Monday, October 31, 2011

One Minute Review - Insidious

James Wan is probably one of the most talented directors who has never made a single good movie. And for the fourth time in a row (which has also included the original Saw film, the remarkably awful Dead Silence and Death Sentence) has teamed up with writing partner Leigh Wannell to create another sleek and effective dud.

The film opens with a creepy and brilliant prologue that promises spooky things going bump in the night and ends with a devious title card that promises evil but ultimately delivers cottage cheese.

Wan, as per usual, employs elaborate shots, knowing that there is more suspense and mystery in tracking than cutting, masterfully decorating his way through a story that feels a little like it is being made up as it goes along.

Things begin moving and appearing after a young son goes into a coma that, medically speaking, isn't really a coma; ghost hunters are employed; they explain strange phenomena that in turn explains a lot about what is really happening but not much at all of what its overall purpose is.

It's nice that the film has the common sense to feel retro in it's use of shadows and mood over gore, but just like a lot of those old haunted house movies, it eventually throws logic to the wind in an effort to tell a story and the more it tries to explain, the deeper it digs itself into ridiculousness.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Although 50/50 is at its best in it’s small, quite scenes, it is still, I think, invaluable that the film is a comedy. Of course the description of a 27 year old diagnosed with cancer doesn’t immediately scream laughter, but why should the film not be funny? In the face of complete uncertainly why be stripped of the one last tool we have to cope; to make the most of what could possible be the last moments of our lives; the one last thing we have control of that makes us unique and human? 50/50 isn’t a comedy by choice but by necessity. When we’re left to swim by ourselves; when the odds are in no one’s favour; and when it’s inevitable that, at some point in this big ugly process, we will most certainly be staring death in the face, by God the least we can be allowed to do is laugh.

And that’s what 50/50 does. It takes the most hopeless of situations and brings something human out of it. Is humour a way of keeping an arms length from the true gravity of the matter? Sure it is, but what else could a young protagonist want when faced with the untimely possibility that there is nothing really left for him to do except wait to see if he dies? It must be nice to know that, in spite of it all, when many want to treat you like a special sob case, there are friends out there who still know you’re not above a good joke.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is 27, works in radio, and is having back pain. Maybe he tried a new sex position and hurt himself offers best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen). That can’t be, he and artist girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) haven’t had sex in three weeks.

Adam goes to the doctor for an MRI that reveals a rare form of cancer at the bottom of the spine. The plan is to shrink the large tumor down to a more manageable size with chemo and then cut it out. Adam’s odds of survival? About 50/50.

There’s no more need to describe the plot. Along the way we are introduced to Adam’s mother (Angelica Huston) who is overbearing, dealing with a husband who has Alzheimer’s and just wants to care for her poor sick baby who doesn't want to be reminded that he is a poor sick baby. There’s also Katherine (Anna Kendrick), who is currently studying for her doctorate and is assigned to council Adam through the process.

The film is thus a way of going through the motions as Adam slowly, painfully, but not unwillingly takes every day as it comes, walking towards a conclusion that has no more reassurance than the question mark that exists at the end of the road.

Kyle does his best and Rogen provides much of the film’s comic relief as he helps Adam shave his head, uses his friend’s disease to pick up girls, gets high with him, and does his best to support Adam in the only way he can: by being his goofy but caring friend. When the news is broken to Kyle he is as hopeful as he knows how to be: if Adam were a casino game, he'd have the best odds in the house.

Along the way Adam also grows close to two other older chemo patients he meets during treatment. One of them is played by the invaluable Phillip Baker Hall, who has one of those Christopher Walken presences. Whenever he is on screen one perks up in expectation of something good going to happen and sure enough Hall walks away with some of the films most insightful and honest moments.

The film was written by Rogen’s friend Will Resier who apparently based the story on his own personal experiences and how Rogen tried to support him. And although it feels like the work of a first time screenwriter (it’s a little to tidy for its own good) it also captures the small, profound moments that only someone who has walked in these shoes could possible have dreamed up.

Director Jonathan Levine and his stars don’t back the film up into moments of big melodrama. Instead they keep it quite and human, finding truth in the small moments between friends and family as they all try to find the best way to cope with an impossible situation. The small treasure of the film is in its showing just that: as these people laugh, cry, look into oblivion and do their best to crack a smile. That’s all they can do. When the odds are 50/50 the ball’s in no one's court and the film thankfully doesn’t try to have it any other way.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Filmic Measues: Gateway Movies

Filmic Measures is a glossery of critical terms and rules in which help us define the movies we watch.

I don't really follow so I'm not so sure if it's the case anymore but once upon a time one of the big arguments against the legalization of marijuana is that it is a gateway drug. Once you have become accustomed to the high that smoking pot comes with it opens the mind up to trying other, more stronger highs. Once you've driven 110 on the expressway, why not try 120 as well? And so forth.

In that sense, based on that argument, marijuana is an introduction to drug use: the first step on a path to other things (ed: I am not, of course, making any kind of comment on how much I agree or reject this argument).

There are certain movies that act in the same way: They are the first step into exploring greater, more sophisticated, deeper filmic experiences. Some of them are good in their own right, many of them have achieved a cult status, a couple are unjustly praised by those who are using them as their gateway because they don't know any better and so on. Quality hardly matters in such a case as long as they serve their specific purpose.

Now that I've laid out the foundations let me lead with some examples: The Usual Suspects is a gateway to the classic noir of Double Indemnity or Out of the Past; Pulp Fiction is the gateway to the highly stylised and homage friendly cultural hipness of early Godard like Breathless and Band of Outsiders; Fight Club is the gateway to experimental film-as-state-of-mind works like After Hours, Goodfellas is the gateway to more under appreciated Scorsese classics; Donnie Darko is the gateway to more obscure movies that actually know what they are about; Inception is the gateway to great science fiction like 2001: A Space Odyssey and even the films of David Lynch are a cross between the surrealism of Luis Bunuel mixed with the Hollywood cynicism of Billy Wilder. And so on down the line.

Is it ironic that they are all American movies? Maybe it is. Whenever, after all, we see a bland European movie it feels too "Americanized." But that's not the point I don't think. The vast majority of film goers learn the trade off of American movies. They strike a nice balance between trying to be (sometimes at least) hip and original while also trying to be popular and profitable (Scorcese, Tarantino, Forester, Soderberg and so on all fall into this category).

Some people, of course, will never get beyond this stage. Some are content not pushing the horizons, not being introduced to new forms of expression, culture, history or society. Fair enough. But if they ever choose, there's a whole new arena of things to experience after the baby steps.

Other Filmic Measures:

Chocolate Bar Movies
Where's the Airship Movies
Monday Movies  
The Documentary Rule

Sunday, October 16, 2011

TIFF 2011

Say what you will about Twilight and I don't know if Ashley Greene really has any talent outside of that franchise but she sure is stunning.
Alicia Silverstone is apparently still around. She didn't really stop or anything nor did she look very good. I guess being out of the spotlight for a long time will do that to you.

Ben Foster is very good at playing bad guys and seedy people and, seeing him at the Rampart premiere, I can't decide if he's a good actor or is just that way in real life. He showed up, chewing on a douchebag tooth pick, wouldn't sign anything and I can't be sure but I think when someone yelled for him to stop and sign I saw him turn around and mouth "no" at them.
If you look closely and to the left you will see Angelina Jolie waving to the crowd. Everyone was ecstatic when she showed up to the Moneyball premiere.
Ashley Greene signing my girlfriend's copy of Twilight. Do I really need to justify putting up two pictures of her?
Angelina and Brad from behind. There were so many people there that this was the best I could do.
Brad Pitt arrives and then goes to the car ahead of him to get Angelina out.
Chase Crawford. He is in Gossip Girl which I don't watch and he was in the Haunting of Molly Hartly which was horrible. That's about all I know of him.
When Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell showed up to the premiere of Moneyball for a minute, before he turned around, I thought it was Christian Bale.
Canadian director David Cronenberg didn't stop to sign anything. Directors can be weird like that. I guess they figure everyone is there for the stars anyway.
Some kid I don't know. Looks like he's in something on the Disney channel. If anyone knows who he is please share it in the comments.
Evan Rachel Wood looking awesome if you ask me.

George Clooney has a reputation for being very generous to his fans on the red carpet and he proved it again at the Ides of March premiere. He made his car let him out at the very end of the carpet and worked his way through everyone. When he accidentally signed the front of my friend's autograph book she made him sign it inside too and he did.
Gerrard Butler, behind the Elgin Theatre, still the worst and most disorganized location of TIFF.

Gerrard Butler at Roy Thompson Hall as well.
Jeffery Wright's expression as I handed him a copy of Basquiat to sign. He looked at it and said "wow, is that really me?"
Jennifer Garden was so nice and so pretty and signed for so many people. She was truly a class act.
Jessica Chastain. To be quite honest, as you can see in this picture, she looked like a real bitch.
Director Joel Schumacher was the first person to arrive for the Trespass premier. He is just a nice, funny, gay old man. It was raining and he was apologizing for the horrible weather as he was signing for people.
Jonah Hill newly skinny and looking to be having a great time.

This is the kid who played Eddie Murphy's daughter in Imagine That. She was cute and classy.
Kiera Knightly. I need not say more.
Kyle MacLachlan is one of those actors who, when they show up on screen you assume something good is going to happen. He stopped to sign my copy of Blue Velvet.
Madeline Carroll. She was in Flipped and Swing Vote.

 Director Marc Forster was reluctant to come over but some chanting finally led to his approaching the crowd for some autographs. 
It's a tough call but I don't think anyone looked better on the red carpet than Marisa Tomei. I'd read that she is pretty tough to get an autograph from but she didn't seem to mind stopping for people in Toronto.

Max (son of Anthony) Mingella and Kate (sister of Roony) Mara. I wanted his autograph on my copy of Art School Confidential but honestly didn't even recognize him. Oh well.
 Olivia Wilde at the Butter premiere.
 I don't care what anyone says about Nicholas Cage, he is easily one of my favourite actors and he was so charming and generous on the red carpet.
Michael Shannon plays a lot of creepy dudes. I guess he is just naturally good at it. It didn't stop him though from coming over to the fans. You can tell he's not a hardened star yet because, when you look at his signature, you can actually tell what it says.
Me and Sarah Polley at the Take This Waltz premiere. She was so nice to everyone. A true class act. I hope the movie does well.
 Paul Giamatti more or less being Paul Giamatti. He signed my copy of Sideways.
 Ryan Gosling arrives and causes near pandemonium. You could hear the chants of RYAN for blocks away.

Ralph Finnes emerging from behind the Elgin Theatre looking like he wished he could part the crowd with his dark magic.
In this picture you see Sarah Silverman's reaction to my friend who has just handed her a pen with the lid still on it: "Jesus Christ, do I have to do everything."
 Seth Rogen was very charming and sharp looking. That is publicist telling him that my copy of Zack and Miri Make a Porno was the last one he could sign.
Viggo Mortsenson came, signed as much as he could, went inside and then came back out to sign even more once the movie had started. You have to respect that.
Woody Harrelson showed up stoned out of his mind. I expected no less. Even though he missed my copy of Natural Born Killers I still love him.
Emily Blint stopping for a couple of pictures and signatures.