Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Movie Weekend...

Finally, I edited together all the video clips of Jones I've been collecting.


video

Failing that, try YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs2b3mZNl8Q

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It's That Time of Year Again...

I have made no secret about my displeasure at the Academy Award Nominations this year and my final picks include some necessary write-in votes. This is a year where what was pointedly left out is more significant than what made it to the dance, and the paltry selection is going to be a wound that only time itself will heal.

Before we begin, I want to take a moment to recognize those worthy souls that did not make the final cut:
Woody Allen, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Best Original Screenplay
Robert Siegel, The Wrestler, Best Original Screenplay
Justin Haythe, Revolutionary Road, Best Adapted Screenplay
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married, Best Supporting Actress
Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married, Best Supporting Actress
Misty Upham, Frozen River, Best Supporting Actress
Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married, Best Director
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York, Best Original Screenplay
Kristen Scott Thomas, I’ve Love You So Long, Best Actress
Bruce Springsteen, The Wrestler, Best Original Song

Love long and prosper on DVD and in the court of long-term memory.

The Picks

I've said it before, I always choose my winners with my heart rather than with my head, so, consequently, I never win the proverbial office pool. However, this year I am being pressed into service by the various media organizations I am a part of - ok, Carsten Knox's Love and Hate Movie Show on Halifax's CKDU radio (88.1 on the dial!) - to provide predictions and prognostications. Therefore, my picks are divided into 'Head' categories (those that will win) and 'Heart' categories (as opposed to those I want to win). Please do not make significant wagers based on the picks in this post. In this blog, as in Hollywood, nobody knows anything.

And on we go...

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
HEAD: Dustin Lance Black, Milk. I can live with this, but I felt Milk owes more to its performances than its writing, which is hampered by its standard biopic structure and clunky speechifying. However, Black provides us with an intimate look at a public man and weaves real life tidbits of Harvey deftly into the structure, like Harvey’s real-life assassination tape as a narration device.

HEART: My heart goes out to the most egregious snub in this category, Jenny Lumet’s Rachel Getting Married. The use of the wedding preparation as a narrative thrust was sly and the conversations and arguments were spot on. The whole movie had the urgency of a real wedding weekend.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
HEAD: I’m going with Ben Button (Eric Roth), this could be its ‘major’ category reward, if Slumdog goes the distance.

HEART: The Dark Knight, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. ‘Adapting’ doesn’t do them justice. The Nolans were inspired and are inspiring with their dense crime-thriller. It's work that honours their forebearers in two genres; the comic book movie and the crime-caper movie.

SUPPORTING ACTOR
HEAD/HEART: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight. The Joker is a villain for the ages. He made me wonder what his history was as much as what he was going to do next.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
HEAD: Viola Davis, Doubt. I hear she’s brilliant. This is Doubt’s reward for the night.

HEART: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona. Whether it’s a tragic depiction of mental illness or a comedic portrayal of a self-absorbed nutjob really depends on what scene you are watching. Cruz gets it because both interpretations are remarkably facets of the same person.

ACTOR
HEAD: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler. How can they not? Rourke gave one of the best performances and has the best story of the year.

HEART: Richard Jenkins, The Visitor. The smallest gestures he made invested you wholly in his transformation throughout the movie.

ACTRESS
HEAD: Kate Winslet, The Reader. She’s earned it, like she’s earned it with every nomination, and The Reader is good enough.

HEART: Melissa Leo, Frozen River. I loved how Leo’s performance made you want Ray to do the right thing in the end as much as want what’s best for her and her family.

DIRECTOR/PICTURE
HEAD: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire. Whatever.

HEART: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight. Hollywood finally succeeds in making an artistically and commercially successful picture and they don’t reward it? Movies like these should be made EVERY DAY by Hollywood. When it comes time to reward their hard work, Hollywood deludes itself with the notion that ‘serious’ pictures, like Ben Button and The Reader, or uplifting pictures, like Slumdog, are what constitute ‘award worthy’ movies. Dark Knight is a serious achievement and should be celebrated as such.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

CODSWALLOP!

I stopped my workout this morning to sit in the ladies locker room and watch the Oscar noms be read out this morning and, after it was all over, I was distracted from my quest for Michelle Obama arms (Yes, I know she went to Princeton and Harvard!) by my confusion about the love for Slumdog Millionaire and Ben Button while my rage at Dark Knight's egregious snub fueled my treadmill run. It is like The Academy has forgot every thing it learned last year with the Coen's brutal No Country... and proven itself to be truly short-sighted , with a weak stomach for dismay, angst and uncertainty. Slumdog's pat, insipid good-for-nothing seven-11 slurpee gets tossed down our gullets (with me the only person suffering from brain freeze, aparently) while The Dark Knight's complex, ambitious good-for-you veggie platter gets left to rot on the kitchen counter. Well, you know what? I like my veggies, damn it! I like my veggies with a dip of anarchy, hopelessness and painful humiliation! I am revealing far too much about my own dark recesses of the sould with this metaphor and not enough about my taste in movies, which I prefer to be dreary and morose, thankyouverymuch. Moving on...

I dutifully printed out my ballot and ticked off all the movies I have seen and taped it to my
fridge, where it will stay until the Best Picture winner is read. It is a work in progress, with many movies in the major catagories left to see (Doubt, Frost/Nixon) and more nominees to tick of as having viewed. Even though I am nonplussed about the noms, I cannot and will not
shake the hype surrounding them. My palms get sweaty carrying home my Vanity Fair 'Hollywood' issue, I skip to the mailbox to collect Entertainment Weekly's Oscar issue, I lovingly highlight the nominees I will be cheering for on the big night. I never enter any Oscar pools because I always choose with my heart rather than my head and, therefore, always loose. I say that sincerely. I'm excited. I'm excited for winners to get emotional, for Hugh Jackman to dance, dance, dance! I'm excited to be in the bosom of kith and kin, shouting at the TV, eating greasy food. I'm excited to appear in a state of dress and grooming that is in direct purportion to the ladies I am saying catty things about. I'm excited...
Anyways, my other stray thoughts:
*The technical awards always tickle me in that movies like Wanted are magically transformed into (Cinderella-like) The Academy-Award nominated Wanted. I wish the producers would let the winners from these categories thank their wives for a change.
*No screenplay, direction or supporting actress for Rachel Getting Married. It deserved more than just Hathaway. Incidentally, the pjs I will be wearing on Oscar night are labeled 'Lady Hathaways'. Foreshadowing? Will they be trumped by someone's 'Dame Winslet' bedroom attire?
*Micheal Shannon? Who the hell is Micheal Shannon? Somewhere, Michael Sheen went from the highest mountain top to the deepest valley when Micheal Shannon's name was read.
*I only need to see Frost/Nixon and I have seen all five nominees. I was resigned to Slumdog and Ben Button making it to the final five, but I would have rather seen Rachel Getting Married, The Wrestler, or The Dark Knight (especially) as the fifth cylon, oops, I mean nomination rather than The Reader. Reader was good, but not outstanding. Same goes for the directing category and the lame cylon joke works a little better there. ('I'd rather see Jonathan Demme as the fith cylon?' Get it?)
*The Globe for Kate for Supporting for The Reader was asinine. SHE HAS TOP BILLING IN THE DAMN MOVIE! This nom is more appropriate.
*Finally, what I loved: Melissa Leo: Yay! Frozen River is excellent - ulcer inducing, but excellent. (Caught it at the Fest in the fall) Some love for her costar, Misty Upham, would have been nice. Leo has had a varied and busy career since Homicide: Life on the Streets and it is nice when a working character actor gets love. Same goes for Richard Jenkins! These two don't have to win at this point. I am just thrilled they made it this far.
*There are only three Best Original Song nominees this year and TWO are from Slumdog! The indignity of snubbing the boss! It is shit like this that makes me HATE Slumdog, not just be irritated by it. Again, Slumdog (CRUMdog PILLionaire?) is the slurpee that is being shoved down my gullett and I have brain freeze.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Welcome back, Mulder...

Rehab did you well. Compare with pre-rehab, X-Files: IWTB premier:

I wish you continued good health... my eyes cannot take it otherwise. Welcome back, Mulder, you bastard.

Anyways....

I taught my self to crochet last fall and have enjoyed most the satisfaction of planning, budgeting, carrying out and completing projects. So far, I’ve completed 2.5 original projects: 2 dishcloths, a scarf from a pattern, and a scarf adapted from a pattern. The last one is getting there… I completed it only to realize that the ‘contrast’ between two yarns was non-existent and a couple of the rows just looked plain ‘weird.’ Anyways, the best advice came from a cashier at Chapters. When I was buying a crochet magazine, we got to talking shop and when I told her that the scarf I was crocheting for my boyfriend turned out ‘weird,’ she told me, “I doesn’t matter what it looks like so long as he wears it!” True enough, but I have a good strategy to not make it look weird any more.

Anyways, my goal is become handy enough to be able to come up with quick and pretty presies for family and friends and to hand-stitch some cute sweaters for myself to schlep around in. Oh yeah, and to apply my skills in ‘deconstructing’ the corporate co-option of fashion, creativity and clothing by ‘adapting’ their designs into personal projects.

If this little endeavor keeps me out of the mall, then I’ll be happy. Next hobby is making my own clothes and more huge start-up costs. ‘Huge’ is an exaggeration. The hooks and the yarn were not that outrageous – some were, in fact, Christmas gifts – but, after spending approximately $14 on two new skeins of wool for my boyfriend’s scarf, I realized that it might have been cheaper to just go out and buy a new scarf. Oh well, the project has yielded so significant left-over wool that I can use for something else and I got to use up the remaining wool from a previous project so it works out.

My relief is that I am starting and finishing things. When Nana taught me to knit when I was a little girl I didn’t have the patience to follow through with my practice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Norbit Effect

At the movies this past weekend, the trailer for Anne Hathaway’s new venture, Bride Wars, appeared. It being January, the appearance of a trailer for a lugubrious romantic comedy is not uncommon - January is a storied dumping ground for films with a tired, witless marriage plot – but Bride Wars coincides with Hathaway’s (and Hathaway’s ‘people's’) push for the actress’ first Oscar nomination for Rachel Getting Married. Norbit Redux?
It may just be an urban legend, but if the fact that Norbit’s February 2007 release during the middle of Eddie Murphy’s campaign for a Supporting Actor Oscar for Dreamgirls and his subsequent loss is simply a coincidence, then the significance of the three following events is certainly hard to shake: in a few months, Murphy went from cinematic high with his turn in Dreamgirls, to lowest common denominator with Norbit, to loosing out to Alan Arkin on the Best Supporting Actor race. Did the nauseating ad campaign for Norbit, where a nebbish-looking nerd gets catches the eye of a grotesque giantess and Murphy plays both parts, damage Murphy’s credibility as a dramatic actor in the eyes of Academy voters? Will the Norbit Effect adversely affect Hathaway’s chances for a Best Actress trophy? Do I have anything to back this up?
Some examples:
  • Could the early-January 2007 DVD release of Bandidas, where Penelope Curz and Salma Hayek play hot bank-robbin’ mamas, rob Cruz’s chances of a Best Actress Oscar for Volver?
  • Mark Wahlberg became the only acting nominee of the ensemble cast of The Departed for his scene-stealing performance. Did early advertising for March 2007’s banal Shooter depart the Best Supporting Actor Oscar from him?
  • Did Natalie Portman loose the Best Supporting Actres Oscar for Closer as revenge for the feeling of exhaustion with the Star Wars franchise and a lack of confidence for the final offering, summer 2005’s The Revenge of the Sith?

The prospect of Bride Wars would be insufferable if it were released any old time of the year, but the screeching sounds and dismal images emanating from the trailer cast a pall over what has been a period of revelation for audiences regarding Hathaway. To see her reverting into some harridan beast-bride is dispiriting. (Isn’t the female stereotype of ‘bridezillia’ just mind-boggling and disheartening in general?)
The Norbit Effect is by no means a quantified phenomenon like the Bradley Effect – the Academy does not do advance polling so determining sentiment in the lead-up to the ballot deadline for any category is not objectively possible. Bride Wars does not necessarily mean the death knell for Hathaway’s Oscar chances, but if she comes up short on the 22nd of February, it could be taken as proof that her work in Rachel Getting Married was the exception rather than the rule, unfairly disqualifying for the less-offensive films she is capable of doing.

Epilogue: Friday, 9 January: Richard Crouse, Canada AM's film critic, mentioned The Norbit Effect when discussing the timing of Bride Wars and Hathaway's Oscar chances. If a guy who pomades his hair talked about it on the television machine, then I can't be crazy.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Last Word...

With The X-Files: I Want to Believe making an appearance on certain critics’ ‘worst of’ lists – critics like Canada AM’s usually amiable Richard Crouse and Aint it Cool’s Capone – and the new three-disk DVD neatly filed away on my shelf, I thought it was high time to offer my final word on the film. Critic and my pal Carsten Knox articulated the best reason for X-Files’ inclusion among the worst of 2008: the possibility of rebooting the franchise was so tantalizing, and the bar set by the original, early episodes of the TV series was so high that the inevitable end result of I Want to Believe was a crushing disappointment. Chris Carter and co. squandered a great opportunity.

What were my first thoughts as the credits rolled on July 25th 2008? I think I said out lout, ‘What? Is that it?’ That fact that what I saw looked like a later season episode (with due diligence given to the Mulder/Scully relationship as a distraction from stale storytelling) made the experience feel like at once a crushing disappointment and minimally satisfactory. Not the worst time spent watching The X-Files, but certainly not the best.

During the later seasons (seven to nine), I blamed Carter and producer Frank Spotnitz for being so blind that they didn’t realize the desperate need for earth-shattering change in the arc of the series. Even with the addition of new, somewhat likable (in the case of Robert Patrick’s John Doggett) characters, the dynamic never overcame the malaise of the post-Fight the Future hangover. Artistically speaking, there never should have been a season eight or a season nine – hell, I’d opt to dump season seven if not for the gut-busting Cops/X-Files mash-up ‘X-Cops.’

So with so many people turned off by the musty smell emanating from the series, the proposed film series should have been the perfect opportunity to bring fans back into the fold and get The X-Files back at the forefront of pop culture conversation.
How could this have been done? A few suggestions:
  • New blood: Perhaps scripting or directing should have been handed over to a filmmaker or screenwriter outside The X-Files fold. Audiences needed to be reminded of why The X-Files was worth watching, but Carter and Spotnitz seem oblivious to this. An outside voice may have worked harder to appeal to more people.
  • Old dog, new tricks: Scripting or directing duties could have been given to someone in the fold who had some success producing the better episodes of the series. Maybe David Duchovney could have been given the reigns or Fight the Future’s Rob Bowman could have returned for the second feature. Maybe Vince Gilligan or (if there was a God) Darin ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’ Morgan could have kicked the script around.
  • Let it die: In the darkest recesses of my soul, I think this movie was never meant to be. The X-Files could have remained dormant for a few more years and allowed for a wave of nostalgia to bring it back to consciousness, therefore remembering the series as it was, and not the limp specimen it became.
The deleted scenes on the DVD of I Want to Believe add nothing substantial to the film – they are, in typical X-Files-women-distrusting fashion, a scene of Scully crying and a scene of Amanda Peet dying – and the featurettes betray nothing revelatory about the film. A 90-minute documentary (90 minutes!) on the second disk goes into the joy of working in Vancouver again with most of the original TV crew and the crew’s satisfaction at keeping the filming a big secret from the prying eyes of press and spoiler-prone bloggers. Big frakin’ deal. Maybe if more people had known about the film and what it was about, then maybe more people would have been inclined to see it. The X-Files movie was not harbouring the secret of the last cylon or knew where Ben moved the island – you know, spoilers we actually care about! Carter and Spotnitz’s insistence on total secrecy is indicative of their delusion that the show is as relevant as ever, which, in and of itself is why they made no effort to spruce up their venture.

It was the episode 'The Erlenmeyer Flask' and the scene where Mulder happens upon a storage locker filled with tanks containing bodies in suspended animation that first caught my attention and hooked me onto the show. No such striking images were present in I Want to Believe, which is one issue, but the problem with the film is the profound difference of opinion between the producers of the show and the audience as to what the thrust of The X-Files was: Chris Carter’s ‘search for God’ vs. two lives (Mulder and Scully’s) on hold while pursuing unexplained phenomena. I wonder what a movie that took the fan’s point of view might have looked like.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

This Damn Review is Finally Done!

It's no surprise that The X-Files: I Want to Believe poses more questions than it answers and disappoints as much as it satisfies. It raises pertinent questions like, Can a lady really be considered 'alive' when her severed torso is attached to someone else's head? Just what are Mulder and Scully's living arrangements? Why would Scully tell Mulder about the FBI's need for his assistance if she only wants him to not get heavily involved? This is the brother of Samantha Mulder we are talking about! Does Scully not know her own boyfriend? And what the hell kind of name is Dakota Whitney? Was Jennifer Whitney taken?, without fully answering them which in The X-Files world is as tantalizing as it is frustrating and, indeed, IWTB has as many elements that are engrossing (Mulder and Scully!) as elements that are superfluous and dull (Dakota Whitney and Agent Drummy).
The x-file, itself, is egregiously thin. It is a convoluted mess of organ transporters, abducted women, Russian medical experiments, gay lovers, psychics, pedophile priests, yada, yada, yada. While the premise is X-File-y enough - women being targeted for their O-type blood tissue; a man with a psychic connection - the plot is never developed to the point of inspiring dread for the victim or confidence in the investigators.
After agent Monica Bannan is brutally abducted in the teaser, there is never any clue for the audience that she might be in real danger because we have little idea about what her captors could be up to. Classic X-teasers inspire dread by showing us without explaining what the bad guys are up to; the Peacocks bury an infant; Donnie Phaster cuts the hair of a dead girl; Clyde Bruckman foretells a young couple's death. The shock of the teaser makes us want Mulder and Scully to right all the wrongs. IWTB's teaser is so generic the CSI guys could just as easily swoop in.
Father Joe, Billy Connolly in a game performance, cold-calls the FBI with news that he has a 'psychic connection' to the abducted agent. Since Dakota Whitney, of the FBI and leading the charge to find the agent, has no reason not to believe him, she decides to call in Mulder (“out from the cold” as Roger Ebert put it) to draw information out of Joe. Father Joe also happens to be a convicted pedophile which is enough to compromise his credibility for everybody (including Scully) except Mulder, naturally.
I always found with The X-Files that my willingness to see Mulder's point of view was to show how hard he had to work to convince everybody around him (again, including Scully) that what he was talking about was plausible. In early episodes, when Scully was having none of it, Mulder had to work pretty damn hard. Remember 'Squeeze'? Scully got a glimpse of the career she was missing out on by working on the X-Files when violent crimes invites her to help them solve the Toombs murders. When Mulder makes the scene and instantly knows Toombs's deal, he has to convince Scully of the veracity of the X-file, not just her shrill colleagues. (One of which is played by Donal Loague!)
In IWTB, Whitney is out of options and clearly has the hots for Mulder (‘I think this is a longer conversation.’ She suffers eventually) so the struggle for Mulder to convince everybody isn't there. Carter also fails his own lead character when he never shows on film that Father Joe is, in fact, the real deal. At the end of the film Mulder is left to prattle away about how Joe redeemed himself by giving up his life just as one of the victims was having hers restored. Carter should have proven the connection on film with cuts between Joe dying, the villain dying and the victim coming back to life because, as it happens in the finished film, Mulder just looks like a kook.
As tertiary characters go, Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Agent Drummy (Xzibit) are the outer limits. Peet and Xzibit mean so little to the plot and are so uninteresting compared to Mulder and Scully, it is a shame that production shelled out for name actors when nobodies would have sufficed. Not that Peet and Xzibit are terrible; it is just that Whitney and Drummy have no depth. Whitney's crush on Mulder comes off as more pathetic than endearing and when she meets her maker, we feel nothing other than that she had it coming for calling Mulder 'Fox' only seconds before.
Carter and Spotniz miss an opportunity to make a foil team for Mulder and Scully; one that is by-the-book and results oriented where our heroes are improvisational and focused on a more undefined yet larger goal. As it happens in the movie, Father Joe, Mulder and Scully all come to the end of their stories with no help from these two.
It is Mulder and Scully's relationship that is the heart beat of the film, but, while Carter indicates that they are clearly a couple, fails to brief us on the progress their relationship has made since we last saw them. Scully tells Drummy that "Fox Mulder and I no longer work together" but, in a later scene, she shares a big cozy-looking bed with him so these two must be doing something together. Confusion further reigns in Scully's two scenes at the house Mulder has holed himself up in - she does not so much as take off her coat to make her look like she might live there yet she insists, in one of the two touching scenes where our heroes talk frankly about their relationship, "We are two people now, who come home at night."
Plot holes aside, Duchovny and Anderson inhabit these roles so fully that they manage to create an affecting mini-drama about how two very obsessive people attempt to make a life together. When Scully says "We are two people now..." it is only one side of the story. She is through with their former life and when Mulder counters with "this is who I am, this is what I do" their impasse stings. Duchovny and Anderson deserve significant credit for infusing their scenes together with a lived-in and fond intimacy without sacrificing the restrained quality of their exchanges; i.e. what made the series great. The juxtaposition of what is professional and buttoned up with what is clearly love is what made their pairing so tantalizing and it isn't lost here.
IWTB isn't great nor is it terrible but if this is the best that Carter and Co. can do with The X-Files then I am ready to let go of my desire for a sequel. I just don’t know what Chris Carter is talking about anymore. Carter says, in the July 2008 issue of Rue Morgue, “I came to think of The X-Files as a kind of search for God – that was a very personal thing that I wasn’t even aware that I was doing,” and the Aug. 1 issue of Entertainment Weekly quotes Carter as saying science has become “a religion of sorts.” Indeed, IWTB is chock full tests of faith for characters but they never come off as particularly resonating. I always had the feeling that the more spiritual elements of the later seasons were an attempt by the writers to create some meaning and gravity for the unruly mythology not just for the audience but for themselves so that the writers would have a course to steer it on and the audience would not turn away in frustration. As we all know, it didn’t work out and the ambivalence I felt towards the show’s spiritual themes crept into my experience with IWTB.
I always wanted to believe that The X-Files was about questions of where to put your trust and what and who to have faith in. Mulder and Scully learn to trust and to put their faith in each other and it is all they can depend on in the end. This is a profound lesson for two people who spent nine-ish years (or up until the point William was conceived) denying themselves some simple happiness and stability in favour of working towards some nebulous goal. This conception of The X-Files is decidedly a bit more down to Earth than Carter’s notions of what The X-Files is about but I believe it is one that still has room for grand issues like governmental conspiracies and alien invasion. Carter’s notion of Mulder and Scully’s quest being one for God does not help them much when the proverbial shit hits the fan. IWTB, while making the Mulder/Scully struggle prominent, still features too much of Carter’s over-blown notions of faith/religion/God/whatever – notions that don’t fit into with what I like to think of The X-Files as being. And, I guess, this is where I have to part ways with Mr. Carter though I wish him well. After 15 years or so, neither one of us are enjoying the same show anymore.