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Initially, seeing directors/writers/actors Tim Doiron and April Mullen at the 2009 FaneXpo in Toronto dressed and acting silly as their filmic personas from Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser, I was not getting my hopes up for the screening to occur two days later. The aesthetic, both in their actions and characters as well as the marketing materials on display, had a very Napoleon Dynamite-like bent to them, a film I am not a big fan of. These two were just so enthusiastic, though, signing everything, talking to anyone who came up, and posing for tons of photos. The sheer dedication to their work and genuine exuberance at spending eight hours a day for three days definitely warranted a view, no matter how much I may have hated it upon completion. I’ll just say that the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” does still ring true. Tosser ended up being much more Christopher Guest-lite than any Napoleon/Pedro antics, and while indie-quirky like so much these days, definitely delivered on the laughs in its originality.

The brainchild of these two graduated film students educated in Toronto, the film began as a way to get themselves out to the public the quickest way they could. While Tim stayed east and started to write, hoping to launch his own project and not rely on others, April made her way to LA and saw how cutthroat auditioning for roles against the Kirsten Dunsts of the world could be. So these two chums decided to work together and create their own piece—paid for by credit cards and filmed in just 7 days, (“7 days straight through, so more like 14,” as April explained after the film). Looking for a topic that could be a character to itself, being that no name actors would be attached to the film, they decided that Rock, Paper, Scissors could have the mass recognition and appeal to work as a selling point. Writing around the character of Gary Brewer, (Doiron), and his spot in the RPS Championships, the story was born.

Shot as though a documentary—complete with boom mic appearing every few minutes—on the days leading up to the big show, we as an audience learn the eccentricities of Gary Brewer and his girlfriend Holly Brewer (no relation … yet), as well as their live-in friend Trevor Morehouse, a gentleman they found on the streets in an army uniform that has amnesia, not mention a few screws loose too. According to Doiron, Zealand, New Brunswick is a very simple town where you can literally drive down a street counting mailboxes and see that 75% say Brewer, 20% Morehouse, and the other 5% a mixture of different surnames. There also exists an intriguing stretch called Hubcap Valley that is the town’s claim to fame. Using this environment as a backdrop to the Brewer’s history, Doiron and Mullen were able to keep the tale steeped in absurdity that was more so due to the fact so much was based in reality. Even interviews with the heads of the Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament are real, as is a book on the rules and etiquette of the sport. Who knew RPS could be played on a circuit professionally? This thing enters us into a world we may never have experienced otherwise.

While the tale and fight of Gary to win the championship, prove rival Baxter Pound to be a chump, (a great sleazeball performance from Peter Pasyk), get his own trading card, and have the money and success to marry his love Holly, (Mullen), is fun and well-written, the true reason to watch is most definitely the characters. Doiron and Mullen are just having fun at all times. Writing on the fly, changing things, and just plain seeing what comes out of different takes; these two are a talented team with what will hopefully be a bright future ahead of them. Their comedy does deal with a lot of slapstick and physicality, but also with quick quips and great retorts. Facial expressions rule the day, adding some fantastic laughs just from reaction shots or faces in the background. When Gary’s hand goes limp before the tournament, the funniest part of the scene was looking at Trevor, (Ryan Tilley steals the show in many instances), and his opened mouth of disbelief and true horror. With montages of the warm-ups and training, glimpses into their life like Karaoke night at the neighbor’s, and idiosyncrasies like Gary’s inability to toss paper after a horrific car crash and Holly’s fear of scissors after being “snipped” at a match years before, there is never a lull in the action as each gag succeeds on its own merits while also adding to the plot driving everything forward.

The duo at the lead and Tilley’s Trevor work so well together and do it all in complete deadpan. Sprinkling a few gag-reel moments in with the end credits is a stroke of genius because you know there had to have been slips and uncontrollable laughter on the part of the actors. Throw in supporting players like Pasyk and the crotchety old hall-of-famer Finnegan O’Reilly, played by Mairtin O’Carrigan, (think Dodgeball’s Patches O’Houlihan), and you’ve got yourself a pretty entertaining hour and a half of fun. Doiron and Mullen took a big risk getting this thing made, watching it blossom after a year’s worth of post-production and another year of finding distribution, eventually landing with Alliance Films. It is definitely a success story and, after meeting the two, much deserved. Their second feature, with a full budget and backing from Alliance, GravyTrain, stars Colin Mochrie and Tim Meadows alongside them, and will be on my radar as a result of this screening for sure.

Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser 7/10

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[1 & 2] from the presskit available at

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Quote of the day, and possibly of the weekend is that gem from Tim Doiron, regarding his cutoff shorts as he stayed in character for the duration of the festival. Both he and April Mullen had been standing outside the room that would screen their feature debut Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser the entire time, passing out postcards, signing posters, and posing for photos as their alter-egos Gary and Holly Brewer. A quick look at them, as well as the marketing materials, made me think Napoleon Dynamite completely—not a good thing. But their dedication to the work and genuine enthusiasm warranted giving them a shot, so Sarah and I tried our best to make sure to catch their screening today at 5. It all rested with our weekend stalking subject James Kyson Lee and whether he’d make his photo-op time so my sister could be in and done quick enough to make the film. (Props to him for posing with her by doing the goofy face he used in season 3 to quiet Baby Parkman).

I will say that three straight days of an expo such as this can be very draining. Sure, there are some cool lectures and events, but the down time consists of the convention floor … that’s right, the same floor booths that are there the entire show. Don’t get me wrong, the artwork and collectibles and displays are great, very cool to check out, but the tenth time you’ve walked by, feigned that smile, and avoided contact so as not to be pulled in to spend money is about seven times too many. I did pull the trigger on that DVD of three horror festival shorts by Rodrigo Gudiño, publisher of Rue Morgue magazine, so all was not lost. They seem creepy and aesthetically so; I can’t wait to watch. Also, the extra roaming time allowed my brain to remember the fact that Stephen King’s Dark Tower series had been given a comic transformation by Marvel. After trying two booths, both sold out, I finally found a copy marked down from $30 to $8 … I couldn’t say no.

But the highlight of staying day three became that little movie about a game we all know and love. Shot as a documentary of “tosser” Gary and his acceptance to the Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament in Toronto, we learn the idiosyncracies of he, his girlfriend, and buddy Trevor the amnesiac. The laughs were big and the story a lot of fun, spanning a quick and concise 82 minutes. I was scared about what to expect, but the tone ended up being more like a Christopher Guest film than any voting for Pedro flashbacks. The fact that the filmmakers/stars were there for a laugh-inducing introduction and post-screening Q&A helped my enjoyment and I can say now that I’ll be looking forward to their second feature called GravyTrain, with Tim Meadows and Colin Mochrie. Mark me down as a Doiron/Mullen fan.

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[1] The World Ends With You cast in cosplay (Sarah Mobarak as Rhyme, front left)
[2] April Mullen and Tim Doiron as Holly and Gary Brewer, introducing their film

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Ah, Day Two at Toronto’s FaneXpo was a little easier to assimilate having gone through the initiation of the previous day. Arrival at 9:45—doors were at 10:00—threw us for a loop somewhat as the line weaving in and out of itself was massive. Could this be the line to see Leonard Nimoy, our first stop on the day? I will admit to being more than a little frightened at this hypothesis, but all was well upon realizing the massive queue was just to get into the convention space, an area so easily accessible the day before. After waiting a few minutes, seeing our watches hit 10:05 and still being denied entry—because we weren’t in the line—Sarah and I decided to utilize the VIP badges clipped to our shirts and walked right into the far entrance … haha suckers!!! We later found out that the attendance today was the largest ever in the event history.

The first and only necessary stop was checking out RAK Graphics one more time to buy a few more of his stellar art cards, (I needed a Pinhead as Hellraiser is my old school horror of choice). Then it was off to find the real line for Nimoy, one not as long as I would have thought. I feel real bad if people lined up in the admission one instead, thinking the sheer numbers must have been for the Q&A. Well, we got in, found some seats and awaited the comedic flavor that would be a theme for the day. Leonard Nimoy is one fun guy, sharing anecdotes, playing with the audience, and is self-deprecating to a fault. Opening his talk with the fact that people earlier in the day, during an autograph session, told him they were huge fans, big fans, number one fans, he then told us what one girl said after all those … “You remind me of my grandfather”.

Some tidbits learned:
• The makers of “Big Bang Theory” have not asked him to appear, “they only wanted my napkin”
• Once decided to do a talk in Billings, MT to get away from the intruding fans at home. After just a few minutes, his motel phone rang with a girl from Colorado who heard from a friend he’d be in Billings, and she called every motel, (there were 3), to get him. Then ten minutes later, as he was leaving, the phone rang again, this time a girl from St. Louis. “How did you find me?” he asked. She replied, “My friend from CO told me!”
• Currently he is focusing on his photography, but will be guest starring in a couple episodes of “Fringe” in Season 2
• Wrote “I am Not Spock” after a mother told her young son in an airport that he was his favorite tv character Mr. Spock. The kid did not understand how this normal man was the Vulcan from his memory.
• The Vulcan “hand” greeting was self-created. When doing the episode that showed the first glimpse of other Vulcans, he thought they’d need a greeting—an alien salute/handshake/bow. Thinking back to his childhood in a Jewish service blessing, he remembered taking a peek during a Hebrew chant, when his eyes should be covered, and seeing the rabbi with both hands in that position. The shape is actually that of a Hebrew character, the one that begins Shalom, or peace in English.

We then had some time to kill before our next Q&A, this time with The Chin himself, Bruce Campbell, and so back to the convention space we went to wander around yet again. Some majorly cool stuff in there that I’d love to have hanging on my walls, if only they were free. A compilation of three horror festival winning shorts from the head of Rue Morgue magazine did catch my eye for 20 bones though … I may take the plunge tomorrow on that one. Finally the time for hilarity with Ash came, a couple smoothies later, and was he funny. Roaming the stage, mocking every Canadian city/Province he could think of, all while berating his fans, telling them to shut up, or just plain calling them losers, Campbell was my highlight of the weekend by far. Question, “Do you ever get tired of playing the sarcastic, sleezy guy?” Answer: “Shut the f*ck up.” Not utilizing a moderator at all, he went from person to person, answered those he chose to, sarcastically quipped and avoided all others, and even played a game where he’d turn his back and let the audience name a film they wanted their money back from that he was in. Let’s just say he didn’t blame the audience on most of their picks.

Some highlights from the talk:
• Opened it with the sentiments, “Bunch of weirdos in here”
• On Canadian currency: “Who drove the farthest to get here? Okay, come on up so I can give you some money to help get back. Gonna give you something that looks like a quarter with something shoved in the middle”
• On sequels: “Chumps like you pay for them. If you don’t like the first, don’t see the second”
• Bruce does not have a favorite beer because he doesn’t drink the stuff … now tequila, that’s a different story
• After a stupid question is asked, Bruce looks at his watch and says, “Man, I’ve got 40 minutes left … that sucks”
• On Bubba Nosferatu: he didn’t like the script. His respect for director Don Coscarelli is too much to fight him over so he passed on the project.
• On the Old Spice commercials he was in: “I got paid more per word than any other job I ever had. I’m wearing it right now … it smells like money”
• On Spider-Man 2: “I am the only character who ever defeated Spider-Man”
• Answering the question about whether he ever “got with” Xena, Bruce replies, “No I never got with Xena because the producer did … I’m not really kidding”

A quick wind-down after Campbell’s classic wit came next from a sneak peek of the “Heroes” Season 3 DVD. James Kyson Lee was back and he pretty much got the exact same questions asked that we heard yesterday, so sitting through it was somewhat painful. The hour was redeemed, however, with a five minute or so trailer for Season 4, and it looks like it could be a goodie—mostly because Robert Knepper is the man. Oh, yeah, and James, what’s with the leather jacket and sunglasses man? The rockstar look just ain’t working my friend.

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[1] Marvel banners
[2] Leonard Nimoy laughing at fan holding his old Spock sings record
[3] Lou Ferrigno signing auotgraphs
[4] Bruce Campbell
[5] Stranger Lucca with familiar Lucca (aka Sarah Mobarak)

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Being in Toronto for a convention that deals with anime meant I couldn’t leave the city without actually seeing an anime film, right? Lucky for us, the new Hayao Miyazaki film Gake no ue no Ponyo was playing at the local multiplex just minutes from our hotel. Distributed like his previous few films in the United States by Disney, from its Japanese Studio Ghibli origins, Ponyo ports the vision of its creator in beautiful animation and color with the inclusion of new Hollywood actors to dub in the script. With talent such as Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Betty White, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, and Cate Blanchett, it becomes all about whether the story grabs you and takes you along for its journey. There are no subtitles or “bad acting” to make note of, no, the story is key. And was it good enough? In my opinion—not really. Definitely the weakest of Miyazaki’s films that I’ve had the pleasure of watching, Ponyo may work wonderfully for the young children, but unfortunately that is where its success ends. Besides trying to make a comment on humanity’s interaction with nature, there really isn’t anything more than a cute tale to keep the kiddies occupied for an hour and a half.

It’s all about young Ponyo, a fish parented by Fujimoto, a human who has decided to leave dry land for the ocean, and Gran Mamare, a sort of God of the sea. Given magic by her father, Ponyo wants to utilize her new power and explore the world; soon finding herself stuck in a glass jar right outside the Cliffside home of Sosuke, a five-year-old boy who enjoys animals. He sees this hurt goldfish and tries to revive her, in effect accidentally allowing her to taste his human blood, which allows for her eventual transformation to human form. Fujimoto attempts to bring her back to the fold and keep a tenuous balance in the world whole, (ocean vs. land), but realizes she has become too powerful for him to subdue. Contacting her mother and consulting with her, he decides to let his daughter stay above water if her love for Sosuke, and his for her, is true. Risking her destruction if the love isn’t pure, he knows that it is now up to her to restore balance, bringing the magic of the ocean back, away from the humans who may not be able to control it.

Even from the beginning, devoid of voice, only a colorful display of oceanic life, the animation is gorgeous to watch, but sometimes overabundant in its jam-packed frame. The opening scene, watching Ponyo’s escape for the surface, makes you a bit disoriented, not knowing what is happening. Are all those little fish her children? Is the creepy water lord Fujimoto a hunter on the search for her? The familial relationship between these characters really doesn’t become known until later on. Once the magic is released, however, and these “fish with faces” unleash the tsunami prophesized by the elderly Toki, a resident at Sosuke’s mother’s retirement home, it all makes sense and the audience can just sit back and revel in the artistry at work. A golden glow emits forth and changes aquatic animals into powerful fish and alters the water itself into a school of powerful fish-like waves, slowly rising higher and higher as the moon gets closer and closer, raising the tide—the planetary proximity having been thrown off by the human metamorphosis of Ponyo. The waves themselves reminded me of Hokusai Katsushika and his “Great Wave off Kanagawa” woodcut; the artistic comparisons are definitely there throughout, melded with Miyazaki’s signature style to become his own.

An attempt at infusing the story with an environmentally friendly bent is quickly tossed to the side as the quick retorts of Fujimoto and his disdain for humanity’s unclean living become nonexistent. The story becomes more about the love between these two new friends and the acceptance of someone different as equal. Sosuke knows his friend used to be a fish, but his love for her doesn’t waver as a result. Even though his father is a fisherman himself, gone long stretches at sea on his large boat, the bond this girl and he create is too powerful to allow for petty differences to interfere. So, in that regard, Ponyo is a great film for the youngsters to make them laugh, get them excited from the tension of the giant storm and search for Sosuke’s mother, as well as help them to understand the meaning of tolerance. It is a cute film, well worth your time, and successful at bringing a smile to your face. Unfortunately, it is from the mind of Miyazaki, whose previous works have held such layered storytelling, captivating on so many levels and reaching viewers of all ages. Maybe Hayao wanted to tell a simple story and nothing more. If that is the case, bravo, I guess I just wanted more.

Gake no ue no Ponyo 6/10

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[1 & 2] A scene from Walt Disney Pictures’ Ponyo (2009) Copyright © Walt Disney Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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Oh, the amusement I get from watching grown adults dress up like characters from their favorite anime/movie/game/etc. Surprisingly, I thought there would be more cosplaying, (I learned a new term), but thankfully I wasn’t alone in my lack of imaginative wardrobe. I did however pimp my Thor tee, so give me some credit.

What was first a somewhat subdued looking scene—a scattering of people waiting outside lecture rooms for whatever person/screening was about to start—soon became mayhem once entering the actual convention space. People everywhere, artwork from left to right, and makeup/prosthetics galore. I wish I had some money, because, I’ll admit, I’d have been buying up some original art and graphic novels no problem. As it was, I couldn’t pass up the playing card size prints of “horror-like” drawings of famous characters by RAK Graphics. RAK himself was manning the booth and passing out business cards—consisting of the artwork for sale, but devoid of his small signature. I absolutely needed the A Clockwork Orange piece with Malcolm McDowell’s Alex. Suffice it to say, I will be back at his booth for some more tomorrow, because, for a buck, they make great little gifts.

The autograph booths were fully occupied and my sister and I spied a glimpse of Lou Ferrigno, Linda Hamilton, Avery Brooks, Udo Kier, the Soup Nazi, James “Frank” Duval, and Chekov himself, Walter Koenig. The costs for those 8x10s were not cheap, however, so I decided on getting one of President Roslin, Mary McDonnell, and call it a day. She was very kind and personable, even going as far as to see my sister, (all dressed up as Aigis—you got me), and wonder who she was. Upon our exit, she even looked at me with a faux seriousness and said “keep an eye on your sister now”. Direct orders from the President must be followed.

As for our one foray into the lecture rooms, not counting a brief stint watching Evangelion: 1.0 You are (Not) Alone which ended up being a remake of an older version my sister already saw, we caught a Q&A with “Heroes’” Ando, James Kyson Lee. The guy was great, walking to the microphone and wondering if he’d get a moderator or not. While not divulging in too many spoilers for the new fourth season, he did let a couple tidbits loose. The season begins Sept 21st and will have, amongst others, guest stars including Robert Knepper, (from “Prison Break” James, not “24”; right channel, wrong time), Ray Park, and Ernie Hudson. Also relayed was that he’d be getting a love interest, “[Ando] does love women”, would hone his skills with his Crimson Arc power, and share a scene with a furry animal. As for the show itself, the new season will have a different format with each week focusing on just 4-5 characters rather than all 525 in 42 minutes. There will also be a carnival theme with a family of circus freaks that don’t just do the impossible for show, but actually have powers themselves. Some fun facts about himself were divulged as well: he studied Communications and dreamed of working for ESPN before doing some improv with friends and catching the acting bug; slept in his car the first night in LA after flying out with a one way ticket; plays basketball and ultimate Frisbee; and made up his Baby Matt quieting face from season 3 himself, calling it a “half Yoda, half Krusty the Clown” look.

So, all in all, it was a banner day in downtown TO. Tomorrow looks to be more chaotic with many more visitors being the weekend. I’ll be looking for more costumes, more laughs, and more Q&A’s that would interest me, (if not my sister).

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[1] The convention booths
[2] Tron Legacy bike
[3] James Kyson Lee
[4] Thomas Dekker & Sarah Mobarak

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I like to think that the sheer fact Inglourious Basterds got made means that Quentin Tarantino isn’t all talk. Maybe, just maybe, that Whole Bloody Affair DVD compilation of the Kill Bills will come out. For now though, we should all be happy QT is back to form after his, in my opinion, misstep with Death Proof. As with his previous feature films, Basterds is above genres, mixing so much cinematic history and style to become a beast all its own. Parts WWII drama, parts comedy of follies, parts political intrigue, and parts brutal revenge flick, the film is woven together in five chapters, telling the tale of a young Jewish woman’s bloodlust for the regime that murdered her family in cold blood. Beautifully shot, meticulously orchestrated, and lyrically scripted, it is Tarantino’s answer to friend Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood; a statement that says “anything you can do, I can do better”. Is it better? Now that is a tough question, one that numbers cannot truly define. Is it QT’s self-proclaimed masterpiece as he so shamelessly alludes to with the last line of dialogue? I still say Pulp Fiction can’t be beat, but this one definitely makes me take pause.

What I love about Tarantino is his fresh, smart, and generally amusing as hell dialogue. Each film he has written bears his voice and excels as a result. However, as each entry to his oeuvre is made, the sequences seem to go longer and longer. It started with Kill Bill and continued to the extreme in Death Proof with overlong passages that, while not petering out towards the end, definitely contain some dead spaces. The 153-minute runtime here doesn’t necessarily feel long, yet also doesn’t hide itself. Rather than a feeling of boredom, I was anxious to get to the next scene, to see what would result from the previous instance of gravitas. Because this movie is chock full of tense plot points of huge importance. Not one second is wasted, (well, maybe the unnecessarily hokey titlecard to usher a quick film reel history of Hugo Stiglitz and the other Sam Jackson narrated vignette about nitrate film), and the weight of every word and pause is felt. Were scenes drawn out, needing a trim here or there? No. If anything they were just so tightly wound that I couldn’t breathe or wait from the anticipation of what was to come. I’m not quite sure if that is praise or criticism because, while taking me out of the film, I don’t think I’d have wanted it any other way.

Oddities aside, (the Stiglitz freeze-frame wasn’t the only instance of font overkill—did we really need to know the names of the men in the theatre suites?), this is vintage Tarantino pastiche. Right from the start, you aren’t quite sure what is going on. Denis Menochet’s Perrier LaPadite is shot with stoic strength, deliberately moving as he watches Nazi soldiers approach his house. Reminiscent of a Western standoff, the scene is accompanied by a reworked classical music piece I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and the close-ups and camera angles made me look to see when Menochet and Christoph Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa would inch their hands close to their gun holsters for a quick draw. Instead, we get a pipe juxtaposition showing the dearth of proximity their two classes are in—French milk farmer and German SS Colonel. The scene sets the stage for what is to come, showing the incident that ultimately leads to the revenge bent at the film’s core while also showing us the cucumber cool and sarcastic wit of Waltz’s Landa, by far the most interesting creature playing amongst the hyper-reality at hand.

The trailers harp on the Basterds themselves far too much because they are, to me, the least interesting plot thread. Yes, Brad Pitt is fantastic—the coarse Southern accent, the ruggedness complete with horrific neck scar, and the blank-faced comedic timing with his atrocious Italian and matter-of-fact dialogue delivery; and yes, Eli Roth is so over-the-top you can’t help but love “The Bear Jew” without remorse. His lack of acting skill is quite obvious, but his exuberance and intensity more than make up for it. I also really enjoyed Til Schweiger’s Stiglitz, the consummate badass out to kill the bad guys, no matter what side he is on. But, once the initial joy of their brutality and humor dissipates, you realize how thin their role really is. Bounty hunters sent on behalf of the American army, they are out to kill Nazis by maiming, branding, and butchering—mindless fun for sure; intelligent storytelling, not so much. No, that aspect is brought to form by Mélanie Laurent’s Shosanna Dreyfus, once a Jewish girl in hiding, now a woman hiding in plain sight with fake name and papers and a movie theatre to run. By sheer coincidence, (dumb luck?), or divine intervention, the people responsible for her family’s massacre not only come to her door, but the man who ordered the killing arrives himself, making it all too easy a decision on whether to host a propaganda premiere for “Nation’s Pride”, a filmed reenactment of German hero Fredrick Zoller and the one against three hundred odds he overcame.

The conspiracies that form around this premiere, whether between Shosanna and Daniel Brühl’s smitten Zoller or with Diane Kruger’s German actress traitor Bridget von Hammersmark and the Basterds, by way of British infiltrator Archie Hicox, a fun turn by Michael Fassbender, are what resonate. Remembering the scene at a French restaurant between Waltz and Laurent still gives me chills as this woman must control her emotions while sitting across from the man that killed her brother, (what a release at its conclusion), as does the tense basement bar rendezvous between Kruger, Fassbender, and a bunch of Germans on leave to celebrate one’s newborn son. It all culminates with Chapter Five, an exercise in sheer cinematic brilliance, from its wondrous opening with Laurent set to David Bowie’s “Cat People”, to its mix of drama and laughs from Waltz, to its intensity in Roth’s malice, to the massacre of guns, fire, and bodies that ensues. It is poetry in blood and never ceases to amaze, right down to its blatant disregard for historical accuracy. Much like Tarantino’s earlier work that took existing films and appropriated that which he needed to tell the messed up stories in his head, Inglourious Basterds starts with the French occupation background of WWII and springboards out to carnage, espionage, and fiction. The man has style and it is all his own. Welcome back QT and hopefully we can expect a new singular vision sooner rather than later.

Inglourious Basterds 9/10

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[1] Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Photo: Francois Duhamel/ TWC 2009.
[2] Melanie Laurent as Shosanna in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Photo: Francois Duhamel/ TWC 2009.

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I learn something new everyday. Here I thought the feature adaptation of the immensely popular HBO show “Sex and the City” was written and directed by its creator Michael Patrick King. After a little research, I come to find that King was only a producer on the show, with only 31 writing credits as opposed to the full 94 for real creator Darren Star and literary basis Candace Bushnell. Despite this, though, it would seem that King is now the driving force behind Carrie Bradshaw and friends, becoming the voice of middle-aged women everywhere. Isn’t it a bit strange that a man has written these women to be as pop culture iconic as they are? Kudos to him, because Bradshaw’s opening monologue to the Sex and the City movie is very appropriate—this story is about labels and love in New York City. Thankfully, that’s not all its about; in the end, the tale is actually intelligently written and quite witty, causing this cynical male to laugh and smile more times than he ever could have imagined.

Is it shallow of me to think that the plausibility of it all is a little low though due to the fact our star woman is the least attractive of the group? I know it is, but honestly she probably is the best actress of the bunch, especially in the role, yet I need to ask, would she ever really be part of a five page pictorial in Vogue magazine? I don’t know; it’s just something that kept creeping into my head as I watched, and should not have because Sarah Jessica Parker truly does embody Bradshaw to perfection. Being that it all happens through her point of view, (even when she isn’t present at the event onscreen, she is still the one narrating; believable I guess since this quartet tells each other EVERYTHING), it is crucial that her character lives and breathes reality. A writer of moderate success, she is happily in love with manfriend Mr. Big, (I do enjoy Chris Noth, I don’t know why, never seen “Law and Order”, his smugness just makes me smile though), and threatens to throw her whole existence out the window with the biggest business deal she’s ever shook on, with him as a partner—marriage.

The whole will they or won’t they, stay together/break-up/get married, is actually the most conventional and boring part of the film. This storyline is the quintessential chick flick cliché and it does what it does without surprise. Spanning over a year in time, I did enjoy the six months these two lovebirds are apart, because that is when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan in all their lives. Parker shows some very nice range as the downtrodden, heartbroken waif attempting to pull herself back up and become that strong woman so many viewers idolize and hope to be. But this isn’t the Carrie Bradshaw story, thankfully, because that would have been torture. It is about four women and the different places their lives are at; how they help each other; and how they balance being the women they’ve strived to be while still having a relationship with equally successful males. It’s these stories that truly captivated me into accepting the fact that, while Sex and the City is not my genre, topic, or even sphere of consciousness of choice, it did engross me enough to be happy to have seen it.

Kristin Davis is very enjoyable as Charlotte, the youngster of the bunch in her mid-thirties. With such a bubbly and childlike demeanor and attitude, her zeal for life is contagious and something I think everyone strives for. Being that her mid-movie meltdown concerns having too much good happen to her, making the “inevitable” fall too daunting to imagine, you can see how truly happy she is, especially with husband Evan Handler, (one of the gems in “Californication” and unfortunately wasted here, much like Willie Garson’s Stanford who is nothing more than a prop for the background). Kim Cattrall, on-the-other-hand, is the exact opposite. A lover of sex and promiscuity, she finds herself in a relationship with a younger male that loves her dearly, but the monogamy is too much to deal with. She isn’t ready to realize that being with one man in a relationship does not mean she has become dependant on him. The need for multiple men, to be in full control, is so ingrained that she must find a love for herself—a balance with her body—before she can ever commit to someone else. How can one love if unable to love oneself? It is the age-old question and one that she needs to come to grips with soon, as she turns 50—either to accept or change.

The storyline that really grabbed my attention, though, was of Miranda Hobbes, played wonderfully by Cynthia Nixon. Here is a career-driven lawyer that has compromised herself in order to make a life with husband Steve and child Brady. Whoa, I just realized the husband is Steve Brady and the son Brady Hobbes … guess you have to watch the show to understand that one. Anyways, it is their intriguing evolution as a couple that I found myself wanting to be resolved the most. Whether the two got back together, after a short separation due to his indiscretion, or not, I found myself invested in the subplot. The acting, on the part of both characters, was real and palpable. The love mixed with a loss of trust shone through and you will find yourself pulling for them in the end. Why you ask? Because this film isn’t only about labels and love—just don’t tell Jennifer Hudson since her Louise cares only about each—but also forgiveness.

This isn’t high school where grudges rule and you most likely will move on to never see any of your classmates again; this is a professional world with intelligent and capable women. Life is too messy and too short to go through it with hatred and regret. Bad things happen and you can either walk away, letting them despite what you feel, or fight tooth and nail for everything you want and deserve. Sometimes those tough patches are merely bumps in the road to true bliss, but you have to be willing to find out for sure. And that, I believe, is the real moral behind this story—happiness does come with a price, and even though it may cost a fortune, it most definitely will be worth every penny.

Sex and the City 5/10

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[1] Sarah Jessica Parker (left) stars as “Carrie Bradshaw” and Chris Noth (right) stars as “Mr. Big” in New Line Cinema’s upcoming release of SEX AND THE CITY. Photo Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/New Line Cinema
[2] Kristin Davis (left) stars as “Charlotte York-Goldenblatt”, Kim Cattrall (center) stars as “Samantha Jones” and Cynthia Nixon (right) stars as “Miranda Hobbes” in New Line Cinema’s upcoming release of SEX AND THE CITY. Photo Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/New Line Cinema

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**Spoilers Included**

Right from the get-go, I knew that Adam was going to be an enjoyable, smartly told tale of love despite humanity’s predilection for preconceptions. Just the fact that the film was about a young man with Asperger Syndrome who meets a young girl across the hall of his apartment complex tells you that this won’t be your run-of-the-mill rom-com. You have to believe that filmmaker Max Mayer will treat the material with compassion and intelligence; this is not a laugh-out-loud vehicle to use a serious disorder as fodder for chuckles. Any trepidation I may have had was gone after about five minutes, just the amount of time it took to introduce me to our titular character, a span that teaches us so much. A 29-year-old man who has lived with his father in NYC his entire life has just lost the one person who understood him and helped him survive. The vacant stare and inability to show emotion at the funeral is interspersed with the methodical routines of his day. We see the chore sheet for which he must cross off his late duty partner, we see the carefully hung clothing, the boxes of cereal and macaroni and cheese, and we slowly watch it all dwindle away as life alone is just too much to handle so soon. I knew then that the rest of the way would never speak down to me or turn the drama into farce.

While the story of Adam and his neighbor Beth’s, the ever-wonderful Rose Byrne, relationship is at the center, there is so much more on the periphery. All the supporting roles have some real weight and story to them, no one is just a pawn to move and advance the plot. Beth’s parents, two good turns from stalwarts Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving, have a subplot that intrigues, mirrors the emotional turmoil of their daughter, (Adam’s voiceover spliced with scenes from Gallagher’s trial is not a coincidence), and could exist on its own. And then there is Frankie Faison’s Harlan, a family friend always there, looking over this troubled boy. His motivations may never be spelled out, but we know where his heart is. With only a few scenes, and fewer words, his presence is crucial to the film as a whole. But, in the end, the film is called Adam for a reason.

One always worries about an actor taking on the task of a mentally disabled role. Sometimes it works, (Rain Man), and sometimes it fails miserably, (I Am Sam) … maybe Kirk Lazarus was right, “you never go full retard”. But I digress, Hugh Dancy is one of the brightest actors working today, in my opinion, and he knocks this one out of the park. There are moments that linger on his face as his brain works through what has just happened, slowly coming to the realization of what it all means. The expressions are pitch perfect and his portrayal never appears as caricature. With sharp transitions to voracious anger from meek sweetness, the turbulence caught inside of him shows through in those moments that he cannot control himself. As Dancy’s Adam states, in a somewhat clunky explanation of the disorder, his condition makes it difficult for him to lie. That mechanism we all possess—and love—to tell the odd white lie and appease those in our company rather than rile them up is absent from him. He speaks the truth, and in return, expects the truth back. Understanding this concept can be tough as a lie is a lie; even if the intentions were pure, the difference can’t be seen.

His explosions never escalate to violence towards anyone but himself, although the scene can be scary. More a tantrum than anything else, the emotions inside him are released without control. Words are spoken in a very pragmatic and objective way, something that could be misunderstood, or not, they are his true feelings at the moment after all. **spoilers begin** Because of this, I saw the ending as profound due to the duality in Adam’s response to Beth’s question on why he wanted her to go with him to California. It starts out as though he will win her heart—by a truth so sweet and romantic—with the words that title this review, but then it all goes sour. His brain sees the question as one that has a correct answer, and that answer is that he needs her to survive. He needs a normal person to help him in the day to day routine, to be his sort of translator to the world. The hard part to witnessing his response is the not knowing what he means by it. Is a person with Aspergers unable to love? Is love to them safety and companionship? Or was his answer his brain’s way of saying that she completes him? That she is his world? Love is such an abstract concept that whether he feels it or not, he could never truly express it in words. And that is the true tragedy of life. **spoilers end**

Much like another slightly off-kilter romantic comedy this summer, (500) Days of Summer, the ending may be a happy one, just not quite the anticipated “happily ever after” Hollywood has ingrained in our heads. Adam takes all the conventions of the genre and utilizes them to fit the story, not the other way around. The film takes what it needs to be palatable to a broad audience, but never forgets the agenda at its core. For all the quirks and idiosyncrasies involved, they aren’t there to be “fresh” or “cool,” they are present because the lead character has them. More than a romance, Adam is about a broken man finding his way in life. A lifetime co-dependent realizing that there is a world out there he can become a part of if he has the strength to work at it and try. Beth is the catalyst for his awakening, and he hers too. She finds out that there are people out there who are innocent and sweet; that humanity isn’t complete rubbish. Sometimes we meet the person for which we will spend the rest of our lives with in bliss, and other times, first, we must meet someone to remind us that the happily ever after is still possible.

Adam 7/10

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[1] L-R: Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy Photo Credit: Julia Griner
[2] L-R: Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving. Photo Credit: Julia Griner

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Can we all agree that the demise of Halo the movie could possibly be one of Hollywood’s greatest moves in the past two years? Sure, Peter Jackson was behind the scenes and his handpicked, first-time director Neil Blomkamp was crafting some pretty nifty test footage, but would the studio machine have left their vision intact? I’m hard-pressed to say yes. Instead, however, that failure led to Jackson’s funding of an original screenplay for his new buddy Neil, titled District 9, that would eventually take the world by storm—first in an intricately laid out marketing plan; internet generated buzz that spread like wildfire; and ultimately the coveted number one movie in America designation. All this for a movie without a star or a proven auteur, and yet it made almost 10 million dollars more than its budget in only three days. Well, let me be the newest person to say welcome to Neil Blomkamp; I hope you decide to stick around for a while.

Remember those great Mechwarrior-like short films that sprang up as a sort of resume reel when Jackson shone the light onto this South African filmmaker? No? Okay, well maybe I’m that much of a geek, but everything he did in those test shoots has been brought to the big leagues with the precision and handling of a seasoned professional. Taking place in the Johannesburg slum of District 9, the quartered off area housing our alien “visitors” since 1982, the film is shot documentary style as the MNU, (Multi-National United), go through the process of relocating them to a safer place outside the city—safer for the South African citizens that is. The section of land has become a cesspool of these “prawns” as they scavenge, fight, and barter with the local Nigerian crimelords, trading their highly sophisticated weaponry, (that can’t be used by humans due to their biological components), for the delicacy that is cat food. Think Alien Nation meets Cloverfield in a story about race relations and you’ll begin to comprehend the vision put forth. I’ll just say the locale of Blomkamp’s hometown for this tale is not coincidental … the Apartheid allusions are fairly obvious to see.

Graphically, the design at work is pretty stellar—an alien icon has been created and the military, private businesses, and whomever else have utilized it in order to show who is welcome, or, in other words, to portray the racism at hand. District 9 has become a militarized zone for two decades, pretending to be one looking out for their safety, but really just a slice of land to keep them where they can be observed. The ship that brought them to Earth has been immobilized and their stay deemed indefinite. Discovered malnourished and scared, the South African government brought them down to the surface and even learned their language. It was never to assimilate and educate, however, but only to understand, hope to steal their technology, and capture them for medical experiments. The MNU isn’t only an establishment for the safe keeping of societal bliss over the fence; no, it is also one of the leading manufacturers of weaponry and military goods. Everyone has an ulterior motive; it’s the name of the game.

Caught in the middle of it all is Wikus Van De Merwe, played with poise and experience by Sharlto Copley. It is his only credited role for which I can see and man does it deliver. At first a simple pawn married to the MNU head’s daughter, he can appear to be a bit on the dull end of sharp, yet his face is never without a smile, endearing him to his men. He is assigned to head up the eviction committee that will go door to door and serve each prawn its notice of relocation. Followed by a cameraman and accompanied by a new trainee, as well as a soldier he knows, the foursome start their rounds and discover hidden arms holdings, understanding aliens, hostile aliens, and new technology that can only be nefarious. The opening remarks by interviewees alludes to an incident involving Witkus, one that many can’t believe he partook in, one that may or may not have resulted in his death due to the multiple uses of the past tense. It doesn’t take long before the catalyst to these new feelings of hatred and sorrow for a man loved by all occurs, bringing him into a world of darkness, but also one of understanding—putting his differences aside to work with the aliens. For someone with a clear hatred of the prawn kind, he still sees them as more that just an animal. One can’t deny their intelligence or the fact of their cognitive abilities, making them possibly more advanced than humanity itself.

It is Copley that makes the film what it is through his evolution as a man. The transformation he takes from a weak idealist cowering from the army man who is technically in his control to the confident fighter willing to risk his life for the cause of moral righteousness is unavoidable. You won’t believe at the end when cuts to his later self are juxtaposed with earlier footage before the relocation program that they are the same person. War can do funny things to a man, especially when the sides are blurred and the idea of what’s right and wrong becomes flipped. As his counterpart, however, mention needs to be made for the amazing visual effects. The aliens he encounters are rendered beautifully and fit in their environments as though they are real flesh and blood. Blomkamp even finds room to include one of his Mechwarrior-esque creations as an alien-made suit. These creatures show emotion and seamlessly integrate with the live actors to make the plausibility of everything happening real.

District 9 asks the question of how far we as a race will go for power. If a technology is discovered that is so advanced it can only be used by the enemy, to what lengths can one be willing to live with in order to adopt its use for ourselves? What if one of us is inexplicably turned into a hybrid creature, one with the humanity necessary to fight for good but the biology to use those weapons that are destroying us? Would the government help that person and treat him with respect and worth, or would they look upon him as an abomination, valuable only as a control subject to be poked, prodded, and eventually dismembered in an effort to mass produce? You’d like to think that as a people we have evolved to the point where compassion and understanding can trump any fears and insecurities we may have, but history begs to tell a different story. Throughout time we have oppressed and experienced the drive for power and leadership. By using a legion from another far away planet, Blomkamp has put a mirror up to the world, showing it its true colors. Can a movie make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the political undertones are there to make viewers think afterwards and the action packed journey of a man without a home keeps them in their seats with a riveting and thrilling tale told through a singular vision. See Hollywood? Sometimes fresh new ideas can not only push the limits of the medium, but also become huge critical and financial successes.

District 9 9/10

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[1 & 2] Sharlto Copley in TriStar Pictures’ sci-fi thriller DISTRICT 9. Photo By: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

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There is no more appropriate a name for the lead role in Bent Hamer’s film O’ Horten then Odd Horten. For a man of modesty, generally hiding in the corners of life to avoid much interaction or attention, he finds himself in the middle of some very odd happenings, all in a matter of a few days following his retirement. After 40 some years as a locomotive engineer in Norway, his age has hit the year for a mandatory moving on, celebrated with a fun rendition of a train picking up speed by the twenty or so engineers surrounding him at a farewell dinner—complete with their left arms working as the clamps on the wheels and their right hands thumping their chests. But that oddity is just the beginning of his crazy adventure, one that finds him settling down in the one place he has ever been truly happy. Odd doesn’t smile very often, so when he does, you know it’s genuine.

Hamer has crafted a short little love note to his mother with this film … it is dedicated to her memory. A woman ski jumper, something frowned upon if not allowed at all in the country in the past, a doppelganger for her is included as Horten’s own mother, old and mute in convalescence home. Her bravery and willingness to do what pleased her comes through in our hero’s trek across Norway, learning along the way that it is never too late to try something new. Being that this man has led a life consisting of probably the exact same activities each and every day, the decision to join his fellow engineers after his goodbye party will unknowingly open up his eyes. With a routine seeing him wake up, smoke his pipe, go to work, visit his mother, and enjoy the company of Svea, a woman who runs a place at the end of his line, watching his attempt to enter an apartment complex under construction shows his indifference to obstacles in his way—he just never had a reason to leap over them until now.

Bård Owe portrays Odd with a very quiet effectiveness. The entire film is quite methodical in its unraveling and always focuses on this 67-year-old gentleman, a man of few words. With so many moments devoid of sound, seeing only Owe’s expression, you will definitely learn to know this man and what he stands for. It is a nuanced performance and expressive in its lack of expression. So much craziness occurs in the days we see and yet he just goes with it all, escaping when necessary—and it often is. From the night of the party, being trapped in a stranger’s apartment by a little boy who wants to be sat with until falling asleep, (Odd of course doesn’t open his own eyes until the next morning where he must hide under the bed to not be discovered by the boy’s father and then sneak out the door), to staying after hours in the gymnasium sauna and deciding to take a late night skinny dip, (where a couple of young ladies end up having the same thought), and needing to leave quickly in women’s heeled shoes, Horten is out of his element indeed.

For being only ninety minutes in length, the film does seem to drag a bit. This isn’t a problem by any means, just an observation and caution to any prospective viewers. With little action, O’ Horten is a character driven story through and through. The camera follows Odd around as he tries to pass the time of retirement, finding it is much harder than he could have imagined. But it is just quirky enough to become invested to see exactly where it will all lead. There are some genuinely surreal moments, like that of a businessman sliding down a hilled street after the fall of frozen rain while Odd holds on tight to a pole so as not to fall, and some lovely revelations, like of who Trygve Sissener really is, (a very intriguing fellow played by Espen Skjønberg that is discovered sleeping in the street as though a bum, yet in possession of a large house in Oslo). Even a journey to find an acquaintance named Flo, Bjørn Floberg, is a sight to experience because its relatively straightforward task to sell his boat becomes one of multiple metal detectors at the airport, a cavity search, and a human scavenger hunt he tried to avoid right from the start.

The camerawork is nice, including some memorable moments, the one that stuck with me being an overhead view of an Oslo intersection as Odd waits for the police to claim his recently deceased friend, to which he then slowly makes his way down the road, avoiding any unnecessary conversation as usual. In what is probably the most exciting three days of his life, it becomes apparent to him that life is too short—ironic being that he is almost seventy upon this revelation, but true nonetheless. He knows that his mother was disappointed he never followed her passion for ski jumping, but the years kept passing and he still had not taken the plunge. Sometimes it takes an unexpected arrest, trespassing on private property, driving down a street blind, and for once not showing up for work to finally awaken to the endless possibilities of life. Odd discovers that it is never too late, and if this stoic, loner of a man can find adventure, then anyone can. If the door is locked, maybe you have to climb up the scaffolding; sometimes you just have to be willing to take the chance.

O’ Horten 7/10

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[1] Bard Owe as Odd Horten. Photograph taken by Hans-Jorgan Osnes. Property of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Left to Right: Bard Owe as Odd Horten, Espen Skjonberg as Trygve Sissener
Photograph taken by Hans-Jorgan Osnes. Property of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.


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