January 30, 2004

Timeline

Butterfly Effects

Timeline posterTimeline
starring: Billy Connolly as the professor, Paul Walker as Gilligan, Frances O'Connor as Mary Ann, Ann Friel as Ginger, Gerard Butler as someone too charismatic to be stranded in this movie, David Thewlis as Bill Gates, and Marton Csokas. He's everywhere! "Directed" by Richard Donner.
running time: 116 minutes
MPAA says: PG-13, for intense battle scenes and brief language. MPAA has a different idea of "intense" than most people.
Release date: November 26, 2003. Soon to be available at your local video/DVD store.
Seen at: Discount Cinema 8—$1.50 for adults, $1 for kids, $2 on Fridays and Saturday. No stadium seating—it's pretty much a flat floor—but with only a half dozen other people in the theatre, seeing over heads was not so much of an issue. This is a Coke-product, cash-only establishment. Heavily air conditioned, so bring a hat—a lot of body heat radiates out through your head. Really. Wear a hood when you go time travelling.

Lost in spacetime Kramer (Matt Craven, left) under-explains the premise to the would-be time travellers. Others, from left to right: Frank Gordon (Neal McDonough) is the Marine with a tricky conscience; Chris (Paul Walker) is bland but determined; Kate (Frances O'Connor) is spunky and can climb things; Andre (Gerard Butler) is an archaeologist who likes to play with mediaeval weapons (as if that could ever come in handy); Josh (Ethan Embry) is a physicist and computer geek (ignore him). François (Rossif Sutherland) is the tall guy in the back who speaks French, which turns out to be more dangerous than you might think.


I wanted to see this in first release. Not because I thought it would be any good, but because I'm a sucker for time travel movies. Put a modern person in the past, or a past person in the modern age, and let the mayhem begin! Plus, I was hoping it would be exquisitely bad, and therefore really really good. It's not exquisite. But it's better than Time Tunnel, and many episodes of Dr. Who. You get better production values on Quantum Leap. To be fair, Quantum Leap never had to stage a night battle with flaming catapults.

Lost in Spacetime

Maybe wecan find the script...The technobabble is silly, but the movie kicks off with a fun mystery: A group of five good-looking archaeologists in a previously unexcavated monastery in France discover a bifocal lens and a six-hundred-year-old note begging for help written by missing Professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly). Soon they learn that the reason their zillionaire benefactor (David Thewlis) has so many tips for them on where to dig is because he has been sending scouts into the past through the accidental discovery of a way to "fax" living beings to one particular place in time—the Hundred Years War during a pivotal battle between England and France. As long as the traveller is wearing a special homing beacon, and, as explained when the plot requires it, as long as you're standing with enough clear space around you, when you press the homing beacon you'll be faxed back to the 21st century. Or, possibly, your entire group of fellow travellers will be faxed back to the 21st century. Or only if they're standing close enough. That also depends on what the plot requires. Naturally, our group end up seven stranded castaways in the past.

Yes, seven. They bring along two ex-Marines for protection, in case, say, the Hundred Years War turns out to be violent or something. In short order we learn that Marines are remarkably easy to kill. Fortunately, the cute heroes are not.

And away we goChris (the missing professor's son) is "not really all that interested in the past" and "romantic warrior crap." Kate wonders, as she explores the monastery in the present, why someone would smash through a beautiful wall fresco. Andre marvels over a sarcophagus depicting a knight and his lady holding hands; he thinks the past is "where it's at" and loves to play at archery and swordfighting. Josh is an ace with techno-gizmos. François is afraid of going and stands around like a bunny in headlights. The events in the past hinged on the fate of a single woman, and the first person they meet in the past is... I think you get my drift. To its credit, the movie does, once, attempt some misdirection on one of these otherwise blatantly obvious set-ups. Judging from the lax direction and air of improvisation to the dialogue, I might have guessed that the director took a group of actors to France, told them to think up something they'd like to do when their character gets to the past, then filmed the second half of the movie based on the improv in the first half. But, in fact, this movie is based on a novel by Michael Crichton. In fact, all that heavyhanded foreshadowing leads to recognisable Crichton cadences, characters, and killings.

Building a better fax machine

Frank (McDonough), on the zillionaire's payroll, has remarkable blue eyes, and a remarkable ability to infuse his thinly defined character of the reluctant heavy with a few ounces of reality, even when his plotline (improvised by David Thewlis? everything else seems to be made up on the spot) quickly evaporates. Andre (Butler) runs off after a love interest and runs off with the film. He looks like he's having a good time and gets the best costume off the Time Traveller's ready-to-wear rack. Several characters attempt "I can't believe I just killed a man" moments.

The movie gets a few things right. It remembers that people from the present will seem unusually tall in the past, and it makes good use of pointing out that fact when casting the mediaeval Bill Gates (Michael Sheen as an English warlord hungry for new technology) and a mysteriously tall knight hulking around the battlefield (oh, come on, are you really worried about spoilers?). This provides for some additional bad guys, some technobabble about the dangers of faxing a fax of yourself, and an opportunity for Billy Connolly's character, deciding the timeline has already been altered, to try to keep himself alive by aiding and abetting the would-be losers in the battle. Glimpses of subtlety peek out here and there; mistaken assumptions and misreadings of history lead to mistaken assumptions about how much they are altering the timeline. The movie is a bit too disorganised for these points to shine through, but if you squint you'll see them. Then we get to the silly battle scene (it plays like You sank my Battleship!), and the implausibly romantic heroism, and the virtuous but easily confused French archers. Everybody fights!

We like the ScotsIl y a une bête noire ici

The French characters remember to speak French amongst themselves, providing the opportunity for some typos in the subtitles ("alright"—that makes me almost as crazy as "it's" for "its"!). Modern French, but peppered with ye olde archaic terms. The mediaeval Englishmen speak modern English, laced with attitude. Oh well.

I believe this movie primarily uses French and Canadian production teams, which explains why we don't like those pesky English, but are rather fond of the Scottish.

La la la

The soundtrack is actually not half bad. I have the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack on endless loop in my head at the moment, so I can't recall Timeline's very clearly, but I do remember enjoying sitting through the credits. (I always sit through the credits, in case of any end-of-the-reel cleverness, so that you won't have to. No end-of-movie cleverness to be found here.)

To See or Not to See

Sure. Why not. If you groove on time travel and don't require profundity. It's better than any of the recent SciFi Channel original movies and miniseries. See it for cheap, see it for a rental. Have friends over. Keep score of how many of the plot developments you can predict in advance.

Outside Food: Odwalla-brand red fruity drinks. I'm experimenting with a liquid diet to travel back in time to when I was a healthier weight.

Previews: Not so much previews, as commercials for the concessions stand and trailers for other movies now showing at the discount theatre. Two Coke commercials, one inspirational message of some sort that had no impact on my memory whatsoever, a commercial for a red and sporty car that can apparently fly, and Altoids as part of the strongman act at a Freak Show. Just the other night at fencing I'd mentioned that I was undefeatable because I'd had two cinnamon Altoids and felt curiously strong....

Matrix: Revolutions: I heart Hugo, I'm curious to see how it ends, it'll only cost a dollar-fifty. Will saving Zion involve saving all the battery people? Will the battery people get to live in a human-run Matrix instead of claustrophobic, oily Zion? Do I really care that much whether I ever find out?

Missing: Tommy Lee Jones gets grizzled as an estranged father helping his daughter rescue her daughter, kidnapped by a brujo (witch) headed to Mexico. A perky kid actress, and Cate Blanchett. This one completely missed my radar when it was in first run. I'm not a fan of Westerns as a genre, but I might try this one. For a dollar-fifty.

Honey: Flashdance 2003, hip-hop version. Proving once again, if you're skinny and pretty you will go far in the world. Mekhi Phifer is in it, because he is in everything that doesn't have Marton Csokas.

Gothika: Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr. slumming it in a spooky thriller. And is that Bernard Hill I see? Theoden King? Maybe this movie isn't such a slum, after all.

Love Actually: People seemed to like this holiday flick. I think I'll go see it. But can I bear to go alone to a movie all about handsome people falling in love with other handsome people? On second thought, I'll give it a miss, actually.

Timeline Photos © 2003 Paramount Pictures
Posted by OutsideFood at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2004

The Butterfly Effect

Chaos Movie

The Butterfly EffectThe Butterfly Effect
starring: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eldon Henson, Eric Stoltz, Ethan Suplee. Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
running time: 113 minutes
MPAA says: R for violence, sexual content, language, and brief drug use
Release date: January 23, 2004
Seen at: The Regal Gateway Stadium 16, home of the gigantic Viggo/Hidalgo poster, on a drippy rainy night. They do not like outside food at the Gateway 16. Or outside laptops. Because everyone is going to be trying to record a copy of this movie to their hard drives—if everyone is indulging in brief drug use. But I jest.

Viewer Advisory: There are furry animals in this movie, and Bad Things Happen. Close your eyes. Bad things happen to humans, too, but we moviegoers are used to that by now, especially if we've seen Return of the King half a dozen times.

Not as bad as you might think

Can Evan Treborn change the past, or is this merely wish-fulfillment, entirely in his dreams?

You can see this straining to be that sort of movie, a complex Hitchcock of a film where the audience can no more trust reality than the protagonist can, where the audience would feel the crushing defeat he does when it begins to seem that all this "changing the past" is only his imagination. Even had the trailers not made it absolutely plain that The Butterfly Effect is not the result of hero Evan Treborn's (Ashton Kutcher) overactive imagination, the movie itself leaves the viewers completely assured of what is going on as Evan scrambles to understand. We know; he doesn't know; this works for about one iteration of the five realities he passes through. A more subtle approach would have had longer effectiveness, would have built one scene upon the other rather than playing like a SciFi Channel Sliders marathon.

Logan Lerman channels AshtonKutcher's performance doesn't help. A progression through disbelief, to the realisation of his ability, to desperation, to despair, to determination, would have brought some sort of power to the entire film. Kutcher only gives us dollops of these emotions punctuating an oddly wide-flung performance. The youngster who plays Evan at Age Seven (Logan Lerman) does a bang-up job channelling Evan the Adult and infusing his dialogue with vengeance, or madness, or angry panic, as appropriate. Kutcher gets nearly entirely Fully Frontally Nude. Let each play to his own strengths.

Eric Stoltz has a pivotal but small role. Ethan Suplee has more prominent billing than his character deserves. Callum Keith Rennie is in the IMDB credits, but darned if I can figure out what role he played. Non-caucasian Doctor Character is played by... uhm... hmm. Ashton Kutcher has an executive producer credit, for what it is worth.

The chick in my row eating cheesy jalapeño tortilla chips from a plastic tub screamed in fear during some of the promos, and she made an interesting barometer for the movie. Me, I didn't think anyone ever really ate those movie-theatre nachos, but there you have it. The strong aroma of it nearly put me off my mozzarella cheese sticks with dipping sauce.

Structurally:
As we've seen in the trailers, one effect of mucking with time is that it does weird, irreparable damage to Kutcher's brain. (Look at me not making any comments about the state of Kutcher's brain to begin with. Oops, too late, I did.) This is apparently an inconveniently messy detail, so as soon as it isn't required to propel the plot, it disappears without explanation. Maybe the explanation is in the Extended Version Director's Cut, where it is probably provided by Dr. Exposition, who appears periodically in the Theatrical Release version to Explain Things to Evan's mom. I know, it's cruel to suggest there may be more footage of this movie, unless it's footage of when Kutcher accidentally drops his towel in the Nearly Entirely Fully Frontally Nude scene.

Science Fictionally:
Your average episode of a Star Trek franchise gives more thought to the effects of changes in a timeline. Evan sees evidence convincing him that he has altered the past in a minor way; this makes sense because he's the one who has been making the changes and who has memories of both pasts. Later, it is necessary he convince someone else, so for no particular reason, that person can see the changes, too. At least on Trek the audience would hear some technobabble about the two people standing close enough so that the temporal distortion formed a bubble around the chronosphere caused by the quantum coinpurse, and we might have gotten to hear it in Patrick Stewart's mellifluous voice or growled by Scott Bakula in his Enterprise tighty-bluies.

Reality One

Stand By MeSeven-year-old Evan (Logan Lerman) lives Someplace Nice with his single mom (Melora Walters). His dad has been institutionalised, and Mom is afraid Evan might be headed down the same path. When bad things happen, Evan blacks out, so he is encouraged to keep a journal to help jog his memories (in a notebook, as these are pre-blog days). Bad things continue to happen, first when he is seven. When he is thirteen (and played by John Patrick Amedori) two terrible events set the course of the lives of Evan and his childhood friends Kayleigh (Irene Gorovaia), Tommy (Jesse James, in a solid performance), and Lenny (Kevin Schmidt). Lenny is hospitalised; Kayleigh ends up (as seen in the trailer) being played by Amy Smart and sent to an early grave; Tommy's life has gone tragically askew. Evan grows up to be a brilliant psych student who looks like Ashton Kutcher. I guess things worked out all right for him.

An attempt at hypnosis by Dr. Exposition to help thirteen-year-old Evan remember what happened during his blackouts seemed a bad idea to me; once you've successfully escaped the 80s, why risk going back? One nice effect of the blackouts is that the audience is missing the same information as the protagonist, so we are stuck in the same confusion as he even before the past begins to change, and for a while we are feeling the uncertainty he is feeling. So far, so good.

When Kayleigh dies, Evan vows to make things right. You have to like his character for his devotion to his childhood sweetheart. When they are thirteen and she is the most beautiful thing in the world in his eyes—when she is just an ordinary looking kid with a puzzled expression and a confused, tear-stained face—he won my sympathy. And the graveyard scene is weep-worthy, I don't care what anyone says. Sniffle.

Reality Two

Evan has saved Kayleigh, but his life has taken a less intellectual road. His former college friends don't know him, and he's not the sort of person he can respect. Jalapeño Girl was a little shocked by the near-nudity when Evan runs to a bathroom mirror to see what he looks like in this timeline. The guys in the audience liked how college dorms are full of boob-displaying skinny chicks. The guys in the audience also thought abusing frat pledges is really funny, just so you know what sort of crowd this was.

Saving Kayleigh has made the lives of Evan's other friends even worse, and his rage (time-travel-related brain damage? hormones? script?) drives him to drastic measures. Okay, so Kutcher can't do sustained frustration and fear. But he has dark eyelashes. There are meant to be some terrifying scenes in this reality, playing into some guys' primal fears and anyone's feelings of degradation and humiliation. But even Jalapeño Girl giggled.

emote! darnit!Reality Three

The Butterfly Effect laughs at Evan again, fanning its wings mockingly against his reality. I won't spoil all the details, but even though Evan begins to understand the true meaning of his blackouts, he can't juggle the past in a way that makes everyone happy. I don't think it's the movie's fault his utter despair continued to elicit titters from Jalapeño Girl. Kutcher's face doesn't have sufficient muscular agility for non-comedic expression, or something.

This part of the story attempts some clever circularity which is not at all clever but did give me the sense of walking in circles.

Reality Four

Eh, I'm getting tired of describing the timelines. You could have a flip through the Sliders episode guide and pretend Jerry O'Connell is Ashton Kutcher and John Rhys-Davies is Evan's Mom. Or that Gimli is Evan's Mom. And Legolas is Kayleigh. Because I'm bored with watching Ashton Kutcher flail about trying to display a dozen emotions using only two facial muscles, and would rather look at Orlando Bloom standing around with Elf Coolness trying to display no emotions.

Reality Bites

Relying on a hitherto unhinted-at (sorta kinda) plot device, Evan learns it's all about finding the right self sacrifice. You may say "awwwww" now.

To See or Not to See

Is it a cheapie matinee? Are you hot for Ashton Kutcher and/or think he's cool? Have you never heard of Chaos Theory and want a quick primer on what it means? (Well, for that, you could visit the official website and click on some of the "Confronting Chaos" links.) Do you have nothing better to do with your evening? Are you trying to meet a goal of reviewing fifty films by the end of summer?

In the hands of a supremely good director, this movie could have been mindboggling. Try not to think about what a good film it could have been—unless you too have the ability to remake the past by thinking really hard... In which case, carry on. I'll wait.

Outside Food: Cheesy mozzarella sticks with dip. Overpowered by the smell of the jalapeño nachos, so I was safe from discovery. Also had a red fruity drink. Because I love red fruity drinks.

Previews:

I thought the first preview was for Fame or American Idol, but for some reason the trailer says it's called Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, so it may actually star Lindsay Lohan as a teenage gameshow hostess who becomes a secret government assassin. Or, no, wait: who wants to be a popstar. Everyone has a super wardrobe and it looks precisely like the teen movies of my teen-era—the non-angsty ones, that is.

Dawn of the Dead: "When there is no more room in Hell..." the studio will produce a much more creepy trailer than the one showing with Paycheck. This preview made me want to see the movie. It has all the standard disaster movie characters, including a pregnant!woman, and when the populace are told to seek a safe place they run to the mall. The trailer used some fifty-year-old ideas to spook the audience, and it worked: there was only skittery laughter in the nervously silent theatre afterward.

Tonight's R-rated trailer was for Twisted from Paramount, starring Samuel L. Jackson as the Samuel L. Jackson character, Ashley Judd as the tough-broad cop stalked by a slick serial killer, and Andy Garcia. I'd give this one a chance. It looked like it could be good. Or I might have been high on jalapeño fumes.

Secret Window: Johnny Depp as a writer with a plot problem. Previously discussed with another movie. Be afraid of the black broad-brimmed hat. You don't want to piss off the Amish.

Highwaymen: Finally I get to see this trailer all the way through. A ridiculously elaborate vehicular homicide leads a pretty woman to seek help from Jim Caviezel. People run around and drive around and shoot things. Still no thigh-high boots, horses, or bunches of lace.

Posted by OutsideFood at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2004

Paycheck

PaycheckReturn to Zork

Paycheck
starring: Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, the short funny guy, the creepy evil guy, the black law-enforcement guy, the other creepy evil guy, and Multivac.
running time: 119 minutes
PG-13
based in some way on a short story by Philip K. Dick

I should have swiped the giant Viggo/Hidalgo poster on the way out, but my sense of propriety, and lack of a lookout, prevented me.

Remember those old Interactive Fiction games? They were text adventures from before the days of Grand Theft Auto: Kill Everything You Can't Steal and Drive, with names like Haunt and Zork and Trinity and Leather Goddesses of Phobos. The player often found herself in a strange location with a bunch of random items whose usefulness would only become clear when the right set of circumstances arose.

You are standing in an open field west of a white building. There is a manila envelope here. The manila envelope contains a package of Spree candy, a movie ticket from a Fandango Automatic Ticket Machine, and a review of this movie.

As a matter of fact, those games are still popular. I've even written a couple myself—they make great exercises for fiction authors, and they're just plain fun. Playing them requires a great deal of imagination on the part of the player, immersion into a world described only with words, and the best of them require a great deal of mental agility. As a matter of fact, Paramount & Dreamworks have made a movie that is, in essence, an interactive fiction game, but one in which the audience gets to do none of the fun part, none of the figuring-out of the various items. Not even director John Woo can make it particularly exciting to watch Ben Affleck do the figuring.

> walk west
You are standing in front of a white building. It appears to be a movie multiplex. A newspaper clipping is attached to the door.


How did I get through this movie unable to remember Ben's character's name? (Michael Jennings. I had to go look it up on the IMDB). Ben has a bit of a Burt Lancaster vibe going when he's lit a certain way. And I do periodically think he has It—that ineffable Something that is true movie-star charm, Errol Flynn and Cary Grant and Clark Gable. He seems to be able to remain watchable in any sort of trainwreck movie—although, I didn't see Gigli, so I haven't seen him put to a true acid test.

Please wipe my memory...Ben—I mean, Jennings—oh, just go with Ben—is a reverse engineer. He takes someone's successful software project, figures out how it works, and sells the tech to another company to exploit. He is a smart cookie, so he improves the product along the way. In return for doing this (illegal) work, and in exchange for mighty paychecks, he agrees to have all memory of these projects wiped from his mind. This involves sitting in a special memory-zapping machine and letting his friend, the funny short guy (Paul Giamatti), kill off the relevant neurons in his brain. Funny Friend monitors the process by watching Ben's memories on a screen that conveniently shows a nice camera angle, including Ben, instead of showing the memory from Ben's perspective—one of the several bits of silly pseudoscience that the movie does manage to correct later, when it makes for a better shot on the screen to use Ben-POV.

> examine door
There is a pet peeve here.


"Nexum announces it's answer" reads a newspaper showing the effects of Ben's product-cloning on the market. I am hoping this was some sort of intentional statement about how in the year 2007, in spite of technological leaps that allow the pinpointing of which specific neurons contain which memories, journalists and their editors still can't tell the difference betwen its and it's. Actually, doing the math, that scene is meant to take place in 2004, which, if my calculations are still correct, is the current year. In which case, unfortunately, it's a pretty accurate depiction.

One does wonder how Ben's skill is meant to grow and develop, when he never has a chance to learn from successive projects. But one would be nitpicking, and there are so many far more terrible things in this movie to nitpick over.

> put Spree in pocket
You cleverly hide your Outside Food before entering the multiplex. You enter without being challenged by the eagle-eyed door-watchers. To the west and east are the doorways to several screens. Above the doorways on the west is a gigantic movie poster.


Shortly after meeting Uma Thurman at a party (love at first sight?), Ben decides to take on a project for Bill Gates-like Creepy Evil Guy James Rethrick (played by Aaron Eckhart). Rethrick founded his corporation, Allcom, in his garage, in case you didn't get the Microsoft references. Microsoft. Gates. Bill. Got it? Huh? Okay. Just checking. Uma ("Rachel Porter") is a biologist at Allcom. Not clear what she does exactly. I think it has something to do with bioengineering carnivorous ninja waterlilies. After this project, Ben will have three years of memories erased.

When he wakes, as the trailers told us, he has forfeited an enormous paycheck in exchange for an envelope filled with random common items—which could be clues to what he has been doing the past three years, including a possible relationship with Uma, and what he is to do next. Finally, the action can begin. Vroom! Let's blow some stuff up!

> examine poster
You see a gigantic poster of Viggo advertising Hidalgo and feel weak in the knees.


Unfortunately, every clue and hint is underscored with triple underlines in bold with flashing lights and the <BLINK> tag. The movie is populated with non-characters who behave as stupidly as the plot demands. We are given little reason to care about any of their goals or concerns, even though they figure importantly in the denouement. The script is riddled with hopelessly dumb dialogue (they see a catwalk, so Uma exclaims, "That's the catwalk!") and such a garbled plot I had to keep asking myself, "Why are we here? Why are we doing this? Didn't we just break that? And now we're fixing it? And now we're breaking it again? Why are we here, again?" Once Ben has solved his problem, he seems driven to re-complicate it, for a motivation we see no hint of before it is announced in a Very Moving Speech. Once the good guys offer to help him, why does he still run, risking the lives of police officers (who miraculously don't die in flaming car wrecks like the bad guys)? It all feels a bit like a Jackie Chan movie, where nothing much has to make sense as long as Jackie is dizzying us with his sleight-of-body. Like the worst of the Jackie Chan movies (I love him, but The Medallion should never have happened), when the visual magic isn't there, what is left is simply cardboard.

Ninjas!> eat Spree
You manage to nibble a few tangy chewy candies without being spotted. You float on a sugar high past Viggo without making a complete fan-girl idiot of yourself.


Ben is action hero here: outrunning trains and momentum and fiery explosions! Making a Rambo face when he fires his automatic weapon! Walking freely through a high school to use their science lab! (Well, sometimes it's nice to think of a hardware/software nerd as an action hero.)

Unfortunately there is a complete lack of tension, and attempts to create some are frantic and contrived. A dangerous-looking car chase (setting the all-time record for how many times you can say "BMW" during a single product-placement sequence). Slow-mo on the bad guy whenever he stalks toward the hero. Fisticuffs for no reason (our heroes may not have realised this, but guns can be used from a distance). And remember, if you need to blow up something, never rig it so that it blows up as soon as the villains arrive or reasonably quickly; set it on as long a fuse as possible. You might need time to make a Very Moving Speech.

> enter Paycheck theatre
Are you sure you want to do that?

> enter
Have you checked everything in your inventory?


> read review

My constant thought, as each clue unfolded in a facile way, was: Please let this movie be more clever than it seems to be. I cannot compare it to the original short story, but I suspect a certain amount of fluffing up of action sequences at the expense of what might have been an interestingly cerebral tale. Just a suspicion.

Except for the expected tokens (a briefly seen Asian exec, the black cop-type, the latino thug, and some background colour), this is White Guy World. But Ben Affleck brings his own special form of smarm, and it is perfect for this character (what was his name again?). The cinematography has a few pretty moments, but Uma is never one of them. She looks dreadfully haggard. I'd rather have seen her polished into Hollywood glamour; since she seems uninspired to do any acting, she should have been nicer to look at.

If I could have left myself a helpful envelope of clues before seeing this movie, it would have contained one item: a ticket to a different movie.

> read ticket
Whaddayaknow! It's a ticket to see Return of the King for the fifth time!


> see Return of the King
Now you're talking. Doesn't Billy Boyd have the sweetest voice?


> Faramir is pretty sweet too
Don't I know it. And Viggo isn't hard on the eyes. Wanna try to swipe that Hidalgo poster? I'll keep a lookout.



Oh, but I forgot to mention the Previews:

I arrived at the theatre a bit late, having been distracted by looking up David Wenham's age, then being nearly completely done in by the you-know-what poster, so I missed most of the preview for Highwaymen. I saw enough of it to understand that it is not, alas, about thigh-high boots, horses, and bunches of lace.

I was squeezing through the crowd of eight people in the theatre to find a seat during the trailer for Spiderman 2. I would like to have an opinion on that preview. It's another Spiderman movie. The octopus guy is in it. There doesn't seem to be much else to say.

Next were scenes of a post-apocalyptic mall in a city apparently called Metropolis. Dawn of the Dead with Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer and some other people. I thought we'd already made that movie.

Eurotrip, starring Buffy's little sister, looks nothing like my European trip. Well, except for the pervert on the train. And the absinthe. Trailer consists of drugs, sex, nudity, and gay jokes, and possibly some European scenery, though little is on evidence in the preview. This comes from the producers of Road Trip and Old School. If you are the target audience for this movie, you already know who you are.

The final preview was for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, of which much has been said, but none of it by me. Jude Law, Gwenneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie in a retro adventure, all the human actors filmed on bluescreen to superimpose on a previously created computer-generated 1930s serial-movie Buck Rogers-style world. The invading alien robots with the spaghetti arms conjure up covers of old pulp magazines like Amazing Fantastic Weird Unbelievable Stories of Scientifiction and Beyond. It could be fun. The Stargate music during the preview was a bit unnerving. I kept expecting Richard Dean Anderson to appear and make a wisecrack.

Jim tells me that it was Steve Jobs who founded his computer company in his garage, not Bill Gates, who started his in a seedy motel, instead. My mistake.

Posted by OutsideFood at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2004

Big Fish

Half Magic

Big Fish, big guy Big Fish

with: Ewan McGregor (young Edward Bloom), Albert Finney (older Edward Bloom), Billy Crudup (Will Bloom), Jessica Lange (older Sandra Bloom), Alison Lohman (younger Sandra Bloom), Matthew McGrory (a very tall man), and Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Guillaume, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito, Marion Cotillard, and cats of various professions.
Running time: 125 minutes
PG-13

My last night in NY, what else could I do but go back to the same theatre that impressed me before. On a Friday night its elegant charm is transformed into a bit of a Grand Central Station atmosphere, but it still gets high marks. Big Fish played in a larger theatre than the one where I saw Calendar Girls (no doubt supplanting Return of the King, which is now showing on only two of the cinema's fifteen screens, woe betide). The maze of passageways it took to reach theatre ten (the individual screens are staggered in unusual ways to make the most of the space) made it an adventure getting into the room, and I was surprised that we ultimately reached a theatre of fairly decent size rather than a little box tucked in an out-of-the-way place. About seven rows of twenty-four seats in the "orchestra," a row of 15 accessible seats, then 14 rows of 20 to 24 stadium seats. The audience didn't exactly fill the room.

To see or not to see

Pretty to look at, ultimately weak, but powered by Ewan McGregor's litle-kid smile and Albert Finney's depths. Low-key and predictable, but interesting. Slide along with it for a couple of hours. It is referential to several others of director Tim Burton's movies, but don't get distracted by that sort of thing, and try not to worry about the obviousness of every turn or the "in case you didn't get it we'll show it again or narrate it or both" moments studded throughout (and at the very end).

Billy Crudup as the son trying to convince his father in an eleventh-hour reconciliation to abandon his tall-tales and reveal "the real you" is a little bland, but he is an adequate conduit for the viewer. All the actors do solid work. Jessica Lange is stunningly beautiful without much else to do than be concerned and loving and accepting. Helena Bonham Carter is as weird as always. There are perhaps one-and-a-half magic moments where tall tale and Will's stolid devotion to reality threaten to overlap (Wait a moment—what was that in the water?) and out of the superficiality a finger taps you on the back and dares you to believe. And the lesson on how to handle a werewolf may be the film's funniest quirkiness. Unfortunately, these moments are fleeting. The one tall tale with a truly sharp edge might have been played as a vindictive swipe at an old enemy by giving him a particularly undignified demise, and might have added more humanity to the older version of the father. Though repeated three times it is each time is presented with as light a touch and as much for gentle laughter as the tale about going courting with daffodils.

The story may have played better in the source material—tall tales in a book (the film is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace)—than in a movie, where one is faced with the visuals of a mysteriously integrated 1950s Alabama town. If anyone can handle the transition of such a concept to film it should have been Tim Burton. Perhaps one of the tricks about tall tales is that they are so much better when allowed to grow, implanted in the imagination, than when shown in fixed details on a screen.

Outside Food: Swedish Fish and the Gummi Worms to hook them, which, it turns out, were the wrong bait. I was going to bring Goldfish crackers, but I am disturbed by a snack that smiles back until you bite their heads off.

Previews:

Commercials for Final Fantasy games and movietickets.com, which is apparently how idiots buy their movie tickets. Not a great advertising concept, at least not for this crowd. Comment heard from more than one direction: "Say, can't you do that with Fandango?" The usual Pepsi commercial! Eeek! "Pepsi loves hot dogs; hot dogs love Pepsi." I hate hot dogs; does it follow I should hate Pepsi? Zombies love Pepsi, too, but I've already mentioned this. Mercifully, only three adverts before the "no talking, turn off your cel phones" reels and the previews.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!: Not sure what we are meant to care about here—I suppose the fantasy of winning a date with Orlando Bloom—I mean, the character Tad Hamilton!—and then hoping the nice guy will win the gal in the end and the movie star will learn the meaning of sincerity! Other than that, it's a movie about a gorgeous chick who wins a date with a handsome actor guy, presumably transforming her life from gloom to glam, while the "nerdy" guy who really isn't all that hard on the eyes as he is a handsome actor guy himself, fears he has lost her! With Topher Grace, Kate Bosworth, Jeff Duhamel, and an exclamation point.

That remake I discussed in the last review: Southern con artist played by Tom Hanks with imperfect teeth, and sassy gospel-music woman and google-eyed hiphop guy, not played by Tom Hanks. I suppose Hanks can pull this off, even if it is filled with those comical black people.

That Owen Wilson flick I discussed in the last review: Due in theatres January 30, if you must. The chick lead seems to be doing a creditable Owen Wilson impersonation. I still flinched when she stretched and her ribcage leapt out through her skin.

The Stepford Wives are back: I briefly thought this might have been a rethought trailer for the I, Robot movie. Pans of high-end, slick Gucci type products with techno-font titles: This is your life. Everything you own is beautiful. For the man who has everything: Nicole Kidman. Everyone else is in it, so I suppose I'll go see it. Also, the hint they may be doing it camp-in-cheek is promising.

Secret Window: Johnny Depp, an author, toils away in solitude in an abandoned cabin (as we authors are wont to do), his very own Panic Room at the lake, only to discover that he has inexplicably rewritten someone else's manuscript. Said someone appears, with those words every author hates to hear, "You stole my story," which mutates into those words authors hear in Stephen King novels and at most conventions and book signings, "Fix the ending." Is the mysterious visitor a nutcase? A serial killer? A stereotypical hick character from Deliverance? I heart Johnny Depp, so I will no doubt eventually learn the truth.

50 First Dates: More rocky beaches. More skinny women—in fact, Drew Barrymore is airbrushed in the posters into a size -2. She has a Soldier in the Mist problem: no short-term memory due to an accident, leaving her unable to remember what has happened from day to day. It's Groundhog Day with neurological damage, plus Dan Akroyd. Love-interest Adam Sandler plays a veterinarian, but maybe he finds the secret to healing her through his research on walrus tusks. Opens on Valentine's Day, as if that will help.
Posted by OutsideFood at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2004

Calendar Girls

Broccoli in Antiquity

Calendar Girls: Helen Mirren as Chris Calendar Girls
with: Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton, Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, Celia Imrie who is formidable in anything, Geraldine James, Penelope Wilton, Georgie Glen, Angela Curran, et. al.
running time: 108 minutes
PG-13
(Based on a true story, mind you.)

Eleven women in their forties and fifties and perhaps sixties, members of the equivalent of a women's auxiliary group, are roused by one of their number to do something special with the annual Knapely Women's Institute Calendar. Chris (Helen Mirren), the sort of woman who barely fits into her life, full of ideas and plans and iconoclastic diversions, suggests the calendar be a special fundraiser in honour of John, the husband of one of their number (Annie, Julie Waters), struck down by a terminal illness. A keen observer of men's obsession with breasts (well, how observant do women have to be when the obsession is so obvious?), Chris decides to give them a different idea of what breasts are all about and who is behind the things. Eleven women will pose for the calendar, in the altogether. December will be them, all together.

John is seen early in the movie working in his garden, and Chris helps her own husband manage his flower business, so John's sentiments ring particularly clear for her: that women are like flowers, the last stage the most glorious. Then, John jokes, they all go to seed, and that humour also rings true with the women of the WI when Chris reads his words to them. Now, she just has to convince enough of them to disrobe. And convince them to let her print the calendar at all. And manage to keep a balance between her ideas and schemes and her homelife. This is not a movie that struggles with some sort of dichotomy, dithering over how hard it is for women to "have it all." This is a movie that reminds us to appreciate it all.

The main characters are sweet, sexy, beautiful, and familiar. The fact that so many of the actresses will be familiar to viewers of British films and sitcoms lends to the verisimilitude rather than distracts. These are the women who could be in your own hometown, women you might see every day in church or down the shops or at the weekend block party. Granted, of course, your hometown would have to be the breathtakingly gorgeous (though perpetually damp) Yorkshire countryside. The camera loves the old farmhouses and perambulating stone walls and nested streets. The town of Knapely is cosy and small, confining but never claustrophobic. It is their home, and they want to grow within it, not beyond it.

The male characters play a good supporting melody, but even the hapless photographer hired to work with the formidable women—some of whom would never have seen themselves in that light until he stumbles in their presence—is only backdrop, like a girlie calendar on a mechanic-shop wall. Men are not marginalised or ignored, though; in fact, they comprise a variety of individuals from the bitter to the angry to the kind to the calmly blasé ("Your photo is in the [newspaper], dear. Please pass the bacon."). They are secondary to most of the story, but they are an important part of the women's lives. Admittedly, none comes across as clearly as John, the terminally ill husband who inspires the calendar (and to whom—the real-life John Baker—the film is dedicated).

The women are a mixed bag, just faces until we begin to see pieces of how unique each one is and how distinct each one's life is. The frumpy cafe owner has hidden patches of excitement in her past. The details she may keep hidden from her friends, but her exuberance is always twinkling under the surface, even as she stolidly plays the piano for the same anthem the women's group sings every week before a lecture on rugs or vegetables in ancient times.

Oh, Chris has a troubled son. Just being a teenage boy with an outspoken mother is trouble enough; don't expect primetime-drama crises. It is not a strong subplot, and it remains a bit superficial, but there are a lot of characters for the film to handle and the movie does reasonably well with this one. One can't help but think that, had this been made in "Hollywood," the son would have been portrayed by the latest flavour of teenage hunk, and the daughter of the cafe owner would be portrayed by a skinny buxom young actress, and they would have had a romance, just for the opportunity to show a gravity-defying young thing strip her shirt off too.

Calendar Girls, airbrushed Hollywood (yes, they do get there) is shown as sleek and so soulless that one soundstage the women walk into is so blankly white not even floor can be discerned from ceiling from walls. They drift in space, unanchored, in their dramatic black dresses and bright yellow sunflower buttonieres, then are made to wear white robes and become barely visible at all. It is a rather obvious image, and the only part of the film that feels so contrived and heavy-handedly symbolic, I wondered if it might be a dream sequence and kept waiting for someone to wake up. The sense of hackneyed imagery continues into a subsequent scene of two characters conversing on a backlot city street. Though the emotions are so taut the characters never lose their own reality ("Stop being prideful and forget reserve and just go to her and pat her arm!" I wanted to shout to Chris, feeling it more deeply than some "Just kiss her" moment in a typical flick), the scene floated somewhere between the "reality" within the borders of the movie screen, and the artifice of the easy metaphor. For all I know, though, that is exactly how the incident occurred.

Don't go to see this for heart-pounding surprises and action, or for non-stop guffaws. See it to become part of real lives, and for a reminder that, even if we do all go to seed, each stage is more glorious than the last.

Outside Food: Cadbury's Fruit and Nut bar seemed appropriate here. And a non-Pepsi-product cola, as I've been very sleepy lately. I discovered at the end of the movie that I had a patch of melted chocolate on my sweater. I had to fight the urge to just take the sweater off.

Seen at: National Amusements City Center 15: Cinema de Lux, 237 Martine Avenue, White Plains NY 10601. High praise.

This time, we went north to White Plains (New York) to try the cinema at the new City Center. Yummy. It was posh (in a "still in a mall" way), clean, with an incredibly friendly staff who seemed thrilled to be working together. There was the usual assortment of overpriced food plus an assortment of sandwiches and pizza (overpriced), plus a bar & grill (!) which really wasn't overpriced at all and smelled tantalisingly tasty. The individual screen's theatre had ample handicapped seating—I counted eight seats with room for chairs.

All this with ticket prices that manage to stay under $10, current and recent movie trailers showing on multiple screens in a lobby with cafe seating as well as couches and a magazine-reading nook with actual trendy magazines. And did I mention the grand piano in the lobby? That you can sit at and play while waiting for your show? Now, that's just odd. I love it.

As the name of the theatre says, it has fifteen screens. The theatres are modest but not tiny, the seats high-backed, plush, and comfy. It was reported to me that the bathrooms were "elegant," but I forgot to have a look myself. Of course, the place still smells of new carpeting. Enjoy it while it's squeaky-new.

Unfortunately, the print was scarred from beginning to end, enough so that the constant green scratches never sank beneath the conscious level, although the movie was strong enough to handle the distraction.

Previews:

The Ladykillers: Let's see here... slick white guy with a Colonel Sanders look, heavyset sassy old black lady, in some southern locale. Plans to rob a riverboat with a hip-hop kinda gangsta guy who probably has a heart of gold. Gospel music. Tom Hanks, looking not at all like himself. Remake of a 1955 film set in London with Alec Guinness (you know: old Obi-Wan), Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom; now from producers Joel and Ethan Coen. Out in the spring. I will be elsewhere.

Laws of Attraction: Pierce Brosnan and, is that Laura Linney? No, I'm just having flashbacks to the wretched Mystic River (brrr). It's Julianne Moore. Lawyers in love. Attractive couple wakes after a wild night, married. They squabble, but you know they really have it bad for each other. Who cares?

The Big Bounce: A PG-13 preview, because... because... I suppose because people slink suggestively. From, we are pointedly told, the author of Get Shorty and Out of Sight, as if no one ever has a bad writing day. Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman and Charlie Sheen and a bunch of lesser lights oggle a blonde woman on the beach. She is so skinny you can see the ridges of her every rib when she slinks around in her revealing halter-dress, like a denuded bird carcass ready for the stock pot. It is an alarming sight to see right before a movie like Calendar Girls. Cons and schemes and doublecrosses and emaciated romance follow. The trailer tries hard to look clever and quirky but comes across as just another thin movie. Its ribs are showing.

Miracle: Walt Disney Pictures brings us this heartwarming and moving drama about dreams and hockey and coaches and wanting a second chance and giving up your dream of Olympic glory until twenty ordinary kids make the greatest moment in sports history and that's all you really need or want to hear but the preview goes on and on, as people weighed down by bad late-twentieth-century haircuts show they Have Heart. The film does seem to get some balletic scenes out of the hockey practices, but appears to be a lot of "rah rah, our country will be saved by hockey!" For a moment I thought I might be in Canada, then the stars-and-stripes waved movingly, shimmeringly, behind the title. Let's go smack some Soviet arse-ski!

Read: Comrade Flick Filosopher's review of Calendar Girls.
Posted by OutsideFood at 12:00 PM | Comments (1)

January 01, 2004

ROTK at midnight

Happy Manhattan and Las Vegas are Still Standing Day

Return of the King

Faramir is still pretty. Pip's voice is still sweet. Aragorn is still hairy. I am almost content.

Eomer, on the other hand, needs to frelling loosen up. His eyebrows are pretty much stitched together for 201 minutes.

I went to a late showing of Return of the King last night (my New Year's tradition) and yet still somehow made it back to the house before midnight (around 11:57). The roads were empty. I drove fast, and mused on whether I might become the last road accident of the old year, or the first of the new.

Thinking more on the structure of the movie (and this paragraph is all SPOILERY for those who do not know the book and have not seen the movie), I am impressed by the rhythm of how the climactic scenes interlace. Frodo makes the last steps into the mountain (an upswelling of hope even as the scene beyond the black gates is filled with passionate bravery but little hope, lifting the weight of the long struggle, an upward crescendo that begins when Sam raises his friend from the ground and declares, simply but as heroically as any of the elaborate nobility shown in all the battle scenes, "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you"); Frodo chooses the Ring, fights Gollum, the Ring falls, the Ring struggles and fades, Sam helps Frodo choose to reach for life and friendship over despair. All this happens in a precise counterpoint with the bravado before the gates, Aragorn's easy (and cheer-worthy) refusal of temptation (the climactic moment of all moments in this film for me may be the small smile with which he rejects the call to a corrupt version of power when his name is whispered from the dark tower), and the ensuing battle outside. It's such a precise balance and interweaving, I'd be afraid to see it altered by any additions in an extended version. I'll have to trust to the director and editors. And acquire a copy of the theatrical release.

In the end, of course, it's not about a magical macguffin, which is why the small moment of Aragorn's refusing smile is so important. It's about power and greed and the difficulty of giving up power once acquired, whatever form it takes—military might, high political office, general privilege of race and sex. That makes this book, this foundation of modern fantasy, one of those stories on that human condition one hears so much about. Too many fantasy novels that have followed are, instead, merely stories about a magical Thing.

The Flick Filosopher's version of a LOTR-movie drinking game amuses me.

Posted by OutsideFood at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)