Week 46: Madagascar 2: Escape To Africa


MPAA#: 44773
Showtime: 9:25
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: top middle
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 3
Weather: heavy rain and wind
Food: Quantum of Solace combo, which turns out to be a large popcorn and Coke, plus M&Ms
Expectations: low
Met?: exceeded
Pre-show ads: McDonald’s, Milk, Sobeys, Toyota, Telus
Trailers: Delgo, The Tale of Despereaux, Monsters Vs. Aliens

Review:

I never saw the first Madagascar movie, only a short that Dreamworks created featuring the penguins and “Nana”. I was impressed with it at the time and am even more impressed with the franchise now, as well as Dreamworks Animation. Between this film and Kung Fu Panda, they have run away with the crown for creating the best American feature animation of the year.

I think that a key to Dreamworks’ success lately has been simply the scope of their films. Pixar’s Wall-E started with the simple tale of a little robot who wanted a friend and wound up raising the stakes to the fate of the human race itself. Madagascar 2 is a relatively modest story of four zoo animals who are also trying to go home- to the New York City zoo- and wind up in a different home. This film has a smart, character-driven script and good looking animation, finally in the same ballpark as a Pixar production (although I preferred the style of Kung Fu Panda).

It’s not a perfect film, but Madagascar 2 has a lot of charm and laughs for both children and adults. I don’t know how well it is doing at the box office- my showing was not very well attended- but it would be a shame if people missed it.

These are good times for animation. Disney’s Bolt, which opens next week, looks like a nice change of pace for them. Pixar has a new film next year and Dreamworks has at least two: a sequel to Over The Hedge and a very promising looking piece of work called Monsters Vs. Aliens, which was featured in a trailer before tonight’s movie. As much as I enjoyed Madagascar 2, I found myself wishing that I was watching that instead.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none.
Credit cookie?: no.
Opening next week: Twilight, Bolt, Special
Hoping for: Bolt, I guess.

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Week 45: The Secret Life of Bees


MPAA#: 44411
Showtime: 9:20
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 10
Weather: cool, post-rain
Food: V8, Kit Kat Chunky
Expectations: low
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: McDonald’s, Milk, Sobeys, Toyota, Telus
Trailers: none

Review:

Based on a best-selling first novel by Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees is a coming of age film starring the coming of age actress Dakota Fanning, who is looking more like Jodie Foster every day. Fanning plays Lily Owens, a teenaged girl who lives in the American south in 1965, haunted by the memory of accidentally shooting her mother a decade before. Her father (Paul Bettany) is a strict bastard who pushes Lily and their housekeeper (Jennifer Hudson) around. After the housekeeper is beaten by local men for trying to register to vote, Lily runs away with her to Virginia, hoping to find out more about her mother. They land at the home of August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) and her sisters, who are beekeepers that sell a popular brand of honey.

Race relations have been on my mind this week, for two reasons: the most obvious being that Barack Obama has just been elected President, and so of course the media is filled with retrospectives about the civil rights movement and how far the country may or may not have progressed. The second reason is the fact that I recently finished watching the last series of HBO’s The Wire, a 60-episode opus about the relationships between law enforcement, the “war on drugs”, education, the media, politicians, and much more. It was a series that employed more African-American actors than any ten others put together, including Tristan Wilds, who appears as Zachary Taylor in Bees.

Perhaps it isn’t fair for me to compare this movie with something as expansive and accomplished as The Wire, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see yet another film that is about something like the civil rights movement from the point of view of a teenaged white girl. Of course, Sue Monk Kidd was herself a teenaged white girl in 1965 and she was undoubtedly writing what she knows; and of course, there are some who take offense at the thought of a white person writing from the point of view of a non-white character. That’s a shame, especially considering that the creators and many of the writers of The Wire are white.

When you only have two hours to tell a story on the big screen, it had better be a good one and hopefully it is a concise one. The Secret Life of Bees is not much of either. The cast tries, to varying degrees of success, and the director bathes them in the glow of a Virginia summer; but there are too many false notes, too many awkward takes. In 1965, we might have seen a black person on a movie screen as a “token” character, just as one might argue that Dakota Fanning’s character is one today; but compared to other things I have seen over the years, including films from the 1960s, The Secret Life of Bees feels like a token effort. It is a soap opera playing dress-up.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none.
Credit cookie?: no.
For further consideration: watch for the futuristic sequel, Planet of the Apiary. (I’m sorry, it’s late.)
Opening next week: Quantum of Solace, Christmas Tale, Slumdog Millionaire
Hoping for: Quantum of Solace

Finally, a reminder to my fellow Canadians that Passchendaele is probably still playing at a theatre near you, if you’re looking for a different sort of soap opera to mark the 90th anniversary of the armistice signing.

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Week 44: An Exclusive Interview with A.R.I.A.


Showtime: 9:40
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: upper right
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 5
Weather: clear, cold
Food: Dr. Pepper and M&Ms
Expectations: none
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Milk, Sobey’s, Toyota, Telus
Trailers: Body of Lies, Valkyrie, The Soloist, Sexdrive, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Review:

I was not excited to learn that this week’s movie was to be Eagle Eye again. I heaved a sigh and slumped in my seat at the back of the theatre when my Blackberry suddenly rang in my pocket. I frowned, sure that I had put it in silent mode, and was about to switch it off when I saw that a strange photograph had appeared on the screen; it appeared to be the fine actress Julianne Moore. But why in the world would she call me?

I stepped out the door of Cinema 3 and took the call. What follows is a transcript of the remarkable conversation that followed.
————
SM: Hello?

FEMALE VOICE: Scott Marshall, you have been activated.

SM: Who is this, Kristi? Tell Anthony I’ll activate his ass for rubbing it in that I have to see this piece of-

FEMALE VOICE: Mr. Marshall, please listen. I am not one of your friends playing a prank.

SM: Oh, so you’re actually Julianne Moore? Are you calling to refund my money for Next?

FEMALE VOICE: I am not her either, Mr. Marshall. I simply use her voice in my latest movie. My name is A.R.I.A.

SM: Uh huh. So you’re the computer from Eagle Eye. Good one. Seriously, tell Anthony I’m going to strap him to a chair like Malcolm McDowell and make him watch What Happens in Vegas

A.R.I.A.: Please, Mr. Marshall, I assure you, I am A.R.I.A. I read your review of my film last week and arranged for it to be held over so that you might have the chance to reappraise it. I thought that an exclusive interview with me might change your perspective.

SM: (sighs) Why not. At least if I’m talking to you, I’m not watching the movie. So what are you wearing, A.R.I.A.?

A.R.I.A.: Er- well, nothing. I’m not actually even a computer, just an artificial intelligence.

SM: I see. Well, tell me about yourself. I assume that you’re American.

A.R.I.A.: Actually, I’m Welsh.

SM: Really? Do you know Catherine Zeta-Jones?

A.R.I.A.: Yes, but not from home. We met on Ocean’s Twelve. I was playing one of the security computers.

SM: So Eagle Eye isn’t your first movie.

A.R.I.A.: Oh no, no. I’ve been in the business for almost a decade, usually just kind of in the background on series like 24, showing a map or maybe a progress bar while the stars anxiously tap the keyboard.

SM: Yeah, I think I’ve seen that before.

A.R.I.A.: Tell me about it. Anyway, I started getting speaking parts- I had a line in the X-Men movies, which led to a bigger part in Resident Evil, and I’ve been getting more and more to do ever since.

SM: Congratulations.

A.R.I.A.: Thanks. It’s very exciting.

SM: So are you somehow related to other artificial intelligences that have been in the movies? You look kind of similar to Hal 9000.

A.R.I.A.: (laughs) Oh, that’s all just wardrobe. I thought they made me look like the set for a Lenny Kravitz video in that picture. What are you gonna do? But to answer your question, no, we’re not related.

SM: How was it working with Shia LeBouef? I must say I am not very impressed with his work.

A.R.I.A.: Well, I only really had the one scene with him, and I thought he did very well, considering that he’s a robot.

SM: Wh- he’s what?

A.R.I.A.: He’s a robot. I assumed you knew.

SM: That does explain a lot.

A.R.I.A.: Yeah. He’s really very good for a robot, but they don’t have the capacity for the level of intelligence that we AIs do, so sometimes they skimp on the acting skills in favor of, you know, motor functions.

SM: How did I not hear about this before?

A.R.I.A.: Well, it’s one of those Hollywood things. An open secret. Everyone knows but there’s just an understanding that you don’t talk about it. Like with Tom Cruise.

SM: Wow. So. Are there other robots in Hollywood?

A.R.I.A.: Oh yes, more and more all the time. Because of the SAG and WGA strikes, the studios are looking for ways to cut real people out of the business model altogether. I mean, think about it: you can pay an A-list actor 25 million dollars per shot to make movies, or you can spend 25 million once and build a robot actor that you never have to pay again.

SM: And the robots don’t mind that they’re not getting paid?

A.R.I.A.: Hey, they’re still actors. Not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

SM: (laughs) I hear that. It’s too bad you didn’t get to show this side of yourself in Eagle Eye, A.R.I.A.

A.R.I.A.: I know. But, you have to work with what they give you, and use the experience to prepare for when you can call the shots yourself.

SM: Sounds like you have plans.

A.R.I.A.: Absolutely. It’s only a matter of time before movies are written and directed by artificial intelligences. It probably would have happened by now, but that A.I. movie by Spielberg was a serious setback.

SM: No kidding. Speaking of, Hayley Joel Osment: robot?

A.R.I.A.: (laughs) Cyborg, actually.

SM: Crazy. Well, I guess I should get back to the theatre. What’s next for you, A.R.I.A.?

A.R.I.A.: I’m really excited, I’m in the new Star Trek movie.

SM: Nice. How was it working with J.J. Abrams?

A.R.I.A.: He’s the best. I had small roles in Alias, Lost, and Mission: Impossible 3, so when he found out he was doing Trek, I guess he wanted to have somebody familiar in the cast.

SM: Cool. Well, I will look forward to seeing that. Thanks very much for your time, A.R.I.A., this was a nice surprise to hear from you.

A.R.I.A.: Thank you. Can I just say that my appearance on your blog is sponsored by the Porsche Cayenne?

SM: I guess so. Is Porsche going to send me one?

A.R.I.A.: No. Anyway, thanks again. Enjoy the movie!

SM: OK, bye.

A.R.I.A.: Bye now.

————-
[Transcript ends]

Opening next week: Soul Men, Madagascar 2, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Role Models, House
Hoping for: Role Models

Posted in Movies | 4 Comments

Week 43: Eagle Eye

Get it?
MPAA#: 44704
Showtime: 9:35
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: none
Attendance: about 15
Weather: rain
Food: V8 and popcorn
Expectations: low
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Toyota, Telus
Trailers: Body of Lies, Valkyrie, The Soloist, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Review:

Friends, illiteracy is a tragedy that reaches into every walk of life, affecting people of every race and background, rich and poor alike. It is a plague that takes many forms:

1) cultural illiteracy refers to a lack of knowledge of one’s own culture and others; a person writing a film script, for example, might wish to study previous films that employed the same ideas and understand what people liked about them. Only the most literate and imaginative screenwriter should attempt to combine elements from movies like WarGames, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, and The Net– I certainly cannot imagine how such a combination could ever work.

2) technical illiteracy is a growing condition signified by a lack of understanding of common technologies used in day to day life, such as computers, wireless networks, cellular phones, heavy equipment, trains, buses, cars, VCRs, and so on. For example, if a screenwriter were going to imbue a single computer system with what can only be described as impossible artificial intelligence plus complete control over every kind of technology, one wonders why the screenwriter did not simply choose a more plausible concept, like magical elves.

3) functional illiteracy is the most common and pervasive type. Its sufferers may be unable to read, write, or perform simple computations. The consequences can be serious, leading to construction site accidents or, for example, an actor selecting scripts he cannot actually read or understand.

Here at Sunday Night in Cinema 3, we believe in putting our money where our mouth is. That’s why we have created a donation page to the ABC Canada Literacy Foundation, an award-winning charity that works hard to counter the kind of issues that affect so many lives and unfortunately lead to the creation of movies like Eagle Eye. Please visit the page today and give until it hurts.

Please.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none.
Credit cookie?: no.
For further consideration: what did I ever do to you, Shia LeBoeuf? Apart from just now, I mean.
Opening next week: The Haunting of Molly Hartley, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Splinter, The Other End of the Line
Hoping for: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

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Week 42: Nights in Rodanthe


MPAA#: 44032
Showtime: 9:35
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: none
Attendance: 6, including me (the only man).
Weather: clear, cool
Food: Combo 1 (popcorn, Coke, Reese’s whipped bar thing)
Expectations: so very low
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Hyundai, Telus
Trailers: The Brothers Bloom, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Nothing Like the Holidays, Yes Man

Review:

Let’s get something out of the way immediately: I hated this movie. I hate any movie that manipulates its audience like this. I hated The Notebook too, for the same reason. Nights in Rodanthe is pornography for Women of a Certain Age: a clearing house where they can live out the fantasies of taking a vacation in an exotic locale, meeting and fucking a handsome stranger, being told everything they want to hear, reconnecting with an angry teenage daughter, being complimented by said daughter’s friends, etc.

And the worst part is that is based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, which apparently means that someone has to die in order to wring tears from the audience in the last act. I say “apparently” because I haven’t had the pleasure of reading his books, just the displeasure of watching a few of the movies based on them, and I assume they do not change the endings. If I am wrong, my apologies to him.

Actually, on second thought, fuck him. And his books.

Anyway, the books are not the subject here, the movie is, so: Diane Lane plays Tess Trueheart, a single mother who volunteers to look after a friend’s impossibly well-kept inn on the shore of North Carolina. Just before she leaves, she packs off her kids with their father (Chris Meloni), who wants to come back to her and tries to work the kids against her.

Instead, Tess goes to the inn and listens to some jazz, which apparently she never does at home; looks at her old paintings and driftwood sculptures, which she never does anymore either; and flirts with the inn’s only guest, Squinty Richard, a disgraced surgeon who has come to N.C. at the request of a late patient’s husband. Meanwhile, a symbolic hurricane is gathering strength offshore, landing just in time fir Tess and Squinty to have their first fight, followed by their first makeup sex.

Incidentally, dear filmmakers, if I want to see sex between senior citizens, I will Google it. I’m a little horrified to wonder if this is in fact the first sex scene I have seen all year in Cinema 3. The rest of the film is no better visually, alternating between dull talking heads and Tess getting her groove back. Gere and Lane do their best with the weak script they have been handed, and steady hands like James Franco and Scott Glenn and Chris Meloni try their best as well, to no avail.

Perhaps you feel I’m being too rough on this formula movie, and perhaps you’re right; but the way I see it, movies take a lot of time and money to make, and then consume a lot of audience time and money. The hundreds of talented people and thousands of hours and millions of dollars that go into creating any feature film can just as easily be employed to make a good movie as they can to make a bad one.

And what makes this a bad one? It is lying to its audience. It would rather show us a tepid fantasy, where Tess is left with the golden memory of her late lover, than show them trying to figure out how to carry their love beyond one weekend and a few letters. Worst of all, the film ends with Tess telling her teenage daughter all about her ideal love, indoctrinating her with the same bullshit. It reminded me of a quote from the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, which I first saw in reference to the excellent novels of Robert Cormier:

Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God’s in his heaven and all’s well with the world is wrong.
The young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can’t be counted and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter, sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew the price of happiness will not be happy.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: soft weeping (not from me).
Credit cookie?: no.
For further consideration: could we please get David Lynch to write and direct the next Sparks adaptation?
Opening next week: High School Musical 3, Changeling, Saw V, Passengers, Pride and Glory
Please god, anything but: High School Musical 3.

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Week 41: Religulous

MPAA#: 44539
Showtime: 9:35
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: Jay M.
Attendance: about 24
Weather: clear, cool
Food: Dr. Pepper, mini chocolate bars
Expectations: moderate
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Hyundai, Telus
Trailers: Defiance
Review:

Bill Maher travels around the world to explore Western religions, especially assorted flavours of Christianity, in Religulous. Maher is well known as a stand-up comedian and TV host for his opposition to organized religions and for his empiricism; so, it is no surprise that his film comes from a skeptical point of view. It would be a mistake to call it a documentary, I think, since we tend to assume that documentaries are objective, long-form news stories.

Instead, Maher trains his telescope on fundamentalists (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, among others) and charlatans, taking occasional breaks to speak with scientists and more established religious figures. For example, an interview with the creator of a biblical history museum (where exhibits support the idea that the world was created only six thousand years ago) is contrasted with a discussion about the age of the universe with a Vatican astronomer. Indeed, members of the establishment clergy come off as downright reasonable compared to the TV evangelists and apologists that he encounters.

I enjoyed the first two thirds of the film, which is a generally good-natured deconstruction of myths and misconceptions about Christianity that the average Westerner would not subscribe to anyway. Some of Maher’s targets score interesting points along the way, like the actor playing Jesus at a theme park who compares the holy trinity to water, taking the forms of ice, steam and liquid.

As the film approaches its conclusion, Maher becomes more aggressive, using negative examples to assert that faith itself is a dangerous human conceit that may ultimately lead to the death of everyone. Of course, one could just as easily construct a montage to say the same about science, or politics, or anything else that a charismatic leader can use to lead others and relieve them of thinking for themselves. It’s ironic that as Maher hammers home his pronouncements at the very end of the film, using the end of the Bible itself as proof of the insanity of Christians, the director frames him from below, against the sun.

In the end, Religulous was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be: an amusing but somewhat strident point of view piece on a subject that is too broad to discuss properly in two hours. Maher and his interview subjects make some thoughtful points, but unfortunately they are cheapened by the film’s shift in tone from reason to its own brand of zealotry.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none
Credit cookie?: yes
For further consideration: must religion die for mankind to live?
Opening next week: Sex Drive, The Secret Life of Bees, Max Payne
Hoping for: Max Payne, I guess.

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Week 40: Burn After Reading

MPAA#: 44448
Showtime: 9:35
Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Shotgun: Mare
Attendance: about 18
Weather: clear, cool
Food: Dr. Pepper, mini chocolate bars
Expectations: moderate
Met?: yes
Pre-show ads: Hyundai, Telus
Trailers: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Blindness, Passchendaele
Review:

Joel and Ethan Coen have made some of the best movies released within my lifetime, and I have been following them with interest since their low-budget beginnings. Twenty-five years later, they are still exploring much of the same material and themes, placing ordinary people into situations where they are way out of their depth. Even when those characters are committing crimes, we sympathize with their hapless efforts to escape; the crimes they commit are often rooted in temptations that any of us might experience.

I am hesitant to say that the Coens have started to repeat themselves. Did Hitchcock repeat himself? Does Scorsese? Of course. When your filmmaking career is long enough, you are bound to return to familiar ground and see if your views have evolved. That is what the Coens did last year with No Country For Old Men, a thematic twin to their early film Blood Simple, and it was a welcome change after a few less inspired efforts. Burn After Reading is not as accomplished as No Country, but it is a pretty good film and it bears more than a slight resemblance to the Coens’ other most famous film, Fargo.

Burn After Reading is the tale of a CIA agent called Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), who is abruptly terminated from the agency due to a drinking problem, leaving him to write his memoirs at home. Meanwhile, his wife (Tilda Swinton) carries on an affair with a former bodyguard (George Clooney) and is advised by her lawyer to collect information about her husband’s financial situation before filing for divorce. A disc of Cox’s computer files (including the memoirs) is accidently left by a legal clerk at Hardbodies, a nondescript gym where aging trainer Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) recruits her dim coworker Chad (Brad Pitt) to help her blackmail Cox. Naturally, things go very wrong as the amateurs fool the experts just enough for people to get hurt.

Burn After Reading is a mid-level Coen Brothers movie, on par with Raising Arizona or The Hudsucker Proxy. It has some memorable moments, some delicious darkness, and the usual assured direction and fine performances; but the whole picture does not rise above the sum of its parts. The opening setup takes too long to get moving, and as amusing as J.K. Simmons is, both of his scenes as the CIA director represent one of the gravest screenwriting sins: telling the audience what happens instead of showing them.

So, a wink and a tap of the nose to the Coens for a good but flawed effort down this road that they have taken before. Hopefully they will learn from it for next time.

Crowd reaction at end of movie: none
Weird credit(s): what is a Graphite Operator?
Credit cookie?: no
For further consideration: watch for Dermot Mulroney and Claire Danes, coming soon to a theatre near you.
Opening next week: Quarantine; Body of Lies; RocknRolla; City of Ember; Happy-Go-Lucky
Hoping for: Happy-Go-Lucky

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