Thursday, December 8, 2011

December Movie Reviews

Bridesmaids

O_O THIS piece of hackneyed garbage represents the dawning of female comedy? SERIOUSLY? I laughed like TWICE! Once when Maya Rudolph craps in the street in a wedding gown and then when the fat lady steals the dogs. THAT'S IT! The rest was your typical "oh, I want to be married so bad, oh, hey, look the cop who stopped me is in love with me, but I can't see it" drivel! Traffic cops are the WORST! They NEVER love anybody, they just give you tickets and make you sit in the squad car for thirteen hours! Um... that's what I've heard anyway... This movie is WRETCHED!

Animal Kingdom
This movie is super weird. It's about an Irish (I think) family of gangsters and drug addicts. When the drug addict mom dies and her kid goes to live with his gangster uncles, it gets even weirder. So, the kid tries to be a gangster, but they just want him to be a patsy fall guy and then he tries to get out, but things go horribly wrong... but then he goes back to live with them... I dunno. Weird.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
I liked this movie. I mean, Morgan Spurlock (best known for trying to ruin my life with his opus on the harms of fast food: Supersize Me), is a bit too proud of himself for his pretty obvious "buying in" gimmick, but the movie works. It's an inside look into the world of product placement by getting the companies themselves to place their products in the movie. I'll tell you whut, I still have a hankering for some POM wonderful pomegranate juice!

30 Days of Night: Dark Days
This is a sequel to the pretty awesome movie 30 days Night about an Alaskan town facing a month of no sunlight when they get attacked by vampires. This movie is the opposite of awesome. AND THEY KILL THE BLACK GUY FIRST! THE HELL?? What year is this?! BOOSHIT! And no, I didn't just "ruin" it for you, it was ruined WAY WAY WAY before that. Like somewhere around the semi-colon in the title.

The Tree of Life
I can't believe I've wasted my best O_O face and "oh god this movie is horrible" lines and I didn't even get to the Tree of Life yet! *throws self into oncoming traffic* Apparently, there were movie theaters that put up signs saying "no refunds will be given for The Tree of Life." That pretty much sums up this "movie." Quote marks are because this is more of a clip show of boring stuff that happens in nature and children chasing DDT trucks. Yarf.

Fast Five
I liked this movie! I think the main characters wore too many clothes, I mean, why is Vin Diesel even wearing a shirt in Brasil? WHY? And THE ROCK is in it and honestly, does he really need pants to play a badass law enforcement agent? NO! And um... I think there are cars... and stuff is furious...er...LESS PANTS!


Jumping the Broom
This isn't the suckiest TD Jakes movie I've ever seen and it's better than most of Tyler Perry's crap, so... win? The tale of a new money black guy marrying an old money black girl still played into old stereotypes that rich black people "act white" and working class black people are "ghetto." Meh. Again, not the worst. Though, unless you are racist and try to see movies with black actors, there's no reason to watch this.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November movie reviews

The Dancer Upstairs
This movie is one of those arty political thrillers that, honestly, are pretty much hit or miss. All the conversations are veiled and twisty, there are many shots of furtive glances and playful school children right before a bomb goes off. Meh. This one is a miss. It's very long and none of the characters are particularly interesting. The fact that the title is the title, you right away know that the dancer upstairs is more than we think her to be, but the movie drags the "suspense" on forever.

Scenes from a Marriage
This movie is four hours long, is in Swedish and is 40 years old. Clearly, Netflix hates me. It was okay, I guess. But I can't recommend anyone watch this unless they are related to one of the actors in it or something.
It's just not worth the time and energy to basically read a movie for four hours.

Who Killed the Electric Car?
This is a documentary that is mostly well done. I did burst out laughing at the soccer moms crying and getting arrested because they wanted to save their electric cars. Good lord, if ever the hashtag #whitepeople was appropriate... This film tells the story of what happened when California passed an ordinance requiring zero emissions cars. And how Motor City made a compliant electric car, while at the same time unleashing their lawyers to fight the law. Lawyers won.

Sucker Punch
I thought this movie was going to be good. I was wrong. Dude. So so so wrong. I can't even give y'all a synopsis. There are scantily clad young girls doing erotic dances, though... if that's your thing.

The Trip
This movie has a "Dinner with Andre" feel. Two guys who have been friends for a while go on a roadtrip after the one dude's girlfriend breaks up with him and drops out of the trip. There is a resentment between them which simmers just below the surface as they banter and sing ABBA songs along the way. It's a good watch.

The Rocket
So... I think I meant to rent Bottle Rocket... not this biography of some Canadian hockey player. It's in French. OH, my favorite part though is when the hockey player guy writes a scathing editorial about the discrimination against French Canadians. I was all "wait, I thought all Canadians were French!" #noraces

Mystery, Alaska
This movie features some version of the New York Rangers. I was very excited about that...and then I wasn't. It's a flick about a hard scrabble bunch of hockey players from Alaska who get the chance to take on the big boys from the NHL. I think I was supposed to be rooting for them. I wasn't. *whistles*

Hanna
I think the fact that I see this movie as a primer on child rearing, might be a reason I am childless. It's a great ride. You follow Hanna from her days living in the wild, killing deer, to her fight for her life against a covert government agency tracking her and her father. There is blood. Oh yes, there is blood.

Scream 4
The first 12 minutes of this movie is awesomesauce. However many minutes follow that, are a god awful waste of time, space and energy.

The Beaver
Um. Jodi Foster made a movie called The Beaver. *snickers* Actually, I think I liked this movie about a man at the end of his rope, who clings to a hand puppet as his last attempt to not kill himself. But I don't really remember much about it... the kids are annoying. Jodi Foster's character is surprisingly one dimensional given that she directed it...on second thought, maybe I didn't like this movie at all.

Everything Must Go
I liked Will Ferrell in this movie about an alcoholic who is fired from his job and kicked out of his house on the same day. I didn't even hate his little sidekick black kid. It's cute without a tacked on Hollywood ending.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Moammar Gadhafi, Moustapha Akkad, and the Halloween Franchise

Poster for 'Halloween III: Season of the Witch' (1982)Today’s news regarding the killing of the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi reminded me of a kind of unusual and somewhat personal story having to do with movies and my interest in them. Actually the story has to do with Gadhafi’s interest in movies, too.

In 1982, I went to see the movie Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Too young to go to the R-rated feature on my own, I got the 17-year-old girl who lived next door to take me.

I’m pretty sure we both knew going in that this one didn’t continue the whole Michael Myers boogeyman-in-a-mask storyline. I remember liking the movie all right, the new story about the crazed toymaker and the killer Halloween masks being plenty gripping to my adolescent self. But by the time the fourth Halloween came out six years later, I was in college and no longer that interested in seeing how they’d managed to revive Myers and the series, so I didn’t bother.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. Along the way I’d pick up graduate degrees in English and write a dissertation on 17th- and 18th-century British literature that focused largely on the category of sequels. Looking at novels, plays, and poems, I built an argument that this was an era during which the whole idea of pumping out a sequel to your commercially-successful cultural product began to emerge.

I also argued that a lot of writers used these sequels to offer their own commentaries on their earlier works. For example, Samuel Richardson wrote a very popular novel -- a “blockbuster,” really -- called Pamela in 1740. The book was huge hit, and also a bit controversial for some lewd scenes involving the teenaged maid and her older master “Mr. B” who lusts after her. Copyright laws not being what they are today, lots of other writers quickly jumped in and published spurious sequels to cash in on the original’s success. And some of those continuations were even racier than the original! But Richardson had intended to write a morally instructive work -- a warning of sorts to young people. So he wrote his own very preachy (and -- spoiler! -- boring as hell) sequel in which he has Pamela delivering all sorts of life lessons to readers.

While working on the dissertation I read a lot about film sequels as part of my research. Once I finished that, I ended up writing some academic articles all of which happened to focus on horror films. One of those articles compared Pamela to The Blair Witch Project, drawing connections between both “blockbusters” and the way they captured huge audiences. Another was about the 1987 film The Stepfather (I mentioned that one here before).

Journal of Film & Television, Fall 2004 issueI also ended up writing and publishing an article about Halloween III. It appeared in the Journal of Popular Film and Television in 2004. It was the fall issue, and so since Halloween was coming up they actually featured my article on the cover.

The gist of my article was to respond to what some theory-minded writers had been saying about horror sequels and postmodernism. Some of those writers wanted to cram these sequels into larger arguments about the postmodern breaking down of categories and ideas of “truth” and whatnot. But I felt like most of those movies were really mostly about making lots and lots of cash. That was one point I tried to make, anyway.

Halloween III presented kind of a problem, though, insofar as it seemed to go against the idea that horror sequels were mostly just blatant money grabs. And in fact, the more I studied the movie, the more I realized it was making a pretty interesting and original commentary on commercialism, generally speaking. Not to mention providing a kind of curious response to the first two films (à la the 18th-century guys and their sequels). So I wrote all about that, too, but I won’t bore you with all of the specifics of my outrageously earnest analysis of the film and the Halloween franchise.

So what does any of this have to do with Gadhafi?

The connection involves a Syrian film producer named Moustapha Akkad, the fellow who kind of fell into becoming the chief financeer of the first Halloween and then ultimately the caretaker of the entire series.

Akkad was himself a filmmaker, having directed a sprawling epic called Mohammed, Messenger of God starring Anthony Quinn in 1976 that takes about three hours to tell the story of Islam. Akkad wanted to break into the American market, however. Akkad knew the producer Irwin Yablans (who had distributed John Carpenter’s 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13), and it was through Yablans that Akkad ended up fronting the $320,000 to Carpenter to make a movie about killer who stalked babysitters.

As we know, the low-budgeted Halloween was an enormous box office hit, earning something like $60 million and helping spawn an entire subgenre of horror, the slasher. It would take awhile for the group to put out a second part (in 1981), but that one, too, was a financial boon for Akkad and others involved. They’d spend $2.5 million to make that one, but it would earn about $25 million from its theatrical release.

Back when Akkad was intially approached about backing the first Halloween, he was in the midst of directing a film of his own, another big-budgeted epic titled Lion of the Desert that told the story of Libya’s resistance to Italian incursions between the world wars. Anthony Quinn was in that one, too, along with Oliver Reed, John Gielgud, and Rod Steiger. That film lasts more than three hours and features lavish Lawrence of Arabia-like settings (all filmed in Libya) as well as lots of elaborate battle scenes.

'Lion of the Desert' (1981)The production was a lengthy and costly, with a reported budget of $35 million. In fact, Akkad once told an interviewer how he was spending more in a single day on Lion of the Desert than the entire budget of Halloween. He also told that interviewer that Halloween was “funded... with pocket change from Lion of the Desert.”

Thing was, cost wasn’t really an issue for Akkad. Why? Because he had a backer with deep, deep pockets.

That’s right. Moammar Gadhafi.

When Lion of the Desert was finally released 1981, critical response was favorable, but the film had a hard time getting distributed thanks to the Gadhafi connection. Thus, from a commercial standpoint the film became one of the biggest box office flops in history, earning just $1.5 million total from its initial release. In the space of just a couple of years Akkad found himself associated with one of the most profitable films in history (in terms of budget-vs.-box office) and one of the most costly.

When writing my article about Halloween III I became fascinated with the whole Gadhafi connection and how the dictator had kind of indirectly helped start the whole franchise. I ended up including a lengthy digression in the original draft regarding it all, but my editor wisely suggested cutting it out as it wasn’t that pertinent to my main argument.

So that’s why Gadhafi’s death here at the end of October made me think of Halloween movies.

There are a couple of postscripts to add here, too, regarding Akkad.

In my article I did address how they ended up going back to the Michael Myers storyline in the subsequent sequels. I have since seen them, and find them all mostly tedious (although that H20 reboot with Jamie Lee Curtis is a bit inspired). By the time that issue of the Journal of Popular Film and Television came out there had been eight films altogether, with Akkad involved as an executive producer for each.

I mentioned in the article how Akkad was saying he intended to keep on making the films. In interviews Akkad liked to allude to a line that Donald Pleasance (who starred the first two, then the fourth, fifth, and sixth before he died in 1995) had once said: “I’m going to stop at 22.”

Akkad also frequently said he was going to make sure they never made the mistake of III again -- a film that did turn a reasonable profit at the theaters but enjoyed nothing like the commercial success of all the others. In my article I wrote how in interviews “Akkad characterizes his relationship to the homicidal central character as parental in nature, suggesting that the survival of Myers is directly linked to his own: ‘I keep protecting him on and on and on until [laugh] I die!’”

As it happened, about a year later Akkad did die a most tragic death.

Akkad was killed on November 11, 2005 along with his daughter in a terrorist attack in Amman, Jordan. Suicide bombers had been sent by Al-Qaeda to three different hotels, including the Grand Hyatt where the 75-year-old Akkad and his daughter were staying. Those bombings killed 60 people total.

Moustapha Akkad presentsFinally, about a month ago Universal pictures issued a new Blu-Ray edition of Halloween II in which the “Moustapha Akkad presents” credit had been mysteriously removed, crudely replaced with a “Universal, an MCA Company, presents” card.

Fans of the film, franchise, and Akkad were outraged by the change. Some suspected it had to something to do with Akkad’s Muslim background and current “War on Terror”-fueled prejudices. (Not a little ironic, given how he died.) Others speculated it might have had something to do with the Gadhafi connection from long ago.

More likely, however, was just an unfortunate goof on Universal’s part, a possibility supported by the inclusion of Akkad’s name on the DVD box. One theory is that the change had been made on a print way back in the ’80s at some point when rights were being moved around and it was from that print that the Blu-Ray transfer was made.

In any case, Universal has apologized and says it intends to correct the error.

Meanwhile, Akkad’s passing did not spell the end for the Myers character. There have been a couple Rob Zombie-directed remakes with which the numbering started over. And I hear there is another Halloween 3 coming in 2012 (in 3D, natch), although it, too, will be featuring still more Myers mayhem.

Which means (as far as I’m concerned) that Halloween III: Season of the Witch will probably remain the most interesting sequel of the series.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October movie reviews

Contagion
I wasn't supposed to see this movie. My anti-social, hypochondriatic ass doesn't need a *scientific* rationale for my solitude. Alas, I went, I have one, and now I'm sealed in a hyperbaric chamber with a shotgun with two shells. It was a good movie. Gritty, fast paced, they don't stay on any one group of characters long enough for you to want them dead, so when they die, you're sad. Might just be the BEST Gwyneth Paltrow movie EVAH!

30 Minutes or Less
It's probably not fair to include this movie, as I only saw it because I arrived at the theater 79 minutes too early for Colombiana and I walked out before the end... Um it's about some guys who try to rob a bank. The facebook guy and the brown Parks and Recreation guy are in it. Super dumb... Unless the end is sooo brilliant that it saves the film. Doubt it.

Fright Night
I saw the original in the theaters with my mom when I was a mere lad. It scared the beejezus out of me. Though I have no beejezuses left, the remake was plenty scary. First, McLovin was GREAT in this! I love that kid. Also, David Tennant was perfection. Love him. And they were just *supporting cast*! The special effects were boss (I don't think it *needed* to be in 3D, but whatevs.) the main characters were good, except for the girl love interest, she was kinda terrible. But all around fun horror!

Colombiana
Zoe Saldana and her ubiquitousness is starting to strain my last nerve. That said, this movie about an assasin out to avenge her parents' murder was a fun action flick.

The Debt
I didn't know what this movie was about when I went to see it, but when I left, I went straight home and googled the hell out of "mossad assassinations." It's a great movie, though it's a stretch to say Helen Mirren "stars," since she plays the old lady version of the young woman who is at the center of this political thriller.

What Dreams May Come
Oh man, was this movie bad. I mean, no, it's not the worst movie I've ever seen, but it was truly terrible, especially considering it stars two Academy Award winners. It's about a family who all die in various ways in a 24 month span and how they find each other again in the afterlife. Barf.

The Forgotten
I forget what this movie was about. I'm not even kidding...oh... Wait... that lady is in it... Julianne Moore, I think? Redhead? Oh, she plays a mom whose son died, but then everyone tries to tell her that she never had a son. Aliens end up being involved. Double barf.

Carriers

I watched this movie because Stephen King wrote that it was the best horror movie he's seen in seven years. Either Stephen King doesn't know shit about horror movies or he is secretly an investor in this movie. It was not good. Your typical a-virus-is-loose-and-killing-anyone-who-catches-it apocalyptic tale. There are six main characters who you don't care about. They don't all make it and you don't care about that either. Snooze.

Down to the Bone
Um...the woman from Up in the Air stars as a drug addict mother of two trying to get clean. Super boring.

The people under the stairs
This movie is about a kid who goes with his uncle to break into this huge mansion on their otherwise poor street. Turns out there are mysterious people under the stairs. O_o I watched this cause there were black people on the cover. Does that EVER work out for me? Okay. Moving on.

Shutter
This was the original Japanese version of a Sarah Michelle Gellar movie I forgot I saw until I was halfway through the movie and feeling like I'd seen it already. It's basically exactly the same with English subtitles. It's good.

The Lost Boys
This movie was AWFUL! Why are people always "oh my God, you haven't seen Lost Boys? You just have to!" I spit on Lost Boys. The vampire creation process makes zero sense. The ultimate bad guy is implausible AND the effects suck. No pun intended. Blech.

Your Highness
This movie about a lazy prince trying to prove himself to his father and keep up with his superstar older brother is pretty funny. There are quests and sword fights and possibly gay pedophilia.

Something Borrowed

This. Movie. Is. WRETCHED! It's about supposedly best friends, but when one sleeps with the other's fiance, it becomes quite clear that they hate each other. Ugh. This is, how hollywood always views female friendships. And this one....ugh...awful awful awful. Not funny, not touching, not romantic. Big heaping waste of time. On my deathbed, I'll still be regretting this.

Insidious
Holy shit! So, I'm watching and it's so slow and I figure everything out and roll my eyes forty minutes later when they explain it to the main character cause...DUDE, SO OBVIOUS! Heck, in my head I'm already writing up the bad review I'm going to give it and THEN the last ten minutes happen and I'm screaming and turning all the lights on in my apartment.

Thor
I didn't hate this movie. The Thor dude is hot and spends an appropriate amount of time in a state of half dress. I liked the fighting and the twist...it's no Ironman 1, but it's better than Ironman 2.

Paul
Vomit. I love Simon Pegg. This movie made me want to find him and thump him in the stomach. This movie is about an alien trying to escape Area 51 and he enlists the help of these British tourists. Jason Bateman and Sigourney Weaver are hot on their tails. I fell asleep at least three times. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Irresistible
Crappy Susan Sarandon movie where she lives in Australia and is a stay at home mom afraid her husband is cheating on her, but he's not, so he thinks she's crazy and takes the children... Or something.

Barney's Version

Um...this movie was pretty good. Paul Giamiatti is in his wheelhouse here as an insecure middle aged man looking for love. There's an uninteresting murder subplot that is unnecessary and a bit distracting. Minnie Driver is hilariously annoying.

The Secret in Their Eyes
This is a great Spanish film. Equal parts love story and mystery. Very good from start to finish.

Red Riding Hood
Um. This movie wasn't terrible, but there's really no need to see it unless you're bored on a plane. The big "who's the wolf?" mystery ain't that great.

Limitless
I liked this movie starring the Hangover guy as a failure who starts taking experimental genius pills and becomes an overnight success. He predictably gets caught up in the wrong element and there's a lot of running.

Drive
Wow, so Ryan Gosling's career appears to be back, huh? Here he plays a loner who works at a garage and is a stunt driver for movies. Then he falls for his next door neighbor. Dun dun dun. The casting is excellent, including that comedic jewish guy from "The In- laws" as a badass gangster (you sorta laugh about that for a while, but by the end, he sells it.) Carey Mulligan is good. I liked it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Surprise, surprise: Social media means we just aren't surprised any longer


One reason we watch movies is for the hook. Another is the characters. But let's face it: The most fun is the surprise.
It doesn't happen too often, though, does it? In fact, it hasn't happened at all for me in a few years. I don't know if it ever will again.
There's so much out there to spoil the surprise. Spoilers lurk in Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, let alone the office water cooler. Hell it was hard enough not to hear about any major shock BEFORE social media. Homer Simpson, after all, spoiled one of the best (see below), and that was in 1983, before cell phones were just a twinkle in your eye.
Those who make movies don't seem to care about the surprise. They care about shock value, sure, but that usually translates into getting to see someone's skin peeled off or something equally gruesome or maybe lots of fecal jokes.
Shock = money.
The reason I'm partly blaming social media is because pulling off a surprise is nearly impossible anyway. How many can you remember? I will list five below. I call them the five best, but to be honest they are the only five I recall. It takes brilliant, Breaking-Bad-type writing, sturdy plot building and incredible acting. It has to get an increasingly cynical public because we're mostly fed fast-food remakes and retread "thrillers" (I'm one of them if you couldn't tell) to completely buy into a plot, then shift it and come up with a twist so amazing it blows our minds.
So let's say a movie actually does this, against all odds, the kind Phil Collins sang about. Well, come on. Our hype machines are just begging for some grease given today's entertainment climate. We'd Tweet, Facebook and text it to death. And even if any of us didn't give it away, again, Against All Odds, the rest of us would go to the movie expecting a surprise. And when you're expecting a surprise, you're not nearly as surprised when it happens. Talk to M. Night Shyamalan about that one.

My top five movie surprises of all time. I doubt these will shock you. You see what I did there?
1. "The Empire Strikes Back" — Oh, come on, admit it, you gasped, and gasped HARD, when Darth Vader told Luke he was his father. I still remember the theater recoiling in horror. Even Dad, who could tell us what would happen at the end of a movie within the first five minutes, didn't sniff that one out. That surprise also kind of made every other Star Wars movie sucky, or at least not as good as "Empire," but man was that a fun one. The only problem? No way would it work today. Our cynicism wouldn't let us buy into it, and the surprise would last about five minutes after the movie came out.
2. "The Usual Suspects" — This doesn't come until the very end, but that just makes it one of the best endings, ever, to a movie. And it manages to pull off a fun surprise twice. You actually think someone else is Keyser Soze before you find out someone ELSE is Soze. 
3. "The Sixth Sense" — I wonder if M. Night's career would have been better had he NOT made this movie. Granted it's probably one of the best movies ever made in the last 20 years, and wow did that ending throw me. You too. Admit it. No, you did NOT know Bruce Willis was really dead. But this movie haunted him throughout his career. He became the "surprise" guy, and that kind of magic only happens once in a director's life. By the time "The Village" came out the act had grown so tired that he seemed to just give up and made some horrible, horrible pictures after that.
4. "The Crying Game" — Hey, I thought he looked female, too, although I remember my mother whispering to me right before the twist "She doesn't have much of a chest." It's gotta be the only time a non-porno film had a shot of a penis be so central to the plot.
5. "Fight Club" — The thing I loved about this, just like "The Sixth Sense," is the surprise was like a delicious cherry on the sundae. We didn't need the surprise for it to be a terrific movie. Yet you add in the surprise and it's an absolute classic. One of the most underrated films of all the time.

Bonuses: Oh, how I wish I was in the theater when that creature popped out of the guy's stomach in "Alien." My uncle was and he said it was one of the biggest shocks of his life. And "Psycho" practically invented the surprise twist, although I saw it coming because of far too many references to Norman and his mother before I caught it on TV when I was 12.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

3.5" Movies - Red State

When I was a young teenager, writer-director Kevin Smith's first film, Clerks, debuted and became an indie sensation. The black-and-white movie was interesting as much for its quirky dialogue as for its sophomoric humor. Smith quickly became one of my favorite film makers after Mallrats and Chasing Amy, two comedies, the first of which is about slackers at a mall and the second, about a small time comic book creator who falls in love with a lesbian.

From there, my opinion of Kevin Smith movies gets worse and worse. Still, Smith has a special role in my heart, since he spoke to my sarcastic, sophomoric self, just when that self was developing. Even now, I follow his blog and maintain my old email address, which was derived from two Smith characters both played by My Name is Earl's Jason Lee, Brody (Mallrats) and Banky (Chasing Amy).

When I heard that Smith was debuting his new film, Red State, on various platforms other than a regular movie theater release, I was intrigued. Here was a guy who was going against the system. When the film finally became available on iTunes and most cable on Demand services, I decided to check it out. And I was delightfully surprised.

Whereas most of Smith's films are comedies, Red State is an intoxicating blend of thriller/horror, with a dash of comedy for full effect. The movie is about a family who lives in the sticks, known as the Coopers. They were modeled after the Phelps family, known for their fanatical anti-homosexual beliefs ("God Hates Fags!") and protests at soldier's funerals. In Smith's film, the head of the family is played by Michael Parks, a veteran actor who somehow makes the leader of an insular, homophobic clan into a charming guy. Unlike the Phelps family, the Coopers are not just content with protests. Things get a lot more heated when the Coopers end up with a couple of neighborhood kids on their property and law enforcement at their gates.

I do not want to give away too much, since part of the joy in the film are the unexpected turns. What I can say is that this film had several moments where you knew what was going to happen, only to have something else happen instead. Whether intentional or not, this set-up-and-swerve storytelling adds richness to the story and characters, rather than feeling like a cheap way to sensationalize or shock the viewer.

I give this film a whopping 9 out of 10. The story is unique, the plotting and pacing are pitch perfect, and the acting is fantastic. If there is any negative, it was in the film's length; quite frankly, I wanted more.

Until next time, keep 'em 3.5"!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TIFF Review - Barrymore

Chrstopher Plummer may very well be the finest classically trained actor alive today.  If you have any doubts about the veracity of this statement, make a point of seeing Barrymore.

In 1996, Plummer won the Tony for his role in this one-man (well one man + a guy offstage) play about the declining days of actor John Barrymore.  The play came back to Toronto earlier this year, with Plummer once again in the eponymous role. This time around though, it was decided that a a film version should also be produced.  Directed by Erik Canuel (Bon Cop Bad Cop), Barrymore the film is more than a simple documentary-style recording of the play. Canuel didn't simply set up some cameras at a performance; the play was reworked to fit the medium.

Without a doubt, Plummer IS the film.  A tour de force performance, a master class in acting, and deserving of every acting award that can be handed out for this year's movies. Seriously, halfway through I couldn't see anybody else coming close to being as Oscar-worthy as Plummer is here. Expect a rant from me if he's not on the list of nominees. This should be required viewing for anybody who wants to act, so they have a pinnacle to aspire to.

That's not to say the script and direction aren't noteworthy as well, but the command Plummer takes as the iconic actor he portrays eclipses all else.  Switching from congenial and humourous to lost and on the brink of madness to virtuoso performances of Shakespeare, all while recounting his life to that point, John Barrymore evokes sympathy and awe. Raw talent, ego, hedonism, and self-destruction are all laid bare for the audience to experience with the protagonist. Clever directorial choices enhance the experience, and the switch from theatrical to cinematic presentation allows for subtleties and acting choices that wouldn't be available in a live performance.

In fact, the very act of capturing a theatrical performance on film is itself a commentary on John Barrymore. A silent screen star who transitioned to live performances later in his career, with precious few recordings of his Shakespearean work, for which he had received stellar reviews. Plummer is equally renowned for his work on the stage, and this is an excellent means of capturing his intensity and talent in a permanent form.

My screening, the world premiere, was followed by a discussion between Plummer and Atom Egoyan, which made the on-screen performance that much more impressive. A bombastic, overpowering presence on screen as John Barrymore, Plummer was a more subdued, and frankly sane, persona in person. It was a fast reminder of what true acting can be - inhabiting the role as another person, not simply being a variation of your daily self. Add Plummer's long-held idolization of the Barrymore family (pre-Drew), and you can see why so much passion and success can be found in this role.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TIFF Review - The Artist

No mincing words on this one - I loved this film. LOVED it. There's usually one film out of my TIFF selections that I end up adoring, and this is the clear favourite so far. This one already has tons of buzz from Cannes and TIFF, and has names like John Goodman and James Cromwell in it and Bérénice Bejo is a gorgeous face to plant on posters.  But, it IS a silent film about the end of the silent film era, so it probably falls into that quirky category that the morons that market movies can't figure out how to sell effectively.

George Valentin is THE movie star of silent films. He lives the high life in Hollywood in the late 20's, with a seemingly endless stream of crowd-pleasing movies with his name on the marquee. He hams it up for audiences, oozes charisma, and is on top of the world. But a new technology is coming in - sound. George laughs off this new form as nothing more than a fad, only to see his career dry up overnight as talkies take the world by storm.

The movie follows his descent from star to has-been, while at the same time charting the rise of Peppy Miller, a young ingenue whose career was launched by an accidental encounter with George. Peppy, infatuated with George and never forgetting how he helped her, tries to help him in return to regain his status, but has to break through his wall of pride and ego first.

The film is a thing of beauty.  Shot in a style that itself an homage to silent film - black and white, with a constant musical score underlying every scene, and completely silent except for two notable scenes - it shows that this nearly abandoned form still has much to offer. Actors are forced to act without voices; dialogue is often unimportant (and unrevealed), leaving the audience to fill in the blanks of what might have been said.  Hell, even the dog becomes a more effective actor (and won the prestigious "Palme Dog" at Cannes). By eliminating one of the senses we associate with movies, it forces us to watch more intently, and draws us deeper into this world.

I found it interesting that as I watched, I kept comparing the presentation to that of another of my fest favourites - Pontypool.  Where that production relied almost entirely on speech and voice to present its drama, itself nearly a radio play, The Artist relies solely on the visual, eschewing speech entirely.


Sure, there are observations to be made regarding those who are left behind by technological progress, or the ability of mankind to rebound from the bleakest depths, or even how the fickle nature of Hollywood has been largely unchanged over the decades, but in the end this is a movie that can be enjoyed purely for the story it tells and the means it uses to tell it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

TIFF Review - Keyhole

A shootout, a retreat, and a holing up of gangsters in their leader's home starts off Guy Maddin's version of the Odyssey.  In this instance, that means there's a character named Ulysses and he has to do some stuff to get to his wife. Oh, and there's a cyclops.

In reality, Keyhole is a gangster-ghost-love story about the lives of a house.  It is a movie about memories and how the everyday objects around us evoke them. It is about longing, and it is rarely what you think.

Ulysses  (Jason Patric) returns to his old home, troupe of straight-outta-noir gangsters in tow, a few gun molls, a captive tied to a chair, and a beautiful blind guide who happens to be drowning. They set up camp in the living room, hoping the cops don't show up, and start fighting amongst themselves. Ulysses needs to find his wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) , who is upstairs somewhere, but his memory is fuzzy.  The fact there are ghosts screaming and wandering amongst them is almost secondary.

Meanwhile, Hyacinth is lounging in her bed, with her lover in the corner and her naked father chained to the bedpost, warning of Ulysses' search for her.

The story of Hyacinth and Ulysses' past is slowly narrated to us as the search continues.  His blind, drowning guide reminds him of past events so that he can discover which items he must present to his wife to speak with her. He sends his minions out to find these lost artifacts, which he presents at the keyhole of every room he enters. Hyacinth says she will pretend he isn't there, and each door opened reveals another element of their past.

In the meantime, the gangsters downstairs are renovating a room for the boss while simultaneously planning their mutiny against him and rebuilding an electric chair Ulysses' son had built  years earlier.  Eventually, this all comes together. Of course, nothing is quite as it seems.

Over all of this is Maddin's trademark style.  Black and white, changes in media, obfuscated symbolism, and overt, slightly unsettling atypical sexuality are all there as expected. However, Keyhole is, like the house it portrays, a story of layers. Years of memories painted over even older ones. Ancient damage is plastered over and remade again and again.  For every person who passes through the doors of a home, the memories are different. Even ghosts have their ghosts that haunt them, and we all react differently to them. Even the perspective we believe we know can change subtly and dramatically.  And sometimes, these memories are all that is left behind for us.

TIFF Review - The Raid

Let's get the plot out of the way on this one: SWAT team launches a raid on an apartment building controlled by the most feared criminal boss in town. Apartment is full of other criminals hiding out from cops, because nobody, including cops, goes near this place.

SWAT goes in, bad guys get alerted, bullets fly, lots of people die. Not so many cops anymore.

Yah, van full of cannon fodder. 5 cops left.  One of who is Iko Uwais is one of them.

Iko Uwais is a Silat martial artist - a relatively unknown Indonesian fighting method that is all kicks, punches, elbows, knees, and a bunch of close-combat damage.

There, you can largely fill in the rest.

This movie is pretty much 80 minutes of kick-ass with 10 minutes of moving the plot along. There's no "six-feet-of-air" punches, or bouncy-castle fighting. Close-ups of fists to faces, knees to heads,  and general mayhem in a confined space caused a theatre full of aficionados of these kind of films to let out the grunts and groans that go with watching someone get their ass kicked in a monumental fashion.

One guy armed with a knife and nightstick vs 20 in a hallway. No problem. Same guy, unarmed, vs 6 guys with machetes? A bit tougher, but a quick rest will fix what ails ya. A mad-dog killer who drops his weapons to fight the captain of the force fist-to-fist? A valiant effort.  That same killer then facing off against two good guys (well, 1.5 good guys)? Well, when two of the combatants involved are the fight choreographers, you know it's gonna be good. Hell, the participants are all evenly beat up already to make the 2-on-1 battle a believable contest. There might be a few more battles in there, and a fair bit of pain.

If you're the type that likes watching people kick all kinds of ass in innovative ways, then you're the type that likes this movie. Also, it's actually good.  There's no "so bad it's good" cheesiness, or guffaw-worthy moments.  It's a fairly pure and straightforward piece of violence. Hell of a way to kick off my fest.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September to Remember

Just Go with it
Adam Sandler movies used to be good. Sigh. Now, I shall insert some glib pun like "just go see something else" because this movie about a plastic surgeon who realizes his homely assistant is really JENNIFER ANISTON will make you roll your eyes so hard you will need corrective surgery.

Piranha
HOLY SHIT this movie kicked ass! I mean, if Jerry O'connell screaming "It took my penis," doesn't make for a top notch, grade A movie, how about giant ass piranhas eating people in mid air?! AWESOMESAUCE! Was there a Piranha 2?? I actually have honest to goodness follow up questions.

Horrible Bosses
I liked this movie. I laughed A LOT. That little guy from It's Always Sunny is always funny! And Jason Bateman is a terrific straight man. The bosses were also geniusly cast! Brava.

Glee 3D
Speaking of AWESOMESAUCE...this movie had extra heaping ladles of the stuff! I don't even think you need to watch the TV show to love this movie...though, if you're not watching the TV show... WHY NOT? WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU? And please leave your name in the comment section so I have the correct spelling to give to Homeland.

The Help
This movie is about a spunky young white girl who comes home from college and wants to be a reporter. She gets a job writing the cleaning column for local newspaper. But she realizes "I'm white! I don't know anything about cleaning!" And gets her friend's maid to answer all the questions while she transcibes the answers. As she spends time with this woman who is cleaning and raising her friend's kid *IN ADDITION* to answering the questions for HER columnist job, she realizes that the help sure aren't treated very nice. She then asks the maid to tell her what it's like to be a maid, so that she can submit the stories to a publisher in New York. I saw this movie in a theater full of about 75% old white women. Eff yo nostalgia! My little hands were balled into fists for two and a half hours. It's a right good fine movie. Reminded me of Avatar. O_O. Seriously, when are we getting the sarcasm font? But no, really, if you liked Avatar you will LOVE THE HELP! Also, if you liked Avatar please leave your name in the comment section along with which high school signed over a diploma to you.

Planet of the Apes
This movie was terrific! This is EXACTLY what happens when we start letting animals live in our homes, eat our food and get human names. They blow shit up, murder people and destroy property! Finally, Hollywood stops pandering to the bleeding heart liberals and shows us the truth!

Vincere
A foreign movie about Benito Mussolini and his first wife that he apparently dumped and then disavowed. It's weird at the beginning. There are all kinds of "greek chorus" interludes and random spinning newspaper wipes in between scenes, but the movie settles into a nice pace about an hour in. It then becomes a movie about a woman trying to prove she is who she says she and her son are from the inside of a mental hospital. Not to spoil anything, but, um, it does not go well.

The Cove
This is a documentary about the brave soldiers standing on the frontlines protecting humanity from the impending dolphin threat AND THE SPECIES TRAITORS trying to stop them! O_O I can never run for office now, huh? So yeah, apparently, they brutally stab schools of dolphins to death until the water in the cove runs crimson with blood. Most people are appalled. Others think to themselves, hmm... I like that color, I think I'm buying a red coat for winter. *whistles*

The Lincoln Lawyer
This isn't the worst Matthew Mcconaughey movie I have ever seen. Still, it *IS* a Matthew Mcconaughey, so it's bad. He plays a shady lawyer who suddenly grows a conscience when he realized he talked an innocent client into taking a plea. OH NOES! Dumb.

The Eclipse
I really liked this movie and I think it's because I didn't know anything about it at all because when I googled it later and read descriptions like "horror" "thriller" I was like "What movie did they watch?" This was a short, simple story about a dude volunteering at a literary festival. Some stuff happens, he meets a pretty lady, gets in a fight, maybe sees a couple of ghosts. But that's it. Also, there was no eclipse...so the title's a bit weird.

16 Years of Alcohol
I rented this movie because I loved the series Rome and the lead actor in this was the lead actor in that. (He plays a shitty character on Grey's Anatomy now.) This movie is wretched. And not JUST because it relies heavily on stupid voice over narration...not that it helps. It tells the tale of an Irish boy whose mother leaves home and whose father is an alcoholic, so he becomes an alchoholic...oh wait, I already said "Irish," so the rest was redundant. Oh snap #RACES But yeah, skip it. There are way better Irish tragedy movies.

Ajami
This is an Israeli flick about too many damn things. Like, seriously, they could have broken this movie up into five movies and we'd all be better off for it. There's the Romeo and Juliet story, the Godfather story, the Oliver story, some comic book story... I dunno. I guess it was good...but it was all very superficial, too fast and you ultimately don't connect with any of the characters... plus, all middle eastern people look alike and it's confusing. #DOUBLERACES

Stripes
When am I going to learn that until I find inappropriate breast jokes hilariously funny, I need to stop renting Hollywood "comedies"? Oy. This movie is implausibly dumb even for the genre.

Fish Tank
This movie is awesomely sad, yet not sad, yet totally sad. Four thumbs up! Rent this instead of that 16 years of alcohol crap...they're not Irish, but they are British, so that's practically the same thing. It's a coming of age story of a girl from some poor English neighborhood. I don't quite understand how it got the title... but if you figure it out, let me know.

The Baby's Room
Dumb horror movie about a guy who crosses into a parallel universe and ends up coming face to face with the him that he might have been under different circumstances. Blah.

Paranormal Activity
I totally wrote off this flick about a couple dealing with sounds and objects moving in their new house, as a dumb horror movie. But then, the next day, I was in the shower, jamming to my itunes morning playlist and my computer screen suddenly went to sleep, plunging my bathed in pale blue light bathroom to total darkness. You have never heard such loud, panicked, incessant screaming in your life. So...um...yeah...this movie might have made an impression. Also, I'm getting a shower radio.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Here's the thing: the makers of this movie about one man's journey through the European healthcare system, totally ruined it with the title. I'm sayin. But it's a good movie and it's nice that someone isn't picking on the US healthcare system for once.

The Machinist
This movie SUCKS IT! Ugh. I guess I don't want to ruin it for anyone who still wants to see this so-called "thriller" starring the dude from Batman Forever...er...Batman...but SERIOUSLY IT'S SOOOOO DUUUMMMBBB. For instance, and listen, close your eyes if you plan to see it... but the main character comes home to find someone has started a hangman game with him and theyve posted the puzzle on his refrigerator. First of all, THAT'S NOT HOW YOU START A GAME OF HANGMAN! How will you know if the letters you guess are right or wrong?! Someone's gotta be there to DRAW THE HANGED MAN! OK, but that's not even the worse part...the word that the puzzle is has TWO ELS, but he only writes in ONE of them and then forty minutes later, puts in the second one! THE HELL?? If you get a letter right, they've got to PUT THEM ALL IN THE WORD AT ONCE! *Head desk*

Then She Found Me
I thought I hated this movie, then I liked it, then they tacked on the Hollywood ending and I hated it again. Boo. It stars Helen Hunt and Bette Midler as a mom who gave up her baby for adoption then tracks her down as an adult after her adoptive parents die. If it had ended like 15 minutes earlier, it would have been a strong movie. As is, meh.

I'm Through with White Girls
I got this because it had a black guy on the cover. And I thought "Ha! A movie that's going to not skewer black women!" Uh huh. This movie sucked and I was punished for my racism. It's what I deserve. And also, he ends up with a half black, half white canadian girl in the end. AS IF there are even half black people in Canada!

Eight Men Out
I'm obsessed with baseball cheating scandals...mostly I keep hoping there is some effective way that the Mets can cheat their way to winning another World Series. This movie provided NO helpful suggestions. It was also not a very good movie. There was no nuance to any of the characters...I was surprised to find a John Cusack movie I hadn't seen though.

Let the Right One In (original)
Story of a boy and the vampire who falls in love with him. I preferred the American version. These kids were too "kid actorish." Also, the American version improves on the supporting characters and makes their stories more plausible.

Hall Pass
Meh. I didn't hate this movie. I also didn't laugh at anything in this movie until the 60 seconds following the credits where the funniest shit ever happens and I couldn't stop laughing for like 20 minutes. I could almost recommend this movie on the strength of those seconds alone...almost.

Arthur
Yes, I cried during this movie. SO WHAT? I WILL FIGHT YOU! It's not a comedy per se (and as such, I don't consider it a remake of the Dudley Moore classic) but there is a grown man wearing tights and a cape, so it's not exactly a drama. But if you are not made of stone you WILL WEEP!

Battle: Los Angeles
GOT DAMB EFFING ALIENS ALWAYS TRYING TO COME FOR MY GOT DAMB PLANET! Earth is so lucky Americans are bad ass alien fighters! This movie falls just shy of awesome, but only barely. You get sucked into the story and the way it's shot makes you feel like you're totally in the movie. It's pretty good!

Rango
Um. So...um...yeah...I find myself at a loss for words because I can't say terrible things about a Johnny Depp movie, right? I mean, he's Johnny Depp...wait...never mind...Depp was in The Tourist...I can do this. This movie WAS WRETCHED HORRIBLENESS WRAPPED IN A CRAP BURRITO. I don't know how it got made or why it was then released or why every copy wasn't then rounded up and burned, but I'm writing a letter to my congressman. Ugh. Woman. Hate her sooo much.

Unknown
Here's a tip everybody: if you get in a taxi cab in Berlin and your driver is a smoking hot blond woman, SOME STUFF IS ABOUT TO GO DOWN! This was a pretty standard action flick. There's a twist, but it's not really that twisty. Stuff blows up and there are impressive car wrecks. I can't complain.

Last train home
I can't tell for sure if this was a documentary or not...I'm 79 percent sure it is. In which case, this movie about a family of parents who work in the big city and the two kids they left behind to be raised by the grandma, is pretty good. If it's fiction, it's just okay. My favorite part was this scene where thousands of Chinese people (oh, it's set in China about the workers who take a train home for Chinese New Year because that's the only time they see their families) are waiting for ten days for the train because there's been a power outage. There was no food or facilities and the conditions are wretched. But there's this one dude who tells the reporter he's excited about China hosting the Olympics and he "hopes the Chinese win all the gold medals. There are billions of us! Why should we not beat America, there are only millions of them!" I laughed so hard! Nationalism is nationalism even when you live in a facist psuedo communist country. Which that dude does.

Blue Valentine

I want to say this was the perfect movie, but I fear that may reveal exactly how twisted I am, so...er...this movie was so sad and these characters are damaged and flawed...nah, can't do it. Movie was perfect...that's exactly how life and relationships are. *B-boy stance*

The Adjustment Bureau
Why does Matt Damon keep making bad movies? Does he want me to Ben Affleck him? OH MAN THIS MOVIE WAS BAD. However, I did start paying attention to my every minor decision making for the next week wondering if I was really choosing or if the Adjustment Bureau was choosing... but then I lost interest and stopped. Or did I? Maybe they wanted me to stop because I was getting too close!

Source Code
Jake Gyllenhaal is officially Ben Afflecked.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Last Year's TIFF Quick(ish) Hits

Yah, I really DID look through the drafts folder. Here are quick hit reviews of what I didn't quite hit publish on last year:

The Illusionist

Yah, I saw this nearly a year ago, and Dawn wrote about it last month. That's shameful on my part.

A nearly silent animated film, The Illusionist brings the work of Jaques Tati to fruition. An aging magician, Tatischeff, is in the twilight of his career as the world moves on from simple magic shows to grander entertainments. A young, naive girl, Alice, sees his show and believes he is truly magical and forces her company upon him. Lonely, and with little to show for a life of performing, he reluctantly accepts her presence, rapidly developing a father-daughter relationship. In order to maintain his final illusion of magic, and being able to provide for her, he takes demeaning jobs and sells his few possessions to afford the meager lifestyle they live. Throughout this time he longingly stares at a photo, believed to be that of his own estranged daughter.

The film is about regret. Tatischeff, now believing himself to old to make amends, uses Alice a surrogate for his own daughter. While his life declines and he leaves all he has to her, the world he comes from declines as well. The performers he works with follow a similar path of deteriorating fortune and increasing depression. The world of vaudeville and live performance fades in the face of rock bands and modern entertainment. In the end, all he can truly hope to do is see that his new ward has a better chance than he does, while destroying the illusions around him.

You Are Here

This one is a bit of a mind trip. Disparate stories, all strange, come together in unexpected ways. There is no easy way to describe a film where an archivist picks up the pieces of a solitary man in a room translating Chinese without knowing the language while a group of men and women, all named "Alan" wander the streets of Toronto at the behest of people on phones in an office, constantly trying to avoid any of the "Alans" meeting one another. Or are we just watching a video of waves while pointedly trying NOT to look at the red laser pointer dot?

It's a twisted philosophical exercise on our place in the universe and elements of unseen control and coincidence in our lives. Maybe.

I really need to get me a copy of this and watch it again. Of course, it's also currently playing down the road from me, so I could wander there... if I'm given the proper directions.

Trigger

Bruce McDonald and Daniel MacIvor's My Dinner with Andre morphs into a night wandering the streets of Toronto for two women with a history. Seen as Tracey Wright's last film (she was also in You Are Here), her presence infuses every aspect of this film, which is, despite protestations of the filmmakers, as much about her as the story.

Kat (Molly Parker) and Vic (Wright) are former bandmates who fell out long ago. They reunite at a posh restaurant on the night of a local club show in their honour. The two women have obviously followed different paths, with Vic's face showing that her previous lifestyle, time, and illness have taken their toll. Kat is every inch the successful sell-out who moved to L.A. and abandoned her true roots. The two of them quickly put aside the pleasantries as past wounds open and the truth emerges. They move on, slowly making their way to their show, revealing bits and pieces of themselves as they go.

This is a conversation movie, but instead of a single room, it spans a city as it spans two lifetimes in a single night. We are drawn in to the story being told, an eavesdropper seeing painful truths and raw emotions being brought to bear. The fact that Wright was literally dying as this was filmed, as they raced to finish the film while she was still alive, only deepens the truth found within. It's a great piece from start to finish, and with the minor exception of a dream-like sequence near the beginning (which is used to give us a quick history of the main characters), the whole thing feels authentic. An easy favourite from last year's fest.

But then, I expected nothing less from the names in the credits.


Repeaters

I have to be honest, I had to look this one up, as I had NO recollection of what it was about. As soon as I did though, I remembered it.

It's Groundhog Day for psychos.

Three 20-somethings in rehab get a day pass to make amends with those they have wronged in their past. None of these attempts go well. In fact, they go as badly as possible, and all three just want the day to be over. Then it starts again. And again. And again.

So you're a young, recovering drug addict, with destructive tendencies, who has found themselves in a temporal loop where your actions have no consequences in the larger world. What would you do?

Yah...

Now make one of the three of them a developing psychopath. Who only gets worse with each iteration of the day.

Now have him realize the only people who he can really affect are the other two.

Have them develop a conscience.

Go.

The premise is good. The execution? Uneven. It's decidedly Canadian low-budget, which is somewhat distracting, but the trade-off being that it can be darker than a slick big-budget production would be allowed. In the hindsight of a year, I still recall walking out entertained but disappointed. It hit all the notes I had expected it to hit. The acting was good enough, there was tension and ridiculousness, and all that one would think they'd find. But it just felt like some polishing could be done.

Hey, I can't remember everything a year later, can I?

Monsters

This has popped back on the radar recently. I guess a recent dvd/blu release happened, or maybe HBO showings... I don't know. I do know that I saw it, and actually have notes!

First off, the director is a photographer, so they movie itself is beautifully shot. Which is good since it largely takes place in Mexican jungle near the US border. See, a little while back, some aliens crash landed on Earth. They started growing and becoming a menace, so a large swath of land (most of Northern Mexico) was abandoned and walled off to contain these giant monsters. Now, a very rich publisher has a very spoiled daughter on the wrong side of the border as they're doing a final evacuation of the area. He sends one of his photographers to escort her to the ferry that will bring her home. They do some stupid stuff and of course, missed ferry.

This leaves the option of... travelling through monster-land. What's that? Two attractive people going through dangerous territory together? I wonder if any feelings will emerge?

It's not a complicated movie by any means. Where one would normally expect a twist or backstabbing in modern films, this one goes straight through. Things are exactly as shown, the sketchy mercenaries are, in fact, just fine. The fear of bad things happening is misplaced. In short, it was somewhat refreshing to have a story go from A to B to C without taking detours. After all, it's a world inhabited by monsters, why should you need to worry about the humans?

Except the monsters don't really make that many appearances. A bump in the water, a rustle in the trees, some distant screaming, gunfire at the camera... but no monsters.

Until the bioluminescent cephalopods start floating around that is. They're beautiful creatures and suggest that, surprise surprise, these monsters may be somewhat misunderstood.

Monsters is a pretty film. It's a simple film. It's even a good film. But don't go in expecting a whole whack of excitement, or even much to keep it sticking around in your head. It's a romance wrapped up in a survival movie that takes a look at what happens long after the aliens get here.

Amigo

Nobody's ever accused John Sayles of being a-political. In Amigo, he uses the Philippine-American war as a means of commenting on the modern-day conflicts in the middle east. A small Barrio of rice farmers has become a makeshift prison for Spanish guardsman and Padre. The leader of the village, Rafael was given the task of holding them by his brother, the head of the local revolutionary guerrillas. Life continues on until a garrison of Americans show up en route to capturing Emilio Aguinaldo. They are left behind to "protect" the village, while trying to "win the hearts and minds" of the Filipino people. The Americans free the Spanish prisoners, who promptly turn on Rafael as a troublemaker. Rafael is dubbed "Amigo" by the Americans and finds himself answering to both the new occupiers and his people while trying to maintain some control over the situation. Things get worse as the Americans impose restrictions on the locals, slowly turning the village into a camp, and the guerrillas at the gates.

The movie strives for authenticity. Filmed in Filipino barrios, with locals cast in various roles, and Tagalog being the predominant language. There's also a valiant attempt at casting some grey into the various roles. The soldiers aren't generally bad guys, honestly believing they can help the locals. Some are racist bastards of course, but most are just kids trying to make it through. The villagers range from just accepting the situation and trying to get by to outright defiance. The guerrillas in the jungle are self-righteous and violent, but with a real cause. Where the black and white comes in is with the arrival of the American leadership. Chris Cooper riding in changes the tone from "hearts and minds" to "beat them down". There is no grey when you get higher up. It's obvious the American military leadership is not held in high regard. This of course turns things from middling to bad to terrible, all for naught. The message, while not reaching sledgehammer of subtlety levels, is nonetheless clear - war is hell, and America should stay at home, because the real victims are those who have nothing to do with grander political machinations.

It's a Sayles movie, so it's solid as usual. The message comes off as a bit heavy-handed, to the point where some lines and actions detract from the experience, pulling the viewer out of the movie entirely. On the whole, there's an earnestness to the film that is appealing. There's a fine job done showing both sides to the conflict. It isn't just troubled soldiers and cowering natives, as much time is spent on the villagers and their dialogue as on the Americans'.

TIFF Picks

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is rolling around, as it does ever year. The programmer's pick HUNDREDS of films to be shown over the week and a half of the fest. Me? I pick just TEN of those to watch. It's often a difficult process to narrow it down to such a small percentage, but this year seemed easier. My "long" list was only 31 films and the top 10 came fairly easily from those. Here they are:

The Raid

Indonesian film where a SWAT team gets stuck behind enemy lines in an apartment complex controlled by one of those untouchable badass gangster-types, thereby guaranteeing that it is filled with bad guys with guns and martial arts skills. The lead actor is compared favourably with Tony Jaa in terms of martial artistry. Yah, floor after floor of violence. This starts my fest at midnight.

Keyhole

I honestly have no idea what this is about. It's Guy Maddin's latest feature film, so that's enough for me. Okay, something about a guy desperately trying to reach his wife in her bedroom upstairs I think. But with Maddin, it's never that straightforward.

The Artist

A silent film. A MODERN silent film, about the last days of silent film. Has a definite Sunset Boulevard feel to the description, except it's actually a silent film. Also, it has John Goodman in it. Also Malcom MacDowell and James Cromwell.

Barrymore

The story of the last days of John Barrymore, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer. With Plummer doing a talk afterwards. Christopher Plummer - 'nuff said.

Juan of the Dead

Cuban zombie comedy. The title alone sells it.

Take This Waltz

Sarah Polley's latest directorial effort. Seeing as I must, by Canadian law, love Sarah Polley (I don't need the law for that), it's a given. Throwing Sarah Silverman somewhere in that mix (I just learned that) is a bonus. Something about Michelle Williams being married to Seth Rogen but falling for Luke Kirby. Oh, and also Toronto.

Surviving Progress

A documentary, based on the book A Short History of Progress, where a bunch of progressive thinker-types (David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, etc..) talk about how somehow "good ideas at the time" lead to quagmires of stagnation for society - "progress traps". I need to get me some thinking in at some point.

Carré Blanc

Here, I'll just copy-and-paste the TIFF description:

A young boy ekes out an existence with his mother in an austere, unidentified city where loudspeakers make strange announcements and proclamations, a rapidly declining po­pulation resides in grim high-rises and the weak are killed and likely used for meat. In the wake of a suicide attempt, the boy undergoes a harsh rehabilitation in a state-run school. When we next see him, he’s a productive adult member of society, estranged from his wife and working for a nameless organization, where he puts other employees through a series of humiliating and bizarre performance tests.

Oh, and it's in French.

Coriolanus

Shakespeare's play, modernized by Ralph Fiennes, starring him and Gerard Butler. The preview looked pretty cool, I saw Colm Feore in the role at Stratford, so I'm looking forward to it. Besides, it doesn't get released until December otherwise.

Melancholia

Lars Von Trier tackles the end of the world. That's about all I know about it (other than Kiefer Sutherland and Kirsten Dunst are in it). That's more than I needed, as "Lars Von Trier" would be enough to get me to sign up. Oh, one more thing I've heard - it's beautiful and people like it.


So there they are - ten films for TIFF. Maybe I'll even get around to reviewing a few of them here. [checks drafts folder from last year...] Maybe I won't.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Greatest Movie Character of 1990-1999 005: Round 1, Heat 4

Vote. It's Easy.

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Heat 3 Results
Jules Winfield 17, Red 11

Dignan 12, Derek Vinyard 20

Little Bill Daggett 10, Truman Burbank 24

William Wallace 13, Dirk Diggler16

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Mia Wallace Division, Round 1, Heat 4

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Eric Draven, The Crow

You're killed by a group of thugs after watching them rape and murder the love of your life the night before your wedding. What does one do? They come back from the dead with preternatural powers and one of the most iconic makeup jobs of moviedom and take revenge, obviously.

The Crow was an instant cult hit. It hurled "goth" into the mainstream (again), launched a hit for the Stone Temple Pilots, and made Brandon Lee a legend. Yes, his tragic death on-set contributed largely to both his status and the film's success, but Eric Draven could have well launched him out of bad B-movie action and into the mainstream. The character was SO successful that it was brought back for 3 sequels and an upcoming remake, even though the actor who portrayed the protagonist was long gone.

Crow masks were everywhere, t-shirts were sold like mad, WCW ripped the character right off when it remade Sting in his image. The black-and-white harlequin that was a reborn Eric Draven was inescapable. Here was the ultimate anti-hero on a mission of righteous vengeance - unstoppable, superpowered, and tortured.

Let's face it, if Micky Knox had killed Shelly, Draven would have made short of work of him. 17 years later, that face is still cool, and people still know what it means - sometimes, good people come back to get the justice denied them in life.

- Astin


Mickey Knox
, Natural Born Killers

(Note: Riggstad is busy campaigning for Barack Obama 2012. . If  he gets a spare moment, he'll give us his take on Mickey Knox.  In the meantime, we'll just point out that Mickey Knox is a well-acted character in an iconic movie, not some drippy emo Robert Smith from The Cure wannabe who can't even take a single bullet. Vote accordingly.)

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Tommy DeVito, Goodfellas

"Are you kidding me?  Are you f***ng kidding me? Who is this crewcut retard they're sending out here to whack me? To whack me?  With his little f***ng golf clubs and his little f***ng opera man voice, listen to him, sounds like he's gonna cry, get outta here ya little f***ng ****kn***gler*** of a gl****blerch**** before I wrap that mothercr***ng golf club around your ugly little Caddyshack pl***unking head for you, you f***ng cry***ler****gle. I'll show you a hole in one, you fu*k*ng larchbl****ck, call ya mother and I'll show her a hole in one and my f**king hat trick, too. Now go home to Bob Barker and cry into your pillow for a week."



Happy Gilmore, Happy Gilmore

"The price is WRONG bitch!"

I LOVE this matchup. Tommy DeVito, the foul-mouthed nutjob gangster of Goodfellas vs Happy Gilmore, the foul-mouthed nutjob golfer of, well, Happy Gilmore. Two psychos facing off, only one victor. Let's do this.

Happy Gilmore quotes:

Shooter McGavin: Just stay out of my way... or you'll pay! LISTEN to what I say!
Happy Gilmore: Hey, why don't I just go eat some hay, make things out of clay, lay by the bay? I just may! What'd ya say?

Shooter McGavin: You're in big trouble though, pal. I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!
Happy Gilmore: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
Shooter McGavin: ... No!

Terry: All you ever talk about is becoming a pro hockey player, but there's a problem: you're not any good.
Happy Gilmore: I am good. You know what, you're a lousy kindergarten teacher. I've seen those finger-paintings you bring home and they SUCK.

"You little son of a bitch ball! Why you don't you just go HOME? That's your HOME! Are you too good for your HOME? ANSWER ME! SUCK MY WHITE ASS, BALL!"

"Golf requires goofy pants and a fat ass."

"Hey, if I saw myself in clothes like that, I'd have to kick my own ass."

And of course the one at the top, spoken to one Bob Barker.


Tommy DeVito Quotes:

"Fuck you in the fucking fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuck. Clown."

"I am somehow amusing like a painted-face harlequin one would find in a circus or carnival environment? I commend you on your pointed compliment sir."

Or something like that.

Both are loose cannons, ready to explode at any provocation, real or imagined. But Happy IS funny and turns what seems like a truly idiotic movie into a classic piece of comedy. This is the movie that made Adam Sandler's post-SNL career. Pesci was already known by the time Goodfellas came around, and let's face it - Pesci, De Niro, Liotta in a gangster movie directed by Scorsese? That's hard to screw up.

It's not easy to knock Tommy, so I'll go for the one area that he lacks - growth. Happy Gilmore goes from hockey playing thug who has no direction and beats up everyone into a zen master of golfing. He endures personal tragedy and comes out the other side with an acceptance and maturity that seemed unachievable at first. What? This was the template for every Sandler character? Yah, but Happy did it early, and better than his predecessor, Billy Madison. By the end of the film, Happy is still Happy, but the rough edges have smoothed a bit.

Tommy? By the end of the movie he's *SPOILER ALERT* dead. Why? Because he refused to change. He showed no capacity for growth as a person and paid the price for his hubris. This isn't a tragic death, nor a hero's death. This is the inevitable end for a violent psychopath in an environment of violence. If only he'd discovered golf.



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Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story

Malcolm X was one of the most fascinating figures in the last century of U.S. history.  As a movie character . . . eh, not so much.

Buzz Lightyear, on the other hand, is the sparkplug that juices one of the most successful and influential movie franchises of all times. Buzz is the heart. Buzz is the soul.  Buzz is the nutball who doesn't know he's a toy, until he embraces his destiny entirely.  He's the perfect toy, because he's so totally committed to the game, he doesn't always even know it is a game.  Also, on Spanish setting, he's a hell of a flamenco dancer.

Vote for Buzz over Malcom, citizen.  No one man should have all that power.

- Julius_Goat


Malcolm X
, Malcolm X


(Note: Riggstad is on assignment with the Peace Corp, helping to save the baby seals from corporate interests. Don't judge him; he can kill you with a magazine. If  he gets a spare moment, he'll give us his take on Brother Malcolm.  In the meantime, we'll just say that if you can't vote for one of the most electrifying performances of the decade and one of the most amazing and uniquely American individuals of all time, instead of a cartoon toy, well, brother, you can't see the clear glass of water in front of you.)

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Phil Connors, Groundhog Day

My favorite movie of all time, with my favorite character of all time. 

The "process of living" often gets in the way of the actual living of life.  The alarm clock rings, we shovel some food in our mouth and rush off to work for 8 hours a day.  Drive home, eat again, clean up.  Take a shower. Maybe you squeeze a workout in there or a tv show.  Head on the pillow, and the alarm clocks rings again.  Shovel some more food in, off to work again.

Life can become an infinite loop of the same boring activities if you let it.

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? 
Ralph: That about sums it up for me. 

Like Phil Connors, we're all stuck in the same place every day.  Most of us have to wake up at the same time every day, go to the same job, see the same people, and sit in the same meetings.  So how do we escape this sameness?  How do we embrace the routine and make our life worth living?  

Like Phil, we fight.  We fight against the sameness, we fight against accepting that our life consists of a routine that can imprison us.  We fight for freedom and for dignity.  We fight against death.

Phil Connors is a fighter, and Groundhog Day takes us through the 5 stages of accepting his own mortality.

Stage 1: Denial — "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."
Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death.

Yeah, Sport,I know there's a blizzard. 
                   
When are the long-distance lines gonna be repaired?
                   
What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today.
                   
Hello?

Stage 2: Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame?"
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy.

I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters.
*That* was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get *that* day over, and over, and over... 

Stage 3: Bargaining — "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time..."

What I wanted to say was...
              
I think you're the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person...

I've ever met in my life.
I've never seen anyone... that's nicer to people than you are.
The first time I saw you... something happened to me.
                   
I never told you, but... I knew that I wanted to hold you as hard as I could.

I don't deserve someone like you.
But if I ever could...
I swear I would love you...

for the rest of my life.

Stage 4: Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die... What's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"
During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.

This is pitiful.          
A thousand people freezing their butts off, waiting to worship a rat.           
What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town.               
They used to pull the hog out and eat it!
You're hypocrites, all of you!
You got a problem with what I'm saying?
Untie your tongue, and you come out here and talk.
Am I upsetting you, Princess?
You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil. 
I'll give you a winter prediction.
It's gonna be cold...
it's gonna be gray...
and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.

Stage 5: Acceptance — "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with her/his mortality or that of a loved one.

When Chekhov saw the long winter...he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope.         
Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life.          
But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney... and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts...
I couldn't imagine a better fate...than a long and lustrous winter.
From Punxsutawney, it's Phil Connors.       
So long.

***
The fact that Bill Murray can take us through the five stages of grief, while making us laugh really hard, is what makes his character so memorable.

-HDouble


Donald "Sully" Sullivan, Nobody's Fool

This is Paul Newman in his last great role, and it's one of his very best.  More believable than Cool Hand Luke, more relateable than Fast Eddie Felson, more likable than Hud, Newman settles into the skin of perennial loser and hereditary bad father Sully like a pair of broken-in work boots, and, because he's Paul Newman, he's also the coolest guy in town (and Bruce Willis is in town).  Sully lives in an old town in upstate New York that's just like him -- hard working, but everybody knows nothing will ever come of it.

Sully walked out on his wife and kids. He's got a bum knee. He doesn't have more than a couple of twenties to rub together. He let the family house rot to pieces out of spite for his old man.  He'll punch a policeman rather than stop driving on the sidewalk. But he's the only guy who can coax the demented old lady off the snowy road, and he does it by charming her. He'll even help the old lady's daughter by taking over at the local diner while she tends to her mother's feet.

Here's the thing about Sully. He's a total screwup. He's about the best guy you'll ever meet.

I expect that Phil will beat Sully in this matchup.  Groundhog Day is by far the more popular movie, and Murray is admittedly great in it. But if you're one of the lucky handful that has seen Nobody's Fool, I bet you are voting for Sully.

- Julius_Goat



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dawn's Not The Only One Who Watches Movies

That's right, I also watch movies!

Captain American: The First Avenger

Great comic book movie and final piece before The Avengers launch next summer. My second favourite of the series behind the first Iron Man. A WWII-era film with a comic book veneer, and a generally realistic (for comic books) interpretation of a hero. Nice preview for The Avengers after the credits too.

Drive Angry

I wanted a brain-dead action piece. I got a 70's carsploitation flick with a supernatural twist. Some of what I expected (Nicholas Cage enjoying himself and Amber Heard looking hot), and some of what I was not (Satanists? It was actually pretty good). Definitely worth a watch if you want a little under 2 hours of escapism and cheese.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2

All the action that was missing from Part 1 is here. It picks up exactly where the last left off, moves into "this is SO going to be a ride" territory, and doesn't let up on the action. Pretty self-aware, lots of crowd-pleasing moments, and the bonus of half a theatre sobbing like babies as soon as the lights went down (okay, that was annoying).

Thor

Also surprisingly good. The romance plot was stupid and mostly unnecessary, but the rest was fun, carried largely by the fact that Chris Hemsworth has far more charisma than I figured. Get over the fact he's literally the God of Thunder, and enjoy the film. Also, ignore the love subplot.

Attack The Block

I don't get the mad love for this one. Sure, it's a nice little contained British creature feature. It's got all kinds of classic Spielbergian aspects to it. It's darkly funny, has some brief Nick Frost, and the creature design is original, there are nods to classic films, there's a social message.... but it's not the second coming of whatever it's supposed to be the second coming of. It's a great low-budget British movie about kids defending their apartment building and learning stuff along the way. It's worth seeing. It's worth supporting. It's not going to give you an orgasm.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Yah, I saw it. What's your point? It was good. It's a classic rom-com with likable actors and characters that never really go into stupid-dom like every other version of this genre in recent years. Yes, seriously - they seem to have rationale for what they do and don't lose their brain for 20 minutes while chasing after their gay friend who they've fallen in love with or whatever. There is one particularly over-the-top scene, but it's makes for big laughs. On top of all that, the characters have actual chemistry with one another. It helps that, again, the cast is made up of great actors. Would I buy it? Naw. Will I see it again? Probably not. Did I enjoy it? Obviously. If you've got a date lined up, take 'em to this.

Battle: Los Angeles

More brainless action. If you were expecting anything else from this movie than what it delivers, then you have no idea how to judge a movie from its trailer. Military + aliens = movie. Nothing new here. Plenty old here. There's Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, and a bunch of interchangeable actors in interchangeable roles. Things go boom, but not as many as you'd think. Again - want to blow some time without using your brain? Give it a shot.

Cooking With Stella

Canadian movie. Deepa Mehta co-wrote I think. Don McKellar and Lisa Ray as Canadians in India (Ray's a diplomat). Waste of time. Felt about an hour longer than it was, slow-paced, and completely misses its mark. Marketed wrong, but it seems to be TRYING at a classic British servants caper/farce placed in India. It doesn't work. There's scamming and crime and grifting and corruption of morals... but there's no sympathy for the characters or much in the way of the funny. Skip it. Not like you even knew it existed.


TIFF is coming up fast, and I'll once again half-ass my way through reviews, leaving a bunch sitting in the "drafts" folder, never to be seen. Luckily, no hockey musicals this year.