Looking back at Bogie and Huston's "The Maltese Falcon"


"hmm, Bogie". That's what Jean-Paul Belmondo's character in Breathless silently utters to himself as he spots a Humphrey Bogart movie poster on his way out of the movies. That pretty much explains in a nutshell the influence that Bogart had on screen acting. Godard's French New Wave masterpiece is known as the first "modern" movie in the history of cinema. No coincidence it is heavily influenced by Bogart's movies, specifically The Maltese Falcon. Directed by John Huston, this 1940 masterpiece features an astonishing performance from Bogart as Samuel Spade, a private detective that enters a case that involves three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous pathological liar and a golden statuette that everybody wants a piece of.

 Huston and Bogart put plot in the backseat for character. What we get is the story of a man that isn't your typical hero, in fact he isn't a hero at all. Spade is a man that has his own moral code. His own rules of the game. The whodunit becomes less important than how we respond to the strong screen presence of Bogart and his co-stars. That's what makes `The Maltese Falcon' a classic. We see more and appreciate more each time we watch it. Huston invented what the French called film noir, in honor of Hollywood films (often `B' movies, cheap to make, second movies in double features) that took no-name stars into city streets to pit tough guys, often with a vulnerable streak, against dangerous dames.  Bogart was luckier than most noir heroes, but it cost him. Struggling to maintain his own independence – against the claims of love or his own penchant towards dishonesty – the Bogart hero can do little better than surrender, with a rueful shrug, to the irony his survival depends on.  

For Huston, telling this story posed a different problem. Telling it straight wasn't possible – too many twists.Plot is irrelevant here. Small, unique touches are of the upmost importance instead.
 Huston chose to focus on characters. One way to appreciate Huston's choices is to LISTEN to the movie. Hear the voices. Notice how Huston relies on the exotic accents of his characters to keep us interested. Could we endure the scene in which main villain Kasper Guttman explains the history of the Maltese falcon unless his clipped, somewhat prissy English accent held our attention? Same with Joe Cairo, his criminal associate and a man with almost indescribable accent. There are clues throughout that the 3 male villains of the piece might also be gay, Cairo is mocked by Spade for having a "perfumed Handkerchief" and we all know what that meant back in 1941. 

 All of this leads to the ending, minutes of screen time in which more goes on, gesture by gesture, than a million words could summarize. He loves her, maybe, but he won't be a sucker. After the film, we're left with Spade, whom we like and loathe, a man whose sense of justice squares, just this once, with our own, maybe but who's moral code conflicts with our own. At least he follows that moral code. Take this for example: Spade didn't much like his murdered partner to begin with, after all he had an affair with his partner's wife. But he wanted to find the person that ousted him. "When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it.” It seems to be a street code, a rule of the game for Spade, even if it means bringing the woman he loves to jail. With all the harsh things Spade is capable of doing we still respect him for sticking by the set of rules he has chosen to live by. He seems to be living in his own world of ethics and scenery. Bogart plays Spade rough, playful and with more than his fair share of demons stirring up inside him. That we never see these demons make's Huston's film all the more haunting.

Action movies since Die hard ..

John McTiernan’s action masterpiece Die Hard was released into theaters, and it's not an understatement to say that we're still reeling from the impact. The film turned one Bruce Willis — until then thought of primarily as a comic actor and harmonica player — into a Hollywood action star, a position he's still convincingly holding down 25 years later. It also unleashed armies of imitators: There was Die Hard on a Ship (a.k.a. Under Siege), Die Hard on a Mountain (a.k.a. Cliffhanger), Die Hard at the Stanley Cup Finals (a.k.a. Sudden Death), and so on, all the way up to this year's double dose of Die Hard at the White House movies (a.k.a. Olympus Has Fallen andWhite House Down), not to mention Die Hard Beating a Dead Horse (a.k.a. A Good Day to Die Hard, a.k.a. Die Hard 5). It is, in fact, partly thanks to these imitators (as well as the Willis franchise's lesser sequels) that we often forget how expertly made the original Die Hard is: It's as much a perfectly calibrated character piece as it is a kick-ass action flick. So what has the action landscape looked like since that fateful day in 1988 when we first met John McClane en route to Nakatomi Plaza? For the past few months, I’ve been watching and/or rewatching almost every major action movie made since then in an attempt to come up with the best ones. The good news is that a lot of awesome action movies have been made over the past 25 years. The bad news? Not all of your favorites will be on this list.

(1) Die hard
(2) Terminator 2: Judgement day
(3) Speed
(4) The Fugitive
(5) The Bourne Identity
(6) The Matrix
(7) Spider-Man 2
(8) Minority Report
(9) The Dark Knight
(10) La Femme Nikita
(11) Predator

How "Deep Throat" changed cinema



Watching a 35mm copy of Deep Throat over at Visual Arts Building here in Montreal, I couldn't help but be reminded of just how important snuff cinema truly was. Forget about how important it was to porn, and how it has basically shaped, molded -sadly- the 21st century woman as we know of it. This 1972 film a starring Linda Lovelace as a woman that finds out she has a clitoris in her throat and gains deepened pleasure from performing fellatio to her men is a kind of "opened door" to the way women would get treated in mainstream Hollywood cinema. "Director" Gerard Damiano's film was almost a kind of "OK" for the female to get looked down upon in mainstream cinema. After watching Deep Throat and subsequent Porno films that followed it, Hollywood had a reaction that was almost akin to them saying "Hey we can write these female roles whichever way we want them to be written and not many will complain about the downgrade cause they're over there shocked at what Lovelace is doing".

I know many people that would say Deep Throat was important to the advancement of feminism given the fact that the film actually promotes Female Orgasm! A far cry from today's porn where -unless shot by an amateur- will not even come close to showing us a woman climaxing. In fact these days only the guy has an orgasm and, in doing so, also degrades the girl by abusing her face with his semen. Deep Throat made Linda Lovelace a sort of celebrity and had many people imitating what they were seeing onscreen - and still do to this day. It's a film that is probably as influential as any from the 70's. Going back to this feminist angle that I was just talking about, yea I see what people mean by its role in female empowerment but at the same time I don't think it's very empowering to have the idea of a woman with a clitoris in her throat, ingenious, but demeaning.

Lovelace was actually featured in a recent "bio-pic" which had Amanda Seyfried playing the porn star. Lovelace's life was not a walk in the park. She claims she was held at gun point in making the film. She eventually starred in a number of soft-core films that didn't really come to much else but a quick buck for her career. She was being slapped around by her "bosses" while making "Deep Throat" and you could clearly see the bruises on her arms and legs in the film.

"Prisoners"


Denis Villeneuve is a director that I've adamantly followed since the beginning of his career in Quebec more than 15 years ago. It took a while for this great director to finally hit it big. In 2010 he released an incredible masterpiece called Incendies. It garnered an Oscar nomination, critical acclaim and then the world finally knew about him. Too bad they haven't seen his earlier stuff.Maelstrom was a sexy, film-noir narrated by a fish and starring the lustful Marie-Jose Croze and Polytechnique was an artful black and white re-creation of an infamous college shooting in Quebec.

In Prisoners Villeneuve doesn't soften his style or adhere to any Hollywood conventions. He is still the Denis Villeneuve I've always known. It helps that he has an impressive cast that includes 5 Oscar nominees. This is an ambitious, sprawling, fascinating and -yes- flawed 158 minute movie about a missing kids case. Jake Gyllenhall and Hugh Jackman deserve a nomination, so does Villenueve for his impressive direction. Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Octavia Spencer and Maria Bello complete the cast. An incredible cast having a go at a screenplay that was on the “black list” for the longest time.  

Jackman plays Keller Dover who ends up facing every parent's worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki arrests its driver, Alex Jones, but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child's life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. He kidnaps Alex.

The film takes so many twists and turns that it threatens to derail, by the film's last act that's what happens. I wish they could have tightened this film up in the editing room and cut 15-20 minutes of it. That's a minor quibble because there are powerful moments here. Many will recall Clint Eastwood's Mystic River and Todd Field's In The Bedroom. They wouldn't be wrong but I'd go a step further and say this is very much akin -and owes greatly- to David Fincher's Zodiac. Both are 150 minute tales about missing kids and the obsessed people trying to solve the case. 

The scenes of torture here are sometimes tough to watch. Is Keller stooping down to the same level as the abductors? How much is too much in exacting revenge? These questions have been asked before in the cinema but deserve to be asked again. Here's a big studio picture with a lot on its head and an ambition you don't see much of these days at the movies. 

It helps that -like Fincher- Director Villeneuve has a great visual flair, he gives us some of the most powerful scenes of the entire year. Jackman, fresh off his “Les Miserables” nomination, could get a second nom for this one. He delivers a passionate, relentless performance, easily the best work he’s ever done.  Gyllenhall is ferociously good and might have found a great director to work with (wait until you check out what Gyllenhall and Villeneuve have done with Enemy, due out in 2014.)

Suffice to say there's a lot to chew on here and the expertise at work is top notch. I wouldn't be surprised if this catches on in the years to come as one of the go to films in the murder-suspense genre. It really is phenomenal work from real pros. 

"Noah" A short movie that has people talking


When I was in Toronto I had overheard people talking about this short film that had premiered there called Noah, the raves coming out were phenomenal. Someone even uttering it's the "Citizen Kane of short movies". Yikes, talk about expectations. Well anyways I got a good look at it the other day and suffice to say it really is damn good. Well, maybe not Citizen Kane good but pretty damn spectacular in its depiction of this generation's communication breakdown. The film really is THAT ingenious, all shot through the eyes of a high school teenager and his computer. Our protagonist Noah suspects his girlfriend is about to cheat on him and sets out to get back at her through Facebook. But it's so much more than that. It's about the way we live these days. Noah navigates through his Iphone, Skype, Facebook, Wikipedia, Google and Chatroulette -multiple task bars open- with the attention span of a 5 year old, always distracted by the next thing in line. It takes a ChatRoulette girl to put things into perspective and her arguments are deep enough to have you want to quit Facebook this very instant.











Directed by two first time filmmakers out of Ryerson College in Toronto, Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, Noah is a powerful depiction of contemporary technology and its role in relationships.What is stupendous about it is the way that it tells its timeless story of suspicion and heartache in a way that is only possible through the filter of its technological approach. Betrayal takes the form of logging in to your loved ones Facebook. Getting over things means seeking out a stranger on Chatroulette. It’s familiar, but different, and a recogntion that our interactions follow the same patterns even as they are mediated differently. But there is the specter that those interactions are inferior, the way Noah is doing 4 things at once when Skyping with Amy -his ex-girlfriend-,  or the way that his Chatroulette connection is dropped so easily, so unceremoniously.

This is as relevant as Fincher's The Social Network was. These are the times we live in. It is sometimes very hard to watch Noah, because there are many things here that you and I can relate to in one way or another. It's funny how the breakup the film portrays happened not through conversation but through online betrayal and hacking. There ended up being no closure for both parties, just blocking on Facebook. For the film's 17 minutes and 29 seconds you are transported into a world that is eerily similar to yours. It took two college students from Ryerson, Woodman and Cederberg, to remind you that this is us today in 2013.

Chaplin in "The Kid Auto Race"
















Many people neglect Chaplin's earlier stuff. I'm not talking about his feature length movies, but more the fact that he started out like many others did, doing short films when the medium was just bursting out. In 1914 the character he would popularize as "The Tramp" in such classics as "City Lights" and "Modern Times" made his big screen debut in " Kid Auto Races" directed by Henry Lehrman. A peculiar debut for Chaplin's character, considering how -although the Tramp here is the main character- he is quite an annoyance to the centrality of the plot and to the audience. Especially given that he is intruding at a kid's event with the parents as the onlookers. Chaplin's Tramp would eventually be much more sympathetic in the later, more popular pictures, but it's intriguing to see him act contrarian to what we would expect from him.

Chaplin's Tramp is a spectator at an auto race in Venice, California. He  keeps getting in the way of the camera and interfering with the race. This causes great frustration to the movie going public, who just wants him to already get hit by one of the race cars. It's a small feat in filmmaking at a time when movies were only getting started and the narrative was only starting to develop into some sort of coherent form. The 11 minutes of "The Kid Auto Race" were a sign of greater things to come for the silent movie star and the memorable persona he would eventually flesh out. This is slight Chaplin, but it's still fascinating to watch "The Kid Auto Race" since this is where it all started.  It's an immaculate moment in cinematic lore.

Andy Warhol's world


















I was never really ecstatic about watching Andy Warhol's 1960's film experiments because a) They would mostly consist of experimental film-making that was made to test its audiences patience and b) many of these movies were not really made with any substantiated idea or protocol behind them. There are many out there that will disagree with me and say that Warhol was in fact the film genius that many made him out to be. I respect that opinion and I do believe he had some kind of imprint in film history by pushing boundaries for better or for worse.

His factory which developed many of these films had more or less the same crew working in and around the clock. One film I do particularly find interesting that came out of the "factory" is "Blow Job" which was filmed in January of 1964 and depicted the reaction of an un-credited actor named DeVern Bookwalter while he was getting fellatio. As our patience gets tested and we wander in and out of this perplexing film, a few questions start to pop into our heads:  1) Is Bookwalter getting a blow job from a male or a female? Warhol's crew had many bi-sexuas and homosexual people at the factory and 2) When does the moment of Orgasm actually happen?

Bookwalter is seen moaning, tilting his head back and staring desirably at the camera throughout the film's 30 minute running time. That's right, the film is close to 30 minutes long and focuses just on his face. No worries, you might find yourself dosing off at some points but -for some reason- you do come back and focus again. Is it because we are curious to see the orgasm happen? Warhol does show it, but again only through Bookwalter's facial gestures. We never, for one second, see the "giver" only the "receiver". It's a bold, frustrating film that is worth a look -and patience- just to gather your own reaction to what exactly Warhol was trying to achieve.

It's a bit more watchable than Warhol's infamously dull screen tests from the 1960s where he'd tell his participants to not blink and stare at the camera. Warhol was a fascinating man that went through many ideas to try and capture the many different ways art could be conceived. He was a groundbreaker, but not without dulling our senses in the process.

TIFF day 4

As the festival winds down and my days are counted here at TIFF some movies are starting to stick with me more than others. Today was a quieter day and I had time to finally reflect on some of the stuff I had seen. Two films in particular seem to not be getting out of my head, those films are "12 Years A Slave" and "Prisoners". Both have been getting Oscar buzz over here and I am actually quite surprised the latter hasn't been mentioned as much by Sasha. Every person I talk to here says its chances come awards season are mighty high. Directed by Denis Villenueve "Prisoners" is an ambitious, sprawling, fascinating and -yes- flawed 158 minute movie about a missing children's case. Jake Gyllenhall and Hugh Jackman deserve nomination, so does Villenueve for his impressive direction.

I've already talked about "Prisoners" in a past post, so I won't go any further than that. Instead, I'm going to delve into other new stuff I've seen at the fest. Starting with Jonathan Glazer's much anticipated "Under The Skin" which -much to the delight of her male fans- features a naked Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress sent to earth to lure guys into her car and kill them. The film is going to be a love it/hate it kind of thing when it comes out. It caused the most walkouts out of any movie I have seen this year at TIFF. Johansson's alien drives her car for most of the movie, luring one male after another - the repetitiveness of the film's narrative might have turned off many but I had a blast watching Glazer's film. Its originality and absurdity is what I liked the most and of course I adored Johansson who seems to be having a deadpan blast here with her role. On a side note - it's refreshing to see actresses such as Johansson in this film and Winslet in "Labor Day" with a bit more weight and roundness to their bodies. They both look much better and healthier now.

"Joe" is yet another movie directed by David Gordon Green, after this year's "Prince Avalanche". Green has had a career of directing stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, The Sitter, Your Highness) and art films (George Washington, All The Real Girls, Snow Angels). "Joe" is clearly an art film and features a beefy Nicolas Cage. Cage's Joe is an ex con that is now a lumber merchant. He frequently visits the local brothel and is addicted to cocaine. An unlikely friendship happens when he meets a young 15 year old boy (Tye Sheridan of "Mud" fame) that is frequently abused by his drunkard of a dad. Even more trouble comes when Joe gets himself into debt with hoodlums visiting his small town. Green's film is quiet and devastating and Cage gives his best performance in a very long time (even though I have secretly admire for his absurd work in "Bad Lieutenant"). The film's small time Americana cliches are sometimes too apparent but the relentless intensity of the screenplay never lets up.

To conclude, a small note on Tsai-Ming Liang's "Stray Dogs" a polarizing film about a homeless Taiwanese family. Filled with long, endurance-worthy takes and not much plot, the film can sometimes be too much to handle but I dug it for all its weird, provoking madness. It's definitely a must see for anyone that is looking for cinema that pushes the boundaries and then some. It does say a lot about the poverty rates in that country and how the distance between rich and poor is enormous. You have been warned - it's not an easy watch. It has been chosen as official selection for next month's New York Film Festival, to not many people's surprise of course.

TIFF day 3



Jason Reitman's "Labor Day" is a film unlike any the director has made before. It stars Kate Winslet as a depressed, single mom that decides to give shelter to a wanted fugitive (Josh Brolin). The scenes WInslet and Brolin share are the heart and soul of this film. Winslet's Adele is a vulnerable mess, who's only reason to live is her 13 year old son. Sometimes we wonder if Brolin's fugitive is taking advantage of her vulnerability or if his love for Adele and her son is for real.Winslet is sheer perfection and as far as I'm concerned she's the second best working actress today (after Meryl Streep).  It'd be a real shame if she doesn't get a nomination for this fine, fine performance. Reitman's film doesn't always work, the subplot involving Adele's son and his crush at school is a bit too forced for my liking. However, whenever Winslet and Brolin share the screen this film just works really well. Reitman hasn't yet made a film to match the brilliant textures of "Up In The Air" -I'll be getting haters for this comment- but here he's made a movie that delivers.

 If Winslet's Adele gets her vulnerability tested wait until you see Isabelle Huppert in Catherine Breillat's "Abuses of Weakness" a film based on her own experiences. In 2004 Breillat suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body and then developed a "friendship" with a man that ended up being a con artist. This man made Breillat write him numerous checks that ended up putting the filmmaker on a 900,000$ debt. She ended up writing a book about it and now has made this movie. A brilliant, deceptive movie which explores the nature of vulnerability and tries to find answers as to how or why this could have possibly happened.

 Directed by John Ridley "All Is By My Side" or -as people here are calling it- "The Jimi Hendrix Bio-Pic" is a flawed mess of a movie that features a great performance by Outkast's Andre Benjamin as Hendrix. I wouldn't call this a Bio-Pic since it only covers a year in the life of Hendrix. An Important Year nonetheless. 1966, is when Hendrix moved to London and found fame. However, there isn't enough material in this one year to justify such a long, dull film. The only bright spot is Benjamin who's phenomenal as Hendrix and sometimes makes you forget that it's an actor playing the legendary guitarist on screen.

The biggest applause any movie got at the fest was John Curran's "Tracks", which is another film based on true events. In 1975 Robyn Davidson set out on a 1700 mile journey through the Australian outback with 3 camels and her faithful dog. Mia Wasikowska plays Davidson and she's great, so's Adam Driver as the annoying photographer that follows her through this journey. A lot of people are saying this will win the audience award and judging by the long ovation the film garnered i just wouldn't be surprised. This could be another "Whale Rider" type of win.

TIFF day 2


One of the joys of being in Toronto is bumping into people you really admire so much. Seeing Chiwetel Ejiofor sneaking into a quick afternoon screening and of course bumping into Harvey Weinstein, hiding his nerves, right before the first press screening of “August:Osage County”. The critics were in town too, I caught a glimpse of the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick quite a few times, Newsweek’s David Ansen lining up for the new Miyazaki and caught up with Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly on what’s been the best of the fest so far – we both agreed “12 Years A Slave” and “Gravity” by a landslide.

 “Gravity” is eye popping stuff. Alfonso Cuarron has made a movie that is unlike any we’ve ever seen before. It’s almost as groundbreaking as “Avatar” minus the flaws Cameron’s film had. A master is at work here and Cuarron has surely directed Sandra Bullock to her second Oscar Nomination – if not, her second win.

 Meryl Streep will be giving Bullock a run for her money with her juicy role in “August: Osage County”. Streep is a ticking time bomb as the dysfunctional mom that heads a large family gathering. Americana caricature after caricature comes with director John Wells’ film, one that is very imperfect and left the press at my screening with a very mixed reaction. Streep is the lone shining light in this otherwise forgettable movie.

 In my earlier article I talked about how good Chiwetel Ejiofor was in “12 Years A Slave”, competition has come in the form of Matthew Mcconaughey as Ron Woodruff. Sasha has already chimed in with this film but I will add to her praise and say that this is the Matthew Mcconaughey show. The 43 year old actor has been on a role lately (“Killer Joe”, “The Lincoln Lawyer”, “Bernie”, “Magic Mike”) but nothing tops what he’s done here with “The Dallas Buyer’s Club”. Looking gaunt and sickly, Mcconaughey wowed audiences here.

 Doppelganger films have been big at TIFF so far. Director Denis Villeneuve -on a roll already with “Prisoners”- brought us two Jake Gyllenhaal’s with “Enemy”. Gyllenhall plays a Toronto professor that finds out he has an exact look alike living in the same city. It’a film very much inspired by Cronenberg but that also lets Villeneuve bring his own voice to the picture. This is sexy, smart, mysterious filmmaking at its best. The other doppelganger film had Jesse Eisenberg going insane with the appearance of his doppelganger. Directed by Richard Ayaode (Submarine) “The Double” is a dark comedy that fizzled out at its end but has shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” throughout its running time.

A much anticipated film here was Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves”, a film about eco-terrorism that strips down the genre conventions and ends up giving us the bare bones of its topic. Contrary to many here I wasn’t a big fan of Reichardt’s past films (“Wendy And Lucy”, “Meek’s Cutoff”) but this one works because it moves. There are tense, gripping moments in “Night Moves” and its performances -notably those of Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard) move the film along admirably.

TIFF day 1


The first day of any major film fest will be a resoundingly exhausting experience. So much to see with so very little time. Albeit there are more than 10 days to The Toronto Film Festival but the sheer amount of quality directors to choose from is limitless. Trying to focus on one thing is tough here. The kinetic pace leaves you with the need to down espresso shot after espresso shot just to make it through to the very last screening of the day. It doesn’t help that to go from screening to screening you have to go through massive amounts of crowds that are waiting for the next celebrity to walk down the red carpet. This year there are big names coming; Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock just to name a few.

 Me? I’m here for the movies. The next big thing we”ll be talking about come Oscar time. The next “Slumdog Millionaire” to come out of nowhere and wow audiences. If I’m too pummelled by the amount of serious, heavy dramas I have to see on a daily basis I will switch gears and watch something light like Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, the R rated comedy “Bad Words”, in which he plays a 40-year-old high school dropout who exploits a rules loophole in order to compete against 10-year-olds in a national spelling bee. Light stuff and not very impressive but needed when you see one heavy movie after another.

 My first day started with a screening of Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Octavia Spencer and Maria Bello. An incredible cast having a go at a screenplay that was on the “black list” for the longest time. The film will get many comparisons to David Fincher’s “Zodiac”. An understandable comparison since this is a 150 minute tale about missing kids and the obsessed people trying to solve the case. The obsessed are Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective and Hugh Jackman as the up-to-no-good father of one of the missing children. Unlike “Zodiac” Villeneuve’s film doesn’t manage to get you as obsessed about the case as its main characters. The screenplay is also nothing new, we’ve all seen this before but the twists and turns keep the story going. It helps that Director Villeneuve has a great visual flair, as he showcased in the Oscar nominated “Incendies” in 2010. Jackman, fresh off his “Les Miserables” nomination, could get a second nom for this one. He delivers a passionate, relentless performance, easily the best work he’s ever done. 

However, everyone here talking about “12 Years A Slave”. I have never seen this many men in their mid to late 50′s sobbing their eyes out of a screening. I also more than once heard someone refer to it as the “Schindler’s List of slavery”. Oy vey. Steve McQueen’s film is much more than that. It’s a film that gets you riled up and mad with none of the conventions that pegged Spielberg’s otherwise masterful film. Yes, “12 Years A Slave” is a Steve McQueen film through and through even with an ending that surprisingly tries to tug at your heartstrings. Then again that ending is what might spell Oscar for the movie. If anyone was as disappointed with “Shame” as I was, McQueen redeems himself here. Some scenes are as tough to watch as any from his brilliant directorial debut “Hunger”.

I’d go as far as to say this is probably the most realistic portrayal of slavery ever put on celluloid. Don’t go in expecting”The Color Purple” or “Beloved”, McQueen refuses to flinch at anything. He tries to depict exactly what happened. At the press conference the director was frustratingly peeved off when a reporter asked him and Fassbender if it was hard depicting such cruel people on screen, “The truth is the truth. we are just doing our job, showing what happened” the director replied. Fassbender is brilliant as Epps, the cruelest of slave owners with the sole intention to dehumanize his “assets”. A bible quoting man with a mean-spirited wife that jealously thinks he’s turned on by one of the female slaves Patsy. And what to make of Chiwetel Ejiofor, brilliant in films like “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Redbelt” but flat out phenomenal in this film. I thought the best actor Oscar was his until I saw Mcconaughey in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” (I’ll delve onto that one tomorrow).

 “12 Years To A Slave” is for now the IT movie everyone is talking about, a Best Picture Nomination is all but sealed. Comparisons will also be made to another much buzzed film “The Butler”. Let’s put it this way, if “The Butler” is a great pop song then “12 Years To A Slave” is a great symphony. It flows effortlessly from one scene to the next with the ability to have you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an important part of American history. Things can rapidly change here. The buzz can dwindle or accentuate. So is how it works down here in Toronto.

Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr.



(If you want more praise for Buster Keaton, check out my review of The Navigator by clicking right HERE)

You gotta love Buster Keaton,whether you're a film school aficionado or not. He just -quite frankly- was brilliant and so ahead of his time. His films still so damn good more than 90 years later. In fact, I don't see one too many brilliant films like his these days. Think about 1922's Sherlock Jr. which is a Hugo of its time, infiltrating the frame of a movie -making it a movie within a movie! In fact, I don't think there was another movie before it that actually played with its narrative this way- a sort of Adaptation and a beautiful tribute to movies that stands along the best of them. Sheer brilliant set pieces and a Keaton in full form, playing a Sherlock Holmes-esque character in his own day dream of a movie; the hero, the man who saves the day, the person that gets the girl and solves the big mystery. He is a film projectionist that believes in the magic of movies, a man so devoid of harmful traits that he truly wants to be the hero. And oh the editing, so damn good - in fact one of the greatest edited movies of all time (along with other Keaton gems such as The General and The Navigator). We all want to be Sherlock Jr. - At least Keaton thinks so and makes a movie that proves to be entertaining as well as gasp-worthy in its action.

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