Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Movie Lists and Sporcle Quizzes

Pathetically enough, two posts in the same month is now a flurry of activity for me. But while I haven't been writing much, I haven't stopped making an excessive number of lists.

Katie recently introduced me to Sporcle, a site that hosts an easy to use toolkit for generating user-made online quizzes. I was immediately addicted. We stayed up to about 4am our first night of playing around on it.

I'm made four movie quizzes so far, and will probably do more as the whim strikes me. Here they are:

101 Time-Travel Movies - And yes, I have seen most of them. And yes, I am that obsessed.

Directors by Signature or Trademark - How well do you know your auteurs?

Giallo Titles by Synonym (e.g. "The Feline with the Nephrite Peepers" for "The Cat with the Jade Eyes")

War Films by War - From the Crimean War to the Cambodian Civil War, from ancient Rome to the contemporary Middle East, humanity has had a terrible history of bloodshed and a wonderful tradition of films about them, but can you name titles that span almost 50 different conflicts?

Exactly Why has also entered the fray with:


Lastly, I do want to mention that I've happily sifted through a lot of "Best of the Decade" lists over the last few months, but good or bad most have been pretty predictable. That's why I was really glad to see Filmlinc's ruthlessly highbrow, unabashedly challenging Top 150 Films of the Decade.

Two films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul in the top ten? 8 Taiwanese New Wave films including at least one I've openly disparaged? No Batman or Lord of the Rings? And yet this is a list with something to say, with material worth seeing and worth discussing. Innovative films, gutsy filmmakers and expansive ideas are well represented in a way that the box office, the Oscars and the majority of our media just doesn't cover. I've got nearly a third of the list still to see and I'm really excited to track them down!

Not nearly as good or consistent, but still on the right train of thought is Slant Magazine's list. It has the added advantage of short reviews and is more than capable of furnishing some recommendations.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sundance 2010

Sine I've not posted this year, I've let slip the chance to have topical discussions about the 2009 year-in-review, various Oscar-related issues and my experience at Sundance. But to assuage my guilty conscience I will briefly summarize the latter.

Katie and I stayed in the mountains next to Salt Lake City with our good friend Exactly Why at her gorgeous home and got to try a lot of local cuisine. We made it to 6 movies, already ably reviewed over at Exactly Why's blog. I'll give a quick rundown in my own words:

The Red Chapel - A subversive documentary about a 'spastic' Danish comedy team that travels to North Korea for a tense and awkward cultural exchange. The film says as much about the ethics of the comedians and film crew as it does about the country and ultimately runs the gamut from outrageous to depressing. Wry and thought-provoking, I can't fault Sundance for awarding this their International Documentary award.

Obselidia - A gentle road-movie romance about a reclusive collector of obsolete things and a woman who runs a silent movie theater. While it was thankfully not overly-precious (like too many of the recent rash of 'quirky' indie hits), it can be a bit on the preachy side, though I felt its heart was largely in the right place. Great acting, a comfortable script and an assured pacing made this a very charming and worthwhile little film.

Enter the Void - Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) brings his latest experiment to its third audience (after controversial Cannes and Toronto screenings) and it is both his most abrasive and most visually daring yet. Enter the Void is told primarily from the drifting perspective of a drug dealer's disembodied soul seeking reincarnation as he shifts in and out of his past and the grim present of his sister's deteriorating life as a stripper in neon-lit eye-searing Tokyo. Noe's trademark whirling camera antics are impressive, and yet unpleasantly dizzying and ultimately tedious. Working with an interesting concept and no shortage of auteur flare, the film struggles to find somewhere to end and, after 155 minutes and half a dozen opportunities to walk away with a dignified finish, bellyflops into an audacious, ill-adviced and hilarious finale (think orgasms, CG and a verrry intimate POV). Noe came out afterwards and confessed that we weren't supposed to laugh. For all that, I kind of admire the film, in that no-holds noble failure type of way.

Incidentally, when asked during the Q&A about his next project, Noe shyly admitted it would be an out-and-out porno. He didn't sound like he was kidding. With Lars von Trier (Pink Prison), Steven Soderbergh (The Girlfriend Experiment), Crispin Glover (It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine), and Kevin Smith to name a few, there seems to be more of an uptick in serious artists interested in the subject matter than I can remember since P. T. Anderson's Boogie Nights .

Tucker & Dale vs Evil - A spot-on horror comedy that presents a common film scenario (teens on a campy trip beset by villainous locals) from the sympathetic side of the rednecks. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk (Firefly) are perfectly cast as two lovable hillbillies who rescue (not kidnap) a beautiful psych student and befriend her while her former pals get themselves killed with such persistence that Tucker and Dale believe them to be a violent suicide cult. The semi-gimmicky plot actually manages to sustain itself pretty well and the film earned constant laughs from me, my friends and the entire audience. It is actually more entertaining than most of the films it riffs on, such as Friday the 13th, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn and even Deliverance.

Buried - Ryan Reynolds wakes up in a coffin and soon receives a cell phone call that if he can't arrange for a million dollar ransom, he will be left to suffocate. The camera never cuts outside of his tiny confines, creating an incredibly tense and utterly claustrophobic nightmare scenario that manages to stay exciting during every minute of depleting oxygen. The films even manages a good deal of creative visual variety through changes in angle and light source; the yellow of a lighter's flame, the faded red of a flashlight, the cold blue of the cell phone, the eerie green of chemical glow sticks and the amble use of pitch black create a balance of mood and practicality. Though contrived, it is easy to overlook the weaker plot points. The film easily earns a spot amongst the great low budget horror films of the digital era.

Splice - Speaking of which, Vincenzo Natali, the Canadian wunderkind behind low-budget high-concept horror classic Cube, unleashes his new genetics-experiment-gone-wrong thriller. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play a pair of married researchers whose gene-spliced anti-body incubator becomes a beloved pet and eventually a surrogate child. The film plays like an even-more-allegorical modern-day Frankenstein where far more than just medical ethics gets ludicrously violated. The acting and effects are top-notch, but the script may be an acquired taste. Fans of early Cronenberg or anyone willing to mix parenting woes and childrearing psychology with science-fiction and horror conventions will certainly enjoy.

Overall Sundance was a wondeful experience and I felt like all the films we saw were either highly entertaining or at least very interesting. I hope to go again next year. Katie has recently moved out to Vernal, Utah (where there's a good chance I'll one day join her) so we may be "right next door" in the midwestern 3-4 hour sense.