Welcome, film lovers!

You have found the archive of a film blog that I wrote every week for a year; check out the About page to see why. I will someday go back and fill in the gaps that were left by a server crash and collect these posts (and other film writings) into a book; for now, I invite you to start at the beginning. If you like this site and want to see more recent work by me (including the occasional film review), check out my blog at potzrebie.com.

Thanks for visiting; I hope you enjoy Sunday Night in Cinema 3.

Scott M.

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Week 52: Roll the Credits

With no winter storms to hide behind this week, I returned to Cinema 3 for the last installment of my year-long experiment. Not surprisingly during this festive season, the movie was still a rerun (The Day The Earth Stood Still) and the ‘plex was jammed with people lining up to see whatever they could. It reminded me of a year ago, when I got the idea for this blog. At least tonight and at other times this year, I had company; thanks to Anthony, Kristi, Keith, Scott T., Matt, Chris, Sarah, Leslie, Nicole, Jay, Lisa M., and everyone else who came out to ride shotgun.

You might naturally expect at this point that I would sum up the year with a few heartwarming lines explaining what I’ve learned from spending my Sunday nights in Cinema 3: about the movies, about myself, about life. But hey, I’m a zen practitioner too; the movies are me, and you, and life.

Whether you’re a Buddhist monk or a movie critic, you spend most of your time sitting on your ass, watching the story play out in front of you. What does it signify, in the end? Am I better for having seen The Bucket List and Rachel Getting Married? Am I worse for enduring 10,000 BC and The Strangers? Was this blog worth over 4 solid days of my life and $500 in movie tickets?

I think so, yes. How often do we really remember seeing a particular movie? I have seen hundreds of movies in the theatre and probably thousands in total, but I can count the number of truly memorable moviegoing experiences on my fingers. Like another winter night a few years ago, deciding on a whim to sit in the centre of a grand old movie house, transported by the imagery and amazing sound of a film that most people never saw and probably never will. How often do we feel that conjunction of time, place, and story? Is there a nirvana, an enlightenment to strive for, by going to the movies the way some might go to church?

Absolutely. And a hell too, where What Happens in Vegas plays on every screen. And just like karma, these are beds that we make for ourselves, wherever we are in the distribution chain: writing, acting, directing, producing, distributing, exhibiting, viewing, reviewing. We read Rotten Tomatoes and we watch Access Hollywood and we go to the Big Event Pictures and we think we understand about the movies. We’re led to believe that if we go see the #1 box office champ every weekend, we’ll be winners too.

I guess that’s what made me want to write this blog. The machine that produces so much arbitrary and pointless filler like One Missed Call is not your friend. It doesn’t care if you are transported to a better place by the movies; it just wants your $10.99 on opening weekend. Your time and your life are valuable. You deserve better than to be the afterthought at the end of the supply chain.

That probably sounds strange coming from a guy who has watched Megaforce about a dozen times; but there it is. Obviously I am not like most people. Out of all of those hundreds of movies over the years, I can remember walking out of only one- the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre starring Jessica Biel. I’m not trying to brag; if anything, it’s probably a sign of low self-esteem that I haven’t walked out of more.

If some of the movies I saw this year in Cinema 3 wasted your life or your money, I hope that this blog helped tip the balance back in your favour a little. Thanks for reading it. If you want to continue reading my film reviews and other ramblings, I hope you will check out my ongoing personal blog at www.potzrebie.com. Until then, happy new year.

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Week 51: Road House

This is an unusual week in Cinema 3. First, it’s Christmas week, a time when the movie house fills with parents trying to entertain their children who are on vacation, while studios try to pimp their oscar-bait and dump their long-shelved writeoffs. Second, this has been a week filled with brisk winter storms in my corner of the world, and there appears to be another one coming tonight, so I am not sure if the theatre will be open for a late show, and even if it is, how likely it is that I will be able to get there.

Fortunately, I did pop in to the theatre in the early afternoon to find out what the movie would be, as I usually do, and it appears to be a rerun of The Day The Earth Stood Still. And so it is my hope that, in the spirit of the season, you gentle readers will forgive me if I write instead about my favourite Christmas movie: Road House, starring Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott. I only wish that I could be watching it on the big screen; if I make it to the cinema tonight, the PSP will have to do.

“Hold up a second,” you might be saying. “What does Road House have to do with Christmas?” As you will see, Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator and star Joel Hodgson wondered the same thing during a host segment of one of their Christmas episodes, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”:

http://www.youtube.com/v/2ZyJCV_dyug&hl=en&fs=1

Inspired by this bit of comedy, my friend Roger and I decided to spend our Christmas evening about 15 years ago watching Road House and cracking jokes. I kept doing so, alone and with friends, in subsequent years until it became a regular holiday party, then a tradition, then an event, and now it’s hard to imagine Christmas without it.

That’s the magic of the movies. A movie doesn’t have to be specifically about Christmas, and how (as Joel observes elsewhere in the same episode) a curmudgeonly old man or woman learns the true meaning of the holiday. It could just as easily be about how a curmudgeonly old man has his henchmen drive a monster truck through a car dealership, burn down an auto parts store, and kick the crap out of everyone in town until a stranger with a mullet performs a laryngectomy with his hands.

No, the important thing is that you and your friends watch the movie together, enjoying each other’s company the way that families are supposed to. Sometimes we lose sight of that at Christmas, and we need a roundhouse kick to the jaw to remind us.

So yes, Virginia, Road House is my favourite Christmas movie, and I say that without a touch of irony or jest. Over the years I have owned copies on VHS, laserdisc, budget DVD and now the “Deluxe Edition” DVD, and I’m sure I will own the Blu-Ray one day. I also own a copy of the straight-to-DVD sequel starring Jonathan Schaech, and one of my first forays into writing about movies on the internet was a review of Road House.

This has been a rough year for us Road House fans. Canadian blues guitarist Jeff Healey passed away from a lifelong struggle with cancer at the young age of 41, and Patrick Swayze continues to battle pancreatic cancer, which has a very low survival rate. I hope that you will join me in wishing him well, as I wish all of you a happy holiday season and an awesome new year.

As for me, I have one week left to go in Cinema 3. What will it be? If you’re in the Saint John area, feel free to join me and find out.

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Week 50: The Day the Earth Stood Still


MPAA#: 44866
Showtime: 9:20
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 7
Weather: warm, clear
Food: Dr. Pepper, M&Ms
Expectations: optimistic
Met?: no
Pre-show ads: Coke, Toyota, Telus
Trailers: The Wrestler, Terminator: Salvation, The Spirit, Star Trek, X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Review:

Keanu Reeves is Klaatu, emissary from a coalition of alien civilizations, with a simple message for the people of Earth: get your shit together or we will destroy you. I may be paraphrasing a little but that is essentially the story of The Day the Earth Stood Still, both this new version and the 1951 original, and to prove his point, Klaatu’s enforcer Gort disables the weaponry and power grid of the Earth’s major cities. Klaatu is also a thinly veiled reference to Jesus, posing a potential answer to the question of what we would do if such a figure did appear.

The original version of this film is considered to be a high water mark for Science Fiction cinema, a thought provoking and subvsersive change of pace from bug-eyed monsters and other postwar anxieties. Over fifty years later, of course, it is hard to sell this story as a novel idea, and it is a little depressing to consider that the planet is in worse shape now than at the beginning of the Cold War.

So for the creators of this new version, the problem is how to present the story in a way that is relevant to our world today; which is why Klaatu encounters a female xenobiologist (Jennifer Connelly) who is not as much of a damsel in distress as the original. This is a logical change that reflects the reality of our world today and does not negatively impact the movie. It is also the only change I can describe that way.

The other changes? A new subplot about Will Smith’s son Jaden, who is a fine little actor but essentially wasted here. Klaatu’s robot Gort is also given a lot more screen time, and there is more in the way of actual destruction of cities and so on; but the threat of destruction in the original carries a greater weight than CGI set pieces of a plague of nano-locusts eating Giants Stadium.

In fact, despite the effects from Peter Jackson’s Weta group- the new Gort is very impressive in his humanoid form- this film leaves the same hollow feel as the recent remake of I Am Legend. Its “all-star” cast including Kathy Bates, Kyle Chandler, and John Cleese give it the air of an Irwin Allen movie of the week or a mid-level “Twilight Zone” episode. I wouldn’t have been surprised if David Janssen had shown up.

There are also a number of strange lapses in logic in the script, such as why Jennifer Connelly is able to evade the US government despite the existence of satellite tracking, wiretaps, and infra-red cameras; or why there are people still on an automotive assembly line when the rest of the world is rioting in the streets.

If someone was developing a remake of Casablanca or The Third Man, hopefully they would respect the source material more than this; but for some reason, Hollywood seems to believe that if they trade on a recognizable title and dial up the special effects, the audience will automatically prefer a Science Fiction or Horror remake to those corny black and white originals. It’s ironic, since The Day The Earth Stood Still is supposed to give us faith in humanity’s better nature and capacity for change. If only the filmmakers practiced what they preach.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none.
Credit cookie?: no.
For further consideration: you do not show a Gort in the first act without firing it by the third.
Weird credit: what are Sustainable Filming Services?
Opening next week: Seven Pounds, The Tale of Despereaux, The Wrestler, Yes Man, Nothing But the Truth
Hoping for: The Wrestler

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Week 49: Rachel Getting Married


MPAA#: 44366
Showtime: 9:10
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: upper right
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 3
Weather: wet snow
Food: Dr. Pepper, Mike & Ikes
Expectations: moderate
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Coke, Toyota, Telus
Trailers: Heaven on Earth

Review:

For a film about ordinary events, Rachel Getting Married is an ambitious and accomplished piece of work by screenwriter Jenny Lumet, director Johnathan Demme, and an impressive cast led by Anne Hathaway. Continuing her stretch into more adult roles, Hathaway does not play the titular bride-to-be; she is Rachel’s sister Kym, arriving home from rehab just in time for the rehearsal dinner.

There is a very realistic family dynamic at work: damaged Kym contrasts against psychology student Rachel, both of them still coping with the loss of a younger brother (due to accident) which in turn led to the loss of their mother (due to divorce). Kym feels responsible for the brother’s death and is unable to forgive herself, desperately clinging to 12-step techniques to get her through the already tense environment of a wedding. Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt) has felt the need to be perfect in the wake of her sister’s problems and wants the wedding day to be about her for once. Their father Paul (Bill Irwin) is a musician who annoys Kym by hovering around her after her homecoming, but he perhaps is not so much afraid of what Kym might do as he is of losing another child. Their beautiful Connecticut home is filled with a circus of family and friends, musicians and characters from a wide range of cultures.

Jenny Lumet, daughter of the great director Sydney, knocks a difficult screenplay out of the park. The topics covered by this film- rehab, wedding, family, redemption, , coping, catharsis- are examined regularly by Hollywood and usually result in spoon-fed, manipulative tearjerkers. Lumet chooses instead to give the audience glimpses into the past without connecting all of the dots for us. There is an interesting exchange of words about the bridesmaids’ dresses, coloured purple, which Kym complains looks terrible on her. “You wore a purple sweater on that magazine cover when you were 16,” says Rachel; “they were paying me, and I was stoned out of my mind,” retorts Kym. So Kym was a model, at least for a short time; in a later conversation with her mother (Debra Winger), she refers to “weighing 6 pounds” at that time of her life. There is not a moment of this film that feels false; even the ending, while generally positive, is somewhat uncertain.

Johnathan Demme and cinematographer Declan Quinn are as usual masters of the camera, shooting mostly with hand-held high definition digital video, unafraid to hold a shot for a long moment. There are several scenes that verge on overlong, only to pay off in an unexpected way. The presence of a wide variety of musicians in the film allows for the ingenious device of having them provide the soundtrack as they practise for the wedding. Demme has filmed numerous music videos and several concert films, including two for Neil Young (whose song “Unknown Legend” is sung to the bride by the groom) and one for Robyn Hitchcock, who appears in the film as a wedding guest and performs a couple of numbers.

Rachel Getting Married has attracted a great deal of well-deserved attention, including a number of nominations for Independent Spirit awards, which makes sense considering how it recalls the work of directors like Robert Altman, John Cassavetes, Woody Allen, and John Sayles. I do believe that it is the best film I have seen so far in Cinema 3, and it is a contender to topple In Bruges from the title of best film of the year; it’s hard to believe it exists on the same planet with formula like High School Musical, The Secret Life of Bees, or Nights in Rodanthe.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none.
Credit cookie?: no.
Opening next week: Doubt, Nothing Like the Holidays, The Reader, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Gran Torino
Hoping for: The Day the Earth Stood Still

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Week 48: Quantum of Solace


MPAA#: 44263
Showtime: 9:40
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 007 (really.)
Weather: cool, freezing rain
Food: Dr. Pepper, M&Ms, Eat-More bars
Expectations: moderate
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Coke, Toyota, Telus
Trailers: The Day The Earth Stood Still, Four Christmases, Yes Man, Seven Pounds

Review:

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in the 22nd official outing of the long-running spy franchise based on the novels and stories of Ian Fleming. Quantum of Solace is a sort-of-sequel to Craig’s debut, the third filmed version of Casino Royale (although the first “canonical” one for the purposes of the franchise); Bond continues to pursue the men responsible for the death of his girlfriend Vespa, uncovering a secret organization called Quantum that extends its influence around the world. As with the last film, Craig is the ultimate hard man as Bond but he also exhibits some vulnerability.

The primary villain is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), an industrialist who offers to depose a Bolivian leader for an exiled General in exchange for the rights to exploit a large stretch of desert that appears to be worthless. Bond is aided by a sexy Bolivian agent called Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who wants revenge on the General just as Bond wants revenge for Vespa.

There is an underlying theme of forgiveness in this film as Bond is regularly harangued by his handler, M (Judi Dench), for his recklessness. Bond protests that he is driven by his duty, but he also has a way of getting people killed, especially innocent women like Strawberry Fields, who is found in her hotel room after being drowned in oil. How she got to her bed without dripping oil on the floor is a mystery for the next film, perhaps.

Quantum of Solace is an entertaining enough film, well-shot by director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Stay) and well-performed by the actors, but its script has a relentless pace that does not allow much time for the more thoughtful and calculating version of Bond that we see in Casino Royale. It continues to establish the new Bond franchise that eschews the old gadgets and winks to the audience, competing directly with (and appropriating liberally from) the Jason Bourne and John Woo-influenced films that audiences expect today.

With the introduction of Quantum, the franchise also establishes a new and supposedly more realistic adversary for the forseeable future: instead of cackling supervillains developing doomsday weapons in underground lairs, politicians and businessmen conspire to trade lives for their own financial gain. What makes the new James Bond appealing in such a world is that unlike most of the people he deals with, he can be trusted. Now that this Bond has some closure, I am looking forward to seeing how he stays a step ahead of some powerful enemies.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none.
Credit cookie?: no, but the credits do end with the usual “James Bond Will Return.”
Opening next week: Cadillac Records, Frost/Nixon, Punisher: War Zone, Nobel Son, Timecrimes
Hoping for: Punisher: War Zone, if only because the villain is played by Dominic West from The Wire.

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Week 47: High School Musical 3


MPAA#: 44768
Showtime: 9:40
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: center middle
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 1
Weather: cool, clear
Food: Dr. Pepper, M&Ms
Expectations: very low
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Milk, Sobeys, Toyota, Telus
Trailers: The Tale of Despereaux, Marley and Me, Madagascar 2, Bedtime Stories, Bolt

Review:

The Walt Disney company presents High School Musical 3, the first (and presumably last) big screen treatment of their popular franchise starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgins as this generation’s Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

When I found out I would be seeing this film, my mind immediately started generating smartass jokes about how someone should write a musical about what really happens in high school: songs about worrying that your girlfriend is pregnant, that you have chlymadia, that you’re gay, that someone will beat you up in the washroom, that you’re going to fail History again. Then I realized that someone already has written that musical: it’s called Grease, and it is performed every year like clockwork at the high schools in my area.

Grease may seem a little corny to us now, over thirty years since its introduction, but it does have some serious issues at its heart, and most importantly for a musical, it has several memorable songs. That’s more than I can say for High School Musical 3, which has one or two catchy tunes at best. Zac Efron’s character, Troy Bolton, is struggling with the age-old problem of choosing between a basketball scholarship and a theatre scholarship (his decision? Both.)

I believe this is the first week all year that I have been the only person in Cinema 3. I’m sure part of the reason for that is the fact that the movie has been out for a month; but the biggest reason is probably the release of another teen sensation called Twilight. Apparently it’s about a mopey girl who moves to the Pacific Northwest and falls in love with a vampire; think Buffy and Angel on the big screen.

The wonderful thing about the teenage years is that you can stand between the wide-eyed innocence of a film like High School Musical 3 and the horror of Prom Night (the original version of which also debuted not long after Grease). Teenagers may not have a lot of real world experience, but they do have real problems, and they aren’t stupid; it’s a shame that so many films seem to assume otherwise.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: N/A.
Credit cookie?: no.
Opening next week: Transporter 3, Four Christmases, Milk, Australia
Please god, anything but: Four Christmases.

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