Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Chloe is a film of eroticism and thrills but it is not an erotic thriller. It’s surprising to see how many critics and viewers have mistaken it as such. It is however, like the majority of Canadian master Atom Egoyan’s work, a dark and penetrating tale of a group of wounded people whose fears, pains, anxieties, what have you, slowly trickle out into sight as a result of their connections together that seem, as they always do in Egoyan, arbitrary at first until the truth is slowly revealed. The film has been compared to Fatal Attraction by some, but to what end, when Egoyan has so meticulously avoided every opportunity the story had of falling into that rhythm? There is no black and white in Egoyan’s work and, even though Chloe tells its story in more straight-forward a narrative manner than Egoyan has ever used before, there is none in it either. Here is a melodrama that is, once penetrated, dark, complex, mature, erotic and that has been, by and large, mistaken as camp. The story revolves around Catherine (Julianne Moore) who is a Toronto gynaecologist. As such, sex to her is procedural: it’s all part of the job. However, when she discovers a cell phone photo which may indicate her flirty professor husband David (Liam Neeson) of cheating she doesn’t know what to do. Caught in a marriage that has become more routine than romance and raising a son who has grown out of her, Catherine tracks down an escort named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) and hires her to induce contact with David in order to see if he will take the bait. That’s all I will say of the story as it begins to spiral off in directions that are not all that unexpected if one listens closely to Chloe’s voice-over atop the opening scene, but that I dare not reveal regardless. It is in these areas where the film has elicited its harshest criticism and yet Egoyan is a great filmmaker and knows that the heart of the matter lies not in the conclusion, but in how the film gets to that point and the emotional impact along the way. Conservative and frigid, Catherine knows nothing of true eroticism: she plays the part of the wife and the doctor, but is devoid of the same sexual promiscuity that she blames her husband for. In a way her fears are more jealously than concern and as such, employing Chloe into her life is more a symbol of her own attempt at sexual reawakening than as a means to spy on her husband. Soon, the stories that Chloe relates back to Catherine act to unearth a dormant sexual desire in her just as much as they complicate her personal world, which quickly spirals out of her grasp. The relationship that eventually sparks between them (in a scene of passion rare by today’s standards) is just as much about a need to fill the voids in two lives than about titillation. Chloe herself is not so much a prostitute, as the ultimate simulacrum: a composite image without an original. She has no past, no present, no identity and simply exists to fulfill the needs that she perceives of any of the men that come into her life. To her sex is a business transaction followed by a role-play. However, to her, Catherine is a lost soul who she perceives can be set straight through her efforts to create whatever it is she needs in her life, but also who can make her into something more than an actor. That Catherine is truly turned on by Chloe’s recounting of her exploits with David is, in light of third act revelations, only half ironic as the other half, which may actually be the truth, veers somewhere towards confusion and tragedy. Chloe and Catherine truly need each other, that much is true, but in such completely different ways that neither of them ever grasps the effect that their actions toward each other will have on each other in the long-run. And even then, in the film’s final image, Egoyan once again pulls everything out from under his audience in order to make them reassess if what they think they know, is really what they know at all. And finally, Chloe is erotic in a way in that few films have time to be any more. Egoyan knows the difference between eroticism and exploitation and here makes a film that is sexy without being profane, mature without being explicit and complex without being complicated. It’s not a film about prostitutes or infidelity or lesbianism, madness or revenge. It’s a beautiful, haunting, well acted film about emotionally crippled people who have their lives shaken up because of and in spite of one other. Has an Egoyan film ever been about anything else? Read more about Egoyan in my mini review of Adoration

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

One Minute Review: Dead Snow

I've always wondered whether, if a bad movie knows it bad, that somehow negates it's badness? After all, a stinker by any other name...as Shakespeare one said. If we were to take Dead Snow as a measure of this question, the answer would be no, badness does not compensate for badness. Even worse, this low budget Norwegian gore-fest is also painfully self-reflexive. It knows it's a movie and wants you to know it too. "How many movies can you think of where a bunch of teenagers go to a cabin in the woods without cell phones?" Asks one of the characters, which almost leads to a debate about whether or not Evil Dead 2 is actually a sequel to or rather just a remake of Evil Dead. Then, during a game of Twister someone asks why they even bother to play such a game. "Because Hollywood has taught us it's the best game ever," is the reply. I can't remember the last, or even the first time I've seen a Hollywood film pine over the brilliance of Twister. And then the gore starts as a group of hapless medical students are attacked by zombie cannibal Nazis after being warned of the evil that lurks near them by an ominous old man who looks kind of like Harvey Keitel and is apparently only out in the woods to tell these kids how dangerous it is to be out in the woods. Based on that description you should know if this movie is for you. If not, it's basically the same ol' thing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Michael Bay Shows Restraint

There's a great article running over at Deadline Hollywood today about how studios are getting all hot and bothered over converting their big movies into 3D at the last minute. Personally, I've never seen a movie in 3D because A) I'm too cheap to pay extra for the gimmick, B) I've never seen a movie that gave me a burning desire to see it in 3D and C) in a post-Avatar world, 3D has stopped being about quality and is now just about studios desperately raking in as many spare dollars as they can. James Cameron himself says it best in the article when he notes how after Toy Story theaters were flooded with sub par 3D animated films as if someone got it in their head that the success of that movie was in seeing cute things brought to life by computer animation and not say because of quality, originality, characters, story, etc. Now it seems that every movie is being converted into 3D at the last minute in order to capitalize on the success of Avatar, as if Avatar wasn't a big success because of quality, originality, characters...you see what I mean? It especially struck me that Warner Bros. made the announcement that all of their big tentpole releases will go through the 3D conversion process, especially considering when theaters didn't even care if they boycotted Alice in Wonderland a few weeks before its release because, as Mad Hatter mentioned in my comments section once, there are so many 3D movies lined up that exhibitors are sweating just trying to find enough 3D enhanced screens to get them onto. And then Michael Bay weighs in on the pressure he is feeling on converting his Transformers 3 into 3D. Bay says that he tried to shoot the film using a real 3D camera so that the technique would feel authentic and have an air of professionalism about it, but it was too bulky to work with his complex, high speed style of action filmmaking. He proceeds to discuss, with a large degree of truth, that, despite what you may think of his movies, he always delivers a technically sophisticated product and he's not going to jeopardize that by giving it up to a technically unproven gimmick that he isn't sold on. Good for him. Like him or not, it's up to director's like Bay, who have clout within the studio, to ensure that the quality of their pictures don't suffer under the narrow-sightedness of a studio that thinks people will flock to anything just because it's 3D. And plus, if Transformers 3 is anything like Transformers 2, adding 3D into the mix will only result in leading to faster, more severe migraines. In an age where studio tentpole pictures are getting worse and worse (Marmaduke? Yogi Bear? Battleship?) Hollywood is now trying to cut corners once again by not taking the time and effort that Cameron did to make Avatar's 3D process such a success, instead resorting to after-the-fact rush jobs. When will studios ever learn that fads become so because they possess a large degree of specificity and when you saturate the marketplace they will simply die off once audiences are bored with them? Personally, I can't wait to see Warner Bros. shooting itself in the foot once 3D films start to bomb at the box office and to be honest, I see that happening sooner then later (Piranha 3D anyone?). Check out the full article here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

One Minute Review: Adoration

Atom Egoyan is one of Canada's premier directors and although Adoration does not present as tightly wound a narrative as one usually expects, it is still nonetheless a strange, powerful, twisted meditation on the director's personal fascinations. The film once again takes up Egoyan's preferred narrative structure of starting in close-up and gradually pulling back, revealing how a group of seemingly random people and events are actually all intertwined. This is also the first film where Egoyan doesn't seem to be hopelessly pining for his Armenian homeland and instead presents a more gentle and subtle reflection on religion and technology and how both work together and in opposition to create new pasts and presents out of thin air, to the point where we become consumed with them and they begin controlling our lives. I'm not sure all of these opposing elements fit together as well as Egoyan would like them to, but this is still a mature and though-provoking film.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is God to be Blamed for Racism?

I was born and raised Catholic, but I'm not so sure I quite believe in God. I'm a seeing-is-believing kind of guy and believe that everything that is worth explaining can be by the logical hand of science. The answers to everything haven't been found yet, but I believe even they are still out there, waiting for discovery. I like to believe in something that I can reach out and touch and feel with my own hand. On most days God is just too intangible for me to wrap my head around. I bring this up because I was watching Paul Saltzman's documentary Prom Night in Mississippi, in which a small town in Mississippi, in 2008, still has segregated high school proms. Basically, the white people have one prom, the black people have a different prom and all the parents are happy that their poor virginal daughters are not being stolen away from them by hulking black savages, or something like that. When Morgan Freeman, who grew up in the same town and still considers himself a resident, catches wind of this he makes a proposal to the school: have one prom and he'll pick up the tab. I'm not sure Prom Night in Mississippi is a great documentary. My criteria is that a documentary must be better than a dramatized version of the same material and I'm not so sure this film passes that. It certainly would have been more powerful if it had spent more time focusing on the parents and how their racism is passed down through the generations and affects their children. But, no matter. What struck me about the film is a line that a white teenage girl says that her grandmother told her, which is that, if God wanted all people to be together and equal he would have made them all the same colour. This line strikes me because, once again, God has been used as the scapegoat in which to justify human weakness and ignorance. Wars are fought in God's name, people are killed in God's name and now (and probably since forever) racism is being justified in God's name. Even if you believe in God, is this use of his name to perpetuate ugly feelings of superiority, hatred and discrimination acceptable? Some days it's enough to not even want to believe in a God just by knowing how some people abuse His name. What disgusted me most about this comment is that, when you argue this woman's point by taking God out of the equation, she is proven to simply be ignorant and terribly short sighted in her thinking. Let's talk about race from a scientific standpoint. The reason some people have black skin is because of a dark pigment called melanin. Melanin absorbs UV radiation, controlling the amount that penetrates the skin. This pigment is found in sun rich places like Africa where people were exposed to heavy amounts of sunlight and needed to adapt to the climate in order to survive. That's why God made some men black: to protect them from the sun, not keep them from having sex with white girls and having mixed babies which would ultimately lead to the complete annihilation of the white race. Maybe that's a simplification of things. I don't know. The point is though that sometimes people try to hide behind things that they don't understand and use their beliefs as a way to justify the things that they are afraid of or just plain don't understand. That's why I enjoy films that unmask hidden prejudices and bring them into the light. If nothing else, Prom Night in Mississippi does that much.

Monday, March 15, 2010

One Minute Review: Year One

So if you don't know, I only tend to review movies that I see in the theater. It's mainly because the theater is the most ideal setting to engage with a film and when I go to the theater I am seeing (for the most part) a film I want to see. At home I'm more often than not just seeing one to add to my mental library, or database, or filing cabinet, whatever metaphor works best for you. So, since I'm strapped for time this month, I've decided to do these one minute reviews, which try to sum up a movie to the best of my abilities with the fewest words possible. Let's see how it goes. Rumour has it that, when Harold Ramis co-hosted At the Movies a few years ago when it was still Ebert & Roeper, as a fill in for Roger Ebert, he turned to Richard Roeper after taping was complete and said, "You call this work?" You could ask Ramis the same thing after seeing Year One, a stupid, lazy comedy from the man who made Groundhog Day. It feels like an uninspired Saturday Night Live skit that has been painfully blown up to feature length. Not to mention, as Biblical epic spoofs go, nothing in it is nearly half as funny as this:

Or this:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why Charles S. Dutton Should be in Every Movie

I was watching Rudy the other day, which is an underdog story of a kid who dreams of playing football for the University of Notre Dame's Flying Irish. I watched most of the movie with specks of tears in my eyes because the movie is so nice and honest and uplifting. Movies aren't nice very often anymore (or honest for that matter), so I cherish the ones that are when I stumble across them. More to the point, Roger Ebert often writes about actors who are so good in such a wide variety or roles that, when they come on screen, people perk up in their seats because you know something good is coming. Often included on this list are Christopher Walken, William H. Macy, Peter Dinklidge, Richard Jenkins, and a slew of others that don't come instantly to mind. I'd like to add another one: Charles S. Dutton. You may not know him by name, but I guarantee you've seen him before and, despite his being in some bad movies, I've never seen him give a bad performance. Just look at him as the Notre Dame caretaker in Rudy and how much life and emotion he brings to this scene without once pandering to the camera or announcing himself as an actor in the midst of a big dramatic moment. Even more impressive is the way he holds himself. You never once believe that he isn't actually a caretaker.
And now look at him in the trailer for John Sayles' underrated The Honeydripper playing a totally different role.
He's also played a hard-as-nails sheriff in A Time to Kill, a wise father with one or two powerful scenes in Menace II Society, a doctor in Gothika, and a man on the bus in Spike Lee's Get On The Bus, along with many, many others. My question is: the man is so talented and has such a wide range of notes that he can play, when is he going to get a really juicy lead role? All he needs is a film like The Visitor of Crazy Heart and he'll be set. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nice, But A Little Too Late

Last night Nicole Eggert and Corey Feldman were on Larry King Live to talk about the death of their friend Corey Haim. When asked how they felt about how years of Internet mocking were turned around into times of reflection and nostalgia over the actor upon his death, Eggert made the comment that it is nice, but a little too late. Of course I am sad to hear of Haim's death because it's unfortunate when people die young, although, let's be fair, as far as Hollywood tragedy's go, this one ranks fairly low. I understand that Feldman is trying to call the media out on their hypocrisy in turning years of mockery into loving tribute over the man's death, but really, even if the media was nice to him over those past years, so what? I find things like TMZ as shallow and useless as the next guy but King's response to Feldman hit the nail on the head: what did you want them to do? It's not surprising that he doesn't really have an answer. Don't celebrities sign some sort of unspoken contract when they get into the business? Is any celebrity so detached from reality that they don't know the pitfalls of living a life of excess and indulgence before getting into the game? Drugs, alcohol and promiscuity have always been documented as a part of Hollywood life, even before the emergence of tabloids and cultural fixation on celebrity gossip. Avoiding these things is up to the willpower of the individual alone. Also, celebrities must know that, by becoming public figures, they give up some of their personal rights. Celebrity fascination has also never been something new. People live in awe of celebrities. They want to meet them and touch them and get as close to them as possible. That's reality. When people like Kristen Stewart go on record talking about how much they don't like their life anymore because they have no privacy, I wonder, well, why did you decide to take a leading role in a film based on a novel that has become a huge cultural phenomenon? What was she expecting? The media has always been ruthless when it comes to dissecting celebrities. Again, I don't condone gossip but it's an inescapable part of celebrity culture. Haim signed on for the life, why should his treatment have been any different? The other thing that bothers me is that, it's a known fact that celebrity does not last forever. Stars reach their expiration dates, especially ones like Haim who seem only recruited to fill a niche in the current market. The simple fact of the matter is, not many, if any, of Haim's films are timeless and, really, he wasn't that good of an actor to begin with. He was just a cute and likable teenager who grew into something no one really cared for anymore. Feldman also talks about how Hollywood likes to put people up on a pedestal and then walk away from them when they aren't popular anymore. I don't mean to sound insensitive but in reality Hollywood is a business and businesses are all dollars and cents. You don't promote the guy who has the lowest productivity in the workforce, so why keep a star in the spotlight who's not turning a profit anymore? That's why Corey Haim disappeared from the spotlight, plain and simple. I imagine, as a human being that must be hard to deal with, but it's not a new trend and no actor, no matter how good, is exempt from the risk of it happening to them. In a perfect world, Feldman's wish would come true and the media would be kind and sensitive to Hollywood's fallen stars. But again, Haim wasn't an outstanding actor, his movies were cheesy and being mocked just goes along with the business; you sign up for it the moment you embrace success. Thus brings me back to Feldman's point about how the media was not there for Haim when he needed them. Where was Feldman? I don't want to go off making assumptions about something I know next to nothing about but, as a friend who also struggled with his own drug addictions, could Feldman not see the signs? Having battled with his own demons, did he not understand the possible damage that leaving an addict untreated could lead to? He says that during the past little while Haim had been in the best state of mind he'd been in for a long time. Why then, just weeks ago, was he given an offer to appear on Celebrity Rehab? Is the media cruel, vicious and heartless? Yes, it can be, but regardless of how they portrayed him over the years, the media didn't kill Corey Haim. Corey Haim did.

Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Oscar Went To...

The Oscars are over. So what did I think of the Oscars? They were okay. Some things worked, some didn't. There was a lack of drama except for one interrupted acceptance speech for best short documentary. That said, I just wanted to share a couple of random observations I made throughout the night.
  • Steven Martin and Alec Baldwin are funny guys. Hopefully though, if there is ever a pair of hosts again they can have dialogue that sounds more like a routine and not an improv at Second City. The picture of them backstage in a couple's Snuggie was a huge laugh though, as was Martin's comments about writing Geoffrey Fletcher's speech.
  • Not only was Neil Patrick Harris' opening song completely unglamourous and mostly unfunny, but what was with the lighting in the audience? The camera was cutting to people in the darkness as he was singing about them.
  • Robert Downey Jr. could make a funeral funny. Best presenter of the night.
  • Sean Penn managed to go the whole night without kicking or punching anyone but still couldn't manage a coherent introduction to the Best Actress nominees. *Update* I haven't even published this post and I'm eating my own words.
  • Jeff Bridges is a rare kind of star: he dedicated his Best Actor award to his late parents; he's been in a marriage for over 30 years; his acting has never been undermined, to my knowledge, by any personal drama; and he's a heck of a great actor on top of it. Did his speech ramble on? Sure it did, but he deserved the moment.
  • Tyler Perry: "I'm on stage at the Oscars. I better make the most of it because it probably won't happen again." My thoughts exactly.
  • I don't know what's worse, a pointless montage paying homage to horror films or the fact that it included scenes from Twilight. And to think, this is why no original songs were performed.
  • Although it was an impressive display of physical acrobatics, Mad Hatter said it: if I wanted to watch America's Next Dance Crew, I could have changed the channel to it. I think it's safe to say we can thank Adam Shankman for that number.
  • Precious won Best Adapted Screenplay. I picked Up in the Air to win. I guess I learned a valuable lesson: don't pick the better film to win because it probably won't.
  • Mo'Nique's acceptance speech was one of the best and most heartfelt. She thanked Hatti McDaniel, the first black actress to win an award for Gone With the Wind, for going through when she had to go through so she wouldn't have to. Back then awards were given out during dinner and McDaniel was forced to sit at a table by herself.
  • I don't know if she deserved to win or not, but Sandra Bullock's speech was good too.
  • Thinking about Best Actress, Oprah almost had me sold on Gabby Sidibe and then I realized that she probably won't have much of a career after Precious because she can't really play anything other than fat black girls.
  • Did you see that moment before she read the winner when Barbara Streisand said "It's finally happened," giving Lee Daniels just one second of hope?
  • Kathryn Bigelow is 58 and still looks better than most of the young stars in attendance. Good for her. Also nice to see her take home the big awards as she hasn't exactly been the kind of filmmaker you'd expect to make award winning films in the past.
  • I was strangely unmoved by the John Hughes tribute. The montage of his work was weak and, outside of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and The Breakfast Club I've never found his work to be anything more than simply entertaining. This tribute didn't do anything to change my mind about him, or his deserving a separate honour all to himself
  • Speaking of honouring late celebrities: where the hell was Farah Fawcett in the montage?
  • Ben Stiller bounced back this year after his tasteless parody of Joaquin Phoenix last year. He played the Avatar get-up perfectly, as a man who looked like a jackass and knew it. That said, where was all the other big comic talent like Will Farrell and Jack Black? Did Shankman sacrifice them for Taylor Lautner and Kristien Stewart?
  • Next year, how about going back to five Best Picture nominations? That's all anyone really needs.
  • Why is Pedro Almodovar introducing a category that he clearly deserved to be nominated in?
  • Speaking of Best Foreign Film: do voters just pull names out of a hat for this category? Remember a few years ago when Pan's Labyrinth won every award it was nominated for except Best Foreign Film? I think Almodovar got the shaft that year too.
  • While we are on this topic: why does Quintin Tarantino feel the need to start yelling into the mic at every awards show? He did it at the Grammys and now he has done it here too.
  • I long for a year when Jason Reitman will actually be the frontrunner. He really deserves some wins.
  • I got three of my predictions wrong. Not bad.
  • With that said, I noticed a big Celebrity Connections last night. Check 'em out: Could T-Bone Burnett really just be James Cameron in disguise? You Decide.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Last Word on the Oscars

I'll be glad when tonight is over because it will be the longest possible time until the blog world is bombarded with ceaseless posts about everything Oscars again. It's not that I blame people, we have to find our inspiration somewhere, but really, once you reach a certain point, there's only so much Oscar coverage one can take. This doesn't mean that people out there who I respect didn't do a good job in their writing and it doesn't mean I didn't read it, I just didn't comment about it very much. That said, I recognize the ugly double standard that is going on here right now as I myself give my final word on the Oscars, which are happening, as probably everyone knows, tonight. That said, if you don't want to read this or put too much thought into it, well, I don't blame you. But, if nothing less, maybe you'll just read it because you like me and find my style somewhat entertaining and want to know how good I am at this whole political voting thing. Hey, it's a possibility. So I won't prolong it anymore: here's my predictions on who will win tonight, who should win, and anything else that comes to mind. Best Documentary: The Cove will win because it has the most prolific reputation amongst the nominees. It's that simple really, although Food Inc. may have a shot too. Best Foreign Film: The White Ribbon because it took the Golden Globe and the Golden Palm at Cannes, plus it's the only one of the nominees I've heard of so that has to count for something, no? Best Animation: I'll say this: Disney is taking home a prize in this category tonight. What I'm curious about though is whether or not Up's place in the Best Picture category will mean a split vote for the film and The Princess and the Frog will take it? Oscar certainly does love a comeback and Dinsey's first 2D animated feature since Home on the Range certainly falls into that category, even if it didn't do quite the business it should have. My vote's still on Up though. Pixar just seems too unstoppable. Beat Visual Effects: Avatar. Duh. Best Original Song: Crazy Heart's got this one covered. When a film has more than one song nominated it tends to split the vote, as is the case with Princess and the Frog; Nine was uninspired and Crazy Heart took the Golden Globe award. Personally though, I prefer Flyin' and Fallin' from Crazy Heart, but that's just me.
Best Adapted Screenplay: A tough category. I'm going to eliminate District 9, An Education and In the Loop right away. It seems to be an even draw between Precious and Up in the Air. Precious has the advantage in that it pretentiously announces that it is based on a book right in it's full title, which I refuse to type out in whole, but Up in the Air is the better film, so I'll vote for it. Best Original Screenplay: It's unfortunate that Inglourious Basterds came out in a year of hugely prolific films because, in any other year it would have been a no-brainer to give it this award. I'd still like to see Tarantino go home with this one. He is, after all, the best writer of all those nominated. I think it will probably go to The Hurt Locker out of default though. Inglourious Basterds doesn't seem like it will win anything else in the major categories except best supprting actor, which means it doesn't really have much of a shot here either. Best Director: I know Kathryn Bigelow is going to win unless the Academy goes against the Director Guild by not picking the same winner, but that rarely happens. In theory though, the best choice would be Lee Daniels. Not because Precious has the best direction (and really, does Daniels really need anything to increase his already pompously sized ego?), but because the Academy is sometimes accused of trying to atone for their past mistakes (Paul Giamatti is nominated for Cinderella Man after being overlooked for Sideways, etc.). This then reminds me of several years back in which the Academy were deemed homophobic for letting Crash win Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain (people seem to have forgotten though that they gave Phillip Seymour Hoffman the acting trophy for playing an openly gay man in Capote that same year). I also assume that if Brokeback Mountain had won people would have cried that the Academy is racist too. How better to atone for this than giving the award to a gay, black director? It's just a thought. Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique. Don't argue, just accept the inevitable. Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz. See above. Best Actress: A lot of people are rooting for Merly Streep, but I don't know, her performance as Julia Child came off more as imitation to me than actual acting. It also doesn't help that Julie and Julia was a wholly uninspired film. Therefore I'm voting for Sandra Bullock. We'll forget All About Steve and say that 2009 was a huge comeback year for Bullock and we all know Oscar loves a comeback. Best Actor: It seems like Jeff Bridges is the forerunner in this category for Crazy Heart and his performance certainly does deserve the award. However, Oscar is sometimes know for pulling some fast ones in this category (Alan Arkin over Eddie Murphy, Sean Penn over Mickey Rourke), so could the award maybe go to Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus? I haven't seen the film myself so I can't comment on the quality of the performance, but Freeman is the only nominee who played a real-life character and Oscar history dictates that the Academy seems to favour actors who play real people. My vote's still on Bridges though. Best Picture: It's between Avatar and The Hurt Locker. I'm going with Avatar. It made billions of dollars, revolutionized film technology and The Hurt Locker may have shot itself in the foot over the controversy caused by it's producer writing stupid letters basically begging Academy members for votes. Also, considering how Oscar seems to be going for viewers this year instead of prestige, Avatar is the best bet. With that out of the way I hope everyone enjoys the show and (partially) hope Tarantino can refrain from spitting on people during the red carpet. It still irks me that John Hughes will be getting his own tribute when Patrick Swayze and Eric Rohmer will simply be limited to getting their picture in a montage. Oh well, I'll live, I think.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

THe Celebrity Connection: Zooey Deschanel

The past three times I have done this has been purely in jest (although I'm still holding out that Michael Bolton and Michael Bay are the same guy). This time I've found an honest-to-goodness resemblance that is so uncanny that if you told me they were the same person and I didn't know any better I'd believe you. A lot of people say Zooey Deschanel looks a lot like Katy Perry. They're not even close:

Could Zooey Deschanel really be Debra Winger in disguise? You Decide.

Shutter Island

The boat rolls out of a fog so dense that it renders everything a brilliant white. It might as well be sailing straight out of 50s film noir. Aboard it U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels vomits violently in the washroom. This is a man who has not repented for the sins of his past and carries that burden atop his every move. As an agent he looks the part: tan suit, sharp hat; the whole nine. As played by Leonardo DiCaprio he’s a seasoned professional: been too many places to be much surprised anymore and seen too many things to much care. And yet he carries hidden secrets in the way he holds his shoulders and hangs his head. To him, this new case at the state run mental hospital for the criminally insane will be an in-and-out job but his partner Chuck knows better, “If these guys only heard voices and chased butterflies they wouldn’t need us.” The men are escorted to an entrance gate, surrounded by looming brick walls and guarded by emotionless men with big guns. They are instructed to hand over their weapons because, as a state run facility, it is the law that the guards carry rank over the cops. They’ll play by their rules or not play at all. While a storm brews outside they are lead to Dr. Cawley, the man in charge. He is played by Ben Kingsley which means he is proper, well-spoken and pristinely mannered, while also managing to give the feeling of always holding something back. It doesn’t help that his colleague at the institution is played by Max von Sydow who has made a career out of always holding back deep secrets that give off ominous tones. That’s the set-up to Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, the director’s first excursion back into thriller territory since Cape Fear and his first into classic horror and film noir. Two Boston cops are sent to the isolated institution in order to track down an escaped patient that no one will admit to having seen escape or know exactly how she went about it. “It’s as if she just evaporated through the walls,” assesses Cawley, and he may be right; there seems to be a lot of spirits haunting the walls of Shudder Island, or at least the pain of their memories. The girl in question is Rachel, who drowned her three children and still, according to Dr. Cawley, has no idea what she has done or that she is even in an institution. The grounds are divided into three buildings, a ward for the men, a ward for the women and Ward C, which used to be an old Civil War post and houses the most dangerous criminals. No one is allowed access to Ward C without the accompaniment of both Cawley and the warden. As the investigation progresses Teddy is attacked by migraines and visions of his wife who was killed in a fire and to his days during World War II in which he saw dozens of men slaughtered without mercy in a concentration camp. As the investigation progresses and Teddy gets closer to uncovering the truth, his inner demons take him closer and closer to the physiological breaking point. What about the institution that triggers these dark feelings in Teddy is one of its many secrets, of which I dare not continue to hint at. This is a brilliant set-up for Martin Scorsese to evoke that golden period of classic horror and film noir, which consisted of wounded men carrying their emotional baggage around on their shoulders, drifting from one job to the next, always searching for some sort of inner redemption that is just out of reach. Here Scorsese once again proves himself the master of tones and moods, of implying more by showing less. Shutter Island is, if nothing more, a brilliant exercise in set design, lighting, costumes and editing. Every frame is meticulously constructed to convey the sinister undercurrents that could lie around every dark, damp corner of the wards. Consider the way Scorsese slowly tracks the camera through desolate spaces in ominous point-of-view shots; how high angles reveal labyrinth mazes of unending stairs and corridors; or how the camera cranes up from close-ups to reveal imminent danger lurking in the background. Not to mention Ward C, when Teddy finally gets there. It’s a virtual hell-on-earth that will go down as one of the great horror sequences of its time. As a thriller, the first two thirds of Shutter Island are riveting and we eagerly anticipate what new tricks Scorsese has up his sleeve. And then, as most thrillers tend to do, the film loses touch in an effort to ceaselessly explain itself (a verbal description in the third act is followed by a flashback that visually depicts the exact same thing) and we’re left with another case of the explanation being of much less value than the buildup, leaving the sinking realization that the material has no intention of rising to the occasion that Scorsese and his actors have set for it, leaving the director trying to pull rabbits out of empty hats. And yet Scorsese’s brilliance as a filmmaker still stands outside of the story and keeps the wheels spinning. The filmmaker’s mastery of his craft oozes into every perfectly constructed shot and the film thus, even when stalling, feels like a work of art to be hung on the wall and pondered over the delicacy of its creation. As the greatest living filmmaker working in America, Shutter Island will not be remembered as Scrosese’s best film. In lesser hands it wouldn’t even pass as a tolerable thriller and yet even as its plot crumbles down around it, as an evocation of a classic, long forgotten genre and all its moods, textures and surfaces, it is just about a perfect stylistic exercise.