Archive for the ‘Film/Video’ Category

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Profile – Bill Hicks

June 24, 2010

“It’s always funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s just hilarious.”

Our new, long overdue profile is one of those classic examples of an artist completely underrated in his time: Bill Hicks.

It looks like his time has come due; a new documentary called American: The Bill Hicks Story is playing to rave reviews over in the UK and the trailer (below) has me struggling to contain my excitement.

Bill Hicks is not so much a comedian as an orator. His act can be hard to swallow because so much of it, especially later in his career, is designed to upend the status quo regarding politics and media. He attacks these establishments with such precise doses of seething venom that bearing witness to it runs the risk of generating terror instead of laughs. In fact, he delivers very few jokes onstage, instead substituting observations on the evils hiding in plain sight which happen to be hilarious despite their tragic absurdity.

His was a life spent performing; he started in his teens in venues he wasn’t legally allowed to be in, then sharpened his act through experiments with drugs and alcohol. Later he struggled publicly with censorship and cigarettes, and just when it seemed he’d finally cross over to the mainstream audience he was desperate to reach, pancreatic cancer stopped him in his tracks at the painfully young age of 32.

16 years later, as the political/corporate machine rages out of control in large parts of the world and advertising is as ubiquitous as oxygen, Bill Hicks’ ideas stand the test of time and hopefully will be heard by a new generation that sorely needs exposure to them.

If you have a spare hour, this public access interview from his native Texas where Hicks answers caller’s questions and is given carte blanche to say on TV what no mainstream outlet would dare put on the airwaves is a prime example of who he was: abrasive, cynical and an unapologetic thinker.

(Note: David Letterman – who is referred to above by Hicks while recounting how we was excised from the Late Show after recording one of his last bits – did try to make amends five years later, apologizing to Hicks’ mom on the show and airing his full set.)

There is no North American release date for the documentary yet so I suggest you all cozy up with a copy of Rants in E-Minor or Sane Man. Or you could just scour YouTube for gems like the one below.

Enjoy!

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Coolest Thing Ever: Write the Future

June 5, 2010

Welcome to a new column making its debut on Filmpunk – Coolest Thing Ever.
With so much wonderful content out there, I often find myself thinking “well, that was the coolest thing ever” so I’ve decided to start posting them here…

And what better way to kick it off than with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s adrenaline-filled, sprawling, epic advertisement for Nike called Write the Future.

Check it out below:

The piece is a perfect synthesis of efficiency and energy. The sheer ambition of Iñárritu’s Write the Future captures the intensity of the game, the pop culture aspect of being a sports god (or martyr), and is a visual smorgasboard as captivating as your likely to see in a field defined by such distilled, perfectly rendered imagery. It also boasts some of soccer’s biggest stars, several awesome cameos and is packed with so much detail that it makes repeat viewings a delightful necessity.

But what it ultimately boils down to is a simple portrayal of the predictions we all make when faced with a defining moment.

Write the Future is bound to become the most influential piece of advertising since Ridley Scott’s 1984 Macintosh commercial and Iñárritu continues to prove that he is one of world’s most important filmmakers. Can’t wait for Biutiful!

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Double Feature: ‘The Pledge’ and ‘The Crossing Guard’

May 26, 2010

You know who’s a bad-ass, totally underrated director? Sean mother-effin‘ Penn, that’s who!

Like many, I took notice of Mr. Penn’s beautiful adaptation of Into the Wild, almost completely oblivious to his other directorial efforts. I remember taking a stab at watching The Pledge a few years ago and not being able to stick with it. And I remember why – too slow. When Cinematical recently called Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Pledge his best, I figured I’d try again, if only to re-evaluate the acting.

The result. Best cinematic experience I’ve had in 2010.

Nicholson and Penn’s first actor-director collaboration was The Crossing Guard which I watched the very next day.

Second best experience this year. So hang on tight and check out the reviews below.

The Pledge (2001)

“I made a promise, Eric. You’re old enough to remember when that meant something…”

After seeing this movie in the right frame of mind, I can understand why it left me cold the first time. This movie begins as a fairly standard police procedural, but defies convention to become an existential journey for Nicholson’s character Jerry Black, a newly retired cop who is haunted by his last case involving the rape and murder of a school-aged girl and the titular promise he made to her grief-stricken parents. It was this bucking of convention that originally led me astray and which I now admire as a braver, more realistic experience.

The murder is initially pinned on a mentally challenged Native with a history of sexual assault and Black is forced into retirement after the case is shut. It’s here the movie shifts from standard cop fare to a more contemplative focus on Nicholson’s character. He buys a gas station in the quiet wilderness of a fishing town, befriends a local bartender (Robin Wright, who does great work as always) and becomes a father figure to her young daughter, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the earlier victim.

Nicholson gives an incredibly subtle, yet deeply layered performance as a man obsessed with keeping his word to find the killer he believes was never caught and the film as a whole is supported by a wonderful cast including Aaron Eckhart, Benicio Del Toro, Sam Shepard, Mickey Rourke and Tom Noonan as the creepiest man of faith you’re likely to see on film.

Without spoiling the ending, I can say it is brave in what it brilliantly offers and denies the viewer as far as a resolution. Sean Penn shows a clear understanding of how to use the form to create a movie which will haunt you in much the same way Black is haunted.

The Crossing Guard (1995)

“Freedom is overrated.”

The perfect companion piece to The Pledge. This is Penn’s second effort as director and while this film is smaller in scope, it tackles equally huge internal conflicts. The Crossing Guard also flips convention on its head with a tale of revenge where the characters seem to be reversed.

Nicholson plays a Freddy Gale, a jeweller ruined by the death of his daughter at the hands of a drunk driver. His only remaining comforts are the alcohol and strippers he keeps on hand at all times. He can’t even forge a real friendship amongst the other sleazy middle-aged men who seem to idolize him. One day he shows up unannounced at his ex-wife’s home – where she raises Freddy’s two young sons with her new husband – to gleefully inform her that the man who ran down their daughter is out of jail and he intends on killing him.

Meanwhile, John Booth, the drunk driver, is released from prison into the custody of loving parents and welcomed back into his gang of hippie-ish friends. Despite all the support and efforts to get him back on his feet, Booth – as played by David Morse, is so racked with guilt he can barely function.

The film is about an unresolved issue that takes our two leads down a path which threatens to consume them both. Nicholson cleverly creates a character whose motivations should be understandable but are undermined by who he’s become to get his revenge; while Morse is genuinely likeable to all he encounters despite his inability to forgive himself for what happened. It’s this unusual, disconcerting dynamic that carries this un-showy revenge narrative. It’s the welcome opposite of the glut of Daddy’s Revenge films we’ve seen lately (Edge of Darkness, Death Sentence, Last House on the Left to name a few).

Once again, Penn gets great work from his supporting cast too. Anjelica Huston more than holds her own dealing with Nicholson’s hatred and desperation. And while Robin Wright has much less to do in this film, she makes for a tempting return to the world of the living for Booth.

The climax is drawn out over the course of a foot chase that takes our characters literally and figuratively to their unexpected conclusions. Remarkably, after wallowing in misery and anger for almost two hours, The Crossing Guard manages to end on a note of optimism and redemption. It’s incredibly beautiful, if only the slightest bit contrived.

Let’s hope Penn gets back behind the camera soon. I, for one, cannot wait to see where he takes me next!

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Review: District 9

August 17, 2009

What a difference a brilliant campaign makes.

District 9, the feature film debut of South African director/effects whiz Neill Blomkamp, had every advantage a small budget, sci-fi flick could ask for; fanboy royalty Peter Jackson’s discerning eye, incredible buzz coming out of Comic-Con and a viral marketing campaign that rivals The Blair Witch Project‘s in terms of creatively blending reality and fiction.

In fact, this movie’s status was consummated well before it went on to general release. Consider after only its first weekend it sits at #26 on the IMDB Top 250 list (above Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver). More and more often the filmgoing experience includes what you make of a film before you even see it and this campaign had us expecting a revolutionary work of genius.

Fortunately most, but not all of the hype surrounding District 9 is well-deserved.

The premise is definitely intriguing and well-executed. We’re immediately dropped into Johannesburg documentary-style, where a gigantic spaceship has parked itself, hovering ominously above the city, apparently incapacitated. Curious earthlings discover a million languishing aliens on board and provide them a refugee camp in what appears to be a fenced-in landfill. The implications of apartheid are made right away through the interviews given by local residents who take none too kindly to the crustacean-esque creatures they seethingly dub “prawns”. Science fiction has long been a cache for good social commentary and in this respect, District 9 does not disappoint. So far, so good.

First-timer Sharlto Copley impresses as Wikus Van De Merwe, an awkward, fragile bureaucrat whose job it is to serve eviction notices to the aliens as the multinational he works for prepares to move them to a new camp. The multinational, in addition to its public humanitarian efforts, privately schemes to learn how the aliens’ advanced weapons work and Blomkamp crafts several nightmarish corporate R&D scenarios involving alien captives. For good measure he also makes sure to install a gang of heavily-armed Nigerian traders meddling in the periphery of this society and gives us at least one truly badass villain to despise. All the elements are there for the explosive alien uprising we’re promised…one which never comes. Over the course of the screening I had to unwillingly accept the reality that this movie was never going to be about aliens, only about us. Sigh.

That becomes the film’s sole flaw, that it creates only one alien character worth mentioning (or two if you’re feeling generous enough to include a cute-ish, infant alien) out of a supposed million. Imagine making a film about real apartheid in South Africa and only including one black character worth mentioning… So Wikus becomes our pseudo-victim and while his journey forces him into an unexpected kinship with the aliens, taking him from corporate dweeb, to desperate man on the run, to battle-ready savior, the film undermines its true victims by too-often ignoring them.

District 9‘s action and effects are visually impressive and well-directed by the young, talented Blomkamp. The pacing of the action is a little unbalanced with the front end of the film holding out a bit too long in my opinion and as always the trailer gives away far too many of the best bits but at least they don’t come the way you’d necessarily expect. At one point I was convinced we’d reached the climax of the movie only to be pleasantly surprised that there was more suffering to be endured. How many movies can make you say that!

It’s a rare summer action film that tries this hard to make its audience contemplate such recognizable injustices let alone successfully make them into an entertaining piece of pop culture that transcends its sci-fi trappings. I’ve spent more time dissecting this film than any other this year and it all started with a brilliant campaign.

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Review: HOME

June 11, 2009

Ten years. That’s what Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s non-profit documentary HOME wants us to think about; the next ten years and how we behave as a species during them. Glenn Close presents the argument with dramatic narration and details all the things we might lose if we don’t radically alter the way we live. Meanwhile, we’re treated to sweeping, Attenborough-esque shots of melting glaciers and majestic rainforests and reminded that they all have a role to play in the balance of our planet. More significantly, we’re reminded of the changes we’ve already caused in our ecosystem; a gentle admonition that we’ve already overfished most of our oceans (supported by a new study that estimates by 2048 there will be no more seafood), that the tar sands in Canada waste unimaginable amounts of water to feed a stubborn U.S. oil addiction and that our meat-rich diet is causing half the world’s grain to become animal feed while over a billion starve. “Entire forests turned into meat” as the film puts it. As far as simple mathematics is concerned, this arrangement is not sustainable. Common sense however, needs a reminder.

Now, we’ve all seen movies like this before. An Inconvenient Truth brought the message of climate change to an unprecedented number of people and was quickly followed by imitators. So why do we need another one? Well, it’s all to do with human psychology, namely Parkinson’s Law, which states that a workload will adjust based on the amount of time given to complete it. If we have ten years to clean up our act, Parkinson’s Law says we’ll use every second of it. Unfortunately, this probably means debating international trade deals and finger-pointing in politcal theaters for nine years followed by a mad scramble to save our planet at the zero hour. How perfectly Hollywood of us. We need movies like HOME to remind us (again!) that we all need to be aware of what’s happening and not wait for governments to fix it. We need to be propagandized for the cause. It sounds ugly but we’re simply not moving fast enough on our own.  The answer to our global problem will require sacrifice, but the earlier we start, the smaller the sacrifice. There are hundreds of thousands of resources online to help you figure out how to live greener. I, for one, have not owned a car since 2005 and I recycle and yet that’s not enough anymore either. After watching HOME, I’ll be taking my activism to the grocery store and looking for sustainable produce and joining rallies geared towards stopping the Tar Sands Project. I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I was to see a climate documentary finally expose this abominable practice which can now be seen from outer space. Great Canadian North indeed!

HOME is careful not to prognosticate terror and doom if we aren’t successful in reversing our practices. This is not Earth 2100 or some other sensational bit of mockumentary spectacle. Glenn Close simply tells us that science cannot predict the changes that will occur if all the methane living in the ground safely under vast ice sheets is released, if all the fresh water in Greenland melts into the salty sea, if coastal cities see a seven meter rise in water levels. The scariest things are truly what we imagine. Personally, I imagine massive displacement, starvation, water wars and the potential for a huge chunk of our planet to lose its ability to support life. We all know how well people behave during crisis (Katrina anyone?), which leaves me to believe that it’s not our planet that is at stake, but us and our humanity. HOME’s most impressive persuasion comes when it reminds us how little of our planet’s history even involves us and how quickly we can cease to be a part of it. Just like, say, dinosaurs.

I would quickly like to mention the importance of this film being released for free on YouTube until June 14. This film is free. That’s how important it is to the filmmakers that you see it. 217 days of incredibly difficult shooting in 54 countries done just for you to see this film. Surely we all have an hour and a half to reciprocate with. YouTube has taken a huge step towards offering original, feature-length content on your computer, which is what we’ve all known for years would happen. That it starts with this beautiful, thoughtful film is enough to help renew my faith in a global, green revolution. At some point, I will write a post about new models for distribution and why pirates will always be one step ahead but for now I’m just gonna enjoy the baby steps we’re taking towards a brave new world.

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Double Feature: Mona Lisa and The Long Good Friday

April 9, 2009

Just in time for Easter! If you’re hard up for something to do this weekend after all the church and chocolate eggs, why not kick back and take in two amazing British films starring one of the most talented, criminally neglected actors still going. The inimitable Bob Hoskins. Best known for his performance as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, here’s your chance to catch up with a few of his star-making turns that lead up to that role.

I’ve been struggling to decide which film to recommend watching first. Both films represent the best examples of solid gangster pictures and yet, they couldn’t be more different, nor could the performances given by Bob Hoskins be any more diametrically opposed. Best to start with a bang I suppose.

The Long Good Friday

“I’m not a politician. I’m a businessman.”

If you grew up idolizing Tony Montana and Michael Corleone, just wait until you meet Harry Shand. Bob Hoskins’ pit bull of a mob boss finds himself on the cusp of a huge international land deal that will see East London’s Docklands become his very own empire. However, just as he’s wining and dining his American backers for the last time a series of bombs and murders threatens his enterprise and kills off several of his loyal crew. What makes this film so impressive is that it spoon-feeds us nothing. We are as clueless as Harry as to what’s happening and more importantly, why. A whodunit this complex just begs to fail, but TLGF hangs in there effortlessly on the strength of its performances from a variety of familiar faces including Helen Mirren, Eddie Constantine and a young Pierce Brosnan in his first film role.

But in the end, it’s Harry’s sheer brute magnetism that keeps us rooting for him when we know full well he’s as big a bastard as the ones trying to destroy him. Director Peter Mackenzie does a wonderful job keeping up the pace in a film with more questions than answers while DP Phil Meheux comes up with more than a handful of truly impressive camera setups which never call attention away from the plot. Make no mistake, this isn’t one of Guy Ritchie’s hyperkinetic, dub-fuelled bits of British eye candy. This is an authentic gangster film the likes of Mean Streets or Eastern Promises. It doesn’t need to demand your attention with flashy gimmicks; within the first few minutes you know had best give it over or find something else to watch. So please, take my advice and make the effort. By the time you reach TLGF’s brilliant, brave ending you’ll have been amply rewarded on your investment.

Make this Good Friday a long one!

Mona Lisa

Same setting, same decade, same underworld, completely different experience. Where Bob Hoskins’ Harry Shand was virtually devoid of any emotion except rage and desire, his Oscar-nominated performance as George, an ex-con struggling to find his place in a criminal enterprise that’s moved on without him, is rife with sentiment.

After being turned away by his ex-wife and daughter, George reconnects with his old friend Thomas (a pre-Cracker Robbie Coltrane) and takes a job driving for Cathy, a high-end prostitute operating in London’s West End. Though clearly at odds when they first meet, Cathy eventually enlists George to help her find a young prostitute she once suffered with under the hands of a brutal pimp. Neil Jordan plays tour guide through the seedy underground clubs and porno shops that George is drawn to in his search for the young girl. Hoskins plays the role brilliantly as a character almost completely clueless as to how to behave in his surroundings. He’s more than rough around the edges, no doubt a result of his being incarcerated for seven years. There’s a wonderful gag when George is first introduced to the technological wonder that is the pager. But what he lacks in intelligence, he more than makes up for with heart. Simply put, this has got to be one the most endearing portraits of a criminal ever committed to film. George is a decent man, clearly evidenced by the way he swaps detective stories with Thomas as well as his unyielding efforts to reintroduce himself to his estranged daughter (who reminds him a little too much of the prostitute he’s looking for).  But it’s more than just that, Hoskins really manages to break your heart several times over when trying to introduce the same decency to Cathy and criminal lord Mortwell (as played by a menacing, mean-spirited Michael Caine). I promise you will feel his frustrations and his helplessness and the violent ending might just bring you to tears as we see a man teetering on the edge of emotional collapse.

Just how bleak is this film? Consider the exchange when George asks Cathy why a pimp would run one of his girls from a church.

“It’s the only place no one ever goes,” she coolly replies.

Bob Hoskins has seen his profile lowered to supporting roles in films like Maid in Manhattan and Son of the Mask. This Easter, lets pray he can resurrect his career one last time with a performance to rival either of these.

Happy Easter from Filmpunk!

(PS. I’ve not included trailers for either of these as I felt they gave away too much).

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Lonely? There’s an app for that.

February 24, 2009

An iPhone ad as re-imagined by a lonely video editor.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
An app for just about anything.

Made on a Mac.