Monthly Archives: May 2012

Samuel L. Jackson in The Samaritan
As the dark title screen of The Samaritan dissolves into grainy focus, we get a point of view shot of some bruised and battered guy with a gun barrel to his forehead begging for his life, seconds away from getting his brains blown out. This scene sets the president for the very intimate and gritty film that director David Weaver has set out to make with The Samaritan, but it’s a shame that the film’s gloomy tension only leaves us high and dry in this neo-noir thriller.

The Samaritan follows the story of ex-tough guy Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) who we see released from a 25 year prison stint for a crime we’re given little information about- at first. This is good, as Weaver uses Foley’s ominous allusions to his mistakes only to give us a taste of the bitter and corrupted past that precedes the now reformed Foley.  Although Jackson’s role in the film is essential to The Samaritan, it unfortunately only contributes to the film’s lesser success as a ‘hard boiled’ styled thriller, and instead only adds to The Samaritan’slarger failure as a film of this genre.

We meet Foley as he lies awake in his decrepit jail cell, haunted by memories of his past. It’s watching Foley’s lonely glide through the prison gates amidst other rehabilitated felons in loving embrace with their family members, solitarily drifting off into the lonely horizon that sets Foley apart from the rest. Weaver hits a nerve here and Jackson’s quiet and mysterious demeanor are well acted- for this portion of the film at least. As Foley visits desolate bars and walks empty downtown streets with steam pluming from every subterranean orifice, Weaver’s handle of the traditional ‘hard boiled’ atmosphere here is formidable. Filmed entirely in Toronto, it is really quite interesting to see our typically shiny and sleek metropolis become a dingy Gotham City of sorts and when the nefarious playboy Ethan (Luke Kirby) comes into the picture, it’s clear that we have our Joker.

At first, Ethan is just as cryptic as Foley’s:  he asks Foley to accompany him to his night club, offering him Cocaine and sex with a cracked out, yet somehow beautiful, prostitute Iris (Ruth Negga). Weaver sets this early part of the story up wonderfully as he recreates the essential allure that most noir’s strive on: the absolute uncertainly that we as spectators have about any character’s motives, and the undeniable desire to sort out the pieces to this often deadly puzzle.

All of this sounds pretty good, right? Well the real problem with The Samaritanbegins once Foley starts dating heroin addict Iris, I guess as some kind of homage/ alternate reality to one of the grittiest films of all Taxi Driver. Unlike the more or less single note (and towards the end psychotically obsessive) societal cynicism that Martin Scorsese’s Travis Bickle exudes, Foley transitions from the ‘man with a haunted past’ persona to ‘old guy in awkward relationship with young girl’ disposition. This isn’t something I would typically find detracting from a film, but seeing as The Samaritan starts off in such an abrasive manner (we literally feel like we’re holding a gun to the beaten up dude’s head), it’s unbelievable and just weird watching Jackson make out with someone 40 years his junior.

When Foley is manipulated by Ethan’s disturbing revelation of the true nature of Foley and Iris’ relationship, we see Weaver paying homage to one of the most notorious revenge plot films ever made (without giving too much away, its Korean if that helps) with The Samaritan. But when the film radically shifts gears to become a heist picture of sorts, it becomes increasingly obvious that The Samaritanis a confused film which happens to take place in Toronto.

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Struggling to find a seat in the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema’s packed auditorium, it wasn’t a total shock that so many people showed up to see Kevin Macdonald’s Bob Marley docu-bio Marley. Like most others in attendance, I’ve grown up in what I like to call the Marley A.D. age: a time when the red, green, and yellow Rastafarian colours have become synonymous with Marley status as a cultural icon. I’m speaking about the rebellious, yet deeply soulful essence, which Marley’s music carries; the unique mood which becomes a rite of passage for many young and posthumous fans like me. I’m speaking about the reggae phase (a close cousin of the emotional-teen Beetles obsession) in which blasting Marley’s “We Don’t Need No More Trouble” every morning becomes the norm. Haven’t we all felt the spliff smoking Marley poster a necessity for the christening of a dorm room at some time in our lives?

As I sat in this theatre filled with families, senior citizens, and every ethnicity known to the streets of Toronto, Marley’s legacy had never become more realized to me than at that moment- a feeling I was delighted to see beautifully mirrored in Marley. Weaving through the grassy hills of Jamaica, Macdonald gently sets us down in Bob’s quaint and rural birthplace, the village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish. Giving first hand and utterly authentic information from Bob’s family, friends, teachers, and lovers Macdonald gets unabashedly close and personal to this fallen reggae folk icon and before long Marley bridges the same irreplicable intimacy that Bob’s music maintains with listeners all over the globe.

Eventually leading us to the poverty stricken slums of Kingston Jamaica, Macdonald bases us in the utter reality of Bob’s earliest beginnings and in doing so the legend of Bob Nesta Marley is comfortably deconstructed showing who Bob really was: an outsider. We learn that Bob, son to an absentee white Royal Marines officer and his native Jamaican mother Cedella Marley- Booker, was an outcast in his own community because of his mixed heritage. Seeing Marley in the vulnerable state which spurned Bob’s great desire to share the message of liberty and love with the world, Macdonald offers a rare position of this fallen legend. Following Bob so closely, we too sleep only 4 hours each night, travel on dingy tour buses, and get paid next to nothing for our work. Marley’s greatest asset is that it allows us to watch Marley’s creative gears turn; to witness the exhausting and unrelenting attitude that is the price of really creating revolution.

Marley includes a lot of rare and quite honestly priceless footage of Bob performing with other Reggae legends like Peter Tosh, and it’s because of candid instances like this that Macdonald is capable of bringing us closer than ever to this spiritual artiste. Above all else that this film explains about Bob’s legacy, Marley is magnificent because it doesn’t simply show what Reggae music did for Bob Marley, but much rather what Bob Marley did for Reggae music. Unfolding the state of Reggae before Bob became involved, Marley  shows the striking and surprising contrasts of Bob’s political, soul and folk fused undertones- his passionate drive towards delivering  the message of an oppressed people. An instructional in Rastafarianism, a tribute to Bob’s life, a portrait of an artist and icon whose image will endure for ever- all these perspectives of Bob’s intricate being are delicately weaved together by Macdonald and are precisely the reason why Marely is hands down the documentary experience of the year.

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Jobriath A.D.

Director(s): Kieran Turner

Running Time: 107 mins

Recommended? While this documentary has its problems regarding its construction, the power of listening and watching Jobriath perform is breath taking.

There’s something unexplainable about Kieran Turner’s Jobraith A.D., a docu-bio dedicated to the unsung and tragic praise for Jobriath Salisbury’s glittering genius. Sitting in aged dressing rooms and fore grounded by vanity mirrors, Jobraith A.D. collects the opinions of Los Angeles and New York’s oldest stage performers, family, and friends to tell this peculiar story of a man whose reputation as the gay messiah of the music industry follows 30 years after his death.

Turner delivers a curious surplus of testimony and praise for Jobriath, the first openly gay musician signed to a major record label. But as Jobriath’s sleazy and often incompressible manager Jerry Brandt makes grand claims (saying that Jobriath got more attention than any other artist in the history of the business) the astounding praise for the first true performance artist is at time wacky and Zoolander-esque.

Still, confronted with images and sounds of Salisbury’s raw talent, we cannot deny the flare of this trendsetter whose career stayed in the shadow of glam rock king David Bowie, and suffered because of the sad fact that audiences were not ready to submit to an openly gay man’s charms. Part of Inside Out’s Icon documentary series, Jobriath A.D. is a bedazzled account and celebration of a man whose grand talent and musical genius will leave you haunted.


Director(s): Dominique Cardona, Laurie Colbert

Running Time: 90 mins

Recommended? Yes, not strongly

Directed by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, and written by Colbert and Margaret Webb-it’s fair to say that that Margarita certainly has a ladies touch. We’re introduced to Margarita (Nicola Correia Damude), who is a live-in house keeper (and so much more) for an upper middle class family.

Margarita is pretty much the super nanny you would die for: she cooks, she cleans, she even repairs the roof and Damude is well casted as this strong and honourable hard working woman. Although Margarita is light fun, the film often finds itself pushing boundaries. An unofficial Canadian citizen, Margartia is threatened by deportation which as a result raises issues about Margarita’s ability to practice her sexual orientation and because of this Margarita is deals with the tough realities this house keeper/ immigrant/ lesbian extraordinaire unique situation affords.

When the financially affluent, but emotionally devoid, couple who used to employ Margarita are forced to take up house hold duties themselves, they come to find that the biggest chore they have neglected is their teen aged daughter Mali (Maya Ritter), who has relied upon Margarita as role model. Shot in Toronto, Margaritais an easy going, yet conscious expose of a queer immigrant’s perspective.

I’m not really sure if I learned anything from the 4th and latest instalment of Lena Dunham’s Girls, but for some reason I think that may have been the point of this episode. In the last episode (Hannah’s Dairy), we are abruptly left off where Marnie’s push over boyfriend Charlie confronts both Marnie and Hannah while he’s on stage performing in his sad two man band. What he’s doing here is trying to expose Marnie as the shallow and unloving woman that he read about in Hannah’s diary.

In the newest episode (Hard Being Easy), we open with Charlie forcing Hannah to do an awkward re-reading of the hurtful truths about Marnie and Charlie’s relationship, as they all sit in Marnie and Hannah’s apartment.

Okay, so even before Charlie goes loco on both girls and storms out of the room with his hand made hipster coffee table, I was already arrested by the ridiculous incredulity of the set up of this confrontation. CHARLIE, who doesn’t live at the girls’ apartment, was snooping around in Hannah’s room, rifling through Hannah’s stuff and finds something Hannah wrote about his relationship. Yet, somehow this is Hannah’s fault? Although this episode played down Marnie’s displeasure towards Hannah’s actions, we can’t forget that last episode ended with Marnie throwing a drink in Hannah’s face because of just this. Where’s the continuity here?

STILL, this is one of the prime examples of why I find Girls so damn frustrating and hard to understand. I mean, all I could do was put myself in Hannah’s position (that’s what the show wants you to do, right?)and imagine some guy yelling at me in MY apartment because he went through MY stuff and didn’t like what he read. I’m sorry, but fuck you Charlie- maybe you should keep your (or in this case your friend’s) curious little hands to yourself.

It seems like the central theme of this episode revolves around the girls trying to exercise some control in their own lives. Hannah attempts to seduce, extort, then threaten her boss (all to no avail), Jessa meets up with an old flame to bang him and throw him out of her apartment, and Marnie spends the rest of the episode trying to get Charlie to bat his eye lashes at her again.

Hey! Look at me! I want you to step on my balls!

Although Hannah’s attempts with her boss fail, she finds unexpected comfort in making her pervy ape of a hipster boyfriend become the sub in their relationship. Walking out of the bathroom to see Adam Sackler shaking one out, begging to be humiliated, I was happy to see Hannah take control of this unseen ‘deviance’ that Adam so badly craved, especially when she makes this uncaring sack of shit apologize to her 3 whole times. But as the episode plays out, I started noticing some subtle nuances, particularly in what was happening with these male characters, that really made me unsure of what exactly Girls has to say here (I think this might be the central theme of the show). Charlie nonchalantly tells Marnie he watches porn, Jessa makes her old BF bust a nut then embarrasses him when she gets the final one up on him, and Hananh finds out that Adam has some secret kinks that one wouldn’t ever expect from his typically assoholian character.

It then struck me that maybe Girls is making a really clever comment with these three males: the men of the 21st century who unashamedly jack it to internet porn, have humiliation fantasies, and despite trendy fedora’s that signal confidence will do anything to bang their ex girlfriends half way through a fire escape. Even more interesting is the grand gesture of all this: being that despite our ‘21st century maleness’- our brains are still puny machines with little tiny cogs, oiled by even the slightest hope of us having sex. All of these dudes have sex (well Adam’s act isn’t really considered sex but you get the picture) with the girls, only after to be illuminated by how one track their minds really are. Whatever the case may be, my mind certainly did A LOT of work to pick that out of this abrupt episode- another episode in which I felt nothing really happened. I guess I’ll just keep waiting for something to…

I really want to like Girls, I really do. But of the three entertaining and very short episodes I’ve seen so far, I can’t get past the curious hurdles that creator and executive producer Lena Dunham seems to have used as a foundation for her 20-somethings-in-jobless-limbo HBO series.

I’ll start off by saying that Girls is a very witty show, and with every new episode Dunham continues to remind us of her commendable aptitude for word play, tightly bound conversations, and phenomenal straight faced skills when acting out some very uncomfortable scenes. Girls follows the lives of three young women living in New York City: the comfortably broke Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), her super model material roommate Marnie Michaels (Allison Williams), up tight good girl Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Momet), and free spirited bohemian Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke).

Okay, so let’s get this straight, Girls is an HBO show that intertwines the stories of 4 young women, living in New York City dealing with issues of careers, love, and sex. Yeah I know I’m not the only one to find this premise irrefutably similar to HBO’s feline power hour show Sex and the City, which similarly gained notoriety for being an unabashed comedy about working women in their 30 somethings living in New York City and dealing with issues of love and sex. However simplistic and even routine this premise may now seem, you really only have to watch just one episode of Mad Men to understand the profound cultural significance of a show with Sex and the City’s pioneering proclivities.

Besides being impeccably well written, acted, and shot, shows like Mad Men perform like a disturbing worm whole back to a time when America’s working women were strictly to be seen and not heard, and even when retro heroines like Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) become heard, it’s not like we’re hearing about her pearl thong. Sex and the City is largely responsible for beginning our cultural contextualization and understanding of the issues that modern day working women experience.

I’ve heard so many  ‘bro’s’ dismiss Sex in the City because of its feminine appeal – a jump to conclusions that is quite easy to make in the current climate of T.V. land where the commonness of shows like Girls or Zoey Deschenell’s star vehicle New Girl, make it easy to forget how important it is that we now have programming that really does try to follow in footsteps of Sex and the City’s no holds barred attitude  when discussing pearl thongs and boyfriends wanting you to  pee on them.

In its first episode, I was happy to see Girls try to cleverly to nip the onslaught of “this is just another Sex and the City”criticisms sure to follow the show until it breaks out of infancy. When the ridiculously idealistic but innocent Shoshanna asks Jessa for thoughts on her Sex and the City poster (the crowning piece of Soshanna’s bachelorette pad) and Jessa says “Oh, um, I’ve never seen that movie”, Girls gives a glimpse of its undercarriage’s brainy ambitions. When Shoshanna then asks Jessa if she thinks she’s a Keri, or Samantha, its hard not to laugh at the cultural currency Sex and the City’s character types have caused many to use as easy templates to identify working women with; no doubt a slap dash coping mechanism used to situate the modern female in today’s working world.

Still, Girls flattery through homage and commentary is thrown to the wayside as its characters’ astute similarities to Sex and the City’s protagonists proves disillusioning. Hannah is a clear projection of Sex and the City’s Keri (Sarah Jessica Parker) with her money management issues and whimsical submission to the often obvious ploy of stupid immature men. Marnie’s dominance in her relationship with her soft-as-fuck boyfriend carries similar shades of Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) battle to accept her long term and equally as soft boyfriend Steve (David Eigenberg). Even the more secondary members of the group like Shoshanna and her battle with prudishness, or Jessa’s free willed sex life and blunt antics are an undeniable allusion to Sex and the City’s Charlotte and Samantha.

Still, the potential for brilliance in Girls lies not in its character moulds, but rather what Girlshas shown that it is willing to do with them. While Hannah and her ladies all seem reminiscent of the finely crafted characters of arguably one of the most important shows about and featuring females, Girls operates more like an early introduction to these characters and this is simultaneously fascinating and totally frustrating. Watching Hannah get screwed around with each episode by her douche-bag-with-a-Gorilla-physique boyfriend is so hard to endure because it is not quite funny, but rather very pathetic. But if this is really the intention of Girls, it is achieved beautifully because after the airing of three episodes I still cannot completely like Hannah, especially not in the same entertaining screw ball way that one likes Sex and the City’s Keri. Girls might be the only show I’ve seen that makes you fight damn hard to whole heartedly like its main character- but alas, we live in a different climate than the women of Sex and the City and Girls makes this so clear with the air of instability that its young ladies breathe. I guess we can just chalk it up to the fact that Girls attempts to posit women in the real world, not the brightly lit Upper East Side of Manhattan- and this will just take some getting used to.

Almost as deeply burning as my questions for Prometheus are, I ask: Why was this even made?

In 2004, when Alien vs. Predator was the next instalment of anything remotely related to the Alien franchise, I became one of the many Alien fans who thought that they would die before ever seeing a truly Ridley Scott/H.R. Giger influenced Alienfilm. But when talk and teasers footage of the decade long ‘in the works’ Alien prequel Prometheus began to hit the web about a year ago, I was absolutely astounded.

Prometheus is about a research team who travel to the farthest corners of the universe to uncover the dark secrets of our origins. That is really all I can say about what is certainly happening in the films as the other snippets of Alien spacecrafts (a simultaneously dazzling and haunting nod to Alien and Aliens) and sweaty men and women screaming are all part of the curious enigma that is Prometheus. Really, this precisely is why Prometheuslooks so damn good: it reminds us that it’s been a very long time since a Sci-fi has left us really guessing (and it’s not even out yet).

To really comprehend the awesomeness that Prometheus promises, let’s go back to 1979 when Scott directed Alien which would become one the most integral and innovative space travel films since Stanley Kubrick’s Sci-fi symphony 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Although the reception of Kubrick’s mystical space adventure initially proved quite divisive, 2001was quickly recognized as a masterpiece in its own right and its psychedelic and experimental imagery (created by special effects veteran Douglas Trumbull who would go on to work with Scott on Blade Runner  1982) is indeed fitting of the radical times it was made.

Still, the mould Kubrick set in place envisioned a bright and polished future where space travel is done on neat commercial spacecrafts with super intelligent sentient A.I.. Scott’s Alien ripped this crystalline vision in two as Ellen Ripley’s commercial mining spacecraft the Nostromo is shown as a grey, industrial monstrosity where every command must be painstakingly, manually inputted into clunky and beaten up computers. Scott’s redefinition of space travel didn’t stop here, as the sinister Alien (a grotesque design by morose Swiss artist H.R. Giger) that stalks the crew of the Nostromo hybridized Science Fiction and horror, creating a remarkably unique film with Science Fiction proclivities but still operates with all of a Slasher ’s tendencies .

Fast forward a few decades and sequels later, the success the nightmarish space adventure Scott began in 1979 can be seen in the massive Alienfranchise that it spawned. Even still, with other visionary directors like James Cameron (Aliens 1986) and David Fincher (Alien 3 1992), no one has been able to create quite the same magic that Scott achieved once he first unleashed the menacing and mysterious Alien. Prometheus takes place before Alien and follows a team of researchers to a recondite planet after a clue to mankind’s origins on Earth directs them there. Scott has said that although the film’s events precede AlienPrometheus is not directly connected to the franchise and this is precisely why Prometheuswill be a breath of fresh air.

With this one, we won’t have to sit through hours of dim regurgitated action like the abominable Alien vs. Predator spin offs – film which I don’t even consider to be part of the franchise. Instead, Prometheus’s mysterious nature seems to bring us back to the questions that have burning in the minds of fans since 1979: what are the origins of the mysterious Xenomorph species, where did they come from, and what does their existence have to tell us about ourselves?

Released on June 8th, Prometheus will be a great way to start the blockbuster season.

Last year, when space invaders-come-to-the-ghetto comedy Attack the Block was released it was a delightful surprise to finally see a sci-fi take on the hood film.  Attack the Block achieved such a good balance of so many genres because director/ writer Joe Cornish showed that it’s somehow kind of funny  when adrenaline courses through your body because you have a knife held up to your gut. Whether watching the constantly hoodied Moses (John Boyega) and his crew of adolescent goof ball cronies roam through the high browed streets of Kennington, looking for a helpless girl to mug, stomping out aliens like they were rival gang members, or being chased down by drug lords- Attack the Block is the entertaining genre concoction that it is because its chief concern is the portrayal of youth culture. Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen young punks wander streets where they don’t belong. Showing at TIFF’s Next Wave Festival, Mathieu Kassovitz’ La Haineis the best example of the where this well crafted medley of hood politics, social issues, and beauty got its start, and is a must see.

In Attack the Block, Moses and his boys navigate maze-like apartment complexes, smoke weed with dopey drug dealers (Nick Frost was perfect here), and talk about FIFA and girls. Partially carried on the back of its young actors’ excellent performances, Attack the Block’s innovative representation of the hood is only replicating a mould that was etched in stone 15 years earlier with the release La Haine. Opening with eerie, grainy black and white footage we hear a young man scream at a line of stiff riot officers: “Murderers, easy for you to gun us down, all we got is rocks!”. Directed by, and briefly starring, Mathew Kassovitz, La Haine tells the story of 3 young men:  Vinz (Vincent Cassel) the Jewish b-boy wannabe fuelled by an intense hatred for the police, Hubert (Hubert Kounde) the Afro-French aspiring boxer and occasional drug dealer, and the Meghrebin tuff guy- clown Said Tagmaoui. After a riot breaks out in their housing project, Kassovitz does his best to show the tense conditions between the police and the youths living in impoverished housing. But when Vinz gets his hands on a riot officer’s lost pistol, Vinz, Hubert, and Said each find themselves struggling to figure out where to draw the line between right and wrong in the angry and chaotic world that surrounds them.

Kassovitz gives us a raw portrayal of the essence of the street: kids gathered on roof tops cooking hot dogs and smoking joints, break dancing in project hall ways, we even see Hubert playfully bounce a syringe between his shoes. However, the ethereal and candid nature of hood life that Kassovitz’ gives us access to is ephemeral, as Said and his friends are harassed by the police more times than I can count- and all before 5:00 (a sharp detail that is a result of Kassovitz’ brilliant ‘real time’ aspect to the film). When DJ Cut Killer turns his enormous speakers to face the project court yard and warms up his turn tables, Kassovizt’s also gets ready to broadcast his message loud and clear. Here we see the Chimera like essence of the hood: the beat and rhythm of the street literally being sweetly broadcasted over the entire neighbourhood, while all of the project’s inhabitants carry out their actions- for better or for worse. As Cut Killer’s “Nique La Police” (Fuck the Police) blares over the entire hood, La Haine  situates itself a formidable symphony of the street, effortlessly blending issues of police brutality, the futile nature of hate, and the beauty that strives in even the dirtiest and uncared for corners of our societies.

As a scrawny custy stands in wait for the elevator on his way the weed grow op in Attack the Block, hearing KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police” (sample material for Cut Killer’s mix in La Haine) blare over his headphones, we’re reminded that the problems youths faced nearly 15 years ago still team the streets of rich upper class neighbourhoods today, whether we’d like to acknowledge the existence of these packs of bandanna clad teens or not. It has been films and stories like La Haine (based on real events from Kassovitz’ life) that are so integral to the expression of youth culture. La Haine screens at 12:30 pm this Saturday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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