Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Day two, part one

So here we are on our first morning in Canada, I had trouble with the newspaper machines around the corner and there wasn't much news, the headline in the SUN being that a six-year-old kid was thrown off an airplane at Pearson airport for throwing a temper tantrum. He was going alone and the plane hadn't taken off yet.

Another victory in the war on terrorism!

Speaking of which, American troops accidently killed some Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, and NDP leader Jack Layton is demanding NATO start negotiating a surrender with the Taliban (presumably ours, not theirs).

Now since I've been going to screenings back home and the festival has actually sort of begun, here are a bunch of reviews for films opening at the festival:


Written and Directed
by Pedro Almodovar

Almodovar is back! Not that he ever actually left, but he's decided to go back to his roots in a charming pseudo-fantasy with a little bit of murder added into the mix.

Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) is going to visit her aged aunt
Paula (Chus Lampreave) with her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) and daughter, also named Paula (Yohana Cobo), in a village out in the boonies. When they get there they find the place surprisingly neat and clean for a senile old woman living on her own with only an occasional visit from her neighbor Agustina (Blanca Portillo), who tells the principles about reports that the house is haunted! Apparently Irene (Carmen Maura), the mother of Sole and Rainmunda, has come back from the dead to take care of her.

When they get back from the trip, the gals discover Rainmunda's husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre) has just been fired and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, something which leads to a major tragedy, which has nothing to do with the elder Paula's death.

Sole returns from the funeral unknowing that her mom is in the hatch at the back of her car. The most of rest of the film has to do pondering the following question: Is Mom a ghost or a faker?

Until recently, Almodovar has been concerned primarily with the lives and inner thoughts of women, and with this he's back in form. The script is tight, the plot twists logical and exiting, and the acting is superb. Carmen Maura, who has been in a number of his previous films, sparkles as the dead mother, and Cruz gives her best performance in years. The rest of the cast does a bang-up job too.

The film is deep, the scenery beautiful, and except for a little excess misandry, this film is flawless. See it.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

A documentary directed by
David Leaf and John Scheinfeld

Who is John Sinclair and what does he have to do with John Lennon and Yoko Ono? He was a drug dealer and pot legalization activist, who was busted for selling two joints to an undercover cop. Getting him out of jail through a massive 1971 rock concert was the greatest success of the anti-war movement and it scared the Nixon administration to the bone.

This was the tipping point in the paranoiac Nixon administration's war on dissent. This led to Watergate, the dirty tricks, the whole ball of wax. It also led to the years-long effort to get Lennon deported, which ultimately failed. Nixon's test case for the repression planned for the rest of us.

This is what a documentary should be. It's interesting, it's entertaining, and what most important, it's fair and balanced. That's right, fair and balanced. This is not one of those one-sided propaganda flicks, which gives a false and skewed version of events. No. This actually gives a complete, well-rounded picture of what was going on back in the day, and it's truly illuminating.

The talking heads are pretty much the usual suspects: Yoko, a few family friends, Sinclair, representatives of the far left and far right, Walter Cronkite, John Dean and a few repentant FBI agents. They also have some fascinating clips, not only of Lennon making music and love in bed and other places, and shots of the great anti-war moratorium of 1971 and the Democratic convention of 1968, but John and Yoko taking over the Mike Douglas show, interviewing the likes of Bobby Seale, who were spouting some gawdawful stuff. The lefties were most certainly harassed and bugged by the FBI, but they also were saying what J. Edger Hoover and the paranoiacs in the Nixon administration wanted to hear: These people were definitely WERE trying to overthrow the government, something that Lennon and Ono realized a bit to late. They were dupes to some extent, and this is something the documentarians made quite clear. They also tried to extricate themselves from it to some extent, but it was too late.

The case itself is gone over in a straightforward manner. The lawyer they hired did a great job and if John and Yoko weren't rich, they'd have been booted. This is one of the best docs of the year and may actually get an Oscar nom.

Miramax Films, 105mins, R

Directed by
Christian Volckman

It's a little known fact on this side of the Atlantic, but comics are bigger in France than they are in Japan. Everyone reads them, and BD [for Band Desuneé-comic strips], and quite a few movies have been based on them. The gimmick for this particular film is that the look and feel of BD has been translated onto the screen. It took five years worth of production time to get it to look that way, and you can see every penny.

It's the year 2054. Ilona Tasuiev(Romola Garai), a scientist working for a Big Pharma conglomerate called Avalon, has been looking for a secret maguffin for a while now, and having almost gotten it, has been kidnapped by some nefarious baddies.

Since this is a major case, the Paris police department has assigned top cop Capt. Barthélémy Karas (Daniel Craig) to find her. This isn't as easy as it seems, as the last person to see her alive was her skanky slacker sister Bislane (Catherine Mccormack), and she doesn't know very much.

Avalon senior VP Paul Dellenbach(Jonathan Pryce) seems worried, but is he? And what of Dr. Jonas Muller(Ian Holm)? Is he really the kindly doctor that he seems to be or is there a sinister background to be uncovered? And who are those sneaky men in the invisibility suits working for? But the term “film noir” was coined in France, no?

The question is whether the gimmick works or not. What Volckman and company tried to do is to create a new and different Paris than the one we're used to, one more like the Gothum City of the Batman films, or Roberto Rodreguez's “Sin City” This looks like a comic book come to life, and as such you can accept more of the absurd parts of the SF storyline. On the other hand, the story isn't all that interesting and the twist at the end can be seen from a mile off.

A worth effort: close but no cigar.

Weinstein Co., 93mins, PG

Directed by
Geoffrey Sax

What we've got here is a case of self-betrayal. Anthony Horowitz is a children's author who created a character named Alex Ryder, sort of a James Bond, Jr. type who gets to save the world during recess or some such rot. The books, according to the various reviews put up on Amazon are rather good, and he's written several other volumes in the series that seem to be selling well, but the screenplay he wrote for the film version of the series' first book is a bit of a mess.

The film starts rather nicely, with super-spy Ian Rider (Ewan McGregor), being chased by a bunch of nasties, while his 14-year-old nephew Alex(Alex Pettyfer) is reading a report to his class about how he has no parents and his uncle is never there. The chase scene is cute, but seems too much like out of one of the Roger Moore James Bond movies, you know, the ones where we fans of Sean Connery were hoping that MGM would put Mr. Bond out of his misery…well this is sort of like that, and after blowing away a couple of dozen bad guys, our hero calls home to say that he's going to be a little late for dinner. That's when the villainous
Yassen Gregorovich (Damian Lewis) climbs down from his helicopter and shoots him. Cut to the opening credits.

With our young hero orphaned again, so to speak, he and his caretaker/mommy substitute Jack(Alicia Silverstone) discover the truth, and so our hero is dragooned into working for MI6, Britian's spy agency. Unfortunately, this isn't the organization James Bond worked for, but the one Austin Powers did. MI6 boss Alan Blunt(Bill Nighy) and his deputy, Mrs. Jones(Sophie Okonedo) are cartoon characters in human drag, and the bad guy, Darrius Sayle(Mickey Rourke), and his two top flunkies: Mr. Grin(Andy Serkis) and Teutonic ice-maiden Nadia Vole(Missi Pyle), actually dress as if they were. This doesn't help matters, especially due to the schizophrenic nature of the film.

It goes back and forth between cartooniness and actual action-hero stuff, and thus there's really no sense of danger, even when Alex is dangling from a rope at 10 thousand feet. Pettyfer is okay. He's a pretty boy with athletic skills and can actually emote from time to time, it's just the rest of the cast hamming it up that really grates. If you're going to do comedy, do comedy. If you don't: don't.

The fact that the books were full of humor should have informed the director that it should have been jokier, but no. This is as serious as a heart attack with a Snidely Whiplash/Wile E. Coyote plotline, which is why this fails. Maybe it's just as well that there won't be any more of these. I don't know if Alex has much of a fanbase here. We'll see.

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