Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Underdeveloped American

Last night Irena and I went to see The American starring George Clooney. Actually, it should probably be referred to as "George Clooney Starring In The American" because the watchability of its star is one of the few things that the movie has going for it. The story, such as it is, concerns a hitman named Jack hiding out in an Italian village, creating a special weapon for a client, sipping a lot of coffee and looking concerned. He enters into a couple of relationships, one with a prostitute and another with a priest, but neither offers much insight into his character or theirs. At one point someone shows up and tries to kill him, but he dispatches this threat and continues to hang out and work on his rifle-disregarding the obvious danger to himself now that his enemies have found his location. Throughout the film Jack looks terse and weary. Talk to priest. Bang hooker. Read about butterflies. Do chin ups. Rinse. Repeat. What time is it now? How much longer in this thing?
There are some solid scenes. There is a moment where Jack and his prostitute companion exchange a couple lines of subtle dialogue that nicely illustrates their changing relationship. When testing his rifle with his assassin client-also a beautiful woman-the sexual tension and potential danger gives an effective, and rare, sense of anticipation... and then once again...nothing much happens. The film is well shot-albeit a bit grey-and the music is subtle and effective. The ending is a perfectly serviceable, if standard issue, denouement. The screenplay just needed some more development. I suppose one could say that the sparseness of the narrative reflects the emptiness of his own life, that the hard rock of the empty cityscape symbolizes the zzzzzzzz. me it's just too slow. I could easily cut The American into an excellent short film. As a feature, it needed a lot more to happen.

p.s. Full marks to Irena for guessing the ending halfway through the film. That's usually my department, but I was too bored to bother.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Princess and the Frog

On January 17th I saw The Princess and the Frog. It was awesome. I liked the part when the princess turned into the frog and the part where the alligator made a funny gagging noise. Some parts were a little scary but everything turned out good in the end.
And it was really good music. If you like good music and a good imagination you should see The Princess and the Frog.
I give it 10 stars out of 10.
-Maja, age 6

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Deadgirl" at TIFF'S Midnight Madness

Let me get the "accolades" out of the way. The make-up in "Deadgirl" is very effective. The layers of sweat and grime on the title character's naked body and her empty stare through disturbingly bloodshot eyes are somewhat chilling. There's also a powerhouse performance from a snarling dog that trumps any vicious animal seen on screen in recent memory. Those are the only good things I can say about "Deadgirl," the dreadfully misogynistic, adolescent boy sex-slave/rape fantasy film from directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel and screenwriter Trent Haaga.

Teenage buddies Rickie and JT cut class one day, wandering over to the local abandoned mental hospital to drink some beer and release their male aggressions by trashing the place. They soon discover a dead body chained to a gurney but this dead girl turns out to be not so dead. The friendship is strained when JT sees an opportunity to keep the woman captive for his own sexual gratification. Rickie is appalled by JT and tensions are further ramped up when news of the boys' discovery gets out.

There is much to be disgusted with in "Deadgirl" including at least three rape scenes and a vicious assault on the dead girl which leaves her face bloodied to a pulp. All of it is presented with a sort of "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" nod to the audience. I for one didn't get the joke. There's nothing original or interesting about this film. It boils down to a story (and not a very good one at that) about teenage boys banging a dead chick. No thanks.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Iron Man and Indiana

Wow. Long time since I've posted anything. We've been out to see a few films this spring, but nothing that inspired any blogging, obviously.
Well, the summer season is underway with Iron Man and Dr. Jones. Iron Man is, by any reasonable measure, a far better movie-it's an original, with a smart, tight script and great performances all around. Indiana Jones is, by contrast, kind of a mess, with a clunky script, some bad acting (by Cate Blanchett no less, letting her British accent come through behind her Russian), and some setpieces that are either too ridiculous or too poorly motivated to deserve our interest.
And yet, curiously, I quite enjoyed it.
I saw Indy with a family group including my Dad, who remarked that the movie "couldn't have been better." I can think of a few ways...
The exposition heavy speeches were extremely clunky, and could have been cut since they don't register anyway.
The scene where Indy is forced to look into the skull goes nowhere.
Spalko's psychic abilities never pay off.
Mutt's hair comb schtick never pays off.
Marion doesn't have enough to do.
John Hurt doesn't have enough to do. His character could easily have been cut, with Indy and Marion taking up his slack in the storytelling.
Ray Winstone doesn't have enough to do, and his motives are never explained.
Shockingly, in the final third, even Indiana Jones doesn't have enough to do-he becomes a passive observer.
The skull prop was not very good. (They only had 100 or so prop people in the credits, so easy to see how this was overlooked).
The camera angles in the diner scene were terrible. They looked to be due to the limitations of the location, but can't they build any location they want? They've only got about $200 million to spend.

After waiting 19 years for the "perfect script", this screenplay was a lazy mishmash. All the more inexcusable when we know that there is a Frank Darabont script out there that is rumoured to be great.

For Iron Man, I am hard pressed to think of how it could be improved, except perhaps for some more imagintative staging of the final fight scenes. (Jon Favreau is no Michael Bay in that department).

And yet, somehow... I liked Indiana Jones a bit more. Maybe it's the nostalgia factor. Maybe after the Star Wars prequels my expectations are at an all time low. I don't know why I'm inclined to give Dr. Jones a free pass, but I am. So there.

In other news, we are closing in on putting together our home theatre. This weekend my Dad helped my put up a new ceiling. Or, more accurately, I helped him put it up. The screening of Indiana Jones was in a freezing cold theatre. The popcorn and drinks for 4 people were $30. At another recent movie we saw some idiot spilled my drink as he filed into our row in the dark, after the film had started. I still love going to the movies, but it's going to be nice to have an alternative way to see movies on the big screen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to screen there

Yesterday Irena and I went to see In Bruges, a fun little film about hit men taking a forced vacation in a small Belgian town. A big theme of the film is being stuck in a place you don't want to be, and in a weird way that theme spilled over into the viewing experience itself. We saw it at Toronto's Varsity Cinema, on a holiday Monday, and it was packed. After initially turning away because neither of us can enjoy a film in a sardine can, we came back twenty minutes later and decided to give the "VIP screening room" a try. For a few extra dollars you get to see the film in a smaller theatre, on a smaller screen, but with comfier seats. When it first opened a few years back, the VIP room was presented as a posh option, complete with tableside snack service. Now, it seems, there are more seats, less tables and no special treatment, and the VIP is more of an overflow room for the well-heeled or desperate filmgoer (and hey, that's us man!)
As we sat down and began to endure the late arrivers (two of whom sat right in front of us, of course), it occurred to me that the screen was about the size of the wall of our currently unused back room on the third floor. For the privilege of seeing In Bruges in the VIP room, we paid about $30. I figure I could trick out our back room with a 1080p projector, a sound system superior to what we heard in the theatre and a few comfy chairs for about $6000. (I won't count the cost of the room reno since we want to do that anyway.) So, we would only have to watch 200 films at home for the thing to pay for itself. And that's without factoring in a $4 coke.
All that being said, I love going to the movies and won't ever stop. But I wonder how many people out there are making similar calculations to the ones above. In a decade, there might not be much of a movie-going culture left. It'll just be us and that guy behind me who insisted on unwrapping his treats from their crinkly cellophane at just the right moment.

Monday, January 28, 2008

No Country For Old Men VS. Michael Clayton

My wife Irena and I saw two, count 'em TWO Oscar contenders over the weekend.
NCFOM is the one sucking up all the oxygen so far this awards season. Having read the book, I found No Country a lot more watchable than I expected, given its extremely bleak story. Still, I can't help thinking "what's the point?" It's a beautifully crafted piece of nihilism. The cinematography and acting are excellent, even if the casting of Tommy Lee Jones is a bit too on-the-nose. Roger Ebert praised the score, which is odd since the film has no music at all. This is bold, audacious filmmaking, but it left me a bit cold. The film is brutal, intense, riveting, and, for my money, ultimately pointless.
Michael Clayton is a conventional Hollywood political-type thriller, but I found it more satisfying. The film begins with the title character getting out of his car to admire some horses. As he stands on the hillside, his car blows up behind him. Then the film flashes back to four days earlier. This is a clever screenwriting ploy. Since we know what's coming with the near miss, when the story catches up to that point we accept what would otherwise be a credibility-killing coincidence. The themes of Michael Clayton are simple-bad corporate citizens versus our flawed hero. Still, I believe it's better to be good than original, and Michael Clayton is very, very good. Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and George Clooney are all reminders that some people are movie stars for good reason.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Field of Screams

Today I braved the frigid Toronto weather and went downtown to see Cloverfield. The film is told entirely from the point of view of a single video camera, and begins at a going-away party for hip young Rob on the eve of his departure for a big job in Japan. As his pal Hud documents the party we get a voyeur's look into Rob's conflict between taking the job and staying to try to win back his girlfriend Beth.
A lot of reviews say these characters aren't interesting, and I would tend to agree. The most clever aspect of the storytelling involves the fact that the mayhem is being filmed over a used tape. This allows "gaps" in the filming, where we get to see snippets of what was on the tape before, filling in the backtory of Rob and Beth. Trouble is, there's no backstory to see, wasting an ingenious narrative device.
With nothing invested in these characters, there is very little tension or emotion to be found once the city starts crumbling. Rather than a story it plays more as a demonstration of clever storytelling techniques, and on that level it succeeds. I've read other reviews slagging the monster, but for me he worked well enough. At under 90 minutes, it's a brisk, enjoyable ride, but it could have been so much more.

After the film, my friend took off immediately to make a train, leaving no time for discussion. This is somewhat fitting. We neither laughed, nor cried, but we did kill 90 minutes. Nothing more to discuss.