March 3rd, 2014
While I know I am not a cultural commentator with any weight whatsoever, and I know social media has sort of ruined the art of sustained thought through 140 snarky characters, but I’m going to ramble on about some stuff, and feel free to ignore me.
First, I’m a feminist. There are no modifications to that statement, I am, and, like Caitlyn Moran, I’ll stand on a chair and shout it, if you can’t quite hear me: I AM A FEMINIST.
So, too, apparently is Cate Blanchett, and I admired her speech last night for it’s obvious stump-like quality of suggesting, broadly, that women want to see movies with other women in them. And I loved her comment, as above in the title of this post, “the world is round people,” when referring to the fact that it’s more and more apparent that there are juicier roles available to actresses that don’t involve being half-naked and chasing around after men. But here’s where the whole thing fell down for me–I find it hard, and harder still, to stomach, that Blanchett, who has played some kick-ass women in her career, was pontificating for Blue Jasmine, which contained two of the most appallingly-non-feminist, anti-women, even, characters to grace the screen in a long, long time. Woody Allen’s personal issues aside, and they are legion, celebrating the great opportunities for women from a movie that demoralizes our gender so insultingly, well, it gave me pause.
Just because there are female roles doesn’t necessarily mean that they are role models for females. I found the same thing with Gravity, which I enjoyed far, far more than I did Blue Jasmine–yes, Sally Hawkins and Cate Blanchett played the hell out of those characters, but they were not real women. They were not even approximations of real women. They were one-notes played on a sliding scale of bad decisions, and the sexism displayed in that film honestly shocked me. Never, not once, at any point in that film do either of the characters step outside of being defined by the men in their lives–they allow men to walk all over them, in multiple ways, their children are plot points, and their whole perception of the world around them is clouded by a desperation, which is seemingly of their own making.
But back to Gravity–a film celebrated for both its technical complexity and its brevity–not to mention the fact that Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut trapped in a terrifying situation (lost in space, even the thought of it freaks me out!). Why does Bullock’s character have to be “damaged” (SPOILER ALERT) because she’s lost her only child? Why does she need some emotionally cloying backstory? Does George Clooney’s character have any other reason for being in space than the fact that he’s a scientist? Why couldn’t the George Clooney character be played by a women too–at least we’d be seriously challenging some gender stereotypes there in a meaningful way.
So while Hollywood was all “whoo-hoo!” look at all these great roles for women–let’s break it down to see what kind of roles they actually were: Amy Adams plays a women who uses her sexuality for criminal purposes; she’s a grifter. Cate Blanchett plays a women whose husband cheats on her, and then Bernie Madoff’s a whole pile of people, and she can’t stand on her own two feet. I haven’t seen the film that Meryl Streep was nominated for, so I can’t comment on her character. The same goes for Judi Dench in Philomena–I haven’t seen the film, and don’t want to make assumptions (especially, again, because it’s based on a true story). And then Sandra Bullock plays an emotionally damaged scientist who is only up in space because she can’t stand life on earth.
Forgive me for insisting that great roles celebrating women actually portray women who are changing the conversation in any feasible way? Just because the character is female isn’t cause for celebration–why can’t we be pushing the boundaries a little bit further and actually have roles that are good for our gender, and not just roles because of our gender.
I’ve included an image of Julie Delpy for a very specific reason. I loved Before Midnight to distraction, and it got my vote for best adapted screenplay even though I knew it wasn’t going to win. Why? Because that character was a real woman–in almost every way. The only bone of contention I had with that script was how (SPOILER), while arguing, Ethan Hawke’s character kept referring to Delpy’s character as “crazy,” which I hate–it’s an easy way of doing away with a woman’s feelings, going back to hysteria, etc., etc., but her Celine was the most modern, well rounded (with flaws, of course) female character I’d seen on the big screen in a very, very long time. Everything she said rang true, rang authentic, and I didn’t feel like her gender was a plot point to be exploited, and nor was she emotionally manipulated for the purposes of audience enjoyment.
It’s wonderful to see the rich and varied performances of some of the greatest actresses of my generation doing such vivid work, I just wish that there was an equal veracity applied to the scripts as is applied to the conversations about the shifting nature of Hollywood. It’s not enough to be present on screen and winning awards. The words matter. The context matters. And that’s what I found so frustrating about much of what was celebrated last night.
May 4th, 2012
I’ve been wanting to write more about pop culture lately with a cute new title: “Mom and Pop (Culture).” However, therein lies a bit of a problem… I’m really not devouring the same amount of pop culture as I once did, and when I get around to it, the whole fad has passed or I’m simply too old to get it, like One Direction (I mean, we watched them on SNL and it was highly, um, entertaining?). Then I thought I could write a whole blog post about how funny I find Up All Night, especially Maya Rudolph, and when Christina Applegate made the crack about almost fitting back into her pants both standing up AND sitting down, I’m peed a little it was so funny. And we haven’t really been watching that many movies, for obvious reasons. My in-between-book reading consists of Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, The New Yorker, Oprah (sue me; it’s a great magazine), and Best Health, all of which are truly just a conduit for free recipes. Not very hip. I stopped my subs to Toronto Life and House and Home, among others, because the piles of magazines were unwieldy. Again, not so hip. Then again, I read Wired on my iPad. That’s kind of hip, right? I read piles but not so much the trendy books, there are no shades of grey currently on any of my devices. So… what to talk about?
Let me backtrack. When I was a teenager, I found a copy of Exodus among my parents records. I took it upstairs and listened to it, a lot. It was my mother’s. My dad didn’t even know it was there. At the time, I was 15 and working at Baskin-Robbins with a delightful woman named Yvonne Chin, she was Jamaican. I asked her if she knew who Bob Marley was (yes, I was the dopiest kid, like, ever). She came in the next day with a stack of records almost as tall as me and I listened to all of them. Taped them, bought my own copies, bought more tapes and CDs, and then before I went to university my brother bought me the Songs of Freedom box-set for my birthday and I have not stopped listening to it since. I was obsessed. I read Jamaican writers (Michelle Cliff remains a favourite), I wrote papers and integrated Bob Marley lyrics into them. I listed to “Pimper’s Paradise” about 8,753 times in my old Nissan as I drove around during my first few years of university. I stayed up way too late in high school one night watching the only concert footage I had ever seen of Bob Marley on the CBC. I even went so far as investigating grad school at one of their universities (the cost was prohibitive, completely). I know I’m not the only one. There are millions like me.
March 17th, 2010
Oh, how it disappointed me. I actually fell asleep in places and found it all kind of tedious. Don’t get me wrong, I love Scorsese, DiCaprio and Lehane in equal measures, but the combination here didn’t quite work. The movie wasn’t scary enough — sure it looked beautiful, the storm scenes were particularly awesome — and there were way, way, way too many flashbacks. The whole picture could have been shorter, tighter and creepier.
As Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) pukes down below a ferry taking him and his partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), across the harbour from Boston to Shutter Island, an infamous institution for the criminally insane, the film sets up the premise: what is exactly going on over there? As US Marshals, Teddy and Chuck are there to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients/inmates, a young woman who drowned her three children. As the weather gets worse, so does the state of the case, and soon Teddy and Chuck are embroiled in a “is it all as it seems” plot that plods forward.
The film never picked up steam. Sure, the performances were fantastic, the assembled cast quite amazing, but there was just something missing — ahem, action — that would keep the film from stalling left, right and centre. I kept asking my RRHB if he recognized the twist, and he picked it up sooner than I did when I was reading the book (read: not until the end when I gasped and said, “NO!” and then had to reread the last few pages again). But a good twist does not a good movie make if you can’t build it up properly for the first 1.45 hours in. The world needed to be better established, we needed to feel less in on the joke, the clues needed to be far less apparent.
Annnywaaay, I had taken the day off to go to the doctor’s (excellent visit BTW) and finished my other work (Classic Starts) earlier than expected, so I was glad to be able to squeeze in a matinee. There’s just something delightful about going to the movies in the afternoon in the middle of the week. If I were unemployed, I’d do it all the time.
But Shutter Island? It gets a 6 out of 10. However, it’s great the film’s grossed so much already, at least it means Scorsese and DiCaprio are free to live another day and make more films together. The Departed is still my favorite picture of the last few years.
March 16th, 2010
Before I even start discussing Jane Campion’s Bright Star, which I watched this weekend after finishing up the third round of edits on my latest Classic Start manuscript, I wanted to just take a moment to say how well-deserved the Oscar wins for The Hurt Locker were. I’m amazed at the commentary I’ve read over the last few weeks — how journalists and pundits and bloggers were all shocked that it (rightfully) beat out Avatar for the top prize. Let’s just set aside all the movie-making wizardry for a moment, take Avatar out of its shiny box and you’re left with an awful script, a mediocre (at best) storyline that’s derivative and almost insulting in places, and dialogue that made the writer in me wince almost throughout the entire picture. It’s the Nickelback of movies, as I’ve said often and to everyone who’ll listen.
Just because a picture’s small doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of the awards. It’s not the movie’s fault that no one went to see it. In fact, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to watch smaller movies as multiplexes are businesses driven by the bottom line and art house cinema goes the way of the publishing industry as of late. The whole purpose of an award isn’t to celebrate the movie that made the most money. Sure, there were interesting technological advances with Avatar but that got old about two minutes into the movie, and then you’re stuck with the Pocahontas meets Dances with Wolves meets Every Movie Cliche meets Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Annoying Characters that Cameron “intends” we consider a “movie.”
Also, I’m not sure if anyone else has reported on the irony of making the world’s most EXPENSIVE film of all time, which must have used up bucket loads of energy, encouraged (nay, demands) people see the film wearing one-use glasses (sure, they’re “recycled” at the end of the picture, but still), and drove piles and piles of garbage by way of concession stand sales because of the sheer number of people seeing the picture, and then having its director bang on about the ENVIRONMENTAL message in the film. Seriously, yawn.
My point? Right, that The Hurt Locker, like many small films, didn’t have the marketing muscle behind it to drive huge audiences. The right people saw the film. The right people brought that picture to light, and its wins were terribly well-deserved. Money does not equal great art, if it did, men like John Keats would not have died in poverty, which brings me to the original reason I wanted to write about Bright Star, Jane Campion’s equally small film that will reach an equally small audience, that so many gems of both books and films get lost when faced with competition from the big studios. I mean, I don’t even know Bright Star made it to theatres in Toronto, and we’re not an insignificant market.
Campion’s films, to me, feel very literary. If they were books, I’m sure I’d sit curled up on the couch and not be able to stop reading until the very last page. Bright Star tells the story of the relationship between John Keats and Fanny Brawn, who fell in love but never got the chance to spend their lives together; after all, the poet died penniless in Italy after succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of 25. The title comes from the poem Keats wrote for Brawne, and it’s a sonnet he apparently revised until his death.
Bright Star tells the story from Brawn’s perspective — it opens with a lovely shot of Fanny sitting by a window sewing in the early morning. She’s hard at work on her task (and was quite well-known for both her fashion prowess and her excellent seamstress abilities) and the light coming in from the window highlights the intricate and delicate nature of the project. Because the Brawns (widowed mother, younger brother, younger sister) live in close proximity to Keats (they rent a house from his friend, George Brown), he becomes an everyday focus for Fanny. Of course, there are struggles — money for families without an income, money for starving artists, the importance of an artistic life, the love/hate relationship between Fanny and George Brown over Keats’s affections — but in the end, Campion resists traditional embraces, and there’s no Hollywood ending (read Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice) to her film.
Abbie Cornish plays Fanny with a fierce independence. She’s proud, honourable and feels her emotions deeply. British actor Ben Whishaw plays Keats, slender, gifted, and terribly troubled, not only because of his failing health, but of the complex emotions love stirs for him. Whishaw plays “tortured” very well — there’s an incredible scene in the book where the complex triangle between Brown, Brawn and Keats comes to a head and, without spoiling anything, it was riveting. It took me forever to place him, but he played Sebastian Flyte in the terrible medicore remake of Brideshead Revisited that came out a couple years ago. I thought he was terribly miscast in that film, thankfully, he’s much better here. Mainly I was surprised to see Paul Schneider playing Brown (with an odd “Scottish” accent that often slipped into I don’t know what) and displaying the same magnetism that he brought to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in Bright Star.
The costumes, the hues that seem to embrace the entire film (whites, greys) and the absurdly beautiful wildflowers that seem to abound, all contribute to the film’s overtone of Romanticism. It’s as if Campion set out to prove to sceptics like me that it is possible to bring the philosophy of the movement to the big screen. I felt deeply embraced by the sensibility of the film, if that makes sense, by the fact that it’s impossible to rationalize emotions, as much as it’s impossible to entirely scientifically deconstruct nature, and the relationship between Fanny and Keats certainly proves that theory.
All in all, I’m glad I gave up working on the novel a little early on Sunday afternoon to squeeze in this film. Highly recommended for easily persuaded romantic literary types like myself.
February 15th, 2010
We were supposed to go up north this weekend but an unexpected illness with our cat and a visiting friend from NYC had us changing our mind at the last moment. I’m sad not to see the cottage in the winter but I’ve got so much work to do that the extra-long weekend will surely fly by. Feeling a little, ahem, under the weather (read: hungover) meant the RRHB and I settled down this afternoon and watched Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold’s exceptional film about a 15-year-old girl growing up in a terrible housing development in England (somewhere in Essex, if the NY Times is to be believed).
Fish Tank captures a moment in young Mia’s life so raw and dangerous that you spend almost 100% of the film crushing the pillows on the couch in your fists you’re so worried about her. Raised by a mother who spends more time drinking, smoking and fucking than parenting and a accompanied by a younger sister who’s on exactly the same path does not a great environment make. Mia’s rage, frequent and unyielding, coupled with her hormones leaves her confused about her life; she’s terrifically naive but unyielding and street smart, and her life has her running just about everywhere. It’s as if her mouth, frequently swearing and often pouting, is connected to an even shorter fuse; she has no frame of reference for happiness, she makes it all up as she goes along, and it’s a miserable life.
Enter Connor (Michael Fassbender from Hunger, another great underrated film) and he’s electric. He’s Mia’s mother’s new boyfriend, comes into the kitchen shirtless and unannounced, watches her try out some dance moves as she boils water for tea. He’s got a great smile, he’s encouraging, and for a moment you can’t tell whether he’s sinister or simply friendly — it’s a balance that Connor achieves for most, and I highlight most, of the picture. Without any positive male roll models, hell, without any role models at all, it doesn’t take long for Mia to react to his kindness; she’s got a crush, but has no way to properly express herself. Connor takes advantage of the situation but for a while you give him the benefit of the doubt, especially after one majestic day they spend out of the city.
Self-taught, Mia practices her hip-hop, dance crew moves in an abandoned apartment above her own, drinking to stay numb (I’m inferring) rather than drunk, she practices and practices, imagines it’s the way out. Encouraged by Connor, she applies to audition for a local club — plain as the nose on your face the kind of dancing it is — but Mia doesn’t realize, has her dreams resting on becoming part of a crew. She’s awkward, angry and frequently explodes, but you can’t help but want her to just get out because she’s also endearing, honest, and smart beneath her dirty jumpers and too-black eyeliner.
Arnold keeps the camera close to Mia at all times, up tight and in her face, echoing the character’s personality. It’s summer and there’s a lightness to the housing project — but it’s unbearably bleak too — kids are outside having fun, but it’s not good honest fun, it’s “what are they up to now” kind of fun, and you imagine half of them will either be on drugs or in jail over the course of the next few years. Little hope spills out all over the concrete and even when Mia stares out into the distance, to the city and country beyond, you get the sense that there’s no freedom in the view, that even if she wanted to she couldn’t leave.
There are plenty of words one could use to describe Katie Jarvis‘s Mia. Her performance is raw and heartbreaking, and seems to come from a place she knows well. Apparently, she was discovered while having a shouting match with her boyfriend at a train station — Fish Tank is her first feature film. It’s the kind of performance that feels so real, that elicits such an emotional response, that you can only praise the director for working in such a way to capture it on film. It’s one of my favourite films so far for 2009. Certainly a million, gazillion times better than the dreck that’s Avatar. Not an honest moment in that film, that’s for sure.
[Um, ew, should I be freaked out that the Google Ad Sense ad that sat beside me while I was posting this review was for teen Christian counselling? /Shiver].
February 3rd, 2010
Ever since we did the Summer is Short – Read a Story promotion at work, I’ve had David Bezmozgis’s Natasha and Other Stories on my TBR pile. You can read one of the stories from the collection here, at the Globe, from when we expanded our promotion in their online books section. The stories are sparse but not sparing, swift without feeling rushed, and amazing portraits of a family in flux — immigrants new to Toronto managing to balance their lives on the cusp of old and new.
The collection contains seven linked stories and you simply fly threw them. His prose manages to get to the heart of the human condition without feeling preachy. In style, his writing reminds me a little of Alexander Hemon, although I couldn’t put my finger on why. The central characters in Bezmozgis’s stories, Bella, Roman and Mark Berman, are Russian Jews who have come to Canada from Latvia, leaving behind their home, their family (although by the end of the book many have migrated as well), and trying to make their way in Canada. I find these in-between stories, from the perspective of first generation immigrants, absolutely fascinating. There’s something about the in-between perspective that illuminates parts of Canada, of being Canadian, that those of us born here take for granted. I always liken it to the idea of speaking another language — it’s as if it’s a different world.
There are deep similarities between Victoria Day, Bezmozgis’s first feature film, which I also watched this weekend on TMN, and the stories. An only child, Mark (the stories) and Ben (the film) struggle with adolescence, balance parental expectations and eventually find a way to define themselves by being inclusive of everything they are. Victoria Day‘s more of a coming-of-age tale than is contained within the stories. The film resonated because I was a teenager then, and even remember the news stories surrounding the disappearance of Benji Hayward disappeared after a Pink Floyd concert. In the film, Ben loans his hockey teammate some money and then deals with his conflicted feelings once it surfaces that the teen too has gone missing.
The movie has echoes of The Ice Storm and other atmospheric films about teenagers finding their way. Far, far less “teen” than say John Hughes (and I LOVE John Hughes — it’s a comparison point not a criticism), the picture manages to feel Canadian without the earnest-ness of so many of our native pictures (I did love One Week, but man, holy Canadian batman). There are moments of pure beauty within the film making — even if the performances feel a bit stiff at moments. Regardless, I very much like the ambiguity within the picture, something that Bezmozgis imbues in his fiction as well.
If I had to pick a favourite story, it would be the title tale, “Natasha.” But coming a close second would absolutely be “Minyan,” the story that closes the collection. Annywaay, I truly enjoyed my David Bezmozgis weekend, I’d highly recommend you give it a try, maybe next weekend?
READING CHALLENGES: I’m counting this towards this year’s Canadian Book Challenge. At some point I’ll tally up exactly where I am with this but there are other things to write at the moment.
January 2nd, 2010
There’s not a single stitch of doubt in my mind that I’m a sentimental girl. I have a few movies that I watch over and over again when I get that girlish need for imagined romance. Tully, Before Sunset, Say Anything — you know, those kind of films. The ones that get under your skin more and more after each repeated viewing. The ones you never get tired of, that you find kind of inspiring regardless of the odd cliche thrown in here and there. Well, (500) Days of Summer has just been added to the aforementioned list.
Summer’s a person, not a season, and the (500) (while I’m not entirely sure what the point of the parenthesis might be other than the fact that the film obviously doesn’t show ALL 500 days) refers to the length of time spent in a relationship. Tom meets Summer at work. She’s out of his league. She’s quirky, wears great clothes and can sing a mean karaoke. They become involved. Words are uttered. Time’s spent. Things wind up. Maybe they unravel in interesting ways. But at the end of it, you’re enamored by them — they’re dangerously quirky and fundamentally flawed, qualities I much admire in films of the romantic, ahem, nature.
But what I truly admired about (500) Days of Summer was the film’s storytelling. It moves back and forth like memory, discombobulated and out of sync, through their relationship. Starts at the end, works its way to the beginning, winds past the middle, perks up for a day or two at either end, and yet, you never get lost. You’re happy to be thrown in to the places that feel important (or not); to observe the differences a month can make; to wander into the sprawl that defines these two 20-somethings.
It’s a whimsical film, and if you can stand a little whimsy with your love story, then I’d say you’ll enjoy this picture as much as I did. You’ll revel a little bit in how they listen to The Smiths (maybe a bit too much), how they dispense of some indie cliches but not others (oh wise baby sister sage, yawn), and hold your heart in all the right places at more than one crucial, ideally filmed moment. It’s delicious. And I’ve already ordered a copy, getting myself all ready for the summer when I can have a mini-festival of all these films in a row. Perfect for a hot summer day at the cottage after you’ve spent a few hours in sun, written a bunch of great pages, and are looking for that one sweet escape with a mint julep and some jelly beans at the ready.
December 30th, 2009
Time started to be on my side yesterday afternoon. We finished up all of our massive holiday celebrations, paused for a moment together to enjoy our anniversary, and then went our separate ways. I had a couple of things to do at work, and my RRHB went off to do some recording with a friend, which meant I had a free afternoon. What! How could that happen? By the time I got home last night, I hadn’t just hit the proverbial wall, I had ran headlong into it with all the power of an 18-wheeler. However, before that and just after managing to jump in the pool for a bit of swimming, I treated myself to Up in the Air.
George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a high flying (literally) corporate consultant called in to “manage” the termination of large groups of people during restructuring or firms going out of business. Like any industry, even one based on the massive economic problems ransacking the United States, Bingham comes face to face with change. In his instance, the rolling bag, hotel-living lifestyle that goes along with being on the road 330 days of the year comes to a crashing halt the moment a young inky pup upstart presents the idea that the company needs to go “Glocal.” They need to take their “global” and make it “local.”
They’re bringing termination in-house and doing it via Skype. Bingham’s essentially grounded. But before they clip his wings, he argues that Natalie Keener (no irony in her name there, yawn [played by Anna Kendricks]), should come with him to see how impossible virtual firings truly are — real human beings in awful situations faced with a computer screen telling them their life is effectively stopped short seems painfully inhumane to me. And having been through it myself, I tend to agree. If I had walked into the evil corpration and found myself face to face with a talking head Skyped in version of HR, I probably would have lost it even more so than I did during the actual termination interview.
Of course, conclusions are made, lives are changed — because the purpose of the film is to find Ryan Bingham at the crossroads, but like (500) Days of Summer, (which might just be one of my favourite movies of the year) the results aren’t what you’d normally expect, and that’s where you find the true magic in the movie. That’s the thing about indie movies. They take cliched moments, essential rom-com stuff, and turn them slightly in another direction, making them seem more real in a way that, say, The Ugly Truth, just can’t.
And, there are lots of these moments in Up in the Air: the meet cute (Bingham and his love interest, fellow high flyer Alex [played to perfection by Vera Farmiga], meet in an airport bar and bond over Air Miles, bonus points and hotel room service); the wedding shinanigans (Bingham’s sister’s nuptuials); the not-so honest confessions of “real lives” and “real intentions” (Ryan + Alex may or may not have a happy ending); and the aforementions upstart inky pup gets some worldly experience that changes her course (if we’ve all seen In Good Company we know how this turns out).
But I was surprised by a lot of the film too, especially by the cameos, the name actors who drop in for moments when you least expect them, and all of the quasi-documentary-like sections of the film when Ryan and Natalie are at work busy firing people. This film couldn’t have been made even five years ago. It wouldn’t have had the same resonance in terms of the economic situation. It’s real life that makes this movie poignant, and not the other way around, which isn’t normally the way that movies work on an emotional level.
There’s something unsustaining about the lives we’ve created. Maybe this is the message from the film. That all of the modern advances that have brought us to the brink of collapse can do as Ryan suggests, send a message to take you in another direction. That having a goal that’s tangible on a human rather than a socio-economic level isn’t necessarily a weakness but a sign of a different kind of strength. There’s poetry in that, I think. Also, I’m thinking that it’s probably never a good idea for me to go see these kinds of movies by myself. It’s always good to have company to stop the philosophical stuff from just roaming around in my head until I feel a little batty.
Lastly, just like Michael Clayton, another film I absolutely loved, George Clooney proves time and time again that he can play one hell of a modern leading man. Oh, and on the way home, I managed to sit in a subway car littered with ads for Ryerson University’s continuing ed programs. Shaky photo attached. Interesting coincidence, I’d say.
November 29th, 2009
We had saved up our entertainment budget and put our Air Miles to good use (movie passes) so my RRHB said, “why don’t we go to the movies.” At first, he wanted to go see 2012, and then he actually read the reviews. Looking up showtimes, I noticed that The Road was screening at the Queensway, so I suggested we see that instead — it took a little convincing. It’s honestly one of our favourite books — and that doesn’t happen often. We have drastically different taste in reading material.
This film has so many things working in its favour: excellent source material, Viggo Mortensen, a score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and a director, John Hillcoat, who has a bit of a track record (he directed The Proposition). All the pieces are there, but the film doesn’t quite reach its potential. It’s too long, and the liberties that they take to adapt it to the screen didn’t quite work for me.
Let’s pause for a moment because by no means is this a bad film. Quite the opposite, actually, it’s a very good film. I just wanted it to be a great film (and so did A.O. Scott).
So, let’s start with the positives — Viggo Mortensen plays the Man, the narrator, the father who takes his only child on the road after the apocolypse, consistently heading south because it means survival. He’s excellent: nuanced when necessary, protective, angry, solid, and worthy of the role. The young fellow (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who plays the son was good too — and the pair, worked significantly well together. There’s a lovely balance to the film, don’t get me wrong, the story is heartbreaking, between the son who only knows this ravished world and the father who still remembers aspects of what it was like before the cold. The two of them work this contradiction exceptionally well.
For the most part, it’s a faithful adaptation of the novel. But there are Hollywood elements that I wasn’t sure the story needed: the history of the man’s relationship to the boy’s mother (played by Charlize Theron), a strange trip back to his childhood home (did I miss that from the book?), and cemented the ending.
In a way, it’s these very “movie”-like parts that kind of ruined the film for me — I wanted more The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and we got a little too much of a film like Gerry. I felt the book deserved something a little more stylized, a little less Hollywood, and a little more reflective of McCarthy’s book. More varied dialogue between the two would have helped. It wasn’t to be done away with as a minor part of the book sacrificed as a means to pump up the action so the movie could be more broad-reaching. They tended to repeat the same conversations over and over again — and I remember this differently in the book. The film could have been shorter too — that’s one of the things that I admire about McCarthy’s writing — it’s effective because it’s so sparse.
One thing about the picture that’s utterly worth raving about is the art direction. It’s sobering to see the remnants of our civilization laid to waste and even more so to see humanity loose its essence as food becomes increasingly sparse. The whole film feels bathed in this greyish light, burned out fields where trees used to stand, garbage everywhere, stuff that people hold tight to becomes meaningless if you can’t eat it — strands of pearls are stepped on and over and money blows around like paper. The film looks amazing. Truly. Like I said, it’s a good picture, totally worth seeing in the theatre, and wholly deserving (fingers crossed) of its Oscar potential.
But, holy crap were there knuckleheads in the theatre with us. It was packed but I’m not sure people knew what film they were seeing. Or taking their teenagers too? Wha? I know! One family left twenty minutes in and the kid beside me was half-asleep before the film ever really started. When the movie was over, the group of drunken middle-agers in front of us stood up and said, “Well, they sure were spare on the action in that weren’t they?” I honestly wanted to ask them if they’d even heard of the book, but I held my tongue. Sort of…
November 23rd, 2009
Oh, be ready to throw the tomatoes at me, yes, I spent hard-earned money to go see New Moon for our Undeath Match. Luckily, I was accompanied by someone (Rachel) who both saw the cheese potential (so bad it’s good) and has a similar penchant for some good, old girlie fun. But, wow, is this film ever bad.
Like, really, really bad.
For anyone living under a rock, a soppy teenage girl (Bella Swan, what a stupid name) is abandoned by her mother (awesome role model there) who got remarried and shipped her off to Forks, WA to be reared by her silent but sturdy father (town sheriff, natch), falls in love with a “smoldering” perma-teenage vampire (Edward Cullen). They swoon. They stare into one another’s eyes. And by the end of Twilight, they were actually an honest to goodness couple — chaste even by Mormon standards — but a couple nonetheless. Enter New Moon and all the horrible metaphors that title implies.
Open Scene: It’s Bella’s birthday. Of course, no one’s allowed to give her presents (because teenage girls just HATE stuff), and no one listens to her. Yawn. There’s a party at the Cullen Manor and she gets a paper cut. Oh, the blood! It’s so hard for the vampires to resist. Why? Because they’re vampires, that’s what they do, they suck the blood. Yawn. Edward decides that it’s over, for Bella’s own good. Because Bella, for the love of Pete, has no mind of her own. He leaves. She dies inside and suffers from an almost life-ending depression coupled with sweat-stained, sheet-scrunching nightmares.
Enter buffed up buddy Jacob who glides in with the cheesiest wig to end all wigs and abs to rival Tim Riggins. He’s the only one who can pull Bella out of her post-Edward coma. They build motorcycles together because she needs to live on the “edge.” Why? Oh, because that’s when Spectral Edward shows up to tell her what to do. Again, why? Because Bella has no brain nor mind of her own. Quadruple yawn. Oh, and Jacob’s a werewolf. Did I forget to mention that? Because all of her boyfriends are supernatural. She’s just that special.
Jake and Bella bond. He wants more but there’s a treaty in play, blah vampires versus werewolves, blah de blah. Edward moan, groan, moan. And I’m already tired of recapping the plot so let me just cut to a list of why this movie sucked so much I would have walked out if I was there by myself:
1. Why can’t teenagers have fun? Even a little? Why are they always pouting and acting all angrily and not doing anything remotely like regular kids?
2. Seriously, shut up Edward.
3. Bella stands in a meadow (even though a terrible red-headed vampire named Victoria is hunting her) alone as a dread-locked vamp says, “I’m going to kill you, okay?” She sort of shrugs and doesn’t move. Let’s repeat that, she does NOT MOVE. She just waits for Edward to come and save her but because he’s convinced being together would put her in too much danger, he’s nowhere to be found. Wha? Run little girl, run. Fight, kick, scream, just do something other than pout cross-eyed at the damn man.
4. Again, even when he’s not on screen I want Edward to shut up. Spectral Edward should have a sock shoved in his fog-inducing ass.
5. What happened to quality role models for girls? Where’s Judy Blume when you need her? Where’s Nancy Drew or Andie or Jo? Bella mopes around because of a boy, abandons her friends, who don’t even say WTF when she decides to start talking to them again, abandons both school and her parents to run off at the very slight chance she’ll even see Edward, and only acts when it relates to a boy (Edward or Jacob). She is consistently needing to be saved. She never, ever saves herself. And when they both say, “oh we can’t be together because you might get hurt or I might hurt you,” she curls up into a little ball and does a fat lot of nothing.
6. So, the whole wolf pack runs around with no shirts and cut-off pants. But when they change, what happens to the pants? The werewolves aren’t wearing them and they’re not flopping around anywhere on the ground. They magically disappear and then magically appear when they turn back. Those are some magical pants. Who cares about continuity when you have Taylor Lautner’s abs?
7. Shut up Edward.
8. If Bella’s dad’s supposed to be a cop, and a good cop at that, how come he never notices a) her boyfriends all have freaky eyes and often walk around all the time without shirts and b) that they’re supernatural? Hasn’t he lived in Forks his entire life and isn’t one of his closest friends a Native American?
9. The first movie sucked, but at least there was a cheese factor that made it kind of hilarious. That first moment when Edward sparkles, priceless. Here, they’re all dour and angry — pushing and pulling each other with no payoff.
10. The whole Team This or Team That is just dumb. Even though Edward got his ass kicked by the strange Michael Sheen headed cult thingy, Bella’s so obviously in love with him (and if you’ve read the spoilers and/or the books) you know what happens. In fact, it doesn’t matter what happens because it’s all filler anyway — it’s a road block in between the happy ending. The story’s been told a million times. However, IF I were to pick a side (and no serious, book-loving, 30-something woman has any right to even be talking about this), I’d have to go with Jacob. I know he has no chance but, let’s face it, Edward got his pasty-emo handed right back to him in that (SPOILER) battle toward the end, and rightly so. The werewolves, as goofy as they are running around the forest in basically their underwear, can truly fight. That was the best part of the film, actually. The wolves battling it out and ripping the heads of the vampires. Pretty, pretty awesome. But don’t tell Kimberly I said that.
11. SHUT UP, Edward.
I’ve been reading Twilight and I doubt I’ll review it here — what can I possibly say. Everyone knows the writing is horrible. It’s akin to the worst stuff I’ve ever read in some of the worst creative writing classes I’ve attended. She tells way more than she shows, Meyer has never met a useless, moronic detail she didn’t like, and, other than the setting, which I quite like, she breaks taboos that undermine the merit (if any) of her work. The struggle to be good, to be in love, all that good, juicy teenage stuff makes for good ingredients but what she cooks up couldn’t be any more contrived if she tried. And yet, she’s sold millions and millions of books. Let’s just hope she’s using some of her royalties for good and re-planting some of the trees she’s destroyed over the years. It’s like Stephen King pointed out, at least J.K. Rowling can write, you know?