Friday, July 28, 2006

The Latest Misfire

Why has this summer movie season been such a disappointment?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

#17 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

What a marvelous performance this is by Campbell Scott, who is so immersed in the world of this unsympathetic cad and - more importantly - unconcerned with making him lovable or even likable. So impressively sturdy are the words of Dylan Kidd's screenplay that Scott wisely avoids acting towards any redemption and instead is marvelously always in the moment, in the now. Roger Dodger is a rather fantastic movie on its own terms (it has simply improved with time), but it is impossible to imagine it hitting the same highs without the talents of Scott in the lead. Without his cutting sense of humour and sardonic quips, the film would have significantly lacked the same degree of "bite". Jesse Eisenberg, Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley (of Showgirls infamy) all deliver appealing, capable performances, but I'm convinced that it is Scott who keeps them on their toes, drawing out their very best efforts. Scott is an actor who I love to watch, mostly because I can observe him thinking out his character motivations. He clearly experiences and processes them, as opposed to going through the motions to get to the next plot shift. Particularly in this film, you can see the inner machinery running smoothly, fitting pieces together and formulating a fool-proof offensive. Just like Eisenberg's Nick, we are in awe of this man's flirtatious sway over women, and amazed at how he has his formula down to an exact science. Scott is magnetic in this film; his Roger is suave and alluring on the exterior, but bitter and alienated on the inside. Scott's challenge in this film is to let us experience these sides of his complex character without making us aware of such exposure. And - even more difficult - humanize Roger in spite of his appalling behaviour in influencing his impressionable nephew. Without a doubt, Scott brilliantly succeeds in every regard.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Once again, I'd like to apologize for the lack of updates recently; the last few days have been a whirlwind of wedding events, completing errands and various family obligations. I'll certainly have a lot to write about my trip once I get back: I simply require the distance (both physical and mental) to put my thoughts and emotions into perspective. There are still eleven days in Dubai to go, and a lot more work and attention is pending. The consensus on my vacation so far is mostly good, with some fantastic moments, and others not so much. Anyways, I digress... #17 on the list should be coming up soon for those who are interested.

By the way, thanks to you all for the birthday wishes. It was the first one celebrated outside of Canada since 1992, so that was an interesting experience. How does 22 feel, you must be thinking? Not any different than 21. There you have it, make of it what you will.

I really want to go see Pirates of the Caribbean 2 while I'm here, but I'm afraid the censors will delete that much-hyped kiss between Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp (yeah, you read that right). What to do, what to do?

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Well, I've been here for four days now, and it's still hard to wrap my mind around that fact. It is both exciting and disturbing to revisit certain childhood places, now through the eyes of an adult. I'm not sure why - perhaps it's the fact that the passage of time becomes all the more felt. The city has changed considerably - it's now very much oriented towards presenting tourists with an exoticized, idealized version of the Middle East. It was like that when I was here, but it's like I've entered a world where very extreme polarities are mixing together without problem. Last night, my cousins and I went to a high-end hotel for some drinks, and it was like being an entirely different country altogether. All the services were being performed by migrant workers, and it was uncomfortable being in the place of a privileged traveler. I guess taking South Asian Studies and Women and Gender Studies courses is the reason why - it's a very strange feeling. I suppose this experience isn't any different than one I would have in any other country which depends heavily on Western/European interest. Anyways, I'm still having a wonderful time; it's not like I've been trying to behave like a know-it-all Canadian university student eager to deconstruct everything and catch politically incorrect statements. Ugh.

The heat is so intense that it's virtually impossible to walk outside in the daytime: try it, and you'll be drenched within minutes (read: seconds). We spend mornings and afternoons inside, and when the evening comes around, that is when we venture outside. Nighttime is only somewhat better in this regard, although the humidity is just as lethal. Morning hours (from around midnight to six a.m.) are the best times to take strolls or go running. My family is having a great time bonding, and a wedding always creates an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. We've been eating out every night (the food is ridiculously cheap here), and so far I've had fantastic Gujurati, Lebanese and Pakistani dishes. It's good enough to make you want to move here. For the rest of the time, I've been sight-seeing (my camera SD cards are filling up everyday), shopping (oh dear), eating (of course) and trying to get LSAT preparation squeezed into whatever hours are left.

I have to apologize for my awful Benicio Del Toro write-up; it was done hurriedly in a packed internet cafe at two in the morning. I will try to post another one in the next day or so, but if not, please forgive me. I am too busy sleeping or fighting off the furious gaze of the sun.

As for more movie talk, on the plane ride(s) over, I watched 16 Blocks (well, five minutes of it before losing interest), Failure to Launch, and Philadelphia. None of them were anything to write home about. At the airport, I lucked out and got a two-pack of the Dardenne Brothers' Rosetta and L'Enfant for about 20 dollars (after conversion). Ridiculous! It's region two, of course, but my computer is not discriminating in this regard.

Hmm, what else? I wish I could post pictures, but the computers here won't really accept my memory cards. I'm starting to miss my HP Pavilion, which had those card slots so conveniently mounted on the front panel. It is, of course, still in the computer shop back in Unionville (my mother is keeping me updated). Le sigh. Hope you're all well, and I'll write more later!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

#18 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

Benicio Del Toro may have won an Oscar for his rich, affable work in Traffic, but in 21 Grams, he performs something of a small miracle, and that is single-handedly raise a film from utter and total negation despite having all the odds stacked against him (a director focusing on all the wrong elements, gimmicky editing that enhances nothing, a morose self-important screenplay, and so much more). In fact, Del Toro is the sole reason I return to this film at all, and each time I walk away from it with a new appreciation for his portrayal of Jack Johnson, a man holding on to life only through his unbreakable faith. Del Toro plays him as a man who is elated at having discovered the true purpose of his life (that is, to serve and perpetuate the message of Christ, his savior). He is so confident in his belief that he places his family, his work and everything else behind this commitment to worship. He passionately preaches (intimidatingly so) to anyone he can find, even if they want to hear him out or not. The errors and contradictions of his behaviour are obvious to everyone else but him (consider the mixed message he sends to his children, asking his daughter to "turn the other cheek", and then in turn lashing out against his son). But when he is forsaken by this benevolent God, Johnson finally snaps under the pressure of encountering one tragedy after the other. Del Toro is searing as this broken man, resembling a member of the undead - he walks among the living, but his humanity is robbed, his spirit extinguished. When confronted by his priest for having lost his faith, Del Toro is astounding in how he replies. "This is hell" he rasps softly, tapping his head before exploding "I did everything He asked me to do!". When I think of 21 Grams, that scene immediately registers, and I marvel at Del Toro's intensity, frustration and sadness. Jack is desperately confused at his place in the world now; having rejected spiritual guidance, he is nothing. Although the film is about loss, Del Toro is the only person who really seems to understand what he is exploring.

P.S. - This has nothing to do with Del Toro, but I am horrified - horrified - and appalled that Six Feet Under was snubbed for an Emmy nomination for Best Drama Series (in place of what? I'm a fan of Grey's Anatomy, but even I admit it's feel-good trash). At least they had the good sense of recognizing Peter Krause, Frannie Conroy, Patricia Clarkson and Joanna Cassidy, along with Alan Ball for writing/directing. I will end with my regular FYC push for Conroy - if she loses for Best Actress, I will crawl into bed and never emerge from it, lamenting how stupid and lame the world is. That is all.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

#19 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

I am having an inkling that this is the moment, right here, in which I lose a lot of you dear readers. Admittedly, comedian Jack Black is the kind of personality who is best enjoyed in very small doses. Before seeing his work in Richard Linklater's The School of Rock, I was not a big fan (to put it lightly). In a lot of his work, he goes too far, resembling an only slightly-less manic Jim Carrey; the end result is either blisteringly funny or abominably irritating. But Linklater clearly understands these respective strengths and weaknesses of his lead actor, and allows Black to channel his ferocious energies into a more approachable manner to his character. Make no mistake, this is still Jack Black, the obnoxious loud-mouth you hate to love. But he is also the hero of this story, much more human and thusly, a lot more accessible. Lazy, irritable, selfish, yet also responsible and loving when the time comes, I adore Dewey Finn because I see so much of myself and others reflected in him. I find it rather telling that Bridget Jones and Dewey Finn are two of my favorite screen characters in recent years - it is about time leads of romances and comedies are a little more flawed, plump and screwed-up than their bland counterparts. Detractors may argue that this is merely a variation on Black playing himself, and Linklater reigns him in only slightly so. To this, I say that while elements of his celebrity remain, Black is still acting nonetheless, as opposed to relying solely on that persona. He plays it up, and then builds on it. On the other hand, his Mr. Finn is not the equivalent of the saintly Mr. Keating played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. If that teacher was unorthodox in his approach to instruction, Finn is positively reconstructionalist. He vents his frustrations in the classroom, massaging his wounded ego with a rocking ode to himself because he was kicked out of his band. Furthermore, he actually goes out of his way to undermine the children's confidence ("Give up, just quit, because in this life, you can't win... because the world is ruled by The Man"). Finn's deception of his students, their parents and the school principal (a phenomenal turn by Joan Cusack) is pretty despicable. But they all come to gain as much from him as he does from lying to them. Consider how Finn offers the kids an education through the joy of music, playing with math and training them in rock trivia. Even in those inspirational moments which could dangerously veer into shmaltz, Black is there to kick the film back on track ("I like to eat! Is that such a crime?"). Indeed. I salute you, Mr. Black, with a raise of my "goblet of rock". I would attend your school anyday.