Good Game! – A Preview of Olympics and Sports Films

Chariots of Fire

Without Limits

Sports films generally follow one cardinal rule. This rule has little to do with the technical aspects of film-making, story device, or even high octane performances. The one unforgivable component of a sports film is that it must – without a doubt- be inspiring.  When I learned of the theme week topic I was keen to begin researching Olympics or Sports related films, as this is not a genre that I would naturally gravitate towards. As my research progressed, I gradually began to form self-imposed restrictions to uncover what would stand up as a high calibre sports film. I didn’t want it to star Adam Sandler (although admittedly I am a semi-fan), I didn’t want it to be about Football (to easy), and in the spirit of London 2012, I wanted it to focus on summer Olympics (leaving out the common denominator favorite Cool Running’s). My restrictions may be questionable, but in the spirit of going for the gold, I think rules might apply here.

There are hundreds sports films that are watchable, but there are mainly two that are dimensional enough to be accessible to a wider audience of sports fans and non-fans alike. It’s a cliché choice but, Chariots of Fire is the first. Released in 1981, nominated for seven Academy Awards and three prizes at Cannes that year, the film remains a quintessential example of sportsmanship, and the intrinsic drive that leads Olympic athletes to compete in the world’s fiercest competition.  Set in 1924, the film follows two Cambridge scholars Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) who are both accepted to compete in the Paris 1924 Olympics, but who are driven by two very different motivations. The film tends to be slow and it deals with heavy religious subject matter (Jewish Abrahams experiences Anti-Semitism at Cambridge and Catholic Liddell is asked to compete on the Sabbath). As our 2012 world grows more and more secular the characters motivations in Chariots of Fire may seem trivial, yet the positive spirit of witnessing someone achieve a goal remains vividly inspirational. Besides, every frame of Chariots of Fire looks like it belongs in the dead center of the epic September issue of Vogue. If you could care less about the religious undertones, watch it solely for the luxury in set design and costuming that it displays on screen of an era that has escaped through time.

Without Limits is an easy second choice. Directed by Robert Towne, the 1998 film is the bio-pic of American record holder and long distance runner Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) or “Pre” as he was colloquially called. Without Limits and subsequently Prefontaine’s story, is a staunch example of remaining true to the cardinal rule of inspiration as it profiles Pre’s goal to compete at the Munich Olympics. Not only was Pre an outspoken rebel and tour-de-force athlete intent on over throwing athletic establishments, his stoic and wise coach was Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland) the founder of Nike. As much as it is all consuming to sit at the edge of your seat and watch Crudup out run a squad of other exceptional athletes, it is equally as entertaining to witness Bowerman’s empire collate from waffle-iron shoe soles to what we now know as his million dollar industry.

Also worth checking out is the basketball tear-jerker documentary Hoop Dreams available on Criterion, and ESPN’s documentary series 30 for 30. All these films are available on Netflix and itunes.


July 26, 2012 / By

Let the Terror Begin – A Preview of the Fantasia International Film Festival

Let the Terror Begin – A Preview of the Fantasia International Film Festival

Gore (and lots of it) is about to hit the streets of Montreal for the 16th annual Fantasia International Film Festival. Like most major festivals there is a unique hype that surrounds the event. The Fantasia fest usually summons the bizarre and untamed, as well as those who enjoy a fare bit of terror induced edge-of-your-seat entertainment. This year the Fantasia Film Festival runs from July 19th to August 9th, and will screen over 160 films within the genres of Sci-fi, Horror, Action, Crime, Experimental, Retro, Historical, Musical, Romance, War and Western.

After painfully gleaning the program in an effort to pack in as much sci-fi, blood, guts and thrill into a limited amount of time (there are only 24 hours in the day!), the highlights of my viewing frenzy will start with director, co-writer and producer Shunichiro Miki’s film The Warped Forest. Official Selection at the Hawaii International Film fest and the Freak Me Out Section of the Sydney Film fest, The Warped Forest is an experimental comedy from Miki who very well might be a Japanese cross between Harmony Korine and Michel Gondry.

I am really looking forward to director Christoffer Boe’s Beast. Winner of the Jury Prize at the Gerardmer Fantastic Film Festival and Official Selection at SXSW, the Danish filmmaker’s fifth feature film is an illusive love drama gone incredibly wrong. In the same spirit of over excitement, Jan Kwiecinski, Alexey Fedorchenko and none other than the ubër peculiar Harmony Korine, have collaborated on screen to bring us The Fourth Dimension, staring Val Kilmer. Given that I am a huge fan of Korine, I am certain that The Fourth Dimension will definitely be explored more significantly on TFIB.

Chained, is the new film by Jennifer Lynch which has already been causing controversy with the MPAA who has bestowed upon it an NC-17 rating due to extreme violence. The rating, as well as the quality of the cast (staring Vincent D’Onofrio and Julia Ormond) might work in Lynch’s favour to finally lift the cinematic hex which she has been operating under for years, with the exception of her 2008 film Surveillance. Lynch is also the subject of Penny Vozniak’s documentary Despite the Gods, also screening at Fantasia.  Vozniak’s film captures the treacherous and exhausting experience of Lynch’s goal to direct a horror fantasy film in… Bollywood?

Other films which I will not be missing include Killer Joe; Excision; Possession; The Human Race;  School Girl Apocalypse; Easton’s Article;  Replicas; Carre Blanc; Love in the Buff; Toy Master; Turn Me On; Sleep Tight;  Wrong; The Haunting of Julia;  Sons of Norway;  The Victim; We Are Legion;  Alter Ego’s;  The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate;  Bones Brigade;  The Mechanical Bride;  A Night of Nightmares;  In Bread

More to come!

July 19, 2012 / By

Two Nights Only – A Film Review of ‘Shut up and Play the Hits’

Shut up and Play the Hits

April 2nd, 2011 holds an alternative meaning for fans of the indie electronic band LCD Soundsystem. It was on that spring date over a year ago that the group, lead by the hailed James Murphy, played their last concert to a sold out Madison Square Garden in New York City. Having announced to a shocked fan base about their disbandment earlier that year, the MSG show was methodically chosen as the extravaganza to conclude band’s 10 year career. Luckily, two British filmmakers, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who previously won a Grammy for their documentary on the band Blur ‘No Distance Left to Run’, were already engaged to develop a film on LCD Soundsystem.

Originally meant to focus specifically on Murphy as the intriguing front man, the film encountered a twist of fate. Where the director’s creative intent and Murphy’s career decision coincided, Shut Up and Play the Hits was born into its hybrid structure of character profile, concert experience and documentary film. Premiering at Sundance 2011, SXSW, and HotDocs, both Southern and Lovelace, cultivated a distinct vision for the film. Seeking to avoid the monotonous ‘taped show’ aesthetic, the duo focused on exploring the band’s last days and the transient moment in time of their last show. A crew of 10 cinematographers, including Spike Jonze, were asked to show no restraint in shooting a personal diary of the band dynamics, the relationship with their audience and the visceral experience of participating in a live setting. The concert footage strategically captures the emotion of an 18,000 strong crowd who are there to witness the last moments of the bands life – their funeral as they refer to it.

In the same vein as the infamous April one night only concert, Shut Up and Play the Hits, will play one night only in theatres across U.S.A and Canada on July 18th. Mixed by James Murphy himself, the film promises to bring you to the same emotional high as being part of the MSG show – for those who missed it. The documentary also gives fans a rare glimpse into the post existence of the band and Murphy on April 3rd – the next day.

It’s a funeral – but a musical one, where dancing in the aisles and singing along is welcomed. It might just be the most fun you have have at a funeral. Ever.

July 5, 2012 / By

A Long Wild Ride – A film review of ‘Beauty is Embarrassing’

Beauty is Embarrassing

It is not often thought that beauty can be embarrassing. Beauty, to most people is the exact opposite of embarrassing, and if we are talking about the art world, beauty, is the advocated standard where aesthetic perfection is celebrated above all else. The concept that beauty can be embarrassing is a bold statement, but when you break it down like Wayne White does, it makes total sense. Wayne hypothesizes that beauty, so rarely encountered, is powerful enough to send us into a state of vulnerability where we feel unworthy to be in its presence. And that, he explains in Neil Berkeley’s documentary, is embarrassing.

Chronicling Wayne White’s personal and career life, Beauty is Embarrassing takes an in depth look at the artist’s influential early childhood years, his commercially successful time as designer and puppeteer on the set of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the culmination of his methodology in his present day success as a master typographist and fine artist who has come full circle. First time director Berkeley, who formed a friendship with White in 2001, spent two years devoted to the project, traveling across the US from New York to Los Angeles, collecting over 300 hours of footage that forms the entertaining tapestry of White’s rich story. Fresh behind the scenes video of Pee Wee’s Playhouse is fused with the divulging interviews of art world aficionado’s such as Cliff Benjamin, Todd Oldham and David Pagel. Beautiful animation sequences produced by BRKLY (the filmmaker’s own company) pinpoint the artist’s prominent life moments, and form a kinship with White’s pop, fun-quirky style.

Fun being the operative word here, as the ulterior focus of the documentary, told though White’s on the road lectures, focuses on his self-proclaimed career mission to openly cultivate the humorous side of fine art which is known all too well as the domain of the serious and the cautious. Beauty is Embarrassing creates a portrait of a man whose natural demeanor is wildly magnetic and who’s work is able to transcend the notion of the artist as untouchable. Art is subjective, and so White’s oeuvre may not be your thing, but the story behind this classically trained, creative thinker is deeply inspirational. He is a painter, sculptor, cartoonist, puppeteer, set designer, art director, animator, and illustrator who imparts a genuine passion for following your dreams to audiences across his lecture tour as well as people involved in his daily life, and those touched by connection in the arts community.

Premiering at SXSW 2012, the film has lived on to play in countless other festivals, such as Hot Doc’s, Full Frame, Atlanta Film Festival, and IFFBoston. Distribution of the film is slated for early September, but there is no need to wait that long. Beauty is Embarrassing will come home to LA tonight to screen as part of the Los Angles Film Festival at the Bing Theater at LACMA. You can also support the DIY effort to distribute this film for theatrical release through Kickstarter.

It’s a wild ride. Enjoy it.

June 21, 2012 / By

Love Reinterpreted – A Film Review of ‘Laurence Anyways’

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan is twenty-three. I usually don’t concern myself with the age of film directors, but Dolan is the exception. In 2009, at the age of twenty, his first feature film J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) debuted at Cannes and won three prizes under the Director’s Fortnight. In 2010, at the age of twenty-one his second feature Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) premiered again at Cannes under Un Certain Regard. This year marks Dolan’s third tour at cinema’s most distinguished festival, with the debut of his epic film Laurence Anyways.

It’s safe to say that the creative voice within this young Montreal auteur is wise beyond his years. His themes of self-discovery, sexual identity and unrequited combustible passion focus on life’s difficult and awkward moments, yet Dolan’s touch prescribes them with ravishing beauty and surreal existence on screen.

Laurence Anyways is an operatic, transsexual love chronicle of a couple whose souls are bound to each other in such intensity that neither of them can deny it. Layers upon layers of relationship ups and downs construct the historical drama of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Frederique (Suzanne Clément). The quintessential case of can’t live with, you can’t live without you, begins in September 1989, and reaches to 1999, the brink of Y2K and the dawning of a new millennium. Laurence is a high school teacher and Frederique works in the film industry, and together they have built a stable life that is rife with joie de vivre.

The test of their stability and endurance as a couple is put under a microscope when Laurence, decides he can no longer live as a man. He courageously releases his 30 year secret to Frederique in a heated argument where he equates the need to leave his male identity behind and transition into female, as a type of death.

This begins the couple’s complex equation of balancing security with insecurity, which tests Frederique’s loyalty and emotional rigour towards the man who she loves as he changes into the woman she is supposed to love. The overwhelming and intense nature of the subject is matched with Dolan’s boundless stylistic vision. This work of art may be the culmination of his artistic vision as it presents a film that is rich with emotion shown in opulence, but on a fundamental level is singularly about change. With the exception of the length of the film, which could have used some key editing to form a more succinct flow, Laurence Anyways is a sumptuous achievement – for a filmmaker of any age – but specifically for one that is twenty-three.

One can’t deny the masterful effort here, and its transsexual love story should not be relegated to niche. This film is universal, and can be understood on the level of anyone who has endured the heart-make and heart-break that love stories so often come with. In its soul, Laurence, Anyways communicates that there are still some things that last a long time, and whether it’s your believed sex or your infallible attachment to another human, some things are too powerful to deny.

June 7, 2012 / By

Time Traveler or Prophet(eer) – A Film Review of Sound of My Voice

Time Traveler or Prophet(eer) – A Film Review of Sound of My Voice

Sometimes skepticism can easily be mistaken for narrow-mindedness.  Those who have accepted skepticism into the current of their daily ritual will tell you that it is systematic and functions on the belief that inquiry will always rule out over blind faith. Sound of My Voice, the collaborative brainchild of budding talents Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, is built upon this argument, and raises the question how can we tell the difference between fact and enlightened personal experience?

Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) have a vested interest in being accepted into a secretL.A. cult that meets nightly in an undisclosed location in the valley. The target of their pursuit is Maggie (Brit Marling) the elusive female leader, who dresses as a contemporary Virgin Mary and who claims to be a prophet from the year 2054. Orchestrating a type of psychotherapy environment where the faithful abandon their individual souls to be part of the group, Maggie presents herself as savant time-traveller who has come back to bring a select few to a ‘safer’ place. Wanting to expose Maggie as a fraud and con-artist through a DIY documentary film, Peter and Lorna immerse themselves into this ritualistic cult life. As the couple falls deeper into Maggie’s hypnotic trance-like hold, a shift occurs and those who are traditionally governed by reason and logic begin to question if they are on the right side.

Premièring at the 2011 Sundance film festival, Sound of My Voice, has received well deserved critical acclaim and has since, gained momentum as a leading film in the genre of sci-fi realism. Parallels can be drawn between Sound of My Voice and Another Earth, which also premièred at Sundance the same year. The two films not only share their main star, Marling, but also a comparable mental state of disconnection and anxiety over the inevitable, i.e the future and how we all fit into it.

The beauty of Sound of My Voice is its ability to remain thrilling in the face of ambiguity. Events transpire, and our faith as viewers is tested, as it employs an intentional disregard for dramatic irony. The greatest thrill would come for those who delve into Sound of My Voice knowing little about the plot, but who are open to experience a film that questions blind faith, loyalty and awareness. In addition to the trailer, the first 12 minutes of the film are also by clicking here.

May 24, 2012 / By

All that Glitters: A Film Review of ‘Velvet Goldmine’

All that Glitters: A Film Review of 'Velvet Goldmine'

Gold comes in the form of iridescent glitter powder and drips off the screen with baroque opulence in Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes cinematic ode to the late seventies British glam rock scene. Released in 1998, to limited artistic acclaim, the last 14 years have seen Velvet Goldmine gain a niche following which is now nestled between rock cult classic and sexual revolution coming of age story. Although the subtext can be seen as a more serious glimpse into the sexual politics of the time, the film indulges in a campy glam which emerges as a cross between poetic and just plain fun.

Winner at Cannes (1998) and the Academy Awards (1998), for artistic contribution and costume design, Haynes succeeds at putting forth a visually intricate and detailed film through collage storytelling. Similar to his 2007 film I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine is composed of mockumetary and noir inspired vignettes that build a burlesquian glam fantasy mirroring the true-life movements of David Bowie and Iggy Pop through characters Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor). Christian Bale also makes an appearance as Arthur Stuart, a die hard fan turned journalist whose role is to guide the noir-ian component of the film in an investigation into Brain Slade’s faked death 10 years earlier. Set to a landscape of the surreal, the film which begs to be played ‘at maximum volume’ is abundant with musical and art historical references that elude to Haynes direct inspirations. If you are a fan of early sixties cinema you’ll notice the influence of Jack Smith, music aficionados will catch the Venus in Furs reference, and the ‘literati’ will understand why Oscar Wilde is the fibre that weaves the story through to its end.

Once you have abandoned the notion that Velvet Goldmine should make linear sense, engaging in its flamboyant glam nostalgia and sexual fervour is a trip worth taking. Besides, who can deny two hours of Ewan McGregor clad in sparking glitter and gold lamé?

May 17, 2012 / By

A film review of ‘Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe’

Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe

Life has been pointing me towards David Choe lately, and I don’t know why. His name has come up in random conversations and his work seems to be following my every move. When I stumbled across ‘Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe’ in the most unsuspecting place, I decided it was time to listen to the signs and view the documentary which debuted theatrically in early 2010.

One of the biggest challenges with making any film, most specifically with documentary, is maintaining a safe balance between putting too much in and leaving too much out. Friend to Choe, and first time director Harry Kim, does the former, stuffing this 93-minute film with mounds of footage gathered over Choe’s 8-year climb from teenage street writer to thirty-something artist millionaire. The content of the first half offers an intimate and diverse portrait of the artist which is brimming with interviews, new reel footage and animation.  It is when we emerge from Choe’s post 3 month jail sentence that the film begins to lose it’s steam and is strung together through a frenetic set of directionless vignettes that buoy from one life change to another. I am an avid supporter of non-linear forms in storytelling yet, regardless of Choe’s manic personality and gritty creative style, a film portrait of any subject needs to have a vision. Here, its later form changes from intimate to spastic, and not in a constrictive way that could echo the disorientation and restless nature of Choe’s work.

There is a silver lining, however. It’s powerful saving grace, is rendered through the endearing and intriguing qualities that David Choe himself presents as he tells his own story. It seems redundant to say that he saved a film about himself by just plain being himself, but it’s true. The charisma he exudes on camera is one that is magnetic, and succeeds in pulling you in to his erratic world. It’s easy to feel an affinity towards him when his sensitive side rips the art world to shreds then his reckless side dangles him from unluck to luck in search of inner peace. If anything what Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe provides is inspiration. David Choe is art rebel who didn’t care about anything which is the exact reason why he got everything.

May 3, 2012 / By