The Conversation: Cronenberg vs. Mortensen, TIFF Bell Lightbox Jan 13 2014

David Cronenberg doesn’t storyboard. This hit me like a thunderclap at the “In Conversation With…” session at the Lightbox on Monday night, where Cronenberg took the stage with Viggo Mortensen to discuss their three collaborations together - A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method. I think Violence and Method are terrific pictures; I could take or leave Eastern Promises, and Cronenberg generally, except that he’s such a fascinating speaker and writer on his own work. Cronenberg on Cronenberg is essential reading for any filmmaker or film fan - and heavens, he gave as good as he got last Monday night.

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The Toys, 2013

Once a year I look at my favourite toys from the preceding year. When I stopped buying a bunch of toys annually, and kept it to a relative handful (no wait: an actual handful!), this started getting less of a “top ___ list” and more of a “here’s what I did” list. Still, I’ve ranked them in order of awesomeness, because toys are awesome. There’s even a bit of psychological justification below, for those of you shaking your heads and wondering what my mother did wrong.

#1: Hot Toys MMS 188 The Dark Knight Rises Selina Kyle

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It’s kind of a pick-‘ems in the top slots here but I think Catwoman edges out Loki by a nose. (She has a lovely one.) This must be the only instance of rooted hair in my whole collection, which is (admittedly) a bit funky and will probably only become funkier over time. But Selina is blessed by the presence of her fancy eyewear and goggles, which do a good job of keeping those runaway locks clamped down; and the Anne Hathaway sculpt is fucking phenomenal. The only real problem is the price point, which is becoming Hot Toys’ major problem anyway. I think I paid $240 here? For a figure with a single accessory (Bat-pod not included)? That’s way on the high side. For comparison, the identically-equipped Black Widow from Iron Man 2 ran $140, just three years ago.

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Watched: Time After Time

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Another one from the slush pile, Time After Time falls into the “always wanted to watch it” category, not the “recommended by psychiatric professionals” bin. It’s Nicholas Meyer’s first feature film as a writer and a director, so it was always part of the conversation around his credentials to direct Star Trek II; and besides, I find that whole notion fascinating, and always have: that you could direct one or two loosely-connected other projects and be handed a major franchise picture. (A major franchise picture in dire need of bailing out, in Wrath of Khan's case, but whatever.) As premises go, Time After Time's is so goddamned loopy, I find it legitimately adorable. Jack the Ripper steals H.G. Wells' time machine and travels to 1979, and Wells follows. Remake. Remake. Remake.

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Watched: The Stunt Man

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My psychiatrist told me to watch The Stunt Man. That’s not the normal run of things, psychiatry-wise, is it? I don’t think the advice was therapeutic in origin, as we talk about movies fairly regularly (surprise surprise) and spent at least our first four months together articulating every single useful piece of information via a Seinfeld reference. For a somewhat befuddled older gentleman, my psychiatrist’s a fairly cool dude.

It took me a month or two to track down a copy and then I made the mistake of trying to watch the movie with Daniel, who had seen it previously and wanted to revisit. Not that watching movies with Daniel is a bad thing, but we do have a minor history of leaving movie-watching projects half-finished. (We’ve been meaning to get round to Symbiopsychotaxiplasm 2.5 for five years. No luck yet.) In the case of The Stunt Man, we literally left the project half-finished, i.e. we turned the movie off at the 1-hour mark. And then left it for several months. This was, in pretty much every regard, my fault. Prior to watching the movie we’d gone to a horrible, horrible bar and consumed two pitchers of beer in a very short space of time. I’m not much of a drinker. The result is that I slept through half of The Stunt Man's first half (so, a quarter overall) and hallucinated my way through the other half. I spent the next few months plagued with the vague suspicion that Peter O'Toole was following me around on a chair/camera mount with a big propeller over his head. No such luck.

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The Best Films of 2013

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#1: Mud

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#2: Jigoku de naze warui (Why Don’t You Play In Hell?)

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#3: Before Midnight

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#4: Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari

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#5: Stoker

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#6: Gravity

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#7: Only Lovers Left Alive

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#8: The Lone Ranger

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#9: Frances Ha

Watched: Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Crash Reel

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Here we are at the end of all things, or at least, the end of 2013; which, according to your personal definitions, may or may not have been a cursed year. It wasn’t a stellar year for moviegoing - my top 9 drops in a few hours, and I’ll probably ruminate further on the year’s serious failings from a cinematic perspective on both Mamo! and Destroy All Monsters - and sifting through the rubble to find the gems became a chore this year more often than not. Every year, the end-of-year race to close all the loops and catch all the potential listmakers starts to feel more and more like completing a term paper on an all-nighter the day it’s due. 

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The best comics of 2013

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Welp, this year is basically impossible. You know that insane renaissance in TV that has been happening for the last couple of years? I’d argue that 2013 saw it happen in mainstream comics, too. And for that reason among many others, the only way I can accurately award the Best Title this year is to give it a four-way tie:

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Didn’t Watch: Nebraska, Dead Ringers, O Brother Where Art Thou?

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The best thing I did last week was turning off Nebraska, 25 minutes in. I had a pristine moment of clarity: I have not, ever, actually enjoyed an Alexander Payne movie. Why was I watching another one? (Cue half the internet: “Uh, technically, you haven’t seen About Schmidt, and therefore your opinion of Alexander Payne is uninformed.”) A lot of people whose opinions of film I respect had seen the film and passed it with flying colours; and towards the end of any given year, we all (“we all” in this case being the semi-OCD online film community) try to grab as many Top Ten List contenders as we can, to pad out, and give maximum rounding to, our final choices. Top Ten Lists, especially for non-professionals, are basically a pissing match anyway: “I saw, and was aesthetically sensitive enough to value, this!” That’s why we all put at least one defiantly “you’ve probably never even heard of this” movie on our lists, every year. This year, mine’s The Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari. Look it up. I am fucking sensitive, bitch.

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I refuse to call 2013 a bad year

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Within a couple of weeks of its start, a lot of my friends jumped on the “fuck 2013” bandwagon. (Did we hashtag it? I think we hashtagged it.) I get it. 2013 really stuck it in and broke it off, annually speaking. A metric fuckload of really awful shit seemed to happen to just about everyone in my life over the course of the year - and not the usual description of “awful shit.” This was a real fuckaround. I wasn’t immune. I won’t bore you - because frankly, it bores me - but the manageable became unmanageable pretty quickly for me in 2013. You’d think someone had pushed a Big Red Button. (Oh wait: was that me?)

For me, of course, the high points of 2013 were some epic high points, so I’m not really in any substantial place to complain. A lot was lost - a lot was changed - but I found a good portion of real joy, too. I learned tons, because one does; and if I didn’t come out stronger - frankly, I think I’m about as sturdy as a newborn calf right now - then at least I came out. I wrote everything down. Here’s what 2013 taught me:

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The finest man that ever breathed - Rest in Peace, Peter O’Toole

In all my life, Peter O’Toole was my absolute favourite. He claimed this spot sometime in the mid ’90s after it had been vacated by Harrison Ford, who had been my favourite in childhood for obvious reasons, but had not, tacitly, done anything for me lately. O’Toole had not done anything for me lately either, relatively speaking, except that he had gone on Letterman a fair few times after Dave moved to CBS, and I drank it up like water.

O’Toole came into my life in the best possible manner, i.e. as Zaltar in the 1984 feature film adaptation of Supergirl. “Yes… you… can!” O’Toole barked, pushing teen Kryptonian Helen Slater up a mountain of volcanic ash in the Phantom Zone, towards a gaping white hole that lead… somewhere. This, as I wouldn’t understand until most of my life later, was O’Toole in micro: the available energy of a gathering hurricane, adrift in the languid sea of lesser copies of earlier greatness. More to the point, O’Toole played Zaltar - O’Toole doing Alec Guinness doing Takashi Shimura - as a wonderful lush. “Squirt?” Zaltar asks of Kara when she finds his wretched hovel in the Phantom Zone, before jizzing a Chloroseptic spray-bottle down his own throat, apparently the Zone’s only available mood-enhancer. In his tatty smock and late-’70s hair, we nearly expect him next to ask Kara if she parties, before indicating the divan behind him.

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