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Non-Review Review: The Canyons

The Canyons struggles to surmount the weight of productions stories bearing down on it. Paul Schrader’s latest film was famously the subject of a 7,000-word article in the New York Times documenting the trials and tribulations behind the scenes. In a way, these troubles made the film somewhat larger-than-life, turning it into one giant attempt at career resurrection for director Paul Schrader and lead actor Lindsay Lohan.

Given the film’s much publicised sexual content (and the decision to cast pornography actor James Deen in the lead role), there’s a sense that this could be Lohan’s Last Tango in Paris, a bold and blistering performance from a once-respected talent eclipsed by years of behind-the-scenes gossip and idle chatter. Ironically, it’s none of the established talent that impresses with The Canyons. Bret Easton Ellis’ story feels like a shallow pastiche of Ellis-ian touches, while Schrader’s direction is intrusive and overwhelming. Lohan shows flickers of honesty and risk-taking, but is lost in the shuffle and the hum-drum plotting.

In contrast, it’s relative newcomer (as much a man with a filmography containing over 1,000 titles can be a newcomer) James Deen who makes the strongest impression as a surprisingly efficient Ellis-ian protagonist.

thecanyons1

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Non-Review Review: Sleeper

Sleeper is an enjoyable Woody Allen film, coming from relatively early in the director’s career. He had yet to direct either Annie Hall or Manhattan, arguably his two most popular works, but was coming off a string of well-regarded movies. Sleeper is an affectionate look at many of the science-fiction movies that Hollywood was producing in the late sixties and early seventies, to the point that Allen himself actually sat down with Isaac Asimov to make sure the science-fiction elements of the script were kosher. However, Sleeper is remarkably fluid, allowing room within that framework for Allen to really explore any and all ideas that might possibly have occurred to him. The result is, to borrow a quote from the poster, a highly enjoyable and almost whimsical “nostalgic look at the future.”

Robot in disguise…

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My Best of 2011: Thor, Daddy Issues & The Triumph of Optimism…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

Thor is number five. Check out my original review here.

This is perhaps one of my “what the…?” picks, one of my choices that will seem especially random, and a blockbuster highly unlikely to show up in any other critic or commentator’s “best of 2011” of “end of year” countdown lists. However, I think there’s a lot to like about Branagh’s adaptation of Marvel’s faux-Shakespearean hammer-wielding Norse God, and I think it works so well because Branagh seems to acknowledge the same sentiment that Stan Lee tapped into when creating The Mighty Thor: the idea that superheroes are a modern American mythology, a vehicle with which to explore the hopes and fears of the modern world through a fantastical prism, something that can be traced back to the pantheon of old. While the best superhero films explore this sense of relevance, I admired the way that Thor managed to embrace it in the most abstract manner, tracing it back to that earliest and most basic type of story: the story of fathers and sons.

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Non-Review Review: Superman II (The Theatrical Cut)

I kinda feel sorry for Superman II. As a film, it’s overshadowed by the enormous controversy over the firing of director Richard Donner. Donner, who directed the original film, had begun work on the follow-up, when he was dismissed by the producers – reportedly for resisting the “campy” direction that the Salkinds where trying to force on the film. Richard Lester (who worked with the Salkinds as producer on The Three Musketeers, The Fourth Musketeer and as an uncredited producer on the original Superman) stepped in to fill the vacant position, and was ultimately credited on the finished product. While the film works relatively well, it suffers from the simple fact that Lester is nowhere near the craftsman that Donner was.

You'll believe a man can make a woman forget his secret identity!

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Check Your Listings: The Displaced Cast List…

It happens every once in a while when I view a poster, or a DVD, or even browse the end credits of a film. I’m sure you’ve noticed it too. There’s a certain actor, who happens to be relatively well known (even in a particular geographic region) whose name happens to be featured rather prominently on those lists, ranking just below the leads of the given film. The only problem? Well, the person in question only appears in the film for a scene-and-a-bit, and actually warrants inclusion towards the end of the cast list… if at all.

One of these is the UK poster. Guess which one. Go on.

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On Second Thought: Apocalypse Now (Redux)

I wrote in my review of the original version of the movie that the two-and-a-half-hour cut captured a great deal of the insanity that seems to have been a defining characteristic of the Vietnam War, with the movie feeling like a crazed surrealist trip into madness, a collection of abstract meditations on the American condition that felt compressed at over two hours. If that is the case, Apocalypse Now Redux captures another aspect of the conflict. It’s now less insane, but the instability and absurdity appear more systemic and endemic. It’s bloated, terrifying, harrowing and seemingly eternal.

Much like the war itself.

Back into the Heart of Darkness...

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Non-Review Review: Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now was what might be described as a “troubled” production. Francis Ford Coppola was never intended to direct the film, which ran into trouble with local weather and local politics, undergoing script changes on a daily basis, an overweight and overpaid Marlon Brando who refused to read either the script or the book it was based on (leading Coppola to read it to him), Dennis Hopper’s drug addiction and countless other factors. Actor Martin Sheen at one point had a massive heart attack and had to walk a quarter of a mile for help, which Coppola had to cover up (claiming he collapsed due to exhaustion and filming with extras and voice doubles) for fear of losing funding. Al Pacino had been considered for the role, but had the foresight to turn it down, with Coppola suggesting, “Al would do the film, if we could film it in his apartment.” If that’s true, he might be the smartest person associated with the production.

I mention this, because I think a significant amount of that trouble seems to feed through the film. There’s a sense that isn’t a safe production, which is somewhat fitting, given the subject matter.

Up the creek...

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