Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More Movies

So I went and saw Hal Hartley’s new movie, which we missed at Toronto last year. I usually am not crazy about his movies – the dialog is so forced and artificial that it tends to get on my nerves. This time it worked somehow, and I thought the first half was completely hilarious, and expanded the characters from Henry Fool quite well. The second half gets more convoluted and is full of bizarre monologues about terrorism and politics, during which I mostly zoned out. I’m not entirely sure what the point was; it was definitely an overdose of ideas and themes. It was nice to see a big part in a non-romantic comedy given to a woman, and I do like Parker Posey in spite of the fact that she always seems like she’s playing every character as herself. I was also glad to see that Saffron Burrows is still working, even though she looks like she’s in the final days of a hunger strike.

I refuse to see anything resembling a horror movie by myself, so Steve accompanied me to this screening. It’s a great character study, and not as scary as I thought it would be, although it’s certainly horrifying and nerve-wracking. You can tell that it was originally a play, but that didn’t bother me. The actors were uniformly excellent, and the film gives a great sense of time and place – one of my favorite things to experience at the movies, since Hollywood films only succeed in achieving a sense of complete artificiality. Ashley Judd is 100% convincing as a desperate trailer-trash woman at the bottom of a downward spiral, and both the men in her life are terrifying in their own special ways (Harry Connick Jr. as the abusive husband fresh out of jail was still disturbingly hot though). There’s a lot of funny dialog in this movie, although it’s mostly funny in the ha-ha-nervous way. I’d definitely recommend this film for anyone who’s interested in feeling acutely uncomfortable.


I forgot to post about one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen – Bjork, finally! I’m not crazy about her new album, but there are a couple tracks I love, and it’s growing on me. Seeing her live was quite the spectacle – she’s like a deranged outer-space priestess and really plays to the crowd. It was kind of a greatest hits tour because she played so many of her popular older songs (albeit with new twists, and all extremely loud and exciting).
Now, to complain – is it too much to ask not to have your concert-going experience ruined when you’re spending over $100 for tickets? Steve and I have a constant problem of sitting near disruptive people in movies and concerts. It might be because we go to so many events that it just seems like we’re around noisy douchebags all the time, but I really think that we’re both exposed to a greater-than-average number of people hell-bent on ruining our fun. I also think it happens because we’re two of the few people I know who always tell the people around us to shut up, and end up getting in fights with strangers who somehow think we’re interfering with their right to talk through whatever show or movie they’re ostensibly watching. Long story short, two seconds before Bjork gets on stage, these two insanely drunk and slurry girls sit directly behind us. I shouldn’t say sit, because they were standing, leaning over us and weaving dangerously. They started off by introducing themselves to the people around them and saying, “Hi Bjork fans!” I knew we were in trouble. They proceeded to sing along with the choruses (loudly enough to drown out Bjork since they were about a foot from us), and talking to one another at all other times. I could tell Steve was about to turn around and strangle them, and I was silently hoping they would just calm down and that no one would have to die. Eventually it reached a ridiculous level, and we both turned around to scream at them (Steve had already told them to shut up several times, and each time one of the girls would squeal, “Oh my gawd, the guy in front of me told me to shut up!” as if she was absolutely aghast at his bad manners). I couldn’t really back him up too much because this was during the three days when I completely lost my voice, so I was just making angry gestures. After the fact, I found out that the girl had actually spilled her drink on Steve’s head TWICE – I would have gone completely ballistic, so I have no idea how he held it together. He stormed out after this and got an usher to kick them out. I was afraid they’d just get talked to and come back, but they actually got thrown out – easier to accomplish than I thought. When they got escorted out, everyone sitting near us started clapping.
Anyway, they were gone by the fifth song, so not too much of the concert was ruined. I’m sure those girls will be talking about how they got unfairly thrown out of a Bjork concert for years to come.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sugar and spice and everything nice

Movie #4, Waitress

I bet most reviews of Waitress use pies as a metaphor. It's almost impossible not to do that, and I'm not going to try: watching Waitress is like eating a slice of Lemon Meringue — it's sweet and light, but it's got a real bite to it.

Keri Russell is just fantastic as Jenna, a weary waitress and baker of incredible pies who desperately wants out of her life. Finding out she's pregnant with her controlling husband's baby makes everything that much worse.

Russell can certainly do "weary," but what's interesting about Jenna is her absolute fury about her life. Russell never loses track of this overwhelming anger, and it colors every aspect of the character. I think it makes the viewer root even harder for Jenna, because she's not simply resigned to the life she's living. There's no quiet suffering here, and that's a pretty refreshing thing for a feminist movie buff to see.

Writer, director, and co-star Adrienne Shelly was murdered in her apartment a few months before the film's premiere at Sundance. I knew that going in, but I wasn't prepared for how devastated I felt when the movie ended. Like Wes Anderson or Tim Burton, Shelly made a film that seems to inhabit a slightly different world than this one, where the colors and flavors are all a little brighter, and the people are all a little off-kilter. She is such a delight as sweet, naive Dawn, but it's the loss of a great female writer and director that hits the hardest.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Movies #17-21
Low-Budget Fun
I wanted to see a movie today, and seriously could not find a single film I wanted to see – goddamn this is a dry time for film buffs! Anyway, I happened to notice the Chicago Latino Film Festival had just started, and my interest was piqued by a film called Welcome To the Barrio – filmed entirely in Chicago on a low budget. I usually have a problem with low budget films – not to generalize, but I hate it when films are sloppy, and you can tell the actors are amateurs, and it’s painful and juvenile… This film was about a Hispanic guy coming home to the South side of Chicago (Little Village) and getting in trouble with his old friend who’s now a gangbanger – yeah, nothing new there… But I have to say I was extremely surprised by the high quality of the script, editing, and acting overall. The story was completely clichéd, sure, but the filmmaker really captured how it feels to drive through grungy Chicago streets and alleys to get to ghetto Latino nightclubs, and how it feels to chug beer by the lake or on rooftops while overlooking the city…
The actors all showed up for the Q&A, which was a nice surprise, too. So – here’s a conundrum – will I be more open-minded in the future, and see more low-budget films? Or will I only be open-minded if the film holds the promise of cute Mexican and Puerto Rican actors?

The Valet
This movie was a French trifle, a comedy about infidelity and relationships in general. It was actually quite amusing, even though I found one of the main characters a bit unbelievable - a supermodel who was sweet, open, and not the slightest bit high-maintenance. The film did make me jealous of Parisians and their constant lunching in outdoors cafes.

Spiderman III
OK, whose idea was it to give Sam Raimi eleventy billion dollars to make a movie? Did they not see Army of Darkness? A lot of the jokey moments in this movie reminded me of that one through and through. Some of the comedy bits worked, like Bruce Campbell as the French waiter – but even that is a wink-wink moment for his old fans. There are so many parts of this movie that don’t work, such as:
Diaper-Face, aka Snaggletooth Dunst, whose ability to suck at acting and look hideously ugly at the same time is nearly transcendent.
Tobey Maguire’s transformation into “Bad” Spiderman, where he just wears eyeliner and has a slightly gayer haircut.
When “Bad” Spiderman walks down the sidewalk giving ladies the finger-guns, either attracting or repulsing them.
Every scene where his grandma gives him relationship advice. Who the hell cares what that old lady has to say? This is supposed to be an action movie!
The pinnacle of stupidity in the movie, where Tobey upstages Snaggletooth in a jazz club. This is the point of the movie where I thought, wow, $350 million can probably restructure a third-world nation. But instead, we have Spiderman 3.
Oh, but James Franco is cute.

Double Feature Day: Fracture and Hot Fuzz
Yay, I saw two good films in one day! Almost washes out the bitter taste of Spiderman 3.

This movie was truly excellent. The clash between two clichés (cold-hearted criminal and cold-hearted lawyer) is nothing new, but there are plenty of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. The acting was remarkable, of course, and the cinematography was stunning – every shot was set up absolutely beautifully. This is a must-see for anyone who hasn’t see it, especially Ryan Gosling fans (you know who you are).

Hot Fuzz
This movie was long, but truly funny. I don’t think you have to be a Brit comedy fan to enjoy this. It’s ridiculous and over-the-top, and really enjoyable from start to finish.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Why, hello there!

Movie #3, Spiderman 3

OK, so I'm cheating a little here, because I really haven't seen a movie in three months, but I did go to a film festival. Unfortunately, I was working, not watching. But I did see roughly one-quarter to one-third of several different films while working, so I'm mashing them together and calling them one big film experience, and calling Spiderman 3 my third movie of the year. PATHETIC.

Apparently, Sam Raimi paid no attention to the cautionary tale that was XMen 3. You're making the third film in a comic book franchise in which the second film totally outstripped the first, so what do you do? You make a list of characters who haven't yet shown up in the movies, throw them all in the script and just cross your fingers that it all works out. At least in X3, you could blame Brett Ratner. Sam Raimi's got nowhere else to point the finger.

Some storylines did work, and there were some charming and fun scenes. Topher Grace was adorable and James Franco really stepped up his game. Tobey Maguire is much more convincing in his scenes with other men than with the ladies. But I blame Kirsten Dunst, who continues to have no ass and even less talent.