Monthly Archives: January 2012

Rewatching Mad Men, I’m still amazed to find that this show holds so many intricacies that graciously unfurl with repeated viewings. In this episode, I was first taken back by the similarity in both character’s dress:
Seeing that Pete Campbell (left) wants to emulate everything that is Donald Draper (right), its not really all that surprising. What really startled me was the then stunning polarity between the ‘Drapers’ and these fellows:
Notice Cooper, Pryce, and Sterling’s suit choices. Even in this show that is directly defined by its age, its clear that its writers are well aware of everything on the periphery of this time period. They represent such with an impeccable subtly that makes me feel that Mad Men is one of the most delicately intricate shows to hit T.V. since the Sopranos. Mad Men  is on AMC, a ‘cable television specialty channel’, which is much different from the status that HBO affords itself as being a ‘premium cable television network’. It’s always a nice to be reminded that some times good things come in more affordable and less than ‘premium’ packages.
Catch the 2 hour premier of the 5th season of Mad Men on March 25 on AMC.

It’s no surprise that the job of the film critic has never been in more danger. Film criticism has had an interesting career: at its beginning having no serious appreciation from audiences, then a gradual shift to public proclivity in the 60s, and finally has arrived at a point where anyone with wireless internet and ten minutes of free time can elucidate their thoughts on Avatar (2009). The abundance of opinion in this digital age, the rapidity in its delivery, and the public’s ceaseless desire to always be in the know has made the once well regarded ideas of the film critic a small fish in a sea of online opinion. On Friday January 20th, the Bell TIFF Lightbox hosted a Q&A with the members of its Cannes Ciritcs Week Panel in order to get a better idea of the state of film criticism industry today.
 “There are two types of people who set out to be film critics” says Liam Lacey, critic for The Globe and Mail, “those who set out to be film critics, and those who are too old for the rock beat”.  Cinema gurus Lacey, Jonathan Rosenbaum (former critic for The Chicago Reader), Fabian Gaffez (Positif), and Toronto’s own Peter Howell (The Toronto Star) were all smiles as they greeted a small audience of aspiring and established film reviewers alike. Between them, these film virtuosos have more than half a century of critic experience. Although they sat down to discuss the specifics of their careers, their insight showcased just how much change has come about to the practice and reception of film criticism in the last 50 years.
“I’ve been pretty lucky that my two biggest passions in life, movies and music- that I’ve been able to get paid for and that probably makes you all jealous” explains Howell. Howell, now chief reviewer for the Toronto Star recalls his days as a journalism student at Carlton University. “I remember all of us (students) anxiously awaiting the arrival of the newspaper, hoping to be the first to be able to read the reviews”, remarked Howell with a comment that pushed the panel to discuss their thoughts on the role of the film critic. Rosenbaum, the veteran reviewer amongst the group, remembers seeing every film that came to the chain of theatres his grandfather owned in Florence, Alabama where he grew up. Even after developing from these rural cinematic roots, Rosenbaum insists that the role of the film critic is to “assist in the discussion of film and to improve and shift the level of discussion”, and Gaffez alike feels that the critic is “a go between- a boatman between language and film”.
Besides expressing their disdain for being forced to judge films with a rating system, the panel has a pretty positive outlook for this industry that seems to be eroding with every click of the mouse. Even after lamenting about reviewers and critics forcibly let go (J. Joberman formerly of The Village Voice), Howell says that although “there are so many things going on the internet, it makes sense to be afraid, but to be excited” is the key here. The panel points out that online authorship has allowed for authority to be eradicated, and now any one can have their thoughts about a film heard just as loud and fast as any publication certified authority. Howell says that the film reviewer’s job is to “be a resistor, to persuade your editor and people of your picks”, and with this transgression of authority through the internet it may be that the role of the modern day film critic is getting back to what it was once all about: reading in between the lines.
While this piece chronicles the development of popular online film rating bible Rotten Tomatoes, this clip gives a sense of just how much the world of online criticism as changed in the last ten years. If you read the video’s comments section, its clear that even a site like Rotten Tomatoes, which purports itself as being all about communal criticism, has managed to show signs of adhering to a specific agenda.

Man on a Ledge starts off with a bang as we see cop turned framed convict ­­­Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) walk with a chilling calm into a New York City hotel and have a last meal of sorts. All this happens with well placed ‘thriller’ music playing amiss a barrage of aerial shots and Cassidy’s mysteriously calculated actions. It’s too bad that this genuine suspense only lasts 5 minutes into the film, as it is at this point that Cassidy is already on the damn ledge. On a Ledge reuses a number of famous ‘wrongly accused thriller’ plots, particularly The Fugitive (1993) and Phone booth (2003) in order to tell its story. The film is really all about Cassidy’s devotion to prove his innocence, while tying in a commentary about the Wall Street megalomaniacs who ruined our economy. Ed Harris is convincing as a corporate millionaire thug, but the truth remains that the only thing ‘on the edge’ about this film are those who made it.
Its also pretty funny that Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg  features a whole segment hat parodies this ‘desperate man on the ledge’ concept. My Winnipeg’s  ‘Ledge Man’ is a mock television show about a man who is driven onto the ledge of an apartment building because of what ever problem that has arisen during the episode. 

I ask you, what is more funny: the idea of this crazy T.V show? Or that someone paid $42 million dollars to make it into a major motion picture?

There’s the saying ‘One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go’. Well One for the Money abruptly stops after “one for the money” and just picks up at ‘to go’. One for the Money is a half-baked film that attempts to combine the ineptitudes of Jersey Shore, pulpy romance novels, and poorly crafted made for T.V. film. It follows the story of Stephanie Plumb (Katherine Heigl), a newly unemployed 30ish Jersey girl who eats candy for breakfast. After blackmailing her seedy cousin Vinny (Patrick Fischler) into letting her become a bail enforcement agent, Stephanie descends into Jersey’s greasy underworld only to find out her first job is to catch the man who took her virginity.  With its all too common narrative, lousy portrayal of a heroine, and music that is of the 90’s low budget porn variety, One for the Money lets a good premise fall hopelessly flat on its face.

I’m sure that I’m not the only student who really felt the World Wide Web’s online protest to U.S. House Bill 3261 SOPA (Online Piracy Act). Wikipedia, the organization that bolsters itself as the ‘free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit”, and is responsible for being central to helping millions of desperate students around the world bull shit their ways through last minute essays and assignments, was part of this online protest. The bill itself is being proposed with the hopes to expand the U.S. government’s ability to combat and enforce the trafficking of intellectual property and counterfeit goods. For all those who enjoy threads, music blogs, and sites with ‘free’ downloadable online content, say goodbye. If SOPA is passed, this would mean that the government could also enact harsher punishments for the illegal streaming or downloading of copyright content.
Obviously if this was to happen, it would affect more than just this group of frantic students struggling to write papers, chugging Gatorade, and nursing  serious hangovers unable to get their Wikipedia who would be outraged. This means that law enforcement could block access to any domain name that they feel is in violation of this Bill, which would make the internet act against the very thing that it was created for: freedom. With the loss of freedom to share, there is no doubt that soon to follow is the loss of the freedom to speak. As stated, many online data banks and repost sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, and WordPress blacked out for one full day, in order to show their solidarity with the millions of people around the world who felt like the preposition of this bill is a step towards the American government entering a George Orwellian 1984 world. 
The film industry hasn’t put up any real type of fight, publicly at least, against the SOPA act being passed, and one wouldn’t have to wonder why it would. The film industry has been fighting internet piracy for many years now, but after some serious leaks ( x-Men Origins: Wolverine 2009) that have cost studios big bucks in post production, its fair to say that film execs and industry leaders are taking the threat of online piracy more seriously than ever. As someone who frequently contributes to box office totals and an who is an individual not afraid to admit to his free online film consumption, I feel that I can say that I belong to that particular group of film patrons who can see both pro and con to the film industry’s lobbying with the bill.
Despite my feelings of moral ambiguity towards the situation, there is still one thing that remains unbelievably unclear about the grounding behind the industries battle against piracy.The moving picture practice has always been well acquainted with ‘borrowing’ others ideas, stories, and even technology, and its quite fair to say that it wouldn’t be in the incredibly powerful position that it’s in right now with out these ‘borrowing’ ways. The bitter copyright wars that moving picture pioneers Thomas Edison and George Melies not only mark the beginning of the century long endurance of the film industry’s career, but also people being aware of this business existing on an international scale. As time has passed this industry has showed us that it is willing do whatever it needs to in order to guarantee its profitability. First came moving pictures, then moving pictures with sound, moving pictures with sound in colour, and finally moving picture with sound, colour, and 3D capabilities. There is no denying that as the technical aspects of the film industry evolve, the talent and the skilfulness exhibited by filmmakers and actors has continued in the same pattern. Still, living in the 3D age, its possible to see that Hollywood’s still hasn’t lost its “if its bigger, its better” attitude.
Because the film industry has reached a paramount in its power, as this year with its record breaking 28 sequels, has proved that it can be sure of knowing always making profit. It’s very hard to imagine this business on its hands and knees, still if one were only to look back to the 1960’s the image of Hollywood was just this. Between competition with the invention of television, the radically changing societal standards and progression, and Hollywood being utterly unaware of what the youth wanted on screen, Hollywood was humbled. Hollywood survived the decades to follow by getting rid of its ultra conservative production code, saw through with the creation of the Hollywood blockbuster (films that could gross hundreds of millions of dollars in a few days), and took chances on edgy younger directors. 
Now, in the 21stcentury, the film industry feels it is being put in jeopardy for the first time in over 50 years, and this might be the biggest reason for its lack of resistance to the SOPA act. However, this attitude refuses to remember just how much online sharing has contributed to it becoming what it is now: an all powerful world presence, that has shown that international borders can be transgressed with the click of a button, subtitles downloaded in a second, and films from any country made accessible to anyone around the world who desires them. It seems like the industry hasn’t seriously considered the negative aspects of what SOPA would bring about,  primarily being that if people can’t download and stream films, the playful demeanour that the public has adopted to this business’ ‘timidness’ to creativity as of late, may not be so easily forgiven. The fact that 9 out of the 10 top grossing films this year were all sequels and that each of the top 3 grossed more than 1 billion dollars shows that the industry has us on a tight leash, and SOPA may make us move away from the peg .SOPA has the potential to push the industry back to that moment in time when it was out of touch what the people wanted, and utterly desperate to do anything that will reingratiate itself with us.
 Check out Wikipedia’s full stance on the SOPA act here

The last decade has seen actor Angelina Jolie’s celebrity status change quite a bit. Throughout the 90’s, the world watched Jolie kiss her brother on the red carpet, wear Billy Bob Thorton’s blood vial, and generally excite us with her unrestricted promiscuity. Fast forward about 10 years, a new husband a few adoptions and humanitarian efforts later and that Jolie we know in 2011 seems to be a woman on a much different mission. Jolie’s debut as a filmmaker and writer with her Bosnian war film In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011) shows that the while this A list director has definitely set her sights on trying to pay tribute to the atrocities of the Bosnian war, it’s not a surprise that Blood and Honey still has hints of the seductive starlet’s artistically divisive nature and irrefutable attraction to a good old kinky sex scene.

In the Land of Blood and Honey tells the story of Aija (Zana Marjanovic): a young, soft spoken, and attractive aspiring painter whose life, along with many around her, is torn apart once Serbian forces begin rounding up Bosnian Muslims. Danijel (Goran Kostic), a top ranking Serbian soldier unclear about his allegiance to the Serbian cause, ferrets out Aija to continue a now illicit affair that began literally moments before the Serbian uprising. Although Jolie’s cinematic style is quite novice, the director makes no mistake that Blood and Honey was made with very serious intentions. Jolie’s use of Serbian actors actually speaking Serbian throughout the film is quite commendable, especially because we continue to live in an age where Hollywood gets away with making foreign films in English (Hugo ahem). Still, the sexual encounters between Aija and Danijel are too steamy to be considered acts of purely narrative driven love, and instead become an excuse for forbidden and fetishized racy sex. Ultimately, Jolie’s determination for austerity with Blood and Honey’s message is becomes misguided at times. The vicious rape scenes, human degradation, and graphic war sequences are presented as supplementary to Aija and Danijel’s love story and all of the work she does to assure us of the film’s factual and grim intentions gets pushed to the side by the  back and forth of the fiery sadomasochistic narrative that takes higher priority. It seems that when the two lovers’ story comes to halt, so does Blood and Honey and this is troubling because when Jolie does show us the gritty atrocities of the Bosnian war, her authenticity is formidable. Blood and Honey promises us retrospection and insight into the gritty Bosnian war, but what seems to echo the loudest is Jolie’s well known predilection for anything of the kinky variety.  
I guess, by some strange act of fate, that my finally watching 2011 hot topic The Ides of March was well timed. The film, which distributing company Sony initially had scheduled for limited release in December and then wide release in January 2012, saw these dates pushed up a few times until Sony settled on an October 7th 2011 release date. There’s no doubt that Sony’s desire to get The Ides of Marchs out into wide release a soon as possible was a result of the generally positive reception the film received from its summer screenings in both the Venice International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. Typically, a political thriller wouldn’t be pegged as block buster material but seeing as the film was directed by and starring George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachael Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatt ,The Ides of March packs a serious wallop for a film with a rather familiar story.
The Ides of March is all about political fledgling Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) who as the deputy campaign manager of ideal presidential candidate governor Michael Morris’ (George Clooney) gets a rough immersion  into the realities that unfortunately underlay even the most progressive and seemingly good willed political agenda. In the process of cleaning up one of the Governor’s messes, Meyers finds him playing for his life on the giant chess board that is a presidential campaign and has to eventually to make a tough decision between his integrity and his will to survive in the greasy world of backstage politics.
The reason I liked The Ides of March is because its message is not lost in its quick shuffle of political jargon and creeping sense of paranoia that has you, like Meyers, frequently guessing at the cause, act, and result of every characters’ decisions. Instead, The Ides of March carries a swift ideology, that only echoes louder and louder throughout the film. This would be that a life in politics is only successful if one can sharpen and execute all opponents with incredibly adept ruthlessness, cunning, and even sacrifice one’s own integrity. What must be understood is that Meyers, now 30 years old, still handles himself on the youthful periphery of the cut throat world that others like his boss and mentor Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Morris glide through everyday. Once Meyer begins to play ball at the level of the politico big wigs, black mailing and playing ‘the game’, it is only then that this restless realm of slander and damage control sensibilities becomes accessible to Meyers. Meyers eventually undergoes a tough, to say the least, transformation into political manhood which is not exacted without taking its toll on Meyer’s once optimistic and generally more playful politic demeanor. 
If you don’t know what I mean, I won’t ruin the end of the film for you, but the similarity between The Ides of March‘s grand finale and this icon image should give you some indication of what I mean:

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