Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bronte's Heir: The Passing of Heathcliff

Mourning is a strange process, one that kept me awake for many a night in years of yore. Mainly because even though a personal loss long ago broke my heart and pretty much shaped the few following years of my life, I didn't react as strongly as the rest of my immediate entourage. I couldn't understand why that was, and couldn't stop feeling guilty and heartless about it. A very wise lady bestowed great peace of mind upon me many years later, when offering that a mourning process takes many years to unfold, and along the way covers for other reasons we may have to mourn. I slept my first peaceful slumber in a very long time that night, having suddenly realized I had, in fact, started mourning before that one tragedy, and was effectively already there. The unsustainable heartbreak had already happened, and covered for that latest event in my life. Most psychologists will probably laugh off my soothsayer’s wisdom, but it does explain many things in my head and my life, and helped me put that one ghost to rest once and for all.

It doesn't mean I shouldn’t care anymore, nor can I "downsize" the mourning of others, it just means I have my own way of feeling and dealing with a loss, and mustn't feel guilty for it. Especially when mourning for someone I never even met- if that someone affected your life in any way that leaves an empty space in your heart after their departure, you ARE allowed to honor them the way you need to. So I'll take the long road in writing this, for my process towards a recent tragedy means writing about everything that comes pouring from my mind in relation to it.

Val Kilmer is a great actor, no doubt about it; the guy has great talent and charisma which I respect. He was such a total pr**k in Top Gun that I couldn't for the life of me differentiate character from actor; he just felt like he really was that arrogant and cold and hateful. I realized with time that Kilmer is indeed an effing pr**k when doing any movie that he regards as being beneath him. No matter if many people liked the entertainment of Top Gun, he didn't care for the movie and so phoned-in the character. He's had a fair share of great performances, but it's these disrespectful-to-fans ones that stay with me. Can't you offer something that will please your fans AND make a bad movie better for it?

Cut to 1999, where I was an assistant-manager for a small movie theatre and had the time of my life watching movies every night for free. Some of them I could've done without repeated forced-viewings (Dr. Doolittle 2 is even worse when seen three times a day, every day, for four weeks), but others I just kept gushing about. This happened with one little flick I sat on during a particularly tedious-releases week, which blew away my initially low expectations, and had me make a very serious prediction: that foreign-accented kid is the next Jack Nicholson. The film was the surprisingly clever comedy Ten Things I Hate About You, and the square-jawed Aussie fellow was a complete unknown named Heath Ledger.

Ten Things could've been your average teen-flick-of-the-week, like so many Varsity Blues or any number of other films I can't remember (which proves my point), even though its premise was borrowed from Will the Bard and co-starred the hilarious David Krumholtz (and Julia Stiles, whom I must admit having had a crush on for a while). What elevated it above the rest was Heath’s very grounded and dedicated work in that he just chewed every single scene he appeared. He soon after vindicated my prediction by spear-heading the potentially-lame Knight’s Tale to mega-hit levels, and again later when leaving high-cost productions behind in favor of roles that challenged him, like his bizarre turn in Lords of Dogtown (one of my favorite films). I then gloated in my accuracy when he took one of the riskiest roles in cinema history, that of a gay -and married- cowboy, and rammed it down conservative Hollywood’s throat.

The death of Heathcliff Andrew Ledger is a great loss for his family, and for that my thoughts are with them. But I can't mourn, like them, for someone I knew so little about outside the screen. A lot of criticism has been and will be made of those like me who focus on the movie-side of the loss, but that IS what connected us to him, what challenged and amazed and dazzled and inspired us. And that is how I wish to pay him tribute. His body of work is what will remain long after those he moved personally have passed on as well; his body of work is what made me an admirer of his. I feel no guilt in being happy that he went out with such a posthumous bang.

Yes, start throwing rocks at me, I AM talking about The Dark Knight. You know who would've phoned-in Ten Things I Hate About You and snarled at those who paid to see it? Val Kilmer. You know who almost single-handedly ruined Batman? Val Kilmer. You know who completely delivered up the same kind of roles for the greater enjoyment of fans, and went to great lengths never to let them feel screwed out of their entrance-fee cash? Heathcliff. He’s the guy who turned his back on the media at award shows in order to cross the line and meet the crowd to sign autographs. YES, I meant I’m dying to watch THAT guy play the Joker!

Let me put it another way. I loved and admired John Candy tremendously, as did I River Phoenix. Alas I can't help but feel sad knowing Big John died while filming Wagons East, a film so lame he didn't even want to be in it (he was under contractual obligations to), or that River's last three films were below-average, barely released bombs. Tragic it is both for the public to remember them that way, AND for the artists who must've felt like failures when the final moment came. After all, Hollywood makes a point of reminding its denizens that they’re only as good as their last project, no matter how influential their entire career was.

On the other hand, there’s John Cazale, with only six films under his belt: the much-acclaimed The Conversation, the first two Godfather films (who can't remember Fredo and the kiss-of-death), the groundbreaking Dog Day Afternoon (the grandfather to Heath's Brokeback Mountain), and The Deer Hunter which he completed shortly before passing away. All six of them are considered among the best movies from the 70's. Most likely unhappy to die of cancer, John must've felt great pride in knowing his short contribution to the cinematic culture was enormous, and that no-one would ever look back at his career as a failure. He went out on top with one of the most haunting soldier-story movies ever made.

Heath Ledger's last few performances (and early ones too) broke the mold, shattered Hollywood conventions and rules, and made legions of fans proud to have supported him since Ten Things I Hate About You. And this summer, he will wave at us from the grave, in what is already being hailed as the performance of his lifetime, reminiscent of what Michael Corleone was to Al Pacino, Gandhi to Ben Kingsley or The Dude to Jeff Bridges. Could he really have expired without knowing how deeply he touched so many people? The still-young actor expressed exhaustion following his final performance, something that many blame for his untimely death, but he goes out with his gosh-darn boots on. I am increasingly feverish in my wait to be dazzled by his Joker, and will not hesitate to feel happy for him - that he left an amazing career on such a high professional note.

My thoughts and feelings ARE sad and DO go towards his family. But MY method of mourning will be to appreciate fully his entire filmography and final bow to movieland, and to be happy knowing Heathcliff ends up buried alongside Catherine, just as Emily Bronte had intended for her tragic anti-hero.

Internet Scam ALERT: Freelance Job Postings

Of course I like writing, otherwise these here words would be in no position to be read...And like everyone else, I'd like my writing to bring a little bit of fazools on the side. So like many many people browsing these virtual avenues each day, I decided to do a bit of Freelance writing work - be a hired gun for websites in need of articles.

It is a harsh world to navigate, and I did my share of blunders when starting out; wrote a few pages for people who never intended to pay for them, wrote Shakespearean prose when all the client wants is the same word repeated over and over so that search engines can spot know the kind!

But I came through, found a few nice people to work for, and even began editing the writings of people who think I'm stupid enough to believe they know how to write - in English above all! All in all, I steer clear of the scams because we all know what they look like.

There appears to be a new type of scam though, one almost impossible to spot before applying, meant only to lure and dupe rookie writers into becoming registered members of some "who cares, really" organisation.

The job posting is quite common and straighforward;
Usually something like "I'm looking for writers for a website, we are currently offering $0.04 per word, which will go up over time, and need English writers. Please email me at and I will get back to you with more information. You must be able to read and write in English to take up this job."

Then, mere minutes after sending a job application to the address, the applicant receives such an automated message:
Hello,Thank you for you interest. We have receive an overwelming number of inquires,so we are going through the aplications. Please signup at our any of our clients websites listed below and take a lookaround, as that will make thing quickher should we hire you.
(That was an actual mail I recieved - notice that it very is badly written)

Of course, whether you register or not means nothing in regards to the job - never will that person contact you again; you will however observe an increase in undesired spam.
Some will offer a variant - register to our site so we can verify that you live in Canada or USA; or you must be a member to be considered for the job.

Here, then is a list of such scammers posting on Freelance job sites:

Jill Saunders (that one responds with 5 different sites to register, all about buying things you don't need)
Mark Xamin (he simply wants more people to populate his hockey forum - and says so in responding)
Jess Banes (that one does it repeatedly with different sites to register on each time)
mental ray (Someone named Katie, and it turns out its to take ten surveys a week, each time apparently making you eligible to win big money)

There are many others, and I vow to find them!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A poke of "The Eye": CBS Cancels Jericho. Again.

CBS made me a liar. I had predicted they would wait a few months after Jericho's second (very short) season to announce what everybody knew in advance -that the show is done- but they didn't; they leaked (didn't even care to do a proper press release) the news that the finale would be a series finale 5 days before it aired.

For anyone with more of a life than I, here's a quick overview of the whole story. Jericho is a show which debuted on CBS in the Fall of 2006, about a small Kansas town dealing with the aftermath of a massive nuclear attack on the US. It was rich in characters and storylines, had a great cast and writers, and pulled a very strong fanbase very quickly. When announcing in Summer 2007 that the show was dead, fans rallied into an unprecedented campaign which rivaled even the one saving Star Trek in the 60s; CBS execs were flooded with complaints (even on their personal phones and emails), protests were mounted on multiple platforms and tons -literally tons- of nuts were sent to the network in a show of refusal from the fans to let their show die.

CBS was pretty much cornered; history was being made with the campaign, and all eyes were on the Eye. Would they ignore the new kind of TV-watching and fanbase accompanying while at the same time alienating part of their viewership, or at least act as though their network is in touch with the new millennium's new possibilities? Their response was a judicious one, on a business level: make them think they won. A new season was announced, with only 7 episodes and a much downgraded budget, to satisfy the fans, with a stern warning: get us more viewers or you killed your own show.

Ratings haven't improved during the abridged second run, on the contrary. Many blame the time slot -10pm on Tuesday, right after two hours or "American Idol"-, others the lack of promotion from CBS, the lesser quality of the new episodes, the increasing ability to stream and download, or the writer's strike which prompted a change of habit for many TV watchers. Bottom line is money -from advertising- which can't be cropped if TV ratings don't add up. Nielsen's statistics system might be outdated, it's still the closest and surest way to find out how many Americans watch TV at a given moment, and they said not many watched Jericho.

Many people in my entourage sarcastically asked me how much I'd spend on nuts THIS time, to which my answer remains the same since cancellation started looming (again): nothing. I could say that the impossible can't be accomplished twice, that there comes a time when you must learn to let go, that the lack of ratings proves the futility of it all, and so on and so forth. But the reason behind my decision is much more simple: I just don't care anymore.

I did watch the new season with passion and interest - even though the show feels crammed and packed instead of letting the story breath and unfold. But the original campaign was much more than about a show. It was being part of history, just like the aforementioned Trek campaign which is still talked about. It was about taking part in a revolution of medium and democracy, where our campaign could pave the way for a whole new way of moving mountains, letting our voices be heard, influencing world leaders, helping causes that need it desperately and maybe even finally save the God damn planet.

But then dissension and corruption quickly gained the upper hand inside this new army, where people were bitching each other and bickering about who shot first -Han or Greedo, while a few attention seekers try to apoint themselves reigning monarchs of the fandom. Elsewhere, the Republicans nominated another ultra-conservative geriatric as their presidential nominee. Britney's latest plea for attention stole the newspaper's front page, relegating the reasons behind the dumbest war in history to the trivial facts columns. And every time I go to the supermarket with my two children, people still look at them as spoiled little brats or freaks - no one cares that autism is the fastest proliferating affliction on the planet while remaining a complete mystery even to specialists.

I don't care anymore because I thought the movement to let a community of caring people be heard would be the tip of a brand new sword. Instead I find myself the punchline to the joke of a plastic dagger. Mega corporations and big money still rule, common people can't be civil and decent to each other, and those who bitch against it at the watercooler still won't take to the streets against it all and change things for real.

Jericho's a great TV show, and I'll miss it. When it's gone, I'll change the channel and dumb myself down with something else before going to sleep. Such is the way of the world we live in. I'll fight my own battles my own way, on my own terms, for my own reasons from now on.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

2008 Drama/Western

STARRING Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard
WRITTEN BY Andrew Domink, based on the novel by Ron Hansen
DIRECTED BY Andrew Dominik

There's a lot to be said of a movie whose title dares spoil the punch right from the get go, since in a way in doesn't really. Of course Jesse James ends up assassinated by Robert Ford - just as we knew the Titanic sinks, Marty gets back to the future and Fredo Corleone is a wuss. What it truly spoils though is the irony; History remembers Robert Ford as a sniveling weasel who killed his friend to get famous and rich while Jesse was a Jolly-Golly great guy who loved everyone and never had an evil bone in his body. But the truth, although probably truncated a bit in the film for dramatic purposes, was much more complex, sad and dark.

The story picks up Jesse James during his last big job with brother Frank, and a bunch of hired tugs to help out since the original gang members were all either dead or in jail. One of them Robert Ford, initially tries to become a sidekick to his childhood idol Jesse, only to realize that the myth was much larger and sunnier than the man. As health leaves Jesse while paranoia gains him, both men will lock themselves in crash course with an inevitability that plagues whatever is left or their lives.

Many naysayers and critics of the film denounce its length -2 and a half hours- for making it a boring tableau of depressing dialogs. Lucky for them the original 4-hour cut was trimmed down for theatrical release, but that's besides the point. Their real beef is that most movie goers were expecting a western, an epic with lush action sequences and great moments of emotional roller coasters. The absence of which is what actually makes it such a piece of art.

The very melancholic (and striking) music brings forth and carries a sense of doom and sadness throughout the film, adding to the forebaring narration which puts the viewer on a path to feeling heartbreak for all of its protagonists. With the "mystery" out of the equation, the viewer is allowed to experience the true surprise and discovery - knowing who exactly was Jesse James as a man, what could go through the mind of his killer, what influence did they both have living and dead. Truly majestic editing allows such discoveries and appreciation, even beyond the titular event which isn't the end of the line.

All of it would mean nothing without outstanding performances, by all involved. Of course Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, with all of his usual ticks and mannerism, but the man also carries tremendous charisma which is a trait everyone seems to agree on for the famous outlaw. The true acclaim however goes to his cast-mates, none of them stars or A-listers but each and everyone respected and admirable thespians, bringing much grounded credibility to the project. To be noted among them are Paul Schneider (previously noticed in "Elizabethtown" and "The Family Stone"), Micheal Parks, the always lovely Zooey Deschanel in a blink-and-youll-miss appearance and even left-wing commentator James Carville as a self-righteous state governor.

All of them are however overshadowed by the increasingly amazing Casey Affleck, who brings such a mixed bag or mystery, emotions and empathy to his character or Robert Ford that along with "Gone Baby Gone", little-bro Casey has managed to completely shatter the perception of being nothing else than Big Ben's sibling.

A piece of advice - WATCH the movie, in peace and tranquility, without interruption. It is truly one of those epics that deserve such attention to be fully digested and understood.

Final score on the CC Scale: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sesame's Nasty Street: censored & deleted scenes

I found these clips individually on YouTube, and couldn't resist the idea that the venerable and almost legendary kiddie show "Sesame Street", which I admitedly grew up with, could have a few nasty skeletons in its closet...

So here's my little montage of these very funny clips.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blondie and her Headphones: DJ Zoé

Parents of special children sacrifice a lot of things out of love for their wee ones. One thing this dad ain't ready to part with is sanity - which will soon be lost if I have to listen to "Barbie: Island Princess" one more god damn time!

So I found a solution to free myself of that torturous feat for at least a few minutes...

Friday, March 14, 2008

MOVIEW REVIEW: Jumper (2008)

2008 Action/Sci-Fi
STARRING:Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson.
WRITTEN BY David S. Goyer & Jum Uhls, based on the novel by Steven C. Gould

If Jumper succeeds in one area, it will be to make viewers want to read the book, since it is unquestionably a very intriguing twist on a recycled-yet-cool concept. But as far as the movie goes, it's a great concept that tripped at the finish line. Well, actually, tripped all through the race track.

The story follows David, a kid from a broken home whose life is saved when discovering the ability to teleport. His mastering of this unique power allows him to escape his home front and forge a dream life for himself, one where the entire planet is his playground. His new lifestyle however puts him in the path of a secret society of quasi-religious fanatics bent on annihilating his kind, and a fellow "Jumper" who fights them back.

Although the visuals F/X were bashed by critics all over, they provide jawropping sceneries and actions scenes, which is almost enough to make a good movie. The viewer truly feels swept along with the hero when he jumps, dizziness and all.

What makes it veer into lousy-movie territory though is "Manakin" Skywalker (hopefully about to drop out of sight) as the lead, and very poor narrative development. Interesting characters are showcased with walking-tree performances to support them, save for Jamie Bell who litterally explodes with charisma in each of his scenes; Sam Jackson phones-in one of his rare bad guy roles, Micheal Rooker is given nothing to work with and Diane Lane shows up for little else but to pick up her monthly paycheck. Along those lines, mysterious elements are introduced to great viewer-interest only to be left unexplained or unused - A ritual knifed wielded by Sam Jackson which we never learn anything about, David's mother who could have been the next Darth Vader, the anti-hero Griffin who's storyline is left litterally "hanging", a mention of centuries-old conflicts that are never exposed and the origin of the power itself which is never explained. The story (and film) ends abruptly with no resolution and VERY little satisfaction, as if it was only the pilot of a yet-unproduced TV show.

Still an entertaining film, Jumper should be seen with low expectations and with a focus on the few strengths, which are the awesome visuals and the always-amazing Jamie Bell as badass jumper Griffin - who most definitely should've been the true star of this movie.

Final score on the CC Scale: 2 out of 5

Thursday, March 06, 2008

"I Am Legend"s Better Ending

A lot has been said about the theatrical success of Will Smith's Holidays blockbuster "I am Legend", namely that the ending came far too abruptly and that it completely veers away from the spirit of the original material. And I say Will Smith's because even though it wasn't the usual "Aww HHell No" Big Willie-style star vehicle, it wasn't even 15% of Richard Matheson's groundbreaking novel of the same name.

The thing is, if you want a $100M+ movie to succeed, you have to make it highly commercial; Matheson's novel is far from that. It's gritty, the hero is unlikeable, and the ending is a downer shrouded into a grave lesson for all of humanity: we're much too arrogant of our place in this world for its or even our own good. it's understandable, from a business point of view, that studio execs requested some "changes".

The climax of the novel has hero Robert Nevile, a construction worker who mysteriously survived a modifying plague, discovering that some of the "new Humans" have formed their own society; and he's been killing them off on the basis that they are monsters out of mythology who's place is not in this world, when in actuality he's the monster who's place is in legends and children's bedtime spook stories. He's a predator who needs the be dealt with by society - the new society. When he understands it, he lets himself be caught and judged, and accepts that execution is the only way out of his nightmare.

The movie has COLONEL Robert Nevile, MD (!!) fighting to find a cure to the plague and restore society as it was. When he finds a pair of other survivors, he sacrifices his own life in a blaze of glory so that they can escape with the cure and join a colony of survivors to try and repel the plague themselves. WOW did THEY miss the point.

HOWEVER, just this week, the original ending, IE the one that was scrapped by the studio in favor of the "hero" one in time for theatrical release, found its way (like everything these days) on YouTube. It's already become a source of tremendous debate among the geek community, some saying it sucks (I like that very vacant and close minded argument) while others praise it to high genius.

I usually try to look at both sides of any argument, and find the common ground to bring peace on earth and please everyone. this once, though, I have to take a stand. The alternate ending is MUCH BETTER! First, because it keeps in line with the books: Nevile realizes he's been hunting the meta-humans like they were beasts outside their cages when in reality they are the new dominating race, able to think, feel and gather in a somewhat-coherent society. Second, because Neville is anything but a hero - he shouldn't die like one, in a blaze of glory or some other honorable death. Third, because the end is left ambiguous, like everything was back when the novel was written; IS there a colony of human survivors? Will they leave the meta-humans alone? Will they survive their journey? Are they the very last humans or not, and do they understand their new place in the world?

I do praise this new ending to high genius. Plus, it makes much more sense toward the rest of the movie: why the meta-humans followed him home, why he was set up in a trap, etc. It redeems a movie that I initially condemned as one more inaccurate and downright lame version of a great novel, to the point where I wish to high heaves that the studio will release a director's cut with that original ending, the same way Paramount allowed Brian Helgeland to materialize his vision of "Payback".

If only for my own enjoyment, here's the ending in question, in all its YouTube glory.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Having an Autistic child isn't a disaster

Parents who just learned their child is afflicted with autism might very understandably feel the sky falling on their head, with no hopes of it lifting off again anytime soon.

The good folks at graciously agreed to let me post their very beautiful video made to help, reassure and inspire such parents who, like me, face challenges that seem much bigger than they will turn out to be.

Don't let fear and uncertainty overwhelm you; take it one step at a time, allow yourself to make mistake, and let things unfold as they naturally should. Not to sound cheesy, but every little thing's gonna be alright. Watch this, and pass it on to others like us.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: Justice League -The New Frontier

I admitedly never was a big comic book enthusiast; not that I don't like them, it's just too big a world to start investing in for me. Nevertheless, I am a DC cartoon series fan (Teen Titans, JLA, Batman Beyond and such, and as such had been waiting for Justice League: The New Frontier like a kid for Christmas. Unfortunately, only über comic book fans had a visit from Santa.

Based on the 2004 limited comic book series of the same name, the film is an exercises in progressive nostalgia; it is an attempt at writing and drawing the way it was done 50 years ago, keeping in mind what we know today in terms of human rights, political activism and war. The story, set in the mid-50's, features classic DC superheroes having to band with the US government to stop the threat of a powerful entity known simply as The Center.

There are a few bulls-eye hits in the film itself; starting with the art and visuals; classic costumes and drawing look absolutely great with modern animation techniques, giving us a glimpse at something that looks completely new when in actuality its been around for ages. The costume themselves were bold choices, dressing up Wonder Woman like a cave woman, Batman the way he was in Bob Cane's mind and superman looking like George Reeves. The soundtrack is inviting and pitch perfect, the editing shows great savoir faire and the production is chock-full of references and wink-wink moments to delight any big kid.

The first big problem though, is that the big kids targeted as an audience are those who know this universe and its denizens inside out; the film acts as if we all grew up reading every single CD universe comic book ever printed. Meaning there's no room for character development, just look backs and references. While the book form was much more expanded and rich in min and orbital storylines, this adaptation cuts quite short - just over an hour short. The story itself, dragging aimlessly until there's 10 minutes left, feels like a series of "hey remember that from the book, and that, and that here".

A great superhero epic also needs a memorable villain; this one has dinosaurs inexplicably coming out of its pores, a Satanism-like cult following, the appearance of a flying island and Keith David's voice. Only the last attribute make it worth being called villain (nobody threatens like Keith's voice), thus dousing the dramatic impact on the overall product.

Then there's voice casting, which again is more behind-the-scenes fun than actual helpful to the film itself. Kyle Mclachlan playing Superman after being denied the George Reeves part in "Hollywoodland" induces a smile, so does Lucy Lawless playing a battle-drunk Wonder Woman. Even Jeremy Sisto manages to surprise with his cynical and nuanced Batman. But Sisto can't quite erase the work, of Kevin Conroy, nor do any of the other performers. And don't get me started on the very cheesy and thinly veiled use of 50's patriotism to promote humanitarian values...

New Frontier deserves an A for the effort and sentiment, but ultimately it feels like the unfinished pilot for a potentially great series. Many juicy extras on the DVD sweeten the investment, but again, mostly for hardcore comic book fans. Others might wanna borrow the thing from a neighbor. For those who'll argue that I simply stacked my expectations too high, well you're darn right I did, and boy am I disappointed.

Final score on the CC scale:
2.5 out of 5

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Vote for me on Liblogs Video Contest

The following two videos are entries for the Liblogs video Contest, which asked participants to submit a short clip of what Canadian Liberalism meant to them. I am lucky enough to speak Frehcn and English, which allowed me to submit for each languages - both of them about ENVIRONMENT.
Please visit the following link after watching the videos, and vote for moi! You won't just help me win, you'll voice your concern over global warming!

UDPDATE: voting is now over on the contest. Winners will be announced soon. Keep an eye on this blog to learn if I made a difference for the environment.
(First one - is actually in French on the Liblogs site)

(Second one - isn't he cute???)

The cutest little blondie

I finally took time to do an English version of my family videos. Here's the first one, for all to enjoy!

Saturday, February 16, 2008


2001 Sci-Fi / Psyho Drama
STARRING : Dennis Leary, Hope Davis, Jim Gaffigan
WRITTEN by: Bruce McIntosh
DIRECTED by: Campbell Scott

Final provides a great movie-watching experience when considering it as an experiment - a self challenge by director and producer to film a compelling story on a shoestring budget, and an attempt to show what you can do with great performers to showcase what no special effects will.

Waking up in a hospital room (where most of the movie takes place), Bill Stark can't seem to decide if he's delusional, paranoid, or on his way to death row; he hears inexistent blues music, rants about having been cryogenically frozen, expects to be executed shortly, and gradually sifts through memories of the grim events that lead him to his current state. His only beacon towards sanity and truth is a mild-mannered and cryptic therapist, whose relation with her patient becomes too close for comfort, and slowly reveals that the insane man might not be so insane after all.

The one thing that works against the movie is what it tries to attain - showing that a no-budget film can effectively thread on Kafkaesque territory as well as science-fiction. Pacing and intensity would be better achieved if it restrained itself and kept things more mysterious, as the shift from one genre to the another two-thirds into the story feels like a let-down instead of a real dramatic twist.

It does however succeed in relying on a surprisingly rich and nuanced performance by bad boy Irish-American Dennis Leary, whose journey to the inevitable whisks the viewer along with great interest. Even more surprising is the improbable yet strong chemistry with his co-star Hope Davis, whose un-eccentricity of character plays wonderfully against Leary's supped-up testosterone. The two actors are all the more impressive when given limited locations, and absolutely no visual effects, as they manage to paint the world they live in with livid and tangible colors.

Definitely recommended for Leary fans to rediscover the man in a new light, and for aficionados of psychological, no F/X Sci-Fi the likes of "Cube" or "12 Monkeys".
Final score on the CC scale: 3.5 out of 5

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Twisting Tales

I often asked myself what exactly a story is; not the construct of it, or language or imagery, but its stature. Of course there are some untouchables, some classics that no one dares soil, but once it’s down on paper or celluloid, is it fixed for all eternity, or is it just a trend that can easily be reshaped when something else is in fashion?

I used to treat and see every story, novels or movies or comic books or TV shows, like they were taken directly from reality. If it’s written as such, you can’t touch it anymore because it happened, period.

And then I stumbled onto “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (those who know me are sick of hearing me gush on that one…sorry folks…). Douglas Adams started out with a radio show, writing a particular storyline. But then a mouth-watering book deal came along, and Doug didn’t like his story as it was, so he told it differently. Than a TV series for which a bit more manipulation was offered. After that, comic books and a…er…towel, which also had some subtle changes. And at long last a feature film, which started out at the same point as the others, but blew the previous endings sky high, and I mean way high. Arthur and Trillian hooking up? The perspective gun? Earth Mark II BEFORE visiting the restaurant? It’s like Doug killed off the last four books in his trilogy, and brought the story full circle in one single shot. Is that bad? Actually, I’m still completely amazed by the film. And the books. And the towel. So what’s the story here?

The Internet age brought along a very watchful eye from fans towards their own favorite tales, making sure it won’t get screwed with. If it did, than prepare to suffer dire consequences! Mind you, it happens here and there nevertheless, but before we movie geeks got ‘online’, Hollywood did take very strange liberties with some stories that should never-ever-ever have been messed with. Surprisingly enough, few seem to remember how much those giants of fiction were twisted beyond their author’s meanings.

Down here are a few which struck my sensibility, and had me ranting a little too much for my friends’ comfort. Take a look for yourself, and see what you think…

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Story as it was meant:
Published in 11 volumes under the titles “Notre Dame De Paris”, Victor Hugo’s original epic ends with Esmeralda being executed by hanging. Quasimodo kills Frollo out of rage and entombs himself alive with the corpse of the lovely gypsy.

Where it went wrong:
Disney’s 1996 animated feature has… ‘Happy’ ending, with Esmeralda and Phoebus hooking up, and Quasimodo happy as a snail. At least, Frollo still falls to his death. And I’m still surprised no one screamed any louder over that one…The original story is a hopeless tragedy where no happiness can be found. Being different is a burden, and death is the only salvation. But Song & Dance and laughter and kissing??? Poor Victor…

Moby Dick
The Story as it was meant:
Herman Melville’s timeless classic has unlikable and bitter Captain Ahab obsessively hunting down the great white whale to exact revenge over losing his leg. His obsession drives him to go down with the whale, in one of the long-lasting lessons thought by fiction.

Where it went wrong:
Director Lloyd Bacon performed what is known as an “extremely loose adaptation” of the book, with his 1930 film starring John Barrymore (Drew’s Grandpa). Ahab starts out as a lovable “scamp”, who thinks loosing his leg to the whale will have his sweetheart running away from him, and thus needs to take revenge. He kills the whale, returns to shore, and finds his pumpkin waiting for him. Or simply put, he gets the whale and the girl…So, being obsessed is a good thing, right??? Hey, can I obsess like that over getting a raise?

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
The Story as it was meant:
Like Moby Dick, Orwell’s theme of a hopeless totalitarian future has been recycled more time than can be accounted for. This still very chilling tale has center character Winston Smith ultimately turn his back on feelings and freedom, accepting his numb fate and devoting himself to Big Brother like everyone else.

Where it went wrong:
Although many have issues with Michael Radford’s version starring John Hurt, the real doozy is the 1956 take by “Logan’s Run” (another one that could be mentioned here) director Michael Anderson. Smith and his gal Julia do give in to the brainwash, but eventually break free from it, ending up killed in a blaze of gunfire. Winston goes Rambo on Big Brother? Yes…I can see that somewhere. On the other hand, one might consider Apple's 1984 add campaign (the one with the East-German athlete hurling William Wallace's sword or something into Big Brother's screeny face) to be a more faithful -or entertaining- adaptation.

Cyrano De Bergerac
The story as it was meant:
The dopey Christian, for whom Cyrano provided aphrodisiac prose, dies at war. The fair Roxanne is heartbroken, and spends the next 20 years mourning. Cyranno remains close to her, letting her in on the truth only moments before expiring. The lady looses her true love all over again.

Where it went wrong:
Okay, Steve Martin’s “Roxanne” was a comedy. So what? Would you want a Romeo and Juliet version where the two lovebirds migrate to the new world and reproduce like rabbits? Ahem…So this contemporary setting sees ‘Chris’ the rookie fireman ditch Roxanne for the local barmaid, and leaving to become a Vegas croupier. Roxanne gets wise over the scheme, and confronts ‘Da Nose’, ending up smooching him on a rooftop. Again, yes it was a comedy. But come on, didn’t they miss the point completely, that true love only exists when you can no longer experience it? Or should I run for my life before my wife finds out where I hid the baseball bat?…

The story as it was meant:
Now, I’ve received a lot of criticism in the past for talking about this, so bear with me a moment. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark whose dad was killed and feigned insanity to expose a murderous uncle, DIES. Along with mom and just about everyone in the room. They DIE. All right??? It’s a friggin Shakespeare tragedy!

Where it went wrong:
This is where people start throwing me rocks: Disney, again. Yes, I feel very strongly that “The Lion King” is hamlet with fur. The king murdered by his brother; the young heir driven away and expected to be killed; the ghost of the slain father appearing to the Prince; Heck, even Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are there! But the young Prince goes, to reprise a previous expression, “Rambo” on the usurper, and lets him be food for the vultures. Then reclaims his kingdom. And gets the girl. Did I mention up there that in “Hamlet”, EVERYONE DIES??? ‘Nuff said…

I do think everyone is entitled to his or her own way of seeing things, and sharing them. But Melville, Orwell, Rostand, Hugo and Big Willie all had precise points they wanted to make. Even more so, they produced highly influential art pieces. Anyone can draw a caricature of the Mona Lisa, but will any museum put up a painting of her wearing leather chaps, and say “this is Leonardo by today’s standards”?

Oh, and reproduction of this article with a different ending is strictly prohibited…

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Three Wise Films of Christmas

There's a lot of downtime in working solo on an office's night shift, even more so during the holidays which offer no real vacation in my field of work (although the overtime pay isn't so bad...). It gets to a point where the usual distractions - learning Spanish, practicing guitar, doing crosswords, clipping your nails - aren't that distracting anymore.

This year, I decided to catch up on my mounting pile of movies to watch - it was getting really high- and proceeded to watch over twenty movies in a little less than two weeks. Some of them were as expected ("Charlie Wilson's War" was sure to satisfy my thirst for Aaron Sorkin's dialogs), some were much worse than anticipated (I honestly thought "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" would be an under-rated gem...) and some were absolute discoveries.

Three in particular caught my fancy more than any others for the sheer surprise in my enjoyment of them. All 3 happen to be either overlooked or downright unappreciated. Since traditional Christians have their 3 Wise Men, I'll use this free and hassle-free podium-of-a-blog to "publicize" my 3 Wise Films of Christmas 2007. My only hope is for more people to discover and enjoy them.

1 - Southland Tales
2007 Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Dark Comedy
STARRING Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean William Scott

Richard Kelly's sophomore effort, following the now-cult classic "Donnie Darko", suffered trials worthy of its protagonist, having been delayed over a year and completely overhauled following a much-maligned screening at the 2006 Cannes Festival. And like "Darko", it is destined to achieve Cult-status when the director gets to present his original vision on DVD.

Many critics tried and failed to summarize the movie's happenings, which may explain why most of them thumbed it down - how can you rate something you can't grasp? My own feelings is that the story is less important than the tableaux it exposed or social commentaries it unleashed. Imagine Stanley Kubrick directing his masterpiece "2001" from an Oliver Stone-collaborated screenplay. You don't quite get what's going on, but you do see the targets in bright colors (a porn star hosting a chat show which covers the important issues of Pollution, War and Teen Horniness can't quite miss the mark).

The one sad thing about the film is how chopped-up it feels; two terrific musical numbers leave you with the feeling that 5 or 6 more died on the cutting room floor. "Too Many Cooks" seems to be the case, as producers' anguished change requests can be spotted throughout. Some say the original cut wasn't any more digestible; at least, it must've been more consistent and complete. And if anything, we get treated to an amazing cast of recognizable talent - John Laroquette, Miranda Richardson, Ling Bai, Wallace Shawn, Jon Lovitz, Sheri Otteri and Kevin Smith himself, to name a few.

As previously mentioned, "Southland Tales" made me feel like witnessing our own generation's "2001: A Space Odyssey". You don't have a clue what you just saw, but you'll think and talk about it for years to come.

3* out of 5

2- Mr. Brooks
2007 Thriller
STARRING Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Dane Cooke, Demi Moore
WRITTEN BY Bruce A. Evans & Reynold Gideon
DIRECTED BY Bruce A. Evans

I always loved Kevin Costner's on-screen charisma since his break-out turn in "Silverado", but the strings of (let's be frank) turkeys he dished out following his Oscar-win for "Dances With Wolves" made me doubt his sanity. The new millennium saw a more mature and quality-oriented Costner dwelling in unjustly overlooked gems like "Open Range" (arguably the greatest Western since "Unforgiven") "Thirteen Days" and "Upside of Anger". His latest offering, "Mr. Brooks", keeps it up - a quality script with a Costner visibly having a great time.

Story centers on the titular character, a wealthy and popular family man who strangely allowed his imaginary friend to stick around well into adulthood. Said friend, Marshall, also comes with a monkey on Brooks' back - he's addicted to murder. Following Marshall's insistence to indulge in "just one more" threatens to shatter Brooks' carefully planned double-life, as an amateur photographer blackmails him into an apprenticeship, and a stop-at-nothing cop gets closer to finally catching him. To make matters worse, his 18-year-old daughter might be turning into a chip off the old block.
The film succeeds and surprises on many levels. First in side-stepping the pitfalls of such a setting; the "Imaginary Friend" is never labeled or diagnosed thus allowing us freedom of imagination, the tough-gal cop (played by an unusually sympathetic Demi Moore) shows more layers than the standard film detective, the high-energy soundtrack keeps up the engaging tone and pace, and the story itself sports many non-formulaic (if sometimes expected) twists. But the greatest stroke of genius is casting William Hurt as co-lead. Both he and Costner share such a natural and tangible chemistry that you feel like watching 2 guys who have worked together for years; their split-personality characters feel more like siblings, rivalry and complicity included.
I don't think I'll ever understand why so many people I know downright hated this film, but I for one hope that Kev's interview claim, that the movie is the opening act of a planned trilogy, will become a reality.
4* out of 5

3- Cashback
2006 Dramatic Comedy
STARRING Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Shaun Evans, Stuart Goodwin

This is one of those films that was never shown in any of the dozen theaters in my area, that no one in my entourage has ever heard of and came under my radar purely by chance. And I have to say I love chance. A lot.

"Cashback" follows brokenhearted college student Ben Willis as he journeys through a supermarket's night shift job to get something out of his prolonged bout of insomnia. Surrounded by spectacularly braindead co-workers and a narrow-visioned best friend, Ben tries to relieve his suffering with his uniquely artistic imagination, and the help of the only co-worker capable of putting him back to sleep.

The film started out as a short, whose Oscar nomination gave author Sean Ellis a template to expand - the short is incorporated "as is" inside the feature. Ellis displays every bit of passion from a burgeoning filmmaker who can finally unleash every concept and idea stored in his mind for years. The result is somewhat flawed and clearly uneven, but injected with an absolutely breathtaking innocence and an unmistakable talent. Young Sean Biggerstaff, known to most as Harry Potter's Oliver Wood, displays a very refreshing yet contained charisma that signals the coming of a future star. The rest of the cast, mostly (and to great effect) unknowns never seem to feel out of place, each chewing their every scene with great fun and gusto. And the lovely Emilia Fox continues to make me wonder why she isn't a much better known actress.

I give Ellis and his film only 3.5 stars out of 5, because I know he has barely touched the tip of his talent and can bring us much greater pieces of film making with a little kick in the arse. Until it happens, though, I'll keep enjoying his debut for what it is - a surprisingly sweet and original film.