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.