The Fast Forward Revue


Film Review: The Wackness by gaohippy
The Wackness, now playing in a limited run.

The Wackness, now playing in a limited run.

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Fast Forward Rating: FFFFF (5 out of 5).

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Whose world is this? The world is yours, the world is yours.The Wackness, directed by newcomer Jonathan Levine, opens to the tune of Nas’s track from Illmatic, one of the most celebrated hip hop records of all time. While this particular musical selection is sure to immediately win over some hip hop heads in the audience, it is the proceeding film that won me over. It takes place on the baking streets of Manhattan’s Upper East Side in the summer of 1994. Pun intended.

Luke Shapiro is our protagonist, a ganja-dealer fresh out of high school whose shrink brings him as much confusion as women do. Actually, his dream woman happens to be the shrink’s step-daughter, and while this provides a great scenario for mischief and mayhem to play out, the movie’s real strength is honest characterization. What I love about The Wackness so much is that it feels like a long therapy session in which I get to consider the meaning of love, friendship, sex, and most importantly: youth. The film’s flagship romance between Shapiro and “Steph”, played by Josh Peck (all grown up since Nickelodeon days) and Olivia Thirlby respectively, is painfully true to the spirit of young love, tainted with naivety, exhilaration, and anticipation.

Then there’s Luke’s relationship with Dr. Squires, played by Ben Kingsley, one of the greatest character actors of our time. The two have a complex relationship that is all at once doctor-patient, dealer-client, friend-friend, and mentor-disciple. At first, Luke thinks that his doctor is a washed-up weirdo with no friends, and Dr. Shapiro is indeed jealous that Luke has his entire life ahead of him. They learn valuable life lessons from each other and their friendship is the most meaningful relationship in a film full of marriages and flings, provoking the audience to ask the question of the true meaning of love, and the blinding nature of attraction in romantic relationships.

On top of the heavy core of the film, Levine really takes the film’s 1994 setting to heart, giving it an exquisite aged film look full of warm, earthy tones. Everything from the World Trade Center being in the skyline to the film’s tastefully incorporated graphics brings us back 14 years into the past, down to Luke’s Adidas sneaks that would make even run DMC proud. In fact, it is so genuine and spirited that I find myself lamenting the fact that I wasn’t a teenager in the ’90s. The soundtrack is loaded with tracks from Tribe, Biggie, KRS-One, and Wu-Tang, leaving me convinced that director Jonathan Levine knows his shit.

I won’t spoil any more, just go see the film next time you’re not busy selling marijuana or hitting a bong.

GAO



Film Review: The Last Mistress by E. Sempé

 

Fast Forward Rating: FFF¾ (3¾ out of 5)

 

The Last Mistress – French director Catherine Breillat’s latest cinematic offering based on the 1851 novel by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly – is a film that explores the precarious border between passion and hate. And thanks to a remarkably strong performance from the title role of Asia Argento, it succeeds in demonstrating that these two seemingly contradictory sentiments can occasionally be synonymous. The Last Mistress, set in 1835, revolves around Ryno de Marigny (Fu-ad Ait Aattou), a notorious Parisian libertine who is engaged to be married to the reputable and infinitely innocent young Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida), granddaughter to the wealthy Marquise de Flers (Claude Sarraute). The pending marriage is however shadowed by the infamous relationship between Marigny and his mistress of ten years, Vellini (Argento), a brutishly seductive woman who declares herself the enemy of all  things feminine – except, of course, when these things are demonstrated in the features of young men.

 

 

The film takes us through the ten-year affair between Marigny and Vellini, as well as their relationship once the former has ventured into supposedly-respectable married life. While its plot is somewhat predictable, the film is carried by Argento’s throaty sensuality and Aattou’s perplexingly effeminate beauty. And seeing as the bulk of the film focuses on these two elements – displayed to the best effect in the unabashedly many bedroom scenes – Breillat demonstrates that she knows what she’s doing, and knows what works to her advantage. While the complex relationship between Marigny and Vellini is truly compelling to witness, the structure and plot that fortify the story-line is easily lost due to the less enthralling performances from periphal characters, who portray the French aristocracy as uni-dimensional gossip-lovers, but not much more.

 

 

In spite of this, the central dilemma of the Marigny-Vellini affair is enough to satisfactorily hold up the rest of the film – which is further aided by the sheer beauty of its visuals. Even the somewhat drawn-out silences are made bearable by the engrossing aesthetic stimulation on screen.

Overall, while The Last Mistress may not be the chef-d’œuvre you were hoping for from Catherine Breillat, it is a satisfying film, and certainly worth seeing. Three and three quarters out of five.

 

Click for the Official Trailer.
Click for Local Movie Listings.



The Dark Knight by kswitz
July 25, 2008, 1:49 am
Filed under: Author: kswitz, Cinema | Tags: ,

Fast Forward Rating: FFFFf (4.5 out of 5)

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight (2008)

SPOILER ALERT (Kind-of).

Alright, well I guess it is time for someone to review the box-office behemoth that is Batman’s The Dark Knight. I saw it a few days ago, so I guess I will do the honours.

I don’t have too much to say about the film, so I’ll try to keep it short.

The essentials: a) It’s good. It’s very good. Go see it, even if just to say you were part of the highest grossing film in history (to tell your children and grandchildren, etc).

b) It’s dark. It’s very dark. This film is by far the darkest of all Batman films to date, featuring a completely dystopic Gotham, where evil trumps good at every turn. The city was bad before, of course, but now it’s worse, and anarchic to the point where even a whole army of Good Guys (Batman and his friends on City Council and the police force) can’t face up to the evil of just one super-villain, The Joker. It’s horribly depressing. Which makes you crave Batman even more, praying that he will rise from the flames of the burning city and make everything right like it’s supposed to be, and save the world. Which leads to my next fact:

c) Batman seems powerless. To play on the Rick James quote, “The Joker’s a hell of a villain”, and Batman’s bat-skills get an endless string of tests, most of them showing how powerless one man really is against the evils of the world. It’s a depressing lesson, and he even begins to lose faith in himself. Except the world needs Batman… So it totally makes you root for him even more. [‘Ere’s a good quote from the movie: “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”].

d) Heath Ledger’s performance is good. But not Oscar-worthy good, I must say. While I really have no problems with the character he created in The Joker, to me his performance seemed more like the stepping-stone start to a really solid future acting career, and the kind of role that leads to other, greater roles for actors like him. I think it’s a shame he died (obviously), as this film does show the start of something promising. I just wouldn’t necessarily say it’s already all there, especially since the character he evokes doesn’t really touch the audience on an emotional level, like, say, . But I’ll let y’all judge for yourselves.

(Something small that I might as well mention here is that pity-Oscars have been a sad and awful trend in the past (often to directors), where awards have either been given to recognize a lifetime achievement (as in “let’s honour this guy before he kicks the bucket”), recognizing standard-quality films by long-standing patrons, to the detriment of younger directors whose work is more deserving. These people are then in turn sometimes given pity Oscars, and the result is just a bloody mess… 

Suffice it to say that I hope Heath Ledger gets what he deserves in terms of Oscars… Whatever that may be.)

e) Breathtaking Visuals. Watch the first five seconds of the trailer and you’ll know what I mean. 

So I would write more but I am le tired.

This film is awesome, and y’all should go see it if you haven’t already done so. I would even recommend waiting for it on Imax… I plan to go again.



Film Review: Luchino Visconti’s “Lo Straniero” (The Stranger) by E. Sempé

 

Fast Forward Rating: FFFFF (5 out of 5)

 

I will always remember the first time I read Albert Camus’s L’Étranger. Details of where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, what my life was like at the time – all are embedded now in those pages of the battered Gallimard paperback. And similarly, I can also say I will always remember the first time I watched Italian maestro Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation, Lo Straniero

 

Starring Marcello Mastroianni as Meursault, it is difficult at first to imagine such an engaging, charming and brilliant actor in such a dispossessed and emotionless role as that of Meursault. But then again, one might argue that only an actor of Mastroianni’s brilliance would be able to understand such a part, and ingeniously portray a man devoid of genius. Upon watching the film, it was easy to be convinced that the latter claim is true: Mastroianni is passive but firm, a follower but independent; he is an outsider.

Playing opposite Mastroianni as Meursault’s love interest Marie is Anna Karina. Intoxicatingly beautiful and yet disconcertingly distant, she is reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s quintessential female leads, most notably immortalised by Monica Vitti in L’Eclisse. In fact, this is not the only parallel with Antonioni’s work: Piero Piccioni’s score for Lo Straniero holds the same dysphoric undertones as the work of Giovanni Fusco, who worked with Antonioni on several of his films. It is not surprising that these parallels arise, since both bodies of work deal so heavily with the themes of the characters’ alienation and their futile existential struggle against indifference.

As an adaptation, Lo Straniero is extremely faithful to Camus’s novel. The only major perceptible differences are in the introduction, in which we see Meursault in prison in the very first scene, which works as an instigator for the telling of how he came to be there. Of course, there can be no comparison between this opening and Camus’s calmly indifferent first line “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte” (which figures immediately after the prison scene in the film); however, this discrepancy is understandable from the point of a director, and lends to the film a coherent direction, a visual target to work toward in the film’s otherwise thematically disconnected scenes.

 

 

Although Meursault’s relationship with Marie, his colleagues and neighbours is beautifully captured in scenes from the beaches and streets of Algiers, the strongest and most fascinating scenes of film appear in the second half, after the climax in which Meursault shoots the Arab. Most notable are the court scene – inwhich the weighing of Meursault’s crime and guilt resembles a circus act, as favour swings from one fat sweating lawyer to the other – and the final exchange between Meursault and the priest. In this scene, Mastroianni fully demonstrates the extent of his powers as an actor, as he chillingly expresses the supreme anguish of having no anguish at all in the face of committing murder and his own imminent death.

The only problem I can perceive in the film is the fact that it is impossible to find. It has rarely been seen since its release in 1967, and has never been released on VHS or DVD. As part of this season’s screenings at the Cinematheque Ontario, I was lucky to have the chance to watch it: this is only the third time it has been screened in Toronto for the past two decades. The reason as to why this is the case remains a mystery.

However, there is no doubt that adapting L’Étranger into a film was perhaps one of the most ambitious cinematic undertakings in film and literary history, but Visconti has proven he was worthy of the task. The film is by no means a substitute for the novel, but it is a masterful rendering of Camus’s L’Étranger into the medium of film, done with the utmost sensitivity and adherence to the atmosphere and development of the original. Five out of five.

 

 

Pertinent Links

  • Video: Marcello Mastroianni, François Truffaut and Roman Polanski discuss the casting and direction of Lo Straniero by Luchino Visconti (Français)
  • Video: music from Lo Straniero by Piero Piccioni
  • IMDb: Profile and information on Lo Straniero on IMDb
  • Luchino Visconti.net: Information and detailed summary of Lo Straniero with photos from film and shooting (Italiano)
  • Cinematheque Ontario: For more screenings in Toronto this season (including Visconti, Resnais, Robbe-Grillet)


Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson by kswitz
July 19, 2008, 2:26 am
Filed under: Author: kswitz, Cinema, Literature, Politics

Fast Forward Rating: FFFF (4 out of 5)

Gonzo (2008)

Let me just begin by admitting that I have always had a love-fear relationship with Dr Thompson and his writings: on the one hand, I think they’re brilliant, full of life, and hilarious; on the other hand, the conservative in me (I confess: it is there) gets a bit scared at times by all this seemingly senseless talk of guns, motorcycles, and trashed hotel rooms… (The psychedelia and drug-talk, however, I dig).

But anyway, going in to the film with this pre-existing leeriness, I must say that I left the theatre convinced completely and totally that old Dr Gonzo was the best thing to happen to journalism (and probably politics) in the modern era.

And why is this? The guy’s philosophies, on first glance, seem shallow and all about “straight-laced greedy political swine vs. freak power”, and guns, good times, and lots and lots of drugs. But upon closer examination, and placed in context of the world in which they were written, Thompson’s words take on a new, and ultimately nobler meaning: his writing, and in fact many of the actions in his life (he ran for Sheriff of Aspen once) were a well-disguised fight for the truth-speaking underdog, the man who would never be popular with Those In Power, but who, if elected, would shake some Truth and Right into the system of the government, giving the people a People’s kind of fair, as opposed to the law’s kind. It becomes more and more apparent throughout the film just how awesome and well-meaning Hunter’s ambitions were, and by the end you can’t help but love him and wish there were others like him (albeit calmer), everywhere.

So: about the film itself: biographically its focus is on Thompson’s years as a journalist (it mentions little of his family history, etc), chronicling his author’s debut as biographer of the Hell’s Angels biker gang in the California area in the 1960’s, to his celebrity-making success with counter-culture portrait Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, all the way through to his political years, first in a bid for the position of Sheriff in Pitkin County, Colorado, and finally his years as political journalist and commentator covering many of the primary and presidential elections of the 1960’s and 70’s. It goes into his personal life in some detail, though it is more about his political and personal beliefs, and it chronicles the start, pinnacle, and slow decline of Thompson’s skills and determination as a both a writer and an activist, ending with his suicide in 2005, which the film attributes to his loss of belief in his power to change the world, as well as his “all or nothing” nature in competition.

The only things I have to say against this film, which is absolutely brilliant, is that it runs a biiit too long (118 minutes, but remember it’s a biography), and that towards the end it gets a bit depressing… which makes sense, as they’re dealing with suicide, but I don’t like it… Y’know?

I would highly recommend that everyone who reads this review goes out and sees the film as soon as possible, and tried to learn a lesson or two from good old Hunter S.

God knows this world will need it.



Quickie Film Review: Mongol by gaohippy
July 15, 2008, 6:41 pm
Filed under: Author: gaoalexander, Cinema | Tags: , ,
Genghis Khan's troubling childhood.

Genghis Khan's troubling childhood.

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Fast Forward Rating: FF (2 out of 5)

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Mongol. Everything about this film cries, “Oscar, here I come!”. This is a film that was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, directed by an Oscar-nominated director. The script is more epic than that of Saving Private Ryan or 300, telling the story of Temüjin, known to the world as Genghis Khan, the man responsible for uniting all Mongols under a silly, albeit unified legal code. Critics laud the film, the photography is nothing short of spectacular, and yet… it doesn’t sit with me. The film’s structure is composed of dozens of plot points that lack a strong sense of causality, and as writer/director Sergei Bodrov concedes, the lack of recorded Mongol culture that would have served as the main intrigue of the story meant plugging gaping holes in history with corks of his imagination.

Characters lack development and while their generally stoic expressions provide some insight into Mongol culture in general, it is hard to mine much more information from the performances. Genghis Khan was not necessarily someone to be loved, or even liked for that matter, but it is especially difficult to get into this film considering none of the characters are particularly likable. Bodrov seems to struggle with temporal aspects of storytelling, leading to abrupt transitions, unexplained character transformations, and a deflation of overall suspense. I commend him for his efforts and for his ability to stretch $20 million so far, but overall, I can only consider Mongol to be a flop, much like the late PICTUREHOUSE, the company that picked it up.

 

GAO



Brideshead Revisited (in its various forms) by kswitz
July 15, 2008, 2:47 pm
Filed under: Author: kswitz, Cinema, Literature

So I’m sure many of you have seen the trailers for the modern re-make of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 classic Brideshead Revisited. But what you may not have known is that this is not the first remake of the book, and that an acclaimed television series was made in Britain in the 1980’s, and that this series, from the look of things, will actually remain the more true-to-text adaptation, and likely the favorite of fan of the book.

(But first, a personal anecdote:

I’m currently reading the book, with about 50 pages to go…. But last night I lost it on the Bathurst streetcar, after spending the day filling it with various bookmarks out of papers I’d found… Seriously hoping to get it back later today…)

Cover of Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Cover of Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Well anyway, the book itself is set up as “the Sacred & Profane Memoirs of Captain Charles Ryder”, and is the lavish and indulgent depiction of the youth and adulthood of Oxford-educated Charles Ryder. The main plot of the book is centered around Charles’s relationship with an Oxford friend named Sebastian Flyte, and then with the rest of the long-established and extremely wealthy Flyte family, proprietors of Brideshead Castle. This connection with the family leads Charles into the high-society circles of England’s oldest and most powerful families, as well as drawing him into the dark conflicts within and surrounding the Flyte family itself, and years later leads to an adulterous romance between Charles and Julia. (And this is where I got to, 250 pages in, before I lost my book).

Brideshead Revisited (1981 Mini-Series)

Brideshead Revisited (1981 Mini-Series)

In 1981, the book was adapted into an 11-part British television serial, starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews as Charles and Sebastian, and Diana Quick as Julia Flyte, Sebastian’s sister. The adaptation, which won two Golden Globes and an Emmy award in 1982 and 1983, goes on for over 13 hours, and includes many scenes with dialogue taken exactly as it is written in the book.

Brideshead Revisited (2008)

Brideshead Revisited (2008)

The puzzling thing is that there’s a remake coming out July 25th, shot in the exact same location (Castle Howard in England), but this time the movie is set up as a love-story between Charles and Julia, not the story of the adventures of Charles and Sebastian, the major theme of both the book and the previous screen adaptation. Seems rather more like Cruel Intentions or Titanic (minus the shipwreck) than like Brideshead Revisited…. But we’ll see….

(I’ll review it when it comes out).