Archive for June, 2008

In Bruges is not your typical hitman movie – especially since there is no gunfight until the end.

Ray (Colin Farrell) is sent to Bruges after committing a fatal error on a job; Ken (Brendan Gleeson) is sent to keep him out of trouble. Bruges is the most preserved medieval city in Belgium so Ken attempts to fill their time with sightseeing; Ray’s good times involve insulting Americans, punching Canadians and copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. Throw in a little person (Jordan Prentice), a Dutch prostitute (Clémence Poésy) and a Bosch-esque film set and you have a bizarre hideaway. When word does finally come from the boss (Ralph Fiennes), the pair is lurched into a life-and-death struggle with climactic results.

The film almost doubles as a travelogue with Ken struggling to peek Ray’s interest by reciting historical facts. Ray is coarse and unpredictable, which Farrell does naturally well; however, he also has moments of sincere vulnerability and remorse, which Farrell does well enough. Conversely, Ken is a fatherly figure, watching over Ray; Gleeson appears to genuinely exude his character’s qualities, portraying the part flawlessly. Finally, as the boss, Fiennes delivers on all fronts – his narrated letter is particularly intimidating.

The deleted scenes are unmissed for the most part, focusing mainly on Ray’s mistake and giving Farrell opportunity to show his softer side; on the other hand, there is an uneasy scene with a child that does not seem to fit anywhere in the narrative. There is a “making of” feature packed with cast interviews and another dedicated to filming in the “strange” city. The virtual boat trip around the city is interesting as it also provides historical facts related to passing objects.

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Days of Darkness gets off to a good start but runs out of steam as the film progresses.

It is director Denys Arcand’s third instalment to the informal trilogy about western decadence and eroding values that began with The Decline of American Civilization (1986) and continued with The Barbarian Invasions (2003).

The final chapter features everyman Jean-Marc (Marc Lebreche), star of his own fantasies of grandeur and fame. In real-life he is a disillusioned paper-pusher in Quebec’s Civil Right’s department while an unknown epidemic sweeps the nation. He is chastely married to a workaholic real estate agent (Sylvie Leonard) and has two daughters that choose to listen to their iPods over him every time. In his unreality, Jean-Marc is a winning artist, politician and/or Don Juan with hot women fawning over him constantly.

Arcand’s creation lampoons office life, disintegration of the family, inanity of the media and political correctness – and for the most part, it is on target. However, the narrative goes off course and loses momentum when Jean-Marc enters the Dark Ages in a sequence where the line between dream and reality is made very thin. Unfortunately, it is not redeemed by the end, which amounts to a cop-out towards the simple life.

Another let-down came when all the special features on the DVD were in French without English subtitles; thus they will not be evaluated here.

City of Men DVDCity of God was a masterpiece; City of Men not so much.

That is not to say it’s not good but it pales in comparison to its predecessor – both visually and narratively.

City of Men follows two of the younger surviving characters from the original, picking up with them six years later. Both boys grew up without fathers in the gang-ruled streets of a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Now turning 18, Acerola (Douglas Silva) is the father to a son of his own while Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha) worries the identity of his father will never be known. As the best buddies struggle to become men, the typical battles for supremacy riddle the streets and city’s youth with bullets.

The film is plagued by numerous flashbacks to the main characters’ adolescence and the hurdles they faced; however, they seem to be present mostly because the footage is available. Upon watching the “Making of” feature, we learn that there was a television spin-off of City of God which starred the same two young men. Thus, the film is the series’ grand finale.

While this results in palpable chemistry and bona fide friendship between the two actors, it also brings an expectation of knowing and caring for the characters that not everyone has had the opportunity to establish. Furthermore, this film tends to be less of a “sequel” to City of God since it has a whole other production from which it draws its story.

Overall, City of Men is a good film on its own but disappointing when compared to its predecessor.

Come Drink with Me may resemble some of the recent Chinese epics to grace the big screens; but over 40 years ago, it was the first of its kind.

Director King Hu has been credited as the pioneer of this style of film. He was the first to combine realistic martial arts and fantasy and magic; to choreograph fights to poetic rhythms; and plan detailed backgrounds as well as foregrounds.

In this story, a gang of bandits have taken over a temple and are holding the governor’s son hostage, in hopes of exchanging him for their leader. The Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei) comes to rescue her defenceless brother from the criminals and bring them to justice. During her journey, she aligns with Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua), who is more than he first seems. By the end, the good triumph and the evil are defeated.

This film set the bar for future samurai flicks and is the predecessor to movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with its wire stunts and balletic performances. Thus, in watching Come Drink with Me, the same pleasure is derived as from viewing one of the more recent Chinese action fantasy pictures. Pei-pei became regarded as the “samurai queen;” she was only matched decades later with the emergence of Zhang Ziyi.

The DVD special features are virtually a deserving ode to King Hu and his innovations, as all the interviews tend to turn the focus back to the greatness that was Hu – as a director and man. The commentary by Pei-pei and Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan provide small details of the production; however, it is unfortunate Hu had not recorded a commentary before passing as it would probably have been far more informative.

CBC has officially launched “Canada’s Hockey Anthem Challenge,” a national contest to find the new song for its weekly hockey broadcast.

Canadians have until 11:59 p.m. ET on August 31 to submit audio or video files of their compositions, which will be posted on the broadcaster’s website for rating and review.

“With Canada’s Hockey Anthem Challenge, we will create a new theme for the hockey nation, something that will tell the world what CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada is all about,” said Scott Moore, executive director of CBC Sports.

At least five semi-finalists will be showcased in a network television special on October 4. A panel of celebrity judges will critique the entries and then Canadians will have the opportunity to vote for their favourite.

”We’re going to create just the right mix [of judges] to ensure we come up with a winner that’s both musically exceptional and appealing to the all-Canadian hockey fan,” said Moore.

At the beginning of a Hockey Night in Canada doubleheader October 9, two finalists will face off for the grand prize. Fans will once again vote, choosing a winner.

The newly selected theme song will kick off the traditional Saturday broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada two days later.

In addition to national recognition, the winner will receive $100,000 in cash and half the ongoing performance royalties. The other half will go to Canadian minor league hockey.

The previous theme, a.k.a. Canada’s second national anthem, introduced the show for 40 years. It was bought by CTV last week after CBC and the copyright holders failed to agree on terms for a contract renewal. The infamous song will now be heard before NHL games on the CTV-owned TSN.

While CTV has not disclosed the exact figure, its reported they paid more than $1 million to composer Dolores Claman for the iconic tune.

Liberal senators proclaim they will amend the sections of Bill C-10 relating to federal tax credits for film and television, removing the power from the Heritage Minister to deny funding to productions she deems offensive.

At a press conference Wednesday, Senators Francis Fox and Wilfred Moore announced three amendments Liberal Senators intend to introduce when the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce proceeds to the clause-by-clause examination of the bill.

“The plan is to get [the amendments] out to the industry and see what feedback we get from the industry. And I would say we will introduce them when we return in the fall,” said Moore.

Most importantly, the amendment would take away the Heritage Minister’s ability to refuse tax credits based on “public policy” or issue guidelines for film content; instead, funding could only be denied if the film or television content violates the Criminal Code.

The proposed changes would also provide producers an avenue for appeal if the minister prevents or delays funding. Finally, they would ensure the government continues to block tax credits from being granted to materials that are pornographic or hate propaganda.

“These changes, which are a direct result of the testimony before our committee, will add certainty and stability to the film industry while continuing to ensure that pornography, child pornography, and hate propaganda do not receive government funding,” said Moore.

The testimonies mentioned were protests by various filmmakers and industry professionals, including actress Sarah Polley, director David Cronenberg, and metropolitan mayors. They argued the detrimental effect the legislation would have on the economy, industry and quality of Canadian films, since it would be nearly impossible to convince banks to fund Canadian projects if tax credits could be withdrawn after the fact.

Heritage Minister Josée Verner did not dismiss the proposed changes, commenting in an email via a communication assistant, “We look forward to seeing the amendments.”

Key defender of Bill C-10, Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, did not reject the amendments either. “I am glad we’ve finally seen amendments. I am kind of hoping that we’ve stirred the pot a little bit and that we’ve got something on paper.” He added that he’d like to see it dealt with during the first week of the fall rather than dragging out the process.

Stephen Waddell, national executive director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) said his organization will examine the Liberals’ proposal but are pleased to know someone is listening. “These amendments show that the Senators have listened to ACTRA and the film and television industry, by responding to united calls to fix the bill,” said Waddell.

ACTRA National President Richard Hardacre added, “At a glance, these amendments appear to address our concerns about censoring artists by removing the now-famous wording, ‘contrary to public policy.’ The Minister of Heritage will still be able to deny tax credits to productions that contravene the Criminal Code, a clarification many in the industry recommended.”

In the end, Fox provided an uncomplicated classification: “What we are proposing are amendments that will protect this vital industry as well as the principle of artistic freedom.”

It’s impossible to know what really led Ian Curtis to commit suicide, but the uncanniness of the portrayals could mistake this film for a documentary.

Control follows seven years of the all too short a life of Curtis (Sam Riley), lead singer of Joy Division. It starts with a sensitive teen falling in love, absorbing influences and embarking on a journey to unexpected international success. But the path becomes rocky when Curtis is diagnosed with epilepsy. He struggles with the trial and error method of dosing, depression, responsibilities to his family and fans, and loving more than one woman. The ‘70s-post punk star’s story ends May 18, 1980 at the age of 23.

Riley’s likeness to the late Curtis brings another level of authenticity to his stunning performance, which never falters whether he is on stage, off stage or having a seizure. Samantha Morton, as the young bride, gives herself entirely to the intensity of her character’s emotions, consumed by love or pain. In addition, the actors portraying the members of Joy Division actually came together as a band and performed live for the concert scenes, producing near identical gigs.

The film’s soundtrack is more than just a chain of Joy Division singles but a sample of the punk scene that influenced the band, including David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, and the Buzzcocks.

The “Making of” feature and the commentary by Corbijn answer many of the questions one has when watching a biopic: why did they do it; what/who was their source of information; and why did they do it the way they did?

As the film progresses, it becomes clear director Anton Corbijn believes the mood altering effects of Curtis’ medications contributed largely to his death. Furthermore, the black and white look suits the period and tone of the film precisely; it would be an entirely different movie if the final product were in colour.

The conversation with Corbijn in the special features reveals his personal connection to Curtis and Joy Division, which is more than just a distant admiration. The DVD also includes extended performances by the actors and music videos featuring Joy Division. Watching both groups perform the song “Transmission” is almost eerie.