Friday, September 15, 2006

Toronto: day nine

I'm back! but this doesn't mean that I'm finished. I've got stuff to finish up, so let's get cracking:

The Fountain

Written and Directed
by Darren Aronofsky

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” What I liked about it best was the sci-fi sets, and the obtuse plot, but then I was 12 when it came out and didn’t know any better. But I was really exited about this when I saw a preview at San Diego’s Comicon last year, as it had that certain SF jior de vie about it and I really liked his previous two films. Sigh…

The film begins with a bang: Captain Tomas Creo(Hugh Jackman), the loyal cavelier to her majesty Queen Isabella(Rachel Weisz) of Spain, is about to lead his troops to fight the bloodthirsty pagan Maya, who are guarding the great secret in a secret temple. This is a decent fight scene to say the least, and while our heroes lose, Tomas survives and is brought to the high priest, when…cut to a thousand years later, where Tomas is now a Buddha meditating in a interstellar fishbowl, which he shares with a giant tree. Here he replays the last days of his 21st century incarnation, and the death of his wife Izzy (Weisz). So we flash back four hundred years.

Here in our present, Tommy, as he’s called, is a researcher testing anti-cancer drugs on a baboon named Donovan, who is about to die of a massive brain tumor. He tried an extract from a unique tree [very good! You guessed!] in Central America. It’s the very tree that Izzy is writing about in her novel of a 16th century conquistador who is fighting for his Queen against the evil head of the Spanish inquisition (Alexander Bisping), who wants to overthrow the government in order to keep the location of the Garden of Eden secret [which actually not such a bad idea.] which brings us back to the first phase of the film.

Izzy is dying, and she’s okay with that, but Tommy isn’t and he’s too busy trying to save her through the miracle of science to spend too much time with her, this despite the pleadings of his boss Lilian(Ellen Burstyn). But he does manage to spend the last hours with her and she makes him promise to finish her novel, which ends about the point just before the credits.

This is all smoke and mirrors, signifying very little, but looking really good at either end of the timeline and not that great in the middle, where most of the action takes place. The whole thing is very Zen, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

On other occasions I have recommended illegal drugs before the viewing of certain films. This time I think it might actually be mandatory to do so.

For Your Consideration

Written and Directed
by Christopher Guest

The press notes say that Christopher Guest got the idea for this film when Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy started getting “Oscar Buzz®” for their performances in "A Mighty Wind," and when the show was over and everybody had lost, all went back to their former lives. So it was decided to have a 86 minutes of inside baseball, and that’s something which may not be the best thing to sit through in a theater full of film critics, all of whom go through the game every year.

So this is the story of a little film called “Home for Purim,” in which a southern Jewish family gathers during World War II, for one of the more obscure holidays [methinks that they might have mistaken it for Passover].

Okay…Sandy Lane(Ed Begley Jr.), a makeup guy notices on the internet that Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara), who plays Esther, the dying Matriarch, might be in consideration for a major movie award. This exiting news, and soon publicist Corey Taf(John Michael Higgins) looks into it, and soon more people are visiting the set and praising the work of Victor Allen Miller (Harry Shearer), a mostly washed-up thesipian who’s most famous for doing hot dog commercials, and comedienne Callie Webb (Parker Posey), famous for having the worst one-woman show in Los Angeles history. The fourth major cast member, Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan), plays her brother and is currently schtupping her.

Now of course, as the buzz gets greater, everyone is exited, especially director Jay Berman(Christopher Guest) and producer
Whitney Taylor Brown(Jennifer Coolidge), who complains of the price of snacks, and Miller’s agent Morley Orfkin(Eugene Levy), who usually wouldn’t take his calls.

Once the premise is set up, the film goes along it’s deplorably predictable way, doing the a paint-by-numbers routine the whole way from the “Entertainment Tonight” parody with Jane Lynch looking mahvulous and Fred Willard in an orange toupee asking the usual inane questions. The collagen gag works a bit, but for the most part everything’s visible a mile ahead of time and the laughs get fewer and fewer.

The biggest disappointment is the movie-within-a-movie. It’s supposed to be so brilliant, but what we see of it is most definitely mediocre, part of the parody. This is the first time Guest has done this, as in his last two films, there’s a moment of victory for the characters when we see them triumph. In “A Mighty Wind” for example, the music is actually GOOD. Yeah, they’re morons, but when push comes to shove, they actually DELIVER. This doesn’t happen here and what we’re left with is just bleh. If you like Guest’s other stuff and are addicted to ET and the tabs, you might like this, otherwise, don’t bother.

Yeah, I know the one below wasn't actually in the festival, but I saw it up there among all the other films and it's opening today, so why not....

The Black Dahlia

Directed by
Brian De Palma

Well, knock off another film from the Oscar® list. Brian De Palma tries, but doesn’t quite get there. Where he does get is a platonic love story which doesn’t actually have that much of a payoff.

The love story is between three people, Detectives Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Blanchard’s girlfriend Kay Lake(Scarlett Johansson). The guys meet during the Zoot Suit riots during the second world war and get together again for a successful publicity stunt which gets both of them on the elite “warrant squad” where they are partners. This is Bucky’s story, and he’s got the hots for Kay, but won’t do anything because he’s too loyal to Lee.

So it is when the body of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), the notorious “Black Dahlia” of history, shows up in the middle of a field just two blocks over from where Lee and Bucky are at a shootout with some villains, that things begin to change. Lee gets Bucky and himself on the squad investigating the case, and Bucky’s inquiries lead him to the lesbian underground of LA, and Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank), and her very rich and weird family, which includes corrupt father(John Kavanagh), very strange mother(Fiona Shaw) and sister (Rachel Miner), all of whom may have known the Dahlia, but Madeline definitely did, and this leads to a torrid, forbidden love affair. Things get more complicated, as they’re supposed to in things like this.

This is about as traditional a film Noir as has been made in quite a while. All the clich├ęs are there and the atmosphere of old Hollywood is so thick you can cut it with a knife. The acting is pretty good. We’ve got a lot of scene chewing here, especially by Eckhart and Shaw, the latter appears to be on drugs at some point.

Ellroy’s solution to the mystery isn’t particularly satisfying, and it does get a little bit silly here and there, but all in all the thing works. You can take it off the Oscar list, but is well worth a look regardless.

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