Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mid Winter light weekend

Okay, so it was a light weekend.....Caught last year's The Hangover (Todd Phillips). I honestly was expecting some belly laughs but they were a little infrequent in what was an overall letdown of a movie. Good premise. Four guys head to Vegas for a bachelor party before one character (Doug - Justin Bartha) gets hitched.....The movie sets us up to think we're going to get a minute-by-minute frenzied account of their night in Sin City. But after they down their first shots on Caesars' rooftop before heading out on the town, all we see next is a fast-action time sequence of the Vegas horizon descending into darkness and then brightening again when it's morning, and the ensuing carnage (physical and emotional) of what took place during the night.....A few laughs here and there but overall a letdown as the foursome pick up the pieces (figuratively and literally) from the night before.....................MEANWHILE, the first half of my evening double bill was Game 6 (2005) with Michael Keaton, Catherine O'Hara, Bebe Neuwirth and Robert Downey Jr......Keaton plays playwright Nicky Rogan, an obsessive Boston Red Sox fan,who skips out on the opening of his new play to watch Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Better obsessing over the Red Sox than how his play might be received by critic Steven Schwimmer (R. D. Jr.) known to make or break playwrights ...... This lightweight comedy-drama was directed by Michael Hoffman (surprising, since his most recent The Last Station has won very critical praise indeed) and written by postmodernist author Don DeLillo (White Noise, Falling Man).....I was expecting the movie to be a more serious treatment of the playwright's angst set against his baseball obsession with, I suppose, the latter being a metaphor for the former. Well, in a way, it is. But the story comes across as a one-dimensional made-for-TV comedy about an emotionally mixed-up character who's really a baseball fan, pure and simple. File this under sports movies.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Direction Home Part 2

Part 2 of Martin Scorsese's 2005 Dylan documentary rings in at a shorter length than Part 1. But with the DVD I got showing 200 minutes-plus I was expecting a duanting viewing exercise. Turns out that number was for both discs ..... I shouldn't have worried. Like Part 1 the second part is thoroughly engrossing (see my Dec. 20, 2009 post).....It overlaps some of the same territory as Disc 1, starting with Dylan's 1965 transition from acoustic to electric, and the fallout with devoted folk music fans hurling epithets like "traitor" - and famously at the Royal Albert Hall - "Judas" ..... I didn't know that Canada's The Band - courageously, as Dylan says - backed him on that gone-electric tour of England, where the antipathy was so thick you could cut it. Dylan even feared for his safety..... Other points of interest: Mike Bloomfield (my favourite blues musician) and Al Kooper backing him on Like a Rolling Stone. Kooper wasn't even supposed to play the organ and kind of talked his way into it. But, not knowing quite how to play the song, he played one note behind the rest of the band. The result? That incredibly prominent organ sound and the defining characteristic of the song.....Again, with this disc, Dylan comes across as a man who follows his own musical instincts. He refuses to be labeled as a protest singer or even someone with a "message." He likens himself to a showman - end stop ..... Even his one time paramour and singing partner Joan Baez can't quite figure his idiosyncrasies. Respectfully she says he's an artist who never went to the audience but had the audience come to him......But most hilarious are the mid-1960s press conferences, where the straightest of reporters asked the most serious and ridiculous questions. Hard to believe society was that "square" back then. To which, of course, Dylan simply shrugged or replied in ways that mocked the reporters' absurdities .....The film ends when Dylan finished touring in 1966, after his famous motorcycle accident. (He didn't resume until eight years later.) ...... Over the past couple of decades Dylan has been a relentless touring musician. It's almost as if his fame means nothing. He's as much a workaholic as any 200-night on-the-road performer, and has played large halls to small clubs. He doesn't care. Why? Because he's true to himself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Erich Segal's intellectual creds

Have to say I was a little surprised reading Erich Segal's obit. He died this month at 72. Love Story of course was mocked by the critics - but audiences loved it - when released in 1970. But there is more to this movie, and to Segal, than usually thought (and no I never saw it, being of the snobbish, uh hum, critical class)....Segal was actually a serious academic scholar at Harvard. He was fluent in Latin and had a working knowledge of several other languages. He taught Classics. His students described his classes as "living theatre"..... At Harvard he met Ali MacGraw (who attended nearby Wellesley) ...... In his spare time Segal wrote light novels. He envisioned Love Story orginally, yup, as a movie. But alas the studios rejected the screenplay as tripe. But MacGraw persisted, convincing Paramount to make it. She of course was in a starring role with Ryan O'Neal. Acclaimed director (and Canuckster - born in Edmonton) Arthur Hiller (Plaza Suite, Author Author!) directed .....The thin novel at 131 pages flew off the shelves. When nominated for a National Book Award even Segal had doubts. "I honestly don't think I should be placed on the same page as Bellow and Updike"..... Segal was also a devoted runner ...... And surprise surprise to all us snobbish film critics, he wrote the screenplay to The Beatles' Yellow Submarine ..... Btw, according to IMDB Love Story is up 300 per cent in popularity this week ..... So Erich Segal, Rest in Peace.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Now you know why there's so much smoking in the movies

Just concluded reading Dick Morris & Eileen McGann's 2008 Fleeced, which takes on a host of bad actors the authors say are ripping-off the public, from Washington lobbyists' successful peddling of Third World regimes with horrendous human rights records, to how Dubai - which gets great press (even in its current financial crisis) - is a huge boondoggle and exploitive nation to its women and imported workers....But my real concern is their chapter on how the motion picture industry colludes with Big Tobacco to make sure there is a whole lot of depiction of cigarette smoking in films....Virtually every new release I have watched in recent years has had characters smoking - and fairly noticably. I find this odd given the fact smoking has really declined in our society. Not that I'm entirely opposed to seeing characters smoke. Some people do smoke (and in period films most everyone smoked) and films should depict this reality. Still, it seems the amount of smoking in movies is out of proportion to the world around us.....And interestingly, given liberal Hollywood's bleeding heart concern over so many issues, no one, it seems, has spoken out against smoking in movies.....What the authors are particularly concerned about are films directed at children and teens. They say 39 per cent of all PG movies and 79 per cent of all PG-13 movies show characters smoking.....And many actually show kids smoking including Bad Santa, The Butterfly Effect and Monster. Admittedly these films were made in the first half of the past decade.....But even a more recent film like Juno had Ellen Page's pregnant teenage character with a pipe in her mouth, if only a prop. And the animation film The Incredibles (2004) had characters smoking......The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has now included smoking as a criterion in its ratings......That doesn't seem to have solved the problem. According to the web site Smoke Free Movies smoking continues to be shown in new releases every week. For example in the box office's current Top 10, movies that "promote smoking" include Avatar (do Avatars smoke?), The Lovely Bones, Sherlock Holmes, The Spy Next Door and The Blind Side.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Throwback to innocence

I accidentally caught 1988's Bright Lights, Big City last nite on the telly. Since I watch virtually no TV the only reason I had the tube on was to accompany me while I repainted some furniture. I usually refuse to watch television movies on private networks because they're interrupted by interminable commercial breaks. Hamilton's CHCH-TV has commercial breaks but they last only two or three minutes making watching a movie a hell of a lot easier... I can't remember if I saw this film before. I remember reading Jay McInerney's novel. (He wrote the screenplay to this too and James Bridges (deceased) directed.) It certainly is a novel of its times - capturing that Manhattan world of glitzy Eighties fashion, drugs and rock music....At the time, the novel seemed so cutting edge and risque, depicting that semi-dangerous world of cocaine-sniffing Yuppies living on the edge to the nightclub sounds of Bryan Ferry and Depeche Mode. But watching it from the vantage of 2010 it almost looks innocent, like watching a movie from the 1950s....For starters, there is the way everyone is dressed. The Eighties must have been fashion's last gasp. In virtually every scene these avant-gardists are dressed-up! Michael J. Fox's Jamie Conway and Kiefer Sutherland's Ted Allagash are wearing ties. Virtually every other man in the movie is in a suit. The women universally are very femininely-dressed - in actual dresses and silky blouses. At house parties, of all places, women and men are dressed to the nines, like at what would be considered a formal function today (ha). Are the Eighties the new Fifties, with attitude?... Even the bad boys of this movie - Fox and Sutherland's characters - seem clean cut, almost innocent-looking, by today's standards. Today's world, by contrast, seems so much more degraded, from graffiti-strewn buildings to tattoo-strewn arms to more debased ways of speaking and an all-too-knowing-and-cynical culture....The Eighties, innocent? Who wouldof thunk?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cineplex's live Windsor offerings

More and more special features are coming to the big screen at Cineplex's Devonshire Mall (3100 Howard Ave.) cinemas. For those infatuated with English theatre you should be welcoming with open arms the live screening from London's National Theatre of Terry Pratchett's Nation Jan. 30 at 1 pm....Nation is described as an epic story of adventure and survival involving live music, dance and extroardinary puppets....Set in the late 19th Century it's about two young people caught up in a natural disaster who have to find a way to survive despite being from completely different cultures and speaking different languages. Advance tickets from ....Cineplex's catalogue of live productions on its Windsor movie screens continues to grow as part of its Front Row Centre series. It's not as wide-ranging as in some cities like Toronto. But the offerings are more than welcome and of course continue to add a new dimension to what it means to go to "the movies"... For years we have had WWF Wrestling. More recently we have had The Met: Live in HD Saturday adternoon broadcasts from New York's Metropolitan Opera. Verdi's Simon Boccanegra is featured Feb. 6 with encore March 20, Thomas's Hamlet March 27 & April 24, and Rossini's Armida May 1 & 22....We are also in line to see Race Across the Sky Jan. 27 & Feb. 7 about the Leadville Trail 100 elite cycling race....Other cities are getting The New York Times Lights, Camera, Conversation series and A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. Perhaps Windsor will luck out with these and other series in the future...UPDATE UPDATE Jan. 19 - Cineplex has announced Windsor will get A Prairie Home Companion after all (they must have read this post!) Feb. 4 at 8 pm live from St. Paul, Minnesota's Fitzgerald Theatre....Another Update: Last weekend's screening of The Met's Carmen broke box office records. An encore performance will be screened March 13.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eric Rohmer RIP

Eric Rohmer died Jan. 11 at 89. A member of the French New Wave he directed right up until 2007, making 51 films. Rohmer was one of the last great directors of that extremely important period (of the others, Truffaut is dead, but Godard, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette are still alive) and I will sorely miss him. This Nouvelle Vague artist was perhaps best known in North America for films that were screened on college campuses such as Claire's Knee or Chloe in the Afternoon, pictures that depicted the romance, idealism and confusion of being young. Rohmer's pictures were intimate in a number of senses. They were small scale productions usually with a few characters. They were made very economically with a small crew. But they never felt this way. The movies were shot in all kinds of locations yet I remember mostly his bucolic country or seashore scenes. Most of all Rohmer's films were about relationships. They were character studies of those caught up in friendships and love or in pursuing love. They were about women and men. They were about desires and misunderstandings, loneliness and seeking connection, sometimes obtaining it and other times failing. The last film of his I saw was A Good Marriage (1982) and captures the ellipitical nature of relationships. Sabine is introduced by Clarisse to Edmond, a busy Parisian lawyer. Despite her doubts she allows herself to be convinced by friends that Edmond loves her and pursues him. She finally confronts him in his office. Not a game player Edmond ethically tells her that he is simply not in love. The way in which Rohmer got into the centre of emotions and allowed his characters to be introspective was the hallmark of his films. These pictures may have been perfect college campus art house flics for the idealistic young. But they speak to anyone who has tried to grapple with the meaning of relationships.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Burton Theatre gets national coverage

The art house Burton Theatre at 3420 Cass Ave. got some national coverage in Sunday's N.Y. Times. The theatre will be the site of screenings in March for the first Detroit Independent Film Festival (see Dec. 27 post). Meanwhile it has a full line up this month including The House of the Devil, Cold Souls with Paul Giamatti, the 1971 classic WR: The Mysteries of the Organism, The American Astronaut and The Room. Most are Detroit premieres. The theatre aims to partially fill a void due to the lack of art cinemas in the Motor City. It will screen independent, foreign and cult films. Check out the web site It's also home to the Cass Avenue Film Syndicate. The building is the former Burton International School at Cass and Peterboro that closed in 2002 . It plans to expand as a venue for music and performance art. The Times piece is about entrepreneurs trying to make a go of it in spite of Detroit's economic hard times. Investor Nathan Faustyn says the owners wanted to do something for the city and help create a more livable community. To read the piece Google "New York Times Detroit Entrepreneurs."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Windsor Film Fest's January screenings

Clear Thursday Jan. 21 on your calendars. Windsor International Film Festival's year-long series has two major films on tap that night. One is Big Fan, Robert D. Siegel's directorial debut about impoverished and football-crazed males where sports are a substitute for lack of self-esteem. The other is Lars von Trier's Antichrist, also released last year, a searing film that addresses the big questions and has been regarded as everything from a grand belly flop to a brilliant classic. Both films are at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Windsor. The first, Big Fan, begins at 6.45, the second, Antichrist, at 9. Should be a great night.

Up in the Air's morality

Spoiler alert: I'm not the only one underwhelmed by current dreamboat George Clooney and Jason Reitman' Up in the Air. This is the kind of film that has gotten so much undeserved acclaim that it makes someone critical like me almost want to go out of his way to find contrarian views. I didn't have to look far. This came in my newspaper last week in a column by National Post's Barbara Kay. She raises a very good point. After seeing the movie and leaving the theatre I also questioned the morality of the Alex (Vera Farmiga) character though it didn't dawn on me later to write about it. Reviewers have focussed almost entirely on Clooney's sky-high nowhere man disconnectedness from other people and emotions generally. None seem to have focussed on Farmiga's character. But in the film Alex gives every impression she's the gender-opposite of Clooney: unanchored, living in an unreal world of corporate travel, and airport if not bed-hopping. But it's at the very moment Clooney starts to get in touch with his emotions and falls for Alex that he discovers Alex's other life - comfortably married with children thank you very much. This she never told him, obviously leading him on. Kay rightly describes her as the tramp. Yet critics have given the character a pass. To read Kay's column (for some reason Google Blog won't let me paste the link) search for 'Barbara Kay National Post' and the article 'Mile-high Morality'...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tecumseh, Ontario & Royal Oak, Michigan's Lise Lacasse in Youth in Revolt

Lise Lacasse grew up in Tecumseh, Ontario. She now lives in Royal Oak, Michigan. She stars in Youth in Revolt, which opens Friday. She'll be at the second evening screening at Lakeshore Cinemas in suburban Windsor, following the Michigan premier earlier this week. The film was shot in Michigan including in Detroit, Traverse City with interior shots at Marygrove College and exteriors at Oakland University's Meadowbrook Hall. She graduated from University of Windsor Theatre. A journeyman actor for almost 20 years in SE Mich Lacasse got her break with Second City and has had numerous roles in local theatre along with commerical and voiceover work. This is her first "substantial" role in a feature. She plays the Matron and has scenes opposite Michael Cera, lead role as Nick Twisp. This is the first of five made-in-Michigan films in which she has roles. She plays Mrs. Shaughnessy opposite Ray Stevenson as notorious gangster Danny Greene in The Irishman opening late this year. The film stars Christopher Walken and Val Kilmer. She also has scenes with Clive Owen and Catherine Keener in Trust directed by David Schwimmer, and as Lila in Cedar Rapids directed by the man who helmed Youth in Revolt Miguel Arteta. Lacasse has always had steady roles but credits the Michigan tax credits with opening a whole new level of work for actors. "Many people who moved to LA 10 or 15 years ago are moving back home," she said. "This is where it's happening right now."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Up in the Air's disconnectedness

The wonder is why this film has been become such a darling of critics. It has won numerous awards and is nominated for six Golden Globes. It has an 89 per cent positive rating among reviews gathered by the Rotten Tomatoes web site. Just wait for the Oscar nominations, right? Up in the Air by Montreal-born Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno) is based on the 2001 Walter Kirn novel. This is a competently made film and the acting is satisfying. And Clooney, in his subtly charming way, has put in another well-rounded performance. But it has drawn rave reviews from critics, who seem to have focussed on a couple of things. One is the chemistry between he and co-star Vera Farmiga (as Alex Goran), previously well-hidden from audiences with her most notable role being in The Departed. They play two frequent fliers par excellence, road warriors of the corporate world who spend most of their days in airports, airplanes or rooms at the innumerable faceless airport hotels from Tulsa to Tallahassee. The attraction between them is interesting but surely no diffrerent from countless other onscreen romances. The only difference is that both travel so much they spend weeks apart before their calendars allow them to rendezvous in the same city again. What's the other appeal? Well, Clooney is a major star, recognized both for his acting and as a sex symbol. Then there's Reitman. He, after all, made the hugely-successful Juno (2007). Coming off that film there probably is a lot of goodwill towards the director. Critics have also hailed the movie as symbolic of our time. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who works for a human resources company contracted by employers to fire staff. With the millions of people laid off over the past couple of years as a result of the worst recession since the Great Depression this wider aspect of the movie resonates. In fact the film has put on screen many of the ordinary people who were victims of corporate downsizing. In Detroit it advertised on Craigslist to find them. And certainly the film captures the almost surreal world of those still working - ironically Bingham and his young acolyte appropriately-named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick, Twilight) whose jobs it is to fire workers - as the world of shiny first class airline travel and upscale hotel bars continues unabated against the backdrop of a collapsing economy. But I have a problem with this as well. Typical of Hollywood the movie comes across as an anti-corporate morality play. "Just look at how those terrible companies treat their employees, firing them at will, how awfully inhumane," it seems to say. And when each soon-to-be-axed worker comes before Clooney and Keener to be given the bad news of their termination that worker understandably reacts with disbelief and anger. They demand to know how they will continue to support their families. Others denounce the company for tossing them on the street after their years of loyality. We hear of one woman who commits suicide. But not once in this film is there a wider perspective of the economic crisis. Why are companies firing people? Perhaps it's because it's the only way to salvage what's left of a once-profitable firm so that the firm can survive, return to prosperity, and hire again. Typically these workers whine as if the companies owe them something. What do the companies owe? The companies have given them a job in the first place. There were no guarantees. It's unfortunate they lost their jobs but it's time to move on. But then this is liberal Hollywood with its anti-corporatist worldview, ironic given the billions of dollars Hollywood makes and its very well-heeled acting community an example of which is none other than a Mr. George Clooney. One way to interpret the film is that Bingham as the impersonal destroyer of careers is symbolic of the emptiness of his own life. He has few friends and likes to keep people at emotional arm's length. He decries marriage and the need for family. Until, apparently, he falls for Alex. This is a kind of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit for our era. Bingham's life is a microcosm of the heartlessness of corporate America, a Freudian-Marxist analysis if ever there was one. So there you have it. This is a well-acted, well-directed movie but of no greater consequence. The romantic chemistry is no more profound (in fact, quite less so) than in hundreds of other films. And the bigger message seems to be that capitalism, well, sucks. Other than some great airport scenes (especially of Detroit Metro's McNamara Terminal!) what's new in that?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hockey film exposes Canuck anti-Americanism

You may have watched the New Year's Day outdoor NHL Winter Classic hockey game from Fenway Park. If you did you probably are Canadian because as we all know Canucks truly are mad about the game on ice. Michiganders? Probably you were more inclined to watch football including - sigh - Ohio State's victory in the Rose Bowl. Last night on Canada's CTV television network Boston hockey of a different sort was also at centre ice in the made-for-TV movie Sticks and Stones. Only this time the players were about 10 years younger and hailed from the Boston suburb of Brockton. The movie originally ran in 2008. What's interesting is that it is a Canadian film that doesn't have some type of overt or implicit anti-American theme. In fact it's a denunciation of some of the most virulent examples of recent anti-Americanism in the Great White North. The movie is based on an incident in March 2003. The invasion of Iraq had just begun. The Brockton, Ma. Boxers peewee team had travelled to Montreal for a tournament. Their bus, with a bus company logo sporting a big American flag, was the instant target of protesters. They surrounded it, jostled it from side to side, and burned an American flag. This terrified the kids. Even a policeman told team coaches and parents, "You picked the wrong bus." To which one of them snapped, "No, we picked the wrong country." The kids were also embarrassed when they attended a Montreal Canadiens game. They heard their national anthem booed and beer was tossed at them. The Boxers returned home vowing never to go back to Canada. But some of the players and coaches of their chief opponents, the Fredericton Canadiens, saw the injustice of their treatment. They wanted to make amends. They decided to throw a Friendship hockey tournament. Coach Neil Martin (David Sutcliffe of Gilmore Girls, Murder in the Hamptons) and his son team captain Jordy (Alexander De Jordy) awkwardly travel to Brockton to invite the Americans to New Brunswick. Wary, the Boxers agree to do so. When they arrive they are met with local people lining the route waving both American and Canadian flags, applauding and cheering them. There's nothing particularly special about the way the movie (by Dream Street Pictures, Moncton, N.B.) is made. It's a heartwarming set piece worthy of Disney. But what is remarkable is that it shows Canadians in a negative light, as the self-righteous bullies Canuckleheads can be. Made for TV or not I had never seen countrymen depicted in such a light. To which I can only say, Hurray for Dream Street.