Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Ambitious artistically, but flat in delivery.
There's a tricky decision the you have to make when you choose to do a film examining the controversial elements of an industry.
You have to choose whether to fix the film in a place and time, and discuss real historical events, or to allow the film to examine broader topics through fictional constructs, thus freeing the movie to be timeless.
Both choices can be fraught with peril, and Sally Potter braves those waters with Rage, choosing to create a fictional context for examining the class disparity, sweatshops, and unrealistic beauty standards that are at the heart of most of the Fashion Industry's major controversies.
Potter uses a bare-bones film technique, fixing a camera at a green screen, and shooting a series of documentary-style still-camera interviews with actors playing fashion industry archetypes.
There is a fundamental premise, and a story arc complete with acceptably dramatic events of a shocking nature, but these are neither compelling, nor believable in any context. The story here is secondary, and is a means to an end.
This film is, essentially, an acting exercise. It is an opportunity for Sally Potter and her actors to explore a character's arc in the broader context of a (largely silly and contrived) fashion industry disaster.
The film never answers any of the poignant questions it asks, and it never really allows any one character to follow a satisfying arc (with the possible exception of Jude Law's character, the high point).
For the most part, theatre and film geeks will enjoy the effort, if not the execution, but mainstream film-goers will be bored to tears inside of five minutes.
The IT Crowd (2006)
The IT Crowd is an absurdist satire of office dramas, featuring those most indispensable of nerds, tech support geeks.
The first thing I noticed watching this series was director Ben Fuller's patience. He has a willingness to let a joke build that evades most television directors. Some jokes are set up in the opening scene and wait until the final segment for the payoff.
The show is further bolstered by great chemistry and timing between stars Richard Ayoade, Christopher Morris, Chris O'Dowd, and Katherine Parkinson. Each actor emits a brave willingness to take their characters to extremes for a laugh.
It's all helped a great deal, of course, if you have a vague notion computer technology and its various sub-cultures, but for the most part, the audience is along for clever dialogue-related humour, not in-jokes.
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Not your usual Gilliam
I didn't realize this was a Terry Gilliam movie until the closing credits. I simultaneously reacted with shock, and slapped my for-head with an, "Of course!" The sense of wonder and imagination ever-present in Gilliam's fantasy films is completely absent here, but his characteristic style is all over the movie. Gilliam departs slightly from his staunch reliance on practical effects, and the film is weaker for it. A few instances of painfully obvious CGI pull the viewer out of the "reality" of the forest, and his traditional puppetry/cinematography techniques simply work much better. There is a very glib, almost disaffected feel to this movie. This ultimately works in its favour, since if it had taken itself too seriously it would have been impossible to swallow. The actors take to this style well, but are often working with weak, one-dimensional characterizations. Jonathon Price virtually reprises his role from The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen, only with too much Napolean added (Napolean is not actually rendered in the film, the character is a French General). Peter Stormare does an excellent job of playing what is unfortunately a character of little value, a bizarre mix of cowardly thug and authoritarian hero. There is nearly universal praise for Heath Ledger regarding his performance, and I am no different. Jake Grimm is easily the most likable and best-written character. I also expected that Ledger had been typecast, and would appear is the stalwart fantasy hero yet again. I was delightfully surprised to see an entirely new side to his talents. Gilliam has made a film that is probably good for his career. As a big-budget summer adventure movie, this is above-average and watchable. As a Terry Gilliam fantasy, it is a disappointment.
The Pickle (1993)
A pickle... within a pickle... within... Danny Aiello?
Clearly made by veterans of the business, this is the story of the twilight years in a film-makers life. Well... a successful, famous one, anyway. Numerous luminaries just off the Highest Paid rack appear: Ally Sheedy, Isabella Rossellini, Dudley Moore, and the ever-willing-to-make-a-fool-of-himself Little Richard in a hysterical turn as the President of Cleveland (don't worry, it doesn't make much more sense if you've seen the film).
I love Danny Aiello, and it isn't often I get to see him in a lead role, so I was inclined to like this movie from the get-go. Danny's great as an aging director who's reviewing his life, and his work, and finding himself coming up short from his childhood expectations. We follow the two days leading up to the premiere of Harry Stone's new movie, "The Pickle." It doesn't make it any easier to write this review that the films both bear the same name, so for now, I will refer to this movie-within-a-movie Pickle as "The Pickle Within". The Human Pickle comes later.
"The Pickle Within" is atrocious. On every level. And this is plaguing Harry Stone to no end. He reassesses each of his relationships; with his first wife, played nicely by Dyan Cannon; his current girlfriend, an English-language debut by the stunning Clotilde Courau; his daughter and her husband, both perpetually short of cash after growing accustomed to their father's celebrity lifestyle; even one of his many brief ex-wives Patti, whose Chinese accent is hysterically strong when she talks, but disappears when she sings.
The people in Harry's life are truly funny stereotypes, exclusively played by talented people who happen to fall outside Hollywood's A-List (though a few have been there in the past).
Ultimately, the path of Harry's life leads him to realize that yes, indeed, he himself is the Pickle (there it is... the Human Pickle), who, with warts, age, sourness, and all, is still a valuable person (cue inspirational music).
American Crime (2004)
Honest, but unfocused, effort
What I loved most about this movie was its willingness to avoid shock-gore for effect. It's remarkably rare these days for a thriller/horror movie to rely on mood and camera work to achieve suspense instead of graphic violence. This movie covers similar territory to Cary Elwes' other recent thriller "Saw", but focuses instead on the characters and mood. Even Elwes' somewhat stilted performance feels more natural here, appropriately fitting an aspiring, but inexperienced, TV journalist. Kip Pardue, Annabella Sciorra, and Rachael Leigh Cook fill out a cast of journalists quite literally caught up in their latest story about a serial killer. The film borrows liberally from 'Scream' and 'Blair Witch Project', but brings it's own odd combination of story techniques, which doesn't quite work. The film's aspirations are noble, and I enjoyed it thanks to the fact that it didn't follow typical formulas when the opportunity to do so arose repeatedly during the story. I'm always willing to forgive a few weaknesses for an ambitious work that doesn't take the easy formulaic answer. American Crime is an original film, and while you're guessing constantly, it's unlikely you'll have figured much out before the end.
The 4400 (2004)
Cribs from the best, with Canadian sensibilities
'The 4400' clearly views itself as a throwback to an earlier style of TV show. And in that regard, it succeeds admirably. Almost a little too much so, since the first season's cribbings (my word, the more cynical use the word "rip-offs", and the blindly enthusiastic refer to them as "homages") come fast and furious. There was clearly a desire to use "Taken" as the template for the story.
I hate to nit-pick on the negative of something I like, but not only does Joel Gretsch star (once again) as a government agent with familial ties to a series of abductions, but the story centers on a gifted little blonde girl who always knows more about what's going on than the audience, or other characters. At least she's not played by Dakota Fanning, which would have been too obvious (but she does have a really cheesy recreation of Newt's famous 'Aliens quote' "Mostly...").
Once you get past the lack of originality (which shouldn't take long, people, this is TV here...) you find a surprisingly substantive show. I say surprisingly not just because it's for TV, but it's a Canadian Co-production. If you haven't seen much Canadian TV, that's usually a euphemism for "crap", except when it's not. Then, it's actually quite fascinating.
For starters, it was nice to see a TV show that substitutes Vancouver for an American city it actually resembles (Seattle) as opposed to one it looks nothing like (it usually stands in for New York or LA, which never works). It was also nice, especially in our Post 9/11 world, to see a show that has a top government organisation that actually thinks predominately with concern for the citizens of the world. These agents really want to protect the 4400, and help re-integrate them, rather than stick them in a lab. The benevolence of the government in the 4400 is honestly refreshing, no matter how fictional it is.
The stories are interesting. The characters are both believable and endearing, particularly David Eigenberg as a tragic superhero. I haven't seen the second season yet, but the first plays around with the mystery quite well.
Lastly, I was delighted to see Honorary Canadian (and, probably, officially Canadian by now) Michael Moriarty (the original ADA Ben Stone, Law & Order) playing WAY out of type, though his appearance predominantly limited to the pilot episode.
The Machinist (2004)
Moody psychological thriller, reminiscent of Pi and Memento
Brad Anderson directed two very different films I thoroughly enjoyed: Next Stop Wonderland, a funny, charming showcase for under-used actress Hope Davis; and Session 9, a creepy Blair Witch-style psyche-out that had me tense, and guessing, until the end.
The Machinist is in the latter vein. It is an ambitious work that risked alienating its audience with a combination of art cinematography and symbolism. However, the sheer intensity of Christian Bale's performance and peril, paired with a delicate touch with the psychological symbolism, make this a satisfying example of art cinema.
Half the fun of this movie is figuring out what's going on, so I won't reveal the concrete plot, other than to say Bale's year-long insomnia provides a perfect backdrop for a journey through the chambers of the main character's mind. You can never be sure when what you're seeing is actually happening, or a hallucinating, r.e.m. sleep-deprived brain.
Besides an outstanding turn by Christian Bale (who dropped a record 63 pounds for his role), the film features Jennifer Jason Leigh playing arguably her most common role, a prostitute. However, the film avoids rehashing Hollywood Hooker clichés, and her character is quite compelling, as a result. My favorite appearance in the film? Michael Ironside plays a gruff co-worker of Bale's. I'm a huge Ironside fan (mainly because he's been slugging it out for decades in an almost mythological field - a Canadian Film Industry Career) and I hadn't seen him do a movie this high-profile in years.
The Machinist will almost undoubtedly slip under the radar of most movie-goers. It hasn't been promoted too much, and it is decidedly intellectual fare, but the rewards are worth it.
Sadly, cancelled, but available on DVD
I had never heard of this show before its release on DVD earlier this year. I was inspired to rent all thirteen episodes because the series co-creator/writer Bryan Fuller had created/written the pilot for Dead Like Me, which I considered one of the most entertaining television pilots ever. Wonderfalls opens in much the same way, with a young, brooding, female slacker narrating the beginning of a supernatural experience. This time around, however, Bryan Fuller was able to be a part of the entire series' creative run (he left the production team of Dead Like Me after a few episodes for reasons I do not know).
The entire series benefits from a talented cast and crew. Clever direction, judicious use of special effects and CGI (so as not to overshadow the characters or story... or, I'm sure, budget), excellent comedic timing and a bold and innovative storyline sucked me right into everything.
The central character of Jaye (her parents and siblings are named Karen, Sharon, Darren and Aaron... further singling her as the "odd woman out") is a 24 year-old slacker who works in a souvenir shop in Niagara Falls, New York (although the series was clearly shot in Niagara Falls, Ontario... the prettier side of the river). Jaye is played by Caroline Dhavernas, a French-Canadian actress who Katie Finneran describes as "The Britney Spears of Canada". I confess I'd never heard of her. Her work in Wonderfalls under director Todd Holland is both sympathetic and hysterical, and I've begun checking out her other projects.
The series also features William Sadler, who had been without regular television work since the cancellation of Roswell. Here, he is fantastic as Jaye's conservative but open-minded father.
Not only do I highly recommend the series (available only on DVD that I'm aware of), but I'll be keeping an eye out for whatever new project Bryan Fuller decides to undertake.
Terror Tract (2000)
Like "B" Movies? Have a look...
If you're a fan of searching through "B" movies and finding those rare ones with true "gem" moments, have a look. John Ritter truly makes this film. His segment has the most laughs, and the best tongue-in-cheek delivery. The story that ties the three sub-features together is actually the best one. Format-wise, this is purely Tales From the Dark Side. One segment ties three 30-minute shorts together, and much fun is had by all. Hokey horror and fun ensues. Segment 1 is the weakest of the bunch, but still has a few moments to keep things lively. Segment two is supported both by a notable appearance (Bryan Cranston, father on Malcolm In the Middle) and by a hilariously preposterous evil villain. Segment three is the creepiest of the bunch, and uses classic thriller/horror tricks without concerning itself with an explanation or a payoff, much like the early fifties Twilight Zone episodes. Personally, my favourite moment is the opening credit sequence, which stands tall among "b" movie setups. But it's still a bad movie...
Wonderful send-up of International Politics
Water is one of those movies I'm grateful my Dad took me to see. Since it lasted, I believe, less than two weeks in theaters, I wasn't going to get another chance for a long time. Water does a wonderful job of skewering the Big Powers; the U.S.; Britain; Russia; and France. The colonial nature of these empires forms the basis for a hysterical skirmish over water rights on a barely survivable Caribbean island. The film's executive producer was none other than George Harrison. Not surprisingly, the music from the film is fantastic, although no soundtrack album is available that I am aware of. The luminaries drawn to the movie's witty script included musicians Ringo Starr, John Lord, Eric Clapton and others, and the cast includes Michael Caine, J.J. Walker, and Billy Connelly (the latter two in their best roles, I believe). Unfortunately, most of the humour requires knowledge of international and colonial politics, without which the film is (pardon the pun) dry.
Widescreen vs. Fullscreen
Spoiler Warning. The fullscreen version of Silverado is a truly wonderful movie, but it suffers terribly from losing so much of the image. There are many shots (no pun intended) that require widescreen to see and understand the action. The single most important example is the climax of the film - Paden and the Sheriff's old-style fast-draw - wherein the audience cannot see the action until too late. It simply doesn't appear on screen. Many of Kevin Costner's best sequences also occur off-screen or mostly off-screen. Thankfully, there has been enough interest to result in a limited widescreen release on DVD in 1999, but it has been discontinued, and is now only available used from collectors. This comment is to encourage the many fans of this wonderful film to also seek out the widescreen version. Enough interest generated will achieve results, and there are certainly many of us who want to see the version we only remember from the theatrical release.