Saturday, November 17, 2007


2007 Dark Comedy
STARRING Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni, Luke Wilson, Phillip Baker Hall, Dennis Farina
WRITTEN BYChristopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

A weird experience is it to watch "You Kill Me". No flashy star, no provocative visuals of blood or anything remotely disgusting, no torrid erotic scene, and no true "action". Yet it is one of the more enjoyable and entertaining films I've seen this year.

The dark comedy follows hitman Frank Falencsyk (Sir Ben Kingsley), an enforcer for a low-level mob gang in Buffalo (Yes, Buffallo...I didn't know they had mobsters there either...). When Frank sleeps through a crucial hit because of his bad drinking habit, he has no choice but to go away for a while, and join the AA, ultimately finding himself on a strange journey to redemption.

The comedy of the film doesn't so much provoke belly laughs as it does a certain awe at the clever writing and unusual acting. A drunk hitman attending AA meetings could easily make a film tilt into either tasteless farce or just plain creepy fare. But casting makes the film work on a very special level, one where you actually hope Frank will achieve his goal of sobriety in order to go back to killing people. A level where you're a drawn to the hero's journey for not knowing where he'll actually end up. It takes quite an actor to pull that one off. As for the love interest, never does the straight-faced Tea Leoni display the usual damsel-in-distress syndrome that so many other actresses would have, but instead acts like a genuine and natural new girlfriend, one who takes interest in her man's job and talents. Kudos as well to Luke Wilson, who brings his usual but lovable nice-guy-next-door charisma, and Bill Pullman in a surprisingly nuanced turn for a part normally reserved to character actors such as Christopher Lloyd.

The short running-time is quite perfect to avoid a boring and over-drawn movie, but it still feels like some of the situations and supporting characters could've benefitted a little bit more development. As if the writers were focusding and moving the script along, sacrificing a little research and depth along the way. Still, Sir Ben makes you forget about all that with his incredible reactions to some priceless moments.

You Kill Me is far from the kind of entertainment mass audiences are usually looking for, but it's still surprisingly accessible for such a storyline and characters. It ultimately feels like a David Mammet movie written by Aaron Sorkin, with a more amateurish take. A romantic comedy for GUYS, if you will...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

TV REVIEW: Slings and Arrows - Season 2

2005 Television Comedy
Starring: Paul Gross, Mark McKinney, Stephen Ouimet, Martha Burns, Geraint Wyn Davies, Colm Feore

Created & Written by: Susan Coyne, Mark McKinney

When was the last time a TV show left you in complete sweat and out of breath? One of the many strengths of "Sling & Arrows" is it's short run -6 episodes only- which lets the viewer know that the story IS moving quickly to its climax. And the viewer gets all the more involved in it. helped along by a charismatic cast and insane situations.

The season picks up, quite unconventionally, as the end of the previous one's storyline, where the cast is bidding farewell to its nerve-racking Hamlet. Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) hasn't even stepped out of the theater that he is challenged - 3 times in a few minutes- to face his "black beast" - the cursed "Macbeth". To make things even harder, his former (dead) mentor insists on tagging along, his Prima Donna star turns the cast against him, and only one man is available to direct the festival's other big play- the very misguided Darren Nichols (played to furious hilarity by Don McKellar). If that's not enough, a spot of mismanagement by Richard (Mark McKinney) is quickly bringing the entire festival to an end.

Although much of the core cast remains the same (with a newly famous Rachel McAdams returning to finish her character arc), new additions are brought in to even greater cast perfection. The usually cheesy Geraint Wyn Davies brings such a spot-on malevolence that the inevitable confrontation with Geoffrey would've made William himself proud. Not to mention the criminally underrated Colm Feore (who is, let's be franc, piss-out funny!) and the welcome appearance of Gilbert Blythe himself, Jonathan Crombie.

The producers and writers not only remained bold in casting and themes, they made a point of not dragging their feet in first-season acclaim. The story quickly picks up and moves along in any and every direction, to such a pace that by the fourth episode, one feels taken by Prospero's tempest, looking for a foothold and some breathing space. For it achieved in 6 hours what American networks wouldn't have in 24. So little time, and so many memorable moments and lines that a second viewing will be most welcome - after a bit of rest...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Forced Evolution

Imagine you're back in 1946. The world is emerging from a big twisted mess, and Radio is the only source of constant entertainment around to divert yourself. But no - Radio writers, the people who write your favorite radio soaps, plays and shows in general, are going on strike. You're not financially savvy enough to know why, you just want some entertainment at the end of a long day. Whaddayoudo? Your turn to that new thing, the tube thing. And it's so much fun, you won't even come back to radio when they settle their petty little dispute.

Growing up in the early 80's, outside of town, there wasn't much to do. Go outside and mow the lawn, or watch TV. Shows would offer you original episodes for a few weeks, than go into last season's reruns for 10 or 12 weeks, and then come back to finish off the current one. We didn't mind, there was nothing else. Nintendo was even started yet, much less the Internet.

Cut to 2007. Networks have a new trick up their sleeves - Reality Shows and Hiatus. Your favorite show will run for 6 weeks, then go on hiatus for 12 while being replaced by a bunch of jerk-offs stuck in a house together for everyone to witness their every bitching session. And those shows cost next to nothing to produce. The result is people loosing interest in their favorite show, thus losing interest in television. Why invest yourself in Hiro Nakamura's quest for Surperhumanship for a few episodes every 3 months when you can "Facebook" the night away while downloading your favorite episodes of the hit Japanese cartoon you can't watch on TV? And when you're done with that, there's monsters to wreak havoc on in your newest video game, complete with iPod to listen to at the same time - to provide your very own homemade soundtrack. And hey, have you heard of that new thing they just got out on the market - "books"? That Potter kid really made those popular in a flash!

In their unrelenting efforts to capitalize every penny, American TV networks haven't yet noticed they've already killed the very medium they're trying so adamantly to milk out. What wisdom is there in letting a strike bring the final blow? I'm no economist, but I feel giving them an increase percentage on Internet streaming and DVD rights would probably be nothing compared to seeing Reality programming on every network all the time. Unless it's late at night - infomercials own that slot...

Imagine if some Norman Borlog had been quick enough in 1946 to come up with a scheme to have Radios provide the sound for TV shows. Turn your radio into a whole new experience - combine it to the new medium called television. Instead of letting said novelty evolve by itself and take the whole market away.

The new millennium has let the door wide open for television networks to incorporate the new technologies and mediums, and keep running the table well into the next generation of entertainment. But instead, they let the gaming and mobile industry slowly fuse with the Internet, making the "Boob Tube" more and more obsolete, and quite frankly boring. And that goes for the Motion Picture industry as well - it's not the crappy $150M borefest of a repetitive surperhero movie that caused the deepening of the Box Office slump - it's all "Halo 3"s fault. Well, if it is, maybe someone should take a cue from it...
At the end of the day, the Strike of Doom might be responsible for reverting an entire genreation back to arts & crafts and spending quality time with friends and family. Might not be a bad thing after all...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

TV REVIEW: Slings & Arrows - Season 1

2003 Television Comedy
Starring: Paul Gross, Mark McKinney, Stephen Ouimet, Martha Burns, Rachel McAdams, Luke Kirby
Created & Written by: Susan Coyne, Mark McKinney

The huge, main and irrefutable difference between American sitcoms and British comedy is that the "Brits" limit one aspect of it, in order to blow the roof on others. It usually plays only for 6 to 12 episodes a "series" but defies conventions, blows its nose at profitability, and exudes complete ingenuity of content.

Canadian television often tries to imitate completely one of the two. Slings & Arrows manages the unthinkable feat of bridging the gap. 6 episodes, an unusual "mélange" of laugh-out-loud funny and character-driven drama, and it's just a whole guilty-pleasure load of commercial fun.

Series stars a deliciously exuberant Paul Gross as a washed out stage actor, forced to take over the Shakespearean company of his recently deceased former mentor. His task: mount a festival-closing Hamlet, in less the 5 weeks, with an action-movie star as his lead, no budget, and against corporate hands trying to turn the whole thing into a theme park. Oh! and he just recovered from a much-publicized mental breakdown.
Trying to 'explain' Hamlet is already no small task, but the series succeeds with brilliance in not only exploring the makes of it behind the curtain, complete with jabs at corporate America and stings at Hollywood, but in incorporating the bard's numerous themes and characters into its very fabric. Gross' colorful Geoffrey embodies the Danish Prince, a man in the edge of insanity, stuck with visions of his annoyingly dead father figure. The company's sponsor, and American tough broad, reeks of Lady Mcbeth's evil trickery -and dialogues ("Are you a man" she asks her accomplice and honorable man of a Brutus). The mentor hismelf, before becoming an all-Canadian haunting to his pupil's Hamlet, starts out as King Lear, driven to madness by his "children". And the central play's couple, half of it played by a pre-fame and spot-on Rachel McAdams, brings the Romeo & Juliet theme to sweeter yet compelling levels. The rest of the cast and support players compose many microcosms of unforgettably well written moments of dialogue, courtesy of "Kids in the Hall" graduate Mark McKinney, himself part of the cast.
When all is said and done, "Slings & Arrows" will rival in Television history with high-level gems the likes of "Blackadder" and "Fawlty Towers", all the while remaining truly Canadian in essence, and completely accessible to anyone out for a good time in front of the tube.

DVD REVIEW: Long Way Round

2005 Documentrary
Starring : Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman
Directed by: David Alexanian, Russ Malkin

I was intrigued from the start at Ewan McGregor, major and rightly so movie star, for wanting to undertake something so unglamorous as a round the world trip in bike. And being a big fan of the man, I made a point of checking out the ensuing DVD, expecting a bit of a bore still.

The first two episodes, which concern only the preparations and not the trip himself, left me physically and emotionally drained. The two adventurers, McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman (son of renowned director John Boorman) are human and devoid of hypocrisy or flashiness that it leaves you with nothing but their pure passion and investment in their quest. Such that from the get go I was swept along, and felt quite heavy-hearted when it was all over.

The basic premise of this series is that, as mentioned, McGregor and Boorman make a round-the-world trip on "motorbikes", from London to Russia, then with a quick plane fare pick up in Alaska all the way to New York. A third motorist accompanies them with a camera (a poor lad who confronts the same hardship as the two "heroes"), while a support crew follows in trucks on easier roads. What comes of it is anything but a Bike trip. It is a journey to the end of a man's expectation and understanding of himself and his planet. The things they see, people they meet and obstacles they overcome makes the viewer rediscover life with ever maturing eyes.

The visual quality itself is nothing short of an accomplishment, given the difficulty level of filming from a motorcycle in terrains that would bring any grown man crying on their knees. Breathtaking imagery and editing are equalled only by the most engaging and exciting soundtrack I have ever heard attached to a simple documentary.

Highly recommended to absolutely everyone. It plays not only as a documentary, but as a dramatic comedy as well as reality show. Quick tip for enjoyment - resist the urge to watch it all at once. It really IS draining. And for those who fall for it as much as I did, a second series has just started airing in the UK, called "Long Way Down", about this time a trip to South Africa.

5* out of 5