My Winnipeg

March 19, 2009


“What if I film my way out of here?”

Any film that calls itself a  “docu-fantasia” is sure to have the eyes rolling like a slot machine.  The opening of the film doesn’t assuage the fears that this is going to be indulgent, ‘art-house’ (read: student film) sludge.  A blend of black and white photos, black and white footage of a man asleep on a train with rear-screen projection in the background, and the narration that continuously repeats the word “Winnipeg” over images old maps of the city’s four rivers (called the ‘Lap’) and a woman’s bare pelvic area (don’t want to be crude) had me slouching on the couch and audibly sighing.  What a joy and a surprise to discover how the film turned out!  It is never miles away from the opening, but it does give an excellent argument in favour of art-house self-indulgence.

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March 18, 2009

Seven weeks into its US run, Taken is still holding strong in the box office top five. It has seen less than a 10% drop from week to week for most of that time, which you’ll know is very unusual if you keep up with box office trends (as I’m sure you all do). At close to $127 million in domestic grosses, it is the second-highest grossing film of the year so far (and it’s outpacing the highest grossing, Paul Blart: Mall Cop). Now it most definitely won’t stay that way, and it’s true that this time of year is generally thin on big releases, but it still says something about the cultural draw of the film. Made for around $40 million, this is a huge coup for a moderately budgeted film starring an unlikely action hero. I really shouldn’t play the armchair culture pundit, asking the questions about why this film seems to resonate so well in America and what that says about the country as a whole, but I can’t help myself. I’m probably over-thinking a mindless movie, but after watching it, questions were raised.

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March 10, 2009

I’ve only casually glanced across the Watchmen dissection on the internet, but what I’ve seen seems pretty tame. This is something of a surprise considering what everyone for the past decade would have imagined happen when the day the film adaptation of one of the most beloved graphic novels of all time finally saw the light of day. Fanboys crying ‘foul’ over the supposed bastardization of their treasured properties has plagued everything from comic book films to Lord of the Rings, and will continue full-throated when the Star Trek reboot debuts this summer. Watchmen has been made by one of their own, however, and in this case, it is probably about as good as it could be without causing a ruckus.

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The action film was always the B-movie. It has the A-budget now, and is the cash crop of the entire industry, but its thrills are cheap and visceral. Shallow, dumb, one-dimensional characters speed through a shoestring plot towards the inevitable climax that absolutely, positively must top everything that has come before it. The most inventive artisans with the largest teams come together and devote untold man-hours with the latest technology and the most cutting-edge photographic techniques to create the silliest and most disposable piece of trash they can. I do love action films. I also don’t expect much from them, which is completely unfair given how much work goes into each and every set piece, but still, I want it to be brisk and exciting. I want it to give me a reasonable degree of “WOW” and crank up the volume so I can’t hear the person rustling candy wrappers or crunching on popcorn behind me. Despite all the advances in the creative processes behind them, most are still made today for the same reason they always were. The basic thrills that a filmmaker wants to jolt into the viewer never change, and so it is no wonder modern action directors try so very hard to use new technologies to revisit and reinterpret the trends of the past.

Max Payne, directed by John Moore, seeks to meld classic detective noir via Sin City and The Matrix, which is even less original when you realize it has been based on a video game. Mark Wahlberg stars as the titular character, a depressed detective who still mourns the tragic loss of his wife and baby, who were killed in a still unsolved murder. In his off-hours, he contacts old informants and frequents underworld parties in an effort to piece together the truth behind the murders. He comes across Natasha Sax (Olga Kurylenko), who is soon savagely mutilated after taking a drug called Valkyr and leaving his apartment. His wallet is found on her, and now he’s the prime suspect. This should be where the film kicks it into gear. The wrongly accused cop must evade his former colleagues while seeking to find the truth that will resolve the murder and clear his name. Except, this doesn’t really happen. Not with any immediacy, anyway. Instead, Internal Affairs casually asks around and hopes to catch him, while he continues to speak with his old friends and contacts, slowly putting it all together. His wife worked for a pharmaceutical company, and if you haven’t made the connection by now, this might be a really shocking thriller for you. If you have, you have seen a moving picture before, and are probably wondering why the hell you’re still watching this one. Natasha’s sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) enters the fray, as does Beau Bridges, and we’re now so bored we just want the guns to come out and blow things up real good. Well, it takes a bit longer, and when it does come, it isn’t that exciting.

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