I was, as usual, blissfully not. Instead I had a marathon four movie afternoon and evening..…Let’s start with the last going backwards.....The best of the two more recent movies was Our Idiot Brother (2011 Jesse Peretz) starring a great cast headed by Paul Rudd. This was a hoot. Rudd as Ned is brother to three sisters and unwittingly a nuisance to all. Problem is, he’s a nice guy, a New Age hippie who just wants to get along. You’ve met the type. They’re kind of innocent, a little too honest for their own good - which spells triple trouble here - and only want peace and love forever and ever. But except for his mom, also a daffy character, Ned just gets in the way of everyone, such as his neurotic sisters,’ business. This movie is a great send up of New Ageism, contemporary East Coast lifestyles, and New York urban angst….Next was Beautiful Girls (1996 Ted Demme), a mistitled movie if ever there was one. It should have been called Down Home Jerks. Timothy Hutton as Willie takes the Greyhound from NYC back home to Massachusetts and meets up with old friends, virtually all colossal, shall we say, jerks. The movie is formulaic with one structured scene after another – all kind of reminiscent of the TV sitcom Cheers - where there are the usual clichéd storylines taking place in roadhouse bars, where characters drink too much, do their women wrong, and generally act like, well, jerks. It’s all wasted on a good cast such as Matt Dillon, Martha Plimpton, Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, and a young typically edgy Natalie Portman, with Rosie O’Donnell getting the best lines. But the real star is the ubiquitous pickup truck with snow shovel attached, plowing people’s driveways, in this winter in nowhere New England…..Earlier I watched a couple of classics. There was Don’t Trust Your Husband aka An Innocent Affair (1949 Lloyd Bacon) with Fred MacMurray and Madeleine Carroll. It’s a screwball comedy of misunderstandings over a husband’s whereabouts as he tries to nail down a big account. His wife sets a spy on him. The miscues snowball into a crescendo until the very end. These kind of movies are always delightful…..Born Yesterday (1950 George Cuckor) with Judy Holliday and William Holden is the female version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and the political version of Pygmalion. Holden, a journalist, meets Holliday, a crime syndicate’s supposedly dimwit broad, and proceeds to educate her. Holliday’s performance is glistening.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Like Father, Like Son, opening Friday at Landmark’s Main Art in Royal Oak - the latest from Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda - is an emotional story about family. But for me it wasn’t so much about the apparent main theme but about one character’s coming to terms with who he is. The story is ostensibly about two families who discover that their now six year old boys were switched at birth in a provincial hospital by what turned out to be a sociopathic nurse. Koreeda focuses on one of the families – a hard-driving architect Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), his wife Midori (Machiko Ono), and their “mistaken” son Keita (Keita Ninomiya). They are juxtaposed against the other family who is working class and live cheek by jowl beside husband/father Yukari’s (Yoko Maki) machine shop. Each family was given the other family’s child by mistake - er, design. A reconciliation takes place where the families meet and get to know one another. But soon the differences become apparent. Ryota is glum and serious and so devoted to his job he hardly had time at home with Keita. Yukari is happy go lucky and loves to goof off with he and wife Yudai’s (Lily Franky) many kids including the misplaced Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang). The child exchange would be a diffcult transition for any family. Having built loving bonds between what you thought were your own children and then having to exchange them for your children by blood could bring a huge range of emotions. And the film depicts that. Midori, Ryota’s wife, feels guilty for not having recognized Keita's facial dissimilarities sooner. And of course the children - who are slowly integrated into their real families through weekend sleepovers - cry to go back home to see their “real” daddies. One day Ryusei asks Ryota to repair a toy and Ryota at first can’t. The boy says, “When I go home again I’ll have daddy fix it.” Eventually the children make the transition. But even here Midori feels guilt for “betraying” Keita. The movie is called Like Father, Like Son for a reason. The real story is not the misplaced children but Ryota’s coming to terms with what it means to be a father. Cold, austere, and failing to connect with Keita, once reunited with his son Ryusei, he forces himself to change. There are good performances all around especially by the children. The family scenes are naturalistic. But what I liked most was this wasn’t a one-dimensional story. There were two or even three levels at work: the wrongful exchange, Ryota’s fatherhood, and the clash between dour and happy family environments. In the end the movie went from heartbreaking to heartwarming and in a genuine way.
Friday, February 14, 2014
One of my favourite entertainment columnists - in fact my only one since I usually hate fawning entertainment gossip – is Doug Camilli. The guy has been zinging barbs against the Hollywood elite for years and that’s why I love him. Few others send up the Clooneys and Roberts and Cruises of the world with a few bon mots like our friend Doug. His column today was typical but aimed in part at people like me. Guilty as charged! He lambasted critics for their love of Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress, Frances Ha), the arrived indie star of whom I’ve written previously (June 20, 2012, May 27, 2013) as my new It Girl. “Do you know about Greta Gerwig?” Camilli writes. “All us cool people do. She’s made lots of independent films…So critics love her.” But his barbs weren’t so much aimed at Greta as to the critics (not me) who have castigated the poor woman for going schlock by signing on to a new network TV show, How I Met Your Dad. Camilli is understanding towards her because “indie pictures being what they are, she’s not making any money.” But not so to the outraged critics one of whom dismissed Greta outright for making such a crass move. Says Doug: “Let’s give this thing a chance.” I agree.
Since the – yawn – Academy Awards are right around the corner Vanity Fair has come out with its annual Hollywood Issue, the 20th annual in fact. It’s VF’s version of Vogue’s September issue. In other words, thick. 412 pages thick. Since subscribing to VF last year (I’ve since cancelled – lots of froth but little substance) I never realized how female-oriented the magazine is, with the overwhelming number of ads – and there are a lot – fashion or cosmetic oriented. That's an aside. But the Hollywood issue reads like high class porn. There are spreads upon spreads and article upon article of Hollywood then and now. The issue is so rolling in Hollywood grandeur it’s like a very sweet icing, you almost feel sick turning the pages.
Windsorites deserve a chance to see some of the movies the Academy will be voting for March 2. This is your chance to see some of the better and under-the-radar films. The Detroit Film Theatre, as it does every year, offers up the month of February for several repeat screenings of a combo of nominated animation and live action shorts. Together they run to three hours (yes there’s an intermission). There are five shorts in each program. Screenings will continue this weekend and wrap up Thursday. You might want to buy tickets online through the DIA’s website (Detroit Film Theatre) www.dia.org as this is a very popular event.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
It’s been a dry season for movie watching despite the Oscar nominations. But if you’ve read my Jan. 10 you know I’m not at the theatres lately, Oscar-Smoshcar. But alas there are such marvels as zip.ca and Netflix. One need never be movie bereft again....So over the past couple of weeks my movie gazing has taken me from a couple of movies starring Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell, 2010) and The Human Stain (Robert Benton, 2003) – to a very stilted yet oddly humorous 1971 classic A New Leaf starring Elaine May and Walter Matthau - what a combo - to the big French art house hit of last year Holy Motors (Leos Carax) to a 1994 French hit The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994) to the Danish Love is All You Need (Susanne Bier, 2012), to the really delightful 1939 classic Day-Time Wife (Gregory Ratoff). Let’s take them one by one – but short reviews. Really!
• The Kidman movies. Both were ones I thought I had not seen before but in fact had. In Rabbit Hole Kidman is a bereft mother after the death of her young son. Aaron Eckhart plays the husband. It’s a good character piece with enough drama and authenticity to hold your attention. As for The Human Stain I recently read the book by Philip Roth which goes way off into tangents. The movie brings the important parts together. In this case the movie – starring Anthony Hopkins about political correctness and race – is better than the book.
• A New Leaf is a movie about an unlikely couple where emotions are tightly controlled. Matthau’s Henry means bad. But the movie reminded me of a certain type of male, of an older horn-rimmed glasses generation, who is absolutely bereft of emotion and can’t express tenderness to his charming if nervous bride if it kills him, if not her.
• Holy Motors is about a day in the life of a peripatetic actor (Denis Lavant) as he’s “motored” around Paris going from one gig to the other. But it doesn’t seem that way. Each exhausting job seems to encapsulate some aspect of our crazy world. Little of this turned me on and I’m glad I waited a year rather than paying to see it at the DFT. And the final scene of “motors” seemed strangely ridiculous.
• The Professional stars Jean Reno as a Mafia hit man, who befriends a girl played by as extraordinarily young Natalie Portman. But Portman is amazing in her fierceness. They’re an odd Bonnie and Clyde in a movie that doesn’t add up to much but the performances are kind of interesting.
• Susanne Bier is an interesting Danish director and I’ve enjoyed every movie of her’s I’ve seen, such as After the Wedding (2006) and In a Better World (2010). Her films have an implicitly women’s perspective though meld with a general outlook on life in stories that span places and times. Love Is All You Need is about a distressed hairdresser in a bad marriage (Trine Dyrholm) who falls in love with a hard driving foreign executive (Pierce Brosnan) in another ensemble cast about family disintegration and recreation.
• Finally there was the 1939 Day-Time Wife starring an astonishingly young Tyrone Power and an amazingly fresh and delightful Linda Darnell. Darnell plays the suspicious wife who thinks her husband is having an affair with his secretary. But appearances can be – somewhat – deceiving. A fine comedy from the golden age.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Media City, the world-renowned experimental film festival that is probably still under the radar for most Windsorites, is changing its schedule. The festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, moves from the spring to a mid-summer date. Perhaps because of that and the fact the festival is adding another day, “we considered it would be beneficial to give ourselves more time” for organizing, according to festival co-producers Jeremy Rigby and Oona Mosna. It’s hard to believe but this event has been taking place since 1994. Experimental film might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But in filmmaking circles the event has cred and has put little old Windsor on the international map. Every year it attracts filmmakers and audience members from around the world. The producers said another reason for moving the festival to July is because of scheduling conflicts. “Late May jammed us up a bit with a few other events that also happen in the spring,” they said. “Moving to July gives us a solid month of distance and that's beneficial for both practical reasons and for our identity.” The switch will be permanent. Media City will be held July 8 – 12.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Spike Jonze’s Her is interesting from the POV that so much of its subject matter is relevant to the present. Theodore Twombley’s (Joaquin Phoenix) world is set slightly in the future where instead of play station screens your living room becomes a hologram, and where you advise your computer through ear buds to check email and what’s trending on your favourite websites. Not a stretch - people talk into their Bluetooth today. Socially the values of the present seem very much the same, with talk denigrating carbs and Theodore complimented for his metrosexual (i.e., female) values. Los Angeles also is dominated by Asians to such an extent that English takes second place on signs. But other things don’t seem so real. The cityscape looks like Shanghai, an agglomeration of alienating high rises and unlimited concrete. I thought we were moving to a more decentralized and “green” world. This is a trap filmmakers fall into. Jonze didn’t have to use skyscrapers to reinforce anomie. But where the movie excels is the story line and superb acting. Phoenix is a standout as usual. And Scarlett Johansson as the disembodied computer voice is as real as if you could see her on screen, which is the point. Twombley falls in love with Samantha, the voice of his new operating system. (Get ready for the future, folks, when software will have enough intelligence to mimic real persons with thoughts and feelings.) Twombley, recently divorced, lonely and disconnected, warms to this virtual person who seems to like and understand him. Their love affair is believable. The story takes the present version of dating a few notches further. We can already date through websites and have our first connections by text messaging. And there have always been physical objects to substitute for the real. But Samantha is also jealous and even dispatches a real person Isabella (Portia Doubleday) as a surrogate to improve their relationship. Otherwise she acts exactly like someone in a real love affair with all the sweet talk, sexual sighs, and insecure moments of any paramour. In the end the sadness stems from the fact this object of desire cannot be real. She breaks down and tells Theodore she has 641 lovers just like him.
Friday, January 10, 2014
I was all ready to write a post about how there’s absolutely nothing of interest at the local bijoux to take myself to this week or next. 47 Ronin? Japanese historical adventure flicks don’t turn me on. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: I’ve never been a fan of these fantastical worlds not even in book form. Frozen is for kids even if it’s the “coolest” comedy-adventure and after this week’s Arctic blast who needs “eternal winter?” The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is part of what I consider a rip off (see Dec. 15 post) and likely inferior to the original as only a North American teenage classic can be. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has more potential. Based on James Thurber’s famous short story it stars Ben Stiller, whom I’m getting a bit tired of. I think the 1947 version with Danny Kaye is likely a lot funnier. Danny Kaye was truly hilarious, not like today's comedians. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones? Ho-hum. Horror films are usually mediocre. And Rotten Tomatoes' 39 per cent approval just confirms that. Ok, I saw Anchorman and it was funny enough. But Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues? Perhaps it’s just me but I’m tired of the 1970's even send-ups of said decade. Which brings me to American Hustle, which has been getting pretty good reviews. But I don’t want to see 1970's era outrageous shirts, fluffy hair and wide collar jackets, and I’ve increasingly soured on period movies. There’s Grudge Match, also getting fair reviews. But this is a movie about has-beens starring has-beens, which seems to be the only role Robert De Niro gets these days. Sad. There’s Lone Survivor, a kind of Band of Brothers featuring Navy SEALs stuck in the Hindu Kush. Been there, done that if only through news headlines. If I was a kid I’d like Walking With Dinosaurs. If I had kids I’d probably take them to see it. Saving Mr. Banks is about the making of Disney’s Mary Poppins, so why didn’t they call it that? It has respectable Emma Thompson and Tom Banks but do I really want to see a movie about this? There’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s promising and directed by the respectable Martin Scorsese. But it’s this decade’s version of The Bonfire of the Vanities. And I’m so tired of movies attacking Wall Street and what (rich) filmmakers believe the American way of capitalism.
And then, and then, I open the online newspaper today and what do I see? I almost fell over when I saw three decent films opening ALL IN ONE WEEKEND AND ALL IN WINDSOR. It’s positively unheard of, at least in recent years at the big boxes!….. There’s Spike Jonze’s Her, featuring Joaquin Phoenix and current flavour of the month Amy Adams. Now this is a movie I could sink my virtual teeth into since it’s about a man’s over the top love affair with our increasingly over the top hi tech world. And Phoenix is in it, worth seeing for that reason alone. ….Also, there’s Inside Llewyn Davis by the Coens but which I already saw in Detroit (Dec. 23 post), and August: Osage County, with the star-stunning cast led by Meryl Streep but which strikes as a tour de force of family anger and angst, and so I will probably take a pass, thank you very much.