Friday, December 31, 2010
The film is, of course, well made and well acted (although certainly not to any degree of justified awards recognition) and yet it's always either too lazy or far too simple-minded to get to the real heart of the story. This isn't so much the story of a black man who is given an amazing chance; it's the story of the white family who gives it to him. It's sad that, at what was then the beginning of 2010, Hollywood still can't tell a deeply felt, intelligent black story without the assistance of a white character to push things along.
Let's put it in context: would this film have been so easily made and widely distributed if it's hero Michael Oher was taken in by a black family? Would anyone care about the story if he was a white man in the same circumstances? The film never quite establishes (maybe it never quite figures out) whether we should cheer on Michael's success as a football player or pat the Touhy family on the back for doing such a good job by letting this man into their life. There's a scene in which Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) shows Michael to his new bedroom and he says he's never had one before. His own bedroom, she asks? "A bed" is his response. Then the film sneaks in one extra shot as Leigh Anne goes into her room and sits down for a brief second to contemplate this. The scene becomes less about the inherent sadness of this statement and more about how wonderful this woman is for giving this man a place to stay.
But what would happen, realistically, if Michael, not an idiot, but none too good at school when he is taken in, had sparked romance with the Touhy's teenage daughter Collins? Would they have allowed a romance to blossom? Would they have given their daughter away willing for marriage to this large black man? One suspects that the simplified, Leave it to Beaver, rich white existence that the family leads isn't as simple as this film plays it out as (is it ever?). George Orwell, as the legend goes, may have ridden the train car with the lowly proletariat, but drink of their water bottle he would not.
But now I've gotten out of context and diverted away from the fact that, outside of any social reservations, The Blind Side just isn't any good as serious drama. Like it's hero it's too wide-eyed and cutesy, like a love sick puppy, to ever offer up the serious payoffs that such material sound naturally gravitate towards. When Michael plays his first football game the team starts off by getting pounded by their rivals. When Michael finally comes to he drives his mouthy white opponent all the way to the end of the field and pushes him over the barricade. Where was he going asks the coach. "To the Bus," Michael replies. "That guy had to go." They both share a big smile. Aho ho, what a card. God bless white southern affluence.
And then there's the son, SJ, played by Jae Head, a kid too precious for his own good, who is blond, has a face full of freckles, crooked kid teeth and can call upon funny faces whenever the script requires it. After a serious car accident involving Michael and the kid, Leigh Anne rushes to the scene, finds Michael on the curb, head clutched in regret. She spots the stretcher and sees blood stains on the kid's clothes until the camera shows SJ looking up and joking about whether the blood stains will come out of his clothes. Good thing too, director John Lee Hancock almost let a serious emotion creep into the film.
And then it ends with a voice-over from Sandra Bullock who tells of a newspaper report of a black kid who was killed on his 21st birthday due to gang violence. All the papers focused on how good an athlete he was and how much potential he would have had if he had just gotten out. "That could have been anyone," says Bullock. "Even my son Michael." Yes it could have. Unfortunately not every black kid in the South has a rich white family to take them in and pay for all their dreams to come true. And I'd bet my last dollar that we'll never get a movie about that other kid.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
And then summer hit and for three straight months while University was still a distant concern, I played catch up. I had a girlfriend at the time who would tape me movies off of TMN (Canada's answer to HBO) which she had and I did not and so I juggled watching those while renting everything else to fill in the gaps. I also made a promise to myself that summer that I would rent everything new that came out on DVD that week as opposed to just the ones I had wanted to see as was standard procedure up until then. The greatest fear of any movie fanatic is to be asked questions about new movies and not having seen a one of them. I never wanted to be in that situation again.
Getting back on track, I finally decided that one of those films that had been taped for me and that I had watched was Basic. The thing was: I didn't remember a single thing about the movie. I'm generally pretty good in terms of long term memory and can usually walk away with something to remember almost every movie by even though I watch between 400 and 500 each year for the first time. However, nothing could bring back any memory of Basic. I knew it had John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and was directed by McTiernan and I remember seeing ads for it on TV and especially an image of a darkened Jackson looming in a doorway (am I making this up?) and that I hated it, but what the movie was about, what happened and how everything was revolved in the end eluded me entirely.
There's been other movies since that I have mostly forgotten, which led me to ponder, just like if a tree falls in the forest for no one to hear, if you don't remember anything about a movie, have you actually seen it? Consuming so many movies, surely not all of them will be remembered, some rightfully so while others maybe not, and if a movie doesn't leave a lasting impression is that not more it's fault than ours? Of course, as is the case with the scenario above, sometimes I watch movies just to catch up, to say I've seen them and to increase my filmic vocabulary as much as possible. Maybe it all stems from that one fateful year where I decieded that, whenever someone asks about about a movie, no matter how great or insipid, I want to be able to say I have seen it.
But here's the problem, and the question I pose to everyone for debate (I haven't done one if these in far too long): should I have even wasted my time with Basic? Sure, I've seen it, and in the unlikely event that anyone ever brings it up, I'll be able to say "Oh yeah, I saw that a long time ago," but have I really gained anything other than to know that the movie was bad? It seems all I have is a blackout in my memory. It gets me one step closer to having seen McTiernan's entire body of work (and if nothing else I am a film history buff and therefore a director completest by association) but now I've given two hours of my life to a film that could have been spent with a better one; one I will remember. But then again, if I didn't see it, how would I know I'd one day forget it completely?
So what do you think. Is film completeism healthy or should we only base our time on consuming movies that appeal to us (I certainly had no interest is seeing Basic other than that I felt I should just to have seen it)? What do you do in situations like this? Are you the same way as me or do you think all this is insanity and a waste of time? Let me know.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The story of
: A princess is turned into a swan. True love is the only thing that can break the curse but her love is tricked and falls instead for her evil twin the Black Swan. The princess, who cannot live with the curse and cannot live without love frees herself through death. In a sense, this is the story that director Daron Aronofsky has been working his entire career towards telling. The film may revolve around the trails of a ballerina but Black Swan is no more about ballet than Requiem for a Dream was about drug abuse: it’s about a character chasing an impossible dream outside of their human grasp. That’s what all of Aronofsky’s films have been about. Swan Lake
One of Aronofsky’s great attributes is that he isn’t afraid to follow his characters unapologetically into their own oblivion and thus Black Swan isn’t so much a film as a memorizing thought piece constructed of ideas, fears, hopes and despair that doesn’t so much tell a story as ram headfirst right through a character’s psychological state as it dissipates under mounting pressure. Rarely has self-destruction been so hauntingly beautiful.
Natalie Portman stars as Nina, the naive, precious ballerina who lives with her overbearing mother (Barbara Hersey) who gave up her own career and now lives vicariously through her daughter. Nina, having dedicated herself entirely to the perfection of her art, wants nothing more than to be cast in Thomas Leroy’s (Vincent Cassel) newest rendition of
. Leroy, a fierce, sexual, genius, knows that Nina can play the White Swan, but believes her to be too rigid in her perfection to play the Black Swan, who’s technique needs to be lose and seductive. Swan Lake
The toying Leroy, maybe out of French masochism and maybe because he sees a buried sexual frustration, casts Nina in the part regardless. She is thrilled but practice is torture as she can’t quite nail the part. She is too frigid, too pristine and too desexualized for the Black Swan. Also along to torment her is the new girl Lily (Mila Kunis) who isn’t half the dancer that Nina is but is promiscuous and dangerous and has the dark allure of the Black Swan, a temptress driving Nina slowly towards the brink. There is also Beth (Winona Ryder), Leroy’s former star who has now been forced into retirement and is hospitalized after a (intentional?) car accident as well as Nina’s mother who shelters the girl like a child, keeps her away from all other outside pressure (sex, drugs, life) and gruelingly pushes her towards the perfection she never achieved.
Slowly all of the outside pressures begin to eat away at Nina, destroying her sanity as Leroy abusing her, molesting her, degrading her in order to bring out her inner Black Swam, pushes her, along with Lily, towards discovering her dark side. She is consumed by fear and hatred and sex and even murder as she begins having hallucinations of her being transformed into the Black Swan.
On the surface Black Swan appears to be about the way an artist’s ego will slowly lead them into oblivion as they strive to find perfection and meaning in their art. That was, in a very different way, more or less what Aronofsky’s The Wrestler was about as well. However, by conveying Black Swan’s plot and by trapping it into a defined thematic explanation is to subvert away from the hectic, driving, narrative free fall that the film is. Like Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan is more experience than story (this is filmmaking as state-of-mind at its most forceful and, at times, unbearably painful), and is thus more a meditation of how we are slowly driven insane by reaching desperately to achieve the things that are least important in life: fame, money, recognition, perfection ect.
Aronofsky, throughout his career, has always chosen the perfect mediums from which to explore these concepts: math, drugs, cancer, professional wrestling and now ballet: all areas that place value on superficial endeavours and distract from life's essentials: love, friendship, happiness. These are the arts of self-destruction. He makes films about people who are exposed to a plane of their existence that is foreign to them, sending them spiralling into an obsessive state until they have cut themselves off from anything that could provide them solace.
What Nina finds is that to split a personality down and limit it to the influence of either black (Leroy and Lily) or white (her mother) is to create a weak emotional state in which, when one is introduced over top of the other, it will ultimately consume and destroy it’s counterpart. In Black Swan, Nina is ultimately on a quest to find perfection at any cost just to discover that perfection can only be achieved through a sacrifice more grand than anyone should normally be willing to make: a complete and utter sacrifice of the self.
And so Black Swan cannot simply be spoken about in terms of aesthetics, technique, acting, writing: the general pieces that comprise a film, which I have not done here, because it is more than film. It is emotion, expression, ideology and, above all else it is violent, unapologetic rapture. This is one of the year’s best films.
An now a related Celerity Connection:
Could Natalie Portman really be Dakota Fanning in Disguise?
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a hotshot youngster. He’s the son of affluent parents, has a rich entrepreneur brother, and is an expert salesman, selling cheap knockoff electronics where he divides his time between getting commission and getting the manager’s girl in the back room. Out of work he decides to pursue a career in the only entry level job in America that pays over 100K in the first year: the sale of pharmaceutical drugs.
It seems like a perfect fit for Jamie so he’s shipped off to Ohio to prove himself. The key is to go in to the doctor’s office, woo the receptionists and nurses, get your drug samples on the back shelf and charm the doctor into prescribing your Zoloft instead of the competition’s Prozac. If you’re good you attain the dream of getting shipped off to sell in Chicago.
Then, pretending to be an intern at one of the offices, he meets Maggie who has all kinds of problems, which right now includes a weird mark on her chest. She’s the kind of girl who’s young, too smart, too beautiful, talks like a second rate Woody Allen movie and has the first stage of Parkinson’s. Too bad for her. Too bad for the movie too. She’s mad after she exposes herself in the examination room only to find out he’s a drug rep not an intern. He asks her out. She rejects. He charms the nurse into her number and she accepts. A word of advice to all movie characters: if you meet a girl on a first date in a coffee shop that plays Dylan in the background, she’s probably got baggage. This leads to a scene in which she psychoanalyzes him to his face as if she knows every trick is his con book. But so do we, trapping Hathaway in a scene that talks like it's smart but walks like it's just treading water.
She doesn’t want a relationship because she’s, of all coincidences, already had her heart broken by another drug rep who just so happens to be Jamie’s biggest competition. Sure. He’s also emotionally reclusive because to him girls are sex not love. So they have sex, which works for both of them, many times, until Jamie decides he loves her and she decides, against her better judgement to reciprocate. This changes the movie from light comedy to romance until she visits a Parkinson’s rally and realizes there are others just like her. This is around the same time that he realizes the worst is yet to come and if he ever wants to make Chicago (a strong likelihood after he gets the chance to start selling Viagra) he’ll need to ditch her or cure her, and the movie switches hats again into melodrama.
I’m pretty sure, if you know anything about the politics of screenwriting, despite all the shifts in tone, you can tell exactly what twist the story will take before arriving at its inevitable conclusion. What you may not anticipate is a pre-third act breather in which Jamie and his recently kicked out of the house brother, transported in from another movie altogether, are invited to a pyjama party by Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) and his oversized libido. The one demand: they bring the Viagra samples.
Of all the sidetracks Love and Other Drugs takes this one is the worst. For a movie that feels long at two hours, a midway pajama party that ends in the hospital after a Viagra side effect takes hold, kills the tone, changes the mood to slapstick before materializing back into sap and achieves really nothing of any narrative significance. Did Zwick, a considerable talent, hold the scene so close to his heart that he simply threw it up in the air to see where it would land? There always seems to be at least one bad scene in even the best Zwick movies. He outdid himself this time.
That’s basically the entire movie, which runs back and forth and up and down the emotional spectrum until it arrives at it's end having achieved nothing much except filling 2 hours. A movie about a drug salesman could be good. So could one about a girl in the beginning stages of an incurable disease and sure enough both Gyllanhaal and Hathaway make a likable pair. They are cute and funny and believable together and left to swim on their own in an open sea of muted comedy and tired melodrama. There's nothing to prescribe that could have cured a movie like this, but like most prescription drugs that need sales reps, another round of rewrites and one more trip through the editing room may have eased the pain a little.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Frank (Denzel Washington) is the old railway man who’s just been served his walking papers. As irony would have it, they come to him the same day that he is partnered up with some new kid Will (Chris Pine) who got the job, not because of his proven skill but because he is young, willing to take the pay and is related to the man who signs the cheques.
Will will be the conductor as the duo make their transport across Pennsylvania; those idyllic PA Mountains providing much of the film’s naturalistic backdrop. Meanwhile, at another yard, a train is sent off on it’s own after two morons, lazily break code in order to make their lives a little easier as one decides to jump out of his moving train to hit a railroad switch and sees the train drive off without him. Everything should be fine in theory, for the automatic brake should kick in, but of course, genius didn’t set the brake properly and the empty train barrels down the tracks at high speeds towards Stanton, and possibly the biggest disaster in PA history.
The advice of the station master (Rosario Dawson, providing so much presence from so little character) is to derail the train which, to add insult to injury, just so happens to be carrying highly toxic and explosive chemicals. There is a large patch of open country before the train hits endless civilization in which to derail the beast but the brass don’t quite take to the idea of wrecking millions of dollars of equipment. Their plan instead is to have a senior railroad man come up from the front and slam on the breaks while a marine is brought in by helicopter to drop down, climb inside and hit the breaks. It doesn’t work out much like that.
So the train barrels on towards catastrophe, destroying everything that is intentionally and unintentionally put in it’s path until Frank, with nothing to lose, decides that he and Will will chase the runaway backwards, catch it, hook it on to their breaks and save the day.
All of this is done with shameless glee by director Tony Scott, who, as with his past indulgences into excess, throws every trick in the book into the mix and then throws in the whole book as well. His camera spins and twirls and goes under the train and over the train and flies around the train with what seem like 100s of cuts per second. And yet unlike films like Man on Fire or Domino, here Scott feels like he has found a home for his aesthetic eccentricities. As the train barrels forward and his heroes barrel backwards after it, Scott manages to create real, clutching the hand-rails kind of white knuckle suspense. There is real danger here. Lives could be lost with one false move. Scott, by keeping thing hectic, never lets up on bringing that unnerving reality home.
Maybe that's because Will and Frank look like real heroes who are chasing a real train that is really out of control. If there are computer assisted effects at work here they are none that can be easily spotted by the naked eye. Thus all of the action feels plausible and for an hour and a half Tony Scott lets us know exactly what it might feel like to be in the midst of sudden death at top speeds. It’s an exhilarating ride. The film doesn’t pack the procedural punch of Paul Greengrass’ United 93 or The Bourne Ultimatum but he still manages to laugh in the face of big, dumb, artificial action movies and gives these kids a taste of how it’s really done.
Unstoppable doesn’t reinvent any wheels, doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before even, but it does it so well that it hardly even seems to matter proving that, sometimes it’s not about breaking the trails, but knowing the old ones better than anyone else.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Maybe that's, on an intellectual level, one of The Promise's biggest flaws. The Darkness on the Edge of Town was one of Bruce Springstreen's greatest albums, which, by turns, means it was one of Rock's greatest albums. It's making is the stuff of legend: Springsteen rises to superstar status off the back of his breakthrough album Born to Run, struggles with the concept of being something (an icon) that he doesn't want to be, is embroiled in a legal battle with his manager that keeps him out of the studio for 3 years as fans anxiously wait to see what this boy wonder will cook up next, and so on.
The Promise however, composed of old black and white studio footage as well as current interviews from The Boss himself and his E Street Band members, only proves to make everything about that seminal album (so lean and stripped down compared to its predecessor) seem terribly normal: a bunch of guys in the studio jamming, recording, writing. How could a period of such mundane routine produce such a profound work? Maybe it's a question the film should have left well enough alone.
What's most interesting is Springsteen himself, who, unlike his image as being the working man's rock star, is quite and awkward and introspective; sometimes to the point of being pretentious. He rarely every looks towards the camera, preferring to divert his gaze to the floor more often than not, and is quite, self-reflective and serious. Even on the moments when he cracks a smile or emits a laugh it seems to be one of insecurity and doubt as if he's still the awkward kid who never quite got around to realizing he's one of America's most valuable songwriters.
The film itself, aesthetically speaking, is no more than a feature length bonus feature that record labels used to throw in on special edition albums when record sales were in a freefall. You can't fault the film entirely: someone as mythic and legendary as Springsteen could never be done justice, but you get to wishing that if it was only going to go halfway that it wouldn't have gone at all.
PS - Could Darkness producer John Landau actually just be Steven Soderberg in disguise? You decide.
Monday, November 8, 2010
In fact, Legion is the best kind of bad. Sure, it's garbage, but so is Troll 2 and I'd never warn anyone away from that title. Yes, Legion exists in that special realm of serious films that approach stupid with a straight face and don't even seem to know it. It's the kind of film that doesn't have a brain in it's head but still thinks it's good anyway. Under some sort of strange reverse logic, this may actually make the movie, I don't know, kind of good? It's certainly more interesting that those big, bland, polished, empty-headed turds. Did I mention the ice-cream man?
Why the human race is being infected by angels, which essentially make them into vampire zombies, is never quite explained. Neither is why everyone in the world seems to become possessed except the handful of characters who stay stranded in some diner in the middle of nowhere. Among them is Tyrese Gibson who approaches his zingers with the ferocity of stand-up comedy. How about this nugget after a strange old woman swears up and down, bites a man in the neck and crawls up a wall and across the ceiling: Dennis Quaid can't believe that the woman wasn't killed by the frying pan he knocked her over the head with. Tyrese: "I don't give a f**k how long she been dead - the bitch just walked on the ceiling. She ain't staying in here." What about this one: when asked about the swarm of flies that mysteriously appears, "How am I supposed to know? You're asking me to explain the behavior of a muthaf**kin' pestilence?" Let's not even talk about the man hung upside down from a cross who explodes into a ball of toxic slime. What happened to his guts? Nevermind.
So yes, the movie is stupid, but it's that special kind of stupid that makes you grab your forehead in disbelief that such amateurism could exist in such sophisticated times. Oh yes, and Paul Bettany is an angel who comes to Earth to protect a child who could, for reasons known to no one but him, end the world, two guns at a time. Bettany will also star in director Scott Charles Stewart's next movie Priest as well. It's about a priest who disobeys the church in order to track down the vampires who kidnapped his niece. So there you go.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
The film follows three people whose lives are all affected in some way by death. The first is TV newswoman Marie (Cecile de France) who, while vacationing is caught in a tsunami. By the time she washes up on dry land she is assumed dead but jolts back to life after experiencing a blurry vision of shadowed figures shrouded in bright light. The experience leaves her distracted and having visions of a possible afterlife. Her producer/lover tells her to take a break from work and write the book she’s always wanted to. However, so changed is she that her writing and research begins jeering toward exploring the possibilities of an afterlife.
The second is Marcus (played by twin brothers George and Frankie McLaren) who is taken away from his drug addled mother after the accidental death of his twin brother Jason. Put in foster care and seeking some kind of understanding on why his brother, the leader of the two, needed to die, Marcus travels from psychic to psychic, only to be handed cheap entertainment value and no real answers.
The final is George (Matt Damon), a man who, as a child, had a crippling disease which required surgery that left him dead for several moments on the operating table. After his recovery he was plagued by visions of the dead. He was diagnosed as partially schizophrenic and put on pills, which made the visions go away along with just about everything else as well. His brother Billy (Jay Mohr) makes him into a famous psychic until George cannot take it any more, gets a job as a labourer and starts taking cooking classes. Despite Billy’s belief that George should use his gift to help people, a life focused entirely on death is not a life at all to George who believes himself to be cursed by this burden that restricts him from forming any normal, meaningful relationships in his life.
It is then only natural that these three stories will all converge in one way or another. But this isn’t a film driven by plot gimmicks or convenient red herrings. Instead Eastwood and his writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) play it straight, weaving a subtle tapestry that looks at death honestly and thoughtfully. This isn’t a film about spirits or hauntings, it’s a subtle human drama about how death shapes our perceptions of life as Eastwood gently builds up questions about whether or not the afterlife even exists. Is everything a product of chance or fate? Does the ability to communicate with the dead provide proof of Heaven or God or is such an ability just a condition of the mind to begin with?
What is most remarkable about Hereafter is then the subtly and yet depth with which Eastwood approaches his material: never resorting to pseudo-philosophy or providing answers to eternally unanswerable questions.
Many people will be turned off by this. The human mind has a natural reflex to instantly fill in the blanks and find artistic meaning in everything. “But what’s the movie about,” many will shout. It’s about one scene. I’ll describe it for you. Despite the fact that, because the movie has no twist or deep mystery to discover, this description hardly constitutes giving away anything important, I’ll still throw out a spoiler alert for those who have not seen the film.
The scene takes place between George and Marcus. George has reluctantly agreed to give the kid a reading in order to contact his brother. George acts as the medium but after a while loses the signal. “Where did he go?” The kid demands. “I don’t know,” replies George.
It’s one of those brilliant Clint Eastwood scenes, so subtle that they could be mistaken for nothing and yet are still the heart of the film, concealing such dramatic revelation, in which the faces of two characters, both half obscured by darkness, are intercut. They are physically divided and yet symbolically singled, sharing, for one moment, a common metaphysical bond.
And that’s it, the truth of all three characters: “I don’t know.” That is, after all, to paraphrase Socrates, all we every really know about anything anyway.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
That’s about what Craig (Keir Gilcrist) learns after checking himself into the psychiatric ward of a New York hospital. Craig is 16 and feeling depressed and suicidal. His mom (Laruen Graham) tries her best but is a little too fragile, his father (Jim Gaffigan) is a business man who wants Craig to get into a great school and follow in his footsteps and his kid sister is some kind of child genius.
Craig dreams of jumping off a bridge but instead of heading to one goes to the hospital where he begs the emergency room doctor to admit him to the psyche ward. There, he quickly realizes that, amidst the schizophrenics and the rest of the lot, maybe he doesn’t quite belong there and begs the heavy-handedly named Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis) to let him out because he’s got school, friends, and other stuff to do. She tells him he will be released after five days of observation.
Inside he meets Bob (Zack Galifianakis taking an effectively tender turn into drama) who seems relatively normal, doesn’t talk about why he is in the hospital and shows the kid around, introducing him to the rest of the gang and stealing scrubs for them so that they can go out and play basketball. Along the way he also takes a shining to Noelle (Emma Roberts) who hides scars underneath the sleeves of that Stooges T-shirt, but of course, when you’re sixteen, any girl wearing a Stooges T-shirt, no matter where you meet her, must be some kind of keeper.
As all of this progresses, while sitting in on group sessions and doing different workshops, Craig has his spirit awoken as he discovers himself to be an interesting artist and becomes the hero of a sing-along night. What’s depression when you’re 16, advises Bob in a scene where Galifianakis ceases to be a goofball and is reborn as a valuable dramatic actor. What he wouldn’t give to be young and depressed.
If all this sounds a little too cute and routine it isn't. It’s Kind of a Funny Story was written and directed by duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden who by now can be considered two of America’s leading young filmmakers. As with their Half Nelson and Sugar before, It’s Kind of a Funny Story takes a plot that sounds conventional and adds width and depth to it to reveal genuine human emotion. There’s no definite narrative course in Fleck and Boden’s films. Instead what we get are characters who are thrown into life’s shuffle and must make decisions and come to realizations on how they will take what has been given to them and make choices on how to deal with it. There are no happy endings in these films, only the realization by sad, beaten down characters that, yeah, life can suck, but it can also be good. What are you going to do about it?
As such, It’s Kind of a Funny Story works its way, not towards an ending, but to a truth about happiness and sadness and life and death and any other one of life’s cosmic poles. It doesn’t, as so many Hollywood movies tend to do, pat us on the head and reassure us that everything is going to work out okay. It instead knows that, no matter how bad things can get, there is always solace to be found in that slice of pizza, in that cute girl’s smile or those Bob Dylan lyrics that, when we hear them, can change our lives for a second or two. Whether or not we want to realize it is another matter altogether. It's the heart of this film.
And then, above all, It’s Kind of a Funny Story never falls into the pit of becoming a comedy about mental illness. The film has been advertised as a comedy but it really isn’t. There are moments that are indeed funny, but that’s because people sometimes do or say funny things. And the psychiatric ward setting isn’t so much about making fun of mental illness as it is a stage for Fleck and Boden’s life contradictions to work themselves out. It’s a place where people both find themselves and lose themselves. With that, It’s Kind of a Funny Story has the perfect title because it’s also kind of a sad story, kind of a happy story, kind of an uplifting story and kind of a heartbreaking story. All of the most meaningful stories are.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Speaking of the Criterion Collection is like speaking of God or royalty to the purest of movie aficionados. So sacred and important is the Criterion Collection line of laser discs, DVDs and Blu-Rays that, many months ago, when I suggested that Oliver Assayas' Summer Hours was an odd choice for Criterion to release seeing as it was a minor film, one Sam Juliano got red in the face, threw personal attacks and made an overall ass of himself. Thus is Criterion.
But, as one Tony Dayoub enlightened me, titles like Summer Hours, Everlasting Moments, A Christmas Tale, Gomorrah and Che (none of which I personally think really needed Criterion treatment) were all the product of a joint venture between the company and IFC to release their films. My problem at the time with Summer Hours was not really with the quality of the film but that, with the price tag of a Criterion DVD, at 30 to 40 dollars, being so high, why put out films that are readily available on perfectly acceptable region one DVDs when there are hundreds of other films (both contemporary and classic, foreign and not) that have still never seen the light of day on region 1 DVD and desperately cry out for it? Where, after all, is Richard Linklater's Suburbia, Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons, Eric Rohmers Autumn Tale and so on?
Now, seeing what Criterion has in it's line-up of upcoming releases, I further question if, just maybe, we film lovers are getting one step closer to losing one of our most valuable resources. At the time of the Summer Hours debate I embraced the pairing of Criterion with IFC because, if the company was releasing more mainstream DVDs and this meant that the prices of their more valuable upcoming releases would go down, well hey, I'm all for that. Now we're just waiting on those valuable releases.
I may be just worrying for no reason. In the past couple months Criterion has gifted us with Antonioni's Red Desert, returned Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout and Godards My Life to Live to us and rescued Ingmar Berman's The Magician from obscurity. But then that's four titles amidst a sea of upcoming releases that certainly don't make much sense to me. Sure, they are all great films in their own respect, but all, once again, exist on perfectly acceptable and affordable region 1s. Sure having something with the Criterion brand on it is certainly nice and, depending on what kind of film lover you talk to, may increase the overall value of the film, it just seems unnecessary when there's more important blanks to fill in the world of film history.
Look at the list of new and upcoming releases. Malick's The Thin Red Line, Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, Stanely Kubrick's anti-war masterpiece Paths of Glory, Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter, Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, Chaplin's Modern Times, Guillermo Del Toro's Cronos, and the one that really got me scratching my head, James L. Brooks' Broadcast News.
The thing about all of these titles is that, they've all been available in North America at more than reasonable prices. Sure, some of them are out of print but still can be easily found. What's interesting is that they are all films that are associated with big name directors who have considerable pull within mainstream (albeit sometimes independent) film.
Thus begs the question: is Criterion trying to get away from bringing classic foreign and hard to find films to North American shores and instead concentrating on those films that still have enough cred to keep the brand relevant but that will sell more copies off the shelves? Now that Broadcast News (a great film no doubt) will be out on Criterion DVD can the world expect a Criterion version of Terms of Endearment? As Good as It Gets? Spanglish even? Does the world really need them?
Maybe I'm just worrying for no reason or resentful that Criterion is in a stage where they seem to be releasing only films that I already have in some other version on DVD instead of bringing out films that I am dying to get my hands on. But then again, when Criterion starts releasing films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Life Aquatic or Antichrist, that certainly, if unjustly, raises a touch of concern.
What do you think? Is it good that Criterion are expanding their horizons or is this the beginning of the end?
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Note-Since blogger has changed to "help" make putting pictures in the posts easier it has made it nearly impossible to control how the page is laid out on these posts.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Many weeks back Rachel of Rachel's Reel Reviews, who does lists of three every Thursday did one about the three movies that got people up in arms over her not having seen. One was Rocky, one was Citizen Kane and I don't quite remember the third.
Then, a couple weeks later, I got an angry comment on Suite101 for a review of 1900 from an anonymous person who more or less declared that, because I didn't like this movie I was: an idiot, derogatory, illiterate, have an ugly mother, my father was a Nazi and that I'm probably dyslexic, senile, and, more than likely, homeless...you get the point. Forget the the movie, it was my personal being that needed the criticism.
Then Rachel added a comment to that post about how she reviewed classic movies for another blog once upon a time and would get similar kinds of comments. Throw all those things into a pot and I've been stewing for several weeks now about the nature of film snobbery/elitism.
The main thing that was jiggling about in my head was at what point does elitism stop being justified (which I think it is) and start simply to be condescending snobbery and nose thumbing? I'll admit it, I'm a bit of an elitist. I think I have the right to be. I studied film for four years, presented papers at conferences, read every book worth reading on the industry and then some, have been a paid script reader for going on three years now, worked for a film sales company, have written for many publications, had my blog tweeted by Roger Ebert and so on down the line. On top of that, I know more about film than most people. I may know more about film than a lot of the people who blog about it every day. It's not that I'm better than anyone, I've just built up an expansive wealth of knowledge/understanding/viewpoints/etc.
However, I've never really wanted to hold that above people (although I will be the first to shoot down ignorant or ill-informed statements), but rather I use it in order to try to meet people half way. I think that's the standard everyone who wants to write seriously about film should set for themselves: to have as vast and expansive a knowledge base as possible because, if you're not informed, your readers certainly won't be. And if they are informed, it won't be long before they let you know that you aren't. My saying that I use as a measuring stick to evaluate whether or not someone is worth reading has been "Never trust a critic who doesn't know that Last House on the Left is a remake of an Ingmar Bergman movie."
The statement is admittedly elitist but let's break this down logistically. On one hand my statement is saying that knowing such an obvious tidbit (which can be found easily from a quick Internet search) shows that the person has a vast knowledge of film of all varieties (in this case American horror and that of the Swedish master), but it also digs down into a more personal level. What it is actually saying, in somewhat abstract terms, as maybe most great criticism does (but we won't get into that again), is that I know Last House on the Left is a remake of The Virgin Spring, so if you seriously want me to commit my time to you, than I expect you to at least know that, which is, just as much as me.
Although it sounds condescending (one certainly need not know anything about Bergman to enjoy Last House) when written using me as an example, it's a universal frame of mind: the people who we read should be able to teach us something, strive to want to make ourselves better writers and so on. That's why the statement isn't condescending at all. It's putting a positive spin on a negative outlook. I've put so much time, energy, love and thought into film that why do I want to settle for the opinions/viewpoints of someone who couldn't be bothered to have the drive or determination that the best have, which is the standard I have set for myself? I instead want to surround myself with those who are better than me so I can be pushed to better myself because they told me something I didn't know, made me look at something in a different light, made me jealous of their magnificent prose and so fourth.
In sum I want my critics to know what the heck they are talking about. That's not to say that everyone isn't entitled to an opinion and that those opinions shouldn't be considered and maybe even, in some cases, valued, but what it means is that there's so much garbage in the world, so many people filling it up with meaningless and empty nothingness that benefits no one that why waste time and effort on something that will ultimately provide nothing of worth? I've probably been guilty of this from time to time (I think we are all every now and again) but I always revert back to that magical quote from 8 1/2 about how it is better to destroy than create what is meaningless. It's not snobbery to want/expect someone who writes about film day in and day out to have actively sought out such milestones as Rocky, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, whatever the usual suspects are, and put thought into what makes them so great/seminal. These are the works that defined film. You'd expect someone who truly loves film to have had the desire at some point in life to check them out. Critics should, after all, be writing out of a love of film and not self. And if, of course, you are young and growing, to be seeking those titles and and striving to provide new and interesting commentary on them.
To sum up, what struck me as strange was when Rachel, not to keep picking on her, admitted that she didn't even like classic movies. I understand, in such a case, why people may be willing to pick her apart over such a detail for, if I am reading reviews of classic films, I want them to be from the informed mind of someone who lives and breathes classic film and can shed new and interesting light on it. Essentially, regular criticism has become redundant because the abundance of blogs on the Internet has caused the saturation of valuable critical thought. By the time the week is out and everyone has logged their reviews of the week's big titles, there's next to no variation left to be found: no interesting ideas left to put on the pile. The discussion has died and we have moved on to killing the next one. I want to read the critic who lets the conversation live and breathe and grow on through the power of their mind and their pen (that's not to say they keep publishing on the same movie, but allow it to grow through an informed review).
I once left a comment for Sebastian Gutierrez (whose blog was then known as Detailed Criticisms), who had written a standard review of Ingmar Bergman's the Seventh Seal. Not criticising him as a person or shooting down his review, I pondered if there was really any worth in writing a standard review about performances and whatnot in a film as prolific, timeless and well worked-over as that one. Obviously he did because he wrote it and he achieved his goal but, did it ever seem a little fruitless, I wondered, to be approaching such a film at this intermediate level when whole academic essays have been written about it's themes and concepts in relation to Bergman's career, theology, God, death, etc.? I thought so (not to say what dear Sebastian wrote wasn't worth the read because, obviously, I read it).Why breathe old life into something that's been resurrected and put into perspective so many times in so many interesting ways?
Now I've sort of veered off topic. If it sounds like I'm saying that everyone needs to reinvent the wheel or science or philosophy every time they write a review, I certainly am not. It isn't possible. But why not make them interesting, personal, knowledgeable, etc? Why not bring ideas about art, life, society into the mix, or, at the very least, try to say something clever and engaging. Leave 'em something to chew on. There's no excuse for boring film writing other than simply not having the ambition to gain new knowledge to share at every opportunity. The boring critics think they know it all and are simply taking up space. The valuable ones are striving to learn new things, not just about film but about the world around them. It reminds me of another of my favourite quotes from Conrad who said that "People don't write because they want to say something, they write because they have something to say." Some people don't have anything to say. It's not snobbery to not want to read it.
Alright, weigh in.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
Sunday, October 3, 2010
My last red carpet of TIFF was this one.
Judy Greer is cute and funny. I didn't recognize her at first but there she is.
Other than Saturday, Monday was the biggest day for celebrities at Roy Thompson Hall. We had shown up earlier to catch a glimpse of Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, the former of which left my copy of Belle De Jour unsigned and the latter being a no show. However it didn't matter because what everyone was really watching for were the people from Black Swan.
I knew Barbara Hershey was in this movie but apparently didn't do my research properly because she's in one of my favourite movies: Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters. Oh well, next time.
Dominic Cooper showed up for no reason in particular. Mila Kunis was a no show.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Having come unprepared the day before and focusing solely on getting snapshots of the stars, Saturday was when I started getting a taste of autographs instead, which ultimately meant more time begging for stars to come over and less time snapping pictures (I missed John Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall). Regardless, there are still some good ones to come.
Chris Cooper was the first to arrive. I don't think I saw him stop for anyone even though a few people called for him. He just walked on and smiled. He looks to me like someone's kind old grandpa.