Friday, July 30, 2010

Flick picks for the weekend

First course, Dinner for Schmucks, directed by Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers movies and producer of Borat. In other words - credentials great. This has hilarity – but with a point – written all over it. The film is based on 1998’s French farce The Dinner Game (Francis Veber) which has the kind of setup – based on today’s contemporary class structure – that I love. Pierre and his snobbish friends host dinner parties and see who can bring the dullest or most unsuspecting inept guest. Of course tables, so to speak, turn. Which brings us to this weekend’s Americanized  Dinner for with Steve Carell as Barry, Paul Rudd’s (Tim’s) guest. Tim’s in this dinner because – suck suck - he wants a promotion. What I love about the premise is that it gets at the root of our class-ridden society. No, we don’t have classes divided by wealth anymore. We have classes divided by tastes or interests. The film should be a hoot, should being the operative word. It’s Hollywood after all and probably a few notches below the movie’s original version because Europeans – unlike syrupy Americans – know how to be really cruel to drive the storyline.....Next on the menu, Countdown to Zero (Lucy Walker). Be scared - very, very scared. If you thought the nuclear arms race ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union you of course would have been wrong. In fact, the film suggests, we could be more at danger than ever. At least in the Cold War we had a relatively few countries with big stockpiles of arms assuring mutual destruction if one country launched missiles first. Today we have numerous nations – often quasi-rogue states – with nuclear caches. And don’t forget terrorism. Who needs massive nuclear destruction when a few small nukes will do just fine for destroying New York, L.A. and Chicago?.....For dessert, Ramona and Beezus (Elizabeth Allen), based on Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books for kids. Joey King as nine-year-old Ramona is supposed to put in a great performance as a character who’s a mixture of clumsiness, charm and spunk. Older sister Beezus is played by Selena Gomez. The film apparently is also a realistic look at joblessness (dad John Corbett is out of work) and a view of family life and the little tensions that can bug everyone, from time to time, living in close quarters.....The apertif is up to you.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Traverse City's unbeach-like attraction

Ah yes. The sixth annual Traverse City Film Festival. I have never been to it. But I might – just might – make it up to northern Michigan this weekend to take in at least one or possibly two days of the growing event.....I had my first taste of “up north,” as you Michiganders call it, a month ago, when there were plenty of vacancies from Petoskey to T.C. Not so this weekend. So I guess this must be the high point of the Mich. summer. Still I eventually found a room but at three times the price I paid a month ago.....Enough about me. Several of the fest's films are sold out but there’s plenty more on offer. The fest’s web site is http://www.traversecityfilmfest.org/ .....Here’s what I’ve tentatively picked: Saturday: The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (Rick Goldsmith & Judith Ehrlich 2009), Me & Orson Welles (Richard Linklater 2008), The Tillman Story (Amy Bar-Levy 2009) and The Man Next Door (Mariano Cohn & Gaston Duprat 2009).....On Sunday The Elephant in the Living Room (Michael Webber 2010), When We Leave (Feo Aladag 2009) and Mike's Surprise in which fest founder Michael Moore unveils one of his surprise screenings (sometimes even he’s not aware of what it’s going to be).....I’m not that much of a Moore fan. But this fest looks like a neat smaller festival and from its web site seems to have good vibes.....The venues for the six day event (starting tomorrow) look great. There will be 80 films and 40 shorts from more than 25 countries - a total of 135 screenings. A bonus (if you’re into it) - five free panel discussions, and even six movies under the stars.....There’s a free shuttle running every 5-15 minutes to take you around the six theatres....Traverse City seems the ideal resort town. My trip to the area last month skirted the city. So if I make it there this weekend I’ll also be able to check out this community in some satisfying detail, when I’m not inside watching movies, of course.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Everyone Else's intimate confrontations

From a “crap” movie – as my friend and I deliciously described Inception (July 17 post) – to a very good or excellent movie. This was Germany’s Maren Ade’s Everyone Else (2009), screened the last two weekends at the Detroit Film Theatre.....Here is a “little” film (as compared to the blockbuster – har har - Inception) that is a study in the real emotions between an intimate couple.....Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger) are on vacation at his mother’s villa in Sardinia. All appears to be going well. But it is apparent that aspects of their personalities grate on one another (Chris condemns Gitti’s TV watching and her talking while he’s reading). Later, Gitti is ready to confront Chris on whether he really loves her, baring her soul to the superficiality of her Significant Other’s evasiveness and lack of introspection. At one point she calls him a “weakling”.....In fact Gitti is a much more interesting and complex character than Chris – more rounded, more passionate and more intellectually astute. This is despite Chris’s condescension towards her, perhaps derived from the fact he considers himself a good architect. For him it’s all about his job and not much else. (Where have we heard that before?).....The film is full of these little everyday dramas as the characters try to determine, and finally resolve, if they are meant for each other.....This is Ade’s third film. Her last, The Forest for the Trees (2003), is about an idealistic high school teacher who comes up against some unexpected realities – yet another test for the raw emotions.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inducing sleep right from the Inception

Okay, it didn’t take long for us (okay, me) to buy into the almost instantaneous hype over Inception, which opened yesterday. Not because director Christopher Nolan directed Batman The Dark Knight. You wouldn’t think I’d go to a movie based on such mainstream razzle-dazzle, do you!? No, it was because of this director’s earlier movies like Insomnia (2002) and Memento (2000), the latter an innovative film about memory told backward in time. It made me think that, despite the Hollywood media blitz over the last couple of days – and the almost entirely positive reviews from respectable critics - there might be some real filmmaking cred to this movie.....So we arrive at the Devonshire Mall cinemas and find our seats. We’re (or at least I am) in wide-eyed anticipation: "Okay, baby, show me something amazing, something that will blow my frickin’ mind, that will, well, push the limits of film-making as we know it!"....So the movie opens. First scene: Leonardo DiCaprio (Dom Cobb) washes up on a beach. Next scene: L. D. is yanked into some mysterious Oriental (is it still okay to use that word?) inner sanctum to meet up with presumably some accomplice/enemy/high-ranking underworld figure. From there we go through a series of random and seemingly unrelated scenes where characters in various situations (a dilapidated building with a riot going on outside, a compartment of a Japanese Bullet train) where people seem to be in induced sleep states, and, I guess, their precious dreams being ripped-off. Because, well, that’s the theme of this movie. DiCaprio is a master dream stealer. And what people dream (corporate secrets) can have incredible value for rivals.....But for a film to work it's got to hit me in a way that I want to absorb it, that I want to go on to the next scene, and not leave me thinking, a) oh, the main character washed up on a beach b) he’s involved in fisticuffs in getting peoples’ dreams – that's no different from any run-of-the-mill action flick, and c) all of a sudden he’s being transported by helicopter with nefarious characters heading to a corrupt Japanese hi-tech company......Talk about inducing sleep, if not dreams!....All these events take place within the movie’s first half hour. The lack of coherence, the clich├ęd fighting, the sheer incomprehension of what was going on, was enough. My friend said, “I’m bored, this is crap, can we get out of here?” I pretty well felt the same but, had I been alone, would have slogged through the movie’s entire 2 hours and 28 mins. (Ugh!)....Who knows, maybe it would have gotten better. The trailer had some pretty, well, fantastical-looking scenes. But we weren’t about to find out and risk losing another two hours of our - very - precious lives.....We got up and left the almost-packed house, with probably 300 people wondering, “What the hell’s with them?” Why, after all, would we walk out on this greatest film of Summer 2010!.....A silver lining, we got out money back. And I'm not dreaming.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Roman Polanski: wanted on DVD

Roman Polanski is once again free after Swiss authorities decided Monday not to extradite him to the United States to face prosecution in a 1977 sex case. Polanski of course was arrested last September upon arriving in Switzerland, where he owns a chalet, to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Zurich Film Festival. The U.S. had sought extradition of the director of such acclaimed films as Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist, after he fled the country in 1978......Polanski had feared he would be sentenced for as long as 50 years after already having plead guilty in a plea bargain to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He served 42 of 90 days for a psychiatric evaluation. Having served the time he thought being hauled back to court and sentenced again would be a violation of the plea deal. The Swiss justice minister almost concluded the same when she said: “In these circumstances it was not possible to exclude with the necessary certainty that Roman Polanski had already served the sentence to which he was condemned at the time".....From my understanding of the case I’m inclined to agree, an unpopular view. But my opinion is based on a couple of things: the desire by the victim, Samantha Geimer, who was 13 at the time, and long ago called for charges to be dropped.....The other is Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. The film is a first class journalistic investigation into the case. It features interviews with many of the key participants. These include the former assistant DA who prosecuted the director but ended up being sympathetic to Polanski, Geimer herself, Philip Vannater of the LAPD, Richard Brenneman, a reporter who thoroughly covered the case, gossip columnist Marilyn Beck, even Mia Farrow.....It's definitely worth a view.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Criterion Collection finally releases Red Desert

Red Desert (Il deserto rosso) (1964) is Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s (dec. 2007) first colour film......The film is considered both distinct in itself and loosely as part of Antonioni’s early Sixties internationally-successful trilogy of L'avventura (The Adventure), La Notte (The Night), and L’eclisse (The Eclipse) - all dealing with themes of ennui, social alienation, and the vapidness of materialism = often set against a modern urban landscape. All of these films star Antonioni’s romantic love at the time, the great Italian actress Monica Vitti. The film won the Golden Lion (top prize) at the 1964 Venice Film Festival....The last time I saw this movie was over 30 years ago at a Hamilton art house theatre. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It seemed one of those films that was going nowhere fast. I remember one of my professors being in the audience and coming up to me afterwards and asking if I liked it. I was blunt: “Not really.” He did of course and said diplomatically, “Maybe you’ll come around to my way of thinking.” I have.....In the 30 years since, I have become a huge Antonioni fan, absolutely loving the trilogy (though not so much his later English-language films like Zabriskie Point and The Passenger (with Jack Nicholson)......When I joined Canada’s answer to Netflix, zip.ca, about five years ago, it was the first movie I put on my “ziplist.” The request has been at the top of the list ever since. The movie had not been released in DVD or was in shipping. Frustrating as hell! But after a June 22 DVD Criterion release it finally arrived July 2 - almost worth a party to celebrate!.....Watching all 117 minutes brought back fragments  – the shots set against the  belching fumes and noises of a sprawling chemical factory with its vibrant close-up colours of pipes and tanks often  red in colour. There was also the almost orgy-like scene of friends gathered in the absurd fishing shack by a dock where wayward (ghost?) freighters pass.....The movie revolves around the beautiful Monica Vitti (Giuliana) character, a woman not on the verge of but who definitely is going through a nervous breakdown. Surprisingly, Irish actor Richard Harris is in the film, seemingly speaking fine Italian, and plays Vitti’s would-be lover......Just like other of Antonioni’s films, Red Desert features long takes, often disconnected shots, and a dreamlike or surreal quality. But what is the movie about? Ah.....I think most people draw the conclusion (I did) that it’s about human alienation set against a soul-destroying industrial background. But the director himself said it would be “simplistic” to draw such a relationship. In fact Antonioni described industrial sites as part of the “poetry of the world” and said they can be “beautiful.” So much for my theory.) Instead, Antonioni said the film was about personal adjustment. “There are people who do adapt, and others who can't manage.”.....Vitti seems to seek solace in Harris (Corrado) and asks if he loves her. When he asks why, she responds not so much of her need for romantic love as her need for love at all. “I’d like everyone who’s ever cared about me here and around me now like a wall.” Later she says, “There’s something terrifying about reality and I don’t know what it is. No one will tell me. Even you don’t help me, Corrado”..... The final scene shows Giuliana walking with her son (who at one point she suspects of having polio or could he have been sickened by the toxic environment; the setting after all resembles Love Canal times 10) and he asks what the yellow smoke is. She says it’s poison and the little birds know to stay away.....Because the DVD is Criterion it gets the treatment it deserves. Features include chapter headings, a 1990 Vitti interview, and a second film version with overlaid critical commentary, a highly worthwhile experience even if you've seen the film.....The trailer is in typical early-Sixties format (but seems highly bizarre now) with a light upbeat jazzy score as if it’s some  Mastroianni comedy. But maybe that's Antonioni's way of saying it's absurd. Then again, probably not.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Flick picks for the weekend

Tonight at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Windsor, a great double-bill...The Windsor Intl Film Festival, as part of its monthly series, screens at 6.30 pm The Secret in their Eyes, this year’s best Oscar foreign language film, an Argentinean/Spanish production by director Juan Jose Campanella. It’s the story of a crime investigation set in the scorched-decade world of 1970s Argentinean politics. (If you miss it the film is also being screened regularly at the Main Theatre in Royal Oak). Then at 9.15 pm WIFF will screen Exit Through the Gift Shop by Banksy, the mysterious graffiti artist known worldwide and whose tags apparently have even shown up in the Motor City. The film is an attempt to film what had been an unfilmmable subject, Banksy himself, because he defies any such attempts. In this flick the pursuing filmmaker – almost – succeeds. The movie also features Shepard Fairey, the graphic artist who designed the instantly iconic red white and blue Obama poster during the 2008 election campaign.....Meanwhile here’s a film that’s been getting a lot of publicity. Only problem is, we can’t see it. The doc Murder by Proxy – How America Went Postal, is about the epidemic of mass murders, often in workplaces. It will be shown tonight at Landmark’s Main at 7. But it’s by invitation only. Director Emil Chiaberi, who grew up in the Soviet Union, wants people affected by the Royal Oak post office murders, to attend only. The Royal Oak shootings in 1991 was one of the best known examples of a mass killing in a post office, helping give rise to the term “going postal.” It resulted in five dead and four injured at the Second St. building not at all far from the Main Theatre itself. The film is expected to open to the public later this summer.....Also looking interesting this weekend and next is Germany’s Maren Ade’s Everyone Else at the Detroit Film Theatre (DIA). It’s about a relationship on the verge and the "mutual, passive-aggressive" games that can come with, ah, intimacy.