Sunday, December 20, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
A History of Violence (Directed by David Cronenberg, 2005): I was rather non-plussed when I saw this for the first time, four years ago. Of course, it was an awkward visit to the theater, considering I saw it with my mother and father (Boy, those sex scenes made the trip extra-awkward), and some employee was vacuuming the back hallway behind the theater for the last half-hour, or so. But, upon rewatch, I’m still not a big fan. My biggest problem with it - and you can blame me for committing the unpardonable sin of the movie reviewer - is that it didn’t really go where I wanted it to go. I loved the story of the two hoods coming to this small town and a mild-mannered diner owner, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) who leaps into action when needed and kills the two hoods. I loved the idea of said diner owner getting hounded by a mysterious mobster (Ed Harris) who thinks Tom is someone else, a hood named Joey from Philadlephia. But, I am not really onboard with the whole
>>[SPOILER]Tom IS actually a who the mobster says he is, a hood from Philadelphia who buried his past and assumed a new identity[/END SPOILER].<<
Something about the last third just doesn’t strike me as believable. I’ve read reviews which detail how it plays around with the idea of self-identification and what makes us who we are, but I don’t think the film does a really good job of explaining or exploring this territory. If the film is about this idea of the self and what makes it, then it should get to this point much earlier in the story. By the time we get the big reveal about Tom, it’s two-thirds into the film and we’ve become invested, as an audience, in the story of Tom, that the second part of the plot never really takes hold.
>>SPOILER]Since all we really ever learn/know about Joey is that he was a nasty person and super-hood from Philadelphia, we never really feel any apprehension when he confronts his brother. I mean, if Tom Stall can battle mobsters with few problems, it stands to reason that Joey, who is Tom minus all sense of good and responsibility, would have even less problems with said mobsters. It removes all the tension from what should be a very tense situation.[/END SPOILER]<<
I also think a lot of the dialogue is really overwritten, particularly Tom’s son who never sounds like a high-school kid, rather a theater student in his mid-twenties. So, while I can admire the movie’s strongpoints: great performances by Mortensen, Harris, and Maria Bello; intense action sequences that show real results of violence without glorifying them (Though they are still kind of cool); and a weirdo, spirited casting choice of William Hurt as a mobster, that almost works, I can’t quite recommend it.
Dead Ringers (Directed by David Cronenberg, 1988): Dead Ringers, on the other hand, does a much better job of exploring the realm of identity and the self. Jeremy Irons plays the role(s) of twin gynecologists, Beverly and Elliot Mantle. And what a performance it is! You actually find yourself watching it, and being able to tell who Beverly and Elliot are separately, because Irons does such an incredible job of playing each twin as a completely separate person: Bev, the introverted super-doctor who has a wonderful compassionate bedside manner but has difficulty communicating outside of his clinic, and Elliot, the smooth-talking brother with a knack for wooing the ladies, but can’t really communicate on any deeper level than seduction. After Elliot seduces an actress, Claire (Genevieve Bujold), he gets Beverly to take her out the second time, because he recognizes that Elliot will never meet women without his help. But, where Elliot finds Claire to be an interesting diversion, like all women he meets, Beverly makes a much deeper connection with her. He begins to have difficulty operating without her, and when she finds out the twins’ scheme, cuts off all contact with them. Beverly is devastated, and begins to take drugs to cope with her absence, and beings to spiral out of control. Her return doesn’t help, as she indulges his drug habit with her own, but the two manage to peacefully co-exist, though Elliot feels shunted aside. When she goes away on a shoot, and Bev suspects her fidelity, it’s more than he can take, and he begins to have difficulty operating not just in the outside world, but even in his sanctuary, the clinic. Elliot recognizes his brother’s suffering, and decides he must suffer with him, that it’s the only way he can pull him out of the nosedive.
It’s a fascinating film, contrasting the grotesque (Beverly’s nightmare, surgical scenes, and Beverly’s growing infatuation with “mutated women”, as well as a gory finale), with scenes of surprising beauty, like Elliot looking after his brother, or the opening sequence that’s a flashback to their childhood attempts at “seduction”.
But, this is Irons' picture as much as anyone. And Irons is phenomenal, playing both characters as completely different people, at times you forget it’s the same actor in both roles. As a Canadian, it’s quite refreshing to see that we got it right for a change, when Irons was chosen as Best Actor at the Genie Awards (Canada’s Oscars) while the Academy Awards failed to even nominate him.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
084. Happy Times (Directed by Zhang Yimou, 2000): Fascinating human comedy that could only come from outside of the Western world, because, well, it's too darn weird. Zhao is a big dreamer, trying to woo a woman despite his lack of funds. He and a friend decide to rent out an abandoned schoolbus to young couples in need of privacy, and use the money to fund a a wedding well out of his price-range. His fiancee pawns off her step-daughter on him, thinking that since Zhao is presenting himself as a hotel owner, he can surely find a job for Wu as a masseuse. Wu is blind, so Zhao concocts a scheme where he places Wu in an abandoned building and sends his friends in as her clients. The massages are brusque and mechanical, never looking at all beneficial, sometimes even looking painful. They loop a cassette recording of downtown ambiance in the building so that she doesn't suspect the deception. Even though their relationship is based entirely around deception and trickery, Zhao begins to care for the poor unwanted girl, and she appreciates everything Zhao is doing for her, even as she begins to suspect it's not on the up and up. Roger Ebert expressed some grave misgivings about the plot, and the idea of a comedy based off of tricking a blind girl, but I think he's placing values on it that the film isn't interested in. There's nothing vaguely sexual or mean-spirited about what he's doing with Wu, it's just a guy without any means, trying to get along the best way he knows how. In the last stretch, the movie takes a shockingly serious turn, and it's really moving and sad.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
088. In America (Directed by Jim Sheridan, 2002): "Don't "little girl" me," the young girl says, staring into her father's eyes, "I've been carrying this family on my back for over a year." The father (the wonderful Paddy Considine) is shocked. He seems to think he and his wife have been coping well since the death of their son, never realizing the daughter has been taking the brunt of it, trying to maintain a happy face and take care of her younger sister while her parents trudge along, grief-stricken. "He was my brother too," she says. It's that kind of scene that separates In America from the rest of the pack, and elevates it above what could have simply been a tear-jerking nostalgia flick. That kind of emotional honesty is rare, and the performance by Sarah Bolger is sublime.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
091. Elf (Directed by Jon Favreau, 2003): Elf? Really? Yes, Elf! Why? Because it did something I thought was completely impossible: make a genuinely enjoyable, funny and moving Christmas movie without making it too "mature" (By, "mature", I basically mean scatological or sexual humor. I don't know why that's called "Mature". It's like when 'Family Guy' plays on TV and it says "The following program contains mature humor." That sounds to me like 'Frasier'. In my head, right now, I'm picturing Peter Griffin making jokes about politics and art and wine. It's...kind of funny.), too tear-jerking, too condescending. Instead, you get this Will Ferrell performance that, while it could never be considered a tour-de-force acting performance, could not have been pulled off by anyone else. There's simply no other living actor who could have pulled off the performance that Ferrell did. It's this astonishing exhibition of honesty, and sincerity, and goodness, with just enough weirdness to make it entertaining. Think about it. Ben Stiller? Probably not innocent enough. Steve Carrell? Not goofy enough. Vince Vaughn? Too knowing. Daniel Day-Lewis? Too intense. Javier Bardem? Too ethnic. Seriously, though, it's the kind of performance that gets overlooked, but there really is no other actor that could pull this off. But, it took a semi-serious film like Stranger Than Fiction before people said: "Hey, Ferrell's not bad." But, he's been more than not bad for years. I realistically think that one day he'll get an Academy Award nomination, probably sometime in the future when somebody stuntcasts him, after his box office power has faded, like Will Smith's recent run of becoming a semi-serious actor. And when that day comes, people will mistakenly point to Stranger Than Fiction as an atypical role where Ferrell was allowed to play against type and show off. But, that's wrong. THIS is the film. It's just this wonderfully balanced role. Watch his face as he sets off on his trek to find his father. Or the look of genuine joy when he discovers NYC. Or the look when he falls for Zooey Deschanel? (And, frankly, who wouldn't!). Also, the angry little person!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
095. Idiocracy (Directed by Mike Judge, 2006): At times, I think this is just hilarious and one of the funniest comedies of the decade. At other times, it's almost unfunny. That's not the film's fault. The reason the film at some points almost becomes unfunny, is because I begin to question whether or not it's actually a satire, or if it's actually a relic from the future, designed to show us the way things are turning out and that we'd better do something about it. But, I digress. Idiocracy introduces us to Private Joe Bauers, a man so perfectly average that he hits the median of every graph ever put together by the military. It is his complete averageness that makes him the perfect guinea pig for a new military cryo-experiment that will see him frozen for a year. Bauers questions the assignment by saying that whenever a superior officer tells him to "Lead, follow, or get out of the way" he always gets out of the way. When he's informed that he's not supposed to choose "get out of the way", that it's supposed to embarrass him into action, he replies "That doesn't embarrass me." Of course the experiment goes wrong, and, of course, Joe wakes up many years in the future. And what a future it is: mountains of garbage, a restaurant named 'Butt Fuckers', and a dialect that is a mixed patois of hillbilly and ebonics. You see, as explained in the very detailed introduction, Survival of the Fittest has been overtaken by Survival of the Dumbest. Intelligent people who can always find a reason to not have children (The market, cited as one), while the less intelligent just keep on procreating without thought to the future. So, when the very average Joe Bauers emerges in the future, he's no longer average, he's the smartest man alive. He ends up in jail, on the run, and in the White House, during his whirlwind trip to the future, and it's all quite hilarious. But, sometimes, it hits a little too close to home. When you hear about an Ontario high school removing 'To Kill A Mockingbird' from its curriculum because one family complained about racial epithets used in the book, you wonder if the future in Idiocracy is maybe not as far off as it seems. In that sense, Idiocracy could have been used not only as a comedy, but a wake-up call for the human race upon its release. So it makes sense that 20th Century Fox gave it a minute release, then closed up shop quickly and dispatched it to DVD before anyone knew it had even played anywhere. Speculation is Fox was worried about the anti-corporation sentiment displayed in the film, but I can't help but wonder if they were worried people would get smarter and stop watching Fox altogether. So, Idiocracy is, first and foremost, a comedy, and it's a really funny one (I'm quite partial to the new popular television show titled 'Ow, My Balls!' which is just one man being repeatedly struck in the genitals, which is obviously a not-so-subtle jab at masochistic fare such as Jackass), but it's also a call to action for smart people. After all, as the film says itself, "there was a time...[when] movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was, and why it was farting". Words to live by, my friends, words to live by.