Saturday, February 26, 2011

1528 - Tiptoes

I checked this out, I'm pretty sure, for the same reason that a lot of people will be in the next few days.  I was with a good friend last night who mentioned seeing something about this on Tosh.0 ripping it to shreds.  They have Tosh's segment on the comedy central website, but sadly not being in the US I can't watch it.  If anyone knows how to get around that region stuff let me know!
So I checked out the trailer when I got home - easy enough to find on youtube - and it was as spectacularly horrible as I was told. 
Above you see a photo of the beautiful Kate Beckinsale, but who is that beside her?  Why it's none other than the amazing Gary Oldman and, as the trailer says, it's the "role of a lifetime" wherein he plays a dwarf.  Just when you thought Gary Oldman could play anything...
Here's the premise, and I'm not making this up:  A regular sized man comes from a family of all Dwarfs and when his fiance (whom he's kept in the dark about his family) winds up pregnant he lives in fear that his unborn child will be a dwarf as well.
This film is just kind of bizarre - I really need to find a way to see the Tosh.0 segment.  I don't want to ruin anything in case you want to bask in the bizarreness that is that film.  I promise you that no matter what the film certainly doesn't follow by-the-book.  What's really kind of cool about it is that I'm sure it employed a large percentage of the working dwarf actors, and what's horrible is that they cast Gary Oldman instead of using someone of the proper size for the role.  That being said, whatever they did to create the illusion of Gary's size is pretty darn impressive.
If you want to see this just approach with the warning.  And I promise you that at least Beckinsale is worth watching for (as always).

Tumble Home

 The third in Amy's collection of stories.  I believe that this is the book that I had probably read the most of originally.  You can really see Amy evolving as a writer in this collection (which is no small feat considering how great she is in her previous work).  The stand outs in this collection for me are 'Weekend', 'Church Cancels Cow', and 'The Annex', although they all have something worth reading for. 
This collection also features Amy's first novella, a story of the same title as the book 'Tumble Home', and I must admit that I found it a bit of a chore to get through.  I want to think that I wasn't in the mood for it when I was reading it, but I'm not sure that's it.  I think part of it is that I enjoy structure and story arcs and whatnot, and that's not what Amy's going for here at all - and so it's hard for me to really judge it.  In her shorter work I'm happy to just spend time with these characters and this world for the delightful pages that she allows me to do so.  But in a longer work I find that the lack of story movement to be a tad frustrating.  It's by no means bad writing - Amy is incapable of that - but it's just not my kind of thing. 
This week I'll read the final volume The Dog of the Marriage, of which I've previously read a few, but very much looking forward to revisiting.  I've then got to take a long stare at my stack of books to figure out what to tackle next :)
Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories  The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

Monday, February 21, 2011

1527 - Starter For 10

For some reason in the last week or so this film came to me in several different ways.  I've never really cared for James McAvoy one way or another, but he is quite enjoyable here.  He's endearing, really.  Alice Eve is gorgeous and well represents the kind of girl that most men would kill to be with, and in a nice twist of fate she's not a bitch, or an idiot, she's a genuinely nice person.  But the problem is that she's not really the perfect girl - Rebbecca Hall is, and is she ever.  There is this amazing sweetness and earnestness that comes in the scenes between Hall and McAvoy that is sadly rare in this type of film.  You feel these two people connecting and you want, ever so badly, for them to find a way to be together.  There's a scene between them on New Years Eve that should be a text-book scene to study for anyone wanting to show soulmates awkwardly gearing up for their first intimate moment.  It's lovely. 
Look at me babbling on without saying what the film is about.  More or less it's about a guy who wants to prove himself by being on University Quiz show and also his dealings with his personal relationships.  I realize that I'm not selling it really well here - but it really is a wonderful film.  It starts off a bit slow, but picks up nicely quickly.  It's the kind of film that sneaks up on you, but in such a great way.
Starter for 10  Starter for 10 [Blu-ray] 

1526 - The Blind Side

 Well now, that certainly wasn't what I was expecting...
I remember seeing this trailer for this film and rolling my eyes.  How many movies do we really need about white women coming in and changing the lives of black kids?  I know that they're all based on true stories, and that it's really nice to see people doing good things.  But honestly, if it wasn't for Emily really wanting to watch this then I never would have seen it.  And I would have been wrong.
Is it about what I mentioned above - sure.  And does it tug at your heart strings - of course.  But I was pretty impressed at some of the areas that they tackled, or at least brushed the surface of.  For the most part they kept it pretty light - probably a little too much in some areas.
What I thought was most impressive here was just the writing in general.  It's not a short film by any means.  I would actually argue that it's probably longer than it needs to be - but it doesn't drag.  In fact it moves pretty well, and the obstacles keep coming and realistically at that.  That being said things are all resolved pretty simply each time they come up.
Sandra Bullock is slowly starting to become one of my favorites.  I had a mad crush on her when I first saw her in Speed, but now I respect the hell out of her.  That being said I'm surprised she got an Oscar for this film.  I don't know why, but I am.  Doesn't really feel like an Oscar-type film.  Alas.  She's got one and it represents well her body of work.
So if you're a hard nosed skeptic like me, perhaps you'll give this film the chance that I wasn't going to.  It might just catch you off guard (yes - I avoided a bad pun by not saying that it might catch your blind si--  wait!  almost did it again...).
The Blind Side  The Blind Side [Blu-ray]

Sunday, February 20, 2011

1525 - Party Girl

 When I first started learning more about independent cinema back in high school this film was mentioned several times however I never got a chance to see it.  Years ago I found a VHS of it in a random used video store place but by the time I got around to watching it I'd found that the tape didn't work and I couldn't recall where I'd gotten it.  Needless to say, I've been meaning to watch this for a long ass time.
The story is pretty by the numbers - it's about a party girl who grows the hell up.  And that party girl in question is played wonderfully by Parker Posey.  I know that there are people out there that dislike her for her voice - it's got a nasel thing going on - it's never bothered me.  The film itself is by no means perfect however through her charm Parker Posey makes it work - I care about her character and I want to spend time with her.  She's charming, funny, and pretty damn beautiful here.  It's no surprise that this is one of those films that helped launch her career.
A fun little film, but by no means is it the kind of film that you absolutely have to watch.  If you like coming-of-age tales and Posey in general, then this is probably going to be right up your alley - otherwise you might just find it a bit on the overtly-quirky side.
Party Girl 

1524 - Only

I caught Ingrid Veninger's newest film Mondra when I was in at Cinefest in Sudbury this September and it's not hard to tell that they were made by the same person (granted this one was a co-direction).  These films are very much kindred spirits.  Veninger likes films about youths coming of age and figuring themselves out a bit - which is done mostly through them walking around and talking.  Depending on the person behind the film that can be a good or a bad thing - in this case she really seems to understand this age group - how they think - how they react.  In this film she's created something quite sweet and earnest without being cheesy or condescending.  This is one of those few films that speaks in a real and honest way to a tween demographic and it's a shame that that age group probably wouldn't even seek out a film like this, nor would most grown-ups give them the merit of being able to handle it.
I think Ingrid has an interesting career ahead of herself.  I'm honored to have had my film screen in the same program as hers, and I look forward to whatever films she makes in the future and hopefully meeting her at some point. 
I suppose the easiest way to describe this would be that it's Before Sunrise, set in Parry Sound with twelve year olds.  If that sounds good, you'll dig it for sure.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

1523 - Good Hair

 I've been interested in this film ever since I saw the trailer.  The deconstruction of something so mundane by someone as entertaining as Chris Rock was certainly worth checking out.  I am by no means an expert on black culture - far far from it - so I found this quite interesting.  I knew that women did these things to their hair - but I had absolutely no idea the extent of it.  It's really quite something.  I like the way that Rock attacks it through the guise of his children, and what he should tell them when the time comes, and his conclusion works - even if it doesn't really conclude anything.  The entire documentary is framed around a hair competition and I actually found that to be the least interesting sections.
I'm a low maintenance guy so I just can't imagine having to deal with what some of the people in this film do on a regular (if not daily) basis.  The sad truth is, like one of the interview subjects mentions, that a black woman is seen as a radical if she keeps her hair natural as opposed to having is chemically straightened and/or adding a weave.  There is a scene where Rock is talking to high school students and one has a really cute afro, and the other acknowledge that it looks nice on her - but they all agree that no one will take her serious in the future if she keeps it.  The girl doesn't reply, but she looks hurt.  Another three year old is interviewed and Rock asks her if he should get his daughter's hair straightened, without a hesitation she says yes.  When he asks why she simply says, "Because that's what you do."
Out of the mouth of babes.
Another interesting factor being that the billion dollar industry that is the hair market for black women is mostly profited by Caucasian and Asians. 
So this is an interesting film - I doubt it will change anything.  But worth checking out.
Good Hair  Good Hair [Blu-ray]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm finally devouring the collected works of Amy Hempel, an author who has the rare feat of being a writer who focuses soley on short fiction and is well known for it.  This is the volume of her work that I was most looking forward to, mostly because outside of a few of the stories I had a hard time finding this book on it's own.
The story that I was most familiar with prior to this is The Harvest.  It's one that Chuck Palahniuk discusses over and over as being pure brilliance, and I can see exactly why that is.  Aside from just being well written, the story in and of itself, is practically a deconstruction of storytelling itself.  And it catches us off guard in such a wonderful way.
There is another story here, The Most Girl Part of You, that I read this morning while on the streetcar and it did one of those rare things where I was transported.  Time didn't exist.  I was in the story, living breathing it - this was easily my favorite of the collection for that reason alone.
I find it a little frustrating to read a collection of short stories.  Every few pages you're asked to 'reset' and start again, and depending what you're coming out of - that's difficult.  I'll put the book down until the end of the long weekend and then continue on.  Should cleanse the palette nicely.  I described Amy to a friend of mine today as a writer whose stories I didn't always get into, but whose writing I almost always did.  It's a bizarre thing - she has this tendency to be telling a story, but then drift into a tangent - sometimes never to return.  I'm sure that's exactly what some people love about her - but for me it's a slight pet peeve.
Halfway through Amy's collection - looking forward to the remaining volumes.  If you're looking to getting into writing in any capacity you could do a lot worse than study this woman.
At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom 1st Edition Inscribed  At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom: Stories  The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reasons to Live

 I first came to discover Amy Hempel through reading and reading about Chuck Palahniuk.  As many people of my generation who marveled at Fight Club the film it wasn't long before we dove into the source material and everything that was Palahniuk.  I've got some pretty specific thoughts on him, but this isn't the place for that - I've got his newest book in my stack of things to read, so I'll get to him there. 
When I first heard about Amy it was about how much her writing (in a positive way) was devastating.  And so like I do with anything, I sought out to buy everything she'd done.  At that time she'd had three books come out and one of them was extremely rare.  Picked them up, and I've read them in bits and pieces over the years - and then when her newest book came out a few years back I did the same with it.  But there was almost the mysterious hard-to-find other volume.  So when the collection of her work was published I picked it up even though I already owned 75% of it.  That's just the kind of guy I am.
So now that I'm trying to be more disciplined about reading I added Amy's books to my stack, and I'm going to read them all back to back, starting with this lovely collection. 
Like I'd mentioned, I've read some of this prior, but it was nice to revisit the volume as a whole.  I can't say that I noticed any grand arching theme (apologies if I was meant to).  I find Amy's writing interesting in that I'm either super engrossed, or I'm a little 'meh'.  Not about the writing - never about the writing.  The woman can spin a phrase to knock you on your ass with emotions.  I find that some  of the subject matter just doesn't interest me and so I don't always connect to the story she's telling.  Needless to say, they aren't all 'for me', but the ones that are, the ones that I connect with, I connect with every inch of my core.  Like advertised, she'll make you laugh in one moment and then devastate you the next with phrases like, "Here's a trick I found for how to finally get some sleep.  I seep in my husband's bed.  That way the empty bed I look at is my own. ...  I had my own bed.  I slept in it alone, except for those times when we needed - not sex - but sex was how we got there."
If you're a writer of any kind you'd be remiss not to pick up the collection of Amy's work, especially considering how affordable it is.  Stay tuned for my thoughts on the other three volumes - the next is At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, and it's the volume that I could not find a copy of no matter how hard I tried.  Words cannot express how delighted I am to finally dive into it.
Reasons to Live  The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel  The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

Saturday, February 12, 2011

1522 - Bride Wars

Okay, before you judge, Emily and I were looking for something to watch in the background while I worked on my taxes and she did grades for school.  So there!
I love Anne Hathaway, and I do like the premise for this film - which is two best friends decide to have their dream weddings on the same day, and instead of either compromising they turn into each other's worst nightmares.  But I got more or less what I expected with this.  There was a clunky, exposition heavy voice-over that grated on me a bit.  I never found this to be particularly funny, there were some moments that were amusing - but nothing that just made you laugh out loud, or even mildly giggle.  I do like where the film ends up, although it's pretty heavily telegraphed. 
Movies like this that turn females into stereotypes generally bother the shit out of me - this one just annoyed me a little bit when it came to that.  It's fun enough, and to be fair, I'm not exactly the target audience.  See it, or don't.  It's not really that kind of film...
Bride Wars  Bride Wars (3-Disc Set) [Blu-ray]

1521 - Confessions of a Superhero

I'd heard about this awhile back and so was happy to get a chance to check it out.  On one of the episodes of Carlawood we did we had a segment that involved some of these "characters", a few of which were actually in the documentary.  A lot of what's going on here has a lot to do with why I have no desire to move out to L.A. to "make it".  That town is just filled to the brim with people desperate for their break, and I think that the poor actors have it worse off than anyone.  I personally can't imagine having to go through the rejection that actors do.  It's insane.  Not that filmmakers don't have their fair share of rejection - we do - but not on such a level, or so frequent.  God bless them all.
So this documentary focuses on four people who dress up as famous superheroes and walk along Hollywood Boulevard in L.A. "accepting tips" in exchange for posing for photographs.  Some remark that it's a slight step up from panhandling.  The doc focuses on a Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Incredible Hulk.  And each of them is messed up in their own special way - except for Wonder Woman (Jennifer Wenger) - who I'm glad to see is starting to get a bit of an actual acting career going - she's the typical girl who got off the bus from a small town and is trying to make it.  The rest are all semi-delusional middle aged men.  They're all waiting for Hollywood to discover them and turn them into leading men and women, and believe that this somehow gains them good exposure.  Batman, not unlike his namesake, is a bit of a sociopath.  On camera he confesses to a shrink about a time in his past where a loved one of his way killed and he "left a pile of bodies in the pursuit of her killer".  Whether he's telling the truth or not - this guy is messed up.  The Superman, a Christopher Reeves lookalike, is obsessed in a sincere way with the Man of Steel - to the point where he travels across the country for a costume competition - where he thinks he's a shoe-in because Reeves has just passed away.  The results may just break your heart a little.
It's a fun little film that gives you an insight into just what some of these poor bastards go through, and why they go through it.  It's not super sad, but it's by no means uplifting.  An interesting doc.
Confessions of a Superhero  Confessions of a Superhero - Music from the Motion Picture

Thursday, February 10, 2011

1520 - Breaking Upwards

Another film randomly found through the beauty that is netflix.  Something makes me think that I saw the trailer at some point though.  Who knows.
So this is a dramedy about "A young New York couple intricately strategize their own break up."  They're very mature about it (at first), and they even make a list about the things that they need and compare them (to which the young guy crosses off 'see other people' when he notices that it's also not on her list.  It's a kind of like a bizarre game of Scrabble).
The film is beautifully shot, and romantically colorized.  I think I saw somewhere in their production notes that they made it for $15,000, which is no small feat, especially given the talent that they got involved in the film. 
It's quite a nice film and has a lot of funny and poignant moments.  I think my issue with the film is that while I really quite like Zoe Lister Jones and Daryl Wein - they're charming and charismatic and have good chemistry I'm not sure that I found myself rooting for them at any point.  I think I needed to see just a touch more vulnerability from them to help me connect.  That being said, this really is a little treasure of a film and if you like your relationship films then this one is work checking out for sure.  And if Wein could make something this good on such a small budget I can't wait to see when he's got an actual budget!
Breaking Upwards  Breaking Upwards: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

1519 - The Road

 I think this is the closest I've ever finished reading something and then watched it's film counter-part.  And really, it's not all that fair to the movie.  So... that being said.
I love the look.  It's pretty impressive scope to have all that devastation surrounding your actors.  Viggo and Kodi Smit-McPhee are pretty much perfect as the father and son duo.  I think that giving The Man a voice over worked well enough.  While trying not to compare this to the source material, I have to say that there was a little disconnect.  I didn't feel the desperation that I felt while reading the book.  I never really felt like these two were in grave danger of anything.  I think this is because of the tone and feel of the book - it's more intimate.  I'd be interested to talk to people who have seen the film but know nothing of the book.  Don't get me wrong - the film is pretty decent - I think that there are quite a few things that I would done a little differently, but to each their own.
It's a film that's full of wonderful performances, large and small.  There is some fantastic acting here and some really great moments.  For me, like with most adaptations, I think it captures a decent amount of the book, but I do feel like it rushed over a bunch and therefore wasn't in keeping with the spirit of the original text.
Either way, worth checking it out - although far warning - it's not exactly the feeling good film of the year :)
The Road  The Road [Blu-ray]

The Road

I'm a little behind the rest of the world on reading this masterwork.  I was loaned it after seeing No Country For Old Men in the theatres, and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since.  I knew it would be good, but I also knew that it was going to be heavy and so I put it off until I was in "the mood" whatever the hell that means...
While in the middle of reading this I described it to someone as "Take The Walking Dead and remove the hope".  But now I don't think that's true.  In fact, I think what this book about is hope.  Or, as McCarthy states, carrying the fire.
For those who don't know, it's about a post-apocalyptic world.  No explanation is given as to how long it's been this way, or what's happened.  We fellow a man and a boy, and that's the most they are ever described, and that's just fine.  As a father myself I found myself easily connecting to this book - profoundly so.  It broke my heart over and over, but mended it by the end (just barely).  It's the kind of book that makes you wonder how you would fare in the same situation, especially with a small child acting as your inner voice. 
I love McCarthy's simplistic writing style.  Despite the content, it's the kind of book that's a treat to read.  Pages turn effortlessly.  And it's the kind of book that you read quickly because you don't want to watch these people suffer anymore, but it's also the kind of book that you dread ending because it's so damn good, but also because... well... you know something has to happen...
This is a fantastic book and a quick read.  It's beautiful and affirming, heartbreaking, and earnest.  It's the kind of book that you just absolutely have to read.  I'm going to watch the film tonight - which should be interesting to see how they deal with the adaptation... stay tuned for that!
The Road --2007 publication

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

1518 - About Last Night...

This was the exact kind of film I wanted to see tonight!  Over the last few days I've been fiercely jotting down notes for a new project and this couldn't have come at a better time to fuel additional inspiration.  I've heard about this film over the years, but especially when Love and Other Drugs came out since it was Zwick's return to the relationship film.
Essential it's about two people, comfortable with the single scene, trying to make a go at a relationship.  I have to say that I enjoyed Rob Lowe and Demi Moore a great deal better than I had originally expected.  The writing is superb here - not being familiar with Mamet's play I don't know how much it taken from that and how much original - but I have to say that it's no surprise that this film is up for a remake - it's as relevant today as it was when it was first made.  I don't think any long-term couple could look at this film and not see some variation of an argument they'd had or a conversation they'd gone through.  It taps into stuff primal about relationships.
If I have to be brutal I think that the film is a bit longer than it needs to be.  I couldn't tell you what I'd cut out, but despite loving the film, I couldn't help it dragging in the middle a bit.  I liked Belushi and Perkins here as well - but I found their characters (the token friends AKA 'voice of the opposition') to be a little heavy handed and expositionally on-the-nose.   Don't give me wrong, I think they're both doing the best with what they're given, I just think that they could have been rooted in something a little more real and gritty like our heroes.  
I'm glad I saw this - for those who haven't and like relationship films, this one is a keeper.  Just don't judge it based on it's soundtrack.  Now there's something that didn't age well... :)

1517 - The Box

I have to say that I'm not really on the Richard Kelly bandwagon.  I need to re-watch Donnie Darko as I barely recall it, especially not why people are so fascinated by it.  And I don't think I got through much of Southland Tales before turning it off.  And then there is this film.  
It's got a great premise.  A couple is offered a million dollars and all they have to do is push a button - however if they push the button then someone that they don't know will die.  Brilliant - it's a morality tale!  Except... it's not really.  It's about more than that, and yet it's not at all.  
Diaz is at her most unlikable.  She plays a twit from the suburbs who we're supposed to feel sorry for because she spends beyond her means - her husband drives a fashionable corvette - so when the premise comes up I don't buy that these people really NEED this money.  So therefore, it's not really a hard choice.  And there lies the foundations of a film that could have been quite interesting, but fails on the base level because we simply don't care about the people involved. 
This film was just… creepy, melodramatic in an annoying way.  It's like Kelly was trying to channel Kubrick in style and tone, but it just comes off as oddly pretentious.  I really don't like bagging on other people's work, but I have to be honest, at this point (outside of revising Darko) I think it would take a pretty amazing premise for me to want to check out any upcoming Richard Kelly films...

Sunday, February 06, 2011

1516 - Naked in New York

I don't think I'd even heard of this film prior to seeing it on netflix, and the siren call of Mary-Louise Parker is pretty much enough to lure me into anything.  Here she co-stars with Eric Stoltz as a young ambitious couple while both of their careers take off and force them to live apart. The film doesn't tackle so much the idea of a long distance relationship as it does about choosing what's important in life, personal relationships or professional?
This film is full of a lot of really lovely little moments, my favorite being the one about where Mary-Louise Parker is self conscious from having an orgasm in front of someone for the first time.  It really is a simple lovely little touch.  I think that she's just such an interesting actress and just commands the screen.  There is an unpredictability to her and I love it.
The other aspects of the film are okay as well.  It wanders into pretentious here and there, and then on the other hand it's trying very hard to be like a Woody Allen romantic comedy film, but tries too hard at times to work that tone, abandoning it''s own.
A decent film - hard to find I imagine.  It's ending, despite being set up quite well thematically, is still completely unsatisfying to me and probably the weakest thing about the film.  That being said one might be interested in it regardless, and if that's you - by all means - dig right in!
Naked in New York  Naked in New York

Box Office Poison

I picked this up on a whim over a year ago at The Beguiling (excellent comic store in the Annex in Toronto).  It's kind of your typical indie-comic in the sense that it's about a group of twenty sometimes right in that point of their life where they need to either shit or get off the pot.  What's atypical about it is that it's presented in a way that's extremely real.  It's not about building towards a happy or a sad ending, it's just moving along.  It has a conclusion, sure, but life will continue on past this.  Some looks good - some looks okay.  Sometimes people grow and get over their shit - sometimes they don't.  This book doesn't try to give everyone a super rewarding arc - that doesn't happen in life.  So those looking for a more traditional three-act structure may find themselves wanting more from this offering, but for those who love realistic slice of life pieces then this is probably right up your alley.  And don't let the size of it scare you off (600+ pgs), you can get through it in a few days of off-and-on reading. 
Box Office Poison