Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Empire State

This came off another top-ten list from the end of the year.  While seemingly quirky for the sake of it, the tagline of "A love story (or not)" is actually quite accurate. 
It's the story of a twenty-five year old... loser?  from Oakland.  Loser is a bit harsh, he's just not applying himself properly.  It's the story of how he follows his female best friend to New York to try and win her over.  What I found really refreshing about this story and Shiga's approach was that the two love interests were not attractive people by any stretch of the imagination, and it struck me as how rare it is to see that (especially given how many not-so-pretty people there are in the world).  And on top of that, while this kid wants to be a graphic designer, upon meeting a professional one he realizes just how little he knows about it and how far he is from his dream.  It's all a little sad really. 
If I have a complaint about this one it's that there was a bit of a time jump back and forth in places and I had a hard time knowing where I was sometimes - maybe there was a visual cue that I missed.  I know he used different color palettes.  But that's a small thing compared to how interesting the rest of it was.  It's a pretty solid book with some unique art and a fast pace read.  Give it a go.

Mister Wonderful

I was looking forward to this as Clowe's Ghost World had left a really lasting impression upon me.  It says right on the cover that it's a love story, but I don't think that's accurate at all.  It's the story of the first twenty-four hours of two broken people, coming out of shitty relationships, and giving it another go with one another.  But they don't fall in love (nor should they) and we, or at least I, didn't even care if they actually got together.  The narrative keeps telling us that they're bubbly funny people, but the scenes themselves don't express that.  Clowes relies heavily on an inner-monologue that often eclipses the dialogue, and so the whole thing almost plays more like a one-sided audio book.  We're never given a reason to like or root for our heroes. 
It's a super quick read, so if you're a Clowes die-hard, than by all means pick it up - but I was pretty disappointed in it's lack of engagement.  Oh well. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

1687 - Foolproof

I always like to look through Netflix's Canadian category to catch up on homegrown cinema that I might have missed.  This film was 2003 and so it was just before Ryan Reynolds broke out huge.  Kristin Booth is fantastic here as well, and still a Toronto girl - bless her!
As far as Canadian films go this one is a winner.  It's not your typical Canadian fare at all (if that's a bad thing for you) as it fits in nicely with heist films from the other side of the border.  A group of friends plan imaginary heists for fun, but then find themselves in trouble when one of their plans is stolen and then they're forced to work with a crime lord or risk exposing themselves. 
It's a great little heist film with really solid production values and story turns.  It's a shame that it didn't do so well as this is the film of film that needs to be made more in Canada.  And it's the kind that more Canadians need to try and watch - luckily for you now it's on Netflix and you've got no excuse.  Watch it.  Now.

Friday, January 27, 2012

1686 - Wendy and Lucy

I meant to see this film when it first came out but never got a chance to.  Michelle Williams is probably one of our most underrated actresses - although I do believe that she's starting to get the credit that she deserves.  This is such a simple little story, simply told, but so much emotion, sadness, frustration, is conveyed through Williams face.  It's an amazing performance.
The film is about a woman on a trip across the US, from Indiana to Alaska (because she heard they're hiring people out there) and her car breaks down on the way, and then when she shop lifts dog food so that her Lucy can eat, she gets arrested for it and returns to find her dog now missing.
The film is emotional in a small way, and what's lovely is that it's not just a film about watching a girl get her ass kicked by life for making a bad choice, it's about how life can deal you a bad card, but then life will present you opportunities as well to improve your situation. 
This is a really lovely little indie film and it's on netflix if you're interested.  If you're not a Michelle Williams fan yet - you're about to become one.

Morning Glories: volume 1

I discovered this through some "top" list which I can't recall... It's about a group of teens, all with the same birthday who as whisked away to an elite school for reasons unknown.  They're, apparently, special.  Through the entire first trade we're give no idea outside of the fact that the kids are, maybe, smart, and it probably has something to do with science.  Although interesting, I have to admit that the 'mystery' aspect to it feels a tad coy and like they're just enjoying fucking with their audience.  I got it through the library, and I've ordered the second trade, but I'm on the fence about this series right now.  Right now it feels like they're stalling and doing a slow set-up, and it if doesn't start paying off in the next book I'll probably tune out.

1685 - It's Always Sunny in Philidelphia: season seven

Aha!  And now I'm finally caught up on the exploits of "The Gang!".  I got behind on this show but I'm finally up to speed.  What I love about the photo above is how well it actually captures the spirit of the show.  These people are a family.  A fucked up family to be sure, but they are that.  They don't always get along, they almost always put themselves before anyone else, and will throw someone else under the bus at a moments notice, but when the chips are down (and everyone else is against them) they'll beat the odds to... get back to status quo. 
Some critics have made a point of commenting about how this is the most uneven season of the show thus far, and also how 'meta' is it.  It never bothered me, and when characters like these guys become self-aware from time to time, it's pretty damn rewarding.  I have to say though, I think that Dennis Reynolds wins the award for character who has officially gone to the dark side.  They really played with his sexual exploits this season, and the reveal of his 'tools' in the finale was perfect. 
I don't feel the need to go into specifics of the season as revealing even the episode titles gives the best of gags away, but I think that the show is doing a good job of keeping things fresh while still remaining true to what it is.  They've signed up for at least two more seasons so I'll be interested to see where they head.  Will Matt stay fat?  That'll be interesting...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

1684 - Newlyweds

I finally got this film to work after having a massive pain in the ass with the iTunes video rental store.  It's a service I've used only when the films I buy come with a free digital download and I've never had a problem with that, so hopefully this doesn't speak ill again.  If it happens again on another rental, I won't bother and use a competing service.

I've had Edward Burns on my mind a lot lately.  He's, without question, the current King of truly independent cinema.  And it's because as smart and talented he as as an artist, he's just as smart as a businessman.  He knows that the theatrical audience for art house and indie cinema is gone, they're not going out to the theatres like they once were - they're at home on their couch.  And so what Ed's been doing is delivering the content directly to them.  It's brilliant.  And all it takes is for the filmmaker to accept his situation and forgo theatrical, which is really a big cost suck anyway.  Many people say that Ed Burns can get away with making films for next to nothing because he's Ed Burns and so people will watch his stuff anyway - sure I think that there's some truth to that.  But I think the smaller your budget, the less people you need to see your film anyway.  I guess the bigger problem is that ultimately it's hard to make a living this way, and can really only be done as a side thing… regardless - Ed has inspired me - and so instead of waiting for someone else to tell me that I can make my second feature film I think I'm going to start trying to put together something using this model and the great contacts I already have in the Canadian film industry.

Now, to the film.  Either you like this kind of film about people and relationships and ideas, or you don't.  And those that like those kinds of films will love Newlyweds.  It has a great look and feel to it, that is clearly a bi-product of the budget, but it adds to it rather than taking away.  It compliments the subject matter in a way that's very of-the-moment.  I love it.  It's about a couple, both on their second marriage, and their attempts to get it right this time despite the insanity of their families on both sides.  It's a really lovely little story about the fragility of relationships and what can and does happen to them over time.  I think, for now, it's only available through iTunes, so give it a shot.  It's cheaper than leaving the house to see a film!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


This was a delightfully refreshing read.  I've been pretty brutal with my reading lately.  I've been trying to read a lot, but I also have little patience if something doesn't grab me fairly quickly - life is too short and all that.  So I was happy to come across this ode to the mid-life crisis.  Perhaps ode is a bit extreme, but it's a great book and I think a lot of people will relate to it. 
It's the story of a man in his forties who first became a father at the age of seventeen, and now with the kids from that marriage grown up he's in his second marriage with a newborn.  He's a man who's been responsible and married for pretty much his entire adult life and now he's starting to feel like he missed out on the days of running around free and having fun.  On the other side it's the story of a children's musician who is at the peak of her career but wonders if she hasn't sold-out and if she should return to her earlier grittier roots of songwriting, even if it means walking away from the fame and the money.  A man tied down by life, and a woman free to make her own way.  Both in need of something.  These stories are juxtaposed with one another and then, as you might have guessed, come together at the end.
The art work is really interesting in it's sketchbook quality.  It doesn't feel like it's been labored over, in a good way.  The whole thing comes off as a very brutally honest reflection of life that's at times extremely funny, and often poignant.  If you're near a Canadian city you should be able to find it quite easily.  You can also download the first chapter of it here off Joe Ollmann's website. 
Give it a whirl!  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

1683 - Cedar Rapids

I've had the script for the film for a long time, back when it was on the black list, but I never got around to reading it, and decided not to when I saw that it was slated to be made.  Now I'm really curious to see what, if anything, changed during production. 
It's the story of a man from a small town insurance company getting a chance to represent his firm at a big conference.  This man has never gone anywhere, nor really experienced life to the fullest.  He's about to.  It sounds like a really simple and not terribly interesting premise, but it's a really lovely story.  Ed Helms is fantastic here, Reilly is delightful as it Anne Heche, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.  It's not so much a laugh-out-loud comedy as it is the kind that just puts a smile on your face and keeps it there the entire film (which, I think in the end, makes it a better film). 
This film never really got the wide release that it should have, but it's on netflix now, and really worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of any of the actors I mentioned above.  It's a lovely little film, and well worth your time.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

1682 - Did You Hear About The Morgans?

This came to us through zip.ca because, I'm sure, of Emily.  It's been sitting there for a while and so I finally popped it in.  Here's the thing - it's by no means terrible - I think it got trashed in reviews and it flopped at the box office, but I think that's largely due to the terrible title.  Parker and Grant are both draws, so I can't imagine any other reason...
For those who don't know, it's a rom-com about a power-couple who aren't getting along due to him having diddled around who witness a murder and have to go into witness relocation and, you guessed it, re-connect in a way they never would have without it having had happened. 
It's charmingly directed by Grant's apparent director-of-choice Marc Lawrence, and the thing flows along nicely, even though we know what's going to happen (I will say that the climax is terribly written, I'm sorry - it just is - the moment of their firm reconciliation is just, well, kind of embarrassing in terms of how cliche it is - feels like it was out of a different film altogether).  Elisabeth Moss, whom I adore, is given a small role here and does everything she can with it and easily steals all her scenes. 
So I don't think this deserves the flack it got, it's a perfectly fine rom-com - it's nothing phenomenal, and light entertainment at best, but there are a hell of a lot worse out there.  What you've got here is a perfectly fine hour and a half with some very charming actors and a decent enough story.  A great rainy afternoon film.

Big Questions

I picked this up from the library on the recommendation of the A.V. Club's top graphic novels of 2011 list.  The thing is massive.  It's around 600 pages, but due to it's form it's actually a pretty quick read.  Someone with the time could get through it in a single sitting - and you very well may want to as it pulls you into an almost hypnotic trance.
It's the story of a flock of songbirds and how their mundane lives are disrupted by bizarre events.  Sounds bizarre, but it's glorious.  Lots of thoughtfulness, some wonderful catty and dark humor, and over all a really original and solid story.  It's not the kind of book that's going to make you rethink the universe by any means, but it's a lot of fun to think about it while hanging out with these birds and the many other creatures that pop up.  I think if it were humans dealing with these events the book might come off as a tad pretentious, but it doesn't at all with it's animal counter-parts.  Funny how that works out. 
If you're in Toronto I'm sure that they've got copies of this at The Beguiling, otherwise you might have to order it online or get it at the library.  It's a lovely book, and don't be deterred by it's size - it's a breeze of a read, and if you stand up while doing so your arms get a work-out.  Bonus!

Friday, January 20, 2012

1681 - Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: season one

Full Disclosure: the company I'm working with right now (Frantic Films) produces this series.  Which might mean that I'm got a big bias, but just for the record if I watch something connected to people I know and I don't like it, I actually omit it from the blog.  So there's that.
I loved the shit out of this show, and I feel bad that it's taken me this long to get around to watching the full season.  I checked out an episode awhile back, but then got busy and didn't get back to it - big mistake.  The concept is awesome - it's a slacker-comedy about a group of teenagers and their guidance councilor who are fighting a book that can make people's wildest dreams come true - but always to horrible extremes - in one episode an emotionally abused gay teen turns the rest of the school gay, in another a fat girl uses it to make herself skinny (but the fat that leaves her body is evil and turns against them all), etc... it goes through so many amazing ideas that it makes you wonder what they've left up their sleeves for future seasons.  It's a rare comedy that has procedural elements, although it starts to become much more serialized as the season goes on. 
It has it's fair share of potty humor, but it's so well crafted that you can't help but admire it.  This is one of those rare shows that actually makes me belly laugh - it's smart, clever, and over-the-top funny.  I really can't recommend this enough, especially if you like your comedy on the dark side.  You really can't beat this.  It's closing in on it's second season and I'm not quite sure if they've greenlit a third season or not yet.  This is one of those shows whose writing staff I would absolutely love to be a part of if the chance ever arose (nudge, wink).  It airs on Space, but you can also buy the DVD.  Watch it.  Now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vera's Ghost

I don't think I've ever told anyone those buy I have a secret desire to one day do a graphic novel.  I think that it's partially because I'd really love to be able to draw.  I have a great respect for people in this art form, probably because I envy it so.  I can't draw for shit, I really can't.  This is a fantasy that I will probably try and live out through my children.  Poor little buggers.
This was on a top ten list this year and rightly so.  It tells the story of an outsider teen who comes across the ghost of a girl her age who is able to seemingly fix all of her problems.  It's a very funny, clever, and heartfelt book.  Deep down it's about fitting in and how that feels, how far you'll go to do it, and if that ever matters.  It's a solid first book from Vera Brosgol and I really can't wait to see what she does next.  According to her website she'll be at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this May, so I might try and go and meet her.  That would be lovely.
Please check this book out, it's a sweet little coming of age story with a twist.  I loved it.

Life With Mr. Dangerous

Now that I'm through my current stack of library books I can start on the even larger stack of graphic novels that I got from there.  The first is Paul Hornschemeier's Life with Mr. Dangerous.  This was my first experience with Paul's work although it won't be my last.  It's a simple little story of a young woman trying to figure out her place.  Where she belongs.  Who she is.  Not exactly high stakes material, but it's so well drawn (literally and emotionally :) ).  As Patton Oswalt comments ont he back cover, it has it all and it will make you cringe.  A lot.  But in such a lovely way.
I fell in love with this book pretty quickly while reading and will probably give it another look over before I return it.  Chances are I'll hunt it down to purchase as well.  If you like coming of age comics this one is a no brainer.  Check it out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

I've gotten through a shitload of books recently.  Last year my resolution was to read more, and I think I did a pretty fine job this year.  I've burned through a stack of books that I'd bought over the years but never cracked open, and I also started taking advantage of Toronto's wonderful public library system - although I have to admit that there's been a pretty steep learning curve in terms of using it's website.  Here's a tip - you're allowed up to 50 books at a time (for three weeks - ridiculous amount of books) and so if all the books you want are available right away they send them all to you.  There are ways to keep books on your list and not have them send them and I've since learned it.  Either way I was saddled with a dozen books, and so while I read a good chunk of them over the last month there were some where after twenty pages I just couldn't be bothered anymore.  Sorry books, but if you're not grabbing me after twenty pages, chances are you're not going to grab me any further in.  I apologize for the books that pique late.
This that brings me to this book, which I think I was inspired to read after having read about it on a friend's blog.  First off - I do in fact have a daughter now (tiny though she is) and so a book like this appealed to me greatly.  It's mostly about how girls are marketed to and treated as a whole - it later delves into girls roles in social media and sexting, etc... but the brunt of the topic comes early on.  My issue with the book is that despite a whole lot of wonderful and interesting topics and lessons, I never quite felt like Peggy Orenstein had decided what her book was to be about and what stance she took.  She even, at one point, mentions through a conversation that she has with her husband that she has difficulty making up her mind on the issues. 
Listening to her as she writes about beauty pageants for five year olds and how a New York toy air was about 75% pink are equally frustrating and tantalizing.  It's a tricky subject when you're a progressive parent, and as Orenstein notes, it's even trickier when you're sending your kid out into a world where the people aren't as progressive.  Kids are going to want crap that you don't want to have them to have - we're dealing with that with our two year-old-son right now.  It's tough and it's hard to know where to draw the line, and this book gives you some food for thought.  She clearly has her ideas and while they aren't always firm, they're articulate.  My biggest complaint about the book is that the first hundred pages is super solid and engaging, and then the majority of the back half almost feel like she needed to pad it out to make it 'book size' including a chapter long description of the lives of people like Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus and their rises and falls from grace.  It's a decent talking point, but we don't need a full chapter for stuff like that - and there's several examples of it through-out the back half of the book.
I found it to be a good read with solid information.  If the back-half were as strong as the front I'd easily recommend it, instead it's more about "is this your kind of thing?".  If you're the kind of person who wants to buy your kid the newest and hottest toy and puts them into pageants, this book is probably just going to go a long way in pissing you off.  But if you're a mother, you owe it to yourself to give this book a shot.  Pretty easy to get your hands on through the library.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

This Is Where We Live

This is actually a different cover than for the book I read, but somehow I think it fits better.  I picked up this book from the library based off a 'best of' list that I can't even recall.  I was hesitant at first when it started off talking about the lead character's film directing aspirations.  I'm guilty myself of writing stories about artists, although I haven't lately, but I know that a lot of people do as a scapegoat for writing about something more personal.  I have to say that my fears quickly vanished.  What this book is really about is getting over yourself and accepting that you can't just be a flippant artist all the time, that you have to be someone else as well, and that sometimes other things will come before your work.  That's a hard lesson to learn and, to be truthful, one I still deal with.  Janelle Brown does a really good job of taking an honest look at these problems and really putting her characters through the ringer.  I love how much she punishes them, and I know that there were a few instances where I got pretty emotionally involved and thinking - come on!  Give them a break here, please!  And I'm glad that she didn't. 
It's a strong novel with strong characters and themes and I think could make a pretty lovely film if done properly. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

1680 - Midnight in Paris

Emily missed this while it was in the theatres and she got it for me for Christmas so I've been excited to revisit it ever since.  Woody Allen has two types of comedic films.  The first is complete character comedy - stuff like Annie Hall, Manhattan, even the one before this You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and then he has situation (high concept) comedy like Zelig, Bullets Over Broadway, and of course this film.  And we're lucky enough that he excels at both of these - but this may very well be one of (if not) his best of the situation comedies.  The entire cast is completely wonderful here.  Owen Wilson is, in a word, adorable.  Rachel McAdams has to play the uppity cunt, but I don't think you hate her - that job is done wonderfully by Michael Sheen.  Alison Pill is really fantastic as Zelda Fitzgerald, and I could just go on and on about the rest of the supporting cast.  I'm honest enough to admit that while I get a lot of the references I'm by no means cultured enough to get them all.  What I love most about this is just Allen's decision to make a film about nostalgia and what that means to people, and I love that he explores the different aspects of it.  The idea of living in the past and realizing that everyone feels like there was a better time, it's one of his strongest themes and I think it has a lot to do with why the film is as successful as it is.  I think the films where Woody hits really universal films are the ones that strike a nerve with audiences. 
I'm deliriously excited that Woody has seen the biggest hit of his career at this point.  As if it wasn't already, I think this absolutely cements his ability to make the films he wants for the rest of his life.  And I'll enjoy them as they continue to come along!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Full Dark, No Stars

I often forget how masterful Stephen King is.  My grandmother would buy me one of his books every Christmas, and I always enjoyed them - somehow I never really sought him out on my own, and usually just read the ones she gave me.  Weird.  I remember reading Christine the book and then seeing the movie and I think it's the first time, as a twelve year old I thought "They totally fucked that up!".  It's a delicious book, and a terrible film.  Sorry John Carpenter, it is. 
I haven't read all of King's work and if I'm honest I find that I always tend to prefer his shorter work, especially books that are… kind of anthologies, to his full novels.  That's not to say I don't like a lot of the books of his that I've read.  At any rate here's my thoughts on the four books contained in this collection:

1922:  This one really knocked me on my ass.  It's a simple story of a man trying to protect his land by any means necessary from a wife who would rather sell it and move to the city.  He makes a terrible choice and is haunted by it for the rest of his days.  This story has one of the strongest narrator voices I've read in a long time, you can see it being read by someone like Jeff Bridges or the like.  The story would make a really wonderful film, depressing as shit, but it could be quite lovely.  Not sure it's my kind of thing, but it just might be.  I know that King gives the rights to his stuff away for next to nothing.  Might be worth looking into.  It's a really wonderful read.

BIG DRIVER:  Just like the first in this collection I had a really hard time putting this one down.  It's the story of a detective novelist who becomes the victim of a sex crime and decides that instead of taking her injustice to the police, that she'll take matters into her own hands.  At first I had a hard time buying that this woman wouldn't go to the authorities, if I were to adapt this for the screen I think that there would be ways to fix this in the set-up to the "event" that would make it make more sense before the reveal of what she plans to do.  This is essentially a revenge story as told by Stephen King and it's pretty damn delicious.  The more I read in this collection the more I want to read of King in general. 

FAIR EXTENSION:  This is the shortest of the stories, but it's by no means short on substance.  It's an old story about the man who has been dealt a bad hand, and is offered the chance to change his luck - but he has to give someone else the bad luck in return.  Typically this kind of thing turns around and bites the man back in the ass but the interesting thing about this iteration is that it seems more like an exercise in watching a man enjoy the torment he puts upon someone that he genuinely disliked and thought got a life that they didn't deserve.  Almost similar to Breaking Bad in which we watch a man go from hero to villain.  Like the other two I imagine that you could get an interesting film (probably a short) out of this one.  A nice brisk read.

A GOOD MARRIAGE:  This was a great story to finish off the collection.  It's essentially about the idea of - how well can you know someone?  A woman in a happy marriage of twenty-seven years discovers a very dark secret about her husband and she has to decide what to do about that news… Like all the rest of the stories in this collection it's the story of an ordinary person thrown into an extraordinary situation.  All of these stories have made me step back and wonder, well what the hell would I do in that situation?  I won't say which, but I think I'm half and half for which ones I'd be similar to and which ones I'd make the opposite choice.

I can't say that I have a favourite of these four excellent stories.  1922 stands out, but it could be because it was the first and it surprised me.  It's fair to say that any of these could have had that effect had they been the first in the book.  This collection is absolutely a page turner and it really makes me want to read more King once I get through the massive pile of books from the library that are threatening to swallow me whole.  If you're a fan of King you've probably already read this, if you're not then maybe you should consider giving it a shot (so long as you don't mind harsh and somewhat brutal tales - it's not called Full Dark, No Stars for nothing).  I say without exaggeration, this was a pretty excellent work, and each of its stories would make an excellent film...

1679 - Life's Too Short: season one

I think that it goes without saying that Merchant and Gervais are two of the most inspiring people working in comedy today.  Their first two series The Office and Extras are near perfect - especially their finales. I was ridiculously excited to see this new series, the title alone along with the concept was a lot of fun, and the idea that Merchant and Gervais would be playing themselves.  It's their usual awkward humour, and it's probably never more awkward than it is here.  And I know that I'm echoing this from other reviewers, but it really does feel that Warwick has been asked to turn himself into the next David Brent (which he does wonderfully).  You're never rooting for him so much as you're excited to see just how terribly he's going to mess up whatever situation he's in.  Or when something good happens, how bad it's going to become shortly thanks to karma.  I can't imagine that in real life that Davis is anything even close to the asshole he plays on the show, but he's quite terrible here, and it ultimately makes me wonder if this show isn't just about amusing the creators themselves... all you need to do is watch some one of the behind the scenes videos to see how enjoyable it is for Gervais to watch Warwick doing uncomfortable things.  And it's not unlike their reality series An Idiot Abroad, where he admits to the show being about him really like watching him put his friend in terrible situations.  Given that another season on this series has already been announced it might be far too early to write it off, but given where and how it ends I'm just not sure where it can and will go, and sadly, I'm not sure I care.  Unlike Extras and The Office there aren't any characters here who I actually like and want to root for, instead it's more like slowing down to watch a car wreck - which is fine the first time through, but hard to talk yourself into going back for a second glance.  The Huffington Post put it quite well:
There were laughs of course, and by the standards of average TV sitcoms Life's Too Short was excellent. But Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant will never be measured against the standards of average TV sitcoms - nor would they wish to be. The Office and Extras, particularly the denouements, made comedy into something stirring and beautiful and new.
In the end the disappointing thing about Life's Too Short wasn't that the falling out of cars and not reaching door bells felt like exploitation - it's that they felt like the freshest ideas on offer.
So if you love Gervais and Merchant then you'll want to give this a go, but it's far from their best work. 

Thursday, January 05, 2012

1678 - Louis C.K.: Hilarious

I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I love this man.  This might be my favourite of his specials so far.  I love his stuff on perspective, how people bitch about stuff that doesn't matter, how they're so hard done by.  I think what I like about Louis is that the same stuff that annoys the hell out of him about people annoys the hell out of me as well.  We live in a time where people bitch about stuff just so they have something to talk about.  Everyone feels like they have to have a shitty day story.  Everything's great, but no body is happy.  He's got some amazing stuff on child raising in this volume that speaks to me in a way that makes me wonderfully uncomfortable.  I can't think of a single thing that he's said in this or any of his specials that I can't get behind entirely.  What Louis does that I don't see any other comic doing is that he calls people on their shit, I know that he's made me think twice about the way I act in some situations.  Louis is holding a mirror up to our society and saying "look how ridiculous you all are - are you aware of how you come off, how you're perceived?  It doesn't have to be this way…"
I can't recommend Louis CK or his comedy highly enough.  For me he's without a doubt my favourite comic, and I think the strongest one working today.  I'll watch anything he's part of without a second thought.  You should too.

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives

I have a bizarre relationship with short fiction.  I love it in that it's, well, short.  I love that I can take my time with the book as a whole because I only need to concentrate in small clumps.  That sounds terrible, but with two small children and a busy personal and professional slate, that kind of thing appeals to me.  And with that I've also got a rather large stack of books begging me to read them - many on loan from the library (I swear I'm just now learning how to manage my 'holds' so I don't get a dozen books at a time).  So when a book doesn't grab me within the first chunk of pages, I move on to the next book and don't give it a second thought - life's just too damn short to force yourself to read something.  When it comes to short fiction I'll at least try to read each story in the connection and only skip when I'm just not feeling it at all.  Which brings me to this book of topic. 
I think that Gartner can turn one hell of a phrase, she's a strong writer, great visuals and the usual technical praise.  If I'm honest though, in the entire collection there were only two stories that really grabbed me FLOATING LIKE A GOAT, and SUMMER OF THE FLESH EATER - the later I enjoyed so much I read it several times and I can't help but think that there's a film in there.  It's about a man who moves onto a street filled with men that are more concerned about what rub to put on their piece of meat than how to kill the animal that it came from, and he's more of the killing the animal kind.  It's a fun and smart story that really plays on man's feelings with how the world has changed and so we've changed with it.  Floating Like a Goat is written as a letter from a parent to a teacher condemning for giving their daughter a "does not meet expectations" mark on her report card when, really, the whole point of art is to not meet expectations.  It's a really cute and clever piece.
For me the rest of the book was just fine, but these two pieces were particularly strong.  If you like short fiction (Canadian at that!) then it might just be up your aisle.  It was a finalist for the Giller Prize last year as well.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

1677 - Homeland: season one

Let me get the generic stuff out of the way so that I can talk about specifics.  I'll let you know when I head into spoiler territory...
So I'm just slightly behind others on this season but my wife and I quickly caught up over the holidays.  This is a series about a CIA operative who is told that a POW (Prisoner of War) has been turned and then months later one shows up, having been gone for nearing eight years.  What follows is a hell of a lot of cat-and-mouse as you try to figure out whose in on the plot and if the CIA agent, played absolutely brilliantly by Claire Danes, is brilliant or crazy (minor spoiler - she's a bit of both :) ).  While not a perfect show it's pretty goddamn great and well worth checking out if you haven't yet.


I was pretty impressed with how quickly they burned through story here, and quite shocked that they had Danes and Lewis hook up - although the reasons make sense for the story it surprised me a bit for her character.  Still not sure how I feel about that.  I loved how this season played on your prejudices - as we watch Brody take part in a morning Islamic prayer we have to force ourselves to remember that just because he's converted to Islam doesn't mean that he's a terrorist.  It's a very effective thing to make us feel bad about our thoughts.
I was also impressed by how harsh they went with Danes character in the end of the season.  Having her removed from the CIA was a bold move and I was sure that Brody would be found out just to help clear her name - it but wasn't so - he'll be around next season... and I'm not sure how I feel about that.  To be fair, I'm not sure this is a show that can go on for too many seasons without diminishing returns.  Already this season ended with us feeling like the system can never be beat - the powerful will always be corrupt and rise above the others.  The idea of potentially giving Danes amnesia is annoying and a bit of a cliche.  I like that the "mole" is still out on the lose, as well as the recording that Brody did and hid in the wall (who took it???  very exciting!).  But now we're back to square one, Danes suspects Lewis but no one is going to believe her, and whats worse everyone knows that she's a bit crazy now.  How do you keep that fresh?  And how do you keep the twists coming when you've more or less given everything away about your turncoat?  With Brody alive and entering the political arena I can't see the show keeping up to itself.  How would the CIA stay involved?  How does Carrie?  All great questions and I have to put faith in the creators who gave us a pretty damn solid first season of television.  I'm intrigued to see where they'll head next in this story and how they'll keep it exciting.  It's no small feat.

And last but not least, I love Mandy Patinkin in this series.  I love him in general, but he's the warmth that a show like this absolutely requires.

Give this show a shot, for sure, but be prepared for frustration with how the season ends...

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

1676 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is absolutely one of my favourite films.  I remember the first time I saw it and just having my socks blown off.  It's one of those films that makes a writer just feel absolutely ashamed that they haven't written something as clever, honest, and rich as it.  I normally revisit this film regularly anyway, but I did so tonight in preparation for a project I'm going to start up to be inspired with a metaphysical love story.  For those that have never seen this film it's about a man who learns that his ex has had him erased from their memory and decides to have the same procedure, only to change his mind half way through. 
In a lot of ways it's a really simple and basic concept - who doesn't have things they wish they'd forgotten?  Probably the reason that this film is so well loved is because it speaks so well to so many people. 
Having seen Michel Gondrey's more recent work it's clear that the man is not much of a writer, however as a director with a great script it's easy to see how well he can take his unique visual style and really evaluate a project.  There is an enormous attention to detail in this film, in particular with how the memories of each scene transition to the next, how items, or weather, etc… carries over.  I can't imagine how complicated all of that stuff was to do from a projection stand-point.  Kudos to Gondrey and his team for making it look effortless.
This film is full of talented actors and yet it has most of them delivering the performances of their careers.  Jim Carrey has never been better before nor since.  Kate Winslet is so adorable here, and fantastic as well.  Kirsten Dunst is heartbreaking and lovely.  Elijah Wood plays the role of the pathetic wanna-be to a tee (he's truly wonderful here) and Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo round out the cast in a really great way as well (not to mention small roles from the always awesome David Cross and Jane Adams). 
What I love most of this film and I hope that I carry over into my own project, is how well approached the core idea is, and how it translates to the stories of all of the characters - it's all wonderfully interrelated, and yet everyone involved has a different take and thought process on how it all works - if it's a good thing, etc…  I love the side stories as much as the main story, and that can't always be said of films.
This is an absolute gem of a film and it never gets boring no matter how many times that I've watched it.  If you like smart films and you've never seen this one you really really have to - it's on netflix as well.  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

1675 - The Fisher King

This film was one of my gaps - and I've got a bunch of other Gilliams that I need to watch at some point.  I don't know why but I'd always regarded this as one of those "must see films" and I have absolutely no idea why.  Not to say that it isn't any good.  It's the story of a Howard Stern-esqe radio guy whose life falls apart after a caller goes off and kills six people, 'causing at least one to go insane and later, ironically, save the said-radio hosts life. 
Both Williams and Jeff Bridges are phenomenal here, engaging and dynamic, but I feel like they're doing a lot with a little.  I never get a sense of real drama, stakes, or goals for these two guys until perhaps near the end of the film.  In the end I suppose it doesn't quite live up to the years-long-hype I've been unfairly giving it.  There are some quite lovely moments, and then some that are just pure  zaniness under Gilliam's direction.  All of which make it more than worth checking out at some point.

1674 - Limitless

I've never read the source material for this, and while I like Bradley Cooper he isn't a draw for me to see a film - I really liked the idea of the premise and I wanted to see what was done with it. 
It's more or less the story of a charming slacker who is given a miracle drug that unlocks his potential and how he manages to keep going with it.  Neil Burger keeps the film going at a really strong clip and he's very clever in how he visually represents what the world is like on and off this drug.  And now I'm going to get into SPOILER material...

I'm not trying to say that films have to follow tried and true structures, but in stories like this usually the hero has to get what he wants at the end without the aid of his super powers, and for the most part that's not true here - it's a crutch from the beginning of the film and it never stops being one.  The film's end suggests that he's found a way to get off the drug and keep the effects, but because it's an epilogue that's jumped forward a year we have no way of knowing if this is true or of it's just Eddie's way of fucking with DeNiro's character as he tries to box him in.  There's something fun about not knowing, but it kind of makes you feel a bit cheated.  The other big problem with the film is that you're just never really given any reason to root for Eddie - he's a lovable loser, so there's that - and he mentions at one point knowing what he "has to do", but that he needs the money to make that happen - however he's never specific even though we're pretty sure it's about becoming president.  What happens in the final minutes would have been a far more interesting and personal storyline for the film to follow than a corporate merger.  Alas. 
So it's an okay film that has some pretty strong moments.  If you like the premise then chances are you'll probably dig it to some degree - it's far from perfect but it's worth checking out.