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Roadkill

Music Video Distribution

Starring Valerie Buhagiar and Don McKeller

Written by Don McKeller & Bruce McDonald

Directed by Bruce McDonald

Rating: Not Rated

Original Release: 1989

Rating: ★★★★☆

Roadkill is part of a rock ‘n’ roll trilogy.  This film was the beginning.  Bruce McDonald’s story and Don McKellar’s screenplay became an immediate classic Canadian film.

Ramona (Valerie Buhagiar) was born and bred in Toronto.  Having lived in a big city and never really travelled, she had never even learned how to drive.  Her boss sends her to Northern Ontario to end The Children of Paradise’s tour.  Hailing a cab to take her to the train station, Ramona realizes that the cab driver wants to take her all the way to Sudbury.  Ramona meets some interesting characters along the way, including a young man who has taken a vow of silence (Shaun Bowring); Russell (Don McKellar), an aspiring serial killer; and Bruce Shack (Bruce McDonald), the documentary filmmaker.  Ramona must realize what her role is in this story as she wanders from character to character.  She realizes that she is what everyone is missing and figures a way to solve their problems.

As with most Canadian films, not many people have heard of this film or seen it.  Not even Canadians.  Shot low budget on 8mm film in black and white, the film immediately has a style of its own.  More attention seems to have been focused on the visuals and audio is ignored.  This does leave something to be desired as the audio levels drop during conversations. 

The Roadkill DVD has more extras than would be expected from an independent Canadian film made in 1989.  Two short films are added, Elimination Dance and Fort Goof, both of which were directed by Bruce McDonald.  A very funny audio commentary is also available with Don McKellar and producer Colin Brunton.

McDonald’s rock ‘n’ roll trilogy began with this film, continued with Highway 61 (which was also penned by McKellar), and ended with an adaptation of Michael Turner’s book Hard Core Logo.  Each film seems better than the one that preceded it, but the bare elements of Roadkill and Ramona’s story make Roadkill a classic.

Cheers: The Complete First Season

Paramount

Starring Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Nicholas Colasanto, George Wendt, Rhea Perlman, and John Ratzenberger.

Original Release: 2003

Rating: ★★★½☆

Cheers is a Boston bar where you can go and feel at home.  The NBC sitcom, starring Ted Danson and Shelley Long, began its eleven-year reign in 1982 and it was arguably the best sitcom since The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Through its long run, Cheers told great stories with a great heart and a lot of laughs.  While some television series take a few years to get into their groove, this one started with a bang.  After a slow pilot that stumbled to introduce the characters properly, the first season of Cheers had some great episodes including “The Coach’s Daughter,” which featured Coach’s daughter wanting to marry an asshole, and “Pick A Con… Any Con,” which featured guest star Harry Anderson (as Harry the Hat) helping Coach get back his money from a card shark.

What made Cheers so great in the beginning was the chemistry between Diane Chambers (Long) and Sam Malone (Danson).  Sam seems obsessive about a challenge, feeling he can get any woman he wants.  Diane proves the first challenge in his romantic life, and whether or not he actually likes Diane, he feels he still must conquer.  Diane and Sam are so obviously wrong for each other, yet the audience enjoyed watching their relationship as their personalities clashed.

The romantic tension helps build two very strong characters in Sam and Diane that are supported by the one-liner quirkiness of innocent and simple bartender Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), the bitter barmaid Carla (Rhea Perlman), self-depricating barfly Norm (George Wendt), and his cohort Cliff (John Ratzenberger), the know-it-all mail carrier.  All of the characters marvel in watching Sam, the master of seduction, get the ladies and provide the humour as Sam works to advance the plot.

After watching Cheers: The Complete First Season on DVD, it became apparent that some of the best moments of the series were during this season, and it’s a great laugh.  The worst part of the DVD set is the lack of special features.  The fourth disc features a handful of clip compilations that compress the season into 10 minutes and a short interview with Ted Danson telling the audience that he likes all of his fellow cast members.  Paramount could have done a much better job at digging up old interviews with the cast and crew and/or putting in audio commentaries.

All in all a great season that loses points for its lack of extras, but definitely deserves a place on the DVD shelf.

Jersey Girl

Miramax

Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, George Carlin & Liv Tyler

Written & Directred by Kevin Smith

Rating: ★★★★☆

“Why in gods name would I wanna keep writing about characters whose central preoccupation are weed and dick and fart jokes? I mean, ya gotta grow man. Don’t you ever want anything more for yourself?” – Holden, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back

If you are looking for jokes about gay sex and farts, Jersey Girl is not where you will find them.  Writer and Director Kevin Smith takes this opportunity to do something different.  After putting to rest the title characters in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, Smith is moving ahead.  Now a father himself, Smith writes about a single father who must raise his daughter while trying to come to terms with a life he never saw himself in.

Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck) had the perfect life.  A wonderful wife (Jennifer Lopez), a child on the way, a great job and lots of money.  Everything changes when his wife dies during their daughter’s birth.  Leaving his daughter with his father, Trinke tries to balance work with raising a child and ultimately loses his sights on her.  After losing his job, Ollie reluctantly takes the job as Gertie’s father while still keeping his eyes open for his old job to return.

George Carlin plays Ollie’s father Bart. Carlin gives an incredible performance, guiding and teaching Ollie to be a father.  There are three emotional arcs to the movie: the featured arc between the Jersey girl Gertie and Ollie, the arc with Ollie and new romance Maya (Liv Tyler), and between Bart and Ollie.  Bart and Ollie’s relationship is what keeps the movie and Ollie grounded.  Bart is whom Ollie can turn to when he needs a hand.

Jersey Girl is about Ollie’s realization that being a father is more important than what he had lost before.  Smith creates a wonderful story and executes it well.  Funny, smart, romantic, and silly, Jersey Girl provides the audience with humour that is true to Kevin Smith’s previous movies.  Comparable to Smith’s third film Chasing Amy, The film is serious while still giving the audience some laughs.

The DVD is packed with special features.  Two audio commentaries: one featuring Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck, and another with Kevin Smith, Scott Moser (producer) and Jason Mewes (who played Jay in all of Smith’s previous movies but does not appear in this one).  As Smith’s DVDs always have been, the audio commentary is funnier than the movie.  Also featured on the DVD are half a dozen short films made for The Tonight Show.  Those should also keep you laughing.

Kevin Smith will have a hard time living up to the high point that was Dogma, but Jersey Girl tries to get there kicking and screaming.

DVD Review: Triplets of Belleville

Written & Directed by Sylvain Chomet

Rated: PG-13

Rating: ★★★★☆

 

Champion sweats his way through the dark cobblestone streets, the spokes of his bicycle’s wheels bending under his labor.  Behind him, on his first tricycle, rides his tiny grandmother, Madame Souza, chirping steady encouragement through a whistle.  He’s been obsessed with bicycles since he was a small child, and now she is training Champion for the Tour de France.

But his training is brought to an astounding halt when he’s whisked away during a race by an unknown man in black, and his grandmother, along with the faithful family dog Bruno, gives chase.  It is during this seemingly hopeless quest that they meet the marvelous Triplets of Belleville.

Nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Animated Feature Film and Best Song), The Triplets Of Belleville was written and directed by Sylvain Chomet.  The animation style is a bit of a throwback to old Disney movies, with the opening sequence reminiscent of the ‘Steamboat Willy’ cartoon, and washed-out, neutral colors are used throughout most of the film. The result is a dreary, sad undertone despite the outstanding music and the uplifting, eccentric characters that are the Triplets.

Most unusual is the almost complete absence of dialogue.  Aside from the lyrics accompanying the music and the odd bystander’s completely random observation, the characters communicate largely in grunts, cackles and whines.  But for this strange and wonderful little movie, it works very well and places the onus on the animators to convey the characters’ emotions, as pendulous as they may be, entirely through their actions.

On DVD, the movie is accompanied by a featurette narrated by the director, who explains more about what went into each scene, rather than the making of the movie in its entirety. As well, Chomet explains the animation process he uses from start to finish, from blue pencil drawings to the unique 2D and 3D combination scene in the film. At the very end is the music video for ‘Belleville Rendezvous’, the Oscar nominated song, and the video is nothing if not, let’s say, abstract.  A live action character is inserted into various scenes from the movie, as well as an animated depiction of the singer. The video starts with a therapy session and moves into a creepy little dance number, with the singer’s head superimposed onto animated bodies. That video, and a sweet, concise tale of love, devotion and loyalty, make this DVD a worthwhile purchase indeed.

DVD Review: Six Feet Under – The Complete Second Season

Starring Peter Krause, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Michael C. Hall, Richard Jenkins, etc.

Rating: ★★★★★

 

I have been obsessed with the Alan Ball (American Beauty) produced HBO series Six Feet Under for about two months now.  Unfortunately, I am a little behind.  A late convert to the series (I didn’t have access to HBO before recently), I rented disc one of The Complete First Season upon recommendation from a friend.  I was immediately hooked and within a few weeks, I had finished all of Season One, and took the plunge by purchasingThe Complete Second Season.  Fortunately, I was not let down, as Season Two provided just as many plot twists and turns as the first season, and each character continued to develop throughout.

The Fisher family consists of the recently widowed Ruth (Frances Conroy) along with her three children.  Ruth’s character development is brilliant in Season Two, as we find her in unique un-Ruthish relationships, while she is doing her utmost to better herself.  Finally getting over the death of her husband and beginning to come to terms with the guilt of having an extramarital affair, Ruth comes into her own as a powerful matriarch.  Her eldest son, Nate (Peter Krause), who returned just in time for his father’s death in the first episode of Season One, has taken his new role as funeral director quite seriously.  He has also found himself in a serious relationship with Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), and their tumultuous relationship becomes a focus of Season Two.  David (Michael C. Hall) goes through a great deal of instability in this season, dealing with his conflicting conservative religious beliefs and his homosexual lifestyle, leaving him confused and self-deprecating throughout.  The somewhat angsty teenager, Claire (Lauren Ambrose), deals with having been raised in a funeral home in her own way.  She comes of age in a very subtle way, finding herself confused and kind, sometimes too much so on both ends.  Six Feet Under doesn’t limit itself to simply focusing on the Fisher family, but also other characters important in their lives. The Complete Second Season also continues to teach us a lot about Frederico (Freddy Rodriguez), an employee at Fisher & Sons funeral home; David’s love interest Keith (Matthew St. Patrick); and Brenda’s entire family, including her psychologically unstable brother, Billy (Jeremy Sisto).

This is the first television series I have found myself truly caring about for quite some time.  I like each character and worry about what will happen with each curveball fate tosses them and even find myself feeling disappointed in some of their decisions.  No one in this show is perfect, and they all have very natural flaws.  At the same time, none of the characters seem to fit in with any predictable stereotypes, leaving us surprised by their development.

The Complete Second Season is an excellent DVD collection, compiling all 13 episodes from the second season.  The extras are pretty standard, with audio commentaries on a handful of episodes along with “Anatomy of a Working Stiff,” a twenty-minute special on the process of creating realistic corpses for the series.  The commentaries are interesting and insightful, and the featurette is informative, but perhaps a bit long for what it is.   Still, the episodes stand up on their own as well directed, written, and acted.  You will find yourself, as I did, watching episode after episode, wondering what will happen to these strange and fascinating characters next.

DVD Review: City of God

Starring Alexandre Rodrigues and Leandro Firmino
Written by Brulio Mantovani
Directed by Fernando Meirelles

Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Cinematography, Editing, and Adaptation.

Theatrical Release: 2003
Rated: R

Rating: ★★★½☆

 

What do you want to be?  Fishmonger, policeman, or hood?  I certainly know who most of us like to watch, and City of God provides a sensational spectacle.  City of God is an epic, following a generation of kids growing up in a nearby Rio de Janeiro slum during the 1960s and 1970s.  In the dead-poor neighbourhood, lacking even electricity, career options are unsurprisingly limited.  Over half of the workforce is involved in the drug trade and gang life is commonplace.  Ostensibly within the gangster genre, the story revolves around hold-ups, drug deal take-overs, and revenge plots all overwhelmed with a sense of depressing fatalism.  Our protagonist, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), has chosen to be right in the middle.  He is the only to admit that his fear of getting shot prevents his career as a hood.  Naturally, he’s more interested in losing his virginity.

The story develops at an excellent pace.  Screenwriter Brulio Mantovani has playfully divided the conflict into a handful of vignettes.  “The Suckers Life” is soon followed by “Flirting with Crime.”  The main plot line explores the escalating mob war and as soon as the viewer’s interest may falter, our passive protagonist acquires a camera and gets himself involved.  I could recommend the film to fans of photography alone.  The artist’s eye seeking the decisive moment and all those delightful theories are quite relevant in City of God.

The cinematography is breathtaking and highly inventive.  Every modern technique is on display: 360 ° spins, frenetic bullet cam, sudden freeze frames and time dissolves.  Styles change as needed: a moving “documentary realism” camera is used during emotionally charged moments and the childhood sequence is pervaded by a nostalgic feel from its warm saturated colours.

Be warned. The violence is brutally realistic.  Of course, it’s nothing most cinephiles aren’t used to (and would come to expect).  If tortured children upset you, then look away.  The number of guns on fetishized display rivals even The Matrix.  I’ve personally been tired of excessive gunfighting, but here the violence is integral to narrative development.  Lil’l Zé (Leandro Firmino) is one of those really evil villains you love to hate.

As the credits roll, we learn that the horrible events were based on a true story.  The real Brazilians are shown next to their fictional counterparts.  The viewer is led to compare the city’s violent situation to contemporary situations around the world, and the movie has not proposed a single solution.  City of God is less a thoughtful contemplation on the issues, and more a celebration of their entertainment value. The DVD supplements are sparse, but an hour long documentary, “News From a Personal War”, investigates the back story.  I would have enjoyed more about the making of the film, but I’ll take an insightful doc over a handful of trailers and publicity photos anytime.

When I got the DVD from the video store, the clerkwarned me that the movie is in Portuguese.  On further inquiry, it turns out the company needs employees to inform us of the subtitles.  Apparently, over 90% of customers return those troublesome movies after realizing their mistake.  Fuckers.  God forbid they might broaden their world view.

So what do you want to be?  Fishmonger, policeman or hood?  Or maybe a photographer?  It certainly is best to watch.

DVD Review: Nero Wolfe Complete First Season

Starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton
A&E Home Video
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Nero Wolfe (played by Maury Chaykin) is a fat man who rarely leaves his home, is easily enraged, loves his orchids and only enjoys the finest foods. Fortunately, Archie Goodwin (Timothy Hutton) knows how to get what he wants. Goodwin is the narrator for the story and the man who provides the audience with the insight. Through the eyes of Wolfe’s right hand man, the audience gets a front seat in the action.

The series is based on a collection of novels and novellas written by Rex Stout, who began publishing his stories just after World War II. The television series is set during this time period. The art direction in this series is absolutely wonderful and it leaves no doubt in your mind that what you are watching is happening during the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.

The best part of this series is the relationship between Wolfe and Goodwin. The constant bickering and mutual respect that the two have for each other is just great and gets the viewer hooked onto the series.  With a solid and very enjoyable supporting cast, Colin Fox plays the often hilarious chef Fritz while Bill Smitrovich’s Inspector Cramer tries to solve the mysteries before Wolfe can.

Timothy Hutton not only stars in this series as Archie Goodwin, but he also takes on the role of executive producer for the series.  Hutton also does an excellent job at pointing the series in the direction it will take by directing the first few episodes. The style of the drama’s narrative is superb, and is a direct translation from the books.

The stories unfold exactly as the books do. Having read the story “Door To Death” before seeing the episode, I was disappointed to see that little changed through the adaptation. This is perhaps one of the most upsetting aspects of the show, because the creative staff didn’t try to provide an interpretation of the book, like film versions of Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings did so well.

The three-disc DVD set of the complete first season of Nero Wolfe is an amazing set of mysteries with great characters and an excellent cast. However, the DVDs contain absolutely no extras. No commentaries, not even promo spots.  Nothing to entice people to buy it, other than the great stories, and the fact that the episodes are no longer aired on A&E.  I would have given the series four stars, but with the lack of any special features, it must be knocked down to three.  Still, it’s well worth the money.