Archive for November, 2007

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Monday, November 19th, 2007—Film

Me and You and Everyone We Know (USA/UK 2005, Comedy/Drama) Writer/Director: Miranda July

This was one of my favourite films of 2005. It’s such a funny, quirky, insightful piece full of odd-ball characters who do completely bizarre things that might seem insane in the real world, but just make them all the more endearing in the film. Like Richard (John Hawkes), who sets his hand on fire as a tribute to his failed marriage.

Me and You and Everyone We Know is about a lot of people who are all connected in some way. The main character is Christine Jesperson (Miranda July), a performance artist who pays the bills by driving elderly people around town. She falls instantly in love with Richard, who is trying to deal with life as a newly-single father of two sons, Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff). The boys are resentful of their new living arrangements, and escape to the computer where they create intricate drawings using symbols and letters on the keyboard, and engage in online sex with Nancy Herrington (Canada’s Tracy Wright). Nancy runs the gallery where Christine wants to show her work.

The film was written and directed by performance artist Miranda July, and her background strongly informs the movie. Aside from the fact that July’s character is herself a performance artist, there are parts of Me and You and Everyone We Know that are almost experimental. Odd little moments sneak up and insinuate themselves in the film, even though they’re completely outside of the narrative structure. Like the scene when the goldfish is stuck on the car roof.

A few things I love about this film:

1. The opening scene when Christine does both voices for the two people in the photograph.

2. The scene in the gallery elevator when Nancy refuses to accept Christine’s video in person and insists that she mail it back to her. (“But I’m right here.”)

3. Robby’s idea of online sex: “Back and forth. Forever.” Turns out some people really are into that kind of kinky shit.

4. The way that Richard and Christine instantly connect on their stroll down the sidewalk. Even though he completely freaks out afterward and pulls away.

5. The push/pull dance of the ME and YOU shoes.

6. The tender moment on the bench when Nancy realizes that her online lover is actually a four-year-old boy. And that he’s the one to comfort her instead of the other way around.

7. When Christine comes up behind Richard as he leans against the tree, and curls her fingers around his. Their chemistry is so intense in that moment.

Me and You and Everyone We Know is wonderful and sometimes absurd, and most of all, it makes you feel. I wish I’d made this film. Rent it!

Beowulf

Monday, November 19th, 2007—Film

Beowulf (USA 2007, Adventure/Drama/Fantasy) Writers: Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary; Director: Robert Zemeckis

Beowulf is based on the epic poem written over a thousand years ago about a great warrior who comes to the rescue of a Danish town plagued by the demon Grendel and its mother. It’s a straightforward telling with stock characters. But it’s also a technically brilliant telling.

To fully appreciate Beowulf‘s brilliance, you have to see it on the big screen, preferably in 3D. The film is animated using the same performance-capture technique introduced in Zemeckis’ Polar Express; the actors wear electrodes that capture their movements, down to the slightest facial expression, and the level of detail is unreal. I had to stop myself from leaning around posts and characters in the foreground to see what they were blocking. I can’t count the number of times I said “wow” (or other, less delicate expressions) aloud in the theatre.

On the downside, I found the story itself rather disturbing. In a nutshell, it’s about man’s fear of women. Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie) is depicted as an evil temptress. Men resent her power, but are evidently powerless to resist her siren song. Even the great Beowulf (Ray Winstone), who turns from no challenge, isn’t a match for the demon’s beauty. Men crave and despise her equally, and when they give in to temptation, all hell breaks loose. That touches a little too closely on many of the screwed up ideologies currently in circulation.

But that aside, Beowulf is an absolutely gorgeous marvel of technology. See it while it’s still in theatres!

Lars and the Real Girl

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007—Film

Lars and the Real Girl (USA 2007, Comedy/Drama) Writer: Nancy Oliver; Director: Craig Gillespie

It’s been quite a few movies since I’ve been touched the way Lars and the Real Girl touched me.

The film is about Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling), a delusional 27-year-old man with severe social phobia. He functions well enough to hold down a job, but can’t bear to be touched and spends his spare time looking out at the world through the window of the garage he calls home. So his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin (the fabulous Emily Mortimer) are delighted when Lars wants to introduce them to his new girlfriend Bianca. That is, until they meet her and see that she’s a RealGirl—a life-size, anatomically correct sex doll. From Brazil.

At first, Gus and Karin are in shock. But, on the advice of Lars’ psychiatrist Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), they choose to accept Bianca and welcome her into their lives. The beautiful part is that the rest of the small town they live in does the same. And so Bianca takes on a life of her own, outside Lars’ imagination. She volunteers at the church and spends time with the local girls at the hair salon.

Lars and the Real Girl is a humble movie. Its cinematography is bland at best. The film was shot in King Township, Ontario and appears to take place during the bleak, colourless days between November and March. Even the sets and costumes are dreary; the actors are dressed down in drab clothing and wear little makeup.

In the end, it’s left to the film’s characters to bring colour to the picture, which they do in wonderful, uplifting ways. The entire community responds with incredible heart and compassion to Bianca, from Lars’ meathead co-worker Kurt (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), to Margo (Kelli Garner), the sweet choirgirl whose crush on Lars proves to be a truly selfless love. Nancy Oliver’s script offers each character nuanced, realistic dialogue and creates a sweet portrait of simple, small-town life. Lars’ issues are beautifully revealed at a gentle pace. There is no exposition; instead, the backstory comes out in its own time.

Still, as good as the script is, the movie only works because of Gosling’s performance. He is quickly establishing himself among the ranks of such greats as Sean Penn and Dustin Hoffman. Gosling moves with ease from deadly (Murder by Numbers) to charming (The Notebook) to mentally ill. He is an absolute chameleon. In Lars and the Real Girl, he gives an astonishing performance. There’s a pivotal moment when Lars is wrestling with the decision to give Bianca up and face the “real” world. When he touches her face and kisses her, she becomes real. As absurd as the scene is, Gosling makes the moment heartwrenching rather than laughable. When he buries his face in her hair and sobs, you feel his pain, can practically feel your muscles clench as he clings to her. You never hold on to something so tightly as when you know you have to let go.

I can see why some people might be put off by Lars and the Real Girl’s premise. (I’m looking at you, SO.) But I recommend seeing the film anyway. Gosling gets you past the gimmick. And you’ll spend most of the movie laughing. Nothing wrong with that.

Gone Baby Gone

Friday, November 2nd, 2007—Film

Gone Baby Gone (USA 2007, Crime/Drama/Mystery), Writers: Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard; Director: Ben Affleck

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone begins with the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda McCready (Madeline O’Brien). Unsatisfied with the police’s efforts to find Amanda, her aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) hires rookie private detectives Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to help track her down.

Knowing the film was helmed by Ben Affleck, I went in with a pretty critical eye on the direction (thinking of him as an actor rather than a director). But it didn’t take long for me to be pulled out of my over-analytical mind and start getting caught up in the film.

Although the storyline is a bit convoluted, Affleck clearly has a talent for writing. And as his directorial debut, the film definitely shows the promise of great things to come. In fact, Affleck seems better suited to standing behind the camera than in front of it. That said, his acting experience clearly informs and benefits him as a director. It’s obvious he knows how to work with actors. Watching the film, you get a sense of how collaborative this project was and what a close set it must have been.

Gone Baby Gone has a slightly homemade flavour, probably due to the fact that Affleck is so familiar with the neighbourhood (the film is set in his native Boston) and because he cast locals in many of the smaller roles. The approach works well, making the characters and setting all the more believable. There are also several outstanding performances from the lead actors. In particular, Amy Ryan as Amanda’s mother Helene, Edi Gathegi as Cheese, and the always wonderful Ed Harris as Detective Remy Bressant. (I’ve got to see Pollock one of these days.)

Getting back to the storyline… Gone Baby Gone takes a bit of a twist about half-way through, which leads to a somewhat anti-climatic resolution. But I loved the closing scene. Unlike too many films, this one doesn’t fall back on trying to tie things up neatly with a clear-cut answer about right and wrong. And the final line says it all about what the people around Amanda really cared about—in spite of what they may have been saying all along.