Saturday, June 30, 2007

Weekly Movies, June 10-16

Yeah, this is late. I saved this as a draft, then left on vacation the next day. So here for your enjoyment, and also for your lols, Weekly Movies June 10-16. I'm playing catch-up right now, but you try working in a liquor store come Canada Day.

Last Night: OMGWTFBBQ. This movie landed like a pop bottle full of marbles into my brain and refuses to leave.

Listen, I knew this was going to be a good movie. It's written, directed and starring Don McKellar, who to be fair I've seen very little of, but like what I've seen. Moreover, one of my closest friends in Ottawa (hi, Becky!) adores Don McKellar, and I trust her opinion. Furthermore, my friend Sam considers this movie his favourite Canadian movie of all time, and since my favourite Canadian movie is New Waterford Girl, possibly a perfect movie, I have to consider this as high praise indeed.

And I was still blown away.

Briefly, Last Night concerns the lives of a few different people living in Toronto, starting at 6:00 PM the day the world is going to end. (They never say why, but I think it's made pretty clear that the sun's going supernova.) The people have all chosen to spend their last precious hours in different ways. Craig (Callum Keith Rennie, oh that only sweetens the deal) is having sex in as many different ways with as many different people as possible. Patrick (McKellar) is spending a fake Christmas dinner with his family, then going to watch it all end by himself. Jenny (Sarah Polley, one of my heroes) is going to end it at a giant party with her boyfriend. Duncan (David effin' Cronenberg) is a workaholic. And Sandra (the perfect Sandra Oh) just wants to get home to her husband so they can kill each other before the world kills them.

All of these people are connected, but to relate how they are connected reduces them to a blank sheet of facts. The movie is honest, heart-breaking, really funny (listen to the newscast in the background in Duncan's house) and refreshing. I've just finished reading Katherine's Monk's astonishingly good book Weird Sex and Snowshoes, about Canadian film. I don't want to rehash what she's written about McKellar and Last Night, but I think having the background on why he made this film, in a time when movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact were being made across the border is interesting. It feels like more than anything what the end of the world would really be like. Once again, I don't want to reveal too many details of the plot, because I always find I enjoy films most the less I know of their stories. Just, see this movie.

Shadow of the Vampire: One of the reasons I appreciated Dead Again so much was that it took an interesting premise (discovery of past lives through the use of hypnosis) and made a good movie out of it. It only makes me more frustrated when movies like Shadow of the Vampire are made. After all, this movie had an amazing premise: what if the actor who played Nosferatu wasn't really acting? What if he really was a vampire?

And the reason I appreciate movies like Dead Again is because so few movies manage to live up to their premise. Shadow had good actors (Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Cary Elwes who will always be given slack no matter how much crap he does because of Westley, Eddie Izzard), a delightful design and some really goddamn scary scenes. But the story just meanders and wanders. I think it would have been nice to acknowledge that not many people know the map of Eastern Europe in the '20s by heart - would it have killed them to show us where everything was? And for heaven's sake, if you're making a movie about one of the most iconic movies in history, learn from it! One of the best scenes in Shadow is the first time we meet Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe), at night on a secluded lot, and he starts "acting" instantly. Everyone on the lot is captured by the feeling of fear as he lures the young man into his abode, and it's easily the scariest scene in the movie. That's because it was taken directly from Nosferatu, duh. Yet when Max starts to go wild and feed on people, he just jumps right on them and ties on the saddlebag. What's so scary about that, huh? And what happens to the first camera operator he nearly kills, the one who gets shipped back to Berlin? Why aren't there any consequences of that?

More than anything, Shadow of the Vampire frustrated me. Partly, it's doomed to failure because it can never be as scary as Nosferatu, and partly it just failed to live up to its possibilities.

[Afterthought: 99.99% of the people who see a picture of the real Max Schreck done up as Nosferatu have no idea what Max Schreck really looked like. I don't. When I looked at Max Schreck in this movie, I could clearly see Willem Dafoe, despite the good makeup job. Perhaps part of the success of the image of Nosferatu is the fact that we can't see anything else in him - certainly not the Green Goblin or a member of Steve Zissou's crew.]

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer: I'm going to largely repeat what I said over in the MRFH forum, so feel free to skip this if you're from there. But first, I have to say this: I liked the first Fantastic 4 movie, OK? I did. I was excited to see it because it had Ioan Gruffudd hitting it big and he's pretty and stuff. (I have a crush on Ioan Gruffudd that, while I am nearly over, was so strong before that I feel I may never escape.)

So, I saw the first movie just because it was Ioan, and was pleasantly surprised. It's kinda funny at times, it's not too unbelievable, and the locations are beautiful (BC, baby!). I know this sounds ike faint praise but trust me, I like it.
Now, a few random thoughts:

Is Marvel seriously making so many movies right now that they've run out of token bit parts for Stan Lee to play? Talk about breaking the fourth wall.

Hey, it's that guy from the 11:00 news! I get really, really excited when I recognize stuff from where I live in movies. Don't watch the original Fantastic 4 movie with me, because I point this stuff out all the time, much to the annoyance of my brother who was sitting next to me watching the movie. Also on the list: Final Destination 1, Sandlot 2, Muppet Wizard of Oz, Antitrust, Josie and the Pussycats, any episode of Battlestar Galactica . . . I just get distracted and start yelling stuff like "Hey, that's the main library building!" It's like you've waved something shiny in front of my face. I don't know how I would cope if I lived in California. (But it really is exciting, because I've been to the bar where Ben and Johnny play darts!)

I don't know what they did different with Jessica Alba's hair for this movie, but she looks really weird. I say this not in that petty girlfight way, but she quite truly looks odd. Phillip Stevens at Pajiba called it "irradiated mannequin," which only makes me wish I'd come up with it.

I can understand some leaps of logic - like, if the Silver Surfer's initial sweep knocked out the FAA's computers, why is there no repetition of that throughout the rest of the movie? Why do the Fantastic 4 travel the globe, yet we never see them traveling? But there's one thing I couldn't stand, and that was this: there is no Great Wall in south-east China. That's sort of the POINT of the Great Wall. Unless the Huns started attacking from the sea, south-east China was A-OK safe! Also, I know this gets into pedant territory, but those pictures of the Great Wall everyone sees? That's not what the majority of it looks like. The bits that tourists walk on, yes, does look like that, because the government restored them. But the rest? Imagine Roman ruins in Britain. It's about as useful as those.

Also, I realize this is an alternate universe and the world is about to end and people probably bond together in times like this, but I don't think China is exactly keen on Americans dropping into their country uninvited. They certainly wouldn't be cool for them to hang around and plan a wedding.

And oy, with the wedding! I think I missed the part of the second X chromosome where you enjoy weddings, because I wanted to SCREAM. I have been to 2 weddings - both my siblings' - and while I was happy for them and all, weddings are kinda boring. Ditto for Reed Richards and Sue Storm's. Get on with the clobberin'.

I won't even mention the Dodge. I won't I won't I won't OH GOD WHY!?!?!

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain: Wow! There's actually some sort of narrative thread to this particular issue of Weekly Movies!

See, back when I was really interested in Ioan Gruffudd (I ask that you not use the term "obsessed," plzkthnx) I began to be interested in Wales, because that's where he's from. Wales is really a very interesting place. Its people are fiercely independent, and they actually speak Welsh day-to-day. How neat is that?!?! It's a very beautiful landscape, and no shortage of interesting people came from there. Plus, if you listen to Cast-On, you can't help but be interested in Wales. Brenda describes it with a convert's passion.

I would love to go to Wales someday. Trust me, it's high on The List. And that's part of why I was drawn to The Movie With the Stupidly Long Title That Condemns it to Sound Twee. Also, because my dad said he really liked it, and he has thus far shown excellent taste in his choice of British movies featuring adorable little villages (though I doubt I'll ever convince him to see Hot Fuzz, more's the pity). And, true to form, it is a well-done movie featuring an adorable little village all pulling together with the help of a scoundrel. More than anything, it reminded me of The Commitments, even though the two films have almost nothing in common on the surface except for the casting of Colm Meaney.

Another reason some might turn up their noses at this movies is Hugh Grant as lead, in all his stammering, shy glory. Well, I'm firmly of the belief that Hugh Grant does far better work than he ever gets credit for, so there. And I don't have a crush on him either; I simply think he got typecast more than a decade ago and he has far wider range than that (Exhibit no. 1: About a Boy).


At 9:45 PM, Blogger Elspeth said...

Oh I love the Englishman movie! I tried to watch Last Night once and got bored though.


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