Oh, I’ve been working – just not posting much… here’s round one of catch-up posting.
Darkness Is Coming
In the time of great economic turmoil comes a momentary reflection.
I received a request from Mark in Ireland who would like a DVD of my music. Somehow there is a monthly limit there that is insanely low for bandwidth.
For tax reasons impossible for me to understand – I can not ship a physical product (without incurring a pile more paperwork).
But you can! Let me know if you have a collection of music from my site that you’re willing to ship to Ireland.
Yeah, Ben Affleck. *sigh* But he’s playing a politician, and they always seem to be kind of wooden and distant, so it isn’t so bad. It’s not a bad little thriller, but it reminds me of that Ewan McGregor/Hugh Jackman film whose name I can never remember, because it’s hard to remember this film, too.
It’s all political, though, I know that much. Ben Affleck plays Stephen Collins, the rising star of one political party or the other. They don’t say, so no one has to dislike his affiliation. He’s on a crusade (of course), running a committee that’s investigating government spending in the middle east. But this involves a big, rich, powerful corporation (naturally) that doesn’t care for being investigated (who would?), and when Collins’ head researcher for the committee gets crushed under a subway train, it looks like someone’s out to get him. At least, that’s old Ben’s story. Unsurprisingly, most people don’t believe him, especially when it turns out that he was having an affair with said researcher.
Russell Crowe to the rescue! He’s Cal McAffrey, mild-mannered reporter for the Washington Globe. Okay, not mild-mannered, but he is a reporter; and he was Collins’ college roommate, so he believes, or at least acts like he does. I think maybe he believes just because no one else does and he feels sorry for the guy. He does look pretty hapless. And the affair is huge news, of course, much to Cal’s special chagrin, because not only is he Steve’s best (and apparently only) friend, he has a giant crush on Mrs. Collins (Robin Wright Penn). It’s so huge that even the paper’s bunch of 18-year-old bloggers are on it, and one particularly brash specimen, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams, who is apparently around mainly to look dewy-eyed and innocent, and attract the male audience) tries to get a scoop from Cal. I don’t know if they really still call them scoops or not, but anyway. For some reason odd little questions like that are sticking in my head better than the plot.
|Cal helps prove my Good Guys Have Messy Offices theory.|
A thief gets shot, along with an innocent bystander pizza delivery guy. Congressional hearings drone on and on, while Collins does his best to look impassioned about his quest to expose corruption. Reporters ask annoying questions, not least of all Cal and his eventual faithful sidekick, Della. Jeff Daniels (the blind ex-druggie from The Lookout) as Senator George Fergus is actually pretty good at looking friendly and sinister at the same time. The evil corporation looms evilly over everything. And Cal and Co. tie it all together into a neat little package for the front page. Okay, not completely neat, but they try.
And it isn’t bad. Jason Bateman (Hancock) gets to steal a couple of scenes as a strung out minor bad guy, and Helen Mirren as editor Cameron Lynne steals every scene she’s in, because she’s just that cool. Cal’s a little scared of her, and rightly so. So it’s easy to overlook the little loose ends and weird coincidences and just enjoy.
Three and three-quarter idols. The plot’s fairly predictable, but not so much to be boring, and the dialogue is good, though some of that may be thanks to its original British roots as a TV miniseries. Maybe it’s just me, but I think British writers are often better. But it was translated over to American pretty well, thankfully. Best of all, I think Ben’s finally found his niche, just like Keanu.
A perfect setting for the Danse of Questionable Tuning. Sadly, Bryan is currently on tour with his cello, and I expect this performance will not be able to be repeated ever. :-)
This one is going to be as much therapy session as movie review. I feel like I have PTSD, and I need to get it all out. I had to stop at the store on the way home and buy some Ben & Jerry’s. Seriously.
Granted, I freak out easily. I always have. But I wasn’t the only one this time. Half the audience was sniffling, trying not to sob openly, and I was staring bleakly at the screen, forgetting to blink, for long enough to make my eyes hurt. It was… depressing, yes, but that’s not quite enough. These days depressing is a pretty overused word, so maybe bleak is better, but I’m still not sure that captures the full, awful scope of this.
I’ll try and stick to the cold, hard facts as much as possible. Nicolas Cage plays John Koestler, an MIT professor whose wife was recently killed in a tragic hotel fire. (Fires are always tragic. I mean, they are tragic, but for some reason that’s usually the adjective used.) His son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury, who played one version of Benjamin in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), has a hearing problem of some sort, wherein the spoken word sometimes sounds jumbled to him. So when he starts hearing odd whispers, they blame it on the hearing aid he wears.
The whispers start when a time capsule, buried fifty years ago, is unearthed at Jacob’s school. The children of 1959 had all drawn pictures of what they felt the future would look like — all, that is, except for Lucinda Embry, the odd girl out, who looks kind of like a young Christina Ricci. Her contribution is a page covered with row after row of seemingly random numbers. She’s played by Lara Robinson, who also plays Lucinda’s granddaughter Abby; and Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later — she apparently makes a habit of disaster movies). The pictures, sealed in envelopes, are passed out to the children of 2009, and Caleb gets Lucinda’s, of course.
While drinking to forget his late wife, John sees the numbers and decides that trying to work out if they mean anything might be good therapy. He hits on the date of the World Trade Center attack (of course) and from there matches up set after set of numbers as dates and numbers of dead. The numbers in between, that he can’t match up, he ignores. Really, though, even I guessed what they were, so he definitely should have known.
|This fails to capture the enormity of a crashed jet, but it was the best I could find.|
It was pretty silly of Lucinda to have let them bury that list, though, because by the time anyone sees it, all but three of the dates have slipped by. John discovers that one of them matches the fire that killed his wife, which makes him extra determined to try and stop the remaining disasters. It’s really hard to stop disasters, though. He almost gets himself killed I don’t know how many times, and almost arrested once or twice, but he’s stubborn and just keeps trying. I mean, that’s a natural thing to do, of course, but it’s seriously scary, too. I mean, I’ve seen lots and lots of movies where things get blown up and people die horribly. But this movie still freaked me out. I’m not even sure exactly what it was, but something about the sight of those particular disasters just made me terribly unsettled. I drove home very, very carefully.
So on that level, as something meant to make you think about the fragility of life and whether there’s any such thing as fate or if life is simply random, it’s really a very good movie. Unfortunately, they don’t stop there. The movie goes on and on, and gets sillier and sillier, until by the final scene, I was left wondering if the projectionist had somehow managed to switch to a different movie. Except it had the same actors in it, so that didn’t work too well as an explanation.
The point is, the first hour and a half? A good film. The last half hour? Shades of Next. It just… faded away into bizarreness, and I could only watch helplessly.
So averaging it out…. say about four for the first part, and one and a half for the last… two and three-quarters sounds about right, actually, though it’s a shame that all the promise of the start went to waste. For one thing, no one has learned from the terrible mistake of Signs, and they just keep on showing more of the spooky aliens than they should, because I don’t care how sophisticated CGI gets, the imagination is still better because it doesn’t have a budget. Unfortunately, simply not watching the last thirty minutes or so isn’t practical, so you just have to put up with the one and a half idol part. I recommend Ben & Jerry’s ONE Cheesecake Brownie to help you cope with the resulting depression.
Only thirty-five years after the fact. This was one of the films shown at the festival, actually, so don’t think I’m talking about the upcoming remake with Denzel Washington and John Travolta. The 1974 version features Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw (maybe best known as Quint in Jaws) as a cranky transit cop and a nasty, ruthless crook, respectively.
If you’ve seen the previews for the new version, you already have a good idea of what happens. A group of heavily armed men hijack a subway train and take a carful of passengers as hostages. When they contact the authorities, they demand one million dollars ransom… which means they’ll probably want fifty million at least in the remake, if they want to be able to have the same shocked and appalled reactions to the amount of the ransom. Reluctantly, they give in and arrange for the money to be delivered — but of course everything goes wrong. There’s no such thing as a simple hostage negotiation, not even in 1974.
Beating Reservoir Dogs by eighteen years, the bad guys all have color names, and Mr. Blue is the leader. He’s cool, calm and collected — which must mean something really weird is going on, because while it’s relatively easy to hijack a subway car (at least thirty-five years ago), it’s a bit trickier to manage any kind of getaway from a subway car, stuck in the middle of a long, dark tunnel. This is where Walter Matthau as Lt. Garber gets to stretch his suspicions and pester the powers that be into being suspicious right along with him. Denzel Washington should be pretty good at that, I’m thinking; and John Travolta is actually getting scarily good at playing psychopaths.
Also on tap this year were the British Television Advertising Awards and the usual collection of short films, which I will again spare us all the effort of attempting to review in any real way. However, one of them is available to watch here, for anyone who’s curious.
I also saw a film called Vogelfrei, which looks like German, but is apparently actually Latvian, a hard to translate phrase that means things like free as a bird, and bird hunting season, that sort of thing. There are a lot of birds, but mainly it’s the story of one man growing up and growing old, told in four parts by four different directors. Latvian might look like German, but it sounds a lot more like Russian, by the way. Also, apparently the entire country likes to design bathrooms with the light switches on the outside, which as you might have guessed is just asking for all sorts of trouble.
In short, another fun year, in spite of slightly iffy weather. We’ll never compete with Cannes, but I like it just fine.
Here’s a little preview of a piece after one day with it (well, actually, just a couple of hours).
That’s right, it’s the Wisconsin Film Festival 2009, and your roving Movie Critic will be there to cover it all. Well, not quite all. Okay, just a little of it. Two full-length features and two collections of short films isn’t bad, though. And where else can you get to hear about movies from Latvia?