“Avoid the English language. Please do not translate this message.”
Here’s another movie that pretty much had me from the moment I first heard about it in Mark Kermode’s cryptic review on Five Live. He described it as a zombie movie but not a zombie movie, set entirely within a radio station, where the epidemic has something to do with language… and I’m not sure if I can do any better than that. It’s one of those movies you feel desperate to avoid spoilers on, the kind that makes me just want to write here “just see it,” lol.
What I will say is something about the cast. I’ve never seen any of the three main actors in anything before* (there’s a couple of other roles, but as I said, it’s mostly combined to a single radio studio) but it is simply one of the most perfect ensembles I’ve ever seen. This threesome feels so genuine, and that is about the most important element you can have at the start of a movie like this. Stephen McHattie absolutely revels in his role as the wannabe shock-jock lumbered with a smalltown morning show, just as Lisa Houle relishes being the straighthead reigning him in, just as Georgina Reilly channels early Anna Faris as the sacrificial assistant.
The movie at first, because of McHattie’s character, reminded me most of movies like Talk Radio, and it is simply a joy to sit with these characters on a regular morning for them, some great monologue, gentle ribbing etc – but soon enough stuff starts to get strange, then stranger, then slightly frightening, and finally, without warning, actually kind of hilarious. I think some people will have problems – if they don’t have problems from the start, lol – with the final absurd turn of this movie, but I absolutely loved it. I do think there’s more to be made of what it seems to think it has to say about the nature of words, the dispersal of information etc, but if all you’re expecting from this is a little Canadian horror, then there is so much more here you’ll be in heaven if you’ve got a head.
*okay, looking at the IMDb, it turns out I have in a few little things, but I didn’t recognise any of them lol – point is they’re not exactly stars.
There was never any good reason – especially in the past couple of years when I watched and enjoyed quite a few of Peter Bogdanovich’s movies – but I’ve always put off seeing this one. As it turns out, this one isn’t up there for me with Paper Moon (not even close, I’ve seen that one since that review and it’s easily in my top 50 of all time), Nickelodeon (not quite), or even Noises Off… (okay, that one might just be personal – you might notice all three of those starred Tatum O’Neal and I watched them for that reason).
Bogdanovich’s nuts-and-bolts and highly actor-focussed style certainly comes through but I felt this was far too slow and lengthy for what is ultimately a non-existent plot. It’s ultimately about a lot of college kids in the mid-fifties who, faced with the prospect of growing up, can only think of sex to fill their time. They have no other dimension, aspiration, interest to their characters, so these fledgeling relationships fall apart, and they wonder why. Some people call this a coming-of-age movie… I don’t call this coming of age.
It occurred to me midway that I’m maybe just not old enough, not only physically but in terms of life experience, to get the most from this; and it was around the same time I realised for the first time while looking at the movie’s Wikipedia page (trying to find a plot to latch onto, lol) that there was a Before Sunset-like sequel made which reunited cast and crew 20 years later in Texasville which I’ll certainly seek out in hope it might warm me to the characters more and shed light on whatever I missed here. ‘Cos miss it I feel I did. 3rd heart for “benefit of the doubt“…
In my eyes, Anne Hathaway hadn’t made a good movie since the fluke of The Princess Diaries which perfectly exploited her Julia Roberts-ness before this* so when I saw her nominated for an Oscar over what I felt sure must be greater performances, my jaw kinda dropped. Even though this is directed by Jonathan Demme who of course made the amazing Silence of the Lambs among other things, even that didn’t really make me wish to see it; afterall, aside from the documentary stuff he’s been pretty quiet for a while. So it’s another movie that, honestly, I may never have got around to were it not for the Oscar nod. Well thank God for the Oscars. I finally have a nominee for Sunday that I can save my champagne for – Anne Hathaway is that good here and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if she makes it up to the podium.
This whole movie reminded me of the moment in Pieces of April where Sean Hayes screams from his apartment, “You’re a bad girl!” and she sits on the bottom step, pouting, insistent, “No I’m not,” tossing his toupée up to the landing. It reminded me of the Maggie Gyllenhaal starrer Sherrybaby too. I’d heard two negative things about Rachel Getting Married back on its UK release, however, that I felt might easily turn me off unlike those two, and that’s the very upper class nature of the family it deals with combined with the downright unlikability of any of the protagonists. When Hathaway’s character Kym is seen cavorting with the best man just seconds after getting out of rehab, I thought that was it over for me. Yet for some reason I just got more involved as the movie progresses. There’s so much that’s unsaid here, so much done with the merest of glances; after Doubt, possibly over that in fact, this is easily the best all-round acted movie of 2008. Though Hathaway shines, she’s supported all around by a host of others worthy of recognition, most of all Debra Winger. Even though it flails once or twice, most notably in the “dishwasher” scene and a lot that could be cut from the wedding itself, this is a movie I’ll likely come back to and find more every time. Like Pieces of April I’ll bet it’s a movie you can watch once for every character involved and find something new. It’s by no means as lovable or loving as that movie, but it’s every bit as illuminating.
* (edit .. of course Brokeback was a masterpiece and The Devil Wears Prada was fun, but that had nothing to do with Hathaway)
It’s that old story … girl loses dog …
… and that’s it.
Y’know, to me this is like the Marx brothers thing. I can understand a person getting a little more out of it maybe than I did – situation, place and time all contribute and chances are even I might see it differently one day … but, like, to rank it up with the greats the way some people do – even, in this movie’s case, of the past year – that’s where I call, “huh?” This movie is literally 80 minutes of a girl (played by Michelle Williams on perfectly naturalistic form, but nothing on her work in Brokeback Mountain and never anything more than vaguely impressive) walking around a small town first looking for her dog which disappears after she’s arrested for shoplifting, and then just plain trying to leave. It’s like the Oliver Stone / Sean Penn movie U-Turn with all the fun sucked out.
Apparently it’s because it has something to say about people living on the edge in this screwed up economy etc. This puts me in mind of what I wrote about Milk. I just get the sickening suspicion that there are some people who watch these movies and sleep sound thinking they’ve somehow made a difference and done their part by merely empathising. Maybe this isn’t the movie’s fault … but it doesn’t make it any better, that’s for sure.
Again, like the Marx brothers stuff, it’s not like I’m predisposed to be averse to this stuff either. I’ve got movies like Buffalo ’66, Pieces of April, Palindromes and Felicia’s Journey up on my tops list. This one just to me resembled so many of that first big wave of “Indie” movies that managed to reach the mainstream in the 90s I found it almost laughable at times. The only thing that kept me hoping it might turn around and give me something good was Michelle Williams’ performance – but like I said, calling her performance one of the absolute best the movies can provide right now is to me like saying Heath Ledger’s Joker was a worthy swan-song to go out on, it’s like some kind of moviegoer’s remorse bordering on plain mental illness. I know ticket prices are getting higher, but the number of so-called “great” movies released in the past year is just silly and getting sillier every year. People just can’t wait to write meaningless drivel like, “at last the great movie for our time,” “a fantastic new voice in American Cinema,” (why is it some people think putting “American” before a word makes it more significant?) Get a clue – if you’re singling out movies like this as masterpieces just because they’re not full of explosions, sex and CGI, then you’re watching too many movies full of explosions, sex and CGI. This thing is absolutely average at best.
Hmph. Well, I promised myself under threat of extermination that I would write about this one if it killed me since I’ve missed another batch of reviews (I’ll get to them, most likely repeat viewings will help me come up with something to say) and I just need to force myself to write. But, again, it’s a 2008 movie about which little can be said. I wanted to see this movie for a long time which sets it apart from a lot of this year’s stuff from the start. The funky title plus an Olsen twin where you wouldn’t expect to find an Olsen twin were enough for starters. When I found out it had Josh – Drake and Josh Josh, Josh Peck – in it too, plus Ben Kingsley not exactly being Ben Kingsley, it really looked promising and a screenplay nod at next year’s Oscars seemed (and still seems) like a shoe-in (it’s just that kind of movie – I don’t know).
But … meh. It’s all well and good. At the start, the 90s references threaten to become embarrassing: a Forrest Gump bus ad here, a gameboy there, beepers a whole character in themselves – “Has this got something to do with Kurt Cobain?” Kingsley (playing a psychotherapist) asks Peck at one point. But as the movie progresses, these gimmicky nods practically disappear entirely and are more notable by their absence, being as they were the movie’s most interesting aspect. By the end, it’s the kind of indie coming of age drama that’s been done many, many times before. For the 90s nostalgia, ironically, I’d sooner pull out a movie from the very year in which this one is set, Reality Bites (it’s similar in other ways too). For the coming of age stuff … boy, just take your pick. Don’t get me wrong, it’s kooky and quirky and all the actors do fine, particularly Kingsley – but it’s nothing special whatsoever.
This is definitely my favourite Kevin Smith movie so far… it might have something to do with my own sordid state of affairs though, working in a supermarket and stagnating just like Dante. It’s not the director’s most cinematic of ventures, it could be easily interpreted to a stageplay. Smith’s knack is characterisation and dialogue, and his staple, Jay and Silent Bob.
The Quickstop and video store customers are perfectly sketched in quick cutaways… the egg man, the milk maid, the mother and child – and nothing is spared in granting us the joy of Jeff Anderson’s superb putdowns (“I don’t appreciate your ruse… your cunning attempt to trick me.”) When he finally literally spits on a customer, I can’t help but feel a slight rejoicing in my soul. “Bunch of savages in this town.” His monologues about “You ought to sh*t or get off the pot,” and one that ends with, “If we’re so f**kin’ advanced, why are we stuck here?” are completely perfect and one hell of a wake-up call to anyone in the same situation as Dante. I love the phrase he uses, “This is a life of convenience to you…”
This is the one of only two Smith movies to date (haven’t seen Jersey Girl yet, looking forward to it…) that doesn’t either venture into the surreal (Dogma or Mallrats) or skimp on the characters (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). Chasing Amy comes a very close second. Though I love Dogma for what it has to say and can just about sit through the other two, I feel like he works best in this reality based environment where he can just drop his camera in and capture real characters. Even Silent Bob’s trademark quip in Clerks. is much more understated and simple than the later ones. And the movie’s in black and white… it’s just gotta be better…