Archive for March, 2009
Tuesday, March 31st, 2009
Slumdog Millionaire just won the Oscar for Best Picture, which makes it one of the most anticipated DVD releases this year. I can see why. I happen to disagree – I think Gran Torino, The Wrestler, In Bruges, The Dark Knight and others were better films this year. But Slumdog Millionaire is great, and you should go watch it. It’s the story of a young man who is desperately in love with a young woman, a story loosely centred around the Indian version of the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? At the beginning of the movie, the question is posed: How did Jamal Malik, an uneducated man from the slums of India, become a winner on the biggest game show in India?
They give four options – “he got lucky”, “he cheated”, “he is a genius”, or “it was written”. As it turns out, the answer, in a way, is all four. He DID get lucky – the questions that are asked of him on the show, although they are difficult, are those which correspond exactly with his life experiences. We get to see those experiences throughout the movie, since Slumdog Millionaire is really the story of a young boy as he grows up in India. Each question he is asked is one, we suppose, to which he would rather not know the answer.
Each question dredges up a painful memory, which starts with the murder of his mother in a clash between Muslims and Hindus. Jamal and his brother Salim are now orphaned, and they make friends with a little orphaned girl named Latika. They get tricked by some men and become part of a begging ring. They witness friends having their eyes gouged out. As their difficult lives progress, Jamal and Salim become hustlers and con artists to survive, while Latika gets sold into prostitution. Now that they are separated, Jamal is always looking out for Latika, and trying to find her every chance he gets. He finds her several times over the course of the movie, but the hard lives they lead continually keep them apart, forcing him to attempt to find her again.
Also complicating things is Salim. As Jamal has made a life for himself, serving tea in a call centre, his brother Salim has turned to a life of crime. He has become heavily involved in the gangs who once terrorized the boys as children, and he has drifted away from Jamal. This is the story that makes up the bulk of the movie, and the questions on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire are more of an interlude to the story, rather than the other way around. So Jamal is getting lucky with the questions – they happen to be the exact things he knows from the life he has led.
He also cheated, in a way. At least, this is what the police believe. Before he goes on the show for the final time, to win his 20 million rupees, he is interrogated by the police, who want to know how he cheated. Because of course, a “slumdog” like Jamal couldn’t possibly know the answers to the questions that are being asked. Doctors, lawyers, respected members of Indian society don’t get past $16,000, how could this uneducated young man get to $20 million? Although Jamal didn’t technically cheat, the opportunity, at one point, is certainly presented to him. There are other interludes throughout the film, where the police are actually torturing him to force him to give up the information and tell them how he is doing it.
He must be a genius, at least a very very smart individual, to remember all these things as the movie goes along. His memory is clearly fantastic, and he is very sharp when it comes to reading people and situations. Most of the time, he is powerless over these situations, but at least he understands exactly what’s going on. And it’s his memory that keeps him loving Latika – although he has found her again, a few times, most of his image of Latika exists solely in his memory. (How lucky for him that she grew up to be the hottest woman ever!)
And finally, it was written. As the movie ends with an uplifiting feel-good conclusion, the sense is that it was all fate and destiny and so on and so forth. (Although the end isn’t that happy, I shouldn’t go all crazy here.) Frankly though, the end is the the one part of the film with which I have a small quibble. It’s a bit more hokey than the rest of the movie. Yes, the actual events at the conclusion make sense, and I have no problem with the ending itself. But the scene (you’ll know it when you see it) with the dual but opposite showers of money is pretty heavy-handed. And the final question on the TV program is a little too contrived – frankly, it is the ultimate contrivance. In this movie, it works. But it’s hokey.
Perhaps two things really stand out in Slumdog Millionaire. The first are the performances. All three central characters – Jamal, Salim and Latika – are played by three different actors at different stages of their lives. The two little boys who play Jamal and Salim (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) are both incredibly cute, and very very good. One scene, where young Jamal braves some pretty disgusting things in order to get an autograph from his favourite movie star, will stick with you. Because it really is awesome. The actors playing the kids in their middle years are terrific too, especially Salim (Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala). And the older actors are also great – Freida Pinto, who plays Latika, is just about the hottest woman I have ever seen on screen.
The second thing that makes Slumdog Millionaire great is director Danny Boyle and his camera work. The way he captures motion on film is incredible. The realism and horror of the brutal Hindu-Muslim street war at the beginning of the movie is balanced by some truly joyful moments, like one remarkable scene where a group of children climb a grandstand, and another where the children run through the city to escape from truant officers. These are scenes with music behind them, but they transcend mere music video imagery. They are remarkable, and the music is terrific as well. Many of the songs on the soundtrack are by M.I.A., and Boyle has chosen some absolutely perfect music for this film.
Alternately heartbreaking and uplifting, Slumdog Millionaire is a remarkable achievement from an outstanding director. It is the type of feel-good, uplifiting and joyous movie that clearly played well with Oscar voters this year. I still disagree. After all, there have been better movies made this year. But not many.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2009
To hear the review:
“Follow the blood!”
Following the blood is not just something the characters in Eden Lake do to find their victims, it’s something we, the viewers, are doing as well, whether we like it or not. The film is a British horror film that involves a lot of shocking surprises, a few terrifically creepy performances, and a lot of chasing and running and screaming and hiding. Also, there are a lot of characters who throw up, some of them more than once. And that’s what you get. Some good scares, some great shocks, and a lot of the same.
The basic premise (and the movie isn’t much more than a basic premise) is that a young couple heads out to an idyllic lake for a weekend of camping on a deserted beach. Of course, the woman is a kindergarten teacher, and her charming young boyfriend is planning to propose to her. But every time it seems like the right time for a proposal, something happens that ruins the moment. All of those proposal-ruining events involve a group of mean-spirited, rotten-to-the-core teenagers who decide to make this couple’s weekend retreat a living hell. Their motivation at first seems to be youthful boredom and general rottenness, but soon the clash becomes personal and the kids go after the adults with a vengeance.
I can watch a terrorized couple running through the forest away from sadistic teenagers for only so long. After a while, I want something different. In other movies like this one, there is often a point where one of the terrorized characters (usually the woman) has a switch flipped in their head. No more terror, no more running and hiding. Now, she is out to kill the tormentors who mean to kill her. And the hunter becomes the hunted, and so forth. That moment almost happens in Eden Lake, but thanks to a welcome twist, she discovers that she can’t, in fact, sink to the level of the horrible teenagers, and the turnaround moment is fleeting.
The only problem with this is that we don’t get a different tone or plot from that moment on. At this point, there is nothing left for us to do but watch the same basic chase stuff until the movie ends. After half an hour, this is boring. After a full hour, it is incredibly tedious. There is a solid shock ending, and there are some brutal moments of excellence throughout the film. The kids are mostly good, and there are some well-acted scenes where some of the less-insane kids question the sadism in which they are participating, but all of this could have been better accomplished in forty minutes, without boring me to the point where I no longer care what happens to the main characters.
Eden Lake hits DVD March 31st from Alliance Films.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2009
Year: 1964, 1965
Genre: TV series, Drama
Country: United States
Starring: David Janssen, Barry Morse
Narrator: William Conrad
Guest stars: Angie Dickinson, Robert Duvall
Creator: Roy Huggins
Run time: 12 hours 51 minutes
DVD distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD extras: Not much of anything
Related reviews: The Fugitive Season One Volume Two, The Fugitive Season Two Volume One, The Fugitive Season Three Volume One
The opening episode of The Fugitive, Season Two Volume Two, on DVD March 31st from Paramount Home Entertainment, stars David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, still on the run after being wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife. He is no closer to finding the one-armed man who killed his wife. He is no closer to being caught by the feds who are chasing him down. In fact, there is nothing different about this volume of The Fugitive than any other. Except for this first episode. You see, the first names you see on the screen when you pop in this DVD volume are Robert Duvall and Angie Dickinson. Seriously. Robert Duvall and Angie Dickinson. In an episode of The Fugitive.
At this point in their careers, Duvall had two film credits to his name. He had appeared in several episodes of The Twilight Zone, but in terms of movies he was by no means a name actor. He had spent about ninety seconds on screen as Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird, and he had played a bit part in something called Captain Newman, M.D. Angie Dickinson was a far more established actress, having starred in films like Rio Bravo and Ocean’s Eleven. Duvall plays a wheelchair-bound accident victim who needs round-the-clock care, and Dickinson plays his femme fatale scheming sister who hires Dr. Kimble as his caregiver, then tries to convince him to murder her brother.
There are a lot of guest spots on TV shows today by giant stars. (Think, every single episode of 30 Rock). But this one is a real find. Angie Dickinson was the Big Name when the show was shot, but Duvall is the real story. Now, I may just be an enormous nerd. In fact, I know for certain that I am. But there is something incredibly exciting for me to discover a performance by one of the titans of acting in a place I would never expect. This was just a job for Duvall, I’m sure, at a time where he was trying to get his name out there, seven years before he would become a giant of the movie world with The Godfather. For me, nerd that I am, this is kind of like finding a letter to the editor once written by a 20-year-old Ernest Hemingway, or something of that magnitude. And I am excited.
Oh, the rest of the season is cool too. As cool as The Fugitive ever was. But…Robert Duvall! Robert Duvall!
Monday, March 30th, 2009
To hear the review:
“Cover that up, or someone will cut himself.”
How often does a line like that come up in a horror movie? Well…all the time. And whenever it comes up, how often does this foreshadow the scene where someone does, in fact, cut themselves? Or, where some crazy slasher actually uses that piece of broken glass to cut someone? Well…every time. In slasher movies, how often is there a creepy guy in the high school who scopes out the stars and stalks them from a distance? Almost all of them. And when that character shows up, how often is he actually the slasher when the movie is over? Never!
So, hopefully, there will be something new, or good, in Dead In Three Days. And there is. Well, something good, if not something new. The movie falls into similar territory to many recent horror movies which may be familiar to horror buffs. The Ring and One Missed Call leap to mind. The basic premise in this Austrian movie is that five attractive young friends, on the verge of graduating from high school, each receive a text message that says they will be dead in three days. What the messages really mean, however, is that they will be dead within three days, since the killings start almost immediately.
After the first two deaths, and the convenient disposal of that red herring creepy guy by the 45 minute mark, the final three characters must decide what to do – and of course they all head to the place where they know they are supposed to be killed. This assumes a great deal of foresight on the part of the mysterious text-messager. If I send these kids a message, saying I will kill them by a certain time at a certain location, then they will almost certainly show up at that specified location, without police or backup, just in time for the killing! Either this killer is a psychic, or they’ve seen a bunch of movies just like this one and they know exactly how the kids will behave.
There are some neat things that make the film a little different – it is well shot, for one, and some of the characters are a little unusual. There is the bad-ass girl who is actually a secret lesbian, lusting after one of her friends. She has some connection to the creepy stalker red herring guy, but what that connection is we never really know. erhaps she just identifies with him because they are both smitten with the same girl. The soundtrack is good too – although all the dialogue is in German, the songs are English, and they are good ones, well chosen.
Then, despite the small quirks that make Dead In Three Days initially interesting, it quickly moves on to the standard horror fare that I was absolutely certain was on the way. The girl in her underwear doing the run through the woods away from the demented killer. The killer who never shows his (or her) face, because then we would know whether it was a him or a her, and we might even recognize him or her…or not. Maybe (and this is more likely), there will be a convenient story told that explains who this killer is, why the killer wants to kill these particular five people, and the killer will likely be someone we have not met during the film. And the finale will likely be terribly anticlimactic with the revelation of the killer. That’s probably how this one is going to go.
What won’t be explained is why the killer has waited for fifteen years to exact bloody revenge for the events of fifteen years earlier. Or why the killer uses the disguise that he or she uses. Or how the killer could possibly have the strength to subdue each of the kids solo, and heave them into the water to drown them or toss them through the windows of the creepy cabins, and so forth. There are leaps in logic that are infuriating. After a surprising and ironic scene where the girl in her underwear is hit by a cop car and ends up in the hospital, the cops are waiting outside her room. When the call comes in on the radio that more people have been brutally murdered, they rush off to investigate, knowing full well that it is the same killer who attacked the girl in the hospital.
What reasonable cop would just run off? He could have just opened the door of the hospital room and asked her who attacked her. It’s a small town – she would have just said “oh, it was Jim”. And then they could have arrested Jim, and then investigated the crime, which would make sure Jim was not left free to continue killing the other kids. Right? But then, horror movies such as this one are not long on logic, and their effectiveness comes more from the camera and the pacing, both of which are pretty good in Dead In Three Days. If only the script and the plot were as effective.
I must mention the ending, which is disappointing in many ways. Well, that’s all I will say. It is disappointing in many ways. The revelation of the killer is disappointing and verges on nonsensical. The way it leaves the five teenagers is disappointing and unfortunate. And there is nothing new or interesting about it. Even if you have been sucked in by the first eighty minutes of the film (and it is possible), the ending can’t help but leave you, well, disappointed. Dead In Three Days came out February 24th from Alliance Films.
Thursday, March 26th, 2009
I just interviewed Genie Awards CEO Sara Morton a few minutes ago. I was told she would be able to make some movie predictions, let me know who she thought had a good chance of winning several major awards, and what big-time stars we might gte to see here in Ottawa for the Genies, taking place April 4th. She would not, however, make any predictions. Or tell me what stars might show up for the awards. She wouldn’t even tell me who was hosting. I guess I’ll find out when I get there, and so will the eleven people who watch the show on Global.
Here is the interview: http://blog.rogersbroadcasting.com/cynicalcinema/interviews/
And here are MY predictions for the Genies, since someone has to make them!
Art Direction / Production Design: Passchendaele. The biggest Canadian movie of the year will win this one, because it needs to win something and it doesn’t deserve the Best Picture award. Also, you can tell how much effort went into those terrific First World War battle scenes.
Achievement in Cinematography: Fugitive Pieces. The early scenes in Poland and throughout Europe as the young boy hides out on a gorgeous estate are magnificently shot. This is a wonderful looking movie (review coming soon).
Achievement in Costume Design: Passchendaele. Again, because it won’t win any of the major awards. I would like to see Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur pick up some love here, because the 1960s clothes really set the tone for the time, but Passchendaele captured the First World War era with their cosutmes as well.
Achievement in Direction: Yves-Christian Fournier – Tout Est Parfait. I really think this was the best of the Canadian movies this year, and it was due in large part to Fournier’s subtle, Gus Van Sant style direction.
Achievement in Editing: Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur. I really liked this movie, so I’m giving it some love here. (Review coming soon.) Really, who cares about “Achievement in Editing”? The only time anyone notices editing is when it sucks. There were some very well put together scenes between the little girl and the deaf fisherman that stood out, however.
Achievemnt in Music – Original Score: Emotional Arithmetic. While I really liked the music in Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur, it was really 1960s standards with French words, and the score didn’t exactly stand out. And The Stone Angel just wasn’t a very good movie. The music tying together the three elderly stars of Emotional Arithmetic with their past really worked.
Achievement in Music – Original Song: M’Accrocher? – Tout Est Parfait. The only song that actually stood out for me such that I can remember it. So it goes to this fine film.
Achievement in Overall Sound: Passchendaele. Again, who cares? But Passchendaele will win this one, because it will win all the throwaway awards.
Achievement in Sound Editing: Passchendaele. Not to sound like a broken record, but…see above reasoning.
Adapted Screenplay: Fugitive Pieces. The dialogue scintillates in spots, especially that between the old man and his neighbour in the early scenes, and the now-elderly young boy with his new girlfriend in the later ones. A very well-written work.
Best Documentary: My Winnipeg. Although it isn’t really a documentary at all, it’s almost impossible to categorize this movie, and it is very good. So they stuck it into the documentary category, figuring it would win there. I hope it does.
Best Motion Picture: Tout Est Parfait. This was the best Canadian movie made this year. Emotionally striking, powerful, well-acted and with a terrific script. Smart money, however, should be on The Necessiteies of Life, the kind of movie every Genie type seems to enjoy.
Original Screenplay: Tout Est Parfait. Again, same reason. Best Canadian movie of the year, best screenplay of the year, best movie capturing teenage confusion, rebellion, apathy, angst, and self-consciousness in a while.
Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role: Christopher Plummer, Emotional Arithmetic. The movie wasn’t great, but Plummer was wonderful as the husband of a woman who he’ll never really understand, no matter how smart he is.
Performance by an actor in a Supporting Role: Rade Sherbedgia, Fugitive Pieces. Much love for Normand D’Amour in Tout Est Parfait and for Max Von Sydow in Emotional Arithmetic, but Sherbedgia was magnificent.
Performance by an actress in a Leading Role: Ellen Burstyn, The Stone Angel. This was not a good movie. In fact, it bordered on awful. It was a book that was going to be difficult as a film, and it turned out that in fact it WAS difficult to film. Too difficult. However, Burstyn rose so far above the drudgery and boredom of the rest of the film that she really deserves this award.
Performance by an actress in a Supporting Role: Anie Pascale, Tout Est Parfait. I really liked Rosamund Pike in Fugitive PIeces. I also enjoyed Kristin Booth in Young People Fucking, and Celine Bonnier in Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur. But Pascale’s role in the best Canadian movie of the year was more important, more essential, and done better.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
“How long have I got?”
“That doesn’t give us a lot of time.”
Country: United States
Starring: Daniel Craig, Jesper Christensen, David Harbour, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Joaquin Cosio, Judi Dench
Eye candy: Olga Kurylenko, Gemma Arterton
Director: Marc Forster
Run time: 105 minutes
Wrack my brain as I might, I can’t for the life of me remember what the title Quantum of Solace means. Or what scenes in the movie were relevant to this title. I’m at a loss. I really can’t understand where this title came from. It doesn’t, really, even sound very cool, or very James-Bondy. It could just as easily be the title of one of those sci-fi movies about cute children and magical bunnies.
The word “quantum” means only “a specified amount”. Quantum physics refers to the smallest discrete amount of some physical property that a system can possess. And the word “solace” means “comfort or consolation”. So, really, this movie could have been called A Specified Amount of Consolation. Or, A Modicum of Revenge. Or A Certain Amount of Vengeance. Because I suppose, the idea behind the film is that James Bond is getting revenge upon those who caused the death of his girlfriend Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Perhaps that’s what it means.
But just because I don’t understand the title does not mean that Quantum of Solace isn’t cool. Because it is. It’s very, very cool. Just like in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is the most badass Bond of them all, with less charm and more hardcore skills-of-a-badass. I remember saying when I watched that first film that he reminded me, (and I mean this) more of George Lazenby than of any other Bond, in that he puts more emphasis on being tough and mean than on being clever and charming and slick. And I like that. But now, having watched this second Daniel Craig installment in the Bond series, he no longer reminds me of George Lazenby. And even though he ends the movie bloody, beaten up, and exhasuted, he doesn’t remind me of Bruce Willis either. He reminds me of Daniel Craig. And that is a terrific thing. I said it in the last movie, and I will say it again about this one – Daniel Craig is the best actor to play James Bond. Ever.
Quantum of Solace kicks off right where the last one left off. We see a car chase through the mountains, and before Bond destroys the opposition with some fancy driving and some gunfire, we know what’s going to happen when he opens the trunk. Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) is going to be in there. Possibly still alive, more likely dead, what with all the crashing and bullet holes. This is one of those car chases where a bunch of stuff is happening all the time, and the camera leaps from the road to the car to the hand on the gearshift and then back to the road. Bond’s car appears to be headed toward an impossible gap between say, two dump trucks, where not even a bicycle could fit, then we flash to his gearshift and then back to the road, where his car comes out of some mess of traffic where it had clearly not been split seconds before.
This must be one amazing gearshift. In Quantum of Solace, we don’t see a single one of those fancy James Bond gadgets that are a staple in this series, and I think it is safe to assume that this gearshift is one of them. There is no Q to explain how it works, but it appears to be able to teleport Bond’s car from one side of a snarl-up to the other. This would be an extremely useful gadget for the average commuter, but until it hits the mass market it’s best that such a prototype would be used to save the life of James Bond. Now, I have no idea how the henchmen chasing him manage to execute similar manouevers, perhaps they have stolen this same amazing technology and they are chasing Bond to get his copy of the instruction manual.
There are other chases in this movie, some that make more sense (editing-wise) than others. There is a terrifically intense rooftop-chase scene on foot, and while it doesn’t compare to the one in Casino Royale where Bond chases that guy with the mad monkey skills, it is pretty cool nonetheless. There is a plane chase, where Bond is able to make a fighter plane crash through a combination of smoke from his engine and…turning left…I think. Either way, there is a fireball and the other pilot loses and Bond made it happen somehow. Then there is a boat chase. It flows rather nicely but is based on a rather questionable premise.
You see, a woman named Camille (the smoking hot Olga Kurylenko) has just mistaken Bond for an assassin. And she has tried to shoot him. He divines that she is in league with the bad guys he is chasing, so after she attempts to kill him he follows her. So far so good. She is one of the bad guys, she will lead him to the other bad guys, and he will exact his bloody revenge for the death of the Woman He Loved in the first movie. He watches Camille interact with the bad guys on a pier, and then watches her get onto a boat with some other bad guys. He manages, telepathically I suppose, to figure out that the bad guys on the boat are going to kill her. She is still one of the bad guys, as far as he knows, and she has already tried to kill him. Yet he decides, in a situation that must be against his better judgement, to rescue her by stealing a boat and ramming a yacht and then kidnapping her.
Perhaps the twenty seconds he spent with her in her car before she decided to kill him were enough to convince him that she was alright, basically a nice person, with a warm heart and a purity of purpose. And that her decision to murder him with a gun was really just an unfortunate but understandable misunderstanding and he holds no grudge. He clearly doesn’t need her for anything. She gets knocked out during the boat chase. Now, she IS in league with these bad guys, and must know something that could help Bond get his men. But he didn’t save her to find out what she knows. He merely hands her unconscious body to a perplexed bystander and continues on his way. So…why did he save her life? What was that all about? Perhaps he knew (because she is obviously the hottest chick he’s met and it’s a James Bond movie) that she will resurface later and feel kindly toward him for all that life-saving boat-chasing action.
So, the boat chase is gratuitous. But it is cool, and John Woo himself might even be impressed with that one. The chase on foot makes sense, the chase in the plane makes sense, and it is easy to understand how the car chase could have come about. All that was missing in Quantum of Solace was a submarine chase and a space-shuttle dogfight. Next movie, perhaps. Actually, that wasn’t all that was missing in the film. There are no gadgets. There is no Q, although there is an M. He only sleeps with one woman, and it isn’t the one we expect. There are no duplicitous women. Not once did I hear him say “Bond. James Bond.” Nor did he mention a martini, shaken, stirred or otherwise. He is drinking something that looks suspiciously like a martini on a plane at one point. And he makes quite a point of letting us all know that he has no idea what the name of this silly, fruity drink might be. Which is far cooler than actually ordering one.
Because this Bond has no need for fruity drinks or charming cleverness or slick lines. He is not Pierce Brosnan, after all. He is Daniel Craig, and he’s a bull in a china shop compared to Brosnan, who was more like fine china at a rodeo. Does that make sense? Maybe not. Who cares. Brosnan was all hair gel and arched eyebrows, Craig is all guns and fists and scowling. Which is far more badass, makes for a far more badass movie, and enhances my enjoyment considerably.
I was worried a few times near the beginning of the movie. For a while, it looked like it was going to be one chase after another without a break for explaining the story. When those concerns were alleviated, it appeared as though Quantum of Solace might fall into that middle-years-Bond trap of having too many characters and too much intrigue and a story that was difficult to follow. Like, who’s that bad guy? How does he relate to that other bad guy? What exactly is the plan here, and how does Bond even know these people are evil?
But fortunately, that is not the case either. Soon, we learn exactly what is going on. The American spies (including Felix, played by Jeffrey Wright, who was also in Casino Royale) are doing business with the Bad Guy Boss, Dominic Greene (played by Mathieu Amalric). Greene is a rich, shadowy businessman who runs some kind of bizarre clandestine organization, apparently the same one responsible for the death of Bond’s girl Vesper in Casino Royale. He is setting up a deal with a deposed Bolivian dictator, which would return that dictator to power in return for some abandoned desert in the middle of the country. Greene has managed to convince the Americans that there is oil in that desert, and that is why the Americans are willing to look the other way during this Bolivian coup d’etat. However, he is deceiving them. His real target is water.
And that’s what made me enjoy this movie most of all. The bad guy. Sure, Bond is a badass. And yes, Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton are ridiculously hot in the Bond-girl tradition. But this bad guy is a little more layered than the standard Bond villain. He is similar to the other villains in the series, in that he commands a cartel of bad-news international players who can make things like coups take place. But he is different in that he doesn’t have a crazed plan for world domination. He isn’t after uranium or plutonium or even oil. He is after water.
The idea here is that he will control, from his “useless” patch of desert, Bolivia’s water supply. And he will make the people of that country pay him for their own water. And he will get richer. That’s about it. Not only is it a rather small-scale evil plan for a Bond villain, but it is also plausible. Sure, it is the kind of evil plan that shows a complete disregard for human life, but it could really happen, in this world. In fact, it often does. We all know there are corporations who buy up water rights in poor countries. So Dominic Greene, in Quantum of Solace, is not only the most realistic evil villain in a Bond movie, but he is also an amazingly plausible villain for any movie.
Then again, there are still the implausible James Bond touches. Like the final showdown in the five-star hotel in the middle of the desert. This just wouldn’t work. It may be an amazing place, but if it’s hundreds of miles away from everything else, then who would ever go there? Even the richest people on earth, who want the solitude that comes from such complete isolation, would much rather have that solitude in the mountains near lakes and rivers than in the middle of the open desert. I assume.
Not only is this hotel fiscally unrealistic, but it also contains far more tanks of hydrogen than one would anticipate. This is a pretty poor architectural plan if this building will be your evil-guy hideout. After all, if one wayward truck say, backs into the garage and explodes, this could (conceivably) lead to a chain reaction of hydrogen-tank explosions that would destroy the entire place. Perhaps. I can’t complain too much, if that (hypothetical) giant explosion ending came after both the leading man and the leading lady got their respective sweet revenge on the people who had done them wrong in the past, and had a badass walk off into the sun. And also if that leading lady was the ridiculously hot Olga Kurylenko, and that leading man was the totally badass Daniel Craig. That would be OK. If it happened like that.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
To hear the review:
A Rob Schneider movie is usually not a good thing. That being said, it is wrong to judge Schneider by Deuce Bigalow. With those movies, this SNL alum managed to catch lightning in a bottle in that he found that perfect combination of Awful and Even Worse that somehow appealed to people enough that the film made money. Like what happened with that Epic Movie series. Sometimes, the absolute worst stuff thrown up on a movie screen finds a disproportionately large audience. The fact of the matter is, Schneider is better than Deuce Bigalow. That’s not saying much, so take it for what it’s worth. But he has certainly done some movies that were of a slightly higher quality, and Big Stan is one.
Big Stan is more along the lines of The Benchwarmers in the vast pantheon of Schneider comedies, in that it has moments that are genuinely offensive, but the movie overall is not. Both these movies are rather understated (seriously) as far as the comedy goes, and they are okay. At best. Big Stan veers wildly between being unnecessarily offensive (witness the discussion of black people in the opening scene), and offensively inoffensive (witness the scene where Schneider, apparently now the polar opposite of the character he played seven minutes earlier, philosophizes nerdily about the use of the n-word and race relations).
The basic idea behyind Big Stan actually has potential. Rob Schneider plays Stan Minton, a big-time con man (the DVD case refers to him as a two-bit con man, but he has $7 million in the bank, so I think he qualifies as a “big-time” con man). Convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison, he has six months to get his life in order before he shows up to do a stretch of 3-5 years. When a (surprisingly funny) encounter with a former inmate at a bar opens Stan’s eyes to the possibility of being raped in prison, Stan understandably freaks out. And he determines to become, within those six months, a martial arts master so he can protect himself from the rape which would otherwise be inevitable.
This is a slightly offensive concept, but no worse than we’ve seen in many other movies. And it has the potential to be very funny. But it isn’t. It’s just slightly funny. David Carradine (who clearly hasn’t cashed in properly on the Tarantino Boost he got in Kill Bill) shows up as The Master, the martial arts guru who will help whip Schneider into shape. This basically results in a long, boring training montage where Schneider – haha – has to eat scorpions and – haha – gets burned with fiery sticks. Also, there are masturbation jokes and fart jokes. Haha. Stan’s wife starts getting uncomfortable with The Master around, and she veers wildly from moments where she is acutely perceptive and erudite to moments where she is a ditz with the IQ of a floor mop.
Then, of course, Stan goes to prison. In the clink he actually IS the toughest guy on the cell block. There are very half-assed references to Cool Hand Luke (the Strother Martin type warden), The Shawshank Redemption (Stan has been brought to this prison by the warden to help him with a real estate deal), and other prison movies that were vastly better than this one. The warden has some kind of evil scheme up his sleeve that involves creating a murderous prison riot and shooting prisoners. Only Schneider stands in his way, and before he can emerge victorious he must make a difficult personal decision and face off against The Master’s Number One Student and choose freedom or friendship…
Of course, all of this painfully cliched prison stuff comes with racial jokes, poop jokes, rape jokes, and more and more masturbation jokes. Schneider’s Stan is a completely different character from one scene to another. He’s Andy Dufresne, then he’s Bill Goldberg from Half Past Dead 2, then he’s Rob Schneider from 50 First Dates. Really, there is nothing particularly awful about Big Stan, it just isn’t any good. It isn’t interesting, it isn’t smart, it isn’t good enough to be a satire or bad enough to be a satire of itself. It just meanders about until it reaches its obvious, telegraphed and silly conclusion. And in the time I have written this review, I have already forgotten ninety percent of the film.
Big Stan comes out March 24th from Alliance Films.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
To hear the review:
“You’ll help a dog, but you won’t help me?”
Usually, it is pretty difficult to figure out a movie based on the cover of its DVD. Generally, the cover does not depict the scenes in the movie, and the write-up on the back is done by someone who has perhaps not even seen the film. (Take a look at the cover of the DVD for Logan’s Run – it shows Michael York, which makes sense, pulling Farrah Fawcett behind him. Which doesn’t. Fawcett is in that movie for about nine seconds, and she certainly doesn’t get dragged anywhere by Michael York. The actress who actually starred in the film gets dragged by Michael York, but she is not nearly as big a name as Farrah Fawcett. Which is sad in itself.)
At any rate, enough about Logan’s Run. I’m talking about the DVD case for Protege now. It depicts the star, Daniel Wu, holding a gun. I’m not sure that, at any point in the movie, he is ever carrying a gun, much less holding one. But that’s not the most misinformative thing about the DVD case. The back of the film has a little laurel that indicates an award nomination. Protege was nominated for nine Hong Kong film awards, the equivalent of the Oscars or Canada’s Genies. One of those nine nominations was for Best Picture. And yet the little laurel that advertises this movie to North American audiences…I quote directly…NOMINATED “Best Action Choreography” HONG KONG FILM AWARDS.
Yes, apparently the only reason North American audiences will purchase or rent a Hong Kong flick is for the kung-fu action and the blazing gunfights and the acrobatics of Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Best Picture? Who cares? Best Action…well, okay! This is akin to advertising No Country For Old Men in Sweden with the caption “NOMINATED for Best Sound Editing Oscar, ACADEMY AWARDS”. How about, instead of advertising the action sequences, advertise that Protege is a very, very good film? How about that? Because Protege is, in fact, a very very good film. Not only that, but there are almost NO action sequences to speak of. At all. There is a scene where three guys jump from one balcony to another on the eighth floor of a building, another where a few people ride very slow elephants, and that’s about it.
There are no crazy martial arts moments. There is one beating, of a suspect by police, and there is one punch thrown, where a cop punches a junkie. That’s it. There are no crazy gunfights. I think two guns are actually fired, both by police at a locked, impenetrable steel door, with comic results. There IS a dismemberment-by-hammer, which is both brutal and humorous, but that’s about it for action. Instead, we get the other thing Hong Kong does extremely well – the undercover-cop police drama. Remember Infernal Affairs, that spawned two sequels and was remade as The Departed? Well, you should. It was great. And Protege is almost at that level. Almost.
The film opens with a beautiful woman doing hard drugs with her kid in the room, and some cops losing the van they’re tailing in a sting operation. Soon we learn that Nick (Daniel Wu) is a member of the drug gang, is actually an undercover cop, and lives across the backyard from the gorgeous junkie. The leader of the gang is Kwan, played by Andy Lau. I am a big Andy Lau fan, ever since the amazing Fulltime Killer. In this movie he is a sympathetic character – although he is a major crime lord, and a distributor of heroin, and a killer, there is really only one short scene that shows his bad side, just to remind us that he really is a bad dude.
As Nick becomes more and more involved with the drug gang, he also becomes more and more involved with the junkie Fan (Zhang Jinchu) and her little daughter. There are now three facets of his life that he must keep separate at all costs. He doesn’t want Kwan to know he is taking an interest in a junkie, and he doesn’t want his police bosses to know either. At the same time, of course, he can never let Kwan know he is a cop. Nick has spent seven years working undercover in this gang, and has worked his way into Kwan’s inner circle, to the point where he is now the heir apparent to the entire drug empire. Of course, as with all movies of this ilk, there are conflicting emotions leading to a big showdown final scene.
But the final scene in Protege is better than most – at least, the final showdown is. The movie goes on about three minutes too long, and the postscript is pretty hokey and a little contrived. Also, it’s unnecessary. The rest of the film is taut, tense, and exciting, despite the lack of gunfights and action. There are some close calls with Nick and Kwan, and some freaky moments where we see Fan using drugs. The camera work in those scenes is terrific, director Derek Yee using brief shots of clouds and shots of Fan to really convey the rush of the drug and the dependance. The same camera shot is repeated later on, this time in a slightly different context.
There are a few problems with the film – the vaguely schmaltzy coda after the movie is over being only one of them. The biggest problem is the addition of another character, Fan’s junkie loser violent husband. Of course, this sets up a few confrontations between Nick and him, but they aren’t essential to the story and they sometimes get in the way. And the final fate of Fan’s husband is a little out of character with the rest of the film. Overall though, Protege is an excellent Hong Kong film, well acted (especially by Jinchu and Lau) and the camera work is top-notch. Well worth checking out, it hits DVD March 24th from Alliance Films. Just don’t be fooled by the guns and the Action Awards.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
To hear the review:
“Don’t be afraid of the toboggan! Be afraid for Lamia!”
Out March 24th from First Run Features is The Kite, a genuinely funny, moving and intelligent movie from Lebanon and France. The scene is set in about 2002, in the Israeli-occupied territories of Southern Lebanon. Lamia is a sixteen-year-old girl who has come of age, and is to be married to her cousin, whether she likes it or not. There is a melancholy tone to the movie, to the scenery, and to Lamia herself. She is quiet, she is stubborn to the point of pig-headedness, she is distant and she is bleak, but wow, is she ever beautiful. Much like the landscape surrounding her village – gorgeous, but unforgiving.
And Lamia (Flavia Bechara) is most certainly beautiful. The idea that anyone would want to marry her is not at all far-fetched, and the idea that she would not want to marry her cousin makes perfect sense as well. She somehow ends up in love with one of the border guards stationed outside her village, and I really don’t understand how that came about. I get how he, looking through binoculars at this sensational beauty, might fall for her. But it doesn’t matter. Somehow, it rings true, right up to the film’s metaphoric and bizarrely cryptic conclusion.
The best part of the movie, though, is the comedy. This comes courtesy of Lamia’s family, and it is as biting as it is hilarious. You see, the town in which Lamia lives is part of Lebanon. The neighbouring town, where the rest of their family and friends live, has been annexed by Israel. Which means they can’t just travel from one town to another. There is a massive fence with land mines and guard towers between the two villages. So every day, family members show up at the gates on either side with binoculars and megaphones, to yell the news of the day to each other through the megaphones while others watch through the binoculars.
The old ladies yelling in the megaphones are hilarious, and they have surprisingly filthy mouths, which just adds to the comedy. The political commentary on the situation is biting but not offensive, and I suspect it is a very realistic representation of the situation many Lebanese families found themselves in at the time. There is one particularly bizarre conversation, where Lamia’s new mother-in-law is shouting back to her family about Lamia, who refuses to talk to her new husband, and spends her whole day sitting under a toboggan. There follows a long conversation about what a toboggan is, and when it’s discovered that a toboggan is made of metal and wood, this becomes devastating news for Lamia’s family. She’s sitting under something wooden? Oh, the humanity!
The imagery in The Kite is wonderful as well. Several shots of Lamia behind “bars” as she is imprisoned in her new arranged marriage are subtle, quick and effective. The actors are all terrific, Flavia Bechara especially as Lamia, but also all the old women who are fussy and ludicrous and always terribly amusing. And the movie was powerful and effective for me because it left me thoroughly entertained, I learned something watching it, I felt sad and happy and I laughed. And although I was (a little bit) bewildered by the ending, and by some strange scenes with a woman who may or may not have been a prostitute named Tania, I was still totally interested in figuring those things out. The Kite is an absolutely terrific foreign film, well worth checking out on Tuesday. Check it out here:
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
To hear the review:
“When overcome by their lusts, humans are no more than beasts”
I’m giving Opera Jawa the benefit of the doubt with this rating. Frankly, I can’t understand a large portion of the film. It’s in Indonesian, with English subtitles, and the whole thing is sung. Which means that the English subtitles are in flowery musical-language. Some of the scenes in the film are dream sequences and others are what’s actually happening. It’s difficult to tell which scenes are elaborate metaphors for the story, and which ones are the actual story. Both appear to be approached the same way. Which makes the whole thing very confusing.
The basic premise is a story based on a Hindu epic, The Ramayana, and “The Abduction of Sita”, a portion of that narrative. The story centres around a husband and wife, Setyo and Siti, who live in a village and sell pottery. They are happy, but when the husband is called away on business, the local butcher (who may also be some kind of local warlord or gangster, I’m not sure) decides he wants Siti for himself. At first his advances are rebuffed, but finally Siti gives in. Although the butcher can sleep with her, he can’t win her heart, which belongs to Setyo. When the husband returns, the relationship is not the same, and his jealousy and rage boil over.
At least, this is what I think is going on. It really is tough to tell. There’s a weird group of women who keep popping up to sing what appears to be nonsense, or at least something that has nothing to do with the story. Like, a song about how you can’t whip oxen to make them go faster. There are a whole bunch of woven cones that appear throughout the movie, but I could not figure out, try as I might, the significance of the cones. With all the drawn-out singing, drawn-out pose striking and drawn out bizarre hand gestures and dancing, this movie is far longer than it needs to be in order to tell its story. I think. It’s about two hours long, and the songs take forever.
I think a big problem for me was the songs. They seem to be almost atonal to my Western ear, and it was tough to discern any melody in them. Which meant that the music did not grow on me through the two hour running time. At the same time, the movie remained watchable because of the vivid use of colour and some great filming. One scene in particular has stuck with me, where a bunch of women wearing red unfurl a red carpet over a lush green field. It’s beautiful. The movie is certainly visually interesting, if not terribly impressive. And I had to enjoy watching it, because I sure didn’t understand a lot of it. I’m not sure whether some of the lines were poorly translated for the subtitles, or whether they were just bizarre lines to begin with. For example:
“My sperm sparkles in the heavens!”
Umm…I don’t get it. What does that mean? Does it have anything to do with the story? I really can’t tell. There is a “discussion guide” that comes with the movie, a PDF file that you can read on your computer. I read it because I really wanted to understand this movie more. Here is an excerpt:
“The butcher sings of his power as he dances across the stone floor of his shop. A bloody carcass hangs from the ceiling and molded human heads form a pattern on the floor. Why are there heads on the floor? What are the heads made of? Why?”
Well, these were the exact questions I had. I was hoping the discussion guide would explain some of this stuff to me, rather than just asking the same questions I had asked myself. And I had many questions. Perhaps after a few more viewings I could have come up with a better interpretation of the film, but it’s a tough slog as it is. Opera Jawa comes out Tuesday, March 24th, from First Run Features.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
To hear the review:
House of Life tells the story of the Old Jewish Cemetary in Prague, a place where maybe hundreds of thousands of Jewish people are buried. It’s impossible to tell how many people are actually in this cemetary, because they have been buried layer upon layer over the years. There are about 12,000 grave markers still visible, but beneath those markers lie the bodies of countless others. The documentary is brief – 52 minutes – and explores several facets of the cemetary, some more interesting than others.
I’m a History Channel buff, and it’s the history of the place that interests me most. Film maker Alan Miller tells the stories of a few of the names on the grave stones, and in doing so talks about the history of the Jewish community in the Prague ghetto. Some of the stories are myths and legends, like the man molded out of clay who rose up to become the Golem who laid waste to an invading force, or the sticks and stones that were thrown at a local holy man but became flowers when they were in the air and hit the ground. Other stories are about real-life philanthropists and high-society women. The history and the legends are fascinating.
What I don’t care about (and this is just me) is the other stuff. The method by which they clean the tombstones? Don’t care. The maintenance of the area? Not interested. I did find the last little bit a little thought-provoking – the Old Jewish Cemetary now requires admission fees. Religious people who want to make a pilgramage to this holy site now have to buy a pass to a series of historic Jewish monuments in Prague. Many people find this to be crass, others say it’s the only way they can afford the upkeep on the cemetary. But the subject is not really dealt with in depth.
Then again, few subjects in House of Life are dealt with in depth. It’s just a nice documentary about a nice old fascinating place, and at a sub-one-hour running time it plays out like a little special that might run on the History Channel. But, like I said, I am a History Channel buff, and so I did enjoy it. House of Life comes out March 24th from First Run Features.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
To hear the review:
Praying With Lior is the story of a young boy approaching his Bar Mitzvah. It’s a documentary by Ilana Trachtman about Lior Liebling, a young Jewish boy with Down syndrome. I will admit, straightaway, that I am clearly not the audience for a film such as this one. I would consider myself to be a fervent atheist, and although organized religion does indeed interest me – the stories behind it and the tradition and where it comes from – this movie seems to be made almost exclusively for those of the Jewish faith.
The cover of the DVD box, out March 24th from First Run Features, suggests that the film is about whether Lior, or anyone with Down syndrome, can be a “spiritual genius”. I didn’t get that from the movie. There were brief references to Lior’s “closeness to God”, and one or two people comment on his devotion to the Jewish faith and seem to imbue him with a religious significance. But this is a very small part of the movie, and really the focus is more on Lior himself. The catalyst for the documentary was an article written in the local paper about Lior by his mother, a rabbi. Her article talked about Lior and his closeness to God, and his impact on those around him.
This is where the film is interesting. Lior is a charming kid and seems to be genuinely happy. His mother died when he was six years old, and he desperately wants her to come back. This sets up a truly heartbreaking scene at his mother’s grave site, but at the same time we can never know how much of his world Lior truly understands. The interviews with Lior, while charming, quickly become fruitless because he doesn’t make a lot of sense. After a while in the film, the interviews with the boy felt to me like they were thrown in to reinforce the fact that he has special needs. This isn’t something I was likely to forget, but I didn’t need to see it that often. I would rather watch Lior interact with his family.
His family is terrific. His older brother is protective of Lior and dotes on him, although the burden can sometimes be overwhelming. His father, also a rabbi, is a sensible, kind man who doesn’t give Lior any added religious significance. There are a few charming scenes where Lior and his dad go over his speech for the upcoming Bar Mitzvah. Most people are reasonable about Lior’s religious “significance”. They suggest that had he been born in a Christian household, he would love to sing Christian hymns and chant Christian prayers. The fact that he prays so often, so loudly and so powerfully is merely the result of his circumstance.
Lior grew up in a house that was heavy into the prayers. A house where every time he prayed, he would be praised. And he likes the structure and the chanting style of the prayers. That’s it. The other kids in his class are pretty perceptive. They let Lior lead the prayer service (or, as they call it, davening), and they are not mean-spirited toward him. All of this is charming, and sweet, but it goes on far too long. As the movie comes to an end, we see Lior participating in his Bar Mitzvah, an event that has a lot of significance for Jewish people and for Lior’s family. His own comprehension of the event can’t be ascertained, but it is another sweet moment.
However, I just couldn’t get into the movie. There was just too much of it. Lior is charming, his family is sweet, the religious circle around him is supportive. But none of it is interesting enough to sustain a documentary for an hour and a half. There is something interesting in the movie for me, but it is something very small. Something that perhaps you would see as a ten-minute human interest piece on the evening news, or as an article in the local paper. As a feature-length movie, it just doesn’t work. Praying With Lior is available from First Run Features here:
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
Andy Richter Controls The Universe must have been an absolutely fantastic show. How do I know this? Well, it was a comedy from seven years ago that did something very different from other comedies, and it was cancelled almost immediately, after two seasons. Think…Sportsnight, or any number of other excellent comedies that have suffered the same fate. Canceled before Season Three? It was probably very good, and no one noticed. Another reason I know this show was terrific is that I can see the style being mimicked to some degree in other shows, most notably Family Guy. Remember when Family Guy was canceled after three seasons?
The main reason, though, that I know Andy Richter Controls the Universe was great is that I just watched the complete series, out March 24th from Paramount Home Entertainment. First of all, I want to say that I am thrilled that they released the complete series, instead of doing that irritating one-season-at-a-time thing. Anyone who bought season one would likely want season two as well, and it would be irritating to wait for both. Also, any TV series that lasted less than four years ought to always come out in a complete series set, instead of one of those Season One Volume Two, Season Three Volume One sort of thing.
The basic concept behind Andy Richter Controls the Universe (and I will explain in greater detail because I assume no one has ever really seen the show) is that Andy Richter is playing Andy Richter. He works for Pickering Industries, a company that seems to create and build weapons and weapons systems, among other things. It’s one of those mega-corporations that probably also produces baby food and sandpaper and computer motherboards. In the very first episode of the show, he discovers that the new guy in the office has been given an office – in Andy’s office. That new guy is played by Jonathan Slavin, and provides some great humour as a painfully shy, introverted nerdy dweeb.
Every secondary character in the show is basically a cartoon. The Hot Receptionist (Irene Molloy), after whom Andy lusts, is dating his friend Keith (James Patrick Stuart) who is so attractive that the world keeps handing him things and falling at his feet. Andy’s boss (Paget Brewster) is a smoking hot woman with a bizarre attitude toward men. Then there are the other characters, some of whom actually exist and some of whom don’t. The founder of Pickering Industries, played by John Bliss, is a cruel, mean-spirited, racist jerk. He is also 170 years old, and very much dead, but he appears to Andy in bizarre but hilarious daydreams.
And the daydreams is what made this show different, unusual, fantastic, and ripe for cancelation in 2003, the era of Everybody Loves Raymond. It was just too strange to be instantly loved by people, and too smart to be accessible to everyone, and it needed a longer run to really catch hold in the mainstream. I’m sure it had a devoted legion of followers, who will rush out to buy this box set when it gets released, and rightly so. It’s too bad shows like this had to disappear, but it’s great that they are able to be seen now on DVD. And this is a good one to have.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
“So far, you haven’t said anything remotely clever.”
“Well, stick around.”
Many clever things are said in To Catch A Thief, one of Alfred Hitchcocks lesser classics. The dialogue is snappy, if not brilliant, and Cary Grant and Grace Kelly appear to be absolutely comfortable throwing off their lines with aplomb. The story is taut and tense, as Hitchcock was wont to do, and the cinematography is masterful. To Catch A Thief won only one Oscar in 1955, that for Best Cinematography, and deservedly so. Certain scenes will not be terribly impressive to modern audiences, such as the blue-screen car chase scenes, but the rest of the look of this movie remains incredible to this day.
Adding to the look of the movie are the looks of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Grace Kelly, one of the most stunningly beautiful women ever to appear on a movie screen, is as gorgeous as ever in To Catch A Thief, and Grant remains one of the great heart-throbs in movie history, one of the few who also had remarkable acting ability. As with many movies of this era, the age difference seems to be irrelevant when it comes to a central romance at the heart of the story. Grant, at this point, was 51 years old, and Kelly was 26 – half his age. This is the one part of the movie that does not translate over time. It still looks incongruous to see the two of them together, and strains credibility to think the two of them might end up in love.
Hitchcock chose to shoot this movie in technicolor, and that means that the age difference is that much more noticeable. In black and white, somehow it never leapt off the screen that Bogart, in some of his most iconic roles, was making time with women less than half his age. In colour, it is obvious. That being said, the colour is fantastic in To Catch A Thief, which really is a visual treat. The Centennial Collection edition, out March 24th from Paramount Home Entertainment, comes with an 8-page booklet and some terrific special features.
The last edition of To Catch A Thief to appear on DVD had a few great special features – The Writing And Casting of To Catch A Thief, The Making of To Catch A Thief, Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch A Thief: An Appreciation, Edith Head: The Paramount Years (a retrospective on legendary costume designer Edith Head), and the trailers and galleries and all the standard DVD special feature stuff. On this new DVD, all those features are once again available on the second disc, and the first disc has a feature-length commentary by a very interesting Hitchcock historian named Dr. Drew Casper. The new features on the second disc include Unacceptable Under The Code: Film Censorship in America, A Night With The Hitchcocks, and Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. There is also a fascinating interactive travelogue.
When I say that To Catch A Thief is a “lesser” classic of Hitchcock, all I really mean is that it isn’t Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window, North By Northwest, The Birds, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt or Rebecca. The man had quite a career. To Catch A Thief is still a magnificent achievement, a simple movie about a cat burglar (Cary Grant) trying to clear his name in a string of burglaries while Grace Kelly attempts to weasel her way into his schemes and his heart. It isn’t Vertigo. But then, only one film is, and this is a film that really complements the rest of the Hitchcock catalogue and belongs in any collection with the best of his work.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
“In other words, you’re throwing me out.”
“Not in other words! Those are the perfect words!”
It’s the dialogue in The Odd Couple that makes it an absolute classic. Well, the dialogue and the chemistry between lead actors Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. I am going to assume everybody knows the concept behind The Odd Couple, that of a compulsive neatnik living with an out-and-out slob, and the chaos that ensues. Of course, it has been done to death in the years since 1968, starting with the Odd Couple TV series which is decent, but after a while (like, two seasons), the joke has run out. In the original movie, based on the Neil Simon Broadway play. It’s tough to miss with a formula as tried-and-true as this one, but it’s also difficult to make it genius.
It’s a testament to director Gene Saks, actors Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, and Neil Simon (play author and screenwriter) that they were able to turn a concept such as this one into something so transcendantly funny. The Odd Couple is absolutely hilarious. Very few comedies, in that era or this one, open with a relatively serious suicide attempt. Jack Lemmon, preparing himself for a leap from a tall building, is both sad and compelling, and hilariously inept, all at the same time. From there, when he moves in with his slovenly sportscaster friend, Walter Matthau, Lemmon is the heart and centre of the film. Matthau is pretty much a supporting character, but one of the best in movie history. And he gets almost all of the best lines.
“Don’t come to me with your petty problems. You get this one stinkin’ night a week. I’m cooped up here with Mary Poppins 24 hours a day.”
Matthau is such a powerful comedic force in this film that although Lemmon is the central character, Matthau is the one you remember when it’s over. A total man’s man, Matthau is also a disgusting pig, and although both Oscar and Felix manage somehow to meet in the middle, at least a little, by the end of the film, Oscar (Matthau) does not undergo a ton of personal growth here. In fact, neither one of them really does. And that’s part of the brilliance of the original play and this screenplay. Nothing could sap the comedic value of The Odd Couple faster than an ending where Oscar agreed to clean up and Felix agreed to loosen up and get dirty, and they had a big hug and forgave everything.
The Odd Couple comes out as the seventh volume in Paramount Home Entertainment’s excellent Centennial Collection, on two discs, March 24th. There are some terrific special features, including a feature-length commentary by Matthau and Lemmon family members, and vignettes about the movie on the second disc. I think this is also the only Paramount Centennial Collection movie so far that does not have a featurette on costume designer Edith Head. Because a costume designer for The Odd Couple would be a silly job. Matthau and Lemmon are the keys to this film, and they get their little pieces on the special features. I would have liked to see something on Neil Simon, because this is his film, through and through, but no DVD box set is perfect!