The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

DASHCAM - TIFF Review

Title: DASHCAM
Year: 2021
Director: Rob Savage



Midnight Madness is the film programme at Toronto International Film Festival that I absolutely adore. I love watching the weird, batshit insane films curator Peter Kuplowsky has cooked up for the years' festivities. Last year I-Fan Wang's Get the Hell Out & Roseanne Liang's Shadow in the Cloud left me in awe. This year it was DASHCAM's turn to surprise me.

DASHCAM  is framed through am influencer's live stream. The influencer, named Annie,  is an annoying MAGA hat wearing, anti-mask millennial who is destined for a comeuppance. During her stream she picks up a sickly elderly woman, which results in some high octane horror show. 

A pandemic denier is the perfect horror movie victim in 2021. DASHCAM proved to be a fun ride because of the torment Annie is put through. She is intolerably annoying, like a lot of friends/family have turned out to be during this time. Do you sometimes feel like punching one of those anti-vax people in the hospital? Let this be your release.

The faux-live presentation, complete with comments that can be quite funny (I enjoyed the Smooth Criminal reference), combined with smart use of VFX and stunt work, make DASHCAM quite a well made film. There's not much in the way of story, but if you're down for manic hour of film then this is certainly your jam. 

DASHCAM is a fun film that is a great stress reliever, especially if you're dealing with an alt-right person in your life. It may not be the most moving film at the festival, but this is pandemic fantasy fulfillment at its most chaotic. I'm glad I watched it.  


Friday, September 10, 2021

TIFF 2021 #1: Attica

Title: Attica
Year: 2021
Director: Stanley Nelson
Country: US
Language: English



I have been "going' to TIFF since 2019 ("going" in quotes because the last two years have been online) and each year I find myself excited for the films being presented. 2021 will be the first year I watch a documentary "at" the festival; Attica is the first of 3. The other two being Becoming Cousteau & Flee. Attica was the first film I watched at TIFF 2021.

Stanley Nelson's Attica is about the largest prison uprising in US history. Between Sept 9th & Sept 13th, 1975 more than 1,200 Attica inmates took control of the D-Yard at the prison and held 42 officers and prison employees hostage. Over four days, they engaged with New York politicians in attempts to negotiate for their freedom.

I decided to watch this movie solely on a movie quote that I vaguely remember. A character (turns out it's Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon) shouts "Attica! Attica! Attica!". What IS Attica!?  The documentary by Nelson gives us the typical talking head narrative we expect from documentaries, interspersed with archival news footage, to give a somewhat comprehensible, somewhat chaotic interpretation of events surrounding a highly volatile situation. Nelson's storytelling has many gaps and a few inconsistencies, albeit considering the event was 50 years ago it's somewhat understandable.

It is remarkable that Nelson was able to attain so many figures that were critical to the event. A few of the former prisoners must be in their seventies! I appreciate that he gave the loudest voice to the underrepresented prisoners. Attica, for its inconsistencies, does highlight corruption in the US Prison system, as well analyze racial disparity in the country. It is an important film that ought to get at least one viewing.  

Sunday, June 27, 2021

A Large Harmonium (by Sue Sorensen) - Book Review

Title: A Large Harmonium
Author: Sue Sorensen 
Publisher: Coteau Books
Country: Canada



Sue Sorensen is an English teacher at CMU (Canadian Mennonite University) in Winnipeg, MB. She has published three books and has poetry in journals such as The New QuarterlyExile, CV2, Grain, Room, and Prairie Fire. In addition, she has academic publications on a wide variety of subjects from children's lit to Neil Young. I feel lucky to have met her on Twitter, as she has gifted me a pristine copy of her captivating A Large Harmonium


A Large Harmonium
covers a year in the life of Janey: wife, mother, academic. She’s a woman who doesn’t quite understand how she acquired this life and can’t decide whether it is punishment or reward.


Sue Sorensen describes her book as "leaning towards Bridget Jones' Diary" while I would say it reminds me of the films of Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) A Large Harmonium is a fictional story that feels rooted in truth & real life circumstance, but is layered in wit and irony. I found myself chuckling at the absurd humor sprinkled throughout; it gave the book a great deal of charm that helped with the brisk pace of the book. 


While Janey and I are very different people. she's a mother in her 40's & I'm a childless man who just turned 30, I felt very connected with her touching plight. I too have anxieties. self-doubt and question how my life went & how it is going. A Large Harmonium is very accessible in the way its  down-to-earth tone catches us off guard and makes the reader more of an emotionally vulnerable person. 


I love stories that stress character study over plot. Though I'm not the biggest reader of books about domestic situations (my favorite reads are grimy detective novellas) I found myself connected to this woman on the cusp of a mid-life crisis. I feel like I will be reading A Large Harmonium again when I turn 40 and need some emotional clarity. 



Women and Tudor Tragedy (Allyna Ward) - Book Review

Title: Women and Tudor Tragedy
Author: Allyna Ward
Country: Canada/US
Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
 



I met Allyna Ward at Booth University College (Winnipeg, MB) in 2010. She was an assistant professor who taught a number of English classes. I took Literary and Cultural Theory, University Writing,  and Representative Literary Works with her as my prof. Presently she is a Language Arts teacher in New Hampshire. She is quite an engaging and supportive person; one of the most well versed people in literature I have ever met. I have been excited to read and review her book Women and Tudor Tragedy, even though I'm well aware I can't do the remarkable work justice. 

Women and Tudor Tragedy investigates the link between gender and genre, identifying the relation between cultural history and mid-Tudor drama. The author provides a discussion of the role of women in early English tragedies and in a variety of texts by women.

Though Women and Tudor Tragedy is appealing to historians, sociologists and lit geeks alike, the book is not the easiest to get through if you are a novice on the subject matter. Getting into this literature on a whim is like trying to learn how to swim by starting in the Ocean. The book, like Allyna herself, is quite deep. Women and Tudor Tragedy would be most useful as the primary text used in an Honours level class. 

Note to Allyna: You should design a class around your book! I'd sign up! 

As a less than casual reader (I've been reading more books during the pandemic, but Post University I read very little) Women and Tudor Tragedy took a long time to get through. I would read a chapter, noting the many literature and historical references, then I'd read & research those (if applicable), then I'd re-read the chapter again with more understanding. Reading Allyna's book is a journey that will make one more adept in scholarly pursuits. This book is not one that can be skimmed over. 

Women and Tudor Tragedy is a book that belongs in the classroom, taught by a professor who is well versed in this subject matter. I feel that I have learned quite a lot from this book & am excited to do more research. I am very grateful for this Olympic sized swimming pool of knowledge that I was fortunate to read. 

Allyna Ward's book is quite a significant achievement; she reshapes our understanding of history by focusing our attention on the women who historians tend to under-represent. I love her contextualizing of English history & the dissection of religious, political & cultural practices in relation to the tragic works of art made during the period. 

A wealth of content, but is more suitable to scholars in a University setting than a casual reader


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Manistique: A Luke Fischer Novel (2021) Review

Title: Manistique
Year: 2021
Author: Craig Terlson
Country: Canada
Publisher: Ethelbert House






Craig Terlson grew up in Saskatchewan and would graduate from Alberta College of Art and design. His career in design would span 26 years, working for Self Magazine & The Boston Globe among others. Presently, when he's not crafting the great novel, he works as the Design Manager for CMU's Communication & Marketing Department. With an extensive track record, having written five novels, a novella, and a short story collection, Craig appears to be well on his way to becoming Canada's next great writer.


Craig's latest published work, Manistique, features the titular antihero Luke Fischer who, in Michigan, teams up with the local sheriff, Sam, a tough, determined woman with a hell of a spin kick. Together they try to solve how a modern-day Johnny Appleseed spread $400,000 across Upper Michigan before ending up on the bottom of the Manistique River.


Manistique is a perfect sequel to Surf City Acid Drop (2015); it is darker in tone, features more mature characters, and has Luke Fischer in more pulse pounding circumstances than his previous venture. At one point Luke asks if they're going in "Guns blazing like OK Corral", another character replies "No, more like The Wild Bunch." The film nerd in me shivered as I knew I would be in for one hell of a ride. Circumstances proved to unfold in more dire ways as I, on edge, read through each page.



While Surf City Acid Drop works well with surf n turf music (cue Jan & Dean), Manistique has a rougher edge. It feels like a Western inspired by a curious mix of Sam Pekinpah (The Wild Bunch) & John Ford (The Searchers). I had seen Anthony Mann's The Furies just a couple days ago & found it remarkable how similar the dialogue was in tone (albeit the 1950 western had less cussin'). Terlson is a very unique storyteller; with this book he manages to perfectly blend Westerns, thrillers and neo noir into a captivating story.


Impressively written, Craig Terlson's Manistique is a great work of fiction that, intentionally or not, pays great homage to other works of fiction. I am quite awestruck at the way he can craft an engaging, engulfing story that ought to get even better with a second reading. I need more of Luke Fischer's adventures; that character ought to be a household name.

"The perfect sequel to Surf City Acid Drop, Manistique is an impressively crafted work that is darker in tone, features more mature characters, and has our main character in more pulse pounding circumstances than his previous venture."





Cruising (1980) Review

Title: Cruising 
Year: 1980
Director: William Friedkin
Country: US
Language: English



Made shortly before the AIDS epidemic that would consume America, William Friedkin's Cruising was a controversial picture that would have to be cut over 50 times in order to be approved by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) in order for it to receive a rating so it could be distributed to theatres. The theatrical version I watched included a scene where a gay cop gets fisted by other gay cops; I would love to know what lay on the cutting room floor. 

In Cruising, a cishet police detective (Al Pacino) goes undercover in the underground S&M gay subculture of New York City to catch a serial killer who is preying on gay men.


Throughout the production of Cruising, gay members of the New York City community were encouraged to disrupt the film. They used mirrors to ruin shots, played loud music, and thousands of people would march around where they were filming. I personally feel that the film portrayed the LGBT community in a sympathetic light; Friedkin demonstrates that the gay community is worth helping. It's certainly a less homophobic film than Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill, made around the same time. 


Cruising
is a film in which there are no protagonists; we can't even relate to the seemingly emotionless character played by Pacino. The film's ambiguity and uncertainty are at the forefront of this film, creating its biggest strength; an atmosphere of paranoia and doubt. Friedkin resents the certainty of modern cinema & consistently challenges the status quo. This film is not an easy watch, but it is full of thriller & neo noir substance. 


Still about to elicit a variety of polarizing opinions from audiences, I personally feel like Cruising is a step in a positive direction in its depiction of gay culture. Albeit, at the same time, films like Portrait of a Lady on Fire & Moonlight are more easy to digest & can't be viewed as discriminatory. Watch this at your own risk. 



The Furies (1950) Review

Title: The Furies
Year: 1950
Director: Anthony Mann
Country: US
Language: English




1950 was a great year for cinema. Joseph Mankiewicz's All About Eve would sweep the Oscars with 14 nominations, Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard would improve film noir, and Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon would push Japanese Cinema into the mainstream. With The Furies (1950) Anthony Mann would create one of the most emotionally complex Westerns in cinematic history. It is very different from the hyper masculine Westerns of John Ford (The Searchers).

A firebrand heiress (Barbara Stanwyck) clashes with her tyrannical father (Walter Houston), a cattle rancher who fancies himself a Napoleon, but their relationship turns ugly only when he finds himself a new woman.

Full of psycho-sexual subtext that would make even Sigmund Freud blush, Anthony Mann manages to transition a male driven genre into a film that is part women's picture, part Shakespearean tragedy. Borrowing film noir elements, such as the femme fatale & dark screenplay elements, The Furies isn't afraid to get its hands dirty. Quite frankly, I'm surprised many elements of this picture passed the censorship committee as it can even be considered risque today.

There are many elements to admire in The Furies. The cinematography, by Vector Milner, is often quite breathtaking. The peak of Stanwycks' career; she plays an emotionally & physically strong character that was rarely seen at the time. Walter Houston, playing his last onscreen role, gives us a King Lear-like performance as a charismatic yet deceitful ranch owner. 

The Furies is audacious & full of energy. It is one of the best Westerns that I have come across; shocking that it's not as beloved as classics like The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance and High Noon. This film comes with an incredibly high recommendation, despite some subject matter (men openly slapping women) being dated and distasteful.  




 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Nightmare Alley (1947) Review

Title: Nightmare Alley
Year: 1947
Director: Edmund Goulding
Country: US
Language: English







This week I bought 25 movie tickets (1 package of 20 "regular" screenings & 1 package of 5 "premium" screenings) to Toronto International Film Festival 2021, which runs Sept 9th -18th 2021. One film I hope to be announced is Guillermo Del Toro's Nightmare Alley. It is a remake of Edmund Goulding's classic starring Bradley Cooper, which will no doubt earn both director and actor awards come award season. In anticipation of seeing Toro's premiere, I decided to check out the original. 

Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power) is a mentalist who, after working & learning his profession at a circus, seeks to make it big by deceiving people out of their money.


Nightmare Alley
's carnival culture turns the American dream on its head; exposing the American's feverish desire to make quick cash at the expense of their fellow man. The movie gives us a complicated set of feelings about all these characters. The character Electra amazes us with her display of electricity; the geek makes us pity their inhumane treatment; and Stanton hits us in the gut with his cold outlook, admitting "I'm never thinking about anybody—except myself.”


Based on the best selling novel by William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley was full of controversial material that had to be plucked apart by a great screenwriter in order to make it on the screen, and even with the Hays Code overseeing its censorship the film proved to be quite dark and melancholy. The atmosphere of paranoia, deception and fear, all enhanced by the wicked performances of Tyrone Power & Joan Blondell, seep into our mind & infect our anxieties. 


Nightmare Alley
is a spectacular film noir that would make an excellent companion to the outlandish Freaks (1931) It made me quite uncomfortable at times, albeit I was entertained throughout the run-time. The Criterion Edition of this picture is a must buy. 




Saturday, June 19, 2021

10 Favourite Prideful Pictures




Happy Pride Month! It's the gayest time of the year and even though some cinematic icons have toiled away in the closet for decades (I'm looking at you, Rock Hudson) it has become much safer to be "out" & be yourself.  More films than ever are being made to celebrate being LGBTQ+.

There are many "queer coded" movies, such as The Babadook (2014) & The Old Dark House (1931), but this pride list is made up of outright no-subtext needed Pride films that celebrate being queer. It will not include movies, like Psycho (1960) which bring harm to the queer identity. 

At least one of these Prideful pictures has won Best Picture! Lets hope more queer-friendly films win more prestigious awards in the near future. 

10. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

9. The Birdcage (1996)







8.  Happy Together (1997) 



7.  Cruising (1980)




6. Paris is Burning (1990)



5. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)



4. Cabaret (1972) 



3. Brokeback Mountain (2005)



2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)



1. Moonlight (2017) 






Death Takes a Holiday (1934) Review

Title: Death Takes a Holiday
Year: 1934
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Country: US
Language: English



I have been a subscriber to the Criterion Channel since it began (infact I paid before it began) & have found myself pleasantly delighted when I find out about a film I would not have heard of otherwise. I found out about Death Takes a Holiday when I browsed the "Hollywood Classics" section. This is a classic? Perhaps in terms of the decade, but it's clearly not as accessible or beloved as "classics" like Casablanca (1941) or To Have & Have Not (1944). 

In this film, The Grim Reaper takes the form of a Prince (Fredric March) in an attempt to relate to humans and, along the way, also learns what it is to love.


Based on a play by the Italian writer Alberto Casella; the English-language version, written by Walter Ferris, opened in New York in 1929. The play was a success and thus bound for film adaptation. Gladys Lehman and the playwright Maxwell Anderson sought to put this to screen, having had success with We Live Again (1934), an adaptation of Tolstoy's Resurrection. Retaining the play's fascinating dialogue, but opening up the set to make the action more lively, Death Takes a Holiday proved to be one of Paramount's biggest box office successes of 1934. 


Director Mitchell Leisen was given an award at the Venice Film Festival for his work on this film. The set design was noted to be remarkable & the acting, lead by a strong performance by Frederic March, enhanced the picture tremendously.  A two time Oscar winner (for The Best Years of Our Lives & Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) March manages to even give death a dignified characterization. 

The films use of special effects, mainly the ability to make death transparent as he floated around the room with other non-transparent actors, were pretty remarkable at the time. I wondered how they were able to accomplish such a feat in 1934. Death Takes a Holiday is quite a charming film that, with its supernatural fantasy elements, feels like a fairytale at times.