Bunny and the Bull (2009) – a low-budget gem from TIFF09

This quiet little gem of a movie came out of nowhere last year at Toronto Film Fest, and we really hoped it would pick up. Sadly, almost a year later, it’s gone through a handful of European film fests, and disappeared. Too bad. Bunny and the Bull really deserves to be watched, in small groups of friends, or family – because it’s about true friendship. It’s about understanding and accepting each other no matter how freakishly odd you may be. It’s about compromising and going left, just because a friend thinks it’s the way to go – even as your whole entity wants to turn right. It’s about the little sacrifices we make for friends (or in the name of friendship) every day. This is what ‘bromance’ should be – mature, respectful, solid and at times – tender.

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Life During Wartime (2009) – sequel to Happiness?

Todd Solondz’ latest film is considered by many to be a sequel to 1998’s Happiness. But personally, it is a little too different, much shorter, and somehow even has a lighter tone than Happiness. Or have we all gotten so used to bleak/black humour, and pathos in film, that this latest entry just doesn’t move us anymore? Has the past decade hardened us – even to the archetypes that are easy to write and laugh at – narcissistic, self-centered ‘artist’; over-the-hill single mother, still hoping for romance; surly, vindictive teenager? Maybe the title sets the expectations too high – after all, it is the end of the 9/11 decade. Continue reading “Life During Wartime (2009) – sequel to Happiness?”

Agora (2009)

I first saw Agora at TIFF in Toronto almost a year ago, and remember walking out thinking: “this film will not find a distributor easily (if at all), and that’s a real shame”. You see, it’s a ‘swords and sandals’ epic story, loosely based on the events in Alexandria, Egypt in 4th century. It shows the famed library, and the emerging scientific renaissance that unfortunately takes a step back, when this new world brings in young, volatile religions, and things start to turn violent.

You see, the “bad guys” in this film are Christians – shown as a vicious, brainwashed crowd that slowly grows in strength, dismisses the (populist at the time) multi-god religion, and instead, shoves early version of Jesus mythology down people’s throats. It’s an intellectual conquest in reverse – tell the masses what they want to hear, discourage learning, and turn them against the popular rule. The film features a few massacres, and the eventual burning of the priceless library (also loosely based on historical facts), which directly and simply accuses religious zealots – especially early Christians – of intolerance and dirty political shenanigans. Sounds familiar? Something we’ve witnessed in recent years? Well, no wonder the reviews at the time were harsh, and the film really couldn’t get the attention it deserved.

A quick side note here – forget about the film as a spectacle, or story – and just consider the source material. Wikipedia actually lists 4 different destructions of the famous library – historically recorded (and here’s the entry on the film itself, take time to read the ‘critical reception’ section). The director (Alejandro Amenabar) just happened to pick one of them, and added some elements from surrounding events/places to punch up the drama. Notice the Muslim conquest in AD 642 – do you think this movie would even be made (without threats, suicide attempts, or negative campaining), if the bad guys were, gasp – Muslims? Just a thought – this region was handed from one empire to another for ages, and often, death and destruction was quite prominent. Nothing wrong with depictions of bigotry and violence – it DID HAPPEN, and dismissing it is an equivalent of burying your head in the sand.

If the so-called critics, and potential distributors would bother to look up the historical evens, and maybe see the movie for its ideas – the value of science, and freedom of expression – perhaps Agora would have been seen by more people.

As a spectacle, it’s a pretty good epic story, with high ideas expressed within the walls of the library, and sharply contrasted with seething, unstoppable violence on the streets. There are some great references to the beginning of the end of Roman empire, and there are dead-on observations of Christian and Jewish – still emerging – traditions and values. Politically incorrect, definitely, but making a point and drawing parallels with today’s intolerance. The whole ‘slavery’ angle is given more thought and shown as an acceptable practice – at the time. But no, this just didn’t go over well, I clearly remember people hissing in the theater, and being genuinely displeased with the way things were portrayed. Well, as an ‘idea’ movie, maybe that was the point, no? To turn the tables a little?

I felt the discomfort, but appreciated the intent – it’s the 4th century, the world is still emerging, there will be bloodshed, and there will be unnecessary destruction. As long as we remember what is lost during this turmoil, we perhaps can learn and prevent it from happening again. After all, the book-burnings were quite popular just 60 years ago in Germany. And as for the slavery – some southern states are still holding out hope that things will go back to the way they were. These people ‘want their country back’! Intolerance stays, bigotry has immense power, and knowledge/truth/enlightenment usually suffer when left unprotected. Tea Party, anyone? Fringe movements that make things worse for others?

It’s a real shame the film never got the attention it deserved. Was ‘widely’ released just a couple of months ago, and quickly died at the box office. Find it online, or rent it – you won’t like the tone and some of the finger-pointing – but I hope you will approve of the ideas and intent. The last time something similar was on the big screen was probably “The Name of the Rose”, in 1986. I still remember Sean Connery musing: “How many more rooms? Ah! How many more books? No one should be forbidden to consult these books freely.” Oh, and if you will sit through all the black and white portrayal of Christians vs. Jews (yes, the film does show a little bias, but there’s a reason for it), and wait until the closing scenes, please compare it with the opening sequence, and consider the end-credits. Knowledge is invaluable, and freedom of expression – if mixed with careful misinformation campaigns – can be a devastating weapon. Sadly, it’s still used today…

Agora. 4th century Egypt. The famous Alexandria library. Rachel Weisz, Alejandro Amenabar, Oscar Isaac, Max Minghella. Get it. It’s worth your time.

Congrats to Roger Ebert on winning a Webby award

Congratulations to Roger Ebert being chosen as person of the year by the Webby Awards. The Webbies, which celebrate Internet achievement, have singled Ebert and his blog for “raising the bar for online journalism” (read more here). This is fantastic news, and we’re so proud that the winner isn’t one of those typical web-savvy, 20-something, silicon-valley, apple-guru geniuses. It’s someone (almost) completely different. Continue reading “Congrats to Roger Ebert on winning a Webby award”

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Kevin Smith is growing up; Traci Lords is a notorious porn legend; and Seth Rogen is goofy but not funny. These are all undeniable facts, and you can bash your head against the wall trying to object to this reality, or pretend it’s not there. It won’t change the fact that Kevin Smith is growing up; Traci … you get the idea. This movie has many such FACTS going against it – and many would love to see them different, but it’s just not possible. For example, I would love to see a movie where Seth Rogen is truly funny – and despite the best marketing campaigns out there – it just doesn’t happen – he remains a goof in every film. Yes, there is a difference, and I should know. I would also love to see Kevin write material that’s as fresh and sharp as Clerks and Mall Rats – but it’s just not going to happen – been there, done that. It belongs to another decade. So let’s all move on from the fact that another time, in another place, this could have been a much different movie. Perhaps funnier, perhaps more poignant. It’s not going to happen. Let’s enjoy it for what it really is.
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Juno (2007)

Jason Reitman has another unusual hit on his hands with ‘Juno’. Why unusual? Because his last film, ‘Thank You For Smoking’ was a hilarious, biting satire about the tobacco business. And it’s not an easy task to be satirical and likable about such a topic. Jason got plenty of flak from people who thought he was supporting the tobacco industry. Yes, satire is hard to do these days – people tend to get upset by the face value of it before they ‘get’ the in-between-the-lines message. ‘Juno’ uses sorta the same idea – except completely different. It also deals with a delicate subject with reason, and with understanding. Not really picking sides, but rather exploring the human nature of a finicky situation. This time, the subject is unplanned teen pregnancy, and the approach is somewhat different. No cynicism, no satire. But so much love, and so much diffusing humour that you can’t help but roar with laughter, even though the characters are going through some tough times.
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Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

I’ve been waiting for this movie for eight years. Subconsciously, that is. Let’s face it – ‘Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen’ was not begging for a sequel. Sure, it was left open-ended, but it was a solid, finished story all by itself. The reason I was anticipating this sequel is simple. Back in 1998, director Shekar Kapur managed to reinvent a period piece genre – with more intrigue, politics, religion, medieval marriage, all kinds of hot issues thrown in. The film was great, but chronologically it only covered Elizabeth becoming the queen. The credits rolled after her coronation. I wanted to go back to that world, there was so much to mine there. So many conflicts, factual and ‘added for dramatic effects’. I fell in love with Kapur’s visual palette, his use of camera. And yes, I fell in love with Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Elizabeth and Geoffrey Rush as her advisor. And now they’re back. Right off the bat, you can tell the movie’s budget is bigger this time. Is it a good thing for a period piece?
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