Archive for January, 2010

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Notes from the Back Row- The Tooth Fairy

January 26, 2010

Notes from the back row- jan 19

I stare at screens all day.

How to raise your kids.

We are living in strange times. Western Civilization is devouring itself. On the one hand, we spend more and more time staring at screens (computer, TV, IPod, Bank Teller, Cell Phone, Video Games) and we’re allowing screens to raise our children, thus destroying their imagination and creative potential. On the other hand, we keep telling our kids they can be anything they want in life if they just believe in themselves when the fact is, that’s bullshit. Wanna be an astronaut? Or a Fighter Jet pilot? Believing and hard work counts but luck plays just as big a part– what if you’re colour blind? Say goodbye to that dream, kid. Ever think of working in a restaurant?

A debate on the value of imagination (delivered through one of the mediums that is helping destroy it) provides the theme of Tooth Fairy, early front-runner for shittiest movie of 2010.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays a thuggish, aging hockey player who likes to tell it like it is when he talks to kids. The honest approach backfires when he almost informs his girlfriend’s daughter that there is no tooth fairy. That night he’s whisked up to the fairy kingdom, outfitted with wings and a pink tutu and for two weeks is supposed to sneak into kids’ houses and do the tooth fairy’s duties. Cue the stupidest 101 minutes of the year, more painful than having an actual tooth pulled.

The theme of the movie is all about the value of imagination– a good message, but it’s delivered like a dog fart in a closet.

One more thing, it’s not that movies and video games and Internet porn are utterly bad for your child’s imagination. They aren’t, the opposite actually. But they have to supplement the kid’s playtime, not replace it.

Speaking of children, Extraordinary Measures, starring and executive-produced by Harrison Ford, is a loosely-based-on-true-events flick about a father (Brendan Fraser) with two children sick with Pompe disease (a nasty rare disease that no on has bothered trying to cure) who teams up with an outcast scientist (Ford) to start a research lab to work on curing or treating Pompe. The real story is heartwarming and compelling, you can read it in Geeta Anand’s 2006 book, The Cure. The film, poorly directed by Tom Vaughn (What Happens in Vegas) is a bit of  a disaster. Harrison Ford overacts (a lot) while Fraser and his wife (Keri Russell) don’t act enough. The story of a family coming together in the face of adversity and of a man taking risks for the love of his children is there, but the script and direction don’t really take us anywhere special. Harrison Ford is a legend but this film, and the promotional tour he’s been doing for it, comes off as more of a grouchy old prick with a chip on his shoulder. Get your game face on Indiana, before people start calling you washed up. Oops, too late . Remember Crossing Over, Firewall, Hollywood Homicide, What lies Beneath, Random Hearts, Six Days Seven Nights, The Devils Own??? No one else does either. That’s seven duds in the last 13 years. Not a very good run.

Humanity has had a good run, but it all comes to an end in Legion, where god gets pissed and sends his angels to kill us all. Except, one, Michael, who holes up in a diner trying to protect one pregnant chick and her holy child. Looks like a decent religious sci-fi with some neat-o effects but it stars Dennis Quaid, never a good sign. Even TV-numbed kids get bored watching Dennis Quaid.

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Notes from the Back Row- Jackson shits the bed

January 15, 2010

the crap heap will get ya...

Notes from the back row- jan 12

I never thought I’d write these words– The new Peter Jackson movie is a cold, lifeless pile of crap.

Which is too bad because The Lovely Bones, an adaptation of the popular Alice Seabold novel, starts off pretty well. Jackson sets up 1973 Pennsylvania nicely and gives us an interesting protagonist in 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saorise Ronan from Atonement) a girl with a crush on a boy, pining for her first kiss, who gets murdered (rape is only implied, this is PG-13) by her neighbour (creepy Stanely Tucci) and then kicks around the ‘in between’– a kind of CGI purgatory– pining for her missed high school romance while watching her suffering family deal with her absence and search for answers.

It sounds interesting and the first half of the movie is tense, with great camera work and some truly creepy scenes. For a while there you get fooled into thinking Peter Jackson is back making a kick-ass psychological thriller with a magic-realism twist like he did with Heavenly Creatures. But then the musical montage of grandmother Susan Sarandon cleaning the house kicks in and things go down the toilet pretty quickly.

It’s like someone flicked the “shit switch” at the 55 minute mark and astonishingly quickly The Lovely Bones becomes a big stinking log of stupid, contrived, improbable scenes we’ve either seen before (break into a stranger’s house and, gasp, he comes home!!!!) or can absolutely not believe (a three-minute family reunion scene where the girl who just fell out of a two story window stands around and watches, despite the fact that she has proof of who killed her sister in her hands and the bad guy is getting away) or don’t understand (what about those high school characters he just spent so long building up, they just disappear for 50 minutes.?)

It’s pure sewage, and this pains me to say it. Peter Jackson is one of the greatest filmmakers of the last 15 years from his splatter horror (Dead Alive) to the Lord of the Rings to even King Kong, which wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad. Despite fine actors (Mark Walberg and Rachel Wiesz are good. The golden retriever- not so much) and tons of budget sunk into overly glitzy effects, The Lovely Bones watches as if Jackson started the film then abandoned it, letting his maid finish up with it while he went off to help on District 9. And then she forgot to flush.

Also opening this week, and almost as disappointing, is The Book Of Eli, a post-apocalyptic western directed by The Hughes Brothers (Dead Presidents) in which Denzel Washington roams a war-ravished America kicking ass while Mila Kunis follows along looking hot. Or at least that is what the trailers lead us to believe.  In truth, the film is much slower and steeped in religious propaganda and faux thematic meaning. Washington is apparently an agent of God, heading west with the last bible in existence until he can use it to start a better world. There is nowhere near as much ass-kicking as expected and although bad-guy Gary Oldman and his blind-oracle wife/slave Jennifer Beals are cool characters the flick takes too many logical leaps and gets pretty hokey-Jesus-stupid at times.

In an attempt to salvage the week go rent Flight 666, a Canadian-made flick about that recent Iron Maiden tour where they flew their own 757 jet around the world and blew the roof off everywhere, especially south America, where the fans are so rabid just catching a drumstick is much more of a profound religious experience than anything in Eli’s good book or Jackson’s candyland afterlife.

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Notes from the Back Row- Double Cera

January 15, 2010

perfectly greasy 'stache

Notes Form the Back Row jan 5 2010

James Cameron’s Avatar has become the fastest film in history to break the billion dollar worldwide sales mark, doing so in just 19 days. So if you haven’t seen the environmentally charged giant blue alien movie yet, well you’re one of the few.

Granted, Avatar’s sales numbers get a boost from the price of 3D tickets – I think it’s something like 15 bucks each in Downtown Vancouver– but it’s well worth it. And if you can’t make it to a 3D theatre the Village 8 is screening the 2D version but the 2 hour 40 minute running time might start to feel long without the wow factor of 3D.

Regardless, Cameron has done it again, and while the story isn’t epic, it’s good enough. Avatar entertains, engages, amazes, and the alien chick is pretty hot– she shoots a bow, not a gun, but she wears really skimpy outfits and has a sassy attitude to boot.

Speaking of sassy, Youth in Revolt opens with the sound of a teenage boy masturbating. And then you get the visual. Michael Cera is at it again playing Nick Twisp, a goodhearted, intellectual virgin who defines himself with the hip music and films he likes but can’t seem to drum up enough real personality to get the girls. Kids take note– Sinatra on vinyl and Fellini films are totally cool, but the truth is that stuff won’t get you laid (unless you go to art school.) Girls like the bad boys, as Nick realizes with a bit of coaxing from love-of-his-life/first-girl-to-pay-any-attention-to-him Sheeni (played by Portia Doubleday.)

To find his inner badness and win equally-hip Sheeni’s heart and body Nick relies on his “supplementary persona” Francois, a suave, borderline-psychotic with a wicked-thin high school mustache. Hijinks ensue and the story gets more and more bonkers as it plays out but at just 90 minutes director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, 6 Feet Under) is able to keep us at least half-entertained with his dark take on the R-rated coming of age genre.

Having Cera play both Nick and Francois is refreshing because it gives the most typecast actor of recent years a chance to riff on that same old character he’s done to death. And he does a good job.

Viewers looking for a deep meaningful meditation on the nature of teenagers can forget it but those who want mushroom and tampon jokes interspersed with dirty sex talk and explosions will probably have a pretty good time at Youth in Revolt.

Speaking of youth, the masses of Twilight fans and that franchise’s success have translated into a general malaise for Vampire flicks lately. Vampires are played out. But wait, maybe not. Daybreakers is a slick new film with some freaky-ass bat creatures and a fully developed world in which 95% of the population are Vamps. It also takes a stab at real contemporary issues (you get this sort of thing a lot with Zombie movies but rarely with the bloodsuckers.)

Ethan Hawke stars as a turned-against-his will Vampire Hematologist working for a big-business blood supplier who mass-harvests blood from any remaining humans they can find. But supply is dwindling and with just enough human blood to last a month, Hawke is charged with finding a synthetic substitute.             Instead he finds a group of humans who can cure Vampirism, but of course no one wants that. The action and look of the flick is recycled a bit and Daybreakers is more sci-fi than horror but it’s still a pretty smart film about population mismanagement, the death of the middle class, and a bunch of bad-asses in rubber batsuits tearing up the suburbs. Good times.

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Notes from the Back Row- best of 2009

January 3, 2010

Notes from the back row Dec 28

The Best of 2009 List

Best of 2009 List

There was an old joke when we were kids– What do you do with 365 used condoms? Make them into a tire and call it a good year.

Now, I don’t know what you can make out of a shitload of used DVD’s but 2009 was certainly a fine year for cinema as well. There were surprises, disappointments, tears-jerkers, and two Megan Fox films (which are a different kind of jerker.) So here’s the best of the best from the back row.

Best Sci-FiAvatar needs to be mentioned for the mind-blowingness of its visuals but my top pick is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Moon, a character piece starring Sam Rockwell and a talking computer, is a smart, subtle, fantastic movie that reminds us that lazer beams and aliens aren’t as scary as the shit we might do to ourselves.

Best Comedy– The Hangover saved the summer by reworking a common concept but keep your eyes out for World’s Greatest Dad, a black comedy that rebuilds some trust in Robin Williams (who has sucked more ass than gay hippopotamus lately) and also check out In the Loop, a scathing look at politics and people that watches like a classical opus of profanity.

Best Documentary– The Cove, a thriller doc about Japan’s brutal dolphin slaughter, is stirring, sad, frustrating and extremely well done. As is End of the Line and Food INC, but for a doc that doesn’t make you want to slit your wrists in shame and guilt over how shitty humanity is check out Anvil, an uplifting look at some Canadian metal legends and proof that Rock and Roll truly is a lifestyle.

Best Action– Forget GI JOE or any other fun-but-forgettable comic movie with giant robotic battle-suits. When I think of ass-kicking in 2009 I remember Liam Neeson tearing around Paris trying to rescue his daughter from Albanian sex traffickers in Taken. Just like the best punches to the face Taken came out of nowhere and left an impression.

Best Romantic Comedy –Not usually a genre I bother with but even I appreciated the scene in 500 Days of Summer where the guy nails the hot chick and then leaves her place the next day in such a good mood he’s high-fiving strangers while the whole world breaks into a song and dance number. It would never happen, but it’s so true. Runner up- Away We Go. Good if you’re pregnant.

Best Horror– Not the best year for scary movies but Swedish kid vamp flick Let the Right One In certainly had its moments and Feast 3-The Happy Ending held the B-Grade torch high as well.

Best Drama– The Hurt Locker–Nothing says tense like a bomb squad in Iraq. Also, in Notorious Basterds Tarantino proves that cinema can save the world.

Best Kids’– A superb year for kids. Coraline, Ponyo, Where the Wild Things Are okay, that was more for people who remember being kids) but the best was Pixar’s UP! Pure genius.

Best Movie you didn’t hear much about 9, not the musical, the number, is a slick animated film too scary for kids so it didn’t blow up at the box office but as a post-apocalyptic salvage yard film about the soul of humanity battling technology via nine tiny handmade ragdolls, well it’s pretty kick-ass.

Best Movie of 2009 (Tie)– Fantastic Mr Fox is slick comedy mixed with deeply layered visuals, a near-perfect script and the best way to swear in a kids movie ever. District 9– A tense rollercoaster of a flick that came out of nowhere, looked incredible, had alien-prawns you could actually empathize with and didn’t hammer you too hard with its thematic allegory (like Avatar did.) Neil Blomkamp and Peter Jackson went easy on the pre-hype and then delivered a classic flick with a flawed protagonist who I can’t wait to see what happens to in District 10.

Yes, 2009 was a good year and remember, they’ve got free condoms at the Health Care centre so save your money for the cinema in 2010.

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Notes from the Back Row- HO Ho ho

January 3, 2010

Notes from the Back row- dec 21

Ho ho ho and away we go. Another holiday season. Ideally, Christmas Day should be spent on the ski hill with friends and family but often there’s that one black sheep in the family who pounds one nog too many, gropes your girlfriend, pukes in the poinsetta, and instigates what will late be known as ‘the great Christmas blow-up.’ When that goes down (it almost always does) it’s nice to get away from the holiday cheer for a while and two hours in a dark cinema can do just the trick.

This Christmas the Village 8 is screening Sherlock Holmes, an origin-story wherein Guy Ritchie revamps literature’s most famous detective. Guy Ritchie hasn’t made a good film in almost ten years, since Snatch, but hey, at least he’s a brit.

Starring the always watchable (these days) Robert Downey Jr in the title role, and with Jude Law playing his esteemed sidekick Watson, this Sherlock Holmes is more than a genius man of many peculiarities– he’s also a bare-knuckle brawler with ninja-like stick-fighting abilities. Go figure, action outsells thinking almost every time.

In a digitally rendered London of the 1890’s, Holmes and Watson capture a murderer and watch him hang, but not before he promises to return from the grave and then does just that. The creepy, supernatural mystery starts with a bang then weaves through heavily stylized action set-pieces before fizzling a bit at Ritchie does his best to set up a sequel.

Downey and Law carry the film with their suave, bros-before-hoes chemistry and the visuals are cool. As a storyteller Guy Ritchie only has one speed, overdrive, but his Sherlock Holmes is an ass-kicking good time so long as you aren’t looking for too much thinking in amongst your mystery solving.

What’s a real mystery to me is why anyone would green-light a second Alvin and the Chipmunks movie? And yet here it is, The Squeak-quel. At least Jason Lee jumps ship early in the film to save face but the list of big-name actors he leaves behind (doing voices mainly) is astounding.–Amy Poelher? Justin Long? Christina Applegate? Anna Faris?! David Cross? These folks should know better.

The plot centers around a whole new band of female “chick-munks” rolling onto the scene and forcing Alvin, Simon and Theodore into a battle of the bands in order to stay on top at their school. This kind of thing is bafflingly popular with the kids these days– ever since American Pie the band geeks have been getting laid and with crapheaps like High School Musical continuing to make money I guess we’ll be stuck in this ‘performing arts’ rut for a while. To its credit, the CGI and the real world filming in The Squeakquel is pretty seamless and I suppose if you chewed on enough acid (check out the pupils on those chipmunks by the way) this might pass for entertainment. Be wary with your dosage though, those chipmunk voices are pretty far out.

If you’re looking for good Christmas DVD’s  check out Scrooged (Can’t go wrong with Bill Murray), Gremlins (give the gift of death- the chick is hot), Bad Santa (an honest look at how many of us feel about the holidays), Lethal Weapon and Die Hard (Jesus’ birthday is always a great time for action flicks) and The Nightmare Before Christmas. But the greatest Christmas film ever made is a short flick from Eastern Canada that played at this years B-Grade Horrorfest. Treevenge is a family drama full of social commentary, baby head stomps, violence, gore and J-Roc. I’m not shitting here Sherlock, check it out at online http://www.horrorsquad.com/2009/07/13/get-treevenge-at-home/

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Notes from the Back Row- Avatar for the holidays

January 3, 2010

My apologies. here are three weeks worth of posts. Having a kid makes christmas a lot busier.

Notes from the back row- dec 15

Like a particularly nasty case of herpes the Holiday season has crept up on us again. People are extra busy this time of year and I’m guessing that’s why I didn’t receive any movie listings this week and therefore have no idea what is opening at the Village 8 on Friday.

It’s a good bet they’re bringing in James Cameron’s Avatar though, and probably with a late-night Thursday screening as well. Avatar, 12 years in the making (Cameron’s last film was Titanic,) has been heralded as the next giant leap in digital filmmaking and Cameron’s team had to invent live-motion capture technology that allowed them to see how the CGI-heavy film would look as they shot it.

And they shot the crap out of it. By all accounts, watching Avatar in 3D IMAX is truly pant-shitting. Cameron has crafted a world that’s equally lush and believable, detailed and sensible, and unlike Transformers and almost every other big budget actioner out these days, Avatar doesn’t lose you visually– The viewer can always see and understand what is happening in the action scenes. So while it may not be the second coming, visually, this movie is quite an achievement.

Plot-wise, not as much– Avatar relies on the old Pochahontas story of an aggressor falling for the peaceful indigenous maiden and rebelling against his destructive past and people. After using up our own planet Humans are stripmining Pandora, a new planet, searching for some awesome substance called “unobtanium.” And if the peaceful treehugging alien residents don’t want to get out of our way, well too bad for them.

Jake (Sam Worthington from Terminator Salvation) is a parapalegic ex-military guy who ends up on Pandora, gets turned into a giant blue alien, and meets local alien/girl Neytiri (Zoe Saldana of Star Trek). Rather than spy and report on the aliens Jake falls in love and organizes a rebellion. Cue the awesome aerial fight scene.

At 164 minutes long, James Cameron manages to hold our attention with the visuals but the dialogue and Native American/Invade-Iraq-for-oil allegories are pretty heavy handed. The message is good (don’t shit all over peaceful people just because they have something you want) but not subtle, and if you’re looking for emotional attachment with anyone in the film, well at least there’s Sigourney Weaver.

Avatar, even if you don’t see it in ass-kickingly-awesome 3D IMAX, is great of fantasy/sci-fi escapism but I had higher hopes, story wise, from the guy who brought us The Abyss, Terminator 1& 2, Aliens and Pirhana 2.

Speaking of, Pirhana 3D is supposed to come out in April 2010. Forget the Olympics, the highlight of the spring is gonna be carnivorous fish leaping out of the screen to chew your face off. How can you go wrong when the film’s first character listed on IMDB is Eli Roth as “Wet T-Shirt Contest Emcee”? Plus it’s directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension.) Pirhana 3D start getting stoked.

The big George Clooney film Up in the Air is out now– something about a guy with almost five-million frequent flyer miles suddenly facing a cut travel budget and the pain of losing his mile high romance. Early reports from my people in the city are that it’s good (Clooney always delivers) but not as amazing as the hype would let you believe.

Clooney also delivers as the voice of Fantastic Mr Fox, which is still playing at the Village 8, and truly is fantastic. A perfect way to sooth the festering sores and stress of another Holiday flare-up.