Friday, August 24, 2007


Written by Dave Kajganich
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

Yorish: A veneer of civility hides our own self-interest. That is the nature of our world, yes?

When you live in a world where violence is the answer to so many conflicts and misunderstandings, manifesting itself as war or hate crimes or road rage, it is easy to see aggression as an instinctual human behaviour. We don’t like to acknowledge it as such but we certainly can’t pretend it isn’t there. In response, we humans do what we can to keep these impulses under control. Some of us meditate; some of us medicate. We strive to be better people and better people don’t give in to their anger. In Oliver Hirschbiegel’s THE INVASION (a remake of the 1956 classic, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), a unique opportunity is given to humanity. You are first infected with an alien genetic code. Then, when you fall into REM sleep, your genetic code is reprogrammed. You wake up feeling refreshed and like yourself, with all your memories and knowledge in tact. There is just one tiny difference. There is no more hate. Only humanity rejects this opportunity despite all their previous efforts to accomplish exactly this. While this conundrum might make THE INVASION insightful, it certainly doesn’t make it necessary. After all, the original already made that point over fifty years ago.

I suppose the rational was to bring attention to all that we have in place today to help numb our senses. THE INVASION is determined to assert itself as a timely film while distancing itself from its B-movie roots. In the original, the alien epidemic makes its way to neighboring towns with farmers making their deliveries. Flash forward to 2007 and the disease is traveling the globe through contaminated e-bay purchases. Granted, times are more complicated than they used to be. Nicole Kidman’s Carol Bennell text messages her son, Oliver (Jackson Bond), to remind him to take his anti-anxiety medication before bed while he stays with his father for the first time after his parents’ divorce. Between all that, the portable video games and seemingly endless hours of television watching, there are plenty of ways to numb the senses. Perhaps Hirschbiegel wanted to modernize BODY SNATCHERS into a contemporary thriller to shake people up, to show that we all need a good smack in the face to wake ourselves from our trances. After all, if Carol Bennell is fighting her hardest to hold on to the spirit inside of her, why have we allowed our modern world, read aliens, to dull our potential? To make that point though, THE INVASION would have to actually be thrilling.

Aside from a few unexpected scares, THE INVASION is pretty low on chills. In fact, it often feels as though the film is having its own crisis of identity, bouncing back between a polished, intellectual suspense piece and an explosive, effects-heavy action flick. This might have something to do with the number of hands involved in the production. Hirshbiegel’s original cut was said to be tepid and drawn out. The producers, who had already sunk a lot of money into the film, called in bigger boys to tweak it here and there into something with a bit more pulse. The Wachowski Brothers (THE MATRIX) were brought in for rewrites and James McTeigue (V FOR VENDETTA) was hired to shoot new footage. Without seeing Hirschbiegel’s original product, it’s impossible to say for certain whether they helped or hurt the final version but THE INVASION’s visual aesthetic is probably the strongest thing it has going. Slick picture and sharp edits that play with time and space add a much-needed edge to a story that has been dulled by an air of self-importance. The final cut is well paced and smooth but the film’s salvation was clearly more important than creating meaning in humanity saving itself.

It’s funny when you think about. THE INVASION warns us of what might lie ahead if we continue to allow our modern conveniences to run and control our lives. If we would just think less about everything, than it wouldn’t bother us so much but the sacrifice is human development and progress. Yet, in order to actually enjoy THE INVASION, one has to do exactly that – stop fighting, shut off and allow the reprogramming to happen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Directed by Greg Mottola

Evan: I’m just sick of all the amateur stuff. If I’m paying top dollar, I want a little production value. Y’know, some editing, transitions, some music.

Seth: Well, I’m sorry, Evan, that the Coen brothers don’t direct the porn that I watch. They’re hard to get a hold of.

Ah, to be young and free. It was a simpler time when the pursuit of booze and babes was enough to drive a young man right through to adulthood. Alright, so this wasn’t my personal youth experience but it is the premise of director Greg Mottola’s SUPERBAD, a new breed of teenage sex comedy. Here, partying and getting naked with girls are exposed as a thinly veiled act of desperation to prove how grown up one is. The kids are speeding down a hill, screaming their excitement to the sky, but can see that they are also getting closer and closer to everything they’re afraid of, waiting for them at the bottom. Before they know it, high school will be over and Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera), best friends since they were five, will find themselves going in separate directions to different colleges. While one raucous night finds them trying to score alcohol to impress the girls they each want to get with, it is what they learn about each other, their futures and themselves that will end up defining the night they thought would simply be the night they got some.

Whether Seth and Evan are trying on pants and debating what exactly is “too tight” or discussing the injustices of men having to hide their erections in shame from the rest of the world while buying drinks at the corner store, they are always hilarious. You could put these two in practically any scenario and the laughs would flow. They are drastically different but compliment each perfectly. Seth is loud and foul. Nearly every thought that comes out of his mouth is about sex and he is completely oblivious to the world around him. Meanwhile, Evan is mild mannered and meekly composed. He is constantly muttering sarcastic quips that most don’t hear and is acutely aware of his surroundings. The two are inseparable but one gets the impression their friendship is based more on its history than what they have in common. One thing they do have in common though is awkwardness. While one covers up his insecurity with obnoxious remarks and the other barely hides it at all, they both have each other to be themselves with. The beauty of their performances lies in the conveyance of the recently rising knowledge that the friendship that makes them feel safe is also now the friendship that is stopping them from going any further.

Written by KNOCKED UP star, Seth Rogen and long time friend, Evan Goldberg, SUPERBAD is at times genius in its subtlety. This is no easy feat considering how outrageous it is most of the time. Loosely basing Seth and Evan on themselves (sorry fellas but the names give it away), they manage to pinpoint the moment these boys become aware of their co-dependence. The two characters are so well drawn that you never want them to leave the screen. Only they do to make room for a third friend, Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Fogell is somehow even more socially retarded than Seth and Evan and is himself a funny enough secondary character despite his entire existence being based on one-off joke that is given away in the preview (McLovin!). It is the direction his character takes the film in that is an unnecessary distraction. Fogell/McLovin spends his night riding around in the back of a police cruiser with two of the worst police officers ever to walk the beat (played by Rogen and Bill Hader, whom I would sooner never see on film again). The cops are such screw-ups that all they do is make every scenario they’re in worse than it was before they got there. With most of their humour falling flat and not coming close to measuring up to Seth and Evan, they have a similar effect on the film itself. Filler is rarely fun and here it exposes the writers’ insecurity regarding their own abilities.

So this is the story of how Seth Rogen is both his best friend and worst enemy at the same time. Alongside Goldberg, the two have stated publicly how they never want to grow up. While that gives them a particular insight into the pivotal crossroads Seth and Evan, the characters, find themselves at, it also makes SUPERBAD, a movie about maturity which is meant to be immature at times, less mature than it actually should be. For the most part, SUPERBAD is surprisingly mature, while still maintaining its youthful glow. Seems to me that Seth and Evan, the writers, could stand to learn a thing a two about evolution from the characters they created in their own image. Growing up isn’t all that bad and it can still be freackin’ hilarious.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Written by Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa
Directed by Kasi Lemmons

Petey Greene: Wake up Goddammit!

Times are hard. It’s the spring of 1967 and the tension culminated alongside the civil rights movement has not only reached its boiling point but is about to boil right over. When the movement’s most prominent leader, Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, his messages of brotherly love and non-violent approaches to change are forgotten. Riots erupted nationwide in over 60 cities as an immense collection of anger was expressed through unrest and displaced ferocity. In Washington D.C., the city was calmed in part by the voice of one man, a radio DJ by the name of Petey Greene. His morning call-in show was the kind of success that unified its listeners and polarized both their spirits and convictions. Petey prided himself on staying true to himself and speaking that truth no matter what the consequence. The people responded to his frank honesty with devotion and respect. So when he went back on the air to talk the people of Washington down off their ledges on the night of Dr. King’s death, it was the trust that had already been established that soothed the fire in the souls; they healed together. After that night, Petey’s career was never the same. TALK TO ME, the new film by Kasi Lemmons, tells Petey’s inspiring story. Only it doesn’t so much tell it as manipulate it into a conventional narrative about shared friendship and separate dreams designed for maximum emotional impact.

Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) is first discovered by Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he broadcasts in prison. The two men are instantly placed in juxtaposition to each other in the context of the film. Petey may be in a literal prison but Dewey is in a prison of his own design. The two will need each other to break out and reach the heights of their potential but they must first get past their instinctual dislike for each other. From where Dewey stands, Petey is the kind of black man what gives everyone else a bad name by playing to type and giving into violent, illegal impulses. Meanwhile, from where Petey stands, Dewey has sold his soul to the white man, walking and talking like his white colleagues in an effort to hide his black skin as best he can. The irony is that they both feel that the other is doing a great disservice to the community and that they themselves are role models for the new black identity. Both actors give strong, commanding performances. Cheadle pushes his versatility further as the raucous button-pusher with a turn that is both volatile and reckless. On the other side of the glass, Ejiofor exhibits restraint and an internalized fire that gives his intentions away no matter how hard he tries to mask them. Both could be contenders come awards season if the words coming out of their mouths weren’t so formulaic and plain.

While Lemmons may not have made TALK TO ME into the socially telling film it could have been, she does manage moments of insight, tension and brotherhood. Most of these moments are found in the broadcast booths and offices of real life R&B music station, WOL. Prior to getting a job at the station, Petey had grown comfortable speaking his mind to whoever would listen. Whoever would, would always be limited in number. When finally faced with his first time at the mic, expectations are high. After all, Petey has the pressure of being a natural and he’s never had to perform for anyone but himself before. He’s also never had to watch his tongue before, but he, along with the station owners, soon learns that in order for Petey to be Petey, he’s got to just let the words flow. That said, he also learns that a powerful voice comes with responsibility so in order to continue having that voice in such a public and corporate forum, he can only push the line so far. After all, no matter real the station tries to keep it, the white suits who run the show and sign Petey’ checks have sponsors to answer to.

It’s a shame that a movie with such a funky soundtrack would be lacking in so much soul but TALK TO ME still manages to keep a solid enough groove to keep it alive. I just wish Lemmons had spent more time heeding Petey Greene’s message, to keep it real because the truth is what people respond to above all else. Instead, the watered down reality of Petey’s path to fame and examination of the relationships that got him there has been mangled and crammed into a pretty picture that the masses can enjoy. The story of a man who told it like it was is told here as politely as Hollywood will allow.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Agent: Uh, sir, he drove off the roof.
Noah Vosen: What?
Agent: He drove off the roof.

Central Intelligence agent, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), has found herself once again in a tiny room, surrounded by a team of people, all scrambling to track the notoriously elusive, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). At this stage, bringing Bourne in is not just her job but an obsession, one that has gone far past the point of hunt and capture and developed into a need to understand the man himself. In Paul Greengrass’s THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, we are right there with her every step of the way. Only it’s a much more enjoyable experience for us than for poor Pam. We have the added advantage of being able to see both sides of this chase from where we sit. From this vantage point, we see the C.I.A. constantly miscalculating Bourne’s next move and, in what is perhaps their biggest misconception, mistaking Bourne for some sort of super human, incapable of infallibility. Jason Bourne is just a man. Yes, he’s an incredible specimen with quick reflexes, heightened intuition and kick-ass moves but he too is just trying to figure out the mystery of where he came from and who he is. How can the C.I.A. pretend to know Bourne when Bourne does not even know himself? The Bourne paradox is what makes Jason Bourne one of film’s most intriguing action heroes and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is a perfect answer to years of unanswered questions.

To recap, we first caught a glimpse of Jason Bourne in THE BOURNE IDENTITY (directed by Doug Liman). He had no idea who he was and it was exhilarating to watch him awaken to his special brand of fighting style, while still infuriating to watch his struggle to understand how he came to be so skilled. THE BOURNE SUPREMACY followed with a new director (Greengrass) and a depressing change in tone after the death of his girlfriend, Marie (Franka Potente), at the film’s onset. The film could not help but be a more sobering experience after that. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM changes Bourne’s direction from less running away to more running towards. Tying all three films together is the constantly improving performance by Damon as Bourne. Damon brings a sleek brand of class to his characters in most of his films and he treats Bourne with a stealth speed and fiercely internalized stoicism. You might say he was born to play Bourne. His tormented mind has gone from wonder and awe in the unraveling of his rediscovered personality to a dark brooding. He has understood that getting close to others gets them killed and has cut himself off as much as possible to both avoid future tragedy and maintain his focus on the goal.

Another man who found a stronger focus this time around is director, Greengrass. His direction for SUPREMACY was at times difficult to follow. Not only was the story not told as succinctly as in Liman’s IDENTITY but Greengrass’s now signature extreme-shaky aesthetic and jump-cut obsession made it visually jarring as well. After snagging an Oscar nomination for his direction of UNITED 93 last year, he has learned a stronger command of his unsteady film approach. The result is a visually more engaging experience that ushers in a different kind of American cinema. The British director follows the action through numerous international locations, from running across rooftops and hopping through windows in Tangiers to zipping in and out of the crowds in a busy London bus station. The world flavour only further serves to highlight the film’s direct criticism of American home security practices post September 11th. Greengrass’s portrayal of the C.I.A. is one hyped up on power and the authority to kill anyone whenever necessary and that power reeks of paranoia. Making the C.I.A. the enemy makes our hero’s actions, choosing to spare life whenever possible, all that much more commendable. American cinema that makes Americans look bad is always refreshing. They’re not all bad but it’s obnoxious to pretend they aren’t somewhat bad.

The Bourne series should be commended for successfully accomplishing what so many others have recently failed at. It is a consistently enjoyable trilogy that never takes itself too seriously and has purpose in each installment that justifies the necessity of three films to tell a complete story, rather than just being an excuse to rake in more cash. They are all three intelligent and compelling works, with THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM serving as a smooth, sophisticated closer that is only disappointing because it draws the entire ordeal to a close. I would love to see the series live on but it will lack the one driving force that has made it so compelling for so long now. Now that Jason Bourne knows where it all began, he will no longer be in constant, compulsive pursuit of the ultimate puzzle, understanding himself. Is there any more gripping a pursuit to be had?

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Written and Directed by Werner Herzog

Dieter Dengler: When something is empty, fill it. When something is full, empty it. When you have an itch, scratch it.

For what feels like the first time in the last five years, someone has crafted a war movie that is not concerned with drawing loose comparisons between itself and America’s War on Terror, in an effort to criticize the already heavily debated validity of the war. German director, Werner Herzog, is more interested in telling a story ripe enough with its own depth and desperation to capture the viewer’s attention without having to rely on political disparagement and moralistic preaching to give the film its ultimate significance. RESCUE DAWN tells the true story of Dieter Dengler, a German-born aircraft pilot for the American Navy (played here by the almost always stellar, Christian Bale), who has been sent to Vietnam in 1965, at a time when America’s intentions for Vietnam were not yet clear to the general population. He expected to get some flying time in but had no concept of what was actually in store for himself (much like the American government). Shot down on his first time out over Laos, Dieter is captured by locals and imprisoned in a camp along with a handful of other men. What he and his fellow prisoners endure in their enforced seclusion nearly destroys their minds and spirits but also makes for a gripping film about the strength of the human will.

Of course, one can infer criticism of the American government and its military practices in Herzog’s text. Considering the common comparison between America’s invasion of Iraq and their previous invasion of Vietnam as similarly fruitless and devastating war efforts that were potentially unnecessary to begin with, it would be hard not to make links between the two. Herzog elevates RESCUE DAWN though by not making all of this so obvious and allowing viewers to form their own thoughts on the subject. Still, it is hard not to condemn the American government for not disclosing the truth behind their involvement in Vietnam, when soldiers are being tortured in combat situations that don’t technically exist on paper. Dengler fights for America but has no idea what America is fighting for. Despite the injustice, if you see no comparison, then you are still left with the compelling character of Dieter Dengler. The naïve, boy-like charm of the pilot who always wanted to fly can always be seen as a distant sparkle in Bale’s eyes. And albeit terribly faint at times, his hope is still enough to inspire the same in the other prisoners when they felt they might never feel anything like that again.

Although the RESCUE DAWN shoot was probably more like a day of spa treatments when compared with the real life experiences of Dengler and the other detainees, it is clear just from watching that it couldn’t have been easy. Alongside Bale, American actors, Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn (in his most mature performance, resulting in a complete transformation), fight their way out of suffering. While it has been reported that Zahn lost over 40 pounds for the role (and that there were no trailers on location in Thailand), Davies is seen without his shirt often in the film. His protruding rib cage and twig-like arms are sickening to the point where I had to look away. Meanwhile, Bale and Zahn must battle the elements throughout their ordeal. They are seen going over rapids, being dragged along the dirt, ingesting maggots and being carried away by mudslides. For their perseverance and fortitude alone, Bale and Zahn deserve recognition for their performances. However, it is their embodiment of men long gone and lost to the dark depths of their minds that push themselves to continue when they are running on nothing that will be most memorable in years to come.

Dieter Dengler is humbled by his experience just as I was humbled by RESCUE DAWN. Dengler is a man of principle with a sense of entitlement that undergoes great growth. He is arrogant when he bombs Vietnam and then expects his captors to extend him the courtesy of using a bathroom. He is smartening up when he will not sign documentation that will supposedly expedite his release and get him home sooner. And he exhibits a newfound sense of responsibility when he takes all the prisoners under his guidance and inspires new faith in their souls while ensuring that they are equipped with the tools necessary to make their awakened dreams a reality. RESCUE DAWN brings its characters and its viewers deep into the jungle and shows how there can be a way out for those brave enough to push on towards it.