Keyhole (2012, Guy Maddin) – The title of Winnipeg filmmaker and all around Canadian national treasure Guy Maddin’s latest film is equal parts accurate and a misnomer. Despite numerous shots of the film’s protagonist peering through the titular orifice, there’s no actual key to understanding what’s going on in the film, but there’s an equally voyeuristic quality to the entire enterprise that puts this film on equal footing with Maddin’s previous long form effort, the semi-autobiographical and more highly praised My Winnipeg. Combining such disseparate elements as a 1930’s pre-code gangster saga, a William Castle styled haunted house movie, and the structure of Homer’s The Odyssey, the film still doesn’t stand up as light viewing, but for those looking to be challeneged, it might be Maddin’s most easily accessible work.
Maddin follows the journey of Ulysses Pick (a perfectly cast Jason Patric, in a role he was almost born to play), a gangster that has travelled back to the site of his birth not only to hide out, but to get back to the bed of his wife (Isabella Rosellini, a returning Maddin cohort) locked away somewhere in the house. The lines between dreams and reality are blurred as Pick tries to puzzle through ways of getting into the locked room as things rapidly begin to deteriorate with the crew surrounding him.
In typical Maddin fashion, there are obtrusive provocations and imagery designed to provoke feelings in the viewer, but that don’t really make any sense, but for a film with such heady themes of love and loss, Maddin’s screenplay with George Tolles is jocular and lighthearted. It’s probably the closest to a straight-up genre film audiences are likely to see from Maddin and while it might be a bit strange and overly Freudian, there’s still a lot of entertainment value to be had if the viewer feels adventurous enough to go along for the ride.
The Blu-ray for Keyhole boasts a black and white image that shows the imperfections in Maddin’s first outing with digital cameras and a well mixed 5.1 MA track that serves the film well. The special features are interesting to check out, but they won’t give very much insight as to what’s going on. There are two short featurettes designed by Maddin to sort of act like behind the scenes peeks, but they’re really almost exactly like a meta commentary on the movie itself. The only scant bit of information comes in learning a bit about the film’s musical score in F-Hole, but even then there’s not much to glean from it, and at the end of the day, fans of the director will probably be just fine with that.
Extraterrestrial (2011, Nacho Vigalondo) – Arriving with a title that suggests sci-fi tinged hijinks and DVD box art that makes the film look like a romantic comedy, the second feature effort from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo (creator of the cult hit Time Crimes) isn’t anything like what it says on the tin, but in that case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those in the know or those who don’t necessarily mind the bait and switch are in for a satisfying, if somewhat occasionally slight, character drama that might be more at home on stage than on the big screen.
Waking up together in the same bed with spotty recollections of the evening before, the alliteratively named Julio (Julian Villagran) and Julia (Michelle Jenner) stumble out of bed far too late in the day to realize that a large spacecraft hovering over the city has forced an evacuation and they’ve been advised to stay inside Julia’s flat. Wanting initially nothing to do with each other but not wanting to abandon each other, their situation becomes increasingly more complicated by a nosy neighbour with the hots for Julia and the return of her somewhat douchy, alpha male boyfriend, sowing seeds of distrust between the four of them.
Owing a bit more to Yasmina Reza’s stage version of Carnage than any traditional genre film, Extraterrestrial definitely classifies as a slow burn. Taking place almost entirely in a single setting except for three or four exceptions (including the film’s slightly awkward climax), Vigalondo still manages some intensely crafty camerawork and a healthy amount of slight wit. Still, the film spins its wheels for the first thirty minutes or so before entering into a half baked Invasion of the Body Snatchers styled subplot, and it takes a full hour for any tension to really come to a head as Julio and Julia realize that they do have some feelings for each other, and their lies ultimately split the foursome with less than ideal results. The actors carry the day here even when it’s hard to sympathize with their characters, but sympathy isn’t the point here. This is a very simplistic look at human relationships in times of hard ship, and by those very basic standards the film is a success.
The DVD comes with a few special features, including four of Vigolondo’s best short films, which might make the purchase of the DVD justified for fans of the director and a 30 minute look at the film’s low budget trappings that highlight the difficulties of making such an equally ambitious and small film. Vigalondo also does talk about the somewhat deliberately misleading marketing, which is nice.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012, David Gelb) – A hit on the arthouse circuit earlier this year (playing for over four months at the TIFF Bell Lightbox alone), this documentary about the life and methods of famed Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono isn’t the slight bit of Food Network styled gastroporn one might expect, but it’s a great film that will resonate with anyone who wants to pursue their creative dreams. Gorgeously photographed, thoughtful, and inspirational, not only has director David Gelb created one of the best documentaries of the year, but also one that does great justice to the detail oriented motives of its subject.
Ono’s restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, has become acclaimed the world over despite the minimalist trappings that reflect the 85 year old chef behind it. Located in the bowels of the Ginza subway station, the space only seats ten people, has no on-site washroom, and takes reservations over a month in advance for both lunch and dinner, and charges a minimum of 30,000 yen (almost $400 Canadian) depending on the market value of the fresh fish they have on hand, but those who have had Jiro’s food swear by it’s quality. Gelb takes a stylized and detailed look not only at Jiro’s methods and mythos, but also Jiro’s rise to prominence and the relationship he has with his 50-year old son who doesn’t have an easy road ahead of him if his father ever decides to retire.
Despite his stern intensely serious manner, Jiro comes across as an inspirational figure that takes pride in what he does every day. Watching Jiro meticulously pick out fish at the market every day or seeing him instruct his co-workers to massage an octopus for almost an hour to make sure it isn’t too tough to chew speaks to the man’s dedication and love of his profession. Jiro and his staff are constantly striving to make each day better than the last despite the fast paced nature of operating out of a small space designed for fast eaters. For creative types and those looking for a dose of inspiration to get up and do something, this one is a must see.
The DVD picture quality reflects the sometimes out of focus intimacy of the DSLR shot production, which Gelb and his editor talk about a little bit on their joint commentary track. There’s also about 25 minutes of deleted scenes that are interesting, but understandably left out of the final cut, a look at different sushi masters and their specialties, and a mouth watering photo gallery of Jiro’s finest works.
Casa De Mi Padre (Matt Piedmont 2012) – The latest Will Ferrell flick comes in Spanish and subtitled. Yep, you read that right, but don’t worry; this isn’t some grating attempt from Ferrell to be taken seriously in foreign art film. Nope, it’s love letter to cornball Telemundo-style entertainment in the style of the movie geek comedies that have become a subgenre since Grindhouse, using deliberately stilted dialogue, idiotic plotting, clumsy filmmaking, and sub-soap opera acting for comedic effect. If you’ve seen Black Dynamite, Hobo with a Shotgun, or Machete, you’ll know what to expect. If you’ve never even heard of those movies, chances are this isn’t for you. It takes a certain love of bad filmmaking to enjoy these comedies and not everyone shares that ironic love of trash.
The plot isn’t really worth getting into that much since it doesn’t make much sense. Let’s just say that Ferrell gets caught up in the middle of a drug war between his brother and the local heavy played by Mexico’s greatest young actors, Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, who are clearly have a blast with their deliberately terrible performances (Luna in particular has one shoot-out without ever putting down his scotch n’ cigarette that is comedy bliss). Then there’s also a love story between Ferrell and the beautiful Genesis Rodriguez, included purely for sex scene comprised of gratuitous ass shots. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how funny/appealing you consider a hairy male ass. Writer Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont (longtime Ferrell collaborators through SNL and Funny or Die) clearly know their B-movie clichés and fill the screen with awkwardly placed mannequin extras, editing flubs, and the worst tiger puppet in the history of cinema. It will be a damn irritating experience if you don’t get the joke, but at the very least you’ve got to admire the stone-faced commitment of everyone involved.
You’ve also to admire a star like Will Ferrell using his name to get a wacko movie like this on screens. He may make some mainstream fluff, but the guy is still stays true to his surrealist comedy roots and that’s enough to elevate him above the Adam Sandlers of the world. The Blu-ray for Casa Di Ma Padre looks about as good as a film trying to appear cheap possibly can. Some deep landscapes look great, but most of the time the image is deliberately rough. That’s the style, so whatcha gonna do? When it comes to special features, the disc is led by a jokey commentary from Ferrell, Piedmont, and Steele along with a few short congratulatory featurettes. The real gems are 20 minutes of pretty great deleted scenes along with a few fake cigarette commercials that should have you giggling all the way to lung cancer. What else can I say? If a movie in which a major action scene is stopped midway and replaced by a note from the filmmakers apologizing for not being able to complete the sequence sounds funny to you, then consider your pants soiled when you pick up a copy of Casa de Mi Padre. If not, don’t even bother trying. This ain’t for you. (Phil Brown)