Sunday, September 14, 2008

Review: Inju, the Beast in The Shadow

In Inju, the Beast in The Shadow, my second French movie of the festival, director Barbet Schroeder brings to life a novel by Rampo Edogawa. Edogawa, whose real name was Hirai Taro, took his pen name from the Japanese pronunciation of the name Edgar Allan Poe. Schroeder claims that Edogawa was famous in Japan, but not elsewhere, because he was too dark for the rest of the world.

In this adaption of the novel, Schroeder made a couple key changes. First, the lead male character is French, whereas all the original characters were all Japanese. Second, the lead female character is not a wife, but a geiko, or geisha.

The movie opens with a movie within the movie, adapted from a work by famous Japanese author Shundei Oe. The movie ends, and we see that it was being shown to his class by college professor and author Alex Fayard, played by veteran French actor Benoît Magimel, who has a child with Juliette Binoche, for those of you keeping track at home. Alex, whose dissertation for his PhD in Literature was on the author Shundei Oe, has now penned a novel in Oe's style and is receiving rave reviews.

Oe is an author of dark subject matter, where evil prevails over good. A recluse in Kyoto, Oe is rumored to have never been positively identified, even by his own publishing company. When Alex accepts an invitation to appear on a Japanese TV show featuring discussions with authors, Alex not only accepts, but puts out feelers requesting a meeting with Oe. Not only is he rebuffed, which he expected, he is warned against coming to Kyoto. Alex, who believes this is all for effect, ignores the warning.

Once in Japan, Alex befriends a geiko he meets after an evening of entertainment hosted by his Japanese publicist. Soon, she comes to him, distraught. It seems that she broke the heart of a man 15 years ago, who she believes is Shundei Oe, and he is now threatening her life. She believes Alex is the only one who knows Oe's well enough to help her. Alex agrees to help and begins on a quest to find the real identity of Shundei Oe and protect Tamao. He succeeds in a shocking ending.

Schroeder manages to keep the level of suspense and intrigue high throughout the film, with many twists and turns. This was a great end to the festival for me and Schroeder has revived my faith in French cinema (with an assist from Phillipe Claudel). My imdb rating: 8/10.

Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

This film's title, The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, announces itself as a western, and also perhaps a bit of play on the genre. South Korean director/writer Ji-woon Kim brings forth a tale from the wild East, set in 1930's Manchuria. It stars, gauging from the reactions of many of the hyped-up Korean fans in the audience, three of the biggest stars in Korean cinema today: Woo-sung Jung (the Good one), Byung-hun Lee (the Bad one), and Kang-ho Song (the Weird one).

The three Korean bandits chase around Manchuria after a map, working their way in and out of scrapes with the Japanese army and both Korean & Russian bandits. The Bad one is being paid to retrieve it, though eventually his motivations change. The Good one isn't necessarily all good. He is a bounty hunter by trade, but in comparison to the Bad one, he's squeaky clean. The Bad one is a gang leader who enjoys killing people, and he's good at it. Suggest that he might not be the best, and those will probably be a few of the last words you utter. The Weird one, a talented and quirky train robber, provides much of the comedy relief, preferring a motorcycle for the horse chase scenes.

As the movies winds down its complex path, we find that there is history interwoven among the three of them. There are a few twists, turns and surprises, but the real ride is all about the action and comedy. And what was the map for? It's revealed in the final scene, with perhaps a wink to modern-day problems.

This movie has about everything you'd want in a big American box office smash, with the exception of the English language. There are guns, fisticuffs, espionage, chase scenes, a PG-13 rating, comedy, twists & turns, star performances from all three leading actors, and huge budget. I think they got their money's worth. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Review: Achilles and Tortoise

I saw and enjoyed a movie called Brother back at the 2000 festival and thought I'd see the latest film from writer/director/actor Takeshi Kitano, aka "Beat Takeshi". Kitano first gained fame as a stand-up comic back in late 70's Japan. By 1980, Kitano was appearing in films, writing scripts beginning in 1985 and directed his first film in 1989.

It follows easily that his films have an element of comedy. Kitano's sense of humor is approximately the opposite of slapstick. He plays it straight, showing little emotion. Often the humor is in his lack of reaction, and in his lack of self-awareness, particularly in relation to his own absurdity.

For Achilles and Tortoise, Kitano takes on the art world. The movie begins with someone telling a student of the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, which I think is philosophical bunk. But that's just my opinion. I'm not sure what this has to do with the movie, other than the title. My brain is a little tired, so perhaps it'll come to me later.

We pick up the life of Machisu as a boy. His father is a wealthy businessman who appreciates art, but fails to understand it. He encourages Machisu to become a painter, convinced he has talent. Machisu, who lacks both talent and inspiration, does have interminable will, and he paints until the cows come home, which apparently they never do. He's particularly fond of chickens.

Machisu's father goes bankrupt and commits suicide. Penniless, his step mother sends Machisu to live with his uncle, who is far less supportive of his art ambitions.

It is in his older adult years that Kitano takes over the role of Machisu. He marries the one woman who supports his endeavors, and they have a daughter. By her teen years, she is thoroughly embarrassed and leaves home to become a prostitute.

Machisu tries to sell his works through a local art dealer, who is never satisfied enough to actually try to sell anything. And Machisu tries just about everything, most often mimicking the likes of Moet, Seurat, Renior, Munch, and Warhol.

The bulk of the movie is spent by Kitano brainstorming ways to poke fun at modern artists art dealers, and their patrons and the world in which they thrive. A lot of the gags are funny, but they grow stale after a while, as there doesn't seem to be any point to the story. Maybe that was Kitano's intention, maybe it wasn't. It was good for a few laughs, but the movie just didn't really work for me. My imdb rating: 6/10.

Review: Sexykiller

I've seen a Midnight Madness movie before, but never at its proper 11:59 PM start time. A former fellow festival goer and I once had tickets, but gave them up, as the previous five movies that day had taken their toll. This time, I gutted it out and made it to the screening for Sexykiller.

Any review of this movie is bound to be affected by the crowd, so I should start there. I arrived at the theatre at about 11:35 and walked straight in. The crowd was loud, many were likely drunk, and there were at least four beach balls being bounced around the crowd, at least until one popped, drawing a loud score of boos from the raucous crowd. At one point, one guy spiked a ball accidentally into the back of another guy's head, albeit accidentally. The victim responded by turning, giving his assailant a shrugging look, and then drawing even harder than before on his bottle of Bacardi.

The director, Miguel Martí, introduced the film, partly in English and partly in Spanish. The Spanish part was then translated, more or less, by the Sexykiller herself, Macarena Gómez. Gómez is tall, slender, and appeared more or less in character. The crowd ate it up.

The film opens in a girls' locker room. I had to imagine that it was after a model runway gig, but no, it was actually just supposed to be college girls. A peeping tom dressed in Scream killer attire. He thinks he's come across a mirror; but no, it's actually another person dressed identically, who promptly cuts a gash in his arm. He runs, eventually gets winded, pleads for death, but then comes across our heroine who, after playing with his mind a little, finishes him off.

The film has pretty much about everything you could long for in a Midnight Madness film: Comedy, gore, the aforementioned girls' locker room scene, serial killing, camera interaction, revenge killing, just-for-the-heck-of-it killing, crude jokes, bad police work, classic horror movie references and zombies. I'm sure I could have lengthened that list, but you get the idea.

My only regret is that I don't know Spanish, as I'm sure some of the comedy was lost in translation. But it's still hilarious. The camera loves Gómez, and Gómez loves the camera. And the crow loved Sexykiller. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Review: Coopers' Camera

I fully expected Coopers' Camera to be bad, but I had to see it because I am a true fan of The Daily Show, and it stars two of its correspondents, Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, who co-wrote the script.

The premise behind Coopers' Camera is that Gord Cooper (Jones) bought the family a video tape recorder for Christmas 1985. Various family members recorded events of that evening, mostly youngest son Teddy, in a hilarious performance from 13-year old Dylan Everett. The video was later edited and the result is the film that you see.

The family puts new labels on the word dysfunctional. Rampant alcoholism, drunk driving, revelations that boys may have different fathers, neither of them being Gord, mannequin-romance, older brother Marcus used to be Tiffany, and Teddy even pays his cousin Heather to strip, $2 at a time. Basically, if you find it offensive, it's in there. A couple parts dragged here and there, but for the most part, they flung jokes at the screen pretty quickly.

The audience was pretty jazzed for this one, but the cast was pretty much all-Toronto (or at least all-Canadian). I wouldn't go out of your way for this one, but should it make to a theatre near you and you find yourself in need of some yuks, you could do worse. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Review: Pride and Glory

Pride and Glory was directed by Gavin O'Connor, whose last film was 2004's Miracle. O'Connor, who co-wrote the script, takes a different turn in this film, wringing out a classic corrupt cop flick with big names to back him: Colin Farrell, Edward Norton, and Jon Voight.

The movie opens with Ray Tierney, played by Norton, attending a NYPD football game, pads and all. One of the leaders on the field is Jimmy Egan, played by Farrell. The two are brothers-in-law, Jimmy being married to Ray's sister Megan. Ray followed his dad Francis, played by Voight, into the police force as a detective. But after some unmentioned incident, he now works in the missing persons department.

Jimmy puts pressure on the quarterback on the final play of the game, the pass falls incomplete, their team wins, and all is gleeful, until they get a call that four NYPD cops were down at a crime scene, and away they go. After the smoke clears, Ray's dad pleads him to come back to the detective squad to investigate, and Ray reluctantly agrees. Things start seeming off kilter early on, and Ray digs in to find a sizable web of corruption, and what he finds threatens to tear apart not only the NYPD, but his family as well.

The movie doesn't recreate anything in the crime drama arena, but it does it well, and holds its audience. There are some definite tension moments: many teeth knocked out, a pool ball to the side of the head, and even some simulated baby-ironing (betcha Gitmo never thought of that one). My imdb rating: 8/10.

Review: I've Loved You So Long

Every year I say I'm not going to see any French films, and then every year I do. This year is no exception, and this year's French film is Il y a longtemps que je t'aime from first-time director Philippe Claudel. It stars Kristin Scott Thomas, who was English last time I checked. In fact, there is mention of Scott Thomas' character, Juliette, having spent some time in England, and I wondered at the time if that was in the original script, or if they just stuck that line in there to explain away her imperfect French accent. Like I would have caught that (stupide Américain!).

The film opens with Juliette waiting for her sister to pick her up at a small airport, smoking a cigarette. Juliette is emotionally cold and quiet. Her sister, Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) seems to be trying to keep things light, though she's obviously uncomfortable. They haven't seen each other in at least 15 years.

The rest of the movie slowly reveals the secrets of Juliette's past and the reason for her disappearance, peeling back past the layers that Lea knows and eventually down into core of Juliette's troubled past.

Claudel, a well known author in France, skillfully develops his characters and weaves us in and out of suspenseful situations. I'll probably see another French film at next year's festival, thanks to him. It had better be good. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Home Stretch

Only two days left, and yet I have 8 tickets remaining. It'll be brutal, but what's a guy to do, eh? Looking at the calendar, I'm not even sure when I'll have time to eat today. Perhaps a hot dog or some other fast food item. It's okay, I've probably eaten enough for the next week or so anyway.

I just crawled out of bed, so I guess I'd better get ready for my first film of the. Enjoy your Friday...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Review: Flash of Genuis

I probably should have seen something other than Flash of Genius at the festival, not because it's good or bad, but because if it's any good, it will surely be showing in major theatres, and if not, why on earth would I want to see it? Good notes for next year's selection process, I suppose.

Anyway, this film stars Greg Kinnear as Bob Kearns, the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. Sounds like an exciting movie, doesn't it? Well, though there is some minor talk of resistors and capacitors for those of you who get excited about that sort of thing, but this movie is a human story of a man going it alone against the corporate giant Ford, back when Ford was all the rage.

Kearns dropped his attorney Gregory Lawson, played by Alan Alda, when Lawson tried to persuade him to take a cash settlement in the range of $300,000. No, for him, it wasn't about the money, but it was about what was right. And what was right was Ford saying "uncle" after stealing his invention. Kearns represented himself in court, and I'll let you predict what that outcome was.

Regardless of the outcome, the case cost Kearns a lot, including his job as a university professor, 12 years of his life studying patent law & filing motions, papers,etc., but most of all his wife (Lauren Graham). There is nothing earth shattering about this movie, but it's a good story worth watching if it happens to be raining some weekend, particularly if it's a light rain or perhaps a mist. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Review: Uncertainty

Sometimes, when I'm mid-way through the festival, I can barely remember what movies I've seen, let alone what movies I have remaining in my queue. I honestly can't remember choosing Uncertainty, which comes from a directing duo I don't recognize (Scott McGehee and David Siegel), a cast containing no one I've heard of (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lynn Collins, Assumpta Serna, and Olivia Thirlby), and a gimmick narrative structure, which I typically avoid like the plague these days. But I had a ticket and this is why I'm here, so I went, even with a bit of trepidation.

Kate and Bobby, a young couple who have been dating for less than a year, stand on a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn contemplating their decision. In an act of indecision, they decide instead to decide whether to go to Manhattan or Brooklyn. They flip a coin, and then Bobby runs one way, Kate the other; this is simply a symbolic scene, from what I gather. At that point, the movie carries forth two separate realities. In one, they find a lost dog, and then visit Kate's family. In the other, they find a lost cell phone in a cab and eventually try to extort money from the owner, almost get killed in the process by mysterious bad guys.

Plot #2 was pretty lame, with a bad action/suspense script, unrealistic characters making stupid decisions, plot holes galore, etc. Plot #1 was fairly mundane, with more family drama. In the end, they never made the decision, which was whether or not to keep Kate's baby. I was left to contemplate what my alternate reality would have been, if I had seen a better movie.

After the credits quit rolling, the directors hadn't yet shown up for the Q&A. The audience was left with a decision: wait and see if they showed up, or leave. My decision was pretty easy. And my imdb rating: 5/10.

Review: Gigantic

I'll admit that I picked Gigantic based almost solely on the fact that I thought Paul Dano was really creepy in There Will Be Blood and I was just curious as to what he'd do next. First time writer/director Matt Aselton teams Dano up with stars Edward Asner, John Goodman, and Zooey Deschanel in this romance/comedy/something or another.

Dano plays Brian, a 28-year old mattress salesman who has dreamt of adopting a Chinese baby for 20 years. Deschanel plays Happy, the daughter of a wealthy businessman played by Goodman. Brian meets Happy when she comes into the mattress store, which looks like a black market mattress store, to wrap up the sale of a top-of-the-line $14,000 bed. She falls asleep on the bed and Brian covers her with a blanket. Isn't that just so sweet? Brian and Happy hook up, and then she gets cold feet about the relationship when his adoption comes through.

There are jokes here and there, and a few of them are funny, mostly from Ed Asner, who plays Brian's dad. And there's this weird series of attacks on Brian by some homeless man, who Brian ends up killing with a switchblade lent to him by Happy's dad for no apparent reason (the phrase "no apparent reason" applies to any part of the entire previous sentence). There's some miscellaneous interaction with Brian's family, and some of that is mildly amusing.

The script could have used an editor, or a script doctor, but really what would have helped is an entirely different script. The direction pretty much stunk, too. The whole movie was a mess. If I had a Colbert-style "On Notice" list, Matt Aselton would be at the top of that list. Please, please do not see this film. I mean, go ahead if have low self esteem and you want to feel better about yourself. "Wow, maybe I could write and direct a major motion picture!" is a phrase that came across my mind as the credits rolled. My imdb rating: 4/10.

The Room

A quick word about my accommodations, and then I need to scarf down some food before I get to my next film.

This house is old. While that in itself is not bad, I don't think much has changed since the 80's. And I don't even mean that in a good way (Mike). In fact, I'm pretty sure the towels were once liberated from a 1980's era Motel 6. There is little light, I'm afraid to close the window for fear it might just fall out, the breakfast glasses have chips in the rims and I'm afraid I'm going to slice off my lips, and I've probably inhaled at least three fruit flies at breakfast every morning. Paint and wallpaper alike are peeling off the walls, and I fear that if I use one of the provided space heaters I might send the entire house up in flames. It's a good thing I my body generates so much heat at night.

Then there's my private bath. I can only walk in about three feet before the severely sloped ceiling meets my head. It's due to this fact that the shower curtain closes around the shower head so closely -- it's a challenge, if not an impossibility, to avoid touching it. Sometimes, I feel like it's drawn to me like a sock is to a sweater fresh out of the dryer.

One of my favorite things, is this sign:

There are jokes lurking here, and I'll let you make up your own punch lines, but I should point out that there is no waste bin in the bathroom.

Review: Fifty Dead Men Walking

Fifty Dead Mean Walking, starring Sir Ben Kingsley and likely future star Jim Sturgess, tells the true tale of Irishman Martin McGartland's infiltration of the Irish Republican Army in the tale end of the 20th century, albeit in fictional fashion. Let's just say that they give new meaning to the phrase "based on a true story".

First, I'll say that I want to have liked this movie, but I think in order to do so, I'm going to have to rent the DVD and turn on the subtitles. I understood nearly as much of the dialogue watching A Year Ago in Winter yesterday (which was in German, for those of you who didn't catch that detail). Now while those of you who can not only understand but actually spew forth that thick Irish accent may make fun of me, I just have to be honest and say that sometimes it sounds a little bit like English. But only a little. Often times, it takes me ten minutes to get into the swing of it, but I never did get into rhythm with this movie. But what I did catch:

Martin (Sturgess) is a young thug peddling stolen goods when he catches the eye of the Brits. An agent code-named Ferguson (Kingsley) convinces him to infiltrate the ranks of the IRA and feed him information that will save lives. Eventually, the Brits blow his cover in favor of letting a bunch of people die, and Martin becomes a wanted man. He gets caught, and his escape, which is represented mostly as it happened, is amazing. The part about being relocated to Canada and being shot there -- well, that somehow didn't make it to wikipedia, so it must not be true.

Along the way, Martin fathers a couple children, resists a beautiful IRA intelligence officer (a red-headed Rose McGowan), really pisses off some mates, and somehow gets through initiation into the IRA and rises to the post of operation leader without actually killing anyone. Okay, I'm not complaining. I actually enjoyed the bits that I could catch, and I'll probably add this one to my Netflix queue when it comes out someday. And then I'll be able to give it a rating that it deserves. For now I'll throw a dart at a board... My imdb rating: 7/10.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review: Shortcuts Canada Programme 3

Every year I try to fit in a batch of short films, just for a change of pace. Most of these are done by film students at various Canadian universities and produced on shoestring budgets, ranging from $0 (shot on a cell phone) to $30,000 CAD. The chances of you ever seeing any of these is remote, but for the record, here's what I thought of them:

Pat's First Kiss: Shot on a cell phone by Pat Mills, this was an autobipgraphical account of a gay man's journey to Europe, where he received his first kiss from a creepy man in a creepy hostel, fearing for his own life. Humorous, this film looked more like animation, due to fact that it was shot on a cell phone and run through heaving post-production. My imdb rating: 6/10.

Forty Men for the Yukon: Directed by Tony Massil, this documentary gives us a glimpse into the lives of a couple leftovers from the gold rush in Canada's Yukon territory. These two men are hilariously genuine. One still prospects today, while the other is a retired bar owner. They live in squallor, but don't seem to know any different. "I went to the unemployment office and said 'I want a job where I don't have to work around no damned women.' And off to the Yukon went one of the men. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Bedroom: A married couple lies in bed. A very calm conversation ensues. Over the next 16 minutes, we find out that he had an affair because he has some, shall we say, non-traditional desires and a fear to express them. Overall, not a horrible idea or execution, yet, as they were bored with each other, I was bored with them, only I didn’t want things to continue. My imdb rating: 5/10.

Midi: This French canadian short takes place on the deck of a small apartment. I was a little confused, but as much as I can tell the man wasn't a native French speaker, as he was listening to French lessons on a tape palyer while making fishing lures. His wife bugs him about leaving tomorrow. Eventually, we learn what she means exactly, and though he is unable to express his true feelings, he hears them over the self-help tape. My imdb rating: 6/10.

Passage: This French Canadian short was made sans dialogue. Two men and two women are driving in a car and seem to be having a great time. The front seat passenger empties four pills from a baggie into his hand -- ecstasy, I presume -- and hands one each to the other three, who all proceed to take them. They arrive at a cheap motel, and begin a sexual trip that one is not prepared for. Though obviously a student piece, this black-and-white production was shot quite well, and the main character expressed a great range of emotion without uttering a word. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Sunday: This short takes to the home of a young couple who are obviously on the outs. The man, obviously in the doghouse, accidentally falls asleep with a lit cigarette and briefly lights jeans on fire. As their relationship degrades, he finds that his internal pain begins to externalize itself in a very similar fashion -- spontaneous combustion. This was probably the best of the bunch -- convincing special effects and great build of suspense. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Green Door: This short begins with a man getting elecrocuted in comedic fashion, which sets off a chain of events that is occasionally amusing and rarely anything else. A comedy of misunderstanding, miscommunication and desire fell a little flat. My imdb rating: 5/10.

Review: A Year Ago In Winter

A Year Ago in Winter is the follow-up to Caroline Link's Oscar winner for best foreign language film Nowhere in Africa. I haven't seen Nowhere in Africa, but I figured the director had to be worth a shot. In an interesting reversal of the norm, the German language movie was developed from an American book by Scott Campbell that has yet to be released. I always thought movies were shot in English (with an addition of a space monkey or two) developed from foreign language movies developed from foreign language books, but what do I know.

This film examines a family dealing with the loss of Alex, the youngest of two children. Much of the focus is on daughter Lilli (Karoline Herfurth), who is studying dance and singing at an arts college. Lilli's mother Elaine (Corinna Harfouch) commissions Max, a neighbor and painter played by Josef Bierbichler, to create a portrait of Lilli and her late brother. Lilli begrudgingly agrees to participate, but over time develops a friendship with Max, who is dealing with losses of his own. Meanwhile, the stress of losing their son is proving to be too much for Elaine and her husband (Hansa Czypionka), and they veer off toward separation.

Initially described as a "hunting accident", it is revealed quite early on that Alex's death was actually suicide. Eventually, Lilli takes on a bit of a quest to discover the why he took his own life, if only to relieve her own guilt of her imperfect relationship with her brother. Blame is slyly thrown around between family members, and tension boils beneath the surface.

The characters are well developed and seem real. The direction is quite good, with the one exception of a musical montage set to the Link's favorite Peter Gabriel song, which drags on a bit long. Otherwise, the film plays out quite nicely, and will certainly draw out a tear or two from you weepy sorts. If you have the means and don't mind the subtitles, I recommend catching this one if and when it comes to a theatre near you. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Review: Synecdoche, New York

I think I picked Synecdoche, New York based on the cast or something. I was in a hurry. What I didn't realize going into it was not only was this movie written by the infamous Charlie Kaufman, who had also penned Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, to name a few, but it was directorial debut. They had originally lined up Spike Jonze, who had directed a couple of the aforementioned movies, but by the time Kaufman finished this screenplay, he was busy directing Where the Wild Things Are.

I was in the rush line for this film and I was one of the last few people to get in. I'm still trying to sort out if that was lucky or not. The first ten or fifteen minutes that I saw were hysterical. It started with a scene involving the lead character Caden Cotard, played by the masterful Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a car with his wife Adele Lack (Catherine Keener) and 4-year old daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein). There was wit abound as they established that Caden struggled to relate to those around him in words, ironic because he is a playwright. Kaufman always seems to be writing about himself.

After those first fifteen minutes, things get a bit schizophrenic. Caden seems to be coming down with some physical ailments; he has pustules on his face and legs, urinates blood, has seizures, you name it. Meanwhile, Adele seems to be pulling away from Caden; they see a therapist, a hilarious portrayal by Hope Davis. It's then that box office manager Hazel (Emily Watson) throws herself at him, but there are issues; he cries when they finally go to bed and has troubles "performing", but perhaps it's all for the best anyway, as she buys a house that's on fire. I'm not making that part up. It's a slow burn, though.

Eventually, still struggling, Caden receives a grant from the MacArthur foundation, which sets him up nicely to produce a meaningful work packed full of truth, without any worries about people actually paying to see it. Caden sets off to writing a living play about his own life, sure only to try to figure out what's going on with him. Joining in his cast are Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michelle Williams.

I thought about this review quite a bit last night and this morning, and I think the best way to convey what the movie is like would be to hire someone to play me and then watch them write this review. Of course, being true to the part, this character would then have to hire someone to play me hiring them to play me. Or something like that. The whole thing spirals out of control, as Caden builds a replica of New York in a large abandoned warehouse. Of course, that whole thing turns into one of those Russian doll things.

I don't know how to rate this film. I wouldn't recommend seeing it unless you're up for something completely different, or you've seen all of Charlie Kaufman's movies and think he's a genius. Me, I'll probably think twice before seeing his next one. My imdb rating: 6/10.

Review: The Wrestler

I already mentioned that I traded a voucher I'd gotten in place of a ticket to Zack and Miri Make a Porno for a ticket to Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. It had just won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, it sounded interesting, and perhaps it didn't suck like 2006's The Fountain. Actually, I didn't see The Fountain, so I don't know why I say that; it actually rates pretty well on imdb. I think I just kind of heard that and assumed it was true because I'm a horrible journalist.

So like I was saying, I went to the movie, which stars Mickey Rourke as Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a wrestler from the 1980's who has fame in some circles, but apparently never made it to the realm of Hulk Hogan. Randy lives in a trailer, struggles to make rent, and when he can't, he sleeps, of course, in his Dodge RAM conversion van. We see Randy for what he is today; a guy whose closest friend outside the dressing room is a stripper, played by Marisa Tomei, whose name is Pam, stage name Cassidy; a guy who gets locked out of his trailer on a regular basis when his share of the take at the door just isn't making ends meet; a guy who sucks down pills of the legal and illegal variety, supplements, and anything else he thinks he needs to maintain his "physique"; a guy who desperately wants to reconcile with his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) but doesn't know how; and probably most pathetically, a guy who is grasping onto the past, which has long faded away.

Honestly, if I wouldn't have know ahead of time, I never would have guessed that he was portrayed by Rourke. He sinks so far into this character, and I'm convinced that the bulk he put on for the film changed his face. It was an incredible performance in what Arronofsky admits is a small film. Stylistically, it's nothing like Requiem for a Dream, but uses lots of hand held cameras and often I could imagine a crew of about four people, often using the sick, yellow fluorescent lighting of dressing rooms and grocery stores. This only enhanced the low budget life that Randy led.

It was only fitting that it started raining shortly after this film let out. I was already thoroughly depressed, so why not get it out of the way? You might want to pair this movie up with the latest Disney flick if you go see it. It's a downer, but it is a very well done movie. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Rush 2: A New Beginning

I'm all set to rush for the second film I didn't get. I figure my chances are pretty good because I'm early and it's raining. There's nothing I like more than spending my vacation sitting around in the rain hoping to get in to a movie. I know you're jealous.

Hey, maybe next year I'll so to a warmer film festival...

Wish me luck. All of you.

Review: Good

Austrian Director Vicente Amorim brings us Good, based on a play by C.P. Taylor, which professes to answer the question of how a good man can do bad things. That premise reminded me of one of my favorite movies, A Simple Plan, though this film promised to be on a larger scale.

Viggo Mortensen plays Halder, a professor at a German university in 1938. He is a quiet man who goes about his teaching, writes an occasional novel, deals with the nutty wife, a screaming child, and a nagging and bedridden mother. His best friend Maurice is a psychoanalyst who occasionally lends his couch to Halder. More important to the story, Maurice is a Jew.

When the Nazis asks Halder to write a paper in support of euthanasia (ask me my favorite joke on this subject sometime - I promise you'll be disappointed), Halder is honored to receive attention from someone in such a high post in the government and agrees. One catch, he finds, is that he must join the Nazi party. He agrees, which is a slap in the face to Maurice, though Halder reasons that it's not like anybody's talking about hauling away all the Jews.

Next, they haul away all the Jews. If you feel like I've given away the plot here, then you failed Junior High history class, or at least you should have. Anyway, it at least appears you can read, so well done there. Halder does try to help Maurice, even if it wasn't a grandiose effort. I mean, he was momentarily distracted by his mother's attempted suicide and all, so it wasn't like he was just loafing around. He fails, with some help it turns out, and then sets out to find his friend.

Well, I guess it was well done, but I just really didn't like the characters enough. And the whole thing with all the Germans running around talking in English accents really threw me for a loop. I'm sorry, but saying "Heil, Hitler" in a typicaqlly apologetic English cadence just doesn't carry the same effect. I felt sorry for Maurice, but not much for anyone else. My imdb rating: 6/10.

Review: Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt is a first time feature documentary from directing team Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman. It follows the stories of several residents of Bakersfield in Kern County, California, who were part of a string of cases prosecuted by young new District Attorney Ed Jagels. In a conservative community, Jagels was elected in 1983 after running a campaign based on aggressive prosecution and tough penalties, and boy did he ever bring it.

Jagels, his attorneys, and the sheriff's ofice accused, tried, and convicted several people of molestation and child pornography beginning his first year in office. Hey, it was the 80's, and that was just the kind of thing you did in the 80's, you know? The cases were typically brought against lower middle class families with children and a clean record. They were represented by over matched public defendants in courts where the odds were stacked heavily in favor of the prosecution, with most evidence in support of the accused banned from the court room. Jagels followed up on his promise of harsh penalties, and judges in these cases doled out penalties ranging from 40 to 400 years in prison. In one case, a man and his wife were to eligible for parole in the year 2110.

The only problem was that the only evidence against anyone of any wrong doing was the coerced testimony of several children, often the sons and daughters of the accused, which was obtained after long interrogations. There was no medical evidence that anything occurred, no eye witnesses, and no reason to believe that anything whatsoever had occurred.

Hardy and Nochman do an incredible job of storytelling, and there were tears abound when, toward the conclusion of the film, the last of the film's subjects was released from prison after serving 18 years. His conviction was overturned with the assistance of the Northern California Innocence Project. When the NCIP obtained the box of evidence for the case, they not only found cassette recordings of the interrogations of the children, but also medical exams, which the prosecution had claimed in court that they didn't exist. These exams showed no evidence of the repeated sodomy they claimed had occurred, or any other form of abuse for that matter.

After the screening, the film makers, two NCIP attorneys, several of the wrongfully convicted, and three of the alleged victims of abuse appeared on stage for a Q&A. Their stories and comments were both heart breaking and heartwarming all at the same time. Sadly, the attorneys commented, Jagels remains the District Attorney of Kern County to this day, having recently been reelected after running unopposed. I guess I won't be moving to Bakersfield anytime soon. Hell, I don't think I'd chance stopping there for gas. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Review: Religulous

If you recall from last year, and chances are you don't, I attended a screening called Religulous: A Conversation with Bill Maher and Larry Charles. This screening was for the finished product of what they were previewing back then. If I remember from the last screening, Bill grew up Catholic with a closet Jewish mother, and director Larry Charles grew up as sort of an agnostic Jew in an orthodox neighborhood. You'd think I could be bothered to go back and read my own review, but think again.

The film consisted basically of Bill Maher going around the world being Bill, talking with various people of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith. I overheard a conversation where someone complained that they only discussed the "weirdos" from each of the religions. While they certainly did talk with people with interesting beliefs, I wouldn't necessarily agree with that statement. It was a comedy, though, and the nutcases they talked with provided the most fodder, I'm sure. And in the Q&A, Larry Charles mentioned that they cast a wide net for interview subjects, including the Pope himself, but most prominent figures, not too surprisingly, declined.

From text message addicted Muslim Clerics, to semi-trailer chapel for truckers to Mormons and Jews For Jesus and an English Muslim rapper, there is ample room for laughs, and perhaps occasional fright. Not being a religious person myself, I wonder what the reaction of people of strong faith would be to this film. I imagine most would still think it's funny. One example that leaps forth is the aforementioned Jew for Jesus who, mentioning that there were several miracles that occurred to convert him, admittedly couldn't remember what they were.

Bill does try to make this a documentary rather that just a yuk-yuk piece. And, in that vein, he added a voice-over narrative which basically reasons that we all need to get over religion before we use it to kill each other off, now that we apparently have the technology to carry out the task. Will this film actually change anybody's mind? I highly doubt it, and in that sense, I'd say the film fails, as would a small man trying to chop down a large oak tree with his hand. But, for those of us who can laugh along with it, it makes for 90 minutes of darned good entertainment. My imdb rating: 7/10

Monday, September 08, 2008

Flexibility, Episode 2

I waited in the rush line for Zack and Miri Make a Porno for about 40 minutes. I didn't get a ticket to Kevin Smith's latest, and I sure was disappointed about that. But, I passed the time talking to Steve, who's in corporate sales for a media monitoring firm in Ottawa, with occasional interjections from his wife and friend. I only bring that up because, completely coincidentally, or so it would seem, Steve sat directly behind me that the following day's screening of Religulous. I should have mentioned that Steve spends most of his time working with the Canadian government and its CIA equivalent. He said I am being watched...

Anyway, so like I was saying, I didn't get into that film. On a whim, a suggestion from Steve, and based on buzz out of the Venice Film Festival, I decided to pick up a ticket to The Wrestler, which I have added to my official calendar. It shows Today at noon. I'd better get going. More reviews later today...

Review: The Other Man

The Other Man caught my eye primarily because of the cast, headed by Laura Linney, on of my personal favorites, and Liam Neeson, but also because of its director, Richard Eyre. It is his follwo up to Notes on a Scandal, a somewhat chilling movie he brought to the festival two years ago. Mr. Eyre greeted the audience at 9:00 AM, commenting that not only was he touched by the packed theatre at that hour on a Monday, but that his "heart was warmed that so many people would applaud an [earlier] announcement to please turn off your cell phones". I liked him already.

Before the movie started, he said that the film was about adultery, but hinted that there was more to it. There was, but he divulged after the screening that he likes his audience to be naive going into the movie, which I generally prefer to be, so I was happy to be left in the dark. While I don't necessarily think that knowing more about the plot would destroy the enjoyment of this film, I'll honor his wishes here.

I will tell a bit more than he did, though, even if I seem evasive. Neeson plays Peter, a software developer (the job part wasn't too convincing, being in the business, but it wasn't a focal point, so I let it go) who is happily married to Lisa (portrayed by Linney), a shoe designer. I'm sure she wasn't the most realistic shoe designer either, but what the hell do I know about shoe designers?

Anyway, like I said, Peter is happily married to Lisa, but I never said anything about Lisa being happily married to Peter. I'm not saying she isn't, but there was obviously some reason for a suave Antonio Banderas to appear in the film, so it must have been to roll around with Linney. The movie jumps around a little bit, and early on it jumps forward. Lisa is out of the picture, and Peter learns of Ralph (Banderas). He's understandably angry, and trots off to Milan to kill him, or at least beat him at chess.

Antonio isn't one of my favorites, but I thought he performed quite well in this film. He certainly showed, as Eyre pointed out in the Q&A, nuance that you could not have detected in Zorro. Linney was great, as always, but the movie really was a Neeson feature. He is a skilled actor and, delivering his native northern Irish accent in this film, he shows great range. Apparently, according to Eyre, the northern Irish keep their emotions a little bottled up, which probably fit his character's profession. Not that I do necessarily, but please, keep the comments about the movie and not my emotional intelligence.

I enjoyed this picture, the acting was great all around, and I thought the Eyre, who developed the screenplay from a Bernhard Schlink short story, rolled out the story in the best way he could. Things might seem confusing for a bit, but it pulls together. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Review: Real Time

My first film this year was a Canadian production from sophomore director Randall Cole called Real Time. His previous film, 19 Months, has a pretty poor rating on imdb, but I apparently overlooked that piece of data when I selected this film. Hey, I was pinched for time, okay?

Somehow, Randall managed to sign up some relatively big names to star in a film that is rather small in scope. Jay Baruchel is Canadian, so it's not hard to guess how he got involved in a Canadian director's film. Jay splits his time between large roles in Canadian productions and small ones in American productions, including Almost Famous, Million Dollar Baby, Knocked Up, and most recently, Tropic Thunder. Randy Quaid, a Texan with over 100 credits on imdb, is a mystery.

The film's title comes from the claim that the entire movie is shown somewhat in real time (I didn't spend a lot of time staring at my watch, so I can't verify this claim), about 78 minutes worth. Baruchel plays Andy, a young gambling addict who owes $68k to a small time mob boss. Andy, not being all that bright, worsens the situation by making fun of said boss's harelip. Quaid plays Reuben, the mob boss's Australian employee, who volunteered to off Andy. It seems Reuben has a soft spot for Andy, so he wants him to have an hour to make peace with his sad life before he puts a bullet in his head. Nice guy, eh?

Together they visit a corner Andy claims is patrolled by a prostitute resembling Rosie Perez, a fast food chicken restaurant where he was once employed, and his grandmother's house, from whom he admits to stealing goods he later sold to a pawn shop. Eventually, Reuben leads them to a wooded area near town where he allows Andy to have one last look at the city from afar before he brings things to a somewhat surprising conclusion.

The script hits sometimes, but occasionally borders on trite. Some of the comedy succeeds, while other jokes fall flat, and though they billed it as a suspense film, I don't know that I was ever on the edge of my seat. I did, surprisingly, feel for the characters at the end of it, so I'll give them a thumb up for making me care about the characters. My imdb rating: 6/10.


I successfully avoided any travel disasters and have now checked into my room, which "has character". My wifi connection is spotty, and may or may not belong to my host. We'll see how this works out. For now, I have to get moving. I have cash to withdraw, tickets to pick up, etc.

Welcome to Canada, eh?

Since I last wrote, I called my B&B host in a panic when I misread my confirmation e-mail and thought my arrival date was set for Monday. Nope, it's today. He thinks I'm an idiot now.

Next up, I set a container of OJ on my tray table on the flight to Toronto and opened it, not thinking about the fact that we were on a steep climb. You don't have to have a vivid imagination to figure out what that outcome was.

I'm now writing from the Airport Express Shuttle bus, which will take me to the beautiful Hotel Chelsea, where I'm not staying. From there, I'll take a taxi to St. George near Dupont, where my host will look at me and think, "So that's the idiot..."

Isn't it a cool city that has a wifi connection spreading throughout the downtown area? Bus blogging -- you just can't do that in Des Moines.

One leg down

The first leg went relatively smoothly. My iPod was dead, but I was asleep before I would have had the chance to turn it on. I was in an exit row, which is great, but those seats don't recline and my head spent a great deal of time bent forward at a near 90-degree angle. When we arrived in Detroit, in the words of our pilot, "some genius parked a van right in the middle of our gate," so we had to wait five minutes while they found a driver.

I found a working outlet next to a seat at the gate of my next flight, and my iPod is charging away, though I'll probably once again sleep right through any opportunity to use it.

It's raining here in Detroit, and the clouds are apparently affecting the satellite feed for the TV. CNN sounds like Max Headroom. Strangely, though, Fox & Friends was coming in loud and clear at the Middle Eastern breakfast place on the walk to my gate. They were advertising tonight's program "Governor Sarah Palin: An American Woman", fresh on the tails of their other famous exposés "Dogs: Animals with Four Legs" and "Apples, Wagons and Communists: Things Commonly Identified With the Color Red". But enough political commentary.

My flight leaves in 75 minutes and I should probably get a plan of action together. See you in Toronto.

And so it begins

I'm at the airport awaiting the first flight, after checking in at 4:35 AM without a hitch. I thought I should have a little breakfast -- it's going to be a long day and I'm travelling on very little sleep -- so I stopped at the food court just inside security. I picked up what I thought was a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on and English muffin, but in actuality had no bacon, and a bottle of OJ. The young lady at the register, said nothing to me except "Seven Twenty-seven?"

"I have no idea," I replied, "I haven't even been to the gate yet."

Blank stare. It then occurred to me that my puny sandwich, the one with no bacon, and OJ actually cost, with tax, $7.27. Wow. I hope the humorless, unfriendly chick at the counter is the worst of it today.

The plane is at the gate. There are the usual suspects waiting at the gate with me -- the 50-something couple arguing about something trivial event from their time at the check-in counter, the skinny chick in stiletto heels simultaneously working a sudoku puzzle and conversing, rather loudly, with some unknown person on the other end of her bluetooth headset, the Asian man wearing rather large headphones for the gate area, the crazed woman in the colorful turquoise poncho -- yep, this is my crowd.

I got an internet connection, after a minor bit of wrangling, and everything else seems in place for a smooth ride to Toronto. But I've been down this road before, and I'm not letting my guard down, at least not until I'm writing you from my room.

Of course, there is another way to look at this. I'm not in much of a hurry this year. My first film isn't until 6:00, and my flight arrives before noon. Delaying my flight for a couple hours wouldn't even stress me out all that much, so will the travel gods even bother?

Damn it, Sean, don't even think that way, that is how they will get you!
Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they're not after you.
-- Kurt Cobain

Check-in time is approaching. See you in Detroit.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I finally spent a few minutes looking at the schedules for the three screenings for which I didn't get a ticket and I have a basic plan of action. There aren't any other screenings for Zack and Miri Make a Porno that I can see, so I'll have to try to rush for that one. For those of you who are too lazy to click on the link, "Rushing" is shorthand for "waiting in line and hoping that some extra seats become available". If I don't get in, I can catch it in a major theatre near me when it comes out on Halloween. It won't be the same, though. There's something about seeing a movie like that in a packed house of jazzed Kevin Smith fans. And, I'll have all week to find another movie to see in its place.

I can see Synecdoche, New York on Thursday afternoon before Gigantic, if there any tickets left for that screening. If not, I can always rush for it and most assuredly get in. Since I have nothing pressing going on that day, I could easily be the first person in the rush line. And, of course, I will have the fallback of "a major theatre near me". That one isn't nearly as cool to see with a festival crowd.

The tough one is The Paranoids. It probably won't play at any theatres near me, so Netflix would be my only alternative option. Also, it is the only screening while I'm in town. My schedule dictates that I will have very little time in the rush line, so I guess I'll just hope for the best. If I miss it, well, I suppose worse things have happened to better people. On the bright side, I can have a nap before Sexykiller and see a bonus movie on Saturday.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

17 Out of 20 Ain't Bad

I got an e-mail from TIFF today confirming the processing of my order. I got all of my picks with the following exceptions: Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Synecdoche, New York, and The Paranoids. I'll figure out what to do about those later. I'm half asleep right now. Good night.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Calling it "done"

I'm done for now. I need to make another decision or two, but the schedule is pretty much how it's going to be. I'm seeing a little bit of everything. See for yourself.

Good night.

Schedule Taking Shape

I've got a few too many films, but the schedule is taking shape. There is a link in the upper right hand corner of the web page that will pop up a calendar showing my schedule as it stands. It's live, so as I shift things around, it will change. Alternatively, scroll down to the bottom.

Meanwhile, I need to eliminate a few screenings, and contemplate buying a ticket for a special screening or two. It's never easy...

Minor Disappointments #1 and #2

The first film I looked for was the Coen Brothers' new flick Burn After Reading. I immediately notice two things:
  1. The movie only shows before I arrive in Toronto. I sort of expected this.
  2. The movie only shows at venues where I would have to purchase a single ticket instead of using tickets from my 10-packs. This doesn't make me happy...


For those of you playing along at home, check out the calendar at the bottom of this page. It is a view of my film schedule, courtesy of Google Calendar. Neat, huh? You'll need to click on a button a couple times to get to the week beginning Sunday, 9/7, until I figure out how to default the calendar to that week.

Okay, now down to the hard work...

Film Selection Tuesday

The film schedule comes out this morning at 9:00 CDT. I'll be spending this afternoon and this evening in my office reading about 249 feature films, cross checking with the schedule, whining about some films that I can't see because I'm not arriving until Sunday, and eventually settling on a list of 20 screenings. It's a good thing I have more vacation time than I know what to do with.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I was restless Sunday night, and with the film festival rapidly approaching, I thought I could use some practice. After a quick scope of the Fleur Cinema's web site, I determined that Vicky Cristina Barcelona was the most eligible movie, and off I went.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Woody Allen's latest work and stars his muse of late, Scarlett Johansson, along with Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, Penélope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson. The movie, narrated throughout by a non-character, follows the story of Vicky and Cristina, two young and pretty American women staying in Barcelona for the summer. While there, they meet an Artist named Juan Antonio (portrayed by Bardem in a starkly different role than in No Country For Old Men), who propositions the young women, simultaneously. Vicky and Cristina are best friends with similar interests, but very different outlooks on love.

As evidence of their differences, Vicky, the tall, thin, level-headed brunette, is appalled by Juan Antonio's invitation, while Cristina, the busty blond free-thinker is intrigued. They compromise, joining Juan Carlos on a sojourn to Oviedo by way of a small plane piloted by Juan Antonio himself, but checking into separate hotel rooms. While there, they spend time with Juan Antonio, together and separately, and relations ensue. After the weekend, they return to Barcelona, and things become more complicated when Juan Antonio's estranged ex-wife (it's rumored that one of them tried to kill the other, though it's disputed who was holding the knife) reenters the picture. Juan Antonio's wife is portrayed by Cruz, and I have to say it's the first time that I thoroughly enjoyed watching her in a movie.

The movie is about make believe people behaving in ways that you and I would not behave, and would not be able to in the first place because we wouldn't have the time nor the money. That much I learned from the septuagenarians on an apparent first date in the row behind me. I can deduce that they're both hard of hearing, and I am not, for I could hear every word they said. At least, I could until I moved some 50 feet away from them. How I can't wait for the festival, where talkers are booed by their fellow audience members...

Anyway, I enjoyed the escape of the movie, even if the ending leaves you with the feeling of "oh, the movie is over now." The narration speeds the film along without getting sidetracked on details that Woody deemed inconsequential, though I had to wonder if he was double-parked during production. No, I couldn't relate directly to any particular character, but they were believable and entertaining. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Film List Out Today

The complete film list for the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival comes out at 3 PM EDT today. While this allows me to do some pre-screening, I really can't begin to decide what I'd like to see until the schedule comes out. I won't be arriving in Toronto until late Sunday morning, so I can only presume that I'll miss a film or two I'd like to see. I have to wait until next Tuesday for the complete schedule. That's when the real mayhem begins...

Monday, July 07, 2008

The more things change...

...the more they suck. I got the reminder I'd set for myself to buy my tickets for this year's film festival and promptly visited their web site. I thought I would just quickly buy my usual 20 tickets and get back to work. A quick perusal of the available packages told me that they've made a change this year and that the normal 10-ticket packages are no longer good for the Elgin Theatre (that's the Visa Screening Room for all you high-powered consumers out there) showings. Now, I'll readily admit that it's not my favorite venue. Sure, it's beautiful, but the sound in there kind of sucks and it's always a struggle to hear the dialogue. But, some of the big films only show there and at Roy Thompson Hall, which has always been excluded from the ticket packs.

I may be forced to see more films this way. I guess that's the upside. I'll buy my 20 tickets, and then if there's some film that I just have to see and it's only showing at Roy Thompson Hall and the Elgin Theatre, it'll be beyond my control -- I'll have no choice but to buy a single ticket at exorbitant prices for that screening. I know you're all just feeeling sorry for me.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I got an e-mail yesterday from the B&B association in Toronto. They regret to inform me that my B&B hostess will not be able to provide with a room for the week of the festival. I suspect she has retired. Bummer. Now I have to seek new shelter.

It's challenging picking out the right B&B. Location, accommodations, breakfast, amenities and personality all have to be considered. Barb's B&B had great location, livable accommodations, good breakfast, and interesting breakfast chit chat. I doubt I'll find as good of a location, but perhaps I'll get free wi-fi to make up for it. A desk would be nice.

Why not a hotel? Price, for one. B&B's offer more of a personal touch as well. Sure, every now and then, you find yourself locked out and stashing your luggage behind objects in the front lawn, but I got a good story out of it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I just booked my flight for this year's film festival. I'm officially giddy. I paid for it with frequent flier miles, which is nice, though I still had to pay $48.94 in fees. Anyway, my B&B room is booked (I hope they leave the right key this time), and I've got an airline ticket. All that's left is to buy my festival tickets and spend torturous hours sifting through 350 movie synopses. And wait for 179 days.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Review: Juno

Okay, it seems like forever since a couple friends and I headed down to the Fleur Cinemas to catch Juno, which at the time was the new surprise independent hit. We got there to find a line out the door and around the corner. We got sneaky and sent in a squatter to grab a few seats while two of us stayed behind to deal with the mundane "purchasing of the tickets".

Juno was directed by Jason Reitman, who previously had a handful of shorts and Thank You For Smoking in his list of directorial credit. For Juno, Jason racked up a killer cast including Ellen Page (remember her?), Michael Cera of Superbad fame, "the beautiful" Jennifer Garner (yes, she is, but has anyone else noticed how she's always introduced as "the beautiful" Jennifer Garner, like Jennifer is her middle name?), teen heart throb (okay, he's 39 now) Jason Bateman, Allison Janney (of many credits including American Beauty and The West Wing) and J.K. Simmons (think J Jonah Jameson). Spoiler alert (okay, real life, not the movie plot) -- Diablo Cody, an ex-stripper, wins best original screenplay for this one. Ellen Page loses to some French chick. Sadly, I didn't see it at the 2007 film festival, though I did have to wait behind a crowd of gawkers when Jason Bateman and Ellen Page exited the theatre.

Juno is the tale of a unusual high school girl who decides one day, out of boredom, to have sex with her friend Paulie Bleeker. Paulie is a nerd, and Juno is that girl that all the guys secretly have a crush on but won't admit it because she's weird. Apparently, they're both quite fertile, and after running through a dozen or so pregnancy tests, Juno is at last resigned to the fact that she's pregnant.

Her adventures over the next seven or eight months take her out to meet fellow classmate Su-Chin, who spends her weekends protesting in broken English outside an abortion clinic, through the halls of of her high school as "a cautionary whale", to her parents, who were maybe hoping for the easier-to-deal-with drug problem, and a troubled young couple hoping to adopt a healthy baby.

The script is smart and filled with wit, angst, bitterness, broken dreams, hope, and chair sex. Oh, there's nothing explicit here. Juno is something like 16 and though Ellen was at least 19 when the film was made, she does an astounding job of playing a 16 year old and that would be just a bit much. The film stays safely in the implied sort of PG-13 sex.

A short note to the "my parents would never act like that, this is so unrealistic" crowd: It's a movie, it's about people that are different than you. Get over it. And no, it is not encouraging teen pregnancy. But I also think that it rightly points out that it is also not the end of the world, and that life can go on normally, as it almost always does. Boy, we're resilient creatures.

In conclusion, happy happy joy joy, I liked the film. It's intelligent, entertaining, deals with complex issues while not getting bogged down in its own seriousness. And it was a nicely upbeat contrast to the more downer films of the season. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Boy, I've gotten behind. I'll get caught up, bear with me.

(I'm such a slacker)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Review: Atonement

Stranded in Des Moines before Christmas, I decided to head down to the Fleur Cinemas to pass time that evening. Atonement, which had received great reviews, was one of the only films showing that I hadn't already seen at the film festival in September, making it an easy choice. Joe Wright directed this film, and chose Keira Knightley once again as his leading lady, having previously cast her in Pride & Prejudice.

The movie is based on the highly reviewed book by Ian Mcewan. Set in pre-World War II England, it follows the romance of Cecilia Tallis (Knightly) and Robbie Turner, portrayed by James McAvoy. They are observed at key moments by Celcelia's younger sister Briony, a budding playwright, who is missing key pieces of information. Her youth leads her to get carried away with her conclusions and she acts on them fervently.

Bad things happen. Then worse things happen. Then Briony makes an attempt at achieving the title of the film. It may not be enough, but she does what she can, considering the circumstances.

I liked the film for its use of perspective and how one can make the wrong conclusions without having all the information. Some friends of mine found the ending on the schmaltzy side, and perhaps it was, but it didn't stop my enjoyment of the film. Perhaps my senses are still dulled 10 years after seeing Titanic. My imdb rating: 8/10.

Review: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

We saw another movie on vacation and decided on the new release National Treasure: Book of Secrets based solely on the likelihood that it would be easy to consume a large bag of popcorn during such a film. A sequel to the original and very likely the middle of a trilogy (be prepared to witness an obvious setup), it again stars former cool independent actor Nicolas Cage with Jon Turteltaub in the director's chair. Nick has settled into a familiar pattern of high payday, low risk film roles that have dominated his career for over a decade.

This episode picks up from the last one with sidekick Riley Poole, played by Justin Bartha, peddling books at Borders. I'm curious how much they paid for that in-movie commercial. Anyway, his character seems to have the purpose of beefing up the comedic content of the film, but most of his one-liners seem to miss. I don't know if I blame Justin, but the script is just a little flat.

The movie carries on pretty much like you'd expect, leading up to Ben Gates kidnapping the president of the United States. That would be a spoiler if it was so highly publicized in the trailer. The president is a make-believe president by the way -- likable, intelligent, suave, and an air of integrity.

The movie is fun for what it is, but generally wastes the talents of the aforementioned Mr. Cage, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, and Harvey Keitel. It's not that anyone is bad, but there just isn't a meaty role to be devoured in the script. My imdb rating: 6/10.