(originally published in The Outreach Connection in June 2008)
People sometimes accuse me of seeing everything, which even allowing for hyperbole is an unreasonable stretch. Actually I think I’ve been quite discriminating this year, usually just going to a couple of new movies a week (well, for me that’s a slow pace). Admittedly I did go to see 88 Minutes, but are you comfortable casting the first stone? Anyway, 88 Minutes qualified for viewing on two fronts. First, it had Al Pacino. I realize that’s not a universally applicable criterion but we all have our quirks and there’s no reason to be ashamed of them. Secondly, I didn’t feel I could glean from the trailers and the reviews exactly what it would be like to see the film, and I thought the process of discovery might be stimulating (albeit to an only marginal extent). As it happened I was wrong.
These are some recent films that didn’t pass either of those criteria. Since I feel I’ve distilled the essence of the experience without the burden of actually having to see them, just this once I may as well take the next logical step and review them too. Feel free to let me know I was wrong!
Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?
This trailer really rubbed me the wrong way. Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me – where he set out to illustratively ruin his health by eating only at Macdonald’s - got too much attention, but it had a valid central point and may even have done some broader good. In his new film, presumably after searching at length for an even bigger stunt, he sets out to capture Osama bin Laden; first getting trained back home, then traipsing round various Middle Eastern countries. A large part of his search technique appears to consist of stopping passers-by in the street and asking them if they know where Osama is; in one scene he stops at the mouth of a cave and calls Osama’s name. As best I know, he’s not ultimately successful.
What annoys me here is that you have thousands of filmmakers working their souls and butts off to make serious, meaningful work, much of which never gets even as close to a serious release as Spurlock did to bin Laden, and then (in our Toronto that prides itself, unduly if you ask me, on being a major movie citadel) this piece of one-joke buffoonery glides into the Cumberland and takes up space. Post 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan – are these serious issues or are they not? Sure, you can have a comedic approach to serious issues, but there’s got to be more to that than some camera-hogging idiot. Isn’t this the kind of thing YouTube is meant to be good for?
This was the opening gala at last year’s film festival, which if you look at the track record is already a problem. The closing gala was Emotional Arithmetic, which sounds basically like the same title (that release has been and gone – I didn’t see it either). Looks like a well-crafted movie with lots of sensitive performances and fine scenery and emotional impact. Something to do with the human spirit, with owning up to oneself. Prominently features the esteemed Serbian actor Rade Serbedzija, the Anthony Quinn of our day (that’s right, not good). Produced by Robert Lantos, who obviously has the festival guys by the nuts – who among us will ever choose to sit again through Sunshine, Being Julia, Stardom or any of Atom Egoyan’s recent movies? They all scored gala spots, were all worthy in much the same plodding kind of way, and all died subsequently. If you can’t recognize such warning signs when you see them, you shouldn’t be leaving the house unaccompanied.
Young @ Heart
This is the documentary about the seniors who get together to sing creaky versions of rock and pop songs. Like Spurlock’s film, I must have seen the trailer ten times; by the end of it, I was in danger of developing a prejudice not only against the movie, but also against everyone over the age of 55. It’s meant to be life affirming, uplifting, cute, and supposedly their renditions of the songs bring out a hidden depth and poignancy in some of the lyrics. The trailer looks manipulative and cringe inducing. I refer you to my earlier YouTube remark.
Well, by now we all know the mixed blessing of digital technology – it generates wonders the likes of which we couldn’t have imagined, but can’t quite render them tangible. The new Indiana Jones movie (which I did see) suffered from this – the big central chase through the jungle was masterfully conceived, but entirely weightless and abstract (not helped by the actors’ excessive grinning and sense of joie de vivre at what’s meant to be a hair-raising ordeal). Iron Man avoided the trap more successfully, but it’s obvious from the trailers that Speed Racer doesn’t even try. Now that’s certainly a stylistic choice that one can make – a homage, I understand, to some long-forgotten Japanese anime – but once you’ve absorbed the colour scheme (which appears to be a mix of birthday cake, glitter and vomit), where does it leave you? Seems like a film about nothing.
Baby Mama, Made of Honor, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, What Happens in Vegas
Doesn’t the calculation just drip off all these entries? I toyed with the idea of seeing Harold and Kumar, which seemed to have some subversive possibility, but the reviews suggested it was mostly squandered. Baby Mama and Made of Honor looked like TV shows. What Happens in Vegas looked garish and ugly. Collectively, this bunch communicated all the excitement and panache of an evening in Wal-Mart.
I didn’t see Woody Allen’s latest, another British-made drama with Colin Ferrell and Ewan McGregor, which breaks my twenty year plus streak of seeing all Allen’s films, through thick and thin, on their release. That’s because it never opened here. He’s not the man he was, but shouldn’t a major movie citadel have had at least one screen available for this? This was also a gala at the last film festival. So was Cleaner, which just went straight to video. I guess it’s an honour that comes with a suicide pill.
Sex and the City
I actually would have gone to see this, but my wife didn’t want to see it, even though she’d been a diligent viewer of the TV series. I was hardly going to go by myself, so that was that. Just let me reflect though, if I may, on how lucky I am. My wife did go with me to see Flight of the Red Balloon. She could so easily have demanded a quid pro quo. But that’s not the deal I’m living under. Sometimes I wonder why I need movies at all…