Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Soloist

Joe Wright | 2009 | 109 mins | USA

The Soloist is a mawkish, based on a true story, Oscar-baiting drama that stars Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayres, a Julliard educated musical genius who may be schizophrenic and lives on the streets of LA playing a two-stringed violin. He mumbles endlessly and is kind of endearing in the end, but he's no Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Robert Downey Jr. is Steve Lopez, the LA Times reporter who "discovers" the homeless virtuoso and decides to write a column about him, ultimately feeling compelled to get more deeply involved in Ayres' life in a well meaning but simplistic attempt to 'help' or 'fix' him. The odd couple's tentative bond becomes a real friendship with alternately sad and hilarious results.

Oh yeah, Catherine Keener also plays Lopez's ex-wife and editor and is mostly there to remind him to take responsibility for the shit he stirs up, which I guess he didn't do during their marriage?

The film is an awkward blend of styles, and it's five parts expository flashback to one part investigative journalism and hard-hitting issue-based drama (the issues are homelessness and mental health, fyi), which is an unfortunate imbalance, and one I hope the book it's based on doesn't suffer from, because the story is actually pretty interesting, it's just delivered in an overwrought, made-for-TV way. Plus, real life doesn't provide a lot of conveniently movie-ready endings, so the finale feels forced.

By far the most odd, surprising and perhaps awesome (I haven't decided yet) thing about the film is the lengthy montage of flashing coloured lights that we're subjected to during a musical recital. It's one of several impressionistic sequences (birds in flight, LA landscapes, etc) that are obviously intended to bring us into the mindset of the disturbed genius. It all feels out of place in the otherwise traditional narrative, but the coloured lights were so bizarre and Stan Brakhage-esque that I chuckled under my breath with glee instead of rolling my eyes.

Bonus fact: Joe Wright was apparently hell-bent on dousing Robert Downey Jr. in urine during this shoot. Look out for recurring pee gags!

TSADT Podcast Episode 02

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More news and reviews from the world of film brought to you by three know-it-all jerks. This episode we discuss Crank: High Voltage, the trailer for Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, and American Apparel versus Woody Allen. We are still in our first steps, so please leave a comment or email us. . . but be gentle. And yes, I am aware I called Statham's character "Chris Chelios" instead of "Chev Chelios," so you can keep it to yourself, Mister Smarty Alex.

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Deborah Kampmeier | 2007 | 102 min | US

Hounddog takes place in the South during a blazing hot summer. It's the late fifties, Elvis Presley is king, and no one wears shoes. Dakota Fanning stars as Lewellen, a precocious girl who finds comfort and joy in Presley's music despite a deeply troubled home life. When she encounters even greater trauma it is Presley's music that helps her to recover.

If you have heard about this movie at all you've heard about its rape scene, and that is one of the film's major problems. Hounddog has been known for over a year as "the Dakota Fanning rape movie." This makes it impossible to watch without every moment being coloured by that knowledge. Any tension or surprise is erased while you look at every male character as a possible rapist and every scene as a possible rape scene. When the eventual rapist does appear on screen he telegraphs his intentions by doing everything short of licking his lips while wearing a "Registered Sex Offender" t-shirt.

As for the much discussed rape scene, though it does not come off as overly graphic, it certainly does come off as unnecessary. Director Deborah Kampmeier had to have known she would court serious controversy with the scene, and I expect that is the only reason why it was included. Without the controversy I can't imagine anyone finding a reason to speak about this film.

Not to put too fine a point on it, every aspect of the movie is obvious and stupid. Absolutely laughable dialogue, terrible plot "twists," and a generous helping of magical black men helping her to re-love Elvis. I will acknowledge that my numbers may be slightly off, but I counted eight separate scenes in which Fanning sings "Hounddog," plus an additional two or three other Elvis numbers. We get it: she loooooooves Elvis. It sure would be tragic is she encountered some Elvis-related despair, hey? Hounddog aims for the Southern Gothic feel that David Gordon Green perfected in Undertow, but it lands firmly in the stunted territory of high school plays instead.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

TSADT Podcast Episode 01

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It's our first shot at this, so please bear with our stuttering, mistakes, and many technical shortcomings. This episode we discuss Dario Argento's Deep Red, the trailer for Sasha Baron Cohen's Bruno, and the curious controversy surrounding the leaked workprint of Wolverine. Please send us your feedback!

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fast & Furious

Justin Lin | 2009 | 107 mins | USA

I am a totally unapologetic Vin Diesel completist, and I have to admit even I was fairly skeptical about the potential merits of the fourth film in the Fast/Furious franchise. What kind of desperation drives a studio to even consider a full original cast bring-back eight years after the fact, anyway? Perhaps my skepticism had more to do with the fact that I'm not all that interested in cars, and found the original Fast and the Furious to be the dullest of Vin Diesel's films. I even preferred The Pacifier. Y'know?

The film starts predictably enough, with a highway gas tanker hijacking by Dom (Diesel) and his crew. The story then quickly catches us up on the characters' lives - Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodrigues) are still runnin' from the law, O'Connor (Paul Walker) is still a bad boy FBI agent, and Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) is still mad at O'Connor for making her fall in love with him and tearing her family apart. The rest of the plot doesn't really matter. You're watching for Vin's silky voice and to imagine yourself curling up in his big arms in the front seat of a souped up Torino, right?

The screenwriters were obviously advised of the fact that the anticipated audience weren't gonna be too clever, so they take care to set up and explain every plot point slowly and methodically, lest you lose your way in the story's clever twists and turns. A couple of creative chase sequences in some underground tunnels stand out. Otherwise Fast & Furious is dumb, loud and fun, but not the extravaganza of high-octane awesomeness that I was hoping for from Vin's return to the series. If he'd asked me, I would have recommended he pass on this script in favour of xXx: Trinity*, but whatever.

Two facts that I learned from a quiz found in a copy of "Famous" magazine in the theatre lobby infinitely increased my enjoyment of the film. I'll share them with you. No spoilers, I promise:

1. Paul Walker starts each day with three hours of MMA training. This fact makes the one unexpected arm-bar he delivers in Fast & Furious all the more triumphant and hilarious.

2. Vin Diesel once wrote an introduction to a book about the history of Dungeons and Dragons. When you think about him as a nerd deep down inside, every line he delivers about 'engine grease' and 'throttle' is a genuine delight.

*xXx: Trinity is not a real thing, but wouldn't it be awesome if it was?