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under-rated enough to question critics
24 November 2017
These days I rarely enter an IMDb review. And when I have in the past it has usually been to offer an under-represented opinion. Here goes:

I suspect that some critics are triggered by bits that appear in trailers for the film, like the running joke that Will Ferrell kisses his father John Lithgow as Mel makes wry commentary on it. What someone today might call "gay panic" or "homophobia" is actually better described as CULTURE SHOCK, a term without so much judgment. It is all part of a character arc and effectively underscores the difference in parenting styles at the heart of the movie's conflicts.

This movie opened on my father's birthday, which might have been a good time to see it (or a terrible weepy time) but I had to work. I finally saw it and had the cinema all to myself on a Friday afternoon. The movie deserves more success. It is about on par with most Christmas dysfunction movies like Christmas Vacation. Watching a few of the set-piece moments, especially where they culminate, I am flabbergasted that critics have been hostile. Rotten Tomatoes guaranteed fresh the remake of Ghostbusters and this movie gets a splat? Something is rotten besides tomatoes in the state of Denmark.

The movie skewers gun safety, drinking, and Christmas rituals --- while introducing something I've never heard of: Do people dress as characters in public Nativity scenes? Overall, I found the movie pleasant and mild. The actors are all charming, even the model girlfriend who actually does have a discrete character that isn't quite a cliché.

You can safely disregard any review by a Mel Gibson hater. Adam Carolla's co-host reported Mel saying some quite correct and positive things about the trend of holding abusers accountable, but then she couldn't resist what she called a "refresher" on Mel's past troubles. Those kinds of "refreshers" tend to leave out CONTEXT!!!! and also tend to omit the factor of alcoholism and bipolar disorder, two valid obstacles which I am pleased to see him overcome. He is quite funny in this. I hope he keeps acting (and directing).

There is a fun movie within a movie that is an interesting commentary on Hollywood taste. The movie had me laughing (albeit alone in an otherwise empty theatre) and pretty much smiling the rest of the time. I found it to be a notch better and funnier than the original. Will and Mark are a bit more grounded here. The one scene that didn't work for me as physical comedy was a snow blower catching a string of Christmas lights and pulling it dangerously around, only because it reminded me of a cable snapping in the Piranha remake and slicing someone. The possibility of serious injury was prolonged a few seconds too much. But most of the movie is about little mundane moments and conflicts people can rise above. The ending is Christmas Movie cheesy and that is okay with me.
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A strong examination of incitement and radicalization
4 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
It predated Rodney King and the countless cases of racial violence leading up to the Black Lives Matter era. Spike Lee has remarked over the years that while the white establishment has been comfortable supporting comedy with a cast of black actors it has been less willing to embrace drama, especially if it might stir anger and undo the carefully spun version of American History. Some of Spike Lee's films have a tragic ending that might seem like last-minute manipulation. Bamboozled comes to mind. School Daze has a blatant "Wake up!" message to camera, and Jungle Fever has an unintentionally funny solicitation and reaction of shock. Of the films that Spike Lee has written and directed, Do the Right Thing is the most perfectly woven story combined with aesthetic. He and Ernest Dickerson have made a visually cohesive and involving film that holds up enough that you will forget people are not carrying smart phones. We might be left debating among ourselves as to what right thing must be done, which is just as well. As an over-simplification from "The Mayor," the credo is politely received by Mookie.

In the aftermath of the movie's events, there may be people who claim the right thing to do was for the white man, Sal, to include black celebrity photos on the wall of his pizzeria among all the Italians he personally admires being a middle-aged Italian. The place is a little embassy of his own identity in the middle of predominantly black Bed Sty where it has been in business for decades. Despite eating there since childhood, Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) does a double-take one day while having a slice. Only then does he develop sudden and fresh outrage over the lack of black faces on Sal's wall. This is a debate that extends to diversity issues and OscarSoWhite, but we'll take it at face value. Should Sal have caved in to Buggin' Out's demand and eventually let him curate all of the photos on the wall of fame to ensure that there is a higher black to Italian ratio closer to that of the neighbourhood, or was Sal right to see Buggin' Out as a hothead and hang on to his own territory? People on-line have examined the continuity of a scene with white neighbour's/cyclist John Savage being accused of scuffing Buggin' Out's running shoe with his bike tire. The question of which shoe could have been run over doesn't add up, and the implication is that Buggin' Out is unjust and looking for issues to rage over.

Buggin' Out ropes in the mild-mannered Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) who just wants to walk around listening to his ghetto blaster. Buggin' Out is trying to boycott Sal's place. He radicalizes Raheem. They show up just after the restaurant closes and beg for Sal to open ostensibly for just one more slice, clearly gaining access only to protest the place and confront Sal. Raheem blasts his music at the counter and refuses Sal's request to turn it down. The young men won't leave and won't turn off the music. Sal finally picks up a baseball bat and smashes the radio. Raheem is then driven mad by the loss of his property and begins to fight the older man. The fight spills into the street. The police see the huge and powerful physicality of Raheem and intervene. They over-compensate for the strength of Raheem by putting him in a notorious choke hold he sadly does not survive.

This happening to Raheem then finally radicalizes the calm and reasonable, neutral Mookie who throws a trash can into the restaurant window and starts a riot. In the chaos that follows, Buggin' Out is somewhat part of the background and nobody notices a mentally challenged man wander off to start a fire and burn down the place; we see Italian celebrities on the wall of fame consumed by fire but also a picture the arsonist has left behind in the wreckage to also burn up - that of Martin Luthor King and Malcolm X shaking hands. Whether someone respected Frank Sinatra or MLK, their photos burned the same. The fire doesn't discriminate. Lee had said in commentaries that white viewers came away talking about loss of property (the restaurant, as opposed to the radio), and black viewers tended to focus on loss of life. But considering that police only appear in a couple of scenes and are not central to the spine of the film, it seems clear that whether intended or not Buggin' Out is the one to blame for the death of Radio Raheem. Had he not presumed to be territorial with Sal and attempt to boycott a business his friend Mookie works for, and had he not been single-minded and impatient (the way Twitter and blogger campaigns are today) without regard for Sal's right to self-determination in his own shop, the dominoes of violence would not have fallen. He drew Raheem into a bad position and exploited him as muscle. They knew Sal to be a take-no-crap kind of guy and an adult and obviously tough enough to be a white businessman in Harlem, and yet Buggin' Out coaxed Raheem into intimidating and trespassing. The police were careless in arresting Raheem and should have been more attentive. They were professionals responsible for protecting life, no question. But the events that got them there were mostly if not entirely on the shoulders of Buggin' Out. Not only on race but on various progressive issues, there are many perhaps well-meaning or just high-on-ideals internet activists who are more like Buggin' Out then they realize.

Years later, Spike Lee revisited the role of Mookie in his fifties for a film called Red Hook Summer. Mookie was still delivering pizza for Sal. Ultimately, it is not about Sal. We never do see what is on the more current walls of his new place, but it is also none of our business.
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Gets to the Heart of it
4 April 2017
When Spike Lee first saw this Spielberg's film of The Color Purple, he noted in his journal "He's Gotta Have It" a complaint that Mister (Danny Glover) - while shown to be a product of his mean father, and somewhat redeemed from a distance - is portrayed as a menacing figure without explicitly showing cause and effect that sources his anger and rage back to the white men that keep him down. If this matter were addressed in filming, the movie would not be improved by it. This perspective "look what the white man made me do" does not allow Mister to own his mistreatment of Celie, the character from whose perspective the story is told so effectively both in the Alice Walker book and the Spielberg film.

If discussing this film with a lesbian movie fan, she may be dismissive of it and eventually reveal her disappointment that the intimacy with Shug is not more overtly sexual. Even though it would stick out like a sore thumb in the more tender and spiritual-focused film as a whole. As Celie eases into a sense of self respect and value, the film avoids what would read on screen as a diminishing of that into sexual terms. The focus of the story and narrative is right.

My own fear any time I consider watching this film yet again is that the emotion can sneak up on the viewer and if Spielberg wants the us to well up it will most likely happen. Some call that manipulation. I call it effective and engaging film making. Steven Spielberg directs the attention of the audience with care, introducing scene transitions he had not attempted before in his work and carrying us from exuberant moments to trauma and uplift. Spielberg's love of cinema and the craft of directing does come first, as people are divided as to the repeated use of western movie head-turns and slow takes before a punch is thrown. This is used to comic effect in most cases, though the most provoked and consequential punches thrown are off camera or obscured in the moment of impact. We may see the moment before, and feel the inevitability, and the aftermath and consequences. Even with Quincy Jones taking over the music from John Williams, there is an aesthetic of emotion that is palpable from the start. The separation of two sisters can be as jarring and shattering as a shark attack. Watching this film decades later, the way characters are presented allows you to see Celie without remembering Whoopie as a host of The View and Danny Glover without being distracted by the legacy of Lethal Weapon. Oprah Winfrey going through the indignities her character endures lends resonance to it all because of her iconic status. To various degrees, this can be said of many now familiar faces in the film. In the hands of a lesser director, a straightforward recording of the content might be too uncommitted. Steven Spielberg takes the mundane and the gentle and makes it just enough larger than life that it finds emotional truth.
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October Gale (2014)
isolation is a key component suspense
13 February 2017
After a doctor (Patricia Clarkeson) is widowed, she takes time away to tend to her old island cottage only to be caught in a storm and a deadly revenge plot between strangers. The movie is determined to emphasize the unspoken and realistic moments, and a sense of purpose in life that is lost with the death of the husband (Callum Keith Rennie in flashbacks). But even from the mundane tasks of maintenance on the cottage to first aid for a fugitive on her doorstep, she still has to deal with life that presents itself. When she is at her most rootless, the opening scenes are hand-held; the more steady presentation begins once she heads out on the lake for what seems like a joy ride or to vent and feel some control. Even when her boat has engine trouble and she has to accept help, she has asserted something and taken control. As the main plot of the movie kicks in with the intrusion of her visitor, there is danger on the horizon and the impending arrival of a vengeful two-man posse manages to avoid the tempo of a High Noon template while still taking its heroine somewhere interesting and leaving her with new options to consider. The presence of Tim Roth is welcome and well used as he brings a matter-of-fact sense of menace. As in her previous collaboration with director Ruba Nadda, Clarkeson let's us meet her half way with what might otherwise be said and what might be expected. Notice that Ruba Nadda has recently director for shows like NCIS, and I look forward to her doing more of her own features.
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Subverting Expectations and Showing Heart
18 April 2016
A trauma of adolescence, combined with a cold parental reaction, help shape the main character Cassie in a story about shaking the past and being fearless (within reason) about the future.

If you had told me that I would like a movie that has at its core the theme of "_____-shaming" I would have laughed that off. Or a movie in which the usual character arc might befall a "homophobic" supporting character. But the movie carries the viewer along and up to the titular premise with a plausible and likable series of events led by a solid and charming cast. Canadian fans will spot a pair of actors known for The Listener. Firefly/Serenity fans will be pleased to see Jewel Staite as the lead in what is essentially both a rom-com and social satire.

From the opening chords of music, there is a firm grasp of nostalgia and a gravitas given to situations from the backstory that could have been mishandled but instead give a sense of emotional stakes and a rooting interest. In a culture of obligatory affirmation, it is an accomplishment that this movie manages to stay funny and full of heart and show some empathy for the weirdo outcast nerd along the way. Definitely worth checking out. Some people might be intimidated by the word Orgy in the title. The full title suggests that there is more going on and the potential absurdity of reality versus expectations have been richly mined in this movie.
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Under-seen and underrated horror
21 March 2016
A few reviews I have seen outside of this site make brazen accusations that are just false about this movie. The acting? Nothing wrong with it. We have enough concern for the activists and their mission that we are compelled to stick with it even though we dread the premise that has been promised by packaging and marketing. There are a couple of misdirects which I appreciated that helped put off the inevitable and allowed us to have some hope. The dread promised at the outset and the fact that it is an Eli Roth movie caused me to hesitate in watching. But ultimately a movie can only be so nihilistic. I question somewhat where it ends up, but have not at this moment finished listening to the director's commentary. Ultimately horror movies have blended into each other, even those that are not remakes or sequels and reboots. Here is a premise that comments on a serious topic that has been largely off screen since Medicine Man. Roth chooses to do this with horror, where a lapse of attention and random and unforgiving environs can kill you unceremoniously - or ceremoniously and ritualistically. It is also bold that he chooses to take a jaundiced view of activism set against the unexpected. Much of the movie achieves its terror in full daylight. It is a movie that may not be populist because it kills those with a sense of entitlement in effigy and shows the blurry line between the exploiters and the exploited.
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social backlash distracts when it comes to ratings here
16 November 2015
This movie deserves a higher IMDb rating, certainly. It can only be assumed that some people hating what for them the story represented for those who cheat or commit adultery influenced their numeric rating of the film itself. Sure we all know about the original alternate ending Nicolas Meyer wrote in his draft which was filmed and previewed. It can be argued either way as to which one was best. While I appreciate the value of both I think the more somber one suits home video and the scarier finale that replaced it was more appropriate for the community of emotion found in a theatre. The movie presents a what-if that is worthy of exploring. If it briefly did to affairs what psycho did to showers or Jaws did to the beach, then it was effective movie making.

It comes from an era of cinema where there was still some product worthy of looking at more than once and where the enjoyment of movie making might be found. If you have sen this movie, it is worth looking for the Saturday Night Live support group skit that Glenn Close did as the character. I think there is also a skit where Jan Hooks plays her in a Big Chill skit. But the movie itself has texture, tension and Hymie. Don't let people scare you from seeing it. I guess being from the eighties it will be considered "old" by some.
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Club Utopia (2013)
restless housewife seeks part-time work
18 February 2015
Sally Enitlav is an under-appreciated housewife looking to at least get a part-time job while her husband Alex is preoccupied with stock trading and talking in his sleep about someone from the office named Gretchen DeSanto. Some of his heavy dreams end with screams that wake him up and Sally believes it is guilt. Sally applies for what she expects to be a waitress position at Club Utopia only to discover what they want is a dancer. Embarrassed as she is, she goes through the motions of getting a burlesque license and learning that a client paying for a table dance actually expects her to take off some clothes. Alex begins to sense that Sally is being secretive about something, so he hires a private detective Richard Sabatini to follow her with help from a door to door perfume salesman calling himself Mr. Cologne. Involving Sabatini puts his own life in the cross-hairs of cameras and exposes him to blackmail over the relationship with Gretchen. Events escalate until Sally is ready to team up with Sabatini and turn the tables on Alex and putting his life comically in danger as his hidden assassin may have to reach around from hiding under a bed and attempt to jab a hypodermic into a buttock that is moving around while he entertains a female guest. Shiraz Tayyeb, the new actor playing Cologne, has a natural presence, and the club DJ Trevor Annon seems right at home. Brett Halsey has a grounded and understated authority with inherent humour as the owner of Club Utopia. Full disclosure: I was involved with the script for a couple of years in the Nineties and a few bits I was responsible for maybe didn't belong by time this movie was made. For example, a Basic Instinct murder parody at the start made sense and was timely in 1992 the year Basic Instinct was released. Also, Alex asks the detective why he has a fan running on a cold day and he says, "Atmosphere." That made sense if it was a ceiling fan I indicated and if the office evoked Phillip Marlow and Sam Spade era detectives, but the production had instead gone for a small desk fan. Those kinds of issues might only be a distraction for me and might not throw the average viewer. As Alex, Srdjan Nikolic's Russian accent removes any subtlety of delivery but seems suited for the agitated state of the character for much of the movie. Sally as played by Elsie Muller is at her most believable when angry or fully crazy. She has a typical movie star look and an edge that makes the more vulnerable aspects of the character seem less accessible to her. Frank A. Caruso directing himself as Sabatini has a few moments where he seems to aware of the humour, and the performance is much better when he has to be either the improbable voice of sanity or conning his own cousin Mr. Cologne into doing the dirty work of their caper.
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The Interview (II) (2014)
subverting the self-serious P.C. police
27 December 2014
Reviews are entertainment and self-expression. If they are academic, it is in the moot sense. It still comes down to there being no accounting for taste. I myself react according to whether I am in the right mood to receive a piece of art. I am especially willing to appreciate anything that has the safety wheels off and is not appearing to run for office. I can't break down whether the apparent directing was the work of the credited directors, but if it was then Seth Rogan and his usual writing partner did a good job directing The Interview. But it's mostly the cheeky script - or apparent script - that I found amusing. Any non to patriotism is with a wink and there are some blatant jabs at American media and values. Also noted is the Lord of the Rings as go-to geek- religion has supplanted references to Star Wars. Having seen the "special" made up of outtake interviews with additional celebrities by James Franco as Dave Skylark, I am surprised they settled on the Eminem variation but it does contain all of the thematic threads that pay off in the climactic titular interview in North Korea. The lack of subtlety may be part of the comment overall as the movie both represents "American" sensibilities and pokes them in the eyes. It incorporates Korean-flavoured music and pays homage to their bloody horror flicks, embracing each dime the story turns on. It's not America versus North Korea, and care has been taken to portray good versus evil as beyond cultures and countries, right down to the arrival of (SPOILER) Team (Spoiler) members who could at first glance be mistaken for the "enemy." I found the movie ultimately to me layered and ultimately positive, despite some collateral damage.
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Inescapable (2012)
Excellent, thoughtful, fun
7 October 2012
I was very pleased to see this movie was willing to bring the action, as good as Ruba Nadda's romantic-leaning films Cairo Time and Sabah were. But where this film about a father who flies to a dangerous land to rescue his daughter from an unknown threat is different from Taken is that the hero is flesh and blood and approaches the problem in a civilized way first and by the time there is fighting we can feel a sense of consequence.

It has been said that the movie starts off fast. It starts as it should and as I reflected afterwards it avoids stock shots of a plane taking off and gives the impression of travel with aerial shot of a road the hero is riding along in a car. Cinematic short-hand. At the same time, it manages to avoid scenes that would be obvious beats in a lesser movie, like the panic of the mother upon learning of the crisis. Instead we see the moment before, as she watches her husband on the phone preparing to make the trip and confront the problem. There is just enough of the Canadian wife in this movie, considering that she would not compete with Marisa Tomei who "blends" into her environment and feels authentic. Even to the end I am thinking I hope Tomei's character makes out alright.

Alexander Siddig is not playing a super human but someone who is willing to face the worst and some real consequences to find his daughter. Joshua Jackson as a Canadian embassy guy manages to show several divergent aspects of his role without falling into any traps that would be central to a lesser movie with similar layers. Had Siddig been playing a typical action hero, he would have to cross a line into sociopath to clear away all the bad guys at once. He gets some good shots in and we can cheer for him, and one secret police figure is especially smug and needs to be killed but the way this film arrives at what has to happen is to take a left turn into character-motivated choices that are refreshing for the genre. Where there is tension, we are absolutely rooted in the reality of the moment by Siddig's expression. This is real for him and for us.

I have read a comment/review here on IMDb by one "A P" that seems to be a screaming stream of lies, one after the other. I contest his claim that people walked out during the TIFF screening. The movie grabs your attention and Siddig has a strong presence. There is a reason for every scene and not a moment is wasted. Any politics I took for granted. One villain is identified as Israeli but even he is redeemed. This is not a political tract. As I watched the story unfold as a Caucasian Canadian male I looked at the cultural aspect as colour that Ruba brings but the concept of a hero's descent into a special and dangerous world is one that we know and accept as classic myth. I had no problem identifying with Siddig's character, often called "Mr. Toronto" by an innkeeper in the film, and seeing it through his eyes. I am stunned by the current low numerical rating this movie has on IMDb and I trust that the more people see it the more the rating will improve. I noticed in a TIFF guide or other such publication Inescapable was misidentified as a romance. There is a restrained and heartbreaking lost love woven through the story, but it is a thriller that is correctly paced and set- up. It has action, though the build up is half the entertainment. I highly recommend seeing this movie.
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highly underrated fun
1 August 2012
The tone is the real star of this Three Stooges movie, as is the case with most Farrely Brothers films. Despite actions that would be considered violent in the real world, the mood is whimsical and cartoonish. Typical of this is a moment where someone in a full body cast is "turtling," hiding from the stooges by impossibly ducking his head and extremities into the cast.

Having been exposed to a few reviews and viewer opinions before seeing the film, I was shocked by one thing. People had repeatedly said that the structure of three short films was a distraction and it should have instead been one single story. This causes me to question the sanity of those people and their most basic comprehension. The movie is merely decorated with a few "short film" title cards in the fashion of the old shorts; the movie is indeed one premise and follows a conventional narrative like any other feature. It's key plot is essentially the same as The Blues Brothers - the orphanage is in financial trouble and the boys have to raise money to save it.

They manage to have some interesting and organic story twists along the way. Most inspired is the idea of a Stooge pulling up a gangster's droopy-drawers.

Now some people might have to adjust to the throw-back terminology that is carried over from the old black and white films. But oddly within the context of the movie what seems anachronistic is a moment where Moe refers to an English butler as "Threepio." Even though it is a contemporary reference, it stands out against the 1930's vaudeville style of most stooges dialogue.

Clearly this movie was made out of love for the stooges and there is a charm found even in less likable characters. This doesn't mean that people under 20 years of age will "get" it. They should, although the fashionable thing to say is WTF. Whatever the case, if you don't get it or don't like it the fault is not that of the filmmakers. Even in parts where I didn't laugh outright I found the groove of the movie fun and engaging. Interesting that the guy who plays Moe also has played Robin Williams and Frank Sinatra.

The one story continuity flaw I noticed had to do with Moe's discovery when he happens to have a fight on stage with the other two. . .and later the producer sees them together again and says "There's three of them?" He had already seen the other two during the unwitting audition scene which Larry and Curly walked out on. But other than that odd speed bump, it's a solid effort.

I won't compare it to James Frawley's biopic The Three Stooges which Mel Gibson produced for pay TV a while back. That had Californication's Evan Handler as Larry and The Shield's Michael Chiklis as Curly, but it got into the sad story of their real lives and the way they were exploited. Performances in both are spot-on.
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Final Dance (2015)
various forms of dance practise
28 February 2012
Final Dance involves a young woman Julia (Evgenia Milana) befriending Vikka (Srdjan Nikolic) a down-on-his luck immigrant who shares a love of dance and also his tutorial attention as he helps prepare her for a dance competition. Her parents give him a guarded welcome which is more than he expects, thinking of himself as a "forty year-old bum" that may seem an odd companion for a 19-year-old girl who lives at home. Julia may learn from Vikka whether she has what it takes to be a dancer or whether she should pursue the alternative of acting, both of which have been a major part of Vikka's life before moving to Canada. He may for a time have something outside of himself to look forward to and may or may not like the place he finds in the heart and life of a woman half his age. Vikka may be stifling himself with realism that suffocates dreams. He speaks of his codes and seems to live up to his word.

Since the movie is adapted from a stage play, we might expect a lot of dialogue to be carried over, and in this case everyone seems to say what they feel or think and the conflicts are addressed often in longer scenes that the average movie viewer may not be used to. Having seen this movie more than once, I could not help noticing that much of the conversation on screen has no subtext since if there is a proverbial elephant in the room the characters may simply point it out. Early on, when Vikka accepts a ride in her car and jokes about her intentions Julia says, "You are too old for me." I do not know whether the original Russian play was more indirect before translation went right to the meaning, but usually audiences like to read into some of the dialogue and they may have to adjust. However, I could argue that characters who are negotiating first meeting and moving in may naturally speak their minds as they have to describe any past stories and concerns. And we may not know at first blush whether anyone is telling the truth. Some details are held hack and paid off in visual context.

Considering what weighs on the mind of Vikka, it is appropriate that in demonstrating what Shakespeare he remembers from his old life in theatre he recites the "to be or not to be" speech from Hamlet for the amusement of Julia. The words are famous enough that it might have been a bold move to just let him do the speech in Russian and let him sell it. But those who don't know the speech have Julia helpfully say back the famous words to demonstrate that she knows it as well. Since the movie is not mainstream, it might have been worth risking the audience not understanding. Nikolic might have been able to convey the transitions of the speech by his inflection and body language alone. But the participation of Julia is consistent with the movie's different forms of dance, be it ballroom, salsa or verbal. Even a scattering of casual still photos might evoke a less formal dance of un-posed instants that might or might not be flashes of courtship.

The film has a non-linear framework and could have shown part of the dance-off earlier to break up the event and gradually introduce how the characters met and prepared so the Final Dance of the event was more of a set-piece on its own. But a lot of people will prefer the mostly linear narrative chronology of events flowing naturally. The parents are memorable, dealing with cultural quirks and gradually willing to zero in on the vibration of spirit their daughter and her new friend bring. Tom Bolton as Basil, the father of Julia, gives a bemused and loose presence to the home scenes. Evgenia Milana conveys emotion with authenticity and Srdjan Nikolic is subtle enough to be the suffering underdog, person of mystery and a potentially worthy mentor. The movie makes use of Toronto settings but is not reliant upon them. The focus remains on the characters and where they may or may not be going in life.
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Red Tails (2012)
Fine high-flying fun
20 January 2012
I actually saw a matinée of Red Tails today.

I'm not saying that any paid critic or anyone on this board is a moron, or that people steeped in World War II historical facts will like it, or even that those few who hate the original Star Wars Trilogy will somehow flip their taste and enjoy Red Tails. But. . .

Simply to represent those who actually saw the film, here is my two cents for and have the capacity to appreciate it. This is not the dry historical reportage that some people prefer. It pushes buttons, gets emotional reactions and laughs that it earns, and it was worth the wait. I remember talk of this project from the good old days when there were only great Star Wars features and no Prequel duds.

No disservice had been done to the story of these airmen. Though nothing feels left out and it doesn't feel especially episodic (a curse of most reality-based movies), nothing rings especially false. It is a genre movie: war flick. Racism is touched upon and shown to be ignorant, respect is given to the Red tails, and the tragedy that you expect actually can happen so even when there is fun there is the spectre of danger.

After enjoying this movie, many people may begin to study the historical details with this movie as a sort of primer. Be reassured that none of the characters bump into Young Indiana Jones. But also make no mistake, the pacing is good, the dogfights are cool, and it is a movie. There is no time wasted on languid ambiguous lulls onto which we can impose deep artistic intent. There is one high note that feels a bit forced because it is not explained and its timing seems like too much of a shift within a scene (I won't say where it occurs, but it's the one time I felt the hand of the adaptor squeezing something into the wrong setting). There is one piece of score over one scene, reprised part way into the end credits, that is borderline as to whether it should be included. The percussion feels programmed. The rest of the score is appropriate orchestra stuff generic enough that I didn't notice it, so it must have fit. Critic Richard Crouse said he thought because Lucas was involved, the pilots talk about women during battle instead of having just the task at hand in mind. So I was definitely listening for this. The fact it they do NOT chit-chat about a woman during BATTLE. Only bored on patrol BEFORE spotting a target, and AFTER a battle. I would not take points off for a character touching his girlfriend's photo, or a comic relief character trying to get good mojo from "Black Jesus." I thought those moments were fitting and appropriate, whether or not they are clichés. One character admonishes the believer with a paraphrased Han Solo line and another says that the new fighter looks like it is speeding while standing still (paraphrasing an off-camera Lucas line from Tucker: A Man and His Dream). But other than that the grimy fingerprints of the disgraced post Phantom Menace maverick are not evident. The ILM special effects didn't seem especially fake to me, even though they must have been, and even the non-famous members of the cast are delivered and memorable whether we remember their names or not. Good show.
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The Ward (2010)
Very watchable presentation
5 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Visually it feels like the graceful old school John Carpenter. He is modest when interviewed, that it's all about team, but there is a distinctive stamp especially at the beginning. As the film goes along we are engaged by the content so the presentation isn't dominant in our minds. But there is whimsy and jolts of horror for any of us happy to see Carpenter directing a feature again.

Not to spoil the ending, but although it works and has its jolts, it belongs to the Identity and Secret Window school of Endings. This is not my favourite brand of resolution. But the hint might have been that the workers in the Ward weren't especially sinister. So it wasn't a retro Cuckoo's Nest about reforming the care system but closer to Girl Interrupted. (So that's two James Mangold titles Identity and Girl Interrupted mentioned in a Carpenter commend.)

My thought early on was that the patients must be there for the treatment of Extreme Hotness, including the pyro protagonist we appear to meet at the start.

Ultimately a good, contained film with style.

Interesting that so much of it takes place by necessity in the walls of the mental hospital. John Carpenter had complained years ago about writing Halloween II and realizing that it was limiting to have a protagonist who is either confined or sedated and stuck in a hospital for 90 minutes. And now he has come full circle to choose someone else' script which does exactly that. But I think confinement and the appearance of isolation are essential for horror.

I'm not sure why reviews have been Luke warm about this film. Essentially if you like John Carpenter films this movie is worth watching. My only quibble would be as a Monday morning quarterback I would have preferred if the protagonist Kristen had maintained to the end a reality and character that she starts out with which seems to be the rebellious Pliskenesque bad-ass. Instead the film becomes more twist-reliant.

Over-all, though, its well executed and occasionally jarring.
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The Beaver (2011)
Mel may be flawed in life but the movie is a keeper
6 May 2011
I'd give this movie a full ten if not for confusion over the "weighted average" system in which IMDb supposedly disregards a lot of extreme highs or lows. And speaking of highs and lows, who better than a bi-polar actor to not only accept a stigmafied role of someone with a mental disorder but also to get past that and offer the meat and potatoes of entertainment as well? Full disclosure: I am on Team Mel when it comes to an ex girlfriend making headlines with her personal life with reckless disregard for the personal and professional toll; an overkill gesture followed-up ultimately by withdrawal of charges. . .

I won't get into debates over context and word choices in someone's private conversations or during a fit of rage. But others like to, and perhaps for that reason I was only one of about 21 people in the late showing of The Beaver opening night at the Varsity in Toronto, cinema 8. Apparently the VIP cinema there had a screening that started 20 minutes earlier, but I don't know how that or earlier screenings were attended. I'm hoping the movie does better. Even with a small crowd, the audience I was in responded with laughter where appropriate, and the atmosphere was often charged with anxious energy.

Jodie Foster is very dear in her own performance, and her directing choices don't falter. Mel gives glimpses of his goofy persona and one can speculate about which bits of whimsy might have been his contributions, but he also lets us dislike the character a bit or the condition he suffers and the film goes to some dark places. Nobody in the theatre dared laugh at the point that is most drastic and also anxiety inducing. In someone else' hands this film could easily be a TV Movie of the Week.

The woman who played the Sheriff in Signs is again Mel's confidant in The Beaver for the half of the story involving his business. Anton Yelchin (the new Scotty in Star Trek) is impressively grounded even as he suffers through some of his father's inherited symptoms and those typical of teens anyway.

If you are poisoned against Mel, I'm not going to say go see it but I'll go out on a limb and suggest that one of the opening sequences where he is at his lowest ebb might be especially entertaining for people who hate him and there is a certain gallows humour that might allow you to relax your guard. The daring premise and loving execution of the film from everyone involved is a nice mix and the film deserves a better fate than it is likely to get with gossips fanning the flame of scandal.

"Everyone loves a train wreck, especially one they're not in." - The Beaver

I know people are clogging the box office lines for Thor this weekend, and I haven't heard anything negative about that movie but I'm glad I saw The Beaver and that I can honestly say it is more than just weird; it is actually also out on a limb and inspiring without feeling like a cheat. That's my two cents anyway.
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This movie is weak anyway
7 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is gay. Which could be a positive statement if your taste in film runs that way. Why should you be unaware that this movie contains a scene of two guys kissing. The marketing may miss you as an audience.

Or, the general viewer is going to play this movie somewhere public or with friends or family and when their eyes are glazing over and they are checking the clock they are watching two ostensibly heterosexual men kissing and there is a montage intended as erotic which will induce either unintentional laughter or gross-out noises. The lead character is one thing and then another, and it seems to be just because the writers decided to go there.

Nothing is being proposed or denied by him and no rifle is on the mantle at the beginning of act 1 that might be fired by the end of act 2. A guy loses track of a woman he has already slept with and he doesn't find her, gets drunk and goes home to crash and ends up with his male friend. Maybe there is a precedent for this happening in life, but as a movie it falls flat and almost certainly will be a turn-off to anyone investing their time in this loose mix of concert-filler.

I expect a fan of the band will see my negative comment and rate it unhelpful on that basis. A fan of Broken Social Scene might want to support the film on that basis, and not much can be done about that.

A young man wakes up to realize he has slept with a female friend he has wanted as long as he can remember, a gift on the eve of her flight to Europe and a new life there. So the usual movie goal of consummating the great love is done. His goal now? Who cares? It plays to me as if he wants to cajole her into staying in Toronto with him forever in a neo-slacker mediocrity. That seems to be all we can project onto his intentions. He and his male buddy intend to bring the girl to a free concert of her favourite band Broken Social Scene which may have some impact on her or may be a big event they can share -- as if the off screen love making weren't enough.

Broken Social Scene provided music for The Tracy Fragments, another Bruce McDonald film in which function stumbles over form. I like McDonald and he is a genial bohemian figure that inspires young filmmakers, but with this movie I don't know what I'm getting and my main reaction to it was restlessness and boredom.

If I don't know the characters, I should know at least what they represent or have an emotional handle on their needs and wants, but in the case of the protagonist his very nature can flip-flop on the justification of a remark about the band and music being "unpredictable." Much is made of how "amazing" the concert is and it is perfectly generic. The coverage of the concert may surely be less exciting than being there, as is the case with most concerts. If someone is watching video of the concert and loving it, the impact is much the same as watching anyone watch something they love that you don't get.

I'd like to have posted this without a spoiler warning, because it isn't the comment spoiling the movie it's the writers of the script. If a lesbian character ends up with a guy, there's an uproar. If a gay man ends up in love with a woman, there'd be protest. Those stories would be attacked as myths. And yet, there is acceptance of this character jumping track on a whim (supposedly drunk) from straight to gay. It is played off as no big deal, which will only really be amusing to an audience for whom gay issues are uppermost. Otherwise it's just another shade of boring, and with an added ingredient of possibly embarrassment.

Not much story. The concert fills most of the running time. The woman or would-be love object has her wanderings through old haunts on her last night in town, and this is I suppose another great way to gather filler footage. She returns to look at some concert video the protagonist shot. Like a cozy evocation of their true relationship - friends. The ending montage of childhood shots relies on the principle that black and white or grainy means emotive. Another chance to use up some of the bands music over end credits.

If you are a rabid fan of Broken Social Scene, you might only care that it is a document of the free concert. Mind you, a document that veers away and distorts the music to background noise occasionally and that you are not getting the whole thing. If there is a CD of just the music or just the concert coverage, that might be a better purchase.

If you are not a fan of the music, you have seen party videos of your friends that are more entertaining.

If you are a Bruce McDonald fan, see Road Kill again, or Highway 61, Dance Me Outside, or it's criminally short-lived series The Rez or another series Twitch City is in DVD. Pontypool is a gripping and focused, thoughtful and intense movie generally about surviving from zombies and perhaps his best work. Hard Core Logo has a lot of amusing stuff too. This Movie is Broken has none of the charm or balls of the above. Arguably, the man-on-man twist is a risk but not one that can pay off well when it has to be hidden as a spoiler or just annoy the casual viewer.
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Sharktopus (2010 TV Movie)
So bad it arcs past good and returns to bad
27 November 2010
Eric Roberts is the best actor in this cast, but he only has one scene where he isn't coming off like high school theatre in a talentless town. I mean I've seen camcorder movies made by high schools that have perfectly lucid performances. Even Roberts does little more than hit his marks. His one scene is about three characters having a run of dialogue the director couldn't do to much harm to. The young woman who plays his daughter is inoffensive and the lead is generic and could have used a more whimsical director. This whole movie stands or falls on its directing and I can't say enough about how poor it is. It is point and shoot. I think whatever the camera operator happened to do to cover the scenes would have been approved. Not only is this movie not as good as Jaws, it makes Jaws: The Revenge look like Citizen Kane. Scenes that might have been inspired with some wit are so inept in execution that it is painful. The only worth of this movie is to see the fine line that generates bad acting. As I've said, using the usually excellent Eric Roberts as a guidepost, it is possible that the rest of the lesser known cast might be half decent under a better director. Roger Corman himself has been outstanding in cameos he has done for his alumni but here he barely registers in a scene that should have been wicked funny. And the odd thing is I know he was enthusiastic about the project. The scenes are just so flat you check the clock every ten minutes hoping it is almost over. I could even live with the mostly awful digital effects looking metallic and fake. The director doesn't even have the charm to lead our eyes into much of it. And even one gag that is in the trailers about the bungee jump has already been trumped by the far superior Piranha (2010).

I mean you know going in that this will not be a good story per say with a creature that is so unusual and gimmicky that it can't penetrate the unconscious and really scare and adult. So it must about movies or about things going wrong or Murphy's Law if you like. That can be a great framework for camp. It's not much use to have the actors play it cool or natural and keep the digital camera wide and its placement boring. This movie makes Spring Break look like Lawrence of Arabia.

And believe me I don't mind a "so bad it's good" movie but this isn't one of those. It is bad in boring ways the average viewer won't be able to articulate, apart from the obvious fake effects. You can judge a movie best by its quiet scenes. And that's when you know there is little or know light in the eyes and a hairstyle may be the closest thing to character development you can hope for.

I really wanted to like this movie and champion it. I don't know how the director got the job. Genre work is where the masters are needed and where they are often discovered. This movie feels like it was shot by somebody's boyfriend and he got the job as a favour.

What a waste of time. If you've invested a few moments reading this then please heed the warning. Don't pay to see it, not even with your valuable moments and seconds.
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The Beast (1996)
forgotten and underrated
27 November 2010
There's no way to show a close-up of a squid's eye perhaps and not seem cartoony. This TV mini-series (two parts) has its Disney moments, and you might say it's watered down from a tone you could call horror, but the movie is competently adapted. The directing is fine, and the acting is good.

The name Peter Benchley is the reason to see this. I read the novel nearly 20 years ago and it's taken me this long to stumble across a copy of the movie version. So I have a sense of closure now. I remember it being a page turner and there's not quite the sense of urgency in this dramatization. Some moments are more deft than others. Charles Martin Smith makes a good villain and also provides some comic relief. William Petersen (Manhunter, CSI) as Whip is a reassuring presence.

By now a plot twist that is a mid-point in The Beast has already been stolen as a final gag in Piranha 3-D. But the story unfolds correctly and with reasonable style. Of course there is no point comparing this to Jaws which is in a league of its own - Twenty Thousand leagues above this one. But having just seen Sharktopus I have a lot of respect for the straight-faced and ambitious squid hunt saga. This is not trying to be funny at its own expense. The humour comes from characters, as it should, and the squid isn't played for laughs. The director of The Beast may not be Spielberg but he has gone on to have a very respectable career.

The version I saw was two parts approximately 1 hour and 26 minutes each. It seemed to be intact along with many ocean floor squid perspective shots which might not have seemed excessive when they were likely used to lead in or out of a commercial break. This is preferable to the one version I have heard exists on video somewhere in stores - an edited down two-hour version. But I have to admit I downloaded so that I could perhaps chop down my own version of this. The only padding may be scenes that don't necessarily begin as late as possible or end as early as possible. But even then there are no blatantly boring obvious lifts. This full version is likely the best way to watch The Beast.

Not to be confused with Patrick Swayze's cop TV show for which he bravely chose not to take his pain medication for cancer so his performance wouldn't lose its edge. That is worthwhile in its own right. But this TV mini-series about a giant squid was the Beast I was looking for. Worth watching if you are a Peter Benchley fan.
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The first "place-holder" movie
16 October 2010
When will the movie be filled in?

Some writers write what they call place holders when they know a movie could use something here or there or an explanation or a name for a character. . .This is the first time I've noticed someone let a whole movie go through the process and keep the place-holders.

It's a generic piece of crap with nothing to say, least of all anything to say about the pop culture it references. I love spoofs. I love satire too. Naked Gun, Airplane, Mel Brooks, even the last couple of Scary Movie installments. This isn't even an attempt. It reminds me of an old TV charity event "Night of a Hundred Stars" which ended up cramming people in by having them step out and bow, one at a time if you are lucky. Except that this is not as inspired, hasn't got the stars, and hasn't got the charity.

The closest thing to a decent quote I can find is : "Meet The Spartans makes Epic Movie look like Scary Movie."

Good quote # 2: "The movie follows the essential narrative of 300, with some obvious detours. It plays as if someone handed over a laundry list of popular-culture flotsam, and the recipient took it to be a script."

That's about all the good that has come from this movie being made.

A series of walk-ons for one look-alike after another.

It is made by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Any film that indicates these names as directors can be guaranteed to suck. What they do right is they say yes to distributors and get something shot which can be marketed close to a better film it is trying to ape. They keep the budgets around 20 million dollars and they make a profit in the first weekend before the teen audience realize that on every website the films are rated maybe two or three out of ten, and with single-digit percentages on the tomatometer. They are a brand name of suckage.

Sadly a decent Canadian musical about vampires called Suck received no theatrical release and yet these garbage merchants crank out a place-holder called Vampires Suck and it gets between 2000 and 3000 screens. Why do Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer still get hired? They really have nothing to say about anything they are ostensibly spoofing. There are Second City improv troops who can whip up a 90 minute spoof on any topic or movie in much less time than it takes these dweebs. The studio heads need to get out more.

The Kentucky Fried Theater was running for a while before Zucker Abrahams and Zucker ventured into film spoofs. Mel Brooks cut his teeth with the best of the best in live television. These putzes don't know how to generate comedy. I can watch hours of student films for all the energy and urgency and experimentation but I can't sit through the films of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer for free on the internet or on a DVD that is handed to me or when I am forced to hang tight with others who are watching their crap. I have forced myself a couple of times and it is rough going.
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Iron Man 2 (2010)
skip the reviews; watch the movie
16 October 2010
Some people didn't like this movie. I basically avoid getting into a fight about it. But I have to be honest that while watching it I was as entertained by it as I was by the first Iron Man. This one may even be a bit more fun without the burden of an origin story. Some fans have been able to catalogue visual continuity flaws, and more power to them. I didn't notice any. I guess my eyes went where the editor expected they would.

An ongoing pet peeve of mine is the ease with which critics publish falsehoods. I don't even mean subjective arguments with which I disagree, but unqualified statements contrary to the evidence on screen. Here is an example, having looked at a review of Iron Man 2 before seeing it, since I was thrown by a claim that caught my eye. Ordinarily I avoid reviews of movies I already intend to see.

False statement number one is that Mickey Rourke doesn't have enough screen time. Fact: he has exactly the right amount of screen time for a primary movie heavy. Does he have as much as in The Wrestler? No. Does he have as much as Nicholson's Joker in the 1989 Batman? Of course not, because there was no writer's strike during the shooting of Iron Man 2 and Tim Burton doesn't always know when enough Jack is enough. Jack had way too much screen time in that flick, entertaining as he was.

False statement number two is that we don't see Iron Man in the suit enough. This might actually be offered as proof the critic didn't even see the movie. We see as much of Iron Man in full costume as the story permits, which is exactly the right amount. Then we also get to see War Machine in his own similar costume, and Mickey again in something still similar. Not to mention the collection of Iron man suits on display in Stark's home. This of course is even clear to people who have seen the trailers. No spoilers here.

I could go point for point through the whole "review," but those were the to most laughable that drifted into my thoughts as I was watching them be disproved during the film. Proof once again that a movie should be seen as cold as possible (despite the omni-present trailer) and there is no point having a critic's nonsense rattling around in your head.

Let's face it, you are in better hands with the team behind Iron Man 2 than with even a competent critic. The themes are well explored, the character flaws of Stark are exploited for substance, and it is as it should be. I don't think I'll show up for any Stark parties or Expos, but I will keep showing up to his movies. If there's a quibble, it can be for the hurdles placed before the filmmakers by the studio when it announced the release date of this flick before telling its director - who then had to round out whatever draft of a script with an ongoing workshop with his cast. Let's hope they are given more time for part 3, but they managed to maintain the standard of the first one to a large extent.

I may never have the time to compile an archive website of disprovable quotes from critics, and there is the danger anyway that it might inadvertently promote their names.
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Cairo Time (2009)
See it with whoever is handy
16 October 2009
Cairo Time could be the solution to the date movie, so subtle and full of empathy it has no time for anything that might embarrass the person you are with and you'll have something to talk about later. I saw it alone for logistical reasons, but from the middle of the second row it was quite emersive. I'm no Cairofile; all I know is that the place has pyramids and a funny word for the water pipes they smoke. Those things are touched upon, but the movie avoids becoming a travelogue. Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile) arrives for a vacation with her United Nations honcho husband Mark only to find he isn't there. He'll be busy in Gaza for a while (which is never played for a joke although we get the idea that settling things in Gaza could take a while). Alexander Siddig (Dr. Bashir from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) a former co-worker of Mark meets her instead and acts as a guide where he can. He would show her the pyramids right away, but she has promised her husband to see them for the first time with him. We might be able to guess where this is heading, but the surprise is that scenes that might not read as 2009 ADD generation content is actually loaded and engaging. We are waiting for tea to steep and not getting bored. Clarkson takes on more of a glow as the movie goes on, but in the early scenes it is her character Juliette's vulnerability that has our focus. A bunch of random flirtations from guys on the street might be a minor irritant in the USA or Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, but here there is a growing sense of jeopardy which reinforces the bubble of trust Siddig's character creates. For another character to burst that bubble by violating the camera frame with a sudden lunge from the teaming masses would be a shame, an intrusion of reality. And yet the film is very realistic as to the unexpressed aspect of life that can turn a bland setting into a postcard perfect image depending who you are with. The director Ruba Nadda spoke after the Varsity cinema screening I attended and it is remarkable that amid the strategies needed to pull off this movie she managed to maintain such a subtle focus. It is nice that also Christine Vachon's brand is there as a producer to suggest how subtlety in a movie might even be considered quirky. But it definitely has the patience and quiet faith in detail that mark Ruba Nadda's previous movie Sabah. I would love to read a diary publication about the making of Cairo Time. From content to execution it is apparently a film only Ruba could have made - it has both ethnic trappings with gravitas and an accessible romantic, dramatic structure of entertainment.
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Halloween II (2009)
Twice as good as the Remake
29 August 2009
There is a 2 in the title, not a half-sign, so it suggests twice the movie as the last. It certainly plays like a practical essay on the first Halloween II written by Carpenter and directed by Rick (Bad Boys) Rosenthal. Carpenter has said in a DVD commentary that when he came to write Halloween II he felt trapped by the hospital setting and having a heroine who is unconscious or drugged up and limping around. Rob Zombie neatly steps around that problem. The hospital scenes are intense and then a simple time-cut brings us to the days before next Halloween and Laurie is living with her friend Anne and Sheriff Brackett. Now anything can happen! Zombie makes up his mind about Loomis and his culpability and the lure of C-list fame. In Carpenter's film Dr. Loomis is the voice of reason gone unheeded who in turn looks mad. Donald Pleasance had a very compelling, decent presence. But in the alternate universe of the Rob zombie remake, the psychiatrist is blamed for getting on with his life and abandoning Myers in order to write about him - and when that leads to tragedy in Haddonfield he writes yet another book and betrays the confidence of the Sheriff. That aspect of Loomis is only hinted at in either Halloween IV, V, or VI which I have only seen in clips. They don't interest me. They suggest that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) died in a car crash, and then when Curtis came back for H20 it wasn't worth explaining. The "franchise" has been a mess, so for people to quibble that Rob Zombie's reboot explores other aspects of the characters and what could have happened (in some cases bringing characters to life who were mere ciphers in early incarnations) is just silly. In Zombie's Halloween II the character of Michael Meyers finally begins to be understood. The remake seemed to narrow his motivation down to being "the kid who is picked on or called fag in elementary school." That seemed weak. Zombie wanted to show us more of what went on in his head, and perhaps it seemed to arty in the first go-around. This time it seems cohesive and very interesting. And this is the first time I remember a slasher movie stopping the ongoing chase once in a while to let a character (Laurie) show remorse for her friends. The film actually becomes a tear jerker a couple of times, and it's a surprising layer of respect. It also drops our guard for the shocks to come.

Critics will be poor sports and claim the movie (and The Final Destination) failed to screen for critics because it is poor. This is not the same as choosing not to screen for critics because critics usually don't embrace horror. The best they can expect are middling passes, not matter how well done the movie is and no matter how well served the source material. Critics are irrelevant. (And you could say the same of movie geeks like myself posting on websites.) Halloween fans frankly can't be purists unless they are morons. They have to admit that the "franchise" proper went off the rails long ago. For me, Carpenter's Halloween, Halloween II, H20, and by the skin of its teeth Halloween Resurrection (The Jamie Lee Curtis instalments) are the ones I like to varying degrees. Zombie's Halloween and H2 are quite good. This new Halloween II adds to the lore and might even make sense out of it. Keeping that in mind, presuming you like lots of jolts and scary scenes it's worth seeing Rob Zombie's Halloween II.
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Not for critics, but people who love a good movie
22 August 2009
Some critics might claim to need a code key to interpret what Tarantino means by this revisionist adventure film, but I'd say it's right under their up-turned noses: There's a great little scene where Mike Meyers plays a British military man who anticipates attacking a Nazi film premiere so he brings in an a film critic as an adviser. This may or may not be necessary but it does allow for a dialogue exchange like: Meyers: What do you do? Critic: I am a film critic.

Meyers: What are your accomplishments? Even though the critic goes on to list some compilation books, it may as well be a rhetorical question.

Tarantino thumbs his nose at convention and that is part of the movie's appeal. His movies are often about movies as much as they are about the content at hand. Yet he still manages to sustain genuine tension. The opening Nazi interrogation of a French farmer and a later a tavern basement guessing game scene must have had whopping page counts but they play out as chapters and remain engrossing high stakes set pieces. In the same film he can introduce a character by throwing a title onto the screen as if this member of the "Basterds" was cool enough to have his own movie, or play a 1980's David Bowie song while a woman prepares to do battle in her own way while Nazi flags hang outside the window.

The movie takes place in an alternate universe that could either be a dream or the unreality of the grind-house era Tarantino has celebrated in Kill Bill and, well, Grindhouse. Anyone with a brain will get that. If that sounds good, see it. I notice now there are blurbs about "how Jewish critics feel" about the movie. Well, those who go to a movie with a deliberately misspelled title knowing it is a revisionist fantasy and can't bear to see the character of Hitler as the butt of the joke don't have an opinion worthy of note. If you are an expert on NASA, your views on George Lucas' Star Wars movies are not necessarily of use to me. In fact it's a little galling that such a critic-proof designation as "Jewish critic" should be trotted out. They can say what they like about a sensitive document with the intentions of Schindler's List and God bless them. But if someone gets his boxers in a bunch over slapstick Nazis or clueless Hitler autographing the Grain Diary for Indiana Jones, then they just aren't going to be the right audience for Inglourious Basterds. In fact they shouldn't be watching fun movies at all. They should try staring at a blank wall and talking to themselves rather than type up their blather.

But it's not all fun. Sad things do happen and unfortunate events occur in this movie. The tension even in dialogue does come from the danger of having a Nazi at the table or someone daring to ask him to leave. But when you get reviewers comparing the Basterds to Al Qaida I think we can excuse those critics from the table as well. Or call Eli Roth over to them and yell "Play ball!"
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Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek with a Death Star to destroy
18 May 2009
In the 1980's there was more cross-over than clash between fans of Star Trek and Star Wars as I recall. The last I saw of that rivalry was in the movie Fanboys which - though very entertaining - was given a release reserved for would-be sleeper hits and then it just never woke up. The verdict is pretty well in for Star Trek (2009) and a possible revival of interest in that brand, which would add insult to injury for Star Wars fans (who have had to endure their own prequels culminating in the animated Clone Wars and Jabba the Hutt's heretofore unheard of larvae son) except for the oft repeated term "Star Wars-style reboot." There is plenty of action and humor, without the long sequences of staring into a bright light or long drawn out space-dock departures with any floating of people or things from one place to the other miles away feeling like the trip must occur in real time. I think this is the first time I remember seeing a Star Trek shuttle travel quickly. Ebert nit-picked a few things I couldn't care less about. If you buy warp drive and you buy teleportation then it's not much of a leap to say that a beaming genius might figure out a formula for doing one during the other.
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The Busy Baddie and the Atheist Fantasy Hero
18 May 2009
Faith is a gift he is "yet to receive." But Professor Robert Langdon has done instead is merely knelt before the Magdalene and and ridden a car backwards at high speed under someone's the Jedi reflexes. Like Professor Indiana Jones, he can wave the flag of the scientist no matter what plot machinations demonstrate before his own eyes. And the audience can disbelieve right along with him.

One of the best story devices here is that the Vatican security office receives a live camera feed showing an anti-matter bomb that has "artificial light" on it so to find its location throughout the movie they shut down power to each section of Vatican City, one by one. What's not determined is whether the artificial light is A/C or D/C like the explosive device itself running out of battery power, nor how long the power needs to be turned off in each case before it can be seen on the security monitor (long enough to hold one's breath?), nor who remains in the security office to observe this, nor how they plan to view the monitor should they get around to switching off the power to the security office.

Meanwhile the mastermind behind this multi-layered crime had made great leaps of faith. Of COURSE you can find a trustworthy thug to transport an unstable experimental substance (which will not exist until moments before its theft) across the world and then stand on it patiently. Of COURSE even though you are using the real anti-matter bomb and have placed it where it can destroy something that you want, you have calculated the correct influence of cold on battery power and you know within a second when it will die and how far away it must be to survive a matter-anti-matter contact explosion. Of COURSE you can invite an academic into a crisis that threatens tourists of Rome and expect that he will respect the Vatican's decision to keep Roman police out of it for fear of "world media attention." Of COURSE he will wade through the seemingly doomed crowds with full knowledge of a time-bomb and simply tell no secular cops because he's just that kind of respectful guy. Of COURSE it is also quite worthwhile to arrange your set-piece killings according to a puzzle with clues any whip-smart symbologist can follow in time to help facilitate and witness your grand finale. And of COURSE it is worth killing the highest-ranking priests you can find when the afterlife and judgment are uppermost in your psyche.

They say an adventure is only as good as the villain's plan. In this case it is full of more holes than Swiss Cheese on the CERN lunch cart. I admit while reading both Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code I was turning the pages and feelin' smart since I knew and still know nothing about the Illuminati or secret societies and those books might either be a primer for a lot of us or the whole nut of our education on these matters. In book form, it was interesting as it unfolded. I fumed a bit about this or that, questioned some as a weather-beaten Catholic myself, but overall enjoyed the way plot points revealed themselves. I admit that the adaptation for the most part has likely made wise choices in omissions. One critic cited Langdon's joke from the book, "Neutrinos have mass? I didn't even know they were Catholic." But that glibness couldn't just be dropped into the life-and-death scenes that survive. Sometimes the time it takes to read a page rounds out an unlikely event that would be tough to take on screen. So I can't fault the adaptation and Ron Howard made as good a movie as can be made, but as a thriller trying to be just entertainment I don't think it will hold up to scrutiny. The entertainment value ends up being the tap-dance of Hollywood's nice guys Hanks and Howard in dealing with settings and issues that super-secular Hollywood holds in contempt. If you go to the movie interested in tracking that, then it's worth sitting through. But otherwise it will be all about why an unarmed scientist feels comfortable walking into dark abandoned buildings expecting to find a brilliant and powerful murderer.
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