter grouch is taken on a journey into his own history and impending fate, as well as into the lives of his mistreated assistant Bob Cratchit (Oldman again) and jovial nephew Fred (Colin Firth). What happens from there, I leave for you to fill in the blanks. But you can take comfort in knowing that precocious Tiny Tim (Oldman yet once more) does, indeed, merrily declare “God bless us, everyone!”

Yet, despite the reputation and influence of its forebears, this 2009 film version stands confidently on its own two spindly legs, bravely driving its narrative into refreshingly gloomy places. This Scrooge isn’t quite as comically exaggerated as those we’ve seen before; a sinister stooped-over wraith-like man, who, as the film opens, greedily snatches the coins from the eyes of Marley’s rigid corpse. As imposingly embodied by Carrey, this Ebenezer is a true personification of ugliness, all insect-like sharp angles, who fully deserves every moment of torment he undergoes.

Thankfully, his suffering is made bearable for the audience by the rich, magnificent artistry of the film’s animation team, who have exhaustively recreated the crumbling cobblestones and pointed spires of early nineteenth century London. As well, they’ve given each supernatural encounter its own distinctive horrific mood. The appearance of Marley’s apparition is an anxiety-tingling exercise in cold, sweaty dread, full of heavy, clanking chains and decaying body parts, while Scrooge’s flights over the gloomy cityscape with the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present are exhilarating feasts for the eyes. Only the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come underwhelms, with Scrooge’s wrenching descent into hell delayed in favour of a silly and unnecessarily long chase scene.

In fact, the director is so intent on revelling in the mournful and macabre that he tends to short-change the emotion of his protagonist’s gradually unearthed humanity. Flashbacks to Scrooge’s youth are merely touched upon, with treasured figures like Fezziwig (Bob Hoskins) and his former beloved Belle (Robin Wright Penn) merely touched upon. Only the muted hopefulness of the Cratchit household really connects, mostly due to Gary Oldman’s sensitive and compassionate performance work.

Although there is still considerable ground to cover in regards to mo-cap filmmaking – aside from Scrooge, most of the characters’ eyes are a tad blank – A Christmas Carol is the first of Zemeckis’ computer-animated features to show distinct traces of a soul. Whether it has the staying power to remain a seasonal staple remains to be seen but it’s a darkly beautiful Gothic bedtime tale that is the ideal cinematic Christmas present to sneak an early peek at. Just remember to ask for some 3D glasses with it.

3.5 out of 5

*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Nov. 15th, 2009.

Friday, November 13, 2009

About That SPIDER-MAN 4 Villain...

Few news items are more entertaining to track than the burgeoning web of rumors which surround any given Spider-Man film prior to production. While some carry a nugget of truth at their sensationalized center, the more entertaining ones are the flat-out gonzo speculations that emanate from more questionable sources (i.e.: “Thomas Hayden Church AND Topher Grace playing Chameleon!” … “John Jameson set to be the Hobgoblin in Spidey 3!” … “Aunt May IS Carnage!”).

This week, printed an article that stated Canadian sweetheart Rachel McAdams was the top contender for the role of Felicia Hardy, better known as the saucy, buxom thief Black Cat, in the ever-evolving Spider-Man 4 project. Without any real confirmation, this story holds all the weight of Tim Story’s artistic reputation. Sharp minds will recall that even back around 2005, Felicia Hardy was making headlines across the internet, with Chloe Sevigny rumored to be donning the sorta-villainess’ fur-lined bodysuit. While I’m of the camp that feels that using the character is a bad idea — a cat-themed female baddie? Familiar, much? — I’m more intrigued by the revelation later in the piece declaring that the creative team was scouting actors to play a new male villain...

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

About That ROGER RABBIT Sequel...

Last week, I wrote a piece concerning some recently released clips from the approaching Jim Carrey-starring update of A Christmas Carol in which I made some pretty snarky, dismissive comments regarding Robert Zemeckis’ decade-long dedication to the all-motion-capture cinematic process, and the films which have resulted from it (i.e.: The Polar Express and Beowulf).

While I remain firmly in the corner of the camp who believes that the director’s obsession with subjecting movie-goers to an on-going series of impersonal-feeling technological trial runs has become something of a tiresome fool’s errand, I suspect that my withering criticisms were ultimately only a snap-defense to mask my real feelings regarding the issue...

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Friday, October 30, 2009

About That GREEN HORNET Movie...

Being a near-obsessive movie buff, I’m a major sucker for superhero pictures. I love watching respected character actors being plunked into form-fitting rubber suits and engaging in CG-enhanced fisticuffs with absurdly-nicknamed megalomaniacs.
It’s exciting to watch how each newly launched property establishes its own unique rules and mythology, a vaguely recognizable world that envelopes us and allows us free reign to let our 12-year-old geek inhibitions run rampant...

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About That New STAR WARS Rumor...

On Oct. 21, a number of legitimate filmsites ran a tip regarding the strong possibility of a third Star Wars trilogy — an all-3D venture which would see George Lucas ceremoniously perched in the Emperor’s swiveling producer throne, overseeing the directorial efforts of such artistic luminaries as Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola.
Despite being leaked from a notoriously dubious source, it took precious little time — probably less than 12 par secs — for movie message boards and Twitter to be bombarded with fervent fanboy-driven hoopla...
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Epi-Cast: Episode 19 - "A Wild And Serious Podcast"

You dig it. You know it. You be lovin' and respectin' by downloadin' and collectin'. It is tha glorious-o! Epi-Cast...o! And it's back, in black, ridin' down the track, kickin' in your earphones while you drinkin' from a sack! Those "Wild Things", they be MASSIVE, and the Coen Bro's new movie, is about a dude who's passive! But anyway, I better split, cuz these rhymes are gettin' silly, and I best be gettin' to it! HOO-AW!
Epi-Cast: Episode 19 - "A Wild and Serious Podcast"
Wherein Tom and Cam run joyfully with Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are and ponder the meanings of a chaotic universe, thanks to the Coen Brother's latest opus A Serious Man. They also discuss the cheapie shocker Paranormal Activity, the Jamie Foxx/Gerard Butler high-octane-rollercoaster-slam-bang-wham-bam-guts-and-attitude-thrillride Law Abiding Citizen and the spook-tacular Halloween horror anthology Trick 'r Treat. As well, in a typically rambling "Trailer Park Encounters" segment, the two nitwits nitpick the latest promo clips for Toy Story 3, Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and the Nic Cage period-piece horror flick Season of the Witch. It's all so much fun that'll you'll be consulting a therapist by morning!
To download, simply right-click and save on the green episode title above. Then you are free to indulge in one of the interweb's finest wonders.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Conventional wisdom dictates that timing is everything, and certainly such is the case for Paranormal Activity. Arriving smack-dab in the midst of the bizarre ghost-hunting craze, this bargain budget supernatural startler has managed, through ultra-enthusiastic word of mouth and clever marketing, to become what the illustrious star of stage and screen LL Cool J once referred to as “something like a phenomenon”. Yet, although the film undeniably meets the necessary scare quotient, there’s a gimmickry artifice about the well-intentioned venture that sometimes cheapens what is intended as an experience in raw, intimate terror.

Shot in Blair Witch Project-style handheld-o-vision, Paranormal Activity is also, like that film, sold on being authentic footage of an ill-fated encounter with otherworldly forces. However, as opposed to twigs and people standing in corners, this film brings an invisible demonic force to the party, which violently disrupts the lives of a semi-flaky “engaged-to-be-engaged” couple occupying a palatial suburban San Francisco residence. Predictably, this unwelcome intruder draws differing reactions from its two hosts, with the tormented Katie (Katie Featherston) forced to confront her shadowy past while cynical day-trader Micah (Micah Sloat) keenly attempts to capture the spooky goings-ons on video.

As the two lovers document the mundanity of their daily lives, and divulge the reasoning behind their surveillance-heavy experiment, early attempts at grabbing uncanny episodes on tape prove fruitless, with an icemaker acting as the initial main source of eerie clatter. Still, concerns are raised considerably upon the discovery of night-time footage of a self-swinging door. Calling in a psychic (the disarmingly paternal Mark Fredrichs), the sleep-deprived duo is informed that an angry demon is at work, one which will only be satisfied by...

...and that’s where I’ll stop, as giving away anything more would risk devaluing the film of its seat-jumping shock tactics. For, like Blair Witch, there is little reason to watch Paranormal Activity once its ghoulish hand has been revealed. The film, unfortunately, clings to its attention-grabbing stunts like a life preserver, forsaking any sense of narrative drive or logic (Why don’t Micah and Katie ever turn on a light or try leaving the house early on? And how do they have the presence of mind to always grab the camera, much less frame their shots, when things get real bloodcurdling?) in favour of episodic chills. Writer/director Oren Peli knows how to keep the audience clutching uncomfortably at the armrest, but seems unsure of how to tell a story.

This handicap is most evident in the daytime scenes, depicted in random cuts of film which feel slightly too arbitrary to be believable – It’s doubtful that an eager-beaver shooter like Micah would keep turning the camera off mid-conversation just to restart it from a different angle – and occasionally kind of dull. A common stumbling block in quasi-documentary horror flicks is that, while true-life conversations are tedious when viewed on film, falsified attempts at true-life conversations are even worse. Look no further for this rule in action than in the awkward psychic scene in which clumsy expository dialogue brings the film’s realistic flow to an awkward standstill.

Leads Featherston and Sloat do bring a nice naturalistic energy to their work though, helping to smooth out Peli’s occasional directorial bumps and blunders. We more or less believe them as a couple, and as their relationship devolves into hysterical bickering we’re in there with them. It can’t be over-stated how refreshing it is to see two genuinely normal-looking individuals on screen, with Sloat’s clean-cut, yet slightly goofy, demeanour nicely complementing the smart-and-sexy girl-next-door appeal of Featherston who, as the film makes a somewhat cheeky effort to show, fills out her endless supply of tank-tops and boxers admirably. These two novices sell each and every on-screen fright with emotional honesty and relatable panic, and Paranormal Activity benefits hugely from it.

Make no mistake, you will undergo moments of intense dread during this film, with Peli dragging each and every moment of teeth-grinding suspense to the max. Rather than rely on gore or CG, the director successfully takes you back to those dark childhood nights where just a shadow or creak would send your heart rocketing into your throat. Applying a suffocating ambient soundtrack of boiler room sounds, and employing the most basic practical effects, the fiendish nocturnal visitor’s presence looms forbiddingly over ever dimly-lit scene. Even the most cynical of movie-goers will likely find themselves having to remember to breathe in the nerve-obliterating latter sections.

The value of Paranormal Activity depends almost solely on the conditions you experience it in, with the preference being either a theatre or suitably darkened TV room. It isn’t a great film by any stretch, or even a consistently good one, but it’s an effective exercise in audience manipulation that plays like an amusement park ride, with all the requisite thrills, spills and surprises you desire. Just try not to be the last person in line.

3 out of 5

*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Oct 26th, 2009.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


No doubt about it, Where the Wild Things Are is a product of magical madness, the result of a gutsy studio (Warner Brothers) handing an ultra-pricy property to a maverick auteur in the hopes that some sort of movie-making alchemy would take place. With Spike Jonze, the punk-rock wunderkind responsible for the surrealistic head-trip epics Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, vividly reimaging Maurice Sendak’s uniquely illustrated beloved children’s literary staple, the final product was destined to be peculiar and challenging - a reality which incited numerous behind-the-scenes creative fisticuffs. Fortunately, from the turmoil has emerged an oft-flawed beauty of a film whose emotional and visual triumphs outweigh its pesky narrative shortcomings.

From the outset, with its graffiti-covered opening titles – which are curiously reminiscent of the studio’s The Dark Knight viral marketing campaign – and dynamic handheld opening featuring the movie’s little hero Max (Max Records) aggressively wrestling with the family dog, Where the Wild Things Are wears it’s down-and-dirty indie aesthetic on its scruffy, frayed sleeve. Jonze has hardwired the look of the film to the rambunctious psyche of his diminutive protagonist, a thin-skinned, hyperactively imaginative young boy trapped in the gulf between childhood and adolescence, desperate for the attentions of his popular older sister and busy single mom (the invaluable Catherine Keener). After a nasty domestic fight, spurred by the presence of a male suitor (Mark Ruffalo, in a brief part), little Max runs anxiously from the house and into the nearby woods. Or does he?

Max’s distressed entrance into the dim forest transforms into an epic journey across turbulent seas and craggy precipices, drawing him into the ominous island woodlands which the wild things call home. Initially threatened by the gargantuan creatures, the young boy is saved from certain devouring by the hot-blooded Carol (James Gandolfini), the volatile outsider of the group who convinces his monstrous family unit to crown Max as their king. Proving to be an eager ruler, the juvenile monarch initially engages the towering beasts in numerous games and fort-building ventures, before more complicated issues begin to rear their head. While Carol pines for the attentions of the distant KW (Lauren Ambrose), and the smaller, sensitive Alexander (voiced by Paul Dano, and resembling the bipedal cousin of The NeverEnding Story’s luckdragon Falkor) yearns to have his voice heard, Max finds himself having to empathize with and ease the complex painful feelings of his hulking subjects before summoning up the courage to return to his earthly home.

The world created by Jonze and his art department is both wondrously pristine and domesticated, and when we step into it, leaving behind the authentic middle-class suburban reality of Max’s universe, we are entering a new kind of place entirely; a fantastical land which stirs within us a sense of marvel and inquisitiveness. Inhabited by the immense monsters - stunning achievements of CG and practical effects - which bear grubby, matted fur and unclean claws, the island is a setting where the dreams of cinematic enthusiasts come true. Watching Max and his newfound friends standing on a cliff, perilously close to the treacherous surf, howling at the golden horizon, waves of astonished chills flowed down my spine. There are numerous moments in Wild Things that will leave you breathless with appreciation.

Truly, the film’s success hinges on young Max Records, a real find, who plays a refreshingly naturalistic kid; playful and intelligent, but also irrational and difficult. We believe the unfolding extraordinary events because we believe he does, and his relationship with Gandolfini’s lovingly textured Carol is superbly developed. They have a heart-to-heart while journeying across a sandy plain that is intensely moving and a visit to the monster’s secret model room produces one of the film’s most gorgeously memorable scenes.

Yet one has to question who the film was made for. The script, by Jonze and Dave Eggers, is exceptional at conveying the deeper meanings behind the monsters’ personal parallels to Max’s own life, but too formless and oblique to be an easily accessible story. Frankly, it’s often something of a downer, with an omnipresent air of melancholy and an intentionally uncertain ending. As much as kids love ambiguity and rich subtext, Wild Things feels like the work of an eccentric filmmaker completely baffled by the wants or needs of his target audience, more interested in playing to the parents who are capable of performing the necessary heavy-lifting.

Although the movie ultimately falls short of its lofty aims, there is a beguiling purity in its dark, wounded soul that captures a greater truth – one which some may feel slightly uncomfortable acknowledging. Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are is an entirely new breed of animal altogether, a grown-up children’s fable with passion and bite. There are wonders to be found within its gloomy frames, but what you discover there may not be quite what you were prepared for.

4 out of 5

*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Oct. 19th, 2009.