Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Seen in February 

Scene filmed at Trinity-Bellwoods Community Centre from Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz

I guess the film that stands out for me the most this month was Take This Waltz. I could tell you about all of the Toronto locations that appear in the film or go on about the importance of the pool (which is a pool where I often swim), but that would just be masking the difficult subject the film intimately portrays and how it just sort of stuck with me. I think you need that time with something to know its real impact. Like a James Turrell work of art – sometimes you just have to sit still, staring for an uncomfortably long time to see the art in projected light. The funny thing is the first couple of movies I saw were complete throw-aways. Disposable art for a disposable age.

The Inbetweeners, the movie
The lads made a movie. Remarkably, this feature length film of four British high school mates vacationing in Greece doesn't miss a beat. The transition from 30 minute television episodes to feature film was seamless and equally hilarious. Wil, Simon, Jay and Neil are horribly crass and daft which makes for some memorable comedy gold as they head on holiday hoping to be "knee deep in clunge". They aren't just knee deep but in over their heads — but alls well that ends well. This movie broke box office records in the UK but closed with a whimper after only a single weekend in the US. There is a divide between North America and Europe that is as wide and deep as the Atlantic itself.

Dr. Suess' The Lorax
Well… I wouldn't say this was Dr.Seuss' version of The Lorax. It is beautifully designed and animated but the whole invented script created to stretch the story out completely deflates the power and message of the original. Also, the musical numbers are really terrible. Essentially, the original story is compressed into one really awful (overly long) musical number. The Lorax may speak for the trees but who speaks for the Lorax or the estate of Dr. Suess?

Take This Waltz
Dear Sarah Polley, Why do you have to be so difficult? This is a quietly affecting film of a woman who is happy enough in her marriage yet falls in love with another man. Michelle Williams is Margot who feels some distance from her loving husband, Lou who is surprisingly well played by Seth Rogen. Watching a marriage crumble like this is rough and unsatisfying but you can't help but watch. The artfulness of Polley's direction is in its thoughtful pace. Painfully slow at times and awkwardly abrupt at others. Is Margot just trying to fill a gap that everyone feels as her sister-in-law suggests? Does this infatuation feel wonderful simply because it's new? Or is Margot more enamored with "being in love" than simply loving? One thing is certain - Sarah Polley loves Toronto and this is one of the few films that highlights the city in both its glory and its grime. Some significant scenes are set in "my" pool at Trinity-Bellwoods Community Centre and weirdly, in many scenes, Seth Rogen wears a shirt from The Gap that I often wear. That's just too personal, Ms. Polley.

Mostly Martha
I didn't plan on watching this. It was just on and the plot seemed really familiar. That's because this is the German original of an American remake called "No Reservations" starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. I can't think of too many Hollywood remakes that match the original (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Let Me In seem like exceptions). This is the story of Martha, an ambitious, career-minded head chef whose life is turned upside down when she is left to care for her niece after the girl's mother, Martha's sister, dies in an accident. You can see the film's trajectory without the aid of any kind of weapons guidance systems. Ambitious and talented yet lonely woman who is not so great with kids is tasked with raising a child who hates her. But wait, Woman meets a threatening male who, surprise, is good with kids. From the set up through to the happy ending climax you see it all coming. But… I was still hooked in by the irresistible little girl, Lina and by Martha, played by the sternly beautiful Martina Gedeck (who was also sternly beautiful in The Lives of Others and The Baader Meinhoff Complex; I'm assuming Germans invented "sternly beautiful" women). They just seemed like real imperfect people who don't make great speeches or know what to say but are trying their best. That's how they get you and you find yourself lifted by their joy and deflated by their sadness. It is more a film of little moments rather than grand gestures. Unfortunately, like many a German film, there is some clunky Kenny G-esque Jazz that just makes you want to kick something which is really the only knock against this film. I have no idea what the American version is like but judging by the poster art, it looks cheesy.

The Sitter
Formulaic. Predictable. Funny. One of those typical "Adventures in Babysitting" plot lines involving a night of misadventure, sexual promises, murderous drug dealer, befriending thugs, finding new love and so on and so forth. But you know, enough chuckles for a Tuesday night when you just feel like zoning out on the couch. I will probably regret everything I just said by tomorrow.

Middle Men
The story of the Internet may have begun as one of academic and intellectual communication but what really made the Internet what it is today was porn. Bigger than US Steel and maybe the auto industry, many innovations of online life that you enjoy were improved to deliver smut. Everything from increasing speeds and bandwidth to delivering complex live and streaming video. Primarily though, it was the creation of a trustworthy, discrete and secure credit card transaction process that brought everything from Books, video and shoes to your door - oh and good old fashioned filth. This film is loosely based on the experiences of one Christopher Mallick who took the idea of two drug-using porn fiends and fashioned it into a money making powerhouse. The story goes that the two original porn site creators had an argument about a business idea. One had the idea that guys would pay for better porn, the other, a drug using ex-NASA engineer legendarily wrote the necessary code to process credit transactions in 15 minutes. Enter Jack Harris (Mallick's alter ego) who happens to know a good idea when he sees it and how to run a business. Exactly how Harris got connected to these two is where the action of the plot comes from. Not sure why this film fared so poorly. The plot does get a little out of control at the end but otherwise it reveals what few like to talk about; much of the Internet economy is driven by masturbation. Look up Christopher Mallick online and you find he continued in the online billing and payment business but may have stolen millions from his customers in the process. Whoops.

Miss Bala
The story of a young woman, Laura, who is in the wrong place at the wrong time — namely Tijuana, Mexico. After admitting to witnessing a shoot-out at a nightclub she is captured by the Mexican gang responsible. They set her up as a beauty pageant winner to further their own plans. Meanwhile they alienate from her family, use her to get to a DEA agent, have her run errands across the border all under the threat of death. After being raped she is then sent as the honey trap for an army general they are trying to kill (or are in cohorts with, I can't be sure?) In the end, she survives the murder plot only to be beaten and arrested. Throughout the entire ordeal Laura is in nearly stunned silence. A shock we share when thinking of the drug violence in Mexico. If you think the film is far-fetched then you haven't read about the bizarre, surreal and unbridled violence that has taken over some parts of Mexico. In 5 years over 36,000 deaths have been attributed to drug gang activity.

Blue Valentine
Whew boy. Another movie where Michelle Williams is in a disintegrating marriage. All the tropes and sadness are played out against their exuberant beginnings. Gosling plays a husband happy to do dead end jobs and be a husband and father while Williams' plays a woman for whom her marriage is a source of sadness. Why – why are all the good movies so goddamned grueling? Should art be this exhausting?

Freaks and Geeks
I think the art directors of The Carrie Diaries should talk to the art directors of Freaks and Geeks. Genuine 1980s high school experience. I missed this Judd Apatow show in its original run and it is almost shocking how many of the cast have continued to be in the mainstream of American film and TV. Look it up on IMDB.

Everything Must Go
I was in the mood for a Will Ferrell comedy but I got this drama of a sad sack with a drinking problem but a good heart instead. Will Ferrell plays Nick who is an alcoholic who loses his job the same day his wife kicks him out of his house. After temporarily living on his lawn he decides to sell everything. Rebecca Hall plays his lovely new neighbour who seems to be the only kind person on the street. In a refreshing change from cliché, Nick does manage to salvage his dignity but not via the salve of "finding love". Otherwise the film is a little predictable and unfortunately mostly flat. There are a couple of moments where Ferrell's comedic instincts appear ever so subtly to give his character some sweetness underneath. I was hoping the whole film would be that way; a quiet drama with subtle humour. At every opportunity the marketing noted "based on a Raymond Carver short story" as if to give the film some credentials. It fell short of that accreditation.

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