Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Throw Around Some Confetti...To Celebrate A Fun Film

After looking at the somewhat less than successful mockumentary They Shoot Movies, Don't They, we find ourselves back in faux cinema verité territory with the 2006 comedy Confetti, directed by Debbie Issit. It's a film I first saw at a Sunday morning screening several years back at the Toronto International Film Festival, which I credited with helping launch my long day ahead to a good start.

Confetti Magazine decides to stage a "Most Original Wedding of the Year" contest that will be televised, with a dream house as the big prize. The finalists turn out to be Matt and Sam with a Hollywood musical theme (doesn't help that she's tone deaf and they really can't sing and dance); Josef and Isabelle, who bring their "destroy the competition" attitude (and her distractingly flared nostrils) in as part of their tennis oriented wedding performance; the full-frontal carefree naturists Michael and Joanna, who appear throughout much of the film without a stitch of clothing and want to appear that way on the cover of the magazine if they win. (Michael: "I'm suppose to sit like this so you can't see my penis...but you know, I'm looking at my penis now and it seems absolutely fine to me." Fine, Michael.)

Of course the people running the magazine have their own ideas on who would  look best on their cover and much of the film deals with their attempts at behind-the-scenes meddling, a great deal of which is dumped on the wedding planners hired for the show. Along the way the couples fight and argue with their friends and family, their "creative" teams and instructors...and, of course, themselves.

The film is pretty much stolen by the two gay planners, Archie and Gregory, played by Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins - just when you feel the film is starting to run out of gas (and it happens a bit) they show up in a scene and usually carry on with something amusing. Their roles of referees to the participants and the magazine honchos requires them to have their fingers in much of what follows and these two talented actors are up to the challenge.

The tennis couple get a little too irritating and the "reality tv" spoof may not be one's cup of team for escapism but, for the most part, Confetti works. This is the kind of improv oriented piece that has a lot of people comparing it to the movies of Christopher Guest...and not always in a most positive comparison.  While I have liked some of Guest's stuff and admit that he works with particularly talented people, I think it's a bit unfair for some to trash Issit's film. Confetti has an exuberance that I found to be infectious and really ended up liking it. It may be minor compared to Guest's creations but (in the same way Matt Helm wasn't exactly James Bond) it was still fun and worth watching. I say you should take a chance on it.

I say this film tastes - SWEET ENOUGH.

Monday, 29 July 2013

This Film Cost Me $1...Was That Too Much?

Since I only frequent the best places for locating high-brow cinematic art, I found myself a while back at Walmart (or perhaps it was a Zellers store before they all went under) and while sneering at some of the $2.99 offerings, I finally decided to bite at a DVD I found for one dollar.

One single Canadian loonie.

They Shoot Movies, Don't They? (...The Making of Mirage) is a 2000 mockumentary (if you haven't figured that out after about 10 minutes of viewing then you are, as they say in the professional wrestling business, a "mark"...apparently there were a few when this was screened on IFC).

It pretends to tell the story of wannabe whiz-kid filmmaker Tom Paulson (played by Tom Paul Wilson...get it?), a well-paid flunkie at Universal Studios who decides to set off with his career savings and take a chance on making his own low-budget feature, Mirage. Things don't seem to launch badly for Tom as he basically manages to get the film shot but the distributor he had lined up balks at giving him the final $80,000 needed for post-production unless the film is taken away from the director.

After arranging a conditional deal with a business friend to come up with half of the funds, the rest of this film shows Tom's pursuit of the remaining cash while the alleged director of the "documentary" Frank Gallagher provides the running narration. Along the way nervous girlfriends, skeptical producers, and potential investors running for cover are featured in talking head interviews, until Tom, who has come to realize his own life has paralleled the character in his movie, arrives at a drastic course of action.

Don't get me wrong - They Shoot Movies, Don't They? is an earnest and gutsy attempt to put this "exposé" of the film business out there through obviously limited means. The plight of the main character is one people can relate to. The atmosphere seems appropriate in some settings. (And I kind of felt bad that , according to IMDB, not many of the folks associated with this flic have done all that much in the 14 years that have passed.)

I truly wanted to like this film but there were serious issues that were hard to ignore.

The acting in the film, at times appropriately subdued, still never rises to much more than glorified film school levels. Gallagher's pacing leaves something to be desired ...and then there's the question of suspension of disbelief. One of the major problems with buying into the "authenticity" of the story is that you never get to see one single frame of this alleged film called Mirage. Not when Tom is working at the Steenbeck bench with his editor - not when he rents out an auditorium to show friends and potential investors a rough cut of his work. Nada...not once...not even a blocked or unfocused view that lasts a few seconds.

Plus...seriously..."the movie world is a cold and unfeeling place" - we haven't had that covered before?

So that brings me back to my original question...was it worth it? Well, for the cost of $1...yeah, sure. I've seen bigger wastes of time and there was a certain likeability behind attempting this in the first place. And who doesn't want to root for someone trying to break away from the system and do their own thing?

But here's the rub...if you go to the official site for the film, what do you see on the home page?...the actual embeded FULL VERSION of the movie hosted elsewhere on someone's YouTube site. So the filmmakers seem to be fine with letting you watch their flic for free...

..but I paid a buck!

Hey, now I feel ripped off!!!

I say this film tastes - FAKE.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Tatiana, Meet Michel Côté and the Cruising Bar Gang

A major commotion was heard throughout the social media world when the Emmy nominations were announced and the name of Tatiana Maslany was absent from the category of Best Leading Actress in a Dramatic Series for the science fiction adventure Orphan Black. (Winning the Critics Choice Television Award for the same category probably helped take some of the sting off this other snub.)

For those unfamiliar with the show (it runs on BBC America, which probably accounts for the lack of voting clout with the Emmy folks), it deals with a woman who has a bunch of clones of herself running around the globe, each one played by Maslany.

This one-actor-playing-multiple-roles idea got me thinking with fond remembrances of the excellent work of Quebec actor Michel Côté in the 1989 film Cruising Bar (aka "Meet Market") and it's 2008 follow-up Cruising Bar 2. Unlike Maslany's attempts to get the audience to recognize the attachments of her different roles, Côté's challenge was to have the audience accept that one performer could have the audience believe they were seeing a different actor in each part.

 At the beginning of the original film we are introduced to the Bull , an overweight philanderer trying to pick up women in cheap hotels; the Lion, a likeable stoner who is his own worst enemy and tries the patience of his concerned girlfriend by his actions in the rock and roll club scene; the Peacock, a God's-gift-to-women egotist who is almost too suave for his own skin and (he thinks) just too good for the ladies in the high-end bars he frequents; the Worm, the quintessential nerd whose attempts to attract the opposite sex lead to a series of disasters in the wrong kinds of venues.

Cruising Bar '89 takes place in one evening and has no overlap to the four subplots - each character is followed in his separate quests. The Bull comes across as gross, the Peacock as delusional, the Lion as sad and the Worm as pathetic.

The appeal of the film is not a highly developed story line or a multitude of snappy (French) one-liners.  Cruising Bar is a success because of the amazing turn(s) put in by Côté - you really end up believing there is more than make-up and wigs accounting for the different personalities. While one may point to some of Eddie Murphy's (all too rare) better works in multiple roles as superior, there is no doubt that Côté comes close...and in my opinion makes Mike Myer's attempts at the same look minor-league. While a few of the situations may come across as a bit corny, Cruising Bar is more than entertaining enough to make for a most pleasurable viewing. And yes, it's best watched in the original French with subtitles.

Cruising Bar 2 lacks the same kind of laugh-out-loud moments of it's predecessor - it's main value is in tying up the story lines of 3 of the 4 characters in a fairly satisfying way. Not recommended unless you've seen the first film, in which case you probably would be interested enough to find out what happened to this unusual group of characters. Still, it's worth seeing for how accomplished Côté is in these multiple roles.

 Michel Côté is mostly known as a top-notch comedic actor in his home province of Quebec but in the future I'll be sharing a role he did that was quite removed from the flirty material he does here - one that delves into the seamy side of underground adult films. In the meantime, I suggest you seek out these two merrier performances if you can.

I say these films taste - ENJOYABLE.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Flipped is not A Few Good Men...and that's fine!

Back in 1992, Rob Reiner was strutting his stuff as one of the biggest mainstream directors in Hollywood with the release of the mega-hit A Few Good Men. The big three of Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore (yes, she once had a career...trust me!) made for riches at the box office and contempt from myself. I found the work contrived and forced, with no real sense of "wow" and suspense emerging through the predictable plot and scene-chewing by the ham-slicing Nicholson. Aside from the obvious appeal of Cruise (say what you will about him as a human being - I think he's a fair bit of a whack-job - the man has had enormous success and that doesn't come through luck), I was puzzled as to why this was such a big hit and simply wrote it off as being for the usual reasons - I wasn't bright enough to get what the masses were appreciating in the work of Mr. Reiner.

Then came the stumble period...no, not for me, although holding down a part-time job doing market research coding was my idea of stability. Reiner followed up his military court room triumph with the boy-divorces-parents mess that is the infamous North. Aside from the relatively well-received The American President, the good-ship Reiner sprung many more leaks over the next several years (although The Bucket List was at least a modest box office success) and left me wondering whether the cleverness of This Is Spinal Tap would ever rear it's head again.

One day at the Walmart up the street, my wife was rummaging through the $5 DVD bin and came up with this copy of Flipped. If this 2010 film had ever received a theatrical release in Canada, it had certainly flown under my radar.

I'm pleased to say that Flipped was one of the more enjoyable films I have seen of late. While perhaps a little too cutsey for some tastes, the movie won me over with it's strong performances and genuine warmth.

Bryce Loski and his family move into a new neighbourhood, where eager and over-attentive Juli Baker from across the street follows his movements to what almost resorts as stalking. As they become young teenagers, the pair (played by Callan McAuliffe and the charming Madeline Carrol) continue the process of her overwhelming him with attention that is rarely reciprocated. Once there seems to be a chance of Bryce changing his feelings for her, Juli has decided that some of his actions have resulted in too much hurt and it appears our two kids may never get along.

The narrative is done in a back-and-forth he-said/she-said manner - not the most original approach but it worked fine here.

For myself, this represented a Reiner comeback and I'm sorry it didn't attract a greater following (although I may be close to being in the minority regarding the good vibes I had - the Tomato Meter didn't exactly go off the charts on this one.)  Seeing how the two main leads change their perspectives on each other kept me involved to the very end. It was also nice to see Aidan Quinn (an actor who I always thought would get a little further ahead in the field) put in a solid and likeable turn as Juli's wannabe painter father. John Mahoney also delivers a good job of being the straw that stirs the drink in this film - his role of the recently widowed grandfather of Bryce puts him in a central position of influencing the dynamics between the Loski's and the family across the street. One wished for a little more redemption and less grating from Anthony Edward's character of Bryce's father - his appearances marked the only points in the film where I really felt my viewing time was being wasted by this stereotypical mean dad turn.

Overall, Flipped struck me as more sweet than sappy and with the winning performances in it, I can recommend that one can take a chance on a film from a director that I have previously viewed with wariness.

I say this film tastes - FRIENDLY.