my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

September 16th, 2009

TRH Movie – The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

There are few times in my life when I’m honestly star struck. I’m sure that if I was in the same room as George Clooney, I’d be tongue tied and shaking in my boots, but for the most part I’ve met some very cool people in my time working in both television and publishing. However, last night, at the gala premiere of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, I have to admit I was a little gaga over Rebecca Miller, Keanu Reeves and Robin Wright Penn. They were all just so luminous, humble, appreciative and lovely (and I didn’t even get to actually meet them).

Rebecca Miller’s film, adapted from her novel of the same name, remains hard to describe. Simply, it’s a solidly good film with great characters, an interesting story, and fantastic performances. It’s everything a movie should be, and then some. I know I’m a little biased because I really enjoyed the book and have been a fan of Miller’s writing ever since I saw Personal Velocity. I still remember this line every time I think of that film: “Delia Shunt was 34. She had fine, dirty-blond hair and a strong, heavy ass…which looked excellent in blue jeans.”

For girls with heavy asses, it was a revelation of sorts.

But back to Pippa Lee, the titular main character who finds herself marooned in a retirement community after her much older husband suffers from three separate, serious heart attacks. The consumate wife, Pippa spends her days planning meals and raising her kids. She’s paying penance, it seems, for her earlier, wilder years. Suffering from what she calls a quiet mental breakdown, Pippa starts walking, eating, even driving, in her sleep. The sleepwalking is just the beginning. Pippa’s carefully constructed life crumbles down around her but it’s not a bad thing. It’s surprisingly, enlightening, even fabled, in a way.

The press point that Robin Wright Penn keeps mentioning, both in the conference yesterday and her red carpet interview, is how there are so few roles like this for women in Hollywood. It’s a familiar theme: women of a certain age getting cast aside for younger, fresher models. Maybe we need more auteurs like Miller, women who not only write, but also direct, intelligent films that present complex, honest, flawed characters like Pippa Lee. Wright Penn inhabits the role in ways that brought it to life beyond the book. She has a range and depth of emotion that displays a tenderness toward life, for her kids, for her husband, even when they’re being utterly shitty to her. When everything changes and she does something so out of character (although not necessarily so when you look at her actions in the context of her entire life), it’s hard not to cheer her on. You’re utterly on Pippa Lee’s side and that’s entirely because of Wright Penn’s performance.

There’s a lovely chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Wright Penn. Equally troubled in his own life, Reeves’ character finds himself in his mid-thirties, divorced and back living with his parents. Their friendship remains the most honest relationship (for a point) in Pippa’s life. With all new friendships, what’s nice is finding out the other’s story without any judgment. That’s biggest difference between Chris and Pippa’s husband Herb (Alan Arkin). So it’s easy to see why and how their relationship develops. Plus, there’s a point in the movie where Chris says, “Hi there,” to Pippa and I must admit, swoon.

Also, Winona Ryder, Alan Arkin and Mike Binder do well as the supporting characters, and Blake Lively’s even passable as the young Pippa (but her “bite my lip” equals “emotion” style of “Serena” acting gets a little tired). I was surprised by Reeves’ casting but, like everyone in the film, he’s really good. I can’t say much else — it’s just a good film. That might sound trite but I honestly mean it. Usually, I’ll say that one should just read the book, forget about the movie; it’ll only pale in comparison. But here the film is an amazing complement to the novel — so I’m happily suggesting one should do both.

July 13th, 2009

Obsession

As if I needed another reason to be obsessed by all things French (and the idea of living in Paris one day). But, sigh, this film looks so very, very good:

And we’re publishing a huge Coco Chanel biography in the fall that I’m also chomping at the bit to read. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to listen to more Edith Piaf.

July 1st, 2009

TRH Movie – Public Enemies

There’s always one big movie, like that one big book, that I get almost too excited about. We could make the obvious, cliched observation that I’m like a kid at Christmas — big stars, great supporting cast, interesting story, something really worth going to see on opening day. This should be my first clue — nothing ever lives up to the hype, and I always find myself a little defeated after closing the covers or exiting the theatre (see The Little Stranger). Today I half-made my RRHB go see Johnny Depp in Public Enemies. I mean, on the surface, it had everything that a great summer blockbuster should have, and still, after leaving the Queensway two and a half hours after we sat down, I’d have to say the best thing about the whole film was seeing the super-cute trailer for Julie and Julia.

Wait, I’m exaggerating.

But only a little.

Michael Mann seems to have fallen in love with the whole “modern” (or would we say “post-modern”?) style of film making so influenced by the Bourne series. Quick cuts, extreme close ups, hand-held camera shots, all meant to employ a frenetic sense of action on screen. Yet, I think he’s so intent upon capturing the moment in fragments that he actually sort of lost the movie. There’s little plot and what there is remains terribly contrived (bank robber gets caught; escapes; robs; gets caught, etc) throughout.

The film lacks the nuance of Bonnie and Clyde, the intelligence of The Usual Suspects, and especially the engaging, epic nature of a great film like The Untouchables. There’s flash, there’s gunfire, there’s a pretty girl and a handsome man, but the most interesting aspects of the story, the evolution of the FBI, the cat and mouse chase between the agents and the criminals, all sort of get lost in the muddled cut and paste of yet another shot of someone’s fingernails.

The actors don’t do much because you can barely see them. And when you do, the dialogue is so stilted and awkward, and let’s face it, bad, that the story doesn’t seem to advance in any kind of rational way. The film’s all about hard punches when it should be about the dance — and I have to say I lost interest well before we even hit the second act. There were things that I liked, like I said, the film could not have attracted a better cast (the performances are solid); and there’s just something about a gangster picture that gets your blood pumping. The excitement of knowing that eventually something’s going to go terribly wrong and films are always more interesting when things go awry than when they move slowly toward a conclusion.

But capturing your attention and holding it are two different things, and Mann simply can’t move beyond the style to create something substantial. Strike one for my excitement today. Now I’m just waiting for Where the Wild Things Are to let me down. It won’t right? There’s still hope for Max.

EDITED TO ADD: WOW, I can’t believe I left this post sit for two days and didn’t spell check. Ack.

April 29th, 2009

TRH Movie – 17 Again

(Please forgive me. I am typing on my BB because our computer is down. I’ll fix spelling and grammar tomorrow!)

Yes, it’s formulaic. Yes, I am about 15 (okay, maybe 20) years older than the target demograpic. Yes, it stars Zac Efron. But I was totally charmed by 17 Again.

The film, which sends Mike O’Donnell back to high school after he finds himself alienated by his kids and on the verge of divorce, had me laughing out loud more than I care to admit. The story — a little bit Back to the Future crossed with a little bit of 13 Going on 30 — is about redemption and second chances. It’s heartwarming and kind, and simple. These days I seem to crave simple, innocent stories, maybe because they’re so refeshingly honest and unpretentious. Who knows.

Matthew Perry (whose hair, so like Jason Priestly’s (sp), has remained unchanged since I was in high school) plays Mike the Elder; Zac Efron plays Mike aka Mark before and after the school custodian casts the magic spell that sends him back. The usual teenage problems plague Mark, which, of course, lends itself to the comedy. The sweet centre of the story remains how Mike/Mark changes to save the life that he was almost about to lose.

Zac Efron surprised me. And I’ll watch Matthew Perry in everything. Leslie Mann was great as Scarlet, Mike’s high school sweetheart and almost ex-wife. Annnywaay, it’s been ages since I’d been to the movies to see something fun and frivolous, and I’ll take the teasing for seeing 17 Again. I’m a big girl.

February 21st, 2009

TRH Movie – The Oscar Edition

There’s still time, right? Can I squeeze one more movie in before tonight’s show? Last week I handed over my Oscar ballot (still humming on my victory from last year) for my work pool convinced that my toonie might as well be lost for good. For some reason, I’m not as excited as I normally am about the Academy Awards. And while I’m enamoured as the rest of the world with the sweetness that is Slumdog Millionaire, the rest of the performances (from what I’ve seen) are kind of meh.

Actresses everywhere must be clamouring to work with Stephen Daldry. He led Nicole Kidman to her underwhelming The Hours performance that won her statuette and now the same kind of ultra-serious, aided by makeup and dowdiness, performance will enable Kate Winselt to win (if I’m predicting correctly). She should have won for Little Children, she was excellent in that film, but when set against the powerhouse that was Coutillard and La Vie en Rose, you can see why she didn’t. This year, the Academy’s making it right, even perhaps if it shouldn’t — I mean neither film, The Reader nor Revolutionary Road, is really up to scratch in terms of the best in film for 2008, regardless of what a powerhouse Winset was in either role.

The Wrestler vs Milk. It’s a hard one. And one that’ll probably bring down my ballot. I adored Milk and even though the story telling was conventional, truly feel it’s one of the film’s that should be celebrated. The supporting performances are excellent, both James Franco and Josh Brolin deserve nominations, even wins, and neither will get it (Franco wasn’t even nominated even though he’s now won the Spirit Award) because the steam-rolling, ham-boning (I know, do not speak ill of the dead, I know) Joker will reign supreme. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Ledger’s performance in the Batman film, it’s more the defeat around the reasons why everyone’s still talking about it, more about his life and how it ended than his acting. It’s one of the same reasons why Mickey Rourke will win, or at least I’m betting that he’ll win, not necessarily because Ram was the role of a lifetime, but because it was the role that came around in this point in his career. If I were the Academy, I’d be handing the Oscar over to Richard Jenkins or Sean Penn, but I don’t think that’ll happen tonight.

I’m babbling, I know. But after watching a pile of movies over the last little while, it’s really discouraging to feel that so many are mediocre. I enjoyed The Wrestler (more than my RRHB) and I enjoyed The Reader, but they’re kind of like excellent community theatre when placed next to the Maria Callas-calibre showing of some of the pictures from last year, like the aforementioned La Vie en Rose. In fact, the movie I’ve liked the most over the past few weeks is Ghost Town with Ricky Gervais, sweet, funny, smart, engaging — all the qualities I look for in a picture. Don’t even get me started on Revolutionary Road and how the much the picture ruins the book. That’s a different post. But, I will end by saying that I’m going to cheer on Slumdog Millionaire, because the heart in that film, regardless of the fairly typical love story, and its somewhat original, magical storytelling, kept me thinking for days afterward.

December 6th, 2008

TRH Movie – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

We had screening passes for this book through work and bundled ourselves up on a cold Sunday morning last weekend to make the 10 AM showing. Based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name (we’re publishing a gorgeous, illustrated edition), the film stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The movie opens on the eve of Hurricane Katrina where a daughter (Julia Ormond) sits beside her dying mother (Cate Blanchett) as the storm rages outside the hospital. This I would like to call the Titanic portion of the film — the cliched way of telling a story by which an old, dying person brings out a long lost diary and begins to tell a fantastic tale. (Note this isn’t always bad, let’s use Big Fish as an example; I loved that movie). The film then moves back and forth from the life of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) to the hospital as Daisy (Blanchett) dies. Thus begins what we were calling the Forrest Gump portion of the film, complete with many a token sayings that I will not repeat.

Being born with a strange and rare disease that causes him to age backwards, Benjamin Button’s mother, who dies in childbirth, makes his father promise to always look after him. Of course, it’s a film, so he promptly takes off with his oddly misshapen barely born baby and dumps him on the steps of a home for the elderly in New Orleans. Picked up by the woman who runs the home, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) and raised as her own, Benjamin survives despite all of the odds. Here let’s insert The Lord of the Rings-style special effects, as from a young child it’s glaringly apparent that Benjamin is played by Brad Pitt, who portrays the character at many stages over the course of his life.

When Benjamin meets the young Daisy, his life changes and the two of them form an awkward, if not lovingly, friendship. He grows younger. She grows older. He leaves home to sail the seas. She leaves home to become a dancer. Things happen. They come back together. Other things happen. They meet again. More happens. Well, you get the picture. It’s not that the movie isn’t beautifully shot or wonderfully acted (it is; the performances are particularly good). It’s not that the movie isn’t about a half-hour too long (it is). It’s not that the special effects aren’t amazing (they are). It’s just that the whole film felt like something I’d seen before, something that has been done before. A giant studio picture meant to get people to enjoy the spectacle (and sweet humour) of the amazing story. Like we both said when we left the theatre, it’s not that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a bad film — it’s just not very original and I think that’s what we were both hoping for, a touch of originality.

November 30th, 2008

TRH Movie – Milk

On Thursday afternoon, Tara and I went to go see Milk. Ever since I watched the trailer a few months ago while my RRHB was on tour, it’s been a film I’ve really looked forward to seeing. A biopic directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk depicts the life of Harvey Milk, the US’s first openly gay man to be elected to political office. The way Van Sant chooses to tell the story, with Milk (Sean Penn) narrating a taped letter to be listened to should he lose his life, feels traditional, but it doesn’t mean the movie itself ends up stereotypical. Jesse Wente was talking a little bit about this in his column on Friday.

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Harvey Milk and his younger lover, Scott Smith (James Franco, sigh.) decide to leave New York City for greener pastures. The pair land in San Francisco and set up a camera shop in the Castro district. Soon Milk’s involved in all kinds of local politics, and he becomes a grassroots activist for the gay rights movement. He runs for office, once, twice, three times and loses until his campaign finally picks up steam (through hard work, dedication and the end of his relationship with Smith) and he wins. The newly appointed city supervisor makes a name for himself in the fight against Proposition 6 and wins there too. One of his opponents, a bitter, angry man named Dan White resigns, and then when he discovers exactly what it means to quit his position, returns to City Hall and shoots both Milk and the mayor, George Moscone.

The film, both poignant and patient at the same time, treats its subject matter with a deep sense of responsibility without ever falling into the earnest trap that normally plagues these pictures. The easiest reason for the film’s success lies upon the shoulders of its impressive cast. Sean Penn excels as Harvey Milk and his is a fearless, thorough performance by an actor never ashamed to submerse himself into a challenging role. There’s not a single mistep among the supporting cast of James Franco, Emile Hirsh, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill and Diego Luna. You can’t help but come out of the theatre wondering about how the same state that worked so hard to defeat Prop 6 has now repealed Prop 8, and about how Milk’s messages of hope, recruitment, honesty, all have echoes in Obama’s ridiculously inspiring speeches. It’s a political movie that carries a political message — let’s just hope that people continue to listen.

Now, let’s talk Oscar
: Penn for Best Actor for sure, and a part of me hopes that Josh Brolin gets nominated for Best Supporting Actor and wins, just because he should.

November 24th, 2008

TRH Movie – Twilight & Let the Right One In

We were seeing red this weekend in more ways than one, blood red. Seems that vampires got their teeth into me over the past few days. Between two movies and the end of True Blood this weekend, I’m a bit vamped out.

On Saturday my RRHB and I went to the new AMC theatres at Dundas Square to see the Swedish film Let the Right One In. He’s been angling for us to see this picture for a few weeks now and we finally had the time. Usually, my RRHB says he wants to see a scary picture and I ask him which of his friends he’d like to take with him. I am glad, however, that I agreed to go with him because it’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year.

Oskar is having a hard time at school. He’s being bullied and when the picture opens up we see him in all his adolescent glory playing around with a knife in his bedroom. When he meets odd and definitely awkward Eli in the courtyard of their Stockholm apartment building, the two bond over a Rubik’s Cube. She’s not wearing a coat. And she’s not cold. As their friendship progresses, two things happen: the bullying gets worse and Eli’s strange behaviour leads Oskar to think she’s a vampire.

The moments of actual horror are few and far between. What the film presents instead is a stark yet vivid picture of the emerging relationship between these two oddly matched friends. Eli needs a human to care for her; Oskar needs someone to help him stand up to the bullies. The deep, dark winter becomes a perfect backdrop, and the grey, painfully cold scenes project the loneliness that both leads must feel on an almost daily basis. There was little backstory and a lot of nuance. The film expects intelligence of its viewer and refuses to lay anything out for you. It’s a simple, well-told story that has elements of the supernatural that only add to the emotional depth versus bashing you over the head with it.

Let’s take note of that last point as we begin to talk about Twilight. Zesty and I had planned to go to the movies anyway this weekend because my RRHB was supposed to be away for most of it (a giant snowstorm and a cancelled show meant he was home more than away). We decided to go see Twilight hoping for a decent dose of cheese wrapped up in a pretty package. In many ways, that’s exactly what we ended up with — both movies feature odd human-vampire relationships, but that’s about where the similarities end.

Twilight, based on Stephanie Meyer’s grossly bestselling YA novels, features an “average” girl named Bella who moves from Arizona to Forks, Washington (the rainiest spot in the whole north-east) when her mother goes on the road with her new husband. Moving in with her father, the town’s sheriff, brings a whole world of awkward: surprisingly quiet diner meals, odd protective overtones, and strangely stilted conversations. In short, all that you’d expect for a child of divorce heading to live with the absent parent. Life at a new school is hard, but Bella makes friends, not the least of which is the odd attraction (at first repulsion) to Edward Cullen, the hottest boy in school who’s got a whopper of a secret. Yes, you guessed, Edward and his siblings are all vampires, and Edward is simply unable to resist Bella’s scent any longer. The pair enters into a definitely doomed love affair that puts both of their lives in danger.

(Yawn).

There are so many things wrong with the film that it would be impossible to list them all. Knowing that the source material was tepid to begin with, at least the script improved upon Meyer’s (and I only read the first few pages of this book because the writing was just so very bad and not for me) cliched and clunky prose. The two leads, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison, did well with what they were given, but the film falls so flat that it’s hard to care about anything that happens. First off, vampires that sparkle and can walk around in the daylight (but not the sunlight)? Vampires that continue to go to school because they’re “vegetarians” and only drink animal blood (why not home school, just a thought?)? And a really silly human who can a) figure out all the clues that Edward’s a vampire but not think twice about getting herself tricked into a sticky situation that could cause her death? Double yawn.

I think what I wanted was something like the first season of One Tree Hill meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Instead, what we get is a barely plausible sub-par romance that uses the supernatural elements to hype up the whole “forbidden” love theme that runs through it. Bella is hardly a character I would have stand up for girls that age. She drops her entire life for a boy without even thinking twice. She never stands up for herself (unless it’s to say that she never EVER wants to be apart from Edward, like, ever!!!). Never protects herself. Often walks into dangerous situations without even having any kind of spidey sense tingling and is, in short, lame. I am barely the millionth person to point this out, though.

Also, the movie needed to be better directed. The film’s pace was all wonky — it didn’t hit any kind of reliable beats, and only when the action picked up did it hum. The art direction was lovely, and the setting quite gorgeous, but the makeup was atrocious (all the vampires looked like silent film stars plopped into live action colour) as were the many “montages” and flashbacks. In this sense, it might just be my own personal preference, but Hardwicke really doesn’t know how to work with actors — way back in the day, I had to review her earlier picture Lords of Dogtown. She managed to take a group of highly exceptional actors, all of whom excelled in other productions, and create hambones of them all. Here, something eerily similar happened, and it’s as if Hardwicke’s never met a moment of melodrama she didn’t absolutely adore. But whatevs. No one’s going to care about my criticisms of Twilight. Teen girls are going to flock to the multiplex, banter on about how delicious the books are, and continue to *gasp* when Edward appears on screen. For that, bless them.

But for anyone actually looking to see a seriously good film, please go and accept the subtitles of Let the Right One In. At least that vampire makes sense to me.

November 2nd, 2008

TRH Movie – Pride and Glory

Not feeling happy with my own company yesterday, I needed to get out of the house. Feeling suburban and kind of exhausted, I drove myself out to the Queensway cinema to see Pride and Glory (sometimes you can take the girl out of Mississauga but you can’t always take Mississauga out of the girl). From the tagline and trailer you’d expect a fairly typical good cop vs. bad cop drama set on the gritty streets of NYC, and that’s pretty much what you get, but the script is good (save for a couple of quasi-lame, quite derivative sub-plots; tell me, why do all abandoned their “difficult” marriages cops end up living on boats?) and so are the performances.

Ed Norton wears a jagged scar on his cheek and a clean cut “cop” goatee. He’s a very serious detective who made a bad judgment call a ways back and now atones for that sin toiling his time away in Missing Persons. The entire 31 division (is that right?) is playing a football game when the call comes in that there’s been a terrible incident in Washington Heights that’s left four cops dead. Pulled back into mainstream cop life by his high-up cop father (Jon Voight), Ray Tierney (Norton) joins the task force and starts pulling down the cards supporting the “house” and revealing some pretty crooked business. The trouble? His brother, Francis (Noah Emmerich), is the CO and any wrong doing will end up stacked high on his shoulders. Toss in the fact that the trouble is somewhat caused by his brother-in-law (Colin Farrell) and suddenly this the “blue family” of cops now has bloodlines and baby sisters and all kinds of other sibling rivalry to cope with on top of the usual ideals of loyalty.

See, when I spell it out like that it all comes across as a little cliche, but the film itself is pretty good. It’s not an over-bloated epic like last year’s We Own the Night but it’s certainly not as complex and intriguing as The Departed. Yet, I liked the movie because the performances were honest, Norton and Emmerich play brothers, and while a lot of the action may be stereotypical, neither give a performance where they’re “playing” cops, if you get my meaning. There’s a particularly poignant scene where Emmerich simply stands up to become the kind of man his wife expects of him (she’s sick; you know where that’s headed and where it’s came from; there’s nothing new there) and it’s subtle, effective and somewhat moving. On the whole, it’s a solid picture, exactly what you’d expect from those involved.

October 26th, 2008

TRH Movie – Pack Oops "Body Of Lies"

I skipped out on work early this afternoon and went to see a matinee. Normally, one of my favourite things to do, but even my heart wasn’t it in today. There was an older woman sitting beside me who obviously snuck in from another movie because she didn’t arrive until a good third into the film eating potato chips through the entire picture. With each crunch I did nothing but picture my own depressing future.

And then I’d slap myself out of it in my mind and get back to watching the atrocious Body of Lies. Some of the things I noticed:

1. Leonardo’s character is supposed to be “the” US / CIA guy in the Middle East, and sure he speaks Arabic and wears some pretty bad silver jewellry but he’s a terrible spy. And gets beaten up like every five minutes in the picture.

2. If you’re a spy, one guesses one should probably, um, blend in and not try to start up a really inappropriate relationship with a Muslim nurse as she’s giving you a rabies shot. Suuurree she believes that you’re a “political advisor.” Yawn.

3. When a big-time Jordanian intelligence officer says to you, “Don’t you ever lie to me,” that’s Hollywood code for everyone in his immediate surroundings telling whoppers for the remainder of the film and getting their comeuppance. Double O Yawns.

4. Does every single “action” movie need to have a damsel in distress? I’m so over it.

5. Shut up Russell Crowe and stop calling him “Buddy.”

6. Torture is bad. I get it. No, really, I get it, we don’t need a torture flashback within the torture scene, it’s okay, we’ll remember the half-naked Arab guy getting his knees knocked worse than any sh*t Hollywood used to put the Irish through.

7. Why oh why would you go unprepared to a meeting with a terrorist organization without so much as a knife hidden somewhere in your spy gear underwear? Why just surrender? Syndey Bristow had more sense and she’s a girl. At the very least, don’t forget your hat. It’s hot in the desert.

8. Race to save the girl. Sacrifice yourself for the girl. Run around acting like a fool because the girl’s life is in jeopardy. Seen it all before. Saw it on the way down and barfed it all back up again.

9. For the smartest “spy,” Leo sure makes a lot of rookie mistakes that get a lot of people killed, but he’s got contact lenses, dark hair and a southern accent (please, no more accents, please) so that’s supposed to make you think that he knows what he’s doing.

10. Does anything actually happen in the movie? No, wrong way of writing that, let me re-cast: does anything change at the end of this movie? Nope. Nada. Zilch. Can I have my Scene points back?

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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