Stuff That’s Streaming: Pi & Following

PI (π)


Today’s ‘Stuff That’s Streaming’ is all about first films. There are two directors whose work I’ve loved for the past decade, and have done some truly incredible films, the first of which is Darren Aronofsky. My introduction to him was Requiem For A Dream, as I’m sure it was for many of my generation. I caught that my freshman year of college and was enamored with the intensity of the film.  He created this brutal experience that the viewer is with every step of the way. It’s one of the few that I count among my all time favourites, yet have very little desire to ever watch again (though it has been quite a few years, so I may refresh myself).  Since then, he’s put out consistently quality flicks, even The Fountain, which I really liked, even if it was a bit muddled, but it was his next two that really got the glory. Both The Wrestler and Black Swan are similar to Requiem, in that they are brutal experiences for the film, but underneath is a fascinating story being told.

I came to his first film, Pi, during my first membership to Netflix, back when it was just DVDs in the mail. You definitely see the seed from whence his style came. He really dives into the paranoia of mathematician Max Cohen, which you would later see with Sara Goldfarb in Requiem (a role for which Ellen Burstyn garnered an Oscar nomination) and Nina Sayers in Black Swan (which Natalie Portman won the Oscar for). It’s fun to go back to his first work to see where it all came from. It’s the string that ties Requiem, Wrestler and Black Swan all together, and you can see how they could all be made by the same person. All of his features are worth at least one viewing in your lifetime, and I can’t wait for 2014’s Noah, his take on the Noah’s Ark myth currently set to star Russel Crowe. But see where it all came from… definitely see Pi.

You can watch Pi on Netflix here.



The other director is the great Christopher Nolan. Nolan of course is now the well-known director of Inception, the current Batman trilogy which wraps up in July with The Dark Knight Rises, The Prestige, and his breakout film, Memento. He’s achieved the nigh impossible: critical and commercial success, essentially being a one-man, live-action version of Pixar. His partnership with Warner Brothers on the Batman franchise has given the opportunity to make the films he’s wanted (when he’s not doing Batman, though he has quite a bit of creative freedom) in The Prestige and Inception, and bring them to a large audience. He’s such an engaging story-teller because the beginning, middle and end aren’t his style. All of that is there, he just leads you through it in a brilliantly amazing way, and there’s always a big AHA! moment at the end for the viewer, without the feeling of being lied to or tricked that other directors (looking at you, Shyamalan) haven’t mastered.

And it all started with 1998’s Following. The way Nolan’s films unfold all go back to his non-linear, made for $6,000 on weekends over the course of a year, debut. The way he draws the protagonist from the comforts of unfulfilled potential into the slightly dangerous world of B&E and burglary. But even if you’ve only seen just one Nolan film, not even one of the Batmans, you’ll know that it’s just not that simple. I love the way his films crescendo and hit you with that “HOLY SHIT!” moment. He’s one of the more exciting directors, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store post-Dark Knight.

Before you head to the cinemas to see The Dark Knight Rises in July, catch Following on Netflix here.

Top 10 Films of 2010

These were the films that struck a cord with me in 2010, that I enjoyed for various reasons. Before the list, some Honourable Mentions, just missing the top 10: The Losers,  Tron: Legacy, Easy A, How To Train Your Dragon, The Crazies, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows prt 1, Iron Man 2, Catfish, The A-Team, Tangled

10- The Town (Directed by Ben Affleck; Starring Ben Affleck, John Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall) Even after Gone Baby Gone, I wouldn’t have pegged Affleck as a director who could deliver. But here we are. He’s 2 for 2. He was able to get some great performances out of some terrific actors, and he even elevated his game in front of the camera. We get a tight thriller that excites every step of the way, and pushes Jon Hamm more and more into super stardom.

9- Black Swan (Directed by Darren Aronofsky; Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel) One thing that can be said about Aronofsky’s films is that they are an experience. And he comes off his gut wrenching look at professional wrestling by taking  a look at the New York Ballet scene, and how the drive to be the best can drive one mad. We experience the descent Portman’s Nina goes through, in her best performance to date.

8- The Fighter (Directed by David O. Russell; Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams) Say what you will about Russell, his films tend to be love or hate, but this one is hard to hate. His last pairing with Wahlberg produced Marky Mark’s best performance, add in the drama of a boxing story (which I’m a sucker for) and the almost always great Bale and Adams, it’s a winner.

7- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Directed by Edgar Wright; Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and  Chris Evans) It was easy to miss and dismiss this film as being too esoteric, too targeted, too Michael Cera being Michael Cera (again). But what you missed with this film is one of the most strikingly original romantic comedies, and for once, Cera playing his type works in the film’s favour, as it contrasts with his adversaries. Wright consistently delivers some of the most finely crafted films, even if they are genre films.

6- True Grit (Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen; Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Brolin) My approach to this film is how I approach most remakes. If they bring something new to the table, or can stand on their own merits, then there’s nothing wrong with them. The Coen brothers bringing their dark humour and bleak sensibilities to the classic (which is actually a readaptation of a book, rather then a remake of a film) western, and Bridges continues with a late career resurgence in both quality and popularity.  Of particular note, young Hailee Steinfeld, with the gravitas and talent not normally seen in someone so young, and holding her own against the likes of Bridges, Damon and Brolin.

5- Let Me In (Directed by Matt Reeves; Starring Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Richard Jenkins) Like True Grit, Let Me In is less of a remake (of the 2008 Swedish film Let The Right One In) and more of a readaptation of the original novel, and it loses none of the haunting beauty of the original. It’s a disservice to compare the two, as both are fascinating. The two children, who were both about 13 when the film was being made, carry the film, and handle the roles better than some actors with twice the age and experience.  Reeves is an emerging voice in genre cinema, and made an indelible impression.

4- Toy Story 3 (Directed by Lee Unkrich; Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack) Pixar has been on a 15 year hot streak since the first Toy Story in 95, and I’m not ashamed to say that this brought a tear to my eye (several tears, actually). Pixar never compromises story for spectacle, one thing other animation houses (including Pixar parent, Disney) have struggled with. But they are first and foremost storytellers, and give the fans who grew up with Woody, Buzz & crew a great final, closing chapter.

3- Kick Ass (Directed by Matthew Vaughn; Starring Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Mark Strong) The superhero genre reached critical mass and market saturation with the powerhouse of The Dark Knight and Marvel Studio’s ambitions Avengers plan, but 2010 belonged to a nerdy guy who just wanted to do good. Not since Edgar Wright’s Hott Fuzz has a film so thoroughly skewered the conventions of the genre, yet lived entirely within the confines of the conventions. Moretz delivers her first great performance of the year, and coupled with Let Me In, she should be a lock come Oscar time, and I’m looking forward to more from her for years to come.

2- The Social Network (Directed by David Fincher; Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer and Justin Timberlake) Fincher works from a script by the great Aaron Sorkin, a story that they both acknowledge is both a fictionalized and sensationalized account of mostly true events, but sometimes what actually happened needs to be jazzed up a bit. Eisenberg is the best emerging talent, breaking through in 09, and hitting his stride in ’10 to bring excitement and energy to Zuckerberg and the start of Facebook.

1- Inception (Directed by Christopher Nolan; Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy) I’ve seen critiques of this go both ways, but in earnest, Nolan does the near impossible: Combines the spectacle to to appease mainstream audiences, but he actually has a complex plot, interesting characters, and compelling dialog. I’ve been following Nolan for 10 years, and he’s a filmmaker who will consistently deliver. And the cast, what a phenomenal ensemble cast he put together, especially the always pleasing Cotillard.

Not on the list because I have yet to see them:

127 Hours, The King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Waiting for Superman

112 Movies in 1 Year

In 2010, I broke my personal record for most films seen in theatres in a single calendar year. The final count came to 112. I assembled a video, my first video, to represent the films I saw. Here it is, in the order in which I saw them

Leap Year, Up in the Air, Youth In Revolt, Daybreakers, The Book of Eli, The Lovely Bones, Nine, Legion, The Tooth Fairy, Edge of Darkness, When in Rome, An Education, Dear John, From Paris with Love, The Wolfman, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Valentine’s Day, Shutter Island, Cop Out, The Crazies, Alice In Wonderland, Crazy Heart, Brooklyn’s Finest, Green Zone, She’s Out of My League, Bounty Hunter, Repo Men, How To Train Your Dragon, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Last Song, Clash of the Titans, Date Night, Kick Ass, Death at a Funeral, The Back Up Plan, The Losers, Furry Vengeance, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Iron Man 2, Letters to Juliet, Robin Hood, Shrek Forever After, MacGruber, Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Get Him to the Greek, Splice, The Karate Kid, The A-Team, Toy Story 3, Jonah Hex, Knight & Day, Grown Ups, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Last Airbender, Predators, Despicable Me, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Inception, Salt, Ramona & Beezus, Charlie St. Cloud, Dinner for Schmucks, The Other Guys, Step Up 3D, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Eat Pray Love, The Expendables, The Switch, Piranha 3D, Takers, The Last Exorcism, The American, Machete, Going the Distance, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Easy A, The Town, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, You Again, The Social Network, My Soul To Take, Secretariat, Life As We Know It, Jackass 3D, Red, Hereafter, Catfish, Paranormal Activity 2, Saw 3D, Megamind, Due Date, Unstoppable, Skyline, Morning Glory, The Next Three Days, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows prt 1, Tangled, Love and Other Drugs, Faster, Burlesque, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Tourist, Tron: Legacy, The Fighter, How Do You Know, True Grit, Black Swan, Little Fockers, Gulliver’s Travels.

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