Saturday, June 10, 2006

I like Fresca.

Yes, I am alive. There are many reasons why my blog has been rather neglected over the past weeks, but I don't think any of them are interesting enough to list here. Mostly, I think I burnt out after the 2005 Top Ten countdown, and it was difficult for me to get back into my film critic groove. To make up for this, I have been diligently spending time in front of the television and at the movie theatre, soaking in what 2006 has to offer. In regards to the non-film aspects of my life, I've been enjoying my summer break so far, trying to get fit (a 30-minute run everyday, with weight training thrown in there somewhere) and studying for the LSAT like a good, dedicated student. Some more good news is that I will be traveling to Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates) during the month of July to attend my cousin's wedding. I'm not really thrilled about flying in the wake of recent events here in Canada, and with a name like mine (snort), but it will be great to get away from North America for a while. I spent four years of my life in Dubai, so it will be exciting to re-visit certain family members and memorable places, only now as an adult.

Also, I am happy to report to those of you who are aware of my Diet Coke addiction that I have finally overcome it. I've now switched to ingesting ridiculous amounts of Fresca, which is probably the best drink in the world (no hyperbole here). Those of you who are saying "duh" should know that it's a drink primarily available in the U.S., and is hard to come across even across the border. Granted, neither beverage is particularly good for you (cancer-causing aspartame), but at least I am avoiding teeth stains and overdoses of caffeine. Aren't you all proud of me? Baby steps, people.

Oh, one more thing. Time to gloat. I suppose all those all-nighters and hours commuting back and forth to campus were worth it:

ENG253Y1 World Lit in Eng 1.00 88 A
ENG328Y1 Fiction 1900 - 1960 1.00 88 A
NEW326Y1 Indenture, Survival 1.00 82 A-
POL320Y1 Modern Pol Thought 1.00 80 A-
RLG280Y1 Compar World Rels 1.00 92 A+
G.P.A. - 3.88 (Grr.)

X3 - The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, 06) D+ [The majority of this movie's plot turns has largely faded from my memory, which should give a strong indication of how weightless and inept it is at story-telling overall. As noted before, I'm not an ardent fan of the X-Men film saga (B, B- respectively), but this third installment marks a signficant drop in quality. Brett Ratner, who has received a lot of flak for assuming control over the project following Brian Singer's departure, does a fine job continuing the look and feel of this superhero universe. However, he fails at weaving together a coherent narrative and believable three-dimensional characters. Bluntly put, the film, for all its "big" moments and attempts at seriousness (three major characters bite the dust... or maybe not), makes no impact whatsoever. Of course, a little depth would be too much to ask for, considering the sequel crams in several new characters it cannot accomodate, and attempts to adapt the Dark Pheonix saga into a few poorly-written scenes. I must admit that one or two scenes clicked - namely Mystique's tragic end ("She was so beautiful.") and Famke Jansenn's tortured intensity, but that was pretty much all that impressed this cranky critic. The film wears its subtext on its sleeve ("No needle shall ever touch my skin again."), and makes a major, offensive misstep by portraying rebellious mutants (representing society's outcasts) as tatoo-covered, body-pierced punks. The writing is even worse; from Wolverine and Scott's woefully obvious exchange ("I know how you feel" ... "Don't!") to the "furball" jabs directed at The Beast (Kelsey Grammer, doing his best to save the film), every line is a groan-inducing flub. X Men 3 has no heart, no complexity and often makes little sense (ice-skating when the apocalypse is imminent?). For all their flaws, the first two films at least hinted at greatness from time to time; this one just drools all over itself. Notice how I avoided mentioning Halle Berry? That was intentional.]

The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 06) C+ [It may be the backhanded compliment of the year, but this is one of Ron Howard's better films, smarter than usual and (for the most part) impressively constructed. Based on Dan Brown fictional novel (those who are offended by the text and film, please repeat this sentence several times), the film posits a history very different than the one told in the accepted gospels. The plot overall (a newly-found discovery followed by endless chase across European city, repeat ad nauseum) is less-than-engaging, but the wildly fascinating backstory about the development of the church following Christ's death really holds the ludicrous proceedings together. Whatever you think about Brown's fanciful theories, whether as a churchgoer or not, they must be lauded as a fantastic way of re-considering Christianity and the man (and woman?) behind it (which is no doubt why so many people are threatened by it). For about two-thirds of the film's running time, Howard maintains a gripping pace, using the Louvre, the streets of Paris and monastaries as dark, menacing abodes. But then it all becomes a little much - to say that the last half-hour is anti-climatic would be understating matters; this is where Howard begins his trademark audience pacification, driving home the point repeatedly. Still, that was not enough to sour the film overall; I actually enjoyed it a lot more than my final grade may indicate. The cast does solid work, with "best of" honours unsurprisingly going to Paul Bettany, who is fully committed to the intimidating, self-hurting Silas character. The rest of the cast - Tom Hanks (nicely understated), Audrey Tatou and Ian McKellen - are all well-suited to their parts.]

District B13 (Pierre Morel, 04) A- [Forget X-Men, forget Da Vinci. This is the definitive movie-going experience of the summer, a popcorn fluff piece with blockbuster payoff, but ambitiously brainy all the same. Set in 2010, in a dystopian Paris where impoverished neighborhoods have been sectioned off by towering walls from the affluent sections of the city, two men attempt to infiltrate the crime-rampant District B13. One is a cop who is ordered to locate and diffuse a dangerous bomb, while the other is along for the ride to rescue his sister from a corrupt drug lord. Employing parkour stunts (a phenomenon initiated by David Belle - who actually stars in the film - that involves jumping and climbing over buildings and other obstacles in an urban environment), the film is an absolute spectacle of action sequences and visual effects. Apparently, only 10% of the stunts were achieved through wire-work; the rest were actually performed through parkour tricks. Even if the film was solely an exercise in eye candy, that would have been sufficient for a time-pass, but the film earns bonus points for being open to interpretation. Allusions to the Third Reich's ghettoization of Jewish individuals and the Holocaust are very clear, and the film's conflict is reminiscient of the tensions in Palestine/Israel. It's there if you look for it, but is clearly not necessary to enjoy all the treats this film has to offer in spades.]

The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 05) B-/C+ [I reserve the right to change my mind about this one after a second viewing, because I have the lingering feeling that I missed something the first time around. What I must say right off the bat is that this film features an absolutely stellar ensemble cast (that should be up for a SAG nod later next year, but that obviously won't happen). Hillcoat's film reminded me strongly of a novel I read this year called Remembering Babylon, by David Malouf. The book explored the experience of early settlers to Australia, and was attuned to the subterranean essence (native aboriginal culture) that ran underneath the guise of European "civility" established on the land. Similarly, The Proposition tells the story of how a police captain (Ray Winstone) attempts to capture a band of trouble-making brothers, and how he and all the characters around him are affected by this conflict. For the most part, the film is an effective, blood-soaked western that presents us with severely flawed and complex characters attempting to negotiate a strange and unfamiliar terrain. My complaints are mainly directed at the figure of Martha Stanley; although impeccably performed by Emily Watson, her character's inclusion is merely a way to hint at the vulnerability of Winstone's Stanley authority figure, and what will inevitably happen (a violent disturbance of the outside world into the safe domestic interior of their home). Also, the Darwinian reading literally spelled out by John Hurt's creepy wanderer pretty much kills what the film is suggesting through its writing and direction. These two elements really soured the overall experience for me, but the film is a welcome change of scenery from what is being offered at the multiplexes right now. Worth a look.]


jesse said...

damn--congrats on the grades. i haven't checked mine yet. i'm not in the mood--i feel like i dropped the ball during finals, and probably ended up with more "b"s than i should have...

i hear you on the top ten--it seems every time i build some momentum on that thing something comes up and leads to a dry spell for a while. the stupid thing is that i have a number of other reviews ready to go. bah. it'll be my goal to finish up 2005 this week and get things back on track.

x2 and da vinci code or two of those reviews ready to go. i felt about the same (though i like the first to "x"s more, thought you were a little too kind to howard & co)--and now i'm rather curious about district...

anyway. sorry it's long. glad you're back.

Sam said...

District B13 - damn good film. hopefully people will see past the run-of-the-mill action trailer and get to how fascinatingly entertaining it can be. watched it twice last fall, all in the same week, and it still did not fail.

JavierAG said...

Oh God thank you for mentioning Famke Janssen's tortured intensity!! The woman is just not getting enough credit for this performance or for her talents as a whole; it's driving me insane.

One of the best reviews of "Da Vinci Code" I've read; like you, I find the ideas behind this work to be fascinating and potentially very interesting, though I was disappointed the movie dealt with them at surface level.

Glad to see you back!!

Kamikaze Camel said...

Yeah, well done on ur grade.

I'd love to go to the UAE. It looks unreal over there.

I still don't like The Proposition. I saw it aaages ago and just didn't warm to it at all. Techs were fantastic though and Ray Winstone (not Ray Wise) was great. C