Bertram Pincas is a anti-social dentist who dies, albeit briefly, during a routine medical exam. But he's fine, and the hospital assures him not to worry as the anesthesiologist no longer works there. Turns out they have a strict three strikes policy for doctors. Just one side effect from all this - he can see dead people. And they're a chatty bunch. They all have some unfinished business that they need some help with. Pushiest among them is Greg Kinnear who died in the beginning of the film and needs help looking out for his widow, played by Téa Leoni. Between obsessing over his blackberry (apparently the afterlife is outside most coverage areas) and complaining about the other dead inhabitants of Manhattan he cajoles the dentist into trying to break up his wife's new impending marriage. I won't go further because almost anyone can predict much of what happens next. Even so it held my interest all the way through and manages to mix enough of a new take on the theme in with the standard cliche's to entertain.
Some reviews have mentioned the less than captivating story but point to the Scully/Mulder relationship as a high point. I'll admit it's fun at times to watch and listen to them onscreen together. But not really fun enough that you can't wait until it's on video.
I could go into the storyline some more. But I don't think it really makes that much difference. No news on his sister nor aliens anywhere in sight if that makes any difference to you...
The story is pretty simple. Dennis the class valedictorian and debate team captain is giving his graduation speech. During which he decides to publicly declare his love for Beth Cooper - the head cheerleader. Which would probably have had a higher probability of a positive outcome if she was more than dimly aware of his existence. Just to take things up a few notches he manages to also insult a large number of fellow students with his piercing psychoanalysis plus out his best friend (who may or may not actually be gay). None of these folks are particularly thrilled, nor is Beth's boyfriend who's home from the marines and dealing with anger control issues. The book follows the events of the rest of the evening where pretty much every teen movie scene of import is experienced by Dennis and his new friends. The author, Larry Doyle manages to keep the feel of the best teen comedies while giving each of the inherent cliches a good tweak.
Seems there's going to be a movie made - and while I'll probably try it I can't in a million years figure out how it could possible be as good. Take for this example this small section explaining the fundamental difference in world view between best friends Denis and Rich
I don't think it's necessary to be a fan of the teen comedy genre to enjoy the book. But if you are it'll probably be that much more fun. Each chapter starts with a noteworthy quote taken from teen protagonists of the ages from Romeo to Lloyd Dobler. See if you can place them all...
Based on a close reading of current events and a misapplication of the third law of thermodynamics, Denis believed that the universe tended toward tragedy. Since his own life had been free of anything genuinely tragic, Denis figured he was due. He feared that if he did anything that was "adventurous" or "un-scheduled" or "fun," it would end tragically. Statistically, it almost had to.
Rich had had a much less tragedy-free life. We needn't go into the details, since it's a long, sad and ultimately unoriginal story, but as a result Rich had developed a coping mechanism by which all of the terrible things that happened to him were merely wacky complications that would, before the movie of his life was over, be resolved in an audience-pleasing happy ending. He occasionally worried his life might be an independent film, or worse, a Swedish flick, but he chose to behave as if the movie he lived was a raucous teen comedy, and he was somebody like Ferris Bueller or Otter from Animal House, or, worst-case scenario, that guy who fucked a pie.
And so Rich threw open the door and proclaimed "Ladies!" knowing that no matter what happened next, or after that, or subsequently, eventually he would be loved and vindicated and everybody would be dancing to a classic song from the seventies
So go and get this book through your favorite reading channel - local library, Amazon, or better yet via your shiny new (80's style design) Kindle.
As I'm writing I realized this is the weekend of my high school reunion back on the other coast. Weird coincidence - though now I realize it's probably for the best that no one let me speak at graduation. ;-)
At the start of the film Wilson is resigned to riding out the holiday at home, alone and cynical. With only a photo-shopped image of his roommate's live in girlfriend to keep him company. Then his roommate comes up with an plan that at first seems only slightly better than moving to LA in the first place. Post an ad on Craig's List looking for someone to kiss at midnight. Being a movie he leaves his home phone number in the ad - which I'm guessing is a bad, bad idea. To sum up the rest of the film without giving too much away, here's what happens
- Guy posts ad
- Somewhat unstable seeming girl calls guy.
- They meet and hang out and spend the day together to see if they're worthy candidates for that midnight kiss.
- Things end with a not quite Hollywood ending that felt a lot more realistic than where I thought things were heading.
Much of the above is shot around the one true love interest of the film - the city of Los Angeles. The city comes out better than most of the characters and as opposed to other LA based films I've seen recently (such as Garden Party) - this one might actually make you want to go there.
The movie has a lot going for it - but definitely fell a bit short in some areas. The two strongest points are (a) the writing and dialog - which is often very funny and reminded me a lot of a (slightly) less foul-mouthed Kevin Smith, and (b) the look of the movie itself. The film is shot in beautifully sharp black and white and the folks who made it significantly surpass Smith in their ability to move the camera around from time to time. Much like a Kevin Smith film a lot of the acting feels a little rough around the edges - there's not a huge amount of polish there but most of the folks onscreen are pretty good in their roles.
Two downsides were pretty evident during my screening of the film. They were,
- The unbelievably loud guy sitting on the steps in the theater 4-5 feet behind me who was laughing at a decibel level that must violate local ordinances. OK - admittedly, you're unlikely to have that happen to you.
- I had a lot of trouble buying the connection between the two characters for a while. That kept me somewhat disinterested in their relationship. However, by the end two things happened. First, I started to believe the characters level of involvement a bit more (not completely, just more). Second, the film has a realistic/cynical enough approach to it's end that I felt I could better accept the story.
Would I recommend it? - that's a tough one. I think a lot of folks are going to like it and many others are going to find it pointless (or worse). For me it was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning. Thanks to the generous benefits of SIFF membership and a bit of good luck the price was right - free movie and on street un-metered parking.
Anachronism watch: Moment during the film when I wondered how long ago this film was shot given the signs showing gasoline in LA costing $2.47 a gallon. What was that - 1980? ;-)
Heath Ledger steals the show as The Joker - but in a more serious way than other portrayals of the character. There's an element of realism brought to the role that almost makes you forget it's in this alternate super hero world. He's by far the best part of the film. There's a ton of reviews out there if you want to know more or feel like finding out the storyline in advance. If that's your thing head elsewhere - IMHO you're better off going in fresh. If you've somehow managed to get this far in life without understanding the film's basic premise I will offer some assistance - an ass-kicking guy dressed as a bat, with cool toys and relationship issues. 'nuff said.
All in all it's really well put together and a lot of fun. The new actors brought in as supporting roles really raise the level of game for the franchise. I can't think of a piece that doesn't work. This isn't a short film but the time breezed by.
If you like (or have ever liked) this sort of film you'll want to catch this one. It is a bit darker than even the last one. So small kids are more likely to be frightened than some of the earlier films. Unless they find George Clooney inherently frightening for some reason.
So if you're looking for a photo of the guy in the pink suit at the closing night film, that photo of you and some star or just confirming you got through the festival without your soul being stolen by the magic picture box thing you're now good to go.
First let me sum up the plot. Stupid young people move to LA. They smoke dope and take off their clothes off (typically as the camera cuts away). Occasionally they have sex with partners of multiple genders. In their spare time they're preyed on by everyone around them. One of them sings. All are pretty thoroughly boring. The most interesting character is the real-estate agent who's incentive program is as unconventional as it is illegal. Redfin take note - perhaps this is the secret sauce you've been missing?
Being a bad art house style film everyone is sexually confused. Even though you can guess most character's sexual leanings from the beginning (or even the trailer). They're just apparently having trouble keeping track of things due to all the drugs they're doing. Though maybe it's not fair to blame the drugs as even the stone cold sober characters exhibit a preternatural level of dumbness. It's almost as though none of them have rented a movie about the dangers of Hollywood. All their troubles could have been avoided with a simple Netflix subscription. It doesn't even need to have been a particularly gritty film - even Pretty Woman might have done them some good. Youth is no excuse...
A few other takeaways for me from this flick:
- Sometimes an "unrated" movie isn't there to avoid a NC-17. In this case it seems more like the decision was taken to avoid a PG-13. Which would likely be the kiss of death for a film whose ad campaign is all about selling sex. But that's pretty much all a tease. With very minor edits this could almost show on network TV. If there was great dialog, chemistry in some of the relationships or a story then I wouldn't even mention it. But if you're going to try and sell sex then at least try to do it right. The only character that seems able to generate heat onscreen is the real-estate agent mentioned above. Sure, they try to throw in some lesbian cousin storyline for a minute or two but it's just too little too late. But the marketing may just work - if you don't believe take a peek at some of the threads on IMDB about this film. Raging debate around the probability of getting to see the young female character without clothes. Folks - I hate to break it to you but the odds of that are pretty much slim to none. That said, if you close your eyes and imagine you'll get nearer to that goal than you will a chance of seeing a great performance in this film.
- Partway through I just started realizing I didn't care much about the characters. Very few of them struck me as sympathetic, likeable or all that interesting. At one point my strongest emotional connection was to the young singer - whom I had the urge to see someone punch. Probably not what they were shooting for.
- Throughout the film you're going to keep saying to yourself - "gee that person looks super familiar" what did I see them in? You'll be tempted to look them up on IMDB. Don't bother - sure it's amusing to see what happened to Jessica Alba's coworker on Dark Angel. But you'll wish you had just remembered them from a TV or a soap when urge to over-act was apparently constrained.
- According to this film there may be more money in real estate than marijuana. Maybe this was filmed before the sub-prime crisis?
- Everyone in LA is a total asshole. Maybe there's truth to that, I don't know. But this is the first movie with that theme that made me think that perhaps the city is getting a bad rap.
BTW - this film did screen at SIFF '08 so technically my post festival catchup continues. Thankfully thanks to a free screening from The Warren Report I was able to catch this for the right price. :-)
The first half of the film is fairly strong. About midway things start to get a bit shakier. Things get a lot less interesting and a bunch of fairly predictable things occur. I'm not getting into the details at all as I'd hate to give away any secrets you don't guess yourself.
I'm still glad I went for the first half - but I can't recommend without some reservations. Thankfully though it's not quite as bad as some of the reviews make out.
Guy Maddin's new documentary (or more accurately to use his words "docutasia") about his life growing up in Winnipeg Canada. Dealing with mixed feelings of the city the film starts off with Maddin talking about how he wants to make a break with the city and by filming its history and his own personal one it will allow him to leave. He mixes what may be actual archival footage with newly shot recreations of past events. Even going to the extent of hiring actors to recreate the formative memories of his childhood years in his former home. Nothing I can write will give you as good a sense as watching the trailer below. But if you're a Maddin fan and are going to see this anyway I'd suggest not reading or watching further. I'd seen the trailer 20+ times at SIFF this year and just showing up and experiencing this film probably has advantages. That said watching the trailer won't ruin anything huge so if you're unsure it's a good way in this case to get a sense as to how close to your interests this unusual material may be.
The movie has the feel of an educational if surreal documentary. However as it progresses you start to wonder about the accuracy of the information. Perhaps accurate in Mr. Maddin's perception of the city through his personal lens, but probably not something that would be accurate for those with a more strict interpretation of reality. Some information about Winnipeg imparted during the film which makes you wonder about which side of the line it would fall on;
- Many (if not most) streets were named after famous brothel owners or prostitutes
- The city is served by two competing taxi companies which resolved a conflict over territory in an unusual way. One company would only pickup and drop off on official streets while the other company stuck only to back alleys.
- An account of a famous incident where horses escaping a stable fire became caught in a freezing river and stuck for the winter. The scene then became a popular strolling location for families and lovebirds. From the gorgeous photography accompanying that section you can almost see why it would be a popular spot.
- An annual treasure hunt sponsored by the city where the first prize is a one way ticket out of town.
- Unusual rights granted by law to the sleepwalking public who find themselves visiting their former homes in the middle of night.
- The list goes on and on...
The film is amusing at time - occasionally laugh out loud so. But for me that wasn't really the strongest point, and some of the quotes they use in the trailer might make you think you'll be rolling in the aisles continuously. I wasn't, though I smiled a lot. As an artistic autobiographical pieces about perceptions of childhood and the charms of ones hometown I think it does work. It won't make my personal top 10 for the year but for an "art/alternative" film it was an accessible and nice change of pace.
One thing that I'm still wondering about though. When I'd seen the trailer during the festival one of the things that struck me was how sharp and vivid the black and white photography looked. Even if you glance at the production stills from the film that sense comes through. However, much of the film I saw seemed out of focus. I'm sort of wondering if the projector needed a bit of tweaking but given Maddin's style it wasn't entirely clear to the projectionist that adjustment needed to be made. Amusingly enough this sort of wondering about Maddin's intent added to the experience a bit. Just providing one additional dimension of analysis to twist my brain around.
In limited release but also available via IFC on Demand via cable operators and the like. Where it may be in focus.