Monday, August 05, 2013

Seen in July

view of a glacier in Chasing Ice

Side Effects
Warning: side effects include intense psychological thrills. An excellent mystery thriller from Stephen Soderbergh with a "crazy" good performance from the enticing and talented Rooney Mara. A women commits a murder while taking an anti-depressant and while she is sent to serve a brief stay in an institution her psychiatrist sees his practice and life unravel due to what is perceived as his poor judgement. There are many minor themes at play here — the delicate relationship between a doctor and patient - especially when that patient is an attractive woman; the ethical mess of psychiatric drug trials to name but a few. The only thing I find unbelievable in this sort of film is that anybody planning such a long and complicated con could carry it off or would even bother. The effort and planning required seem to far outweigh the benefits. These types of crimes are certainly not for the lazy.

I can't decide whether I don't like this HBO show because I don't like the characters or because they scare the crap out of me. It is undeniably well written and performed. Yet to me, these "Girls" are shallow, immature, entitled, inconsiderate and completely and utterly unsubstantial (this goes for the male characters too). Everyone likes to say this is a new generation's version of Sex in the City but what if… and this is a 45-year-old white guy saying this, what if it's just the white girl version of Entourage. They are kind of jerks. The episode I watched ended with "Wonderwall" by Oasis and then I knew it. I am too old to appreciate these characters. I think of that song as a catchy pop-music footnote while most people "of a certain age" think of it as their "Jerusalem". Here's the thing… after forty you appreciate the songs of your youth are just the songs of youth and that "Jerusalem" is everyone's "Jerusalem" because it is better than that thing you liked when you were too young to know better.

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. What could go wrong? Fey plays a Princeton admissions officer who is approached by Rudd's character who believes one of his high school students may be her son. While deciding who is and isn't exceptional enough for Princeton she tries to find out if the student is in fact, her son. If this movie were applying to Princeton, it would not be exceptional enough to be admitted which is too bad. I liked it but it's not something I would line up to see.

Now you see me
This film is a thriller/crime/mystery story set against the backdrop of a Las Vegas style magic show. The easiest way to describe it would be to say it is a mash-up Oceans 11 and The Prestige with a little bit of David Mamet's The Heist thrown in for good measure. At times too pyrotechnic, too cocky and too busy, it does maintain a great mix of humour and action and character. From that point of view it is highly entertaining. Yet the final reveal and coup de grâce is the same kind of unbelievable misdirection and concoction that reminded me of the lies and red herrings of Fight Club. Basically, they had me until the end when the idea of artificial gravity aboard the Star Ship Enterprise seems more likely.

Chasing Ice
After experiencing an extreme weather event first hand here in Toronto which flooded highways, rail lines and knocked out power for more than two days and having witnessed floods in Alberta and extreme heat waves in Arizona from afar I thuought this documentary seemed appropriate. This is the story of Photographer James Balog's Extreme Ice Survey which has mounted 25 or more cameras with vantage points of some of the Earth's largest glaciers to capture their demise. At one point Balog sends two assistants to sit and glacier watch for three weeks. On day17 they record the largest calving event ever witnessed. A mountain of ice the size of the bottom half of Manhattan but two to three times taller than the tallest skyscrapers crumbled off the glacier and tumbled into the sea. Seeing the team's dedication to the project is inspiring; the photography itself is incredibly beautiful; the outcome is devastating. There are times I think, hey, I don't drive a car, I take the stairs instead of the elevator, I use energy efficient lights… but this world is hopelessly lost. This film will either move you to action or freeze you in shock but you will be affected by it.

Bothersome Man
A man, Andreas, who appears to have committed suicide arrives on the outskirts of a very bland city where he is given a bland apartment and a bland job and meets a bland woman. Nothing is really that bad but nothing is really that great. Is this purgatory? An afterlife of mediocrity? This boring comfort isn't enough for poor Andreas who discovers he cannot find pleasure in any of the conveniences afforded him. Unfortunately his attempts to find something more don't work out so well. He doesn't fit in at all. I assume this is meant as an analogy of a life half-lived is no life at all — or maybe it's okay and we should just be happy with our lot. I think this is probably only the second Icelandic movie I've ever seen but I may be counting a Björk video as the other one.

Robert Pattison portrays a financial golden boy who, over the course of a day, sees his fortune evaporate. Yet he's determined to get across town for a haircut despite information that someone plans to kill him. If you were expecting a Cronenberg film - well you will get one. Cronenberg is a restless man seemingly willing to treat each new film as a new experiment in style, storytelling and expression. This is a highly formal film with dialogue as dense and obscure as a Beckett play. Interestingly, this movie was made before the Occupy movement but seemed to foreshadow the protests that erupted against the One Percenters. Another theme here is that Pattison's character seems to represent the new technologically advanced ultra rich for whom success is the only goal – not the money or the perks but absoute success of being better than anyone else, being smarter, having better sex, having better things, being more morally decrepit, being beyond law and politics and creating a bubble where only you make the rules. The sound design makes it seem like we are physically inside a bubble of sorts with the actors where everyone else is muted. There is also a little of Fitzgerald's Diamond as Big as the Ritz here too. Though I understand how a film with complex, philosophical and meandering dialogue set mostly inside a stretch limo would not be popular with movie goers if you really listen and follow along, it does ask some interesting questions and give some insight into the kinds of minds of those who while getting stinking rich have bankrupted everyone else.

Pacific Rim
Sometimes cinema is an art form that comments on the human condition but sometimes it's just a big, bold, awesome thrill ride. Think of Pacific Rim as a gargantuan amusement park ride for the ages that combines elements of Top Gun, Independence Day, Transformers and Godzilla all in one package. Is the thirteen-year-old in your head having a seizure of ecstasy yet? Because that's what this film is like; the fever dream of a thirteen-year-old boy. Somehow, the director Del Tormo has a way of having characters speaking a bunch of nonsense so that you both get it and then don't care because you want to see giant robots fight giant creatures while using huge cities as their romper rooms, which, if you have any sense, is ridiculous. Why would robots piloted by neurologically twinned people be more effective than rockets mounted on aircraft? My only criticism is sometimes the fight sequences were a tad confusing and just when I thought a creature's head had been torn off you then realize it was a tail or something. Either way it was a fun way to stay cool and was still quieter than the Molson Indy which was happening too close to my home for comfort.

Breaking Bad Season 5
Things seem to be going from Breaking Bad to Breaking Worse. Walt White is heading down a destructive path that I can't stop watching.

I like Rainn Wilson. I like Ellen Page. I like comic books. I didn't like this movie. There has been a glut of films lately about regular people going nutso vigilante as costumed heroes; Kick-ass, Defendor, Super and God knows how many others all appeared at once. In Super, when you view it objectively you see Wilson's "Crimson Bolt" as a serial killer who needs to be institutionalized no matter how sweet a guy he is. It isn't just movies like Die Hard that make the insane think that shooting people is righteous but even little indie movies can do this. Oh and Kevin Bacon strolls through a bad guy role while Liv Tyler is the damsel in distress.

Park Avenue
In what world do billionaires pay less than half the tax rate of fireman or nurse? Where in the world is the infant mortality rate four times higher for poorer citizens? Where in the world are these statistics separated by a few city blocks? Park Avenue, New York City of course. Park Avenue has more billionaires per square mile than anywhere else in the world. In fact, one building, 740 Park Avenue has the highest number of billionaires living there than any other building. This documentary tries to explain and make sense of how this came to be. It explains it very well — but it will never make sense. America loves to believe that it is the world's greatest democracy but it seems more like the world's greatest broken democracy caused by the avarice of about 400 people. That's right, 400. About 400 people own more than half of the country's wealth. You can't afford a ticket on this gravy train. I guess that would be my only criticism of this documentary — the feeling of hopelessness it leaves you with.

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