Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story (5 out of 5)

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 on 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. 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.

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 Conrad) 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 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 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 picture in the posts easier it has made it nearly impossible to control how the page is laid out on these posts. Some help.

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 appears 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 worth of the movie, it was my personal being that needed the criticism.

Then Rachel added a comment to that post about how show 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, 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 Ignmar 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 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 truely 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 Ignmar 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 acadmeic 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? You don't do yourself any value and the film doesn't much benefit either.

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 have 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.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mike's DVD Haul

My DVD buying seems to happen in clusters. I'll buy a lot all at once and then none for a long period of time. It's probably because I don't often rely on the local mall to do my purchasing and a lot of the locations where the best stuff is requires me to make a special trip. So, with that said, there will be one more Haul after this at the beginning on November and then probably not another one until Christmas.

With the exception of The Great Dictator, Chaplin's three other sound films often get mixed reactions. However, in my quest to own all of Chaplin's feature films now only City Lights remains.
 Richard Linklater is one of my favourite directors. It's a shame more people didn't check this out when it was in theaters. Then again, it probably didn't come to a theatre near too many people.
I know I ranked Avatar as my favourite film of 2009 but that was because I hadn't seen Up in the Air at the time.
 Thus completes my Apu Trilogy.
Although this isn't always the work of hers that gets most praised or is the most timeless but this early Agnes Varda film was just as good as Truffaut and Godard's early French New Wave films. It also features a wonderful little cameo from Godard and wife Anna Karina.
My quest to own all of Disney's feature length cartoons (with the exception of Treasure Planet and Home on the Range) comes on step closer to being completed (The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast remain). I know this is going to be rereleased in November with Fantasia 2000 but I already own that film and it is getting bad reviews for being a censored version so I instead hunted down this out-of-print copy. 
Sarah Silverman is funny. This movie lets her down by cutting pretty horrible skits into her stand up routine but it's her only performance on video and so therefore you have to take the bad with the good.
Grabbing the other two seasons of Arrested Development.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Social Network (5 out of 5)

It may be one of life’s cruel little ironies that someone as socially inept as Mark Zuckerberg would be the one 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 but all 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 and also made us part of his own personal 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), he 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 that 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 Josh Pense) 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 is 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 that makes us want to stand up and cheer or move or do something to make the world a better place: 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 name 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 what it's name implies: it's a little too easy, too phoned in, 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 produces Friday kind of work.

Other Filmic Measures:
The Chocolate Bar Movie

Mike's DVD Haul

The reason I haven't done a DVD haul in a while is because I stopped buying DVDs for a while. You see, I was really unhappy with my job and I figured, with the job market for Human Resources (my most recent area of study) opening up in September, it was the best time to get out and find a new job. Turns out, working in the movie business is not as exciting as it's cracked up to be especially when working under poor circumstances. Regardless, I will be starting a new job on Tuesday and to celebrate I basically blew my first pay. Here's what I got:

I'm not a big TV watcher with the exception of Six Feet Under and Curb Your Enthusiasm, but decided to go back and check out a few shows that everyone seems to buzz about. I love Hell's Kitchen (Gordon Ramsay is an inspiration for me) and it turns out How I Met Your Mother and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are really funny shows as well. I'm interested in checking out Breaking Bad, can anyone say they'd recommend it or advise against it?
Unfortunately you can't always get the Criterion Collection version, especially when the regular version is as readily available as David Mamet's masterpiece House of Games. Mamet is easily one of the best, most distinctive screenwriters in Hollywood and anyone interested in screenwriting should study this film from both a dialogue and structural standpoint. Being a writer, Mamet is one of those directors who simply sets the stage for his writing to flow, which is just fine as that's the highlight anyway. Anyone further interested in Mamet should check out his book On Directing Film which, even if you don't agree with all of it, is both fascinating and eye opening.
I love Jean-Pierre Melville and this was his last film before his death. I haven't seen it and was actually surprised to find it, but I'm excited to have it in my collection.
Meeting John Madden at TIFF reminded me of how much I liked his underrated film Proof.
I didn't realize that this movie even existed until reading a review of it in my huge 700 page volume of American Film Criticism (which I have since, thankfully finished). This is another unseen-by-me last film by a great director. This time it's Charlie Chaplin.
Chris over at Celluloid Moon wrote about  this Powell and Pressburger film a while ago and recommended it greatly. Hey Chris, don't ever say no one takes your suggestions.
I hadn't owned the original Star Wars trilogy for a long time because there are so many versions of it out there and I didn't want to own the remastered ones that Lucas edited after the release of his prequel trilogy. This box, for someone who doesn't own the flicks, seems to offer both despite all the scorn it got on Amazon from die hard collectors who are sick of repurchasing the same thing over and over again.
I've tried to watch this show in the past and it just never clicked. Then I one episode on the Sundance Channel late one night and laughed out loud more times than at any other show. Alas, another TV show goes on my list of things to rediscover.
This was one of three pairings between director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene, the most popular being The Third Man. I haven't seen it but a Criterion for $16.99 isn't something I easily turn down.
Doing the Movies that Made Going to the Movies suck list reminded me of how much I really love this movie. It's one of the greatest romantic comedies Hollywood ever produced. Strange how no one involved in it thought it was any good at the time. Good job to Ditty for her excellent post on it.
This is the classic Woody Allen movie that always divides fans. The first time I saw it on VHS I hated it, but figured since I own about 90% of Allen's films already, maybe it was time to give it a second chance since I seem to like even his most critically panned older movies (Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Shadows & Fog) and at $2.99 what's there to lose?
This is the kind of movie that you can just throw on and it makes you happy. It was made with love and joy by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott who are both great in their acting roles as well. It's the kind of movie I could watch any time, any day and it would make me smile.
An early John Sayles movie that I haven't seen but again, at $2.99 and owning most of Sayles other movies (just need City of Hope, Passion Fish and Matewon really), there was nothing to lose.
Haven't seen this one either but a lot of very good critics buzzed about it when it first came out. It's cost also had a lot to do with the purchase.
I remember an ex-girlfriend buying this version of Almost Famous for her sister for her birthday many many years ago. I borrowed it to see what all the fuss was about and didn't love it or hate it, but always thought I should give it another try. I was surprised to find that, about a year ago, when I went to look up this Bootleg Cut that ads 40 minutes to the movie (I watched the theatrical version) that it was out of print and going for big bucks online. Luckily I found it used for $14.99 and hope that a second viewing, or maybe first viewing of the director's cut, will change my mind.
The one Dirty Harry movie that was left out of the package I got that had films 1-4 in it. This one, for some reason, takes a lot of flack but, besides the first, is my favourite Dirty Harry film. I especially love the scene where the chase form Bullit is recreated with remote control cars. I laugh out loud every time.
I've seen two of these three films (Blue has always eluded me). I've never been the biggest Kielowski follower (The Double Life of Veronique didn't move me here or there the first time) but again, it's time to rediscover this acclaimed director and Red, from my memory, is quite a special film.
I love dark comedy, which is why I presented a paper on it at the Midwest Undergraduate Film Conference at the University of Notre Dame, and this British one is minor but delightfully devious. The key to black comedy is giving the audience exactly the opposite of what they expect and that's exactly what this film does by casting the wonderful Maggie Smith as a nanny with some devious and very funny secrets.
I haven't seen this film but when I saw that Roger Ebert said that it's director Ramin Bahrani is the next great American director I took notice. I saw Man Push Cart a while back and was impressed by that but apparently this film is transcendent.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fubar 2 (2 out of 5)

There’s a scene in Fubar 2 when a now bearded Tron actually shows up to Deaner’s party to celebrate his 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) a job 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 do it 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. Somehow, 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, 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 either 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 (3 out of 5)

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 to 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 doesn't lie. Truth is, when we strip it all back down to basics the movie is 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 getting out of bed and standing over Micah 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 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 by 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 hated and 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.