Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Caught and Released: The Wrong Movie

(originally published in The Outreach Connection in February 2007)

The perpetual question – why can’t mainstream movies be better? How could I find myself in a weekend when, having already exhausted the possibilities of every award hopeful in sight (except for Miss Potter, which I wouldn’t see even under threat of having Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle shoved up my rear end), the choice was this: Catch and Release, Epic Movie, Blood and Chocolate and Smokin’ Aces? Well, that’s a bit of a false set-up of course. For one thing, Stomp the Yard and Arthur and the Invisibles were still playing from previous weeks. More damagingly to my own credibility, since I’m subscribed to every movie channel in sight, have hundreds of DVD’s I never get enough time to watch, and am not exactly a million miles away from some of Toronto’s finest rental venues, there’s no rational reason why I wouldn’t have stayed at home and watched something absolutely transcendent. Jeez, I would even have been better off watching Every Which Way but Loose again. Or The Nutty Professor. The Eddie Murphy version.

Walking to the Scotiabank

But you know, I just like going to the movies. I like doing the walk, say to the Paramount, about fifteen minutes distance from where I live, and listening to my ipod there and back (this time it happened to be the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which I never thought I liked that much, but everything sounds better on the ipod walking to or from a movie) getting my snack (I must confess I’ve taken to smuggling stuff in lately, usually from Starbucks) and settling down and following the whole routine. The previous day my wife and I had been to the Ansel Adams/Alfred Eisenstaedt exhibit at the AGO (great stuff but hey AGO guys, maybe letting a thousand people into two smallish rooms all at the same time isn’t really consistent with any known theory of how to facilitate aesthetic appreciation) and then over to Kensington Market for the first time in years. So that was a real solid “Best of the City” kind of day. And then there I was on Sunday, with the demands of my new job not having kicked in yet, and with my wife working, and nothing else on the agenda…how would I possibly not go to a movie?

Anyway, I chose Catch and Release. The reasons for this include a writer-director of modest pedigree (Susannah Grant, who wrote Erin Brockovich), two thumbs up on Ebert And Roeper (albeit for highly suspect sounding reasons), and most of all that if I’m going to trawl the bottom of the barrel I’d generally rather indulge my chick side than my guy one (although there have been many exceptions to this statement). So there I was at the Paramount, which by the way isn’t called the Paramount any more, but rather the Scotiabank Theatre, following a big naming rights deal of some kind. The premise I believe is that when the monied middle-class of the future comes to see Harry Potter or Hostel Two at the Scotiabank Theatre, it’ll subliminally attribute its cinematic pleasure not just to the wonders of the Hollywood machine, but also in part to the venerable sponsoring institution, which will consequently wrap up customer loyalty for life. I said that rather sarcastically, because that’s my chosen tone for this week I guess, but obviously these guys know more about value creation than I do, so I’ll assume they’re on to something. Insofar as the branding stuck in my own mind during the film, it was via the vague sense of being locked inside an ATM machine.

Catch and Release

Catch and Release stars Jennifer Garner as Gray (I don’t get these names either) whose fiancée is killed on the eve of their wedding, and is thus thrown into grief and turmoil. She has the support of her always present male friends (director Kevin Smith plays one of them) and the unwelcome dynamic of another buddy she never liked (Timothy Olyphant), who’s sleazy enough to have sex at the funeral with one of the caterers. And then, as she puts the dead man’s affairs in order, she starts to find things out – such as a million dollar bank balance she never heard about before, and then an apparent four year old son, from a liaison with a masseuse (Juliette Lewis).

The guest critic on Ebert and Roeper made much of the film’s affection for its characters, and indeed there’s a general affability to events here. Lewis for example turns out not to be the gold-digger one initially suspects, but rather a well-meaning if mixed-up woman trying to survive the hard knocks. A shame that her characterization makes no sense whatsoever. Niceness, as Dick Cheney might say, may be a personal virtue, but is not a basis for sound examination of modern living. Neither, indeed, is Garner a basis for much of anything – her quirky beauty here mostly seems merely pinched and washed out.

The underlying notion is of adversity casting aside illusions and allowing a more mature renewal. The film doesn’t quite come out and say the fiancée’s death was the best thing that could have happened to these people, but that’s the conclusion you have to draw – that his golden boy attributes kept everyone in arrested development for years. If the movie really grappled with that, it might have an appealing nasty streak, but given the affability I mentioned, it merely circles its themes like an exhausted vulture, consistently telling us about pain rather than showing it. It’s suggested that Garner’s excessive prim and proper ways drove her fiancée into the haven of Lewis’ arms, but nothing we see on screen provides a basis for assessing this. The Smith character actually attempts suicide, or at least a “cry for help,” although up to that point his main interest in the departed seemed to be in conniving to loot the now-unwanted wedding gifts. I suppose the earlier behaviour is meant to be just displacing his grief, but since Smith is about as graceful an actor as he is a director, the character is merely a blob of incoherent activity.    
Watch TV next time!

The combination of female director and female star always provokes hope of a more progressive approach to familiar material, although God knows how that hope survives so much evidence to the contrary. Suffice to say that although at the end Garner makes a big brave decision of sorts, this merely involves her driving hundreds of miles to deliver herself into the arms of the man she’s decided she wants. Even a couple of hours after the film ended I’d forgotten what her career was meant to be (the film’s modest fidelity to economic plausibility is one of its minor virtues, although it’s yet another concoction where no one’s job seems to detract too much from having time to hang out), and her character never expresses an interesting thought in two hours, so I guess it’s not much of a loss. Overall, Catch and Release is just a big glossy blank space. Like I said, Hollywood perpetually tests one’s allegiance to the magic of the movie going experience. Next time, I swear, I’m staying home with Bresson.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

June movies

(originally published in The Outreach Connection in June 2006)

Richard E. Grant (from Withnail and I) makes his directorial debut with Wah-Wah, based on his own experiences growing up in Swaziland in the run up to independence in the early 1970’s. Gabriel Byrne plays the boy’s Jekyll and Hyde like father (the difference being the drink), Miranda Richardson his mother, and Emily Watson his stepmother after the first marriage falls into bitter oblivion. The film is pleasant and affectionate, but its basic reason for existing is a bit thin. The value of the project would seem to be in what it might have to say about the effect of colonialism on Africa, but the movie barely sets foot outside its toodle-pip British enclave (the title is Watson’s disparaging label for all the mannered baby talk), filling its time with largely familiar family dynamics. You feel happy for Grant that he got to make what resembles a dream project, filled with genial if conventional performances, but I doubt it’ll do that much for anyone else.

A Prairie Home Companion

Since Robert Altman is now 81, there’s always the possibility that each film he makes may be his last, and he keeps delivering sublime endnotes – the much underrated Cookie’s Fortune and Dr. T And The Women, Gosford Park, and now perhaps best of all, A Prairie Home Companion. I’ve never heard Garrison Keillor’s radio show, and can only imagine what resonance the film might hold for fans, but even taken in isolation it’s immensely rich and satisfying. The premise is that Keillor’s radio show is broadcast live every Saturday evening from a Minnesota theatre before a live audience, and it’s the last night – the developers are moving in. Meryl Streep (who is quite wonderful), Lily Tomlin and Woody Harrelson (who will make you chuckle more than you should at a series of dumb dirty jokes) are among the musical performers. Moving between on- and back-stage, Altman’s camera is in constant elegant motion, showcasing his undiminished powers of composition and coordination: it’s simply a beautifully executed work.

The film also features an angel who stalks the fringes of the show, played by Virginia Madsen. This is the film’s most criticized aspect, and indeed initially seems more than a little contrived. But with the arrival of Tommy Lee Jones (as the theatre owner, roughly representing the devil) the film’s cosmic aspirations take shape, and it becomes persuasive as an evocation of the spiritual stakes inherent in art. The theatre encompasses all of life – the characters spill out stories about their histories (perhaps true, perhaps not, but all related with conviction), a veteran performer dies backstage, Streep passes on the torch to her daughter (played by Lindsay Lohan). But Altman is realistic too: there’s no magical redemption here, and the characters’ status in the film’s epilogue is quite uncertain. Altman’s compositions make much use of mirrors, so that the images often have a potential probing intensity, but always leavened by the recurring grace and delight. Writers have questioned over the years what all of Altman’s virtuosity actually amounts to, but surely this can be laid aside now: he is just terrific at being old. This may not be the year’s best release (my own favourites so far are Cache, The New World, Gabrielle and The Proposition) but it’s probably the one I just plain loved watching the most.

Live and Become

On that subject, the summer’s big movies have mostly seemed to me even less interesting than usual (in fact I went all through June without being attracted to a single one of them, until Superman Returns at the very end – and more about that soon), but the limited releases have been just terrific. Another fine film, which hung out at Bayview for weeks on end, is Live and Become (Va, vis et deviens), directed by Radu Mihaileanu, about the growth to adulthood of a young Ethiopian boy who’s evacuated to Israel in the 1980’s under a false identity, leaving his mother behind in a refugee camp. It’s most interesting, and feels most closely observed, in the early stretches, showing the boy’s difficult integration; as it goes on, it becomes increasingly episodic (he’s on a kibbutz, then in Paris, then in combat, etc.) and even a little hackneyed at times. The filmmaking, in most respects, is merely conventional, and the analysis of Israel is not particularly piercing. But this is a truly stirring, moving case history, and I can’t imagine it not holding your attention.

Michael Cuesta got some attention a few years ago for L.I.E., a film of risky moral material (a middle-aged pedophile, presented straightforwardly and with some tolerance) that established a distinct and somewhat eerie sense of its Long Island setting. Cuesta now returns with Twelve and Holding, revolving around three young kids – the twin brother of one is killed, another tries to pull back from the brink of obesity, and another experiences her sexual awakening. Cuesta is obviously skillful and sensitive, and the film is well crafted, but it’s also increasingly melodramatic, pushing each of its plot strands to extreme if not grotesque lengths. The film remains grounded though – events that in other films would emanate operatic tragedy always seem here like symptoms of the reticent turbulence of kids stumbling for their place in the world. But for all its interest, there aren’t many moments in Twelve and Holding that fail to evoke other, overall more impactful treatments of such life passages.

The King

I was surprised though how James Marsh’s The King gripped me. Early on, a young man called Elvis gets out of the Navy and presents himself to a righteous pastor as his son by a long-ago liaison; the pastor acknowledges the fact, but wants nothing to do with him. Elvis hangs round the neighborhood, living in a fleabag motel, and slowly starts to insinuate himself into the pastor’s family, through his naïve teenage daughter. It’s a nasty tale, although so meticulously handled that this may not dawn on you for a while; the nuanced portrait of fundamentalism really held my attention and intermittently made me think I was watching a film as good as Junebug. Gael Garcia Bernal is perfectly ambiguous as Elvis, William Hurt is fascinating as the pastor, and the film expertly withholds some shocks you expect while hitting you with a few you don’t. I suspect some may read this and think me a sucker, but Marsh made me a willing one.

Andy Garcia directed and stars in The Lost City, a would-be epic about the disintegration of a well-to-do Havana family as Castro comes to power. It’s moderately interesting, but very familiar and very slow moving; numerous scenes recall in particular the Godfather movies, not at all to the advantage of Garcia’s film. Bill Murray hangs around the film’s edges, cracking jokes; he’s so badly integrated with everything else that it seems almost like wayward genius. Almost.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

All about Uma

(originally published in The Outreach Connection in July 2006)

A few weeks ago I wrote about some films that, rationally or not, I just didn’t want to see, and by the way I didn’t see Pirates of the Caribbean 2 either. But I wasn’t out on much of a limb with any of that stuff. So let me go now in the opposite direction and concede a movie that I went to see for specifically questionable reasons. The movie is My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and the reason is Uma Thurman.

My Favourite Actress

For a while I thought Parker Posey might be my favourite actress, but Superman Returns marked a definitive end to that idea. There is also the transcendent Emmanuelle Beart, but for the purposes of today’s article we’re staying out of the art house. Anyway, it occurs to me I may not have faced up to my real feelings on the matter, because on scrutinizing Uma’s filmography I find that I’ve seen every one of her films back to Kiss Daddy Goodnight in 1988 (and I must get round to renting that one too). It’s not a bad list overall, but still, that’s pretty incriminating evidence.

To a great extent, Uma’s appeal may simply be stipulated. As David Thomson wrote about Angie Dickinson, his own favourite actress: “One thousand words of analysis (wouldn’t) carry more weight than a well-chosen still.”  But I happen to think she’s a more vibrant and resourceful actress than she’s generally given credit for. She doesn’t have enormous range, but with time she’s learned how to convey considerable sincerity and emotional shading, while retaining her otherworldly coolness and avoiding histrionics.

She is only 36, but has been a celebrity for nearly 20 years. In that time she’s racked up an impressive roster of iconic moments: the dance scene with Travolta in Pulp Fiction, the yellow jump-suited swordplay in Kill Bill, her entire startling presence in Dangerous Liaisons, and – inadvertently – as the joint object of David Letterman’s “Uma Oprah” Oscar gambit. Lately, there have been signs of slippage. Her role in Paycheck was utterly without reward, and although Be Cool gave us her opening sunbathing scene, it was all too trashy to be as gratifying as God must have meant it to be.

Her performance as the dumb Swedish secretary in The Producers was simply the worst acting she’s ever done. I was actually happy about that though, taking it as proof that she’s too smart for such nonsense. She was very nuanced and occasionally touching in Prime, and maybe her middle career will be predominantly in light comedy. According to the Internet Movie Database though, her next role will be in a film called In Bloom, with the outline: “A woman survivor’s guilt from a Columbine-like event twenty years ago causes her present-day idyllic life to fall apart.” Sounds intriguing, and it’s directed by Vadim Perelman, who made the exacting House of Sand and Fog, so maybe – who knows – this will be her Monster or Monster’s Ball. (2014 update – it wasn’t).

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

In the meantime, she made My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which is fundamentally only marginally worthy of her, if at all, and in fact is only marginally worthy of co-stars Luke Wilson and Anna Faris, which sounds like the kick-off to a one-star review. But given the above, I enjoyed the movie a lot. Uma plays a neurotic New York singleton who, in the manner of Clark Kent, has a secret identity – she’s the majestic “G-Girl”, who periodically swoops in to save city-dwellers from mortal peril. For reasons that remain mysterious, she hooks up with architect Wilson (who’s actually in love with co-worker Faris, but can’t bring himself to admit it), but the relationship fizzles when she proves just too nutty for him. He dumps her, and she goes crazy, propelling his car into orbit around the earth, hurling a live shark into his bedroom (yep!)  and worse.

Ivan Reitman directed it, returning to the gimmicky territory of his biggest hit, Ghostbusters. There’s nothing at all distinctive about Reitman’s work here – the movie looks borderline cheesy, but in the circumstances that’s a logical strategy. The more disappointing aspect to me was the scripting. The writer is Don Payne, who wrote numerous Simpsons episodes, and he gives it some scattered funny lines and good concepts (the aforementioned shark), but it’s relentlessly shallow. At some point – through whatever chain of association – I thought about Billy Wilder, and the layerings that Wilder and his collaborators habitually brought to their set-ups and dialogue. I also mused on what the movie would be like with young Jack Lemmon or Walter Matthau, rather than Wilson, playing the guy, but that was just too depressing.

As an aside, why is it that every second mainstream comedy (gross-out teen stuff aside) now relies on some out-of-body premise, involving dreams or ghosts or altered realities? One of the trailers preceding My Super Ex-Girlfriend was about Will Ferrell finding out that he’s a character in a book that’s being written by Emma Thompson (there’s the pairing I’ve been dreaming of…); Woody Allen’s Scoop, with Ian McShane as a ghost, opened the following week. And the exceptions – The Break-Up, You, Me and Dupree and so forth – rely heavily on a single saleable gimmick. Doesn’t anyone want to make solid human stories with an ironic or mordant sensibility? Where are the old Woody Allen, or Paul Mazursky, or the Hal Ashby of Shampoo? Even a film like James L. Brooks’ Spanglish, which was certainly no great shakes, gets better in my mind as time goes on, just for trying to work in that apparently old-fashioned mode.

Eyes of a Man

On another issue - many years ago there was a critics’ poll of the ten best films about women and I remember one respondent – I think it was Molly Haskell – responding that there were none, since even films with strong women perpetuated the message that a woman’s only fulfillment is in the eyes of a man. Maybe, she said, A Touch of Class was the only halfway great film for women. Well, I don’t remember that movie well enough to comment. But this came back to me when I was watching My Super Ex-Girlfriend, because it’s more than a little disappointing that a female superhero must be such a bag of off-putting hang-ups, and that these all seem to come down to her Bridget Jones-like status. Now, I didn’t see Halle Berry’s Catwoman or Jennifer Garner’s Elektra, so maybe those helped balance out the ledger a bit, but if so, no one noticed. If you’ll allow me to engage in some analytical dizziness here, Reitman’s film actually slights its protagonist three times in the title alone: “My” and “Girlfriend” both emphasize the male point of view, and “Ex-“ establishes her as a cast-off. But at least you’ve got the “Super” in there.

And with Uma Thurman in the role, she sure is. I think I have been as honest here as I need to be, and I can’t say it didn’t feel good. But it’s out of my system now. Don’t expect to see me in this mode again for at least five years.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Blurred achievement

(originally published in The Outreach Connection in November 2006)

Martin Scorsese is perhaps America’s best director, and certainly its most disappointing. I’m glad he had a commercial and critical success with The Departed, because I guess I’m just the kind of guy who likes to think of great filmmakers being well treated in their advancing years. And I was completely entertained by the film, from start to finish. But is it worthy of a man who might be America’s best director? The answer is plainly no, obviously no. Obvious to everyone, that is, except the many worthy and perceptive writers who see this as one of the year’s best films, and as Scorsese’s best film since (at least) Casino, which I find a bit like saying that George W. Bush is the best president since Gerald Ford.

America’s Best Director

I’ve written my “why can’t Scorsese be better” article several times now, and I didn’t mean to get into it again, but it’s just too damn hard to avoid. I did recently write a rapturous article on my favourite of his films, The King of Comedy, which I’m saving for a rainy day. That film continues to occupy my mind from time to time, because I think it’s the most challenging psychological study he’s ever produced, it’s the most truly mysterious of his works, and the one that best connects to contemporary issues of more than trivial importance. Others of his work score highly in at least one or two of those three categories. But it’s a bit depressing, when you look over Scorsese’s body of work, to realize how little you’ve actually learned from it. You have lots of memories – great scenes, great lines, great bits of acting – but it’s all fragments.

It’s strange, because it’s not as if he doesn’t have a refined sensibility. For example, his recent documentary on Italian cinema was a captivating, eloquent, detailed homage to the films of De Sica, Rossellini, Visconti, and others. I actually changed my long-held opinion of several directors solely because of Scorsese’s explanations of them. Mind you, if memory serves, too much of his analysis may have centered on individual scenes and flourishes. It would be trite and, well, just not true to say that Scorsese can’t orchestrate an entire film, and yet his work seems consistently marked by a loss of energy or focus in the closing stretch. The beginnings are good because beginnings are about impact, about raising questions and possibilities, but you have to assess the greatest of filmmakers by where they ultimately take us, and the arrival points of Scorsese’s films are generally arbitrary, murky or otherwise unsatisfying. This certainly applies, for instance, to Gangs of New York and The Aviator (although most people were simply grateful that the films did, eventually, end).

Emotional Response

The Departed doesn’t actually flag in the late stages, which is quite something given its two and a half hour length and astonishingly sustained pace. It’s as engrossing a thriller as I’ve seen for a long while. Based quite closely on the Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs (which in itself seems like a sign of incomplete ambition), the film is set among cops and gangsters in present-day Boston (although, once we get past a flavourful prologue, it’s so devoid of local colour and real people, so immersed in its concentrated conflicts and intrigues, that it might as well be set on the moon). Leonardo DiCaprio plays a cop who’s gone deep undercover within crime lord Jack Nicholson’s organization. Matt Damon is a cop who’s actually a mole for Nicholson. Vera Farmiga plays a psychiatrist who sleeps with both men. You can see how things could get complicated, but the film is actually a relative model of clear, economical exposition.

Scorsese claims the following theme for the film: “Good and bad become very blurred. That is something I know I'm attracted to. It's a world where morality doesn't exist, good doesn't exist, so you can't even sin any more as there's nothing to sin against. There's no redemption of any kind."

"There were a lot of big names getting involved, a lot of different schedules to marry, a lot of pitfalls we could have fallen into. And yet I stayed with the film," he says. "Because I guess there's an anger, for want of a better word, about the state of affairs. An anger that hopefully doesn't eat at yourself but a desire to express what I feel about post-September 11 despair. My emotional response is this movie. It became clearer and clearer as we did it, more frightening. It came from a very strong state of conviction about the emotional, psychological state that I am in now about the world and about the way our leaders are behaving."

Certainly one can concede that Scorsese achieved this ambition (although only people who think that everything is now about post 9/11 will particularly detect that theme here). But I think it tells you a lot about his artistic ceiling. One: We’re not actually living in a world where morality doesn’t exist, where there’s no concept of sin, no redemption. Concepts of relative morality and virtue structure both the personal and political of our lives (and those of our leaders) every day. Positing their absence is a crazy extrapolation of the corruption Scorsese detects in the post 9/11 environment, and it leads to a hollow movie, because if there’s no morality, there’s probably no meaningful psychology either.

Raging Like Bulls

Two: Scorsese’s “emotional response” to these conditions is an inherently second-rate way of speaking to these matters. It’s largely because the world is being run through emotional responses, extrapolations and abstractions that we’re in such a mess. It’s time, I believe, to be explicit. Oliver Stone dodged the ball with World Trade Center, and Paul Greengrass in United 93 merely turned in a self-described “Rorschach test” of a movie in which you can see anything you want. It is actually possible, although one almost starts to doubt it, for great filmmaking to be political. But Scorsese has always demonstrated a certain intellectual timidity in putting himself on the line.

Three: the big names, the different schedules, the pitfalls. When he says that, he reminds me of Jerry Langford in The King of Comedy justifying his failure to listen to Rupert Pupkin’s audition tape. Scorsese loves making movies, of course, and he makes movies you can’t help but love watching. The strange thing about The King of Comedy is that it’s flatter, plainer and less obviously proficient than any of his other films, but it’s also one of the few times when he broke through. Maybe the real theme that links Scorsese’s recent work, from the absent morality of The Departed through the trapped Howard Hughes in The Aviator through the wretched, hermetic conflicts of Gangs of New York and back, is a sense of charismatic, even swaggering individuals overpowered by their physical and figurative environments, drowning in self-delusion, raging like bulls without realizing the limits of the pasture. It’s fascinating, but as an expression of the director’s limits rather than his strengths.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My dilemma

(originally published in The Outreach Connection in December 2006)

I’ve loved movies for as long as I can remember, but of course no love affair is static. Sometimes it’s feverish, then it cools off, then stabilizes, then flames up again. My records tell me that at times I’ve hardly watched anything at all for weeks on end, although I can’t remember those periods now (I wish I knew what I was doing instead). When I lived in Bermuda for a few years, in the pre DVD age, I didn’t have access to enough to keep me going, and ended up watching tons of video rental stuff of the kind that’s never made my cut since (for a while I was very well acquainted with the work of Jennifer Rubin). Then I came here and discovered the Cinematheque Ontario, and for a while crammed in as many visits there as I could – scooping up established classics and curios alike. But now circumstances have changed and I can seldom go there anymore. So I concentrate on new movies, supplemented at home mostly by my own DVD’s, which is getting to be a good collection certainly in quality if not in quantity (my wife would dispute the quantity inadequacy too).

New Challenge

When I started writing this column, I usually devoted every week to a single film, just because that seemed like the thing to do. More recently, I’ve evolved toward writing shorter reviews of every film I see and stringing together four or five of those per week, which suits me because most movies don’t naturally generate much more than 200 or 300 words of reaction in my mind. Sometimes that’s a reflection of the movie, sometimes of my own limitations. Because let’s face it, this is my hobby, and a wonderful way to exercise myself while providing some small help to a greater cause, but it’s not a job. Having to generate 800 words on Happy Feet, regardless of what you thought of it, would be work. And like all paid gigs, it would generate other compromises – one reads constant accounts or allegations of established film critics being booted out for being insufficiently well-disposed toward mainstream releases, or for other mismatches between writer and publication.

I have been blessed not to have to live with any of this, and I hope to continue here for as long as I’m allowed to. But now a new challenge looms. I’m changing jobs, starting on January 2, and although I don’t know for sure, I’m expecting it to be quite a bit more demanding (I did get a pay raise after all, thanks for asking, so I figure no one gets something for nothing). My guess is that I’m looking at the trifecta – later hours, weekends, and greater intensity in the office so I’ll have less energy the rest of the time. I’m not worried about any of it. I’m ready to let new challenges occupy the bulk of my attention. My main concern actually is our dog, but if the worst comes to the worst we can get a dog walker (I would view that as a major admission of failure after getting by for eight and a half years without one, but life moves on, and the dog moves so slowly now that it would be a divinely easy gig for the walker).

Deja vu

But then there’s this column. What if I can only get to one movie a week – probably unlikely it’ll usually be that stretched, but possible? Then I’ll have no choice but to write about that one movie (sometimes, you may have noticed, I do mix it up by writing about older films – for example I have articles on The King of Comedy, Cat People and Nicolas Roeg that I’ve written and put aside for a perhaps now-pending rainy day – but I can’t do that all the time). So I’ll have to get my head back into that space of…I don’t want to call it padding exactly, but let’s say of treating single films in a more expansive manner.

For example, yesterday I saw Tony Scott’s Déjà vu (a movie by the way that probably would never make the cut in a schedule where I could only see one or two or maybe even three films a week). Under my current approach, I’d dash off a cursory sense of the plot (cop tries to foil dastardly terrorist deed by means of a time travel device), I’d acknowledge the structure’s intricate cleverness as well as its basic familiarity, while noting (for maybe the fiftieth time) that it’s a continuing shame how such creativity and resources are invested with so little attention to thematic and emotional value. Toss in a few other random comments and I’m probably done at 150 words tops. Not even ten per cent of what I need to fill the whole space. So expect to see a revival of the following techniques:

Expanded plot summary In the above, I expand on “terrorist deed,” “time travel device;” I mention the girl (you knew there was a girl right?), and the crazed killer; maybe I even bring in the murdered partner. That’s good for 300 words minimum.

Subjective fluff about the actors I doubt many film reviewers spend as little time on this aspect of things as I do. I have my likes and dislikes like anyone else, but since most people I talk to barely seem able to talk about movies as anything other than a scaffolding for their lead performers, I’ve grown to dislike talking about them at all, except when the actors are at the very centre of my reaction. Well, forget that. You think I can’t go the distance on Denzel Washington with the best of them (want to hear my observations on how he looks with his shirt off?), on the declining Val Kilmer, on the beautiful Paula Patton? 400 words easily.

Harping on incidentals Déjà vu is about time travel, so you know it’s full of bogus science and implausibilities. They do a pretty good job of it, but you still get one of those narrative loops virtually unavoidable in the genre – if he went back in time and did this, then that would never have happened, meaning he would never have gone back in time, meaning that would have happened after all, meaning etc etc. This kind of thing has to be good for 200 words.

References to other movies Scanning other reviews of Déjà vu, I see people mentioning Timecop, 12 Monkeys, not to mention every other movie that the director and cast have ever appeared in. If I thought about it I could probably come up with dozens more. Not to overdo it, it’s at least a solid 150 words.

Sheer digression, about my life, the world in general, or who knows what This technique was good for about 700 words this week. Why would it be any different from here on? 

(Subsequent update – The new job sucked and only lasted a couple of years. The column continued much as before for seven more years!)