Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's a veritable cornucopia of great movies showing up at the video store these days, and over the past week or so Deyelle and I have been playing catch up.  Here's a survey of the best:

Death at a Funeral
This British farce is one of the funniest movies either of us have seen in a long time.  Lots of broad, almost slapstick gags, yet almost all of the humour comes directly from the unique circumstances of each character.  Everything is effortlessly set up and paid off in a typically foul-mouthed British way - it's hard to believe director Frank Oz continues to provide voices for Sesame Street characters.

I Am Legend
Will Smith continues to show why he's one of Hollywood's most bankable actors with a dark, intense performance in this post-apocalyptic drama.  Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Smith carries the majority of the film by himself, going about his business as the last man alive in New York, trying to avoid being killed by the vampire-like creatures that stalk the shadows.  The tension is palpable throughout the deliberately paced first two thirds; unfortunately, the last act breaks into a sprint that somewhat undermines the intelligent storytelling that came before.  But despite a resolution that's a little too neat, the film is well worth seeing.

30 Days of Night
Still on the vampire theme, 30 Days of Night uses the why-didn't-I-think-of-that plot device of vampires in a northern Alaska town during 30 sunlight-free days in the winter.  Eerily atmospheric with surprisingly brutal violence, and featuring perhaps the best performance Josh Hartnett's ever given, this one is a genuinely satisfying horror flick, despite some glaring logic holes and an unconvincing blizzard. 

The Namesake
This tale of an immigrant family from India is a real hidden gem.  Stretching from the 1970s to present day - with seamless transitions between time periods that ensure you're paying attention - we get a genuine feel for the unexpected challenges faced by newcomers to America.  Beats that could've been disastrously precious - like when a character covers her bowl of dry Rice Krispies in curry powder - come across as genuine and insightful.  This is an easy recommendation.

The Darjeeling Limited
If you know Wes Anderson's other films (like Rushmore or The Life Aquatic), you know the thin line between comedy and drama that this picture walks, but the master storyteller has created a movie with a more intimate focus - three brothers - set against his most ambitious setting, the vast plains of India.  Filled with metaphor and insight both subtle and not so much (the brothers are literally traveling around carrying their dead father's baggage), this is a lovely little picture that'll float around in your mind for a while.

A Best Picture nominee, and winner of several British Academy Awards, Atonement is a film that assures the viewer that, no matter how seemingly unimportant the events we are watching are, all will be revealed by the end of two hours.  It requires a fair amount of patience, and features frank depictions of violence and sex, but this highly literate tale of actions and their consequences is poetic, meaty, and satisfying.  Also noteworthy is Dario Marianelli's score, based upon the clattering of a typewriter, that's both endlessly interesting and ultimately a key part of telling the story.

The Mist
Frank Darabont writes and directs his third Stephen King adaptation, and ends up with his most successful picture in my estimation.  A harrowing tale of a diverse group of small town locals trapped in a grocery store when a creature-filled mist descends, The Mist is more interested in showing the horrific and illogical actions people will take when afraid than it is in having us terrified by the creatures themselves.  Which is a good thing, as the computer generated imagery suffers the most from the picture's low budget.  Playing like a 1940s creature feature, but with a dark view of humanity thrown in, this is a surprisingly edgy picture that caused a rare argument between Deyelle and I over the ending.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Happy Belated St. Patrick's Day!

I didn't have time to post this yesterday before heading out for a couple of Guinnesses (Guinnessi?), but here's a little Irish humor someone passed long:

A small two-seater Cessna 152 plane crashed into a cemetery yesterday afternoon in Dublin.

Irish search and rescue workers have recovered 285 bodies so far, but expect that number to climb as digging continues into the evening.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The latest post-Oscar wrap-up on the Internet!

So, I never got around to commenting on the Oscars back when they happened, then it felt like too much time had gone by to mention them.  But it has been suggested to me that I should do it anyway, and since I doubt this is widely-read, why not.

Overall, a good show.  The focus on the history of the Oscars was a little disappointing, as at times the proceedings felt a little (a lot?) too self-congratulatory, but Jon Stewart was a funny, compassionate host (when he brought the co-winner of the Best Original Song Oscar back on stage to finish her speech, he instantly created the most talked about moment of the evening).  Surely the writers' strike was to blame for much of the less-than-inspired content, as things were pulled together at the last minute, so all things considered, bravo.

Some of the awards seemed like foregone conclusions (I can't recall an Oscars when I was so sure of the Best Picture winner), while others were a surprise, but with such a remarkably solid list of nominees it was nice to see the little golden men distributed widely.  I revisited No Country for Old Men two nights ago and liked it even more than the first time; it is a worthy Best Picture winner that has no easy answers, and leaves much more open for interpretation than you would expect.  It also contains the most suspenseful sequence in any movie this year.

I was 10 for 25 on my guesses, not bad, not as good as some friends.  I'm not usually very good at predicting these things anyway - in the summer, I thought Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe would be competing for Best Actor oscars thanks to American Gangster, and was wrong on both counts (I also thought - and still do, mind you - American Gangster deserved a nod for its phenomenally understated, yet completely revelatory, costume design.  Crowe barely had to speak, we could just look at what he was wearing and know what his character was all about.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Open-ended Evil

Checked out Resident Evil: Extinction last night, and was pretty impressed with it for the most part. With a catchy opening and a great image of a military compound surrounded by hungry undead just outside the fence, paired with a predictably-solid tough girl performance by Milla Jovovich, this one should keep horror fans entertained. The wife, an admitted zombie movie afficionato, concurs enthusiastically.

Unfortunately - and this may be mildly spoilery - by the end of the film, absolutely nothing is resolved. Like, no closure whatsoever. The Matrix Reloaded had a more satisfying ending. It's like an episode of Lost, except with fewer scenes of charicters being given the chance to ask the obvious questions viewers have been screaming at the screen for three seasons and choosing instead to pose an obscure query no one cares about.

Note to writer Paul W.S. Anderson: even when you know you're making (another) sequel, a good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I guess two out of three ain't bad.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Way to go, Alberta!

So we had our provincial election last night, and in what was touted as potentially quite a tight race those who bothered to vote handed the PCs 72 out of 83 seats.  With what may be the lowest voter turn-out in Canadian history.

So the Tories got about 53% of the popular vote, with about 40% of the province voting - meaning the party chosen by of a little over 20% of the province now has an iron-clad mandate to do pretty much whatever it wants.  I wonder how long it'll be until we blow up another hospital in Calgary?

One can only hope for proportional representation to be brought in before the next election to even things out a bit.  And maybe for a few more people to take ten minutes out of their day to exercise their democratic right.