Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Now on iTunes

Just a note to say, some people out there have told me they find the cbc.ca podcasts page a little....vexing. 

So, if you're of the iTunes persuasion, find the podcast section and search for Eli Glasner.  Or click here. (Launches iTunes thingy.)


Some ol-school super funk to wash away the taste the The Spirit...the WORST comic-book inspired movie of the year.  (from the eclectic amazing Metafilter)

Friday, December 19, 2008


Ahhh the top ten list.

The one final place of power for the film critic.

Yes you can shrink our column size, ignore our lofty opinions, but here, here is where we separate the cream from the crap.

So here it is. Remember because I still have somewhat of a life so I haven't seen every movie on Earth. So this is the top ten movies that I saw this year.

10. Wall-E

This will probably move up my list when I see it again. Endearing and epic there's a lot to like here. A fine example of "show don't tell" film making. Think of how little dialogue there is in the movie and yet you know exactly how each character is feeling.

Only Pixar could give us an anti-consumption environmental movie, knowing full well Wall-E himself will be spun off into countless trinkets.

A lot of people talk about the effects. It's gotten to the point now where the differences between traditional film making and computer animation are almost visually irrelevant.

Still, spare a moment for the screenplay. From Toy Story to Wall-E, there is as much craftsmanship in the story as there is in the animation. I don't know if it's the story boarding process or what, but for a bunch of computer geeks it's an amazing tale. Also, how great are those closing credits?

9. Young People F*cking

YPF gets here for many reasons. One the savvy marketing that took a tiny little film and got it mass exposure, no small feat for a Canadian picture. But beyond all that this is a great, fun, sexy and smart movie. If this is future face of Cancon I'm behind it all the way. It's Short Cuts for horny people. Not filthy, but a grown up look at sex and relationships.

A documentary with characters you wouldn't believe if they weren't real .
As the Bad Religion song says "Sometimes life is stranger than fiction."

Man on Wire is actually in many ways a caper movie. The goal, sneak into the World Trade Centre, string a wire between the two towers, 1350 feet up in the air... walk across. As we meet the men behind the scheme the focus shifts to the leader, Philippe Petit. A tightrope walker who seems to squeeze the juice out of every moment of life. This is not a film about 9-11. This is a film about dancing with the impossible. Go rent it now. I guarantee you wont be disappointed.

I have an automatic interest in animation. And an even stronger interest in adult animation. But a documentary, using the Waking Life technique to explore an Israeli soldier's buried memories of a massacre? Sold!

As a conventional documentary this would have been fine. With animation, the interviews and especially director Ari Folman retelling of the Lebanon War is surreal and poignant. Trickling out into theatres soon so keep an eye out for it.

6. Cloverfield

Ahh Cloverfield. Every time I see a bad disaster movie. A crummy Sci-Fi flick (hello The Day The Earth Stood Still) I think of Cloverfield. This is how you do it in 2008 people. Godzilla Cinema Verite style. And of course Hud, tragic hero and funny man.

5. Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One.)

In the middle of a season of mediocre thrillers, I happened to catch this one. A French thriller about Alexandre Beck, a doctor mourning his murdered wife. Then she seems to come into his life again. The mystery unravels as people around the doctor begin to suspect Beck of having a part in his wife's murder. As people connected start disappearing the paranoia level rises as Beck flees the police while doing some detective work of this own.

It's the kind of premise you can imagine Hollywood torquing into unbelievability, the James Horner soundtrack hammering every point home.

Instead with director Guillaume Canet we get the French reminding us the value of underplaying some moments. The kind of move where a character tapping a computer mouse while waiting for an email can be agonizing. Also some lovely standalone scenes and artful use of sound. One scene mixing a funeral and memories of a lakeside swim with the plaintive tones of Jeff Buckley stands out. Cross cutting the cremation and a romantic moment might seem gauche to some, but it was cinematic poetry for me.

This is the anti-Eagle Eye. A thriller that doesn't need headache-inducing editing to shock the audience. You will not be able to get the frightening woman with the fingers out of your mind. You will wonder at the simple economy of the police chase. A fine film, equal parts mystery and love letter.

4. (TIE) Milk and The Wrestler

Yes this is kinda like cheating. But the two movies are related, because they're both on the list due to the amazing lead performances.

Milk for Sean Penn's amazing job of becoming murdered gay activist Harvey Milk. I honestly worry about actors such as Penn that are able to so totally lose themselves in roles. Going into the film I wondered about Penn being able to play such a well-known and flamboyant character. As always he pulls it off with grace and style. Milk the man is not perfect, Penn shows us his drive, his charisma, his empathy.

When I saw The Wrestler at the Toronto International Film Festival director Darren Aronofsky
took the stage before the screening. He told the audience what The Wrestler showed him is "If you have an honest performance and a lens...that's all your need to make a movie." And remember this is the guy who made The Fountain which is anything but a simple movie.

Former Hollywood punchline Mickey Rourke is the honest performance at the centre of this. Some of Rourke's own story does some of the heavy lifting. We can't look as his character Randy "The Ram" Robinson without looking at Rourke himself as someone who was once the king of the heap. It's still a searing performance. There's a lot of pain there, but also heart. The scene behind the meat counter when the Ram starts throwing meat to customers is 100 percent Rourke. The charisma shines through. You see why the Ram became an entertainer and you can't help but smile. It all leads towards the final moments of the film, my favourite ending of the year.

3. The Dark Knight

What can I say about this film that hasn't been said.

About as good as it gets for a comic book hero in my book.
Director Christopher Nolan managed to deliver a smart surprisingly sophisticated film, one that raises questions about morality and absolute power.

I didn't like Nolan's first attempt (Batman Begins). The origin story was clunky and the final arrival of Batman was laughable. But from the opening bank heist in the sequel I was transfixed. True, the movie is a little bloated. I could have done without the Two-Face coda, 15 minutes that didn't seem necessary. But still, so many fine moments

Nolan raised the bar with this one. I don't think we'll see another movie like it for quite sometime. This isn't just a smart super hero movie. This is smart movie period.

And, as the appreciation of Heath Ledger piles up, spare a moment for the screenwriter. The Joker is an a amazing performance. But part of what makes him so haunting, so primal, is we don't know who or what he is. The decision to sidestep the problematic origin component of the story was brave one. As Nolan has said on occasion, it's as if the Joker is a natural force, coalescing out of thin air, moments before the film began.

2. Rachel Getting Married.

Rachel getting Married. Regular listeners of my column have already heard me swoon repeatedly for this one. Why? Well I have soft spot for music and images when mixed properly.

I love this movie, I love the performances, I love the sense of chaos. The wedding we attend is filled with the creme de la creme of hipsters. I should hate them, why don't I? Maybe it's the sense of love, of joy spilling off the screen.
Part of the thanks of course goes to the director Jonathan Demme. He decided to make a movie and throw a party at the same time. This is dogma filmmaking transmuted into Hollywood cinema. Lovely script by Jenny Lumet. Amazing performances by all. Proof sometimes the machine gets it right.

1. Hunger

I went to this movie the way you take your medicine.
They said this was good.
But a movie about a Hunger strike?
How could that make for a movie, never mind something watchable.

Well is, it's a lot more than watchable.
It's poetic, daring, shocking, intimate, funny, wry, political and powerful.
Enough with the adjectives...the movie works brilliantly.

Six weeks of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.
The time is 1981.
The setting is the Long Kesh Prison.

This is war between the prison guards and the prisoners.
The surprise is the prisoners retain power, their body is the battleground.

But even this kind of talk, doesn't do justice to the movie's little moments, the way first-time director Steve McQueen zeros in on the human side of the story.

Bravo for him to seeing the art in this miserable situation. And bravo for the screenwriters for the middle set piece of the movie. Before the hunger strikers go to war, the leader sends for the local priest.

The ensuing conversation is some of the finest acting and dialogue I've seen in years.

[Update: some wise friends have pointed out this kinda isn't a fair choice since the movie hasn't been released in North America yet. I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival. But in all honesty this is the film that stuck with me the most...consider the pick a preview. ]

Honourable Mentions:

Best Films of 2008

Just a note to say my best of 2008 list is up at the cbc podcasts page.
Scroll down and look for the funny-looking fellow and download the most recent mp3.
It's not a definitive list, my top ten is still coming, but there's some fun clips n' stuff there, so enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not So Fresh Prince

Hmm, not feeling so bad about skipping Seven Pounds right now.

"Indigestible mawkishness" is my favourite part.

Films I Saw - 2008

Sorry posting's been light.

I've been sick.

But now I'm back, working on my best of 2008.

The first step is figuring out what I saw.

After wiping off my memory cells here's the result.

Yes I haven't seen everything. Yes there's some movies I missed, some quite sorely. (Gotta go check out Slumdog Millionaire.)

Anyway here's the list! Not in any particular order.

Waltz With Bashir
Pride and Glory
Summer Hours
Heaven on Earth
Burn After Reading
Achilles and the Tortoise
The Sky Crawlers
Miracle at St. Anna
The Duchess
Ashes of Time Redux
Voya A Explotar (I’m going to explode)
The Wrestler
Flame and Citron
Coopers’ Camera
The Hurt Locker
Plan 52
Woman in Berlin
Ghost Town
Lakeview Terrace
Tell No One
Eagle Eye
Rachel Getting Married
Nick and Norah Infinite Playlist
Body of Lies
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Synecdoche New York
Madagascar 2
Nixon Frost
Quantum of Solace
How she move
4 months 3 weeks 2 days
The Counterfeiters
Baby Mama
Iron Man
Fugitive Pieces
Speed Racer
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Sex and the City
Kung Fu Panda
Don’t Mess With Zohan
The Incredible Hulk
The Love Guru
Hellboy 2
Man on a Wire
The Dark Knight
Step Brothers
The Mummy: Tomb of the Emperor
Pine Apple Express
Tropic Thunder
Star Wars: Clone Wars
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Death Race
Young People Fucking
White Night Wedding
What Just Happened
The Reader
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Il y a Longtemps Que Je T’Aime (I’ve Loved You So Long)
Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)
Filth and Wisdom
Confessions of a Porn Addict
Last Chance Harvey
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Visitor

(86 in total in case you're curious.)

Let me know what you liked or loathed as I mull over my top ten.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Another Reason Not to See The Day the Earth Stood Still

There are many warning signs in the modern remake The Day the Earth Stood Still.

-The ridiculous opening scene where we meet Keanu Reeves as a intrepid mountain climber who discovers a giant glowing sphere.

-The scene when the same giant sphere arrives in Central Park and the brightest brains on earth...run right up to thing...arriving 5 minutes before the army.

And finally there's our friend, James Hong. The appearance of James is rarely a good sign. James is the go-t0-guy for when a script says "elderly Asian man enters."

In The Day the Earth Stood Still, Hong plays Mr. Wu. Klaatu/Keanu meets Mr. Wu in a McDonald's. Wu first establishes his ethnicity by having his son get him a tea. Then carefully sipping his McDonald's beverage he talks about how humanity is doomed, can't change to save itself (he's an Alien like Klaatu.) And then, Wu entirely contradicts himself talking about how much he loves his human family and intends to stick around.

This is just the latest in a string of underwhelming roles for Hong.
Mr. Ping. Mr. Takato. Dr. Fong. Professor Chang. That's just a taste of Hong's long bio.

I'm sure he's a lovely fellow in person. And's he's obviously got the generic Asian actor market cornered....but for me a Hong sighting is a sign of lazy casting and weak writing. Do yourself a favour, go see Wall-E instead.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Movie Reviews Online

Yup. It's true. You can now listen to my reviews in convenient podcast form.
Go to cbc.ca/podcasting and look for little ol' me half way down.
I'll be updating weekly so it's a good way to get your fix if you miss the regional radio version.
(Yes that is me. I know I know, you pictured me smoking a pipe or something...)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Convincing Doubt

Damn that's a good poster.

Pretty decent movie too.
It's all about ceremony and certitude.
The setting is the St. Nicholas school, 1964.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
is Father Flynn. A captivating charming presence in the church.
And of course prowling up the pews is Sister Aloysius Beauvier.
Meryl Streep as the Nun of your nightmares.

I wont go too much into the movie. The setting is sparse, almost sterile. Accordingly the acting looms large.

Putting Hoffman and Streep up against each other is the acting equivalent of a World Wrestling Title Match. They don't disappoint. Lucky for us because the writer/director John Patrick Shanley could have done better...relying too heavily on skewed angles and mother nature to underscore a drama that doesn't need the help. (In case you're wondering the last film Shanley directed was Joe Versus the Volcano.)

Still, I'm quibbling. Fine stuff. And one of the strongest endings I've seen in a while. Though I don't think she'll win an Oscar for it.

Go See Frost/Nixon....for the last 30 Minutes.

There have been a lot of glowing reviews of Frost/Nixon

So there the are above, the real deal Tricky Dick and the movie version. You can judge the veracity for yourself. If I had to sum up my thoughts I'd say Frost/Nixon is an average Little Guy vs the Machine / Hollywood period piece. But in the final half hour the movie delivers what you came for with a riveting clash of titans. Two egos, both putting everything on the line. Both desperate to come out on top.

Peter Morgan who gave us the movie The Queen wrote the play and screenplay. So you expect this to be top rate quality. I guess where I was disappointed is with all the work that comes before the final show down.

Michael Sheen does a fine job playing the TV star Frost. In fact after seeing him do Tony Blair and this...I'm ready for something original. (Oh, look he's playing The Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland.)

But my issue isn't with the actors but rather the arc of the story.

The movie sets the stakes early. Nixon's looking for way back to put Watergate behind him.

Frost just is fascinated by the downfall of the president and sees an opportunity. But he's a fluffy talk show guy. And a Brit. And so we get the real meat of the movie. The scheme.

Frost spends all his time running around raising cash to pay for the Nixon interview and wooing sponsors. In the meantime he's assembled crack team of Nixon-haters to help him crucify the Pres. Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt play the academic and the journalist. They cram with Frost's producer while Frost jets around getting cash, attending movie openings etc.

So you see where this is going, for the middle of the film, not exactly ground breaking cinema.

And to make things worse Ron Howard, the invisible man of directors if there ever was one, is on autopilot. So we get Class-A Hollywood cliches. The montages of the team training, cramming over books, drinking, laughing and cramming some more.

The Nixon interviews are in segments, spread out over a number of days. The first one is a disaster. And we all know it's going to come down to that one crucial interview. The last shot and the only interview where Watergate was the agreed upon topic.

It's a long road getting to those final fireworks. But is it worth it.
The reason I put the youtube clips up there is to burst another bubble that's being said about Frost/Nixon.

Yes Frank Langella does a fantastic job. But I don't think he nails Nixon. He looks off, his manner a little too easy going. I don't even find the voice that close.
But that's okay. I'm not looking for a photocopy. I want the essence . And what Frank gives us is a sense of the dangerous gravity of someone LIKE Nixon. Frank's character is the smoothest of smooth operators. You get that a sense of the pull, a personality like a tractor beam that all successful politicians have. It's a fantastic turn. Not a perfect imitation, but better in a way because it fleshes out Nixon's faults. Like dissecting and pinning a frog in biology class so we can see it for what it is.

And that applies to those final moments too. Let me say, when Watergate happened I was still in diapers. But of course the first thing I did after seeing the movie was check out the actual Frost/Nixon interview on youtube. At first I was almost disappointed. The real deal seemed flat by comparison.

But again that's the beauty of those final moments on film. Writer Peter Morgan has compressed much, but he also magnifies certain moments. Zooming in on those questions when Nixon's answer, or even his reaction before he answered said so much. There's one moment, where you see Frank Langella go through two maybe three different emotions before he even starts speaking. You wont find them in the actual interviews. But it's a great moment on film.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Carpetbagger on Bongos (Oscar talk)

Quick mention to say the Carpetbagger is the kinda critic I want to grow up to be like...minus the coke habit.

Posting vlogs on the oscar race from his basement, the delivery like some strange combination of Varietymagazine and beat poetry...

Love it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Vroom! (Car Chases)

Couldn't help linking this list of greatest car chases from The Times Online.

Perhaps because they include Cannonball Run.
A movie I have fond memories of. I'm sure if I saw it today that would be ruined. I prefer to wallow in nostalgia.
Bonus points to the Times for including Blues Brothers and Ronin. Extremely different but both satisfying.
Points off for the Quantum of Solace chase...yawn. The anti car chase (if you know what I mean) in Casino Royale was better. Also ... The Matrix Reloaded?
If you're too tired to click I'll save you the trouble. Number one is Bullitt. Which I have to say, I've watch and I didn't find it amazing. It's no Duel. Heresy I know.

Add your favs in comments. For the moment I'd have to go with The French Connection.

Not the most original choice I know, but everything else seems derivative.



Sunday, November 30, 2008

The news is still big. It's the newspapers that got small.

Roger Ebert writes a must read column about the battle between thoughtful film critics and the cult of celebrity. Mr. Ebert has been through a lot the past couple years but in some ways his voice is stronger than ever.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Watchmen Will Suck


There's no other way to put it.

Having just watched the new trailer.

It's clear I've been kidding myself.

The director of 300 has taken one of the best superhero sagas ever put into book form and ruined it.

The slow motion shots, the characters calling themselves "Watchmen", the heroes posing like refugees from one of the BAD batman movies...it's all wrong.

Watchmen if you don't know was a graphic novel, actually originally a comic series. It was deranged genius Alan Moore trying to ask the question what would the world really be like with superheroes? We saw how they were compromised by the government, how they sunk into themselves, wallowing in their glory and sadism.

It was a harsh, multi-layered look at another world.

In the trailer, the heroes strut like magazine stars. Their latex outfits glisten. Rorschach the comic's relentless and somewhat psychotic detective now sounds like Dirty Harry with extra hubris.

In the comic you had an idea of what the world with superheros would feel like. Smell like. And some of it was...shabby, awkward even embarrassing. Nothing on earth can make a guy wearing underwear on the outside and Owl Ears look right. Watchmen's writer and artist knew this. Their Night Owl had a middle-aged paunch. He didn't look comfortable putting the cowl on...that was the point.

Instead director Zack Snyder seems to be reveling in it all.
I have a baaaaaaaaaad feeling this is not the masterpiece Comic fans have been waiting for.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Pony Tail Fights Back

How could Steven Seagal compete with the post-modern brilliance that is JCVD?
This is how.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dim Twilight

So as you can read here Twilight the movie is a historic first for female directors.

Director Catherine Hardwicke helped the teen fang film pull in over 70 million dollars last weekend. Yay for women right?

Not quite. As i mentioned on air. There are good things to Twilight. Kristen Stewart the actress who plays Bella with a simmering intensity is probably the best. But lets pull back for a moment and look at the role she plays.

Bella falls hard for Edward, the dreamy vampire with the messy hair. In the course of their courtship Edward tells Bella's he's been visiting her room while she's sleeping. Watching her in her room, for THREE MONTHS. Awww how sweet, your very own stalker.

Then (SPOILER) near the end, Bella basically throws her life away for her man. She leaves her father, lies to his face and heads out cross country. After the climatic battle Ed and her go to the prom and she again pledges herself to Edward, body and soul.

On the one level it's romantic. What young girl wouldn't like to dream of being so totally, completed enthralled with an all-consuming obsession with such a striking fellow. But given Bella comes across as a smart girl, I did find it disturbing how completely she gave herself to Edwards. That kinds of obsessive love, it that the message we want to see?

Some others have talked about Twilight being anti-female. I wouldn't go that far. But i'm not sure it's the type of role model I want young ladies aspiring to. The movie starts with Bella talking about sacrificing herself in the name of love. But should true love really come at that price? I'll stick with Hermione thanks.

Intimate Iron Man

Amazing, intimate and warm pictures of...Iron Man the movie. 

Best of all, shot by Mr.Stane himself, Jeff Bridges. (Link takes you to Jeff's personal website.)

Many of you are fans of the movie I'm sure.  This will solidify that feeling.   We here at G.O.F. have the DVD.  Movie stands up, even for the non-comic geeks out there.  

And speaking of all things comic and geek...I caught Ed Norton's Incredible Hulk.

Ewww boy. That is one bad film.  Hulk is actually one of my fav comic characters.  Hard to say why, maybe because he's so...basic.  Big Green Guy.  Monster Strong. Super Angry.  Plus there's all the great Jekyll and Hyde stuff.  Read some of the good Peter David comic runs if you don't believe me. 

Anyway.  To the incredibly-bad Hulk.  The final fight scene. Wow.  First, I've never seen a multi-million dollar movie like that where I thought the effects were WORSE than a video game.  You got a fine actor like Ed Norton, and then a CGI Hulk that looks like an insert in a Final Fantasy Game or something.  Yeech.  Plus, Hulk grimacing in pain?  Getting his ass handed to him by the Abomination?  Not quite green?  No no no.

(And it has to be said as a Torontonian. That does not look like New York City.  You can go and put up a sign that says Apollo Theatre.  It's still Toronto's Yonge St. and Dundas.  Probably one of the most recognizable intersections in Canada.)


Amazing fumble by the Marvel comic company there. I'm now convinced the only way to do Hulk is without CGI. Get a really BIG guy and make him look even bigger using smart camera tricks like they employed in the Lord of the Rings series.  It sounds retro I know but think about it. If they can make John Rhys-Davies appear Gimli-sized, certainly it's doable.  Plus, it gives Hulk what he's missing, the human touch.  CGI has come a long way, but for the moment we're still experts in recognizing true human emotions.  Seems to me a human actor, with the 2008 version of green-screen technology is the best of both worlds.   

 To sum up:  

  • Bridges - still a heck of a cool guy and evidently a great photographer.
  • Iron Man - solid movie, G.O.F. guaranteed. 
  • The Incredible Hulk - steaming pile of gamma-radiated refuse. 

Now That's Commitment

Next big review is the super-big, epic AUSTRALIA from Baz Luhrmann. You have to type it in capital letters because it's that audacious. I loved the flick, which would have been perfect if not for an equally audacious running length. (165 minutes.)

More on that soon. In the meantime I have to post the following.
I don't know how much you can trust the "trivia" links next to the imdb movie listings.
But if it's true....Nicole Kidman brings method acting to a whole new level.

Even though the filming schedule was pushed back a half year, Nicole Kidman never lost her faith in the project and instead prepared for the role, by by touring the country with her family, riding horses and even castrating bulls.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tweaking Twilight

I'll be reviewing the teen vampire movie Twilight today.
(Tune in to your favourite CBC morning or afternoon show on Cornerbrook. St.John's, Thunder Bay, Regina, Ontario Morning, Whitehorse, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Sudbury, Quebec City, Winnipeg or Windsor.)

In short, great concept, weak execution.

And one of the weak parts is the character Edward Cullen as played by Robert Pattinson. (Second from the right there.)

You might remember him as Cedric, the jock who gets killed in the Harry Potter films. I didn't get to mention it in my radio review, but Robert is one of the weak links that weighs down this film. It doesn't help that Kristen Stewart who plays Bella is great. While Robert is just, well sulky and lame.
I managed to take a gander at the first Twilight book. What stuck me is how the in the novel the Edward character has a sharper edge. He's not a nice guy. He's dangerous. Angry. A bit of a jerk. In the film Robert shrinks Edward's emotional range down to spooky and whiny. I can't help but think with a stronger actor, a younger Jude Law type... it could have been a better film.
Regardless like any big series Twilight book fans will flock to see how the novel translates to the big screen. Like many fantasy series (hello Narnia) this one stumbles coming out of the gate. But I guarantee there's more to come.
UPDATE: Hey Twilighters!
Check out this bit of blasphemy from Robert himself.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Geeks Are Giddy...

...because the new Star Trek trailer is online.

I'm more of an Star Wars fan than Trek. But I gotta say. It looks gooooooooooood.
I predict the problem will be the villain. Lots of fun doing a Star Trek reboot. But most of the villains are cheeseorama. Prove me wrong Abrams!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spoiling Milk

So i saw MILK, the movie about gay activist Harvey Milk today.
It’s an amazing film, total Oscar bait, a powerful political story lead by Sean Penn who must be one of the finest actors in his generation.

I had some reservations about having a well known straight actor take on such a flamboyant role, but he goes at it with gusto. Like any good movie about politics Milk sucks you in, into Milk’s cause, into his world, his fight. It isn’t just a “gay story” but a universal fight for rights, a David vs Goliath situation told artfully by Gus Van Sant.

But again i noticed two cliches done right. First movie cliché is the narration.
Many a movie has been ruined by too much narration, holding the audience’s hand all along the way.

Here Milk starts with Harvey sitting a table in 1975 speaking into a cassette player.
He’s recording a tape to played in the event of his death. A nice screenwriters trick to help set up the story? Sure. But it's a plausible one because as Milk explains he's in a dangerous fight. Gay rights weren't taken for granted back then. Even in San Fransisco Milk was angering the establishment. The taped speech works as a linking device. It sets the stakes and gives Milk way to explain just what they were fighting for, while also reminding us he’s living on borrow time.

Speaking of borrowed time, the second cliché, done right, is the death scene.


We know from the opening frame Milk will be murdered. Near the end of the movie it becomes clear who will do it.

But the act, the final confrontation is done with about as much poetry and grace such a heinous act can handle. I wont go into specifics, but (again spoiler) after the shot we see a beautiful tableau.
A side profile of Harvey Milk. Frozen for a moment.
Then he falls, against a window looking outside the City Hall.
Across the street he sees the posters for the opera Tosca.
Milk a long time opera fan just took in his first performance.
With the reflection of the Tosca's tragic hero in his eyes, Milks takes his bow.

My description does damage to the moment on film, but it’s a beaut.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Depends on What Your Meaning of "Is" Is...

SYNECDOCHE [Sih-NECK-doh-kee] -A figure of speech in which:
A Part is used for the Whole - The Screen for Movies
A Whole stands for a Part - The Law for Police
A Species (specific kind) stands for its Genus (general kind) - Cutthroats for Assassins
A Genus stands in for its Species - Creature for Person
A Material stands for a Thing - Ivories for Piano Keys

So I saw Synecdoche.

To say the least Charlie Kaufman's new movie (which the writer also directed) is difficult to describe.

A hundred shades of melancholy.

A love letter buried under the author's psychosis.

A non-conventional narrative Godard would be proud of.

It's all these things and more. A difficult movie to describe and at times perhaps to figure out. It engages you. There is no spoon feeding.

Charlie Kaufman has filled his film with all his personal peccadilloes. Obsessing over sickness and death. Art and creation.

But at its heart. At its murky, twisted, dark, wry, blackly comic heart....it is about relationships. About long lost loves and chances recovered.

Try and imagine the bastard child of Charlie Brown + Kafka with a smidgen of Terry Gilliam. Yup Gilliam. Keep you eyes out for the crazy clowns loading refugees onto a bus.

I wont say much more, except when I first watched Synecdoche I left feeling Philip Seymour Hoffman was a hero. He plays the main character, Caden, a theatre director who creates a play that never ends, constantly examining and reexamining his own life (including the very play he's creating.)

So dazed by the recursive storyline I swooned for Caden. The tireless artist who never stops searching.

Now a couple days removed it doesn't seem so glorious. More like a tragedy. The dangers of terminal tunnel vision. An obsessive case of self obsession.

So, ah see it, will ya?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Kevin Smith and the Look of Love

There is a moment in Zack and Miri Make a Porno that sums up the best and worst of director Kevin Smith. It comes as Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are doing what we knew they would do since the movie started.

Broke and desperate the two slackers decide to make a bare-budget porno to pull themselves out of debt. (Kevin's Smith's wry commentary on the financial crisis? No probably not.) So the time has come for Z&M to play their part and join the cast of bare-bottomed amateurs.

The setting is a Starbucks knockoff Zack works at during the day. Night comes and the pronto pornographers draw the curtains and get to work.

After an awkward bit of coffee shop foreplay ("Oh, would you like some of my creme?") Zack throws Miri down on a sack of coffee beans. Really. Then giving hope to pudgy but funny class clowns everywhere, Seth Rogen begins to bone Elizabeth Banks.

The camera zooms in, nothing spicy, it's all above the neck, and we watch as things go from silly to sublime in seconds. Shooting the two in golden hues borrowed from CSI Miami, it's obvious something cosmic is taking place. Smith whose never been accused of subtly further underscores the moment by laying down some post-grunge music (the band Live actually) the wash of guitars urging them along.

Can a moment be simultaneously touching and ridiculous? That, you might say is the charm of Kevin Smith. An oasis of romance in an ocean of ass and poo jokes.
Even during the sex scene, Smith can't help himself, cutting away from the moment to throw in a a couple jokes from onlooking crew. But this scene, this connection is what Kevin Smith is about. Beneath the brutal frat boy humour and scatter gun pop culture references, Smith is a big fat mushy romantic. Being a stocky bearded fellow himself, Smith has an affinity to the underdog. He knows the fragile ego of the modern manboy. If anyone can help continue Seth Rogen's charm offensive, it's Smith the screenwriter. And it doesn't hurt that his female characters are a step above the typical Van Wilder bimbettes.

As with most Smith movies, the relationships are better than the comedy. (The best so far being Chasing Amy.) At this point I'm tiring of Smith's brand of funny, like Tarantino with tourettes sans violence. What I'd really like to see him do is drop the crude act altogether and go with his heart. Come on Kevin. You could be the John Hughes our your generation. Reach for the glory. Gives us your Breakfast Club and save us the agony of Clerks 3.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Film Cliches

I saw the French film I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) earlier today.

It stars Kristin Scott-Thomas as an ex-convict reunited with her younger sister. There's two cliches in this film. On the meta level the plot is a bit of a cliche... another story about a character who has a secret, a secret you must wait until the last moments of the film to learn. Entirely the case here, although in I didn't mind. But a more annoying cliche presents itself at the end of the film. (minor spoiler.)

It's the cliche of repeated dialogue. Screenwriters love to have characters repeat certain phrases to underscore importance of the moment. "I'm going home. Going. Home." Nineteen times out of twenty i hate it. It's artificial, annoying and filmy in the worst way.

Near the end of I've Loved You So Long, Kristin's character Juliette musters her courage saying "I'm here. I'm here."

This time it works. Perhaps because she's not just really repeating the same phrase. The first "here" is just a statement to friend. The second is a vow, a sign she's finally moving forward.

They Shot the Dog

If you're a film industry fan, if you follow the industry like others follow the stock market, if you've already bookmarked boxofficemojo and know who producer Brian Grazer is …you might appreciate What Just Happened. You might not like it but you will appreciate it because a lot of the ridiculous petty things that go on in this movie about Hollywood are sadly believable.

The movie is about a producer played by Robert De Niro. De Niro actually turns in a surprisingly toned down and empathetic performance (that's right he doesn’t play an angry screaming guy..welll not most of the time) as Bob, the producer of a gutsy thriller starring Sean Penn. I should mention this is a movie where some actors play themselves and other don't. So Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis, but John Turturro is Dick Bell a cowardly bow-tie wearing agent.

What Just Happened starts with a test screening of a thriller called Fiercely. Fiercely's director is Jeremy, a crazy Brit who sports a Hebrew letter tattooed on his neck (Guy Ritchie?) With Fiercely Jeremy is making not a movie, but a statement, breaking new ground, subverting the audience and all that garbage. But at the test screening the audience recoils when Sean Penn, as the hero, shoots a dog on screen. Can De Niro/Bob get the director to recut his masterpiece in time for Cannes? That's the kind a movie we're talking about. The kind a movie where the question of whether Bruce Willis will shave his beard isn't just a subplot but the major axis the entire story pivots on. Ridiculous? Sure. True? Yup. Except it was Alec Baldwin who showed up on the set of The Edge looking like Grizzly Adams.

What Just Happened is a movie that you might say is mainly for insiders. But for an industry built on the art of deception there's a surprising amount of truth on the screen. It’s not always pretty. In fact considering the way it wraps up you might say the creators of What Just Happened shot the dog themselves.
See and you’ll understand why in this case, that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Before Sunrise for Adults

Sometime a trailer comes along and it just works.
Take the case of Last Chance Harvey, starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. It starts simple. A couple quick cuts and we meet Harvey, frumpled and fumbling. Soon the song comes in and we're in rom-com movie montage heaven. Who needs 2 and half hours? I've seen all I need to in 2 minutes and 20 seconds.


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