Friday, December 31, 2010

One Minute Review (Maybe More like FIve Minutes) - The Blind Side

The Blind Side is the damnedest shame: a movie you so desperately want to like but one that ruins any chance at good faith around almost every corner. It's a film about serious issues and a powerful story that gets buried in golly-gosh-gee-shucks bubblegum sentimentality. If it didn't have so much white guilt it may have passed as a Tyler Perry vehicle.

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

Lest we Forget

For no discernible reason, John McTiernan's 2003 military thriller Basic popped into my head the other day. What was strange was that I had to stop whatever I was doing at the moment and place all of my concentration on pondering whether or not I had seen it. I knew that it was one of those movies that came out while I was in grade 12, a year in which I saw upwards of 10 new movies. It was a strange year for me. I had my regular 5 classes during that semester one of which was the drama production class so Romeo and Juliet ate up all of my spare time (I was Mercutio if you care to know) plus I was also doing an English class through correspondence because my high school had guidance counsellors whose last priority was providing guidance and so I was otherwise one credit short of graduating. Needless to say, watching new movies was not high on my priority list.

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

One Minute Review- Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass is a dumb and ugly movie. It starts as a promising satire about teenagers and superheroes and why there are none in real life. A brilliant film seems to be blooming until it gets bored with being insightful and moves into violent and reprehensible territory. This is a film that plays like the younger, less enlightened cousin of the great Watchmen adaptation. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Call me unhip, square, not with it, whatever, but the problem with Kick-Ass is not that it features teenaged superheroes (one an 11 year old girl) but that people actually die; in graphic detail no less. These kids are not superheroes, they are murderers out for vigilante justice. There’s something morally wrong about all this.

Maybe this is a perfectly accurate interpretation of what the comics the film is based on are like. I don’t know. But that director Matthew Vaugh thinks that this material is hip and funny is a complete miscalculation. Here Vaugh is hiding behind satire: as if, as long as the movie is laughing at itself, it can justify anything. That Vaugh does the best to make this all bright and hyper-stylized (too hyper-stylized at times) is credit to his talent and I hope one day a great action movie falls in his lap.

In reality then, Kick-Ass becomes just the thing the material should ultimately want to deviate from: a superhero movie. Except these superheroes kill and steal and are really no better than the criminals they put down. If the movie had actually been about Kick-Ass and his life as an amateur teenage superhero wannabe, well that could have been brilliant, sparkling satire. My vote is for Judd Apatow to helm the reboot a couple years down the line. As it stands it’s just a dumb, action film, filled with characters not developed enough to care much about, with the sad misfortune that most of them are also under the age of 16.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Swan + The Celebrity Connection: Natalie Portman

The story of Swan Lake: 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.

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 Swan Lake. 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. 

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?
You Decide.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

One of Chef Gordon Ramsay’s most fundamental rules is that simplicity is key to creating a great dish. That’s kind of what goes wrong with Love and Other Drugs: it tries too hard to be too many things. It’s a good movie lost amidst a sea of variables that all go several different directions of nowhere. The biggest problem is that Maggie (Anne Hathaway) the lead female character has a disease and there is only one reason for any character to ever have a disease in the movies. If you can think of another you’re already way ahead of Love and Other Drugs.

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


Unstoppable is a rip snorting, hit-the-ground-running, peddle-to-the-metal kind of endeavour. It’s one hell of a thriller and maybe even the entertainment of the year. On paper it doesn’t sound like much but if what you’re looking for is speeding trains crashing through things as frantic people try to stop them before they strike complete disaster (and why shouldn’t you?), this one’s got just about all your bases covered. You really couldn’t ask for better.

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

One Minutes Review: The Promise: The Making of the Darkness on the Edge of Town

I believe in the power of not knowing. Knowledge may be power but ignorance is also bliss and you know how it goes. It always comes back to Fellini's 8 1/2 for me and those first 10 minutes (maybe the greatest ever put on film) as Guido leaves Earth and flies towards the heavens, the only thing connecting him to reality being the rope around his foot, held by his producer on the beach. I could look up how Fellini did it with a quick Google search but the less I know about it, the more special it is. It's kind of like a magic trick, which is amazing on the principle that something outside of human possibility has happened. Once the trick is explained and the reality is revealed, the magic is gone.

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

One Minutes Review: Legion

What's remarkable is not how bad Legion is but how bad the reviews of  it were, in so much as that critics approached it like it was a serious film, up for some sort of serious consideration, to be judged with serious critical tools. Critics said it was too talky; it lost it in the third; it was silly; it didn't have enough action. Really? This about a film in which, I kid you not, angels from Heaven possess the bodies of humans and turn them into profanity spurting creates? It has a spider-like ice cream man for God sake. Have movies become so polished and lifeless that critics can't spot a true howler when they see one anymore?

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


To believe in the afterlife is not necessarily to believe in God. It is, instead, to believe in something. That is, after all, the reason we believe in anything isn’t it: in hope that, no matter how things are now, there’s always something better just up ahead and around the corner? Some feel that death is what makes life important. If you think about it, depending on where you stand, it’s also what makes life insignificant. We live and then we die. It’s not glamorous. Maybe that’s why we need to believe in something after death: if this is it, most of us would probably demand a refund. That’s one of life’s little contradictions: the reality of death makes us live a little better while it also means that everything we do here is essentially meaningless. Sure, some could leave a timeless legacy behind but, all the same, at the end of the tunnel there’s only one choice and it’s the same for everyone. Hereafter, Clint Eastwood’s newest directorial effort, isn’t much more profound than that, which is, so to speak, about as profound as it needs to be.

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

The Celebrity Connection: Chris Sarandon

These days Chris Saradon looks like this (like he could be an extra on a Pirates of the Caribbean flick). But once upon a time his locks flowed, his eyes gazed and his power of seduction was strong. He's best known as Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride or the talking voice of Jack Skellington in A Nightmare Before Christmas, but back in the 80s, in horror movies like Fright Night and Child's Play he looked like, well:

Could Chris Saradon just be Eric Roberts in disguse? You Decide.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story

When you think about it, despite a plot and conventions and actors playing characters in a story that feels more or less familiar by now, at the heart of It’s Kind of a Funny Story is the most cosmic of all human truths: life is hard, it sucks and it keeps going until we die. If we’re strong we persevere until whoever or whatever decides it’s time to check out and if we aren’t, well, maybe we’ll check out a little early on our own. What we have in the meantime, is a song or a picture, a movie, a best friend, family, pets, whatever little moments we cling to that remind us why life is good; why we go on, why we stand up and remember that life is a form of power and power can be used to make just about anything happen.

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

The Sub-Criterion Collection?

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

The Celebrity Connection: The Shadow Man

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.

Just caught Disney's return to 2D animation The Princess and the Frog last night. It's a nice little movie, fun and funny and heartfelt. If it's not quite up to par with the Snow Whites or the Beauty and the Beasts it's at least as good as The Aristocats or Jungle Book. However, while watching it, I couldn't help but notice that the villain The Shadow Man looked awfully familiar despite the difference in race:

Could The Shadow Man really be Prince in disguise? You decide.

But Then Wait

Could the Shadow Man actually be John Waters in disguise instead? You decide.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Justified Elitism

*note - any names of real bloggers that appear in this article is simply to provide a practical example and is in no way an attack of or sign of disrespect towards said blogger

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, 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

The Social Network

It may be one of life’s cruel little ironies that someone as socially inept as Mark Zuckerberg would be the person to create the world’s most popular online social networking site. Then again, when you break Facebook down to its philosophical essentials, maybe it is perfect for guys like Zuckerberg, who function socially at their best when they are an arm’s length away. It’s a place where we are all related and can keep in touch with friends from all over the world, albeit only viciously. All of a sudden you can contact a friend without ever talking to them; meet the girl and find out her relationship status without so much as awkward eye contact; and who needs to go to the party when you can live it after-the-fact through photo albums, all located on one convenient page? That's the double-edged sword The Social Network attempts to shed light on: Zuckerberg has dually connected us all by keeping us all farther apart from one another. It's like Zuckerberg's own little personal social comedy. No wonder Facebook started out as a drunken prank.

It all starts in a Havard pub. Zuckerberg drones on to his ex-girlfriend about how badly he wishes to be part of one of Harvard’s prestigious clubs in order to help his social standing. He doesn’t quite realize that they aren’t dating anymore. He is rude to her and she tells him to go away; she was just being nice to him. They aren’t even friends. Zuckerberg, in what could be either hurt or rage (it’s hard to tell if the young man, isolated behind a wall of stone cold intelligence even knows how to feel), goes home, gets drunk and comes up with the idea for a website where people will be able to rate the hotness of girls on campus. In order to do this he hacks into all of the campus houses and downloads the girls’ pictures onto his site and sends it out. Soon the site is so popular that it crashes Harvard’s server at 4:00am in the morning and Zuckerberg is being investigated.

This catches the eye of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Arnie Hammer) and their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), all who are members of the coveted Phoenix Club and have the idea that what Harvard needs is an online dating site. They imagine a site with profiles and pictures and enlist Zuckerberg to write the code. Zuckerberg agrees but quickly morphs the dating site idea into a social network site and, while delaying meetings and not responding to e mails, writes the code for Facebook, keeping the other three in the dark.

The story is framed by the present as Zuckerberg battles two lawsuits, one from the Winklevoss’ who claim he stole their idea and another with his former best friend and Facebook CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Saverin is suing Zuckerberg for fazing him out of the company and screwing him out of many dollars that should rightfully be his. When Zuckerberg moves the Facebook operation to LA on the advice of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Saverin decides to hang back in New York and talk to ad agency's in order to start making money off the website. Saverin and Parker don’t see eye to eye (one is a business graduate and the other is known as a party animal with a reputation for drugs and young girls) and Saverin is instantly rubbed the wrong way when he arrives in LA to find that Parker is setting up meetings for Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is drawn to Parker, despite warnings from Saverin because, presumably, Parker is everything Zuckerberg doesn't have the internal capabilities to be. Zuckerberg doesn't need a business partner, he's too conceited to realize that he has zero business acumen, but rather a role model to idolize and learn from. Soon, after Facebook goes corporate, Saverin’s shares are diluted down to nothing while Zuckerberg’s and Parker’s stay the same.

Whether the impact of any of this ever emotionally registers to Zuckerberg is part of the film’s main fascination. As played by Jesse Eisenberg, who gravitates towards the roles of intelligent outsiders, Zuckerberg is cold but not calculating. His favorite subject is himself but one gets to wondering if that’s because Zuckerberg loves himself or simply because he doesn’t know anything else. When Zuckerberg tells the Winklevoss’s attorney that he is not worth Zuckerberg’s attention, in one of the film’s best scenes, one gets the sinking suspicion that The Social Network has became much more than simply a chronicle of the creation of Facebook. It’s the story of a man who is trapped inside himself because he can’t see anything beyond his own personal circle. When he hurts or steps on people he doesn’t do so to get to the top, he doesn’t even really care about money, but because he only knows how to get what he wants. No one else factors into the equation. Eisenberg masterfully captures this sad young man, too smart for his own good, never registering any emotion lurking below the surface. Because Eisenberg is so good, even when Zuckerberg isn’t the focus of a scene, his presence is always looming somewhere; his detracted cruelty always at the heart of everything.

The film was directed by David Fincher who proves that a great movie can be made from just about anything. Like all of Fincher’s work, the film is dark, casting a shadow on the wounded and manipulated lives of these characters and focuses, not so much on Facebook, as on a man who is driven, like John Doe from Seven or Robert Graysmith in Zodiac, to manipulate society in his favor in order to achieve his own personal means. In a way, like all of Fincher’s greatest characters, Zuckerberg is an enigma. He’s the youngest billionaire in America, has gone to great lengths to create Facebook, stepping on people, stabbing backs, conning people out of money and yet he did it all because of one girl that he iwas too oblivious to see didn’t want anything to do with him. Maybe he has a heart after all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cinematic Measures: Monday Movies

Monday movies are those that don't live up to the prestige of those who made them. They're the minor films by major directors, writers, even actors if you want to think of certain actors as the driving force that makes good movies into great ones. It refers to those movies in an artist's oeuvre that just kind of coast by when we're used to the work of said person brimming with emotion and/or intelligence. They are not the kind of movies that make the world better for existing and make us better for seeing them. Every director or star takes these kinds of days off. Now there's a name for them. The term Monday Movie in general refers to the world famous New York Times crossword puzzle and came into fruition after watching the documentary Wordplay, which, because I am not a New Yorker or a cross word puzzler, informed me that the Times crossword get's harder and harder as the week progresses. Monday being the easiest and the weekend being the hardest. Therefore, a Monday movie is, just as it's name implies, a little too easy, too phoned in, or too narrow to be considered a really great work. It's a film from someone we expect more from. Scoop is a Monday Movie for Woody Allen, The Color of Money from Scorsese, Death Proof for Tarantino and so on. They aren't necessarily bad movies, they just don't give us what we want from a star or filmmaker who usually delivers most of their work on Friday if you see what I mean.

Other Filmic Measures:
The Chocolate Bar Movie

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fubar 2

There’s a scene in Fubar 2 when a now bearded Tron actually shows up to Deaner’s party to celebrate his friend's winning the battle against testicular cancer. Tron, the infamous party pooper from Fubar, finds out that actually the party has double edged significance because Dean and best buddy Terry are being evicted from their house. Tron declares they ruin the place and after the house is demolished and set on fire, Tron runs down a smoke-filled hall towards the camera, chainsaw in hand to the rumblings of some 80s hard rock before the title blazes across the screen. Apparently director Michael Dowse decided this time out he wanted to make a real narrative film with some aesthetic worth and forgot in the process exactly what made the original Fubar so special. The original film’s documentary style ensured that there was no aesthetic pretension on display and the result was a hilarious mockumentary in which the biggest joys were simply in hanging out and watching this two morons go about their lives. By, to a large extent, ignoring the documentary style in the sequel, the film now feels rigid and structured. Terry and Deaner are still the same lovable boobs but their medium has confined them to a plot that isn’t as interesting as just watching them, well, be themselves. The story this time finds bumbling Canadian mullet-heads Dean (Paul Spence), cancer free after losing a testicle in the first film, and Terry (David Lawrence) being Terry. However, out of money and being promised a job by best friend Troy (a.k.a Tron) out on the oil patch of Fort McMurry, the boys saddle up (all they possess seems to be the clothes on their backs, their old beater and the skid of beer in the trunk) and head North to make some bread. Not surprisingly, they are both nearly incompetent on the job (the film’s biggest laugh comes from their watching a video on workplace safety). Terry tries, God bless him, but he doesn’t have a brain in his head, while Dean tries to amuse himself by doing anything other than actual work. He’s so bad that he gets it in his head that if he fakes an accident on site he can live off workers comp. Tron agrees to help for a 50/50 split. Meanwhile Terry falls hard for Trish (Terra Hazelton), a local bartender. When Terry describes her as his girlfriend all the oil men laugh. She’s more like all of their girlfriends, if he gets the drift. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t. This inevitably drives a wedge between Terry, who wants to settle down and Dean who wants to keep on partying hard with his best pal. There’s also a cheap subplot out Dean’s cancer coming back, forcing him into a suicidal funk. If you think I’ve given away a major spoiler, I haven’t because the cancer issue, unlike the first time around, is here used simply as a convenience for the plot. It's as if Dowse and co-writers Spence and Lawrence thought the story had to actually go somewhere and prove something (the late appearance from a character from the first film is especially a low point). But that was what made the first film so much fun. It had nothing to prove and no one to prove it to. It played by its own rules and by being about nothing really in particular except these two guys, it was hilarious. This sequel tries its hardest to recapture the spirit of that original film. It’s bigger, more professional looking, and has more hardcore partying as if that’s what these three thought made the first film a comic treasure. But there’s not a lot of heart in just watching these guys getting wasted or spinning their wheels within a routine plot. Lawrence and Spence, when they are allowed to settle down and actually do their routine, play the characters for all they are worth, proving just how much fun these two guys can be. But stuck within the confines of a, more or less, conventional narrative, this sequel just can’t find the energy to really give’r.

Monday, October 4, 2010

One Minutes Review: Paranormal Activity

At this point Paranormal Activity is not so much a film as a cultural artifact. Somehow into the critical mix comes the knowledge that this isn't just a horror film, but an artifact that was made for next to nothing and went on to not only make hundreds of millions but also beat all the big money makers at the box office, while in limited release no less. Forget whether it's good or not, $100,000,000 doesn't lie. Truth is, when we strip it all back down to basics, the movie is only okay.

It begins with a brilliant and unquestionably scary premise. A girl feels as though she is being followed by a paranormal presence, which has been in and out of her life since age 8. Her boyfriend, who she lives with, buys a video camera in order to hopefully capture something on tape so they can get a better understanding of it. In all the extensive research he does on the paranormal he certainly must have come across some numbers to suggest that the likelihood of catching the paranormal on tape exists somewhere in the one percentile, but no matter. They call up a psychic who specializes in ghosts and informs them that he can't help. His speciality is the dead but what he senses is a demon which, he helpfully explains, is not human but rather some evil force that follows people around just to mess with them. And so the nights go. The occurrences start out mild: footsteps in the hallway, doors moving slightly to and fro, lights flicking on and off, Katie (the girl) getting out of bed and standing over Micah (her boyfriend) for hours without explanation.  

The psychic gives the couple the name of a demonologist to help them but Micah refuses the aid of the new doctor in one of the film's sly jabs at human nature: Micah's alpha male persona gets the best of him as he casts himself in the role of protector. Ain't no ghost going to mess with his girl. But the hauntings get worse: pictures are broken, loud noises cry out from the dark, footprints appear on the floor and Katie is dragged out of bed by an invisible force.

All of this is fine and dandy and by the time the hour and a half running time grinds to a halt, completely tiring and redundant. The majority of the hauntings occur in dark blue huges as the stationary camera films the couple's dark bedroom, a convenient clock in the bottom corner conveying the time. The setting is so repetitious that it ultimately negates the purpose. As soon as the lights go out and that blue eye-level shot appears we know that, sometime between 2:00am and 4:00am something spooky is going to go down and it's only a matter of time before writer/director Oren Peli stretches his prospects too thin. There's only so many times footsteps, flicked lights and absent-minded wanderings in the dark retain their power before enough is enough, leading up to a "shocking" ending which is, considering, about as predictable as it is unbelievable.

As a cultural artifact, Paranormal Activity is fascinating. As a horror film, it's passable for a little while.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

TIFF Red Carpet: Peep World

My last red carpet of TIFF was this one.

Michael C. Hall of Dexter and Six Feet Under fame shows up over an hour before the premier, which is fine with me because we were way down and he was the only star to make his way down to us. He was super nice and signed for just about everyone. He signed my second season of Six Feet Under. I told him it was the best show that's ever been on TV. "AWWWW, thank you" he said, eerily like David.
I have this strange sort of crush on Taraji P. Henson. She was, as you'd expect, spunky and funny.
From behind.
Sarah Silverman signed for a lot of people and took a lot of pictures. When she was done she didn't know who's marker she had taken so in typical Sarah Silverman fashion she shrugged and tossed it randomly back into the crowd.
Judy Greer is cute and funny. I didn't recognize her at first but there she is.

TIFF Red Carpets: The Debt

Sam Worthington has a stern look about him but he is actually very soft spoken and polite. He signed for just about everyone and was generally very nice. I didn't have anything for him to sign but I got an autograph for some guy who had a Clash of the Titans picture.
Helen Mirren was super classy. She was nice a spunky and signed for just about everyone. "Oh dear don't push," she said to the crowd. "Just raise them up high and I'll get them." She signed my copy of The Long Good Friday, one of her first movies.
The publicist came over and asked us if anyone wanted to meet the director. We certainly did. I didn't have anything for John Madden to sign but I got this picture with him and told him I really loved Proof. "Oh, thank you very much," he said in that proper British way.

TIFF Red Carpet: The Black Swan

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.

Vincent Cassel managed to zip by, only stopping briefly. Unfortunately it wasn't to sign my copy of La Haine.
The guy I was with was eagerly awaiting Winona Ryder as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands are his favourite movies. I also had a copy of Age of Innocence, that most misunderstood Scorsese film. However, Ryder was sweeped away by her publicist despite chants for her to come back. She kept looking back like an innocent little school girl as if she wanted to come over but couldn't. I later read somewhere that she's one of the worst autographers.
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.
 Here comes Darren Aronofsky
That is Darren Aronofsky grabbing my pen to sign my copy of Requiem for a Dream. I told him he was the next Scorsese and he smirked. I said he was one of my favourite directors and he said "Oh, only one of them?" I think he was joking but this is clearly a man who knows he's good.
It could be pure coincidence but as Aronfosky walked off with wife Rachel Weisz I yelled out "The Shape of Things," which is what I wanted her to sign and she looked back. Not sure if that was what she was looking back about but they both happened at the same time.
Everyone went nuts for the super petit Natalie Portman. She missed my copy of Closer but then her publicist (the girl behind who looks like Sophie Coppola) grabbed it and got her to sign it. She signed for a lot of people but then the guy I was with heard her say "Is that enough now?" to her publicist.
Dominic Cooper showed up for no reason in particular. Mila Kunis was a no show.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

TIFF Red Carpets: The Town

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.
Rachel Lefevre showed up unexpectedly and the Twilight fans went wild. Personally I had no idea who she was at first

Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck showed up together and went in opposite directions. She headed right for the press but (seen here) assured the screaming masses that she would be back and she held to her word. She also favoured the people on the ends who usually get overlooked, which means I didn't get anything from her but that was nice of her anyway.

I think Ben Affleck was born with a pen in his hand. He motored through the crowd, signing just about everything. Even the picture of him that appeared in the newspaper the next day out and about town was of him signing something. He signed my copy of Good Will Hunting.
The crowd went nuts for Blake Lively, who blew through giving autographs so quickly it was nearly impossible to get a good picture of her. Unfortunately my Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants DVD got missed by an inch for the second time that day