Saturday, July 02, 2011

Seen in June

The great looking, romantic existential crisis comedy from Woody Allen, image via

I saw a lot of comedians in concert or in documentaries this month. Seeing into the mind of a comedian is a scary thing. A scary funny thing. Other than those documentaries/concert films, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris was probably my favourite of the month. It was a return to a lighter, frothier, romantic, philosophical Allen that has been absent for awhile. It also just looks great and Paris in the summer is something everyone can agree on (ask the army of riders making their way to Paris right now in le Tour de France).

The Tracey Fragments
Fragmented. Like the exact opposite if Atom Egoyan's Chloe. I see what Bruce MacDonald was doing… kind of, but I just didn't get it.

I Love You Philip Morris
Jim Carey plays Steve Russell, a born liar/con man/grifter who falls in love with Philip Morris played by Ewan MacGregor when the two meet in prison. As soon as Steve is out he impersonates a lawyer to get Philip out. Then Steve conspires to go legit by faking his resume to become the CFO of an insurance company where he quickly finds a way to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance pay-outs. It turns out, being gay is really expensive. What's more ingenious are all the ways Steve Russell worms and squirms out of prison once caught — including faking AIDS to be transferred to a private care facility; a stunt that took 10 months to carry out. How do I know this? Because the film is based on a real person. Steve Russell is so incredibly adept at conning his way out of jail that he currently is serving a life sentence, in lock down. Clever guy but I'm guessing Jim Carey is funnier.

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work
She really is a piece of work and she will challenge and change your opinion of her. Great documentary that follows Rivers in her 75th year.

Talking Funny
A particularly special HBO special. From Ricky Gervais, who has made a habit of talking to some of America's best comedians and funny people (look up his conversations with Larry David and Gary Shandling on YouTube). Gervais sits down with Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Louis CK. Do I have to say more? It's like having Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Dave Grohl and David Bowie jamming and swapping stories but maybe more awesome than that.

State of Play
Washington scandal and conspiracy thriller starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck and a cavalcade of stars (Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels). The film moves along at a nice clip and builds a (mostly) believable quilt work of intrigue around the machinations of a fictionalized version of private security contractor Blackwater or Haliburton and the lengths they will go to protect their interests. Oh but there is so much more at play here. Not quite Three Days of the Condor but maybe more entertaining.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Only undiscovered tribes of aboriginals living in the Amazon rain forest are blissfully unaware of Harry Potter. The films about magic are often wonderfully magical themselves evoking juvenile fantasies of powerful spells and incantations. I enjoy the series because the films remind me of the movies I loved as a kid, namely the Sinbad adventures or anything Ray Harryhausen was involved in. But this film is more dark, violent and surly — like the teens the stars and fans have become. The films are also decidedly British in flavour, from the A-list British actors to the marvelous art direction. I know this film is "part one" but the ending is far too inconclusive and the movie is much slower than the others. Yet that is probably a decision by the veteran director David Yates to build more emotional impact for the finale.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
It's hard to explain Sarah Silverman to someone who just doesn't like her. This film is an adaptation of her stage show cut together with some extra bits (which are awkward and less successful than the stand-up bits). She manipulates the audience's perception of what an attractive Jewish woman should be. She plays with politically incorrect language and ideas like rape and racism with such charm and irony so deftly and with such subtlety that you are inevitably drawn in for a sucker punch.

The Comedians of Comedy
A documentary that follows a comedy tour Patton Oswalt organized with fellow comedians and friends Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford and Zach Galifanakis. The film mixes concert footage, interviews and conversations about comedy and doing stand-up and gigs. I'm not sure why it's so enjoyable but watching great comedians just making each other laugh is like watching great musicians jamming. This film is a bit hit and miss with poor quality filming but it's all worth it for some pricelessly funny moments.

Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen's latest film about a nostalgic American writer on a trip to Paris with his fiancé and future in-laws is a return to lighter and frothier fare. The writer, Gil, played with puppy-like curiosity by Owen Wilson, wanders from both his superficial fiancé, Rachel McAdams, and reality when he stumbles into his version of what a Golden Age of Paris was of the 1920's complete with Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertude Stein and countless other luminaries of the time. For some reason the movie feels full of set-ups but few punch lines (such as when Gil strides into another legendary Paris era, "This town! I have to write a letter to the chamber of commerce!"). Enjoyable and revelatory for Allen fans but probably too uneventful and slow for anyone else.

A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop
A re-make of the Coen brothers' "Blood Simple" set in 19th century China. Oddly, it works. In fact, the plot of betrayal and deception set as a period piece make the story, originally adapted from a Dashiell Hammett novel, "Red Harvest", feel more like a Shakespearean play than film noir. This "Sino-noir" is lusciously and stylistically filmed in an incredible desert locale but pays homage to the original Coen brothers' film both visually and in its measured pace — so it may seem too slow to some but it saves a lot of energy for the finale. The one downside is the campy, comedic/operatic acting. Maybe the Chinese don't get subtle comic timing? Is that a Western thing?

Meet a 63-year-old diabetic who downs his blood pressure meds with a tumbler of Jack & Coke and happens to be the godfather and instigator of heavy metal. For almost 40 years, Lemmy Kilmister has been the grizzled voice and striking front man for hard rock veterans Motörhead. Yup, they were the first to add an unnecessary umlaut to their name. Oddly, this documentary reveals the direct line of rock and roll history from the Beatles to Metallica runs through Lemmy. He turns out to be a gentleman living modestly in L.A. with a penchant for wearing handmade boots and SS uniforms, a knowledgable collector of WWII memorabilia, a memorable songsmith, an innovative bassist and a survivor of the Rock 'n Roll lifestyle. When they made Lemmy, they broke the mold… thankfully.

How to Train Your Dragon
Beautifully animated. Full of incredible special effects and fireballs …and genuinely funny and well acted. Set in a Viking village beset by dragons who, we find out, are highly trainable and make lovely pets and companions.

My Neighbour Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki's classic animated story of two sisters and their adventures as their ill mother recuperates in hospital. The two sisters meet a friendly forest spirit Totoro whose friendship helps them cope with the fears and trials of waiting for their mother's return. There has never been a finer observer of children than Miyazaki and this film shows his masterful hand at every moment of wonder and sublime quirkiness.

Barney's Version
"You did good, boychick"
Until you absolutely screw it up which Mordecai Richler's Barney is a natural at. A faithful interpretation of the book makes for fairly standard fare but the makers of this film seemed to be doing a victory lap before the game even started. It's packed chock-a-block full of Canadian cameos (Robert Lantos, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Paul Gross and Denis Arcand ) but the main players, Paul Giametti, (a surprisingly good) Scott Speedman and Dustin Hoffman carry enough water for everyone else.

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