Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Now on iTunes

Just a note to say, some people out there have told me they find the cbc.ca podcasts page a little....vexing. 

So, if you're of the iTunes persuasion, find the podcast section and search for Eli Glasner.  Or click here. (Launches iTunes thingy.)


Some ol-school super funk to wash away the taste the The Spirit...the WORST comic-book inspired movie of the year.  (from the eclectic amazing Metafilter)

Friday, December 19, 2008


Ahhh the top ten list.

The one final place of power for the film critic.

Yes you can shrink our column size, ignore our lofty opinions, but here, here is where we separate the cream from the crap.

So here it is. Remember because I still have somewhat of a life so I haven't seen every movie on Earth. So this is the top ten movies that I saw this year.

10. Wall-E

This will probably move up my list when I see it again. Endearing and epic there's a lot to like here. A fine example of "show don't tell" film making. Think of how little dialogue there is in the movie and yet you know exactly how each character is feeling.

Only Pixar could give us an anti-consumption environmental movie, knowing full well Wall-E himself will be spun off into countless trinkets.

A lot of people talk about the effects. It's gotten to the point now where the differences between traditional film making and computer animation are almost visually irrelevant.

Still, spare a moment for the screenplay. From Toy Story to Wall-E, there is as much craftsmanship in the story as there is in the animation. I don't know if it's the story boarding process or what, but for a bunch of computer geeks it's an amazing tale. Also, how great are those closing credits?

9. Young People F*cking

YPF gets here for many reasons. One the savvy marketing that took a tiny little film and got it mass exposure, no small feat for a Canadian picture. But beyond all that this is a great, fun, sexy and smart movie. If this is future face of Cancon I'm behind it all the way. It's Short Cuts for horny people. Not filthy, but a grown up look at sex and relationships.

A documentary with characters you wouldn't believe if they weren't real .
As the Bad Religion song says "Sometimes life is stranger than fiction."

Man on Wire is actually in many ways a caper movie. The goal, sneak into the World Trade Centre, string a wire between the two towers, 1350 feet up in the air... walk across. As we meet the men behind the scheme the focus shifts to the leader, Philippe Petit. A tightrope walker who seems to squeeze the juice out of every moment of life. This is not a film about 9-11. This is a film about dancing with the impossible. Go rent it now. I guarantee you wont be disappointed.

I have an automatic interest in animation. And an even stronger interest in adult animation. But a documentary, using the Waking Life technique to explore an Israeli soldier's buried memories of a massacre? Sold!

As a conventional documentary this would have been fine. With animation, the interviews and especially director Ari Folman retelling of the Lebanon War is surreal and poignant. Trickling out into theatres soon so keep an eye out for it.

6. Cloverfield

Ahh Cloverfield. Every time I see a bad disaster movie. A crummy Sci-Fi flick (hello The Day The Earth Stood Still) I think of Cloverfield. This is how you do it in 2008 people. Godzilla Cinema Verite style. And of course Hud, tragic hero and funny man.

5. Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One.)

In the middle of a season of mediocre thrillers, I happened to catch this one. A French thriller about Alexandre Beck, a doctor mourning his murdered wife. Then she seems to come into his life again. The mystery unravels as people around the doctor begin to suspect Beck of having a part in his wife's murder. As people connected start disappearing the paranoia level rises as Beck flees the police while doing some detective work of this own.

It's the kind of premise you can imagine Hollywood torquing into unbelievability, the James Horner soundtrack hammering every point home.

Instead with director Guillaume Canet we get the French reminding us the value of underplaying some moments. The kind of move where a character tapping a computer mouse while waiting for an email can be agonizing. Also some lovely standalone scenes and artful use of sound. One scene mixing a funeral and memories of a lakeside swim with the plaintive tones of Jeff Buckley stands out. Cross cutting the cremation and a romantic moment might seem gauche to some, but it was cinematic poetry for me.

This is the anti-Eagle Eye. A thriller that doesn't need headache-inducing editing to shock the audience. You will not be able to get the frightening woman with the fingers out of your mind. You will wonder at the simple economy of the police chase. A fine film, equal parts mystery and love letter.

4. (TIE) Milk and The Wrestler

Yes this is kinda like cheating. But the two movies are related, because they're both on the list due to the amazing lead performances.

Milk for Sean Penn's amazing job of becoming murdered gay activist Harvey Milk. I honestly worry about actors such as Penn that are able to so totally lose themselves in roles. Going into the film I wondered about Penn being able to play such a well-known and flamboyant character. As always he pulls it off with grace and style. Milk the man is not perfect, Penn shows us his drive, his charisma, his empathy.

When I saw The Wrestler at the Toronto International Film Festival director Darren Aronofsky
took the stage before the screening. He told the audience what The Wrestler showed him is "If you have an honest performance and a lens...that's all your need to make a movie." And remember this is the guy who made The Fountain which is anything but a simple movie.

Former Hollywood punchline Mickey Rourke is the honest performance at the centre of this. Some of Rourke's own story does some of the heavy lifting. We can't look as his character Randy "The Ram" Robinson without looking at Rourke himself as someone who was once the king of the heap. It's still a searing performance. There's a lot of pain there, but also heart. The scene behind the meat counter when the Ram starts throwing meat to customers is 100 percent Rourke. The charisma shines through. You see why the Ram became an entertainer and you can't help but smile. It all leads towards the final moments of the film, my favourite ending of the year.

3. The Dark Knight

What can I say about this film that hasn't been said.

About as good as it gets for a comic book hero in my book.
Director Christopher Nolan managed to deliver a smart surprisingly sophisticated film, one that raises questions about morality and absolute power.

I didn't like Nolan's first attempt (Batman Begins). The origin story was clunky and the final arrival of Batman was laughable. But from the opening bank heist in the sequel I was transfixed. True, the movie is a little bloated. I could have done without the Two-Face coda, 15 minutes that didn't seem necessary. But still, so many fine moments

Nolan raised the bar with this one. I don't think we'll see another movie like it for quite sometime. This isn't just a smart super hero movie. This is smart movie period.

And, as the appreciation of Heath Ledger piles up, spare a moment for the screenwriter. The Joker is an a amazing performance. But part of what makes him so haunting, so primal, is we don't know who or what he is. The decision to sidestep the problematic origin component of the story was brave one. As Nolan has said on occasion, it's as if the Joker is a natural force, coalescing out of thin air, moments before the film began.

2. Rachel Getting Married.

Rachel getting Married. Regular listeners of my column have already heard me swoon repeatedly for this one. Why? Well I have soft spot for music and images when mixed properly.

I love this movie, I love the performances, I love the sense of chaos. The wedding we attend is filled with the creme de la creme of hipsters. I should hate them, why don't I? Maybe it's the sense of love, of joy spilling off the screen.
Part of the thanks of course goes to the director Jonathan Demme. He decided to make a movie and throw a party at the same time. This is dogma filmmaking transmuted into Hollywood cinema. Lovely script by Jenny Lumet. Amazing performances by all. Proof sometimes the machine gets it right.

1. Hunger

I went to this movie the way you take your medicine.
They said this was good.
But a movie about a Hunger strike?
How could that make for a movie, never mind something watchable.

Well is, it's a lot more than watchable.
It's poetic, daring, shocking, intimate, funny, wry, political and powerful.
Enough with the adjectives...the movie works brilliantly.

Six weeks of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.
The time is 1981.
The setting is the Long Kesh Prison.

This is war between the prison guards and the prisoners.
The surprise is the prisoners retain power, their body is the battleground.

But even this kind of talk, doesn't do justice to the movie's little moments, the way first-time director Steve McQueen zeros in on the human side of the story.

Bravo for him to seeing the art in this miserable situation. And bravo for the screenwriters for the middle set piece of the movie. Before the hunger strikers go to war, the leader sends for the local priest.

The ensuing conversation is some of the finest acting and dialogue I've seen in years.

[Update: some wise friends have pointed out this kinda isn't a fair choice since the movie hasn't been released in North America yet. I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival. But in all honesty this is the film that stuck with me the most...consider the pick a preview. ]

Honourable Mentions:

Best Films of 2008

Just a note to say my best of 2008 list is up at the cbc podcasts page.
Scroll down and look for the funny-looking fellow and download the most recent mp3.
It's not a definitive list, my top ten is still coming, but there's some fun clips n' stuff there, so enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not So Fresh Prince

Hmm, not feeling so bad about skipping Seven Pounds right now.

"Indigestible mawkishness" is my favourite part.

Films I Saw - 2008

Sorry posting's been light.

I've been sick.

But now I'm back, working on my best of 2008.

The first step is figuring out what I saw.

After wiping off my memory cells here's the result.

Yes I haven't seen everything. Yes there's some movies I missed, some quite sorely. (Gotta go check out Slumdog Millionaire.)

Anyway here's the list! Not in any particular order.

Waltz With Bashir
Pride and Glory
Summer Hours
Heaven on Earth
Burn After Reading
Achilles and the Tortoise
The Sky Crawlers
Miracle at St. Anna
The Duchess
Ashes of Time Redux
Voya A Explotar (I’m going to explode)
The Wrestler
Flame and Citron
Coopers’ Camera
The Hurt Locker
Plan 52
Woman in Berlin
Ghost Town
Lakeview Terrace
Tell No One
Eagle Eye
Rachel Getting Married
Nick and Norah Infinite Playlist
Body of Lies
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Synecdoche New York
Madagascar 2
Nixon Frost
Quantum of Solace
How she move
4 months 3 weeks 2 days
The Counterfeiters
Baby Mama
Iron Man
Fugitive Pieces
Speed Racer
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Sex and the City
Kung Fu Panda
Don’t Mess With Zohan
The Incredible Hulk
The Love Guru
Hellboy 2
Man on a Wire
The Dark Knight
Step Brothers
The Mummy: Tomb of the Emperor
Pine Apple Express
Tropic Thunder
Star Wars: Clone Wars
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Death Race
Young People Fucking
White Night Wedding
What Just Happened
The Reader
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Il y a Longtemps Que Je T’Aime (I’ve Loved You So Long)
Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)
Filth and Wisdom
Confessions of a Porn Addict
Last Chance Harvey
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Visitor

(86 in total in case you're curious.)

Let me know what you liked or loathed as I mull over my top ten.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Another Reason Not to See The Day the Earth Stood Still

There are many warning signs in the modern remake The Day the Earth Stood Still.

-The ridiculous opening scene where we meet Keanu Reeves as a intrepid mountain climber who discovers a giant glowing sphere.

-The scene when the same giant sphere arrives in Central Park and the brightest brains on earth...run right up to thing...arriving 5 minutes before the army.

And finally there's our friend, James Hong. The appearance of James is rarely a good sign. James is the go-t0-guy for when a script says "elderly Asian man enters."

In The Day the Earth Stood Still, Hong plays Mr. Wu. Klaatu/Keanu meets Mr. Wu in a McDonald's. Wu first establishes his ethnicity by having his son get him a tea. Then carefully sipping his McDonald's beverage he talks about how humanity is doomed, can't change to save itself (he's an Alien like Klaatu.) And then, Wu entirely contradicts himself talking about how much he loves his human family and intends to stick around.

This is just the latest in a string of underwhelming roles for Hong.
Mr. Ping. Mr. Takato. Dr. Fong. Professor Chang. That's just a taste of Hong's long bio.

I'm sure he's a lovely fellow in person. And's he's obviously got the generic Asian actor market cornered....but for me a Hong sighting is a sign of lazy casting and weak writing. Do yourself a favour, go see Wall-E instead.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Movie Reviews Online

Yup. It's true. You can now listen to my reviews in convenient podcast form.
Go to cbc.ca/podcasting and look for little ol' me half way down.
I'll be updating weekly so it's a good way to get your fix if you miss the regional radio version.
(Yes that is me. I know I know, you pictured me smoking a pipe or something...)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Convincing Doubt

Damn that's a good poster.

Pretty decent movie too.
It's all about ceremony and certitude.
The setting is the St. Nicholas school, 1964.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
is Father Flynn. A captivating charming presence in the church.
And of course prowling up the pews is Sister Aloysius Beauvier.
Meryl Streep as the Nun of your nightmares.

I wont go too much into the movie. The setting is sparse, almost sterile. Accordingly the acting looms large.

Putting Hoffman and Streep up against each other is the acting equivalent of a World Wrestling Title Match. They don't disappoint. Lucky for us because the writer/director John Patrick Shanley could have done better...relying too heavily on skewed angles and mother nature to underscore a drama that doesn't need the help. (In case you're wondering the last film Shanley directed was Joe Versus the Volcano.)

Still, I'm quibbling. Fine stuff. And one of the strongest endings I've seen in a while. Though I don't think she'll win an Oscar for it.

Go See Frost/Nixon....for the last 30 Minutes.

There have been a lot of glowing reviews of Frost/Nixon

So there the are above, the real deal Tricky Dick and the movie version. You can judge the veracity for yourself. If I had to sum up my thoughts I'd say Frost/Nixon is an average Little Guy vs the Machine / Hollywood period piece. But in the final half hour the movie delivers what you came for with a riveting clash of titans. Two egos, both putting everything on the line. Both desperate to come out on top.

Peter Morgan who gave us the movie The Queen wrote the play and screenplay. So you expect this to be top rate quality. I guess where I was disappointed is with all the work that comes before the final show down.

Michael Sheen does a fine job playing the TV star Frost. In fact after seeing him do Tony Blair and this...I'm ready for something original. (Oh, look he's playing The Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland.)

But my issue isn't with the actors but rather the arc of the story.

The movie sets the stakes early. Nixon's looking for way back to put Watergate behind him.

Frost just is fascinated by the downfall of the president and sees an opportunity. But he's a fluffy talk show guy. And a Brit. And so we get the real meat of the movie. The scheme.

Frost spends all his time running around raising cash to pay for the Nixon interview and wooing sponsors. In the meantime he's assembled crack team of Nixon-haters to help him crucify the Pres. Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt play the academic and the journalist. They cram with Frost's producer while Frost jets around getting cash, attending movie openings etc.

So you see where this is going, for the middle of the film, not exactly ground breaking cinema.

And to make things worse Ron Howard, the invisible man of directors if there ever was one, is on autopilot. So we get Class-A Hollywood cliches. The montages of the team training, cramming over books, drinking, laughing and cramming some more.

The Nixon interviews are in segments, spread out over a number of days. The first one is a disaster. And we all know it's going to come down to that one crucial interview. The last shot and the only interview where Watergate was the agreed upon topic.

It's a long road getting to those final fireworks. But is it worth it.
The reason I put the youtube clips up there is to burst another bubble that's being said about Frost/Nixon.

Yes Frank Langella does a fantastic job. But I don't think he nails Nixon. He looks off, his manner a little too easy going. I don't even find the voice that close.
But that's okay. I'm not looking for a photocopy. I want the essence . And what Frank gives us is a sense of the dangerous gravity of someone LIKE Nixon. Frank's character is the smoothest of smooth operators. You get that a sense of the pull, a personality like a tractor beam that all successful politicians have. It's a fantastic turn. Not a perfect imitation, but better in a way because it fleshes out Nixon's faults. Like dissecting and pinning a frog in biology class so we can see it for what it is.

And that applies to those final moments too. Let me say, when Watergate happened I was still in diapers. But of course the first thing I did after seeing the movie was check out the actual Frost/Nixon interview on youtube. At first I was almost disappointed. The real deal seemed flat by comparison.

But again that's the beauty of those final moments on film. Writer Peter Morgan has compressed much, but he also magnifies certain moments. Zooming in on those questions when Nixon's answer, or even his reaction before he answered said so much. There's one moment, where you see Frank Langella go through two maybe three different emotions before he even starts speaking. You wont find them in the actual interviews. But it's a great moment on film.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Carpetbagger on Bongos (Oscar talk)

Quick mention to say the Carpetbagger is the kinda critic I want to grow up to be like...minus the coke habit.

Posting vlogs on the oscar race from his basement, the delivery like some strange combination of Varietymagazine and beat poetry...

Love it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Vroom! (Car Chases)

Couldn't help linking this list of greatest car chases from The Times Online.

Perhaps because they include Cannonball Run.
A movie I have fond memories of. I'm sure if I saw it today that would be ruined. I prefer to wallow in nostalgia.
Bonus points to the Times for including Blues Brothers and Ronin. Extremely different but both satisfying.
Points off for the Quantum of Solace chase...yawn. The anti car chase (if you know what I mean) in Casino Royale was better. Also ... The Matrix Reloaded?
If you're too tired to click I'll save you the trouble. Number one is Bullitt. Which I have to say, I've watch and I didn't find it amazing. It's no Duel. Heresy I know.

Add your favs in comments. For the moment I'd have to go with The French Connection.

Not the most original choice I know, but everything else seems derivative.