I’ve always been fairly neutral on auteur darling Paul Thomas Anderson. Oh sure, There Will be Blood was pure greatness spread across a crusty kaiser roll; but as longtime readers will remember, I found The Master (or at least, the second half) about as boring as watching paint dry, and without even the fun of any fumes to inhale. So the announcement of a new PT Anderson flick itself doesn’t get my blood running. But Inherent Vice looked fun and entertaining from the trailers, with a strong cast and Anderson’s to-be-expected excellent visual presentation. All of which the film delivered, but rather than merely the wild caper its trailers may have made it out to be, Inherent Vice is also one of the more tightly packed, intelligent, beguiling crime films I’ve seen in a while – a true blue Neo Noir the likes of which hasn’t been seen on screens in years.

Inherent Vice posterJoaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a drug addled private eye in 1970s LA who gets thrown into an ever-deepening labyrinth of crime and corruption when his old flame, Shasta, reappears out of the blue in classic noir fashion. It’s probably been said somewhere that it’s only really noir if the whole thing is kicked off by some leggy dame, who’s nuthin’ but trouble, crossing the hero’s doorstep, and Inherent Vice sticks to that rule. Shasta’s arrival drops Doc into an intensely convoluted criminal conspiracy involving drug smugglers, real estate moguls, police corruption and all that other fun neo-noir fare, with a heavy does of pot-fuelled paranoia to keep things even more interesting.

It’s that convoluted storyline that I think will keep Inherent Vice at arms length for a lot of people, or at least the film’s unwillingless to offer the audience any help in keeping up. Like Beyond the Black Rainbow last week, and Drug War beyond that, Inherent Vice will not offer you any aid in keeping up with the vast conspiracy you’re thrown into. Let your attention wander and you’re bound to miss at least five pieces of crucial information, and God help you if you go for a pee-break. And even just paying attention isn’t enough. There’s a lot of double-speak, implication, and conclusions reached by the characters in the film that aren’t always spelled out in plain English for the audience. I’m not sure how much of this comes from Anderson and the screenwriter intentionally, and how much is that old “adapted from a book” problem where you feel like you’re missing a vital piece or two of the picture if you haven’t read the book in advance. But either way Inherent Vice isn’t what you’d call a “casual” movie. Pay attention, think and maybe you’ll be able to keep up. Maybe.

Inherent Vice Roberts

But even if you get lost, you can at least still enjoy the dynamite performances and visuals. I was bracing myself for Phoenix to go a bit too Johnny Depp, reducing his performance as Doc to a collection of affectations, ticks, one-liners and pratfalls. But while those are all there, he doesn’t let Doc become a caricature. There’s always the sense that there’s more lurking under the surface, and with a performance like this that’s a tricky thing to pull off. Josh Brolin is a deadpan powerhouse, often delivering some of the film’s most memorable lines (I want my “Motto Panecaku!” shirt), and the rotating cast of walk-ons all do fine, even if a lot of them only get one or two scenes tops.

Anderson, as fans have come to expect from him, comes through on his rep for visually breathtaking movies. The framing, camera movements, and general formal qualities are all strong. The image has this nice washed out quality on top of what must have been very colorful sets and costumes, making the film look almost like a comic book left out in the sun or something. There’s also this nice trend of long takes, but not attention grabbing long takes. More the kind that demands that the actors keep on top of their game and keeps the attention without being distracting.

Like a lot, if not all, of Anderson’s movies, I don’t think Inherent Vice is for everyone. But in a film culture that often seems to baby its audience, catering to as many demographics as possible, and treating the audience with kid gloves, it’s refreshing to see a film that dares to demand its audience to pay attention, think, and make connections themselves, rather than watch as the film spells them out. For people willing to acquiesce to this demand, Inherent Vice can be an incredibly rewarding experience if you manage to tease out what’s going on, which admittedly can be pretty damn tricky. I have a feeling I won’t totally “get” it until I’ve seen it at least one or two more times. But even if you can’t quite follow every minutia of the plot, the atmosphere, performances and humor are all more than enough to keep you entertained.

David Fincher’s new movie Gone Girl is an experience. Say what you will about its qualities as a piece of film art. But, if nothing else, the experience of sitting down in a darkened theatre and taking in Fincher’s dark, sometimes funny, and often profoundly messed up flick about marriage and relationships was, for me, one of the most affecting, involved, and flabbergasting experiences of all this year.

On paper, Gone Girl looks like a dime novel thriller. It’s the story of a man, whose beautiful and charming wife is kidnapped. Her disappearance becomes a massive media event, throwing scrutiny on their not-so-happy marriage and casting him as the prime suspect. But rather than being seen as a hero, Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) innocence in this whole rigmarole is continually undermined, not just to the media and public, but to the audience of the film, leading to an exercise in suspense and mystery, in which the audience literally doesn’t know who to trust.

Gone Girl posterOk, so let’s get the formal stuff out of the way first. As we have come to expect from a craftsman like Fincher, Gone Girl is beautifully shot and edited, about as broody and dark as we’ve come to expect from the Se7en director, just under-lit enough to make the everything feel slightly sinister, and accompanied by a thumping minimalist score by Fincher’s frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. All of the cast knocks it out of the park, with Rosamund Pike’s Amy, the missing wife, delivering a performance that will probably enrage a lot of people when it gets passed over at next year’s Oscars. The supporting cast are full of standouts, with a possibly career re-defining turn from Neil Patrick Harris and a shockingly good but understated supporting performance by Tyler Perry. The one who may get passed over a lot, unfortunately, is Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister. It’s not one of the “in your face good” performances in the flick, which may lead to a lot of people not noticing that she’s seriously good, especially given that this is her first film role ever.

As for Affleck? He’s good. Not amazing, not terrible, but good. He pulls of what he needed to pull of, and, if nothing else, the fact that I wasn’t thinking “So you gonna be a good Batman?” every time he was on screen is proof enough that he did a good job.

For virtually the entire second half of the screening, my mouth was ajar. As you may have heard, Gone Girl, like a novelty drinking straw, or my small intestine, is a wee bit twisty. Virtually every 20 minutes or so there’s some new twist, some new shocking development, something that completely throws you off from where you think this is all going, to the point that by the halfway mark I’d completely given up trying to make predictions and just sat there in gobsmacked awe, completely going along for the ride. I could almost see David Fincher perched above the screen, a puckish grin on his face as he lobbed the occasional flashbang grenade into the audience, mouthing the words “Oh what, were you getting complacent? Bored even? Well, let’s change that!” And then there’s a soft thud on the floor next to me and suddenly my ear drums are bleeding.

Gone Girl insert

And of course it’s all ridiculous – a collection of twists and turns that would make Gone Girl a laughable soap opera of a movie in the hands of any other director. But because it was Fincher at the helm, stringing you along with expertly maintained tension and suspense, it’s an incredibly engrossing experience. This is in no small part because it spends almost the entire second act walking an absolute razor’s edge between being credible and incredible, constantly teetering on the edge of being completely and utterly ridiculous. And then it does a backflip, a pirouette and a handstand on that edge, just to show off how much it can be silly without breaking its hold on you.

It’s a rollercoaster, a spinning teacup of twists and turns that leaves you disoriented and a bit nauseous. The only point at which it really let me down was in the ending, which is the kind of ending where the credits suddenly roll and all you can do is let out a little, deflated “Oh.” It’s not a bad ending, but it comes out of nowhere, sneaking up on you. It’s anticlimactic, but that’s not the problem. It’s meant to be anticlimactic. But I think it’s rather the wrong sort of anticlimactic, a bit too deflating and not nearly sinister and chilling enough as it could have been.

Gone Girl is a pretty darn good movie. Eminently well-made, fantastically acted and masterfully suspenseful. But its true value, I think, is the experience it leaves you with upon first viewing. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie this year that engrossed me this much, that kept me this on the edge of my seat, even when a part of my brain was going, “This is ridiculous, this is utterly ridiculous” while another bit went, “Shut up, will you, I wanna see where this goes!!” And if you can’t appreciate it for that, you can appreciate it for being a deeply layered meditation on relationships and manipulation, a searing take down of the news media (particularly ones named for a certain small, red member of the Canidae family) and a seriously well made and acted thriller.

Oh ye ole Fantasia Fest. Ye sideburns of geek. Ye vixens of awkward. Ye meowers of dark. Ye forever awesome lineup.

It’s been a few years for me, but I’m right pickled to be back in the Fantasia action, and these first few days have not disappointed. Here are a couple of movies you might want to check out, whether at Fantasia, or in theatres down the road, God willing.



Set in an Any Nowhere USA of the late 70s, Riley Stearns’ first feature brings us Orsen Roth: down-and-out cult and mind-control expert, living out of his car, touring regional hotels with his book no one wants, broke, eating ketchup with a fork. Down on his luck, nose continually bleeding, he owes a lot of money and is desperate for any way out of the hole he’s dug himself. A deprogramming job comes along, and it’s a chance at salvation, for better or worse.

Well-written, evenly directed and featuring a great ensemble of character actor weirdos, following likeable but despicable Roth around as he gets beat up, manipulated and teeters on every kind of edge is a good way to spend your evening.

Faults is screening for a second time tomorrow, July 24, at 7:15 p.m. at Theatre J.A. de Sève.

The Mole Song – Undercover Agent Reiji

Full disclosure: Takashi Miike is kind of a god. Supreme stylist among even the most showy directors, this is a man who is equally at home creating feudal ronin tragedies (Hara Kiri), out-Lynching Lynch (Gozu), and crafting manga live-action adaptions so complete they include nose bubbles and head-bump prosthetics (Nina Kids). In The Mole Song (likely his 100th feature), Miike showcases a couple of additional things he does especially well: the yakuza and funny.

Bringing both together into a world of razor-grilled midgets, sing-song DEA agents, butterfly obsessed number-2’s and the usual hoard of Miike perverts, The Mole Song does not disappoint, and is always willing to stoop a bit, if only to button a dumb joke with an even dumber, even funnier button. Though the third act leaves the tremendous energy built up kind of flattened, the sweet jokes keep coming, and it’s well worth a looksee overall.

Suburban Gothic

Ah, the suburbs! Once I got over the momentous shock of seeing Leland Palmer in person (he’s just a cool old white guy, but his head is so BIG, especially from mere FEET AWAY!), Suburban Gothic proved to be the most familiarly hilarious of picket-fence fancy feasts. Complete with mucho macho and anti-Mexican dad, skinny jeans garnering much unwanted attention, and a generalized sense of the cultural wasteland too many of us are overly well-acquainted with, Richard Bates Jr.’s latest was like going home again, only wayyy funnier. Also: JOHN WATERS AND JEFFREY COMBS CAMEOOOS.

The Zero Theorem


Verging on complete calculated nihilism, both retroactive and deeply insightful about the grandness and cheapness of the future that may be waiting around the corner (or which is already the past, as the director suggested in his hilarious welcome message), The Zero Theorem is as Terry Gilliam as it can get: beautiful, expansive, meandering, dysfunctional, unapologetic, and undeniably singular. An independent release, this one ain’t going wide, so see it, iTunes it, seek it out and share it if you can. As Gilliam mentioned, there’s always a chance this will be his last, especially when presenting the off-kilter, wholly unknown, and big-studio free. Must see, do see, gotta see, even if it holds a few headaches.

The Zero Theorem is screening for a second time Saturday, July 26 at 12:30 p.m. in the Concordia Hall Theatre.

MAGIC MAGIC (U.S.A./Chile, 2013) 


Written and directed by Sebastien Silva, Magic Magic was one of the first films to catch my eye in this year’s Fantasia program. Mostly because I felt utterly validated in my previous reading of Michael Cera as capable of immense creepiness. Here it was finally, a film in which Cera let his (true?) darkness shine.

Magic Magic was not at all what I expected. The synopsis is purposefully misleading and the film toys with its ambiguous development until the very end.  Alicia (Juno Temple) barely sets foot in Chile when her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) whisks her away on a trip to a secluded island with her weird friend Brink (Michael Cera), easily annoyed friend Barbara (Catalina Sandino), and her good looking boyfriend Agustin (Agustin Silva, who is the director’s brother). This isn’t your typical young people go to a secluded place type of horror film. The horror rests in the film’s ripe psychological tension and compelling imagery. There’s something going on here with sheep and dogs that might be the basis of a funky cultural studies paper.

Although beautifully shot and blissfully disorienting, the film does have a couple elements that made me pause: there is the question of the portrayal of Mapuche culture that I can’t help but flag for a second viewing. That’s just what I’ll be doing before I fully make up my mind about just how great Magic Magic is.

OXV: THE MANUAL (England, 2013) 

002-2When I heard that OXV: The Manual, having its world premiere as part of Fantasia, was being compared in some ways to Shane Carruth of Primer fame and to films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I was all in. Darren Paul Fisher, the director of the film, labelled OXV: The Manual a scientific-philosophical romance and that’s bang on.

In the world of the film, knowledge determines destiny. Scientific research has discovered that people emit different frequencies and this has changed the world. Those persons with higher frequencies are helped by the world while those with lower frequencies attract bad luck and they are constantly out of sync with the natural world. Isaac-Newton and Marie-Curie collide – they are the lowest and highest frequencies respectively at their school for gifted children. Zak happens to have fallen in love with Marie, whose presence he cannot be in for over a minute a year for his own safety. The film follows the lives of Marie and Zak as he tries to to do the unthinkable: change his natural frequency and challenge fate.

OXV: The Manual is well executed, looks beautiful, and poses important questions. Questions about love, free will, scientific discovery, history, personal essence, intelligence. The list goes on. The performances are great and the way the storylines are weaved together and develop is well crafted. I won’t say much more and lead you to this gem with fresh eyes. Enjoy!




“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s probably a fucking zombie.” – Ben

Written and directed by Jeremy Gardner, The Battery is at the top of my list for Best of the Fest at this year’s Fantasia awards. This micro budget film follows Mickey (Adam Cronheim) and Ben (Jeremy Gardner), two dudes who used to play baseball together, as they travel the post plague backroads of New England. The two men cannot be more different: Ben does all the dirty work while Mickey yearns for human connection spending most of his days avoiding reality by losing himself in music. While they face encounters with the undead, surviving each other might be the hardest ordeal they face.


The Battery is another film I was going to maladroitly skip: I’ve been feeling saturated in the zombie department. However, I kept hearing great things and also happened to meet Gardner and his girlfriend at the Irish Embassy. So, I decided to give it a look-see after all and was really impressed. The Battery isn’t like typical zombie flesh eating orgy films rather it focuses on the emptiness and bleakness of a post-apocalyptic world where human connection is few and far between. All of this with a killer soundtrack. Gardner’s performance kicks ass and his directorial instincts have definitely paid off boasting a few bold editing choices exemplified in the end sequence.

Not to be missed. That is all.

BIG BAD WOLVES (Israel, 2013)


Highly recommended by fellow Fantasia reviewer Ian Sandwell, I took a leap of faith and decided to attend a screening of Big Bad Wolves, the second feature by Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. Although the trailer seems to indicate a sort of revenge torture porn plot, which isn’t something I’m drawn to lately, that’s not what Big Bad Wolves is actually about. The directors of past Fantasia favourite Rabies have created an engrossing thriller forcing viewers to ask themselves some tough questions around vigilantism, an important topic these days.

A young girl goes missing in the woods and a trio of sleazy cops makes the situation worse by beating up the primary suspect. Unfortunately for them, this incidence of police brutality has made its way to youtube and there are consequences. Determined to get his badge back, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) sets out to prove that this suspect did indeed commit these brutal crimes. The film also shows how this assumption of guilt messes with the life of Dror (Rotem Keinan), the person-of-interest in terms of this series of sadistic murders. Finally, a third party is circling these bloody waters, the father of the missing girl who knows that the “the only thing that scares a maniac is another maniac.”

Following a breathtakingly beautiful dreamlike opening sequence, the filmmakers have found a way to weave three films into one poignant story: a story about bad cops, a story from the point of view of a suspected pedophile, and the story of a vigilante father. The result is nothing shy of intense. Some of the torture scenes made me cringe, sending visceral alarms throughout my body. That being said, the film balances blood and humour in a way that is very entertaining and delightfully twisted.

Up until quite recently, the penis has enjoyed very little screen time in mainstream North American cinema. While its phallic presence can be sensed in the bulges of spandex superhero costumes or beneath carefully crumpled sheets following a romp in the sack with the buxom leading lady, its actual on-screen life is next to nil, since depictions of full frontal nudity on film are still quite taboo.  A movie can contain an atrocious amount of bloody violence and gratuitous gore but as soon as a little too much skin is shown, it risks being slapped with the dreaded NC-17 or X rating.

Most male actors are understandably wary of baring it all on screen, since they are constantly facing the scrutiny of critics and the public for every aspect of their performance. “The limp penis can never match up to the mystique that has kept it hidden from view for the last couple of centuries,” noted film studies professor Richard Dyer.

By putting it all out there, they either confirm or shatter the fantasies of their fans, who ultimately have to take what they see with a grain of salt. “It is the one part of an actor’s equipment that doesn’t answer to commands, instructions, suggestions, cajoling, or subtle fine-tuning; its range of expression is rather limited, its freedom of motion restricted,” said James Wolcott.

Once a director can get past the initial shock value of putting the penis on screen, it can be used for everything from comic relief to pure titillation:

fullfrontalgereThe Trailblazer – Richard Gere, American Gigolo

Of course it would take a film about a male prostitute catering to lonely and bored suburban housewives to bring the penis to mainstream audiences. And while Paul Schrader’s 1980 film American Gigolo featured Richard Gere in the title role, it wasn’t initially supposed to feature his manhood so prominently on display. “If I recall, [the nudity] wasn’t in the script… It was just in the natural process of making the movie,” Gere told Entertainment Weekly.

fullfrontalbaconThe Steamy Shower – Kevin Bacon, Wild Things

Perhaps the most shocking thing about seeing Kevin Bacon’s member in Wild Things is the nonchalance with which he reveals himself. Stripped of his clothes but still bearing that trademark smirk, he seems content and confident in his masculinity as he exits the shower, nabbing a towel casually thrown to him by Matt Dillon.


fullfrontalmcgregorThe Perpetual Pecker – Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine (The Pillow Book, Young Adam)

The first time I saw a penis on screen was a fleeting glimpse of Ewan McGregor’s post coital unit in Trainspotting as he was being kicked out of bed by a woman following a one-night stand. I must have rewound that part at least twenty times, so intrigued by seeing something my young eyes shouldn’t really have been seeing. I was even more impressed with his “performance” in Todd Haynes’ 1998 glam rock opus Velvet Goldmine, where he plays Curt Wild, a rockstar who takes a cue from Jim Morrison when he flashes the screaming crowd during a raucous concert. When recalling his first time baring it all before an audience, McGregor said, “I remember getting a kind of rush out of that first time, a slight feeling of power about it, you know?”


fullfrontalsegalThe Vulnerable Comedian – Jason Segal, Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Being dumped always makes us feel like we’re at our most vulnerable. Jason Segal takes it one step further with his comic twist on the full frontal scene in 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he is broken up with in the buff. As his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend urges him to put some clothes on so they can talk about it, he stubbornly refuses. “As soon as I put clothes on, it’ll all be over,” he asserts, as if staying in that naked moment is the last time he can savor the ebbing relationship.

The Awe-Inspiring – Michael Fassbender, Shame

Michael Fassbender’s turn as a sex addict in 2011’s Shame earned him plenty of accolades and praise from Hollywood elite like George Clooney and Charlize Theron. His performance was the antithesis of the title of the film, with his manhood brazenly on display for all to see.

Seriously, I could watch this all day

Whether you enjoy discovering foreign films at festivals or catching the latest Hollywood blockbusters at your local Cineplex, Montreal has a wide range of film related events to keep cinephiles happy all summer.

With a plethora of festivals and events all across the city, one never has to worry about not having anything to do during a Montreal summer. Readers can expect in depth coverage from Forget the Box  on the Jazz Fest, Infringement Festival, Folk Festival and much more. For all you cinephiles out there, Friday Film Review is happy to share some of the film related events happening in Montreal over the next few months.

First off, there’s Cinequanon Montreal. Cinequanon is a group that does free screenings every Friday  in  the Plateau.  Look out for Friday Film Review’s review of the Cinequanon experience  in the future. The group runs from now until the fall.  You can check out their Facebook page.

While the official dates haven’t been announced yet, in July you can get your funny on with the 15th annual Just for Laughs Film Festival.    The festival is a decent mix of Hollywood, local and indie features  and shorts.  This is also  a good festival to check out if celeb spotting is your thing, as many  come to town for  Just for Laughs.  The website hasn’t been updated for this year’s festival yet, but should be shortly.

The festival that this film critic is most looking forward to is the  Fantasia Film Festival. Running from July 14th to August 7th, Fantasia  is the premiere and largest genre  festival in North America.  One of the things that’s most exciting about attending film festivals is catching those films you know are never going to get a commercial  theatrical release, and this festival is chock full of them. Also really worth checking out is Spectacular Optical, Fantasia’s year-round webzine, which has a lot of really interesting film related  articles and interviews.

While Fantasia is a great way to discover unknown films, summer is also the time when some films get more exposure than any of us have the stomach for. While smaller films like the Ewan McGregor/Christopher Plummer drama   Beginners, and the Steve Carrell/Ryan Gosling dramedy Crazy Stupid Love, will definitely be getting my money this summer, I can’t deny that I’ll also be amongst the crowds at Scotia Bank Cinema catching what is likely to be the biggest blockbuster of the summer:  Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows Part 2. If comic book films are more your kind of thing, Ryan Reynolds is looking pretty sexy in  his  Green Lantern costume.

Finally, while I’m sadly off in Toronto while this is going on, I urge all of you in Montreal to check out the Montreal World Film Festival, taking place from August 18th-28th.   From my experience attending in the past, the festival  is a great way to catch the premiere of  Quebec films, both in features and shorts. Whatever your preference for films though, the great thing about this city is that there’s always something to keep everybody entertained.


Fantasia photo from mcbastardsmausoleum.blogspot.com