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Amazing rock doc
Just saw Amazing Journey at the Toronto International Film Festival. I must admit that this was not a first pick as I was looking for something different for my closing day film.
Amazing Journey will be an orgasmic experience for Who devotees. The band went through several tragedies, including the deaths of Keith Moon and John Entwhistle. There were many violent fights between Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend. Daltrey might have been the pretty boy frontman but Townsend was the artist, one who was deeply insecure about never being able to surpass the artistic merits of either Tommy or Quadrophenia.
In the end, what emerges is a portrait of young men who let music permeate their lives. It's really about one's passion towards one's craft. Yes, there are lots of indulgences along the way: expensive toys, women, sycophants, and drugs. But as we see with the maturing of the Daltrey and Townsend friendship, the journey is a tough but essential part of aging gracefully into the elder statesmen of rock.
The loss of Entwhistle was devastating for both men who already carried much guilt over the death of Keith Moon. They just didn't see the signs of Entwhistle's flirtations with drugs. He dies on the eve of a reunion tour and they go on because it's important to keep the memory alive.
It is great to know that such a testimony to this band is available. What a shame it would be for younger generations to only know them as the band that made theme songs for the CSI franchise.
Closing the Ring (2007)
Lord Attenborough does a chick flick
I must hand it to Lord Attenborough who is attempting a chick flick to keep up with the times. Can anyone else attract the level of talent in the film: Christopher Plummer, Shirley Maclaine, Neve Campbell, Mischa Barton? The story has great promise. It opens with the funeral of a young woman's beloved daughter who is delivering her eulogy to a church full of veterans who knew and loved her father. Her mother, on the other hand, is sitting out on the church porch, smoking and nursing a hangover.
What develops from this story shows us a time when this mother was young, lively, and optimistic. She is in love with a young farmer who must go off to war. They always go out with two friends who are the best buds a guy could have.
The movie is also interspersed with a story that takes place in Belfast. You know that at some point, the film will have to knit these two elements together. There are numerous light moments to offset the darker experiences of love and loss during war. Ethel Ann (Maclaine)has loved well and was always loved but she is too self-involved to understand that she has used her own tragedies to punctuate her relationship with her daughter (Campbell).
Some of the younger actors in this are Canadian talent. I hope that this film gives them the exposure that they need to continue making their way up the talent ladder. David Alpay from Slings and Arrows is terrific as is Allan Hawco. I wanted to see more of them and less of Mischa Barton whose acting is wooden at the best of times.
At the Toronto Film Festival screening yesterday, the projector had a hiccup during the sow. Stephen Amell who plays Teddy got onto the stage and had an impromptu Q&A to save the day. It was fascinating to hear how he was cast and what kind of experience an actor has when they work with Richard Attenborough.
when you become a prisoner at Abu Ghraib, life becomes surreal
Imagine you're an Iraqi journalist who captures images and stories of the American occupation. Some of the stories show the humanity of the soldiers befriending the kids, giving them chocolates or playing soccer with them. You watch your once beautiful country burn and see nothing except an apocalyptic scene that is now your reality.
Yunnis Abbas is the subject of this film. He was once taken prisoner and tortured by Uday Hussein. Under the American occupation, Abbas is mistaken, along with his brothers, as insurgents who are building a bomb in their home. The brothers are all good people with responsible jobs and a devotion to their mom. All of the brothers, including Yunnis, are taken and interrogated but of course, they know nothing about the insurgents because they are ordinary men caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. An embedded videographer who accompanied the Marines on a raid of the Abbas' family home films Yunnis as he's got his hands on his head and proclaiming innocence--he's just a journalist. Nobody believes him.
This is an unsettling film. One day you're on the beach or celebrating at a friend's party. The next thing you know, you're caught up in the hell of Abu Ghraib, accused of plotting to kill British prime minister, Tony Blair, because you've done some work for the BBC.
This is indeed another documentary about the injustice that so many Iraqis see as they try to eek out an existence under the American occupation. What the viewer sees here is the difficulty that the Americans have in identifying the good guys from the bad. They also have little awareness that they themselves may actually be the bad guys of this situation. Sure, they perceive themselves as liberators but are they when so many Iraqi men are rounded up and questioned mercilessly about their involvement with anti-U.S. activity.
The film isn't perfect--it resembles an extended 60 Minutes interview with a man who has definitely been wronged, along with his brothers. One of the most emotionally engaging scenes is when the brothers ask if their mom is okay; they're not to sure if the soldiers will cause harm to their mother. One soldier responds kindly while another one dismisses their pleas to take care of their mom.
The filmmaker uses an interesting technique of making certain parts resemble panels of a comic book. At first, I thought that this was odd and off-putting. In the end, it made a lot of sense. Comic books are full of good guys and villains. This war is also full of Rambos and guys who see themselves as the good guys. Whether they are or not remains to be something that will one day be determined in history texts.
Film for teens that isn't full of coarse language or nudity
It's getting increasingly difficult for parents and guardians to share the experience of going to a theatre to watch a film with their teens. This might be an answer to this dilemma as long as you and your teens are in agreement about spending quality time together.
I thought that this had an exceptionally strong cast. There are enough "established" actors to appeal to the parents--Ewan MacGregor, Stephen Fry, Robbie Coltrane, and Bill Nighy. Heck, even a greasy Mickey Rourke does a turn as a comic book villain who threatens the world because he was an outcast as a young American in class conscious Britain! The story follows Alex Rider, an orphan who lives with his American nanny (Alicia Silverstone) and his mostly absentee uncle (Macgregor). A tragic turn of events puts Alex into close contact with his uncle's former employers who see him as a natural successor to his uncle, a British spy.
For what it is, this is a good film for teens. It doesn't insult their intelligence and gives them some strong themes to reflect upon. For the adults, it's Saturday afternoon bubble gum for the brain. You've probably seen this story before but it's certainly entertaining enough. Nothing memorable but go and have a good time.
Wanted to love this but couldn't
Many have commented on how they found last year's Capote boring and tedious. I must disagree with that opinion as I found that version of Truman Capote's quest to create literary non-fiction to be a masterpiece. Yes, it's slow-moving but it's well-paced and the director sets the tone for that film early with its desaturated colours and vast landscapes to show the isolation that Capote eventually feels when his story comes to a conclusion and he never writes another masterpiece again.
I was looking forward to Infamous with great anticipation and was disappointed heartily. I hated the faux interviews from Capote's intimates. This film seems to violate the whole idea of screen writing--show, don't tell. Why have talking heads telling you about the Capote they knew when the film could have easily left this to inference.
I also found it disconcerting that the film couldn't seem to decide whether it was going to be comical or tragic. The pacing is way off. Too much time is spent on Capote the gadfly and not enough screen time is dedicated to showing the moral dilemma that he becomes embroiled in when he chases the story of the two killers. I guess if viewers wanted more of that gossipy side of Capote, this is the ideal film. Last year's was actually quite brooding and one was left wondering as to how so many of the beautiful people could confide in a man who spent more time labouring over his work than he did partying with the elite.
I loved last year's film and cannot recommend this one to anyone who cares to see this one. The comparisons are unavoidable. Too bad that we couldn't compare what each filmmaker did well. Maybe a future film class can examine biopics and look at how two different filmmakers can approach the same subject so differently.
Suburban Mayhem (2006)
A celebration of pop culture excess and misogyny
Just saw Suburban Mayhem at TIFF; it's a brash, eye-popping mess of a movie. It's trying to pay homage to Pulp Fiction with its suggestions of horrible ways of dying--beheading or being bludgeoned to death by an inept killer. These are all loathsome, stupid people who manipulate and copulate their way through life.
The problem with this movie is its lack of purpose of direction. Is this a commentary on the skewed moral compass of these losers who will only find their fifteen minutes of fame by becoming infamous? I'm not sure that the director knew what was happening and just made this flick, hoping that someone would imbue meaning into it.
I don't know what the fuss is all about. There are plenty of films that address immoral characters and their behaviours in a way that makes you think. This film just pushes you over the edge and out the door.
Not worth your time.
Mah nakorn (2004)
Amelie in Thai
I felt that I was brutalized by this film. This was a rip off of Amelie. There are moments that defy good taste and good sense. While the main characters are very attractive, they lack charm. I didn't care about them. There is the young woman with OCD who rearranges the cans and jars in the cupboards so that the labels all face out. Her would be suitor looks at her with loving though vacuous eyes.
The subplots don't help either. Is there something in the water that makes these people so insipid? A little girl who doesn't get enough attention at home takes cab rides to arcades so that she can shoot things. She has a talking bear that is hard drinking and chain smoking. There is another couple that has fallen in love after meeting on a packed bus.
I was annoyed by the characters who are self-absorbed and silly. Why is Bangkok so cartoonish? Does any audience ever need the intrusion of a constant voice over? Why must this film also have an annoyingly shrill soundtrack? Unselfish love is a noble goal; don't let anyone you love see this film.
great performance; script needs more work
It took me a long time before I finally decided to sit down and watch Ray. I have never been a fan of Jamie Foxx. His "ugly woman" days were goofy and embarrassing. I think that his performance as Ray Charles has redeemed him. He's a terrific mimic. It's uncanny how one can watch him and never think that this is an actor's portrayal of one of America's most recognizable musical icons.
There are some cheesy moments that should have been dropped from the movie. The dream/nightmare sequences when Ray envisions his dead little brother don't evoke feelings of empathy. You just think that the director was trying to hard and in doing so, created a pseudo horror film within a bio-pic.
The relationships in the film are heart-breaking at times. His marriage to Bea is complex and difficult. He can never resist the temptations of the road--back-up singers wanting to be Mrs. Ray Charles as they travel from gig to gig. I remember watching some of the interviews he did in real life. He was always charming and huggable. There is no doubt why people found his charisma hypnotic. But beyond the charm was a level of manipulation that got him places. Perhaps it was the drug addiction too. Never trust a junkie 'cause he knows how to lie.
I know that the film has earned very mixed reviews. I say still see it and appreciate it for what it is--a tribute to a man who broke lots of barriers in order to make a life for himself. This film, like its protagonist, doesn't need to beg for an audience.
a respectful look at other cultures
You can tell that Palin is having great fun, at his own expense rather than at the expense of the people he encounters. I am just watching the visit to China, Vietnam and the Phillipines and am so pleased to see that there are so many things about my ancestors' country that I never knew. Who would have thought that the Communists, Mao and his cronies would have allowed a Bavarian castle to continue standing in a seaside resort town in China?
I saw Palin speak at his launch of Sahara a few weeks ago. The man is such a delightful, charming man. If you cannot get out to see him show you his slides, at least borrow the tapes of his series from your library.
All the Real Girls (2003)
Watching cotton grow is more heart-stopping.
This is a plot that you have seen before. It was done with Timothy Hutton and Matt Dillon as Beautiful Girls. Group of young guys in a smalltown who don't know where life is taking them and really haven't had much life experience unless it includes sexual conquests, drinking cheap beer, or watching an auto derby.
The opening scene is gentle and promising. Walt Whitman comes to mind. The two young lovers are exploring intimacy in a gentle, innocent way. We then discover that the male is a cad about to be reformed under the power of a good woman--his best friend's sister.
But then the movie unravels. The pacing is off, the narrative doesn't always make sense, moments of drama aren't always explored by the director ----SPOILERS---- She is this young innocent girl who has spent years in boarding school. How did her family afford that since everyone in this town is down-and-out? She is virginal and tells her boyfriend who then slows down the progress of their relationship. He wants to treat her respectfully and have their relationship develop from love rather than lust. But she attends a party by a lake and gets drunk enough to sleep with a guy who has been following her around. When she tells her boyfriend, he flips out and is pained by her betrayal. Wait now, she wouldn't sleep with him even though he's totally hot and in love with her but she casually has a one-night stand with this geek at the party. Has she done this to be sure that Paul is the one and so that she can bring sexual experience to their eventual lovemaking? Pretty convoluted thinking here.
There were lots of smalltown moments that could have been explored and weren't. For example, nobody seems to have any desire to leave this milltown or give any consideration to forming a new life elsewhere. Zoe Deschenel's character has gone beyond the town limits and has come back but she doesn't seem affected by being away. She likes doing nothing in her home town. I kept expecting her to want to leave and for Paul to become conflicted over what he can offer her if she goes away and even if she does stay, he has had so many inconsequential affairs that the longevity of their relationship is uncertain. For anyone who has lived in a smalltown, the question always is what life has to offer and whether one has to go away in order to fulfill one's destiny.
The dialogue is contrived and some of the situations are just unbelievable. This director hasn't hit his mark yet. He has a good vision of what he wants in a final product. Let's see what else he can come up with. For those who enjoy cinema verite, this is an artificial and trite piece of realism.