War (2007)

War. Feature film. (2007, 103 mins) IMDB

...A silly, unbelievable plot strung together so we get action sequences and lots of people dying....

B

ad acting. Bad dialogue. A silly and incomprehensible plot. Yet another action flick.

Some action flicks work for the most part because we identify with the main characters and watch as they go about their business, but in this film it isn't clear who is doing what or why. Apparently there's two rival gangs in San Fran except, we never get to identify with any of them--they simply blur into a mess of Asian characters.

There is one exception. From beginning to end we know Jason Stratham even if his actions are ridiculous.

This film is billed as an action film, but the action is the same old. There is nothing new or interesting.

I am not even going to try to explain the plot but it's one thing on paper and completely incomprehensible in the film. It's there just to string together a bunch of action sequences, sequences that almost entirely are lame.

Stratham plays an FBI agent who acts like Rambo or Dirty Harry. That's just isn't believable. And imagine, he's so focused on his job, his wife leaves him. I think we've seen that before.

I wish there was something I could recommend about this film, but I can't. Nothing. It's not surprising to me it was a box office flop.

Posted 2009/01/31 at 13h31ET in Movie Commentary.

In This Our Life (1942)

In This Our Life. Feature film. (1942, 97 mins) IMDB

...At least it's not another war propaganda film....

P

ay close attention to the first twenty minutes because we meet a lot of characters and there are many things going on.

We meet Asa Timberlake--a father of two grown daughters, a husband and one-time partner with William Fitzroy, his brother-in-law, in a tobacco company. Timberlake has lost his stake in the company and family mansion. It happens so fast you'd easily miss it.

One of his daughter is Roy. She's beautiful and charming and married to Pete. She just wants to move out of the house and have her own family.

The other daughter is Stanley. (What's with the men names for women?). She's engaged to Craig but has her eyes on her brother-in-law. She's irresponsible and perhaps a little deranged. Manic depressive in the modern vernacular.

Pete is a surgeon at the local hospital.

Craig is a lawyer with clients who are the down-trodden--something Uncle William derides.

William, the brother-in-law to Asa and uncle to the girls, is a talk-a-minute businessman who stole the business from Asa. He has a sweet spot for Stanley. He gives her a large sum of money just before her planned marriage to Craig and seems to want something more as if romantically inclined towards her.

There's McDaniel again as the house maid and her illiterate talk except this time she has a son, Perry, who does various household chores, but is hard at work to become a lawyer. He knows it's the only way he can get ahead in life.

And that's not all the players, but these are the key ones.

They are all gathered at the Timberlake house where the first big event takes place. Pete leaves his wife. He says he's going away on business, but instead goes to get married with her sister Stanley. Maybe I missed it, but at a time when divorce was difficult & lengthy, the two of them get married in a flash. Nothing about the divorce, but wham they're married. I guess it's what was required for the story.

Imagine. Your sister runs off with your husband, somehow there is a divorce and they are married. That's what is happening in this story.

The marriage isn't much of one. She's busy being manic or depressed and he's drinking himself silly. It's just not working and the next thing we know he's killed himself. As a result, she returns home.

While she was gone, her sister hooked up with her former fiancé. It's now Craig and Roy and Stanley is even more miserable. She tries to win him back, steal him back, but it fails. And here's Act III.

While waiting at a bar for him to show up, she drinks and drinks and listens to music. Realizing he won't show, she drives off, speeding as we learnt before she was a reckless driver, and crashes into a mother and daughter crossing the street. She knows she has hit them, slows, but decides to speed away.

Later she blames it all on Parry, the black boy studying to be a lawyer. The police arrest him even though he's innocent. We watch as she spins her web of deceit. Watch how her mother backs her up, lying to do so, how her sister and Craig doubt her story. Her saviour in the past has been her uncle who knowing he's going to die, sits impotent, unwilling to do anything.

The truth does come out. She admits her guilt, but still wants Parry to take the fall. Since her only hope, Uncle William, won't or can't do anything, she races away from his house driving her car as fast as she always has and misses a corner, goes through a fence, down a hill. The car rolls, she's thrown and killed.

Davis's character isn't the least bit likeable in this film. She behaves like a child. Why would she want to play this role? Probably because she was under contract with Warner Bros and had little choice. Maybe. The role is more like the Mary Astor character Sandra Novak in THE GREAT LIE. Someone you don't have any sympathies for.

I was surprised John Huston directed this film--given his credits, this film does not stand out at the top of the list. All the aspects of this film, directing, story, sets etc. are workmanlike--professional, competent--but there is nothing special about it all, yet, given the Davis movies from the forties I've seen, this stands out and it's not yet another war propaganda film.

Posted 2009/01/31 at 13h29ET in Movie Commentary.

Movies Watched in January 2009

1. 2009/01/01 You Only Live Twice. James Bond. (1967, 117 mins.) NR
2. 2009/01/01 Thunderball. James Bond. (1965, 130 mins.) NR
3. 2009/01/01 Goldfinger. James Bond. (1964, 110 mins.) NR
4. 2009/01/01 From Russia with Love. James Bond. (1963, 115 mins.) NR
5. 2009/01/01 Dr. No. James Bond. (1962, 110 mins.) NR
6. 2009/01/02 The Man With A Golden Gun. James Bond. (1974, 125 mins.) NR
7. 2009/01/02 Live and Let Die. James Bond. (1973, 121 mins.) NR
8. 2009/01/02 Diamonds Are Forever. James Bond. (1971, 120 mins.) NR
9. 2009/01/03 Martian Child. Drama. (2007, 106 mins.) **
10. 2009/01/04 The Waiting Time. Thriller. (1999, 148 mins.) NR
11. 2009/01/05 The Neighbor. Romantic Comedy. (2007, 98 mins.) NR
12. 2009/01/06 Blue State. Romantic Comedy. (2007, 93 mins.) NR
13. 2009/01/07 Definitely, Maybe. Romantic Comedy. (2008, 106 mins.) NR
14. 2009/01/08 Definitely, Maybe. Romantic Comedy. (2008, 106 mins.) NR
15. 2009/01/09 Breaking and Entering. Drama. (2006, 120 mins.) NR
16. 2009/01/10 The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Drama. (2005, 99 mins.) NR
17. 2009/01/11 Atonement. Drama. (2007, 123 mins.) NR
18. 2009/01/12 Just Friends. Romantic Comedy. (2008, 96 mins.) NR
19. 2009/01/13 Just Friends. Romantic Comedy. (2008, 96 mins.) NR
20. 2009/01/13 Music and Lyrics. Romantic Comedy. (2007, 96 mins.) NR
21. 2009/01/14 Sex and the City. Romantic Comedy. (2008, 145 mins.) NR
22. 2009/01/15 The Front Line. Drama. (2006, 93 mins.) NR
23. 2009/01/16 Never Forever. Drama. (2007, 104 mins.) **
24. 2009/01/17 Duma. Drama. (2005, 100 mins.) ***½
25. 2009/01/17 All This, and Heaven Too. Romantic Comedy. (1940, 141 mins.) ***
26. 2009/01/18 Three Coins In The Fountain. Romantic Comedy. (1954, 102 mins.) **
27. 2009/01/18 All This, and Heaven Too. Romantic Comedy. (1940, 141 mins.) ***
28. 2009/01/19 The Brave One. Thriller. (2007, 120 mins.) **½
29. 2009/01/20 Ira & Abby. Drama. (2006, 104 mins.) **
30. 2009/01/20 Ira & Abby. Drama. (2006, 104 mins.) **
31. 2009/01/21 The Knights of the Round Table. Action. (1953, 115 mins.) **
32. 2009/01/21 21. Biographical. (2008, 123 mins.) **½
33. 2009/01/22 The Old Maid. Drama. (1939, 95 mins.) ***½
34. 2009/01/22 Ever Since the World Ended. Drama. (2001, 78 mins.) *
35. 2009/01/22 Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File. Documentary. (2007, 105 mins.) ***
36. 2009/01/23 And Then There Were None. Film Noir. (1945, 97 mins.) ***
37. 2009/01/23 1408. Drama. (2007, 104 mins.) ***
38. 2009/01/24 I'm Not There.. Horror. (2007, 135 mins.) NR
39. 2009/01/24 Live Free Or Die Hard. Action. (2007, 130 mins.) ***
40. 2009/01/25 The Great Lie. Drama. (1941, 108 mins.) **
41. 2009/01/25 Love in the Time of Cholera. Drama. (2007, 139 mins.) **
42. 2009/01/26 HELP!. Comedy. (1965, 90 mins.) ***½
43. 2009/01/26 Step Brothers. Comedy. (2008, 98 mins.) **
44. 2009/01/27 Wuthering Heights. Drama. (1992, 105 mins.) **½
45. 2009/01/27 Traitor. Action. (2008, 114 mins.) *
46. 2009/01/28 Since You Went Away. Drama. (1944, 177 mins.) ***
47. 2009/01/28 Fever Pitch (1997). Romantic Comedy. (1997, 103 mins.) ***
48. 2009/01/29 Watch On The Rhine. Drama. (1943, 114 mins.) **
49. 2009/01/29 Talk To Me. Drama. (2007, 118 mins.) ***½
50. 2009/01/30 In This Our Life. Drama. (1941, 97 mins.) ***
51. 2009/01/30 War. Action. (2007, 103 mins.) *½
52. 2009/01/31 Lions For Lambs. Drama. (2007, 92 mins.) ***
53. 2009/01/31 Deception. Drama. (1946, 110 mins.) ***

Listed 2012/04/02 at 03h11ET.

Talk To Me (2007)

Talk To Me. Feature film. (2007, 118 mins) IMDB

...The world's first shock jock....

Y

ou could do worse than studying this film. There is a classical structure. There are interesting characters. A story arc. Laughs and struggles and an absolute teary moment or two.

TALK TO ME is a biopic of Ralph Emerson "Petey" Greene--a smooth, fast talking black man from Washington, DC. We meet him in jail where he's doing time for minor crimes. He talks to his fellow prisoners as a DJ. He spins records and talks and talks. He's part preacher, truth teller, and a foreshadow of rap music.

We know he wants to get out, who wouldn't, but to what end? To the same dirty streets of crime and poverty? No, he wants something more. More for himself and his people. While in prison he meets Dewey Hughes who works as the program director a local R&B radio station. When Petey leaves prison, he's off to the radio station to get his job as a DJ--no easy task.

So we're introduced to Petey in jail, see him out doing what it takes to land this job and through several tries, he finally gets it, but it isn't easy. His first time on the air is a flop. It's just part of the story. The struggle to succeed.

Act II is his transition and rise as a DJ and with the fame an attempt to move to a higher level: nightclub gigs and television. A big moment comes when he's on THE TONIGHT SHOW with Johnny Carson. He comes out and doesn't stay much. It's a complete failure. No rising star, but in his words, he just was to tell the truth and isn't interested in being another Richard Prior.

If this film fails, it's the third act. It zaps forward through the lives of the characters until we learn of his death at the age of 53.

It's the second time I've seen this film and it's definitely worth seeing once or twice or more.

Posted 2009/01/30 at 19h34ET in Movie Commentary.

Watch On The Rhine (1941)

Watch On The Rhine. Feature film. (1943, 114 mins) IMDB

...Another war propaganda movie...

A

nother war propaganda war film. In this one, Davis is the wife and mother to a German resistance fighter. She and her family escape a Europe-in-war and end up in her family home near Washington, D.C.

Act I is about the family travelling from Europe through Mexico back to her family home. It's also about the folks living there: her mother, servants, and guests. In particular a certain Count from Romania who as sympathies with the Nazi.

In Act II, these forces meet as the Count wants to sell what he knows about the Davis's husband to the Germans who still have an embassy in the US.

In the end, right triumphs over evil.

I didn't find this movie the least bit interesting or believable.

Posted 2009/01/30 at 19h26ET in Movie Commentary.

Fever Pitch (1997)

Fever Pitch. Feature film. (1997, 103 mins) IMDB

...A different sort of romantic comedy...

W

hat is more interesting, the obsession a man has for an English football team or the romance between him and a fellow teacher?

Colin Firth plays an English teacher in a high school somewhere in England. He's a life-long supporter of a football team that seems to disappoint its fans year after year. He coaches the school football team. He's rough around the edges, a bit of a carefree bachelor, but not a cad and his students love him.

At the start of a new school year, Ms. Hughes joins the school as a history teacher. Her classroom is right next to his. She's a by-the-books type of person. Strict. Severe. Limited interests.

When they meet, it's love at first sight, but neither wants to admit it.

There's foreplay. There's backstory. There's dates and moments in bed, and of course there's his obsession with the football team. He goes to the games, season tickets, and has for years. He lives and dies with the successes and failures of this team. He's a typical male.

She doesn't know the team, the sport or why he's so obsessed. She's also peeved he's more interested in the team than in her. Does this sound familiar?

There is a story arc for our hero. He grows up. He learns to let go of this team, sort of, and pays more attention to other things in life like his new love and their child on the way.

The movie felt strained. I have no doubt there are men who are obsessed about a sports team as he is, but that she keeps trying seems much. You would think at some point she would give up because he rarely gives her much thought. It's for that reason this film isn't so much a romantic comedy, but a study in modern day male obsession. With no wars to fight, no animals to stalk, modern day men have to follow football teams while women wait in the wings anxious for the game to end.

The film has few laughs and doesn't try to get them. In that way, it's not a romantic comedy. It's focused on how professional sports teams separate a couple in love.

Posted 2009/01/29 at 03h32ET in Movie Commentary.

Since You Went Away (1944)

Since You Went Away. Feature film. (1944, 177 mins) IMDB

...War propaganda ...

I

t's 1943. WWII is raging all through the world and, finally, the US has got involved. Hollywood did its part. It made films about the war effort and this is one of them. It's a war propaganda film. The message is political: do your part. Sacrifice. Volunteer. Buy War Bonds. Whatever it takes. From start to finish the film is filled with this message. (You could fill pages with examples). It ridicules people who are above making an effort (e.g., a scene on a train). You would think such a film would be tiresome and boring and preachy but it isn't. Go figure. GREEN BERET, a John Wayne war-propaganda film about Vietnam was exactly that and I don't think the nature of each war was the difference.

While all that preaching is going on we see different love stories--a wife whose husband leaves to be in the Army, a grandfather whose grandson leaves, a young woman who falls in love with this awkward grandson and their engagement to be married.

It's a story of making the best of a difficult situation.

The film focuses on a mother and wife of two teenaged daughters. Her husband has left to fight. She must somehow make ends meet with a sudden reduction in income. Enter lodgers and visitors. A servant who leaves and comes back. (The same McDaniel servant in THE GREAT LIE with the same illiterate dialogue.)

The film doesn't make villains out of the enemy, although there are brief derisive caricatures of Japanese. The villain is simply the circumstances of war--the separation of people, the lack of basics. There are no battle scenes. No headlines or newreels about this campaign or that battle. We're never told where the story takes place except in the US, probably somewhere near the Great Lakes (i.e, NY, Ohio).

Given the gravitas of the subject, you would think the movie is entirely a drama, but it isn't. It's played as a comedy for the first two acts. There are dances, and humour and comedic moments. It plays to that. But the comedy fades as the ending nears.

Why I think it works, for the most part, is the range of characters. Interesting characters who rub against each other.

Monty Woolley plays the grandfather, retired general and lodger who is bristly as he was in LOOK WHO'S COMING TO DINNER. As the story progresses, his heart warms. We like the fact he's softened.

When I saw Robert Walker playing his young grandson I knew I had seen him in something before and I had, but here he is a shy, mousy type--quite a contrast to the bold and flamboyant character he plays in Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Given his personal life, I'm surprised he was in the movie. He plays the love interest to Jane, his wife in real life, who was slowly wooed away by David O. Selnick who produced this film. His career never went that far, but he seemed to have talent to play many roles.

The ending has a magical, tear-jerker power that I'm sure is a major reason why people like it, no love this movie. We remember the powerful effects of good endings, the emotions of tears and joy and vindication, even if we can't remember the details.

Posted 2009/01/29 at 03h32ET in Movie Commentary.

Traitor (2008)

Traitor. Feature film. (2008, 114 mins) IMDB

...It isn't as hard to be tough on a move as I thought...

W

hen I saw Don Cheadle starred in this film, I figured it would be a good film to watch. At least it won't be bad, but I was wrong. Even stars of quality make duds.

So why is it a dud? In short, this movie is entirely predictable. Nothing comes as a surprise. Further, the locations and characters etc. are all predictable. We've seen it before. There's nothing new in this film. Nothing. And because there is nothing new, it's boring. A bad movie. It's derivative. It's a TV movie masquerading as a feature film.

We meet a young boy in Sudan. He's saying his prayers (Islamic style) and playing chess. We learn two things. Faith and intelligence. And in a flash, a car explodes in the streets below this second story window. Why? I have no idea. It's never explained. The boy runs out onto the balcony to see what happened. Cut and advance 18 years later. Our young boy has grown up and is in Yemen.

Because it's Sudan and Yemen and Islam, we know it's about terrorism and the US battle against it. It didn't take me long to realize why he was in Yemen. Cheadle is playing a mole, an undercover Muslim if you will for the US government. It's the only thing that made sense. It was confirmed when the house he is visiting is raided by Yemen police along with some FBI types. There's a major shootout where the police just shoot and shoot without any regard for who is in the house. Give me a break. That's one reason I didn't like this film.

Anyway, Cheadle doesn't die in this bloodbath, but instead is captured, taken to the police HQ and interrogated. Two FBI agents come in to interrogate him and rough him up because he won't talk. When I saw this scene I knew he was a mole and I had to laugh at it. There is a certain arrogance about these FBI agents in a foreign country that I find repulsive. It was all done for effect to show to the locals, our hero wasn't an American trying to sneak into a terrorist operation, but a devout Muslim who hated Americans.

Remember, the US intelligence on the ground in Muslim countries is weak. They would love to have people infiltrate organizations in Yemen and Egypt and other places to gather intelligence but they don't have people who are, one, believable and, two, they can trust. It's up to Hollywood and novelist to creates stories where that's possible.

Back to the story. We've met our hero. He's been dancing with Muslim terrorists in the Middle East, caught by local police and ends up in the jail from hell. He can't stay in jail, because there wouldn't be a story. We see some staged gang fighting. Learn he can handle himself in a fist fight, a knife fight, and he befriends a leader in the terrorist group. A friendship required for the second act. And that comes with yes a prison break. The leader, our hero and some no-name thugs make a break and escape to France. Act I is over. We're onto Act II.

Here's where the plotting of the bombing happens. Our hero is inside the group. He's trusted. He's a former US military guy (yet another clue he's working for the US) with knowledge of bomb making. There's a plot for a suicide bombing in France, but it fails until Cheadle takes over and uses an RF device to detonate it instead of a suicide bomber. It all seems real, but laughable. Would someone working with the US government really build bombs for terrorists? Bombs that work. That kill people. I don't think so. Not even as part of an undercover operation.

The laughs continue. We move to North America where a 9/11 style attack is planned with buses instead of planes and again our hero has a trunk full of Semtex to deliver in ready-to-use bombs for the suicide bombers. He actually made these bombs to deliver to known enemies of the US in the US. How stupid can you get?!?

By the midpoint, we learn what we all ready know. He's working under the guidance of some government type but we don't know what agency. What's critical and lunatic is that the Jeff Daniels character is the only one who knows that Cheadle is on one team and not the other. It seems the FBI who are chasing him think he's a killer with bigger plans and why not, he blew up the US Consulate in Nice. It stretches credibility and is fabricated entirely for plot purposes.

Why? Because in a scene late in Act II, our hero has a rendezvous with his handler on the US side and on his terrorist group side. The clash results in his only know saviour ending up dead. That's the low point for our hero. It's the end of Act II. It's that kind of moment where the hero seems screwed because the FBI thinks he's the new OBL and we know it's not true. But of course, he can't be killed or end up in jail. He's the hero. So how does he save the day? By ignoring logic.

First, there's a simple email he sends to the FBI chasing him to say: you've got a mole and here's where the bad guys will be. The agent immediately believes him. No questions asked. Yes, he's a good guy now.

Second, during the second act, Cheadle drove from LA to all sorts of points throughout the US to deliver the bombs to 30 suicide agents. On the day of the bombings, just like 9/11, the various bombers would get on a bus and blow up 30 buses. It doesn't happen that way. All the bombers are on the same bus so the only people they kill, presumably, are other bombers. How is that possible? How do bombers in LA or Seattle or St. Louis or Chicago end up on the same bus at the same time? It makes no sense. None.

The director/writer wants to think of this movie as an action flick. It isn't. Not in the same league as the Bond films, Die Hard, Jason Bourne. It's a night day comparison. TV v. feature film.

Want proof? A big sequence in the film is the bombing of the US consulate in Nice. Our hero builds the remote controlled bombs, enters the buildings, plants the devices, exits, walks away and pushes the trigger. We never see the explosion. Instead we see him turn a corner and a storm of dust follows--an indication there was an explosion. Later we see the damaged building but it's clear it's faked ruins. There never was an explosion. They didn't do it because they couldn't afford to do it.

Posted 2009/01/28 at 04h12ET in Movie Commentary.

Wuthering Heights (1992)

Wuthering Heights. Feature film. (1992, 105 mins) IMDB

...An odd and different movie....

I

guess I expected more from this story. I haven't read the novel it's based on, but I realize it's a well known novel with many film adaptations. A love story with a tragedy. Think ROMEO & JUILET.

I'm not sure what to say about the film, about this story.

It's a story involving two people who love each other but who can't be together. It reminds me of the setup in LOVE IN A TIME OF CHOLERA. Similar idea. They can't be together first because of their social status, then because she marries someone else and finally because she dies young.

It's also a bookend movie. Opening scene during a dark, stormy night then back in time until we catch up with the where we started.

I was confused because Binoche plays the love interest and her daughter. It didn't seem possible she died because she was in the opening scenes. She was still alive as the actress playing two roles. Dark hair versus light. We don't automatically think a woman with different hair colour as being a different character, but that's the message.

I suppose a great deal has been written about Heathcliff. He's like no other character I've seen or read about. Moody. Violent. Passionate. Carrying. A mixture of competing emotions and behaviours. I suppose that's what makes him interesting, you never know what he will do. And you don't.

At times we support him because he's been treated poorly and at times we're appalled at his behaviour. His vicious ways towards other people. Beating women. Holding them captive. How does he get away with it?

The name of the film and novel describes an estate somewhere in a dreary part of England. There was a certain gothic feel to the location and film. Uninviting. A place devoid of joy and people. Odd feeling.

It's not a film I need or want to see again.

Posted 2009/01/28 at 04h12ET in Movie Commentary.

HELP! (1965)

HELP!. Feature film. (1965, 90 mins) IMDB

...In the beginning there was The Beatles...

H

ELP! was the Beatles's second movie--a follow up to their popular and acclaimed first film A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. I liked them both. I like the music. I like the irreverent humour.

The film is as old as I am and yet it stands up. This is not a dippy movie with pop stars.

The best moments are the music. The four of them with their instruments as they sing and play. It's a sound that won't go away. HELP, I Need You, Ticket to Ride, You're Going To Lose That Girl and others. It's music videos before they existed except music videos are created to sell a band and its music, this movie was more about the people and corporations around them making money and for their fans. They didn't need any more publicity.

It's too bad they didn't make more films. They were required to make a third and ended up with an animation film called YELLOW SUBMARINE with actors mimicking their voices. They didn't want to do a third film.

Should I mention there is a plot, a narrative as such, in this film? Yes. Given the reason for making the film, it's not a terrible narrative.

There's an Indian religious sect who sacrifice humans for their god except the person can't be killed if they aren't wearing a special ring--a ring Ringo Starr is wearing back in London. This group of Indians travel to the UK to recover the ring so they can carry out their sacrifice. They remind me of the Thuggees from GUNGHA DIN and INDIANA JONES: THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.

They try and try to steal the ring back, but can't, but the clock has clicked to a new day. A new day means a new person to sacrifice and that person is Ringo because he's wearing the ring. Of course there's the little problem. The ring won't come off.

That Ringo is chased and covered in red paint but is unscathed is not a surprise. That the leader of the sect, during the final moments of the film, during a sacrifice scene, ends up with the ring instead of Ringo is story telling.

You could do worse when studying this film for film composition and editing. And lighting.

Did you see the villain with the pink costume and the pink gun to match? Check it out.

Posted 2009/01/27 at 19h57ET in Movie Commentary.

Step Brothers (2008)

Step Brothers. Feature film. (2008, 97 mins) IMDB

...I thought comedies were supposed to have laughs....

T

here is a classical structure to this film with a bloody stupid and unbelievable ending.

Dale is 40, a deadbeat and lives with his father who is a successful doctor of some type.

Brennan is just like Dale except instead of a father, he has a mother.

Guess what? The mother and father met at a conference, jump into bed and into marriage. And Dale and Brennan's lives are turned upside down. (Inciting incident.)

Act I is about the setup and how these two children (because that's what they are) are forced to live together and hate it.

In Act II they have to deal with a new threat, their parents want them out of the house, to be responsible, to grow up. It takes them a while to get the drift but they do and they get lame jobs. In the process, the newlyweds split up. Time to get them back.

Act III shows their transformation from children to adults with an additional crisis. Brennan organized an event where it's do or die. Well it dies, because the cover band he hired is heckled off the stage. Enter Dale and Brennan and their hidden talents. One as the drummer, the other a singer. Give me a break. It just doesn't work. It's not the least bit plausible, but, hey, that's a Hollywood movie for you.

I had a look at some numbers and dates on this film. It was released in July 2008. The DVD release is a few months after the fact. Films these days go to DVD very quickly.

Second, a budget number for this film is $65mm. How does a small film (i.e., few characters, few sets, no fx, no post CGI and so on) cost that much? It makes absolute no sense. None. That type of investment for a small film makes absolutely no sense. None.

P.S. That 65 mil number only includes the cost to get the print in the can. It doesn't include marketing and promotion cost. Add $20mm plus.

I forgot to mention the uber-American younger brother to Brennan and his nympho wife, but is there really any point?

Posted 2009/01/27 at 19h50ET in Movie Commentary.

Love in the Time of Cholera (2007)

Love in the Time of Cholera. Feature film. (2007, 139 mins) IMDB

...Most of the time the novel is better than the film. Here is an example....

T

he film uses a book end approach in which we see the three main characters as they exist in old age, raise some questions about where things will go and then goes back in time for the bulk of the movie to show how we got there then resolves the initial setup.

The film is a period piece with lots of costumes and unique buildings and a different way of life. It is also a romance, dramatic romance, structured around a love triangle.

Since the film in set in the late 1800's in South America, the question is why? Why go to all that trouble to tell the story where the production costs increase dramatically? The obvious answer is that what happened in that period has relevance to what how we live today. So does this love triangle has relevance today? In part yes, and in part no.

The film is based on the novel by Gabriel García Márquez. If you don't know the name, you should. That his books are difficult to film is a given and the story is simplified for film. Such is the compromise of adapting a novel to fit a 2 hour screenplay, but it's not okay to take a Spanish speaking culture and Anglicize it for a US audience. If you want to make this book, they should be speaking Spanish. It means a smaller audience, supposedly, but even in English, this film will have a small audience. Today's audiences aren't going to avoid a film because it isn't in English. For example, consider THE PASSION or BABEL and many other films where foreign languages are prominent in the film.

We meet a young man working in a telegraph office. He delivers a message to a newcomer to town, a social climbing father and businessman, and he meets his beautiful daughter. It's love at first sight. Since this is different era, he must slowly court and win this woman over. He doesn't just go up to her and ask her out. She's coy but interested. They want to get married, but her father refuses. His daughter won't marry some lowly telegraph boy.

Enter the young, handsome doctor. This is the man her father wants her to marry and she does even though she doesn't love him, even though he's careless, insensitive and a womanizer. She lives out the bulk of her life in this unhappy marriage.

Her lover progresses in his work, joins the family business (river boat steamers) and vows to remain a virgin until he can marry her. The virgin bit goes right out the window when he first experiences sex on a river boat with some mysterious woman. It's a scene that defies realty, but serves the story because while he has sex with almost every woman he has contact with, he still yearns for his first love. That yearning never stops.

For fifty-three years, the two live their separate lives until the doctor dies. The community mourns and our hero is ready to take his bride. The film ends with them in bed on one of the river boats.

So is there anything we can learn from all of this? There is a certain irony in that the lowly telegraph operate becomes a success and the concerns of her father were misguided. But it's impossible to be certain, if had they married, would he still have been successful? Would she still have been miserable?

It's clear the film was not as successful as the production team had hoped. The question is why? I'm not sure. If I had to guess, it's because there's nothing new or exciting about the story line. We've seen this type of dramatic romance before. Just a guess.

Posted 2009/01/27 at 19h35ET in Movie Commentary.

The Great Lie (1941)

The Great Lie. Feature film. (1941, 108 mins) IMDB

...Do you really want to know what the great lie is?...

I

'm not a big fan of Bette Davis and this film didn't do anything to change my opinion. Given the title the obvious question for a viewer is what is this great lie? Well, it's not a great lie from today's point of view, but I suppose in the forties it was a big deal.

Davis plays Maggie who is a wealthy heiress living on a large farm in Maryland. She's in love with pilot Peter Van Allen except she's rebuffed his marriage proposals in the past. When the movie starts, Van Allen has married a well-known concert pianist, Sandra Kovak. Kovak is a prima dona. Someone who lives for the moment with parties and drinks and bitches all the time. They got married on a whim and before you know it, there's turmoil. It turns out her divorce wasn't finalized in time and their marriage isn't valid. This gives Maggie a way back into Van Allen's life and she takes it. They get married, but before you know it, he's part of some government flying program that takes him to South America and he's lost and presumed dead in the Amazon. Without this step in the story, the great lie can't happen.

Maggie is now a widow. Sandra is pregnant with his child but legally not married to him etc. A plan is sprouted. The two will go away, have the child and return with Maggie saying it's her child with Van Allen. Sandra agrees and goes back to playing the piano and drinking cocktails. Maggie raises the children and surprise of surprise, Van Allen survived his ordeal and returns home. Now the great lie is in place until Sandra comes to visit and turns the happy family life upside down.

From today's point of view, this story line wouldn't even make it into a movie-of-the-week. So much has changed in 65 years.

To get to the point where Sandra threatens to reveal the truth and wants the baby back, you have to understand what happened before and they show us what happened before--that was act I & II, but in doing so, the narrative is jumpy and disjointed. The story doesn't flow. I think they tried to take a small idea and stretch it into a full length feature and it just doesn't work. This film is terribly flawed.

Being made in 1941 means maids and servants. Black folk who talk like they is illiterate. Yessum. It gets a bit much and I'm glad it's gone.

I'm sure others will say they loved this film, to which I say this is not a film I need or want to watch again.

Posted 2009/01/27 at 18h45ET in Movie Commentary.

Ontario May Harmonize Sales Tax With GST

Ontario May Harmonize Sales Tax With GST

...It's about time....

I

read in the Toronto Star Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his government may harmonize the Ontario sales tax with the federal GST. To that I say, it's about time.

Currently the three N provinces (Nfld., NB & NS) have a harmonized sales tax with the federal government. Quebec has something similar, but Ontario has maintained its antiquated Retail Sales Tax and it's all about politics and getting votes.

Sales taxes are visible and annoying to voters and changing them usually means trouble. The Ontario government needs the revenue from a sales tax and the best solution is a consumption tax on most goods ands services and not just on goods.

A harmonized tax will significantly reduce administration and compliance costs for businesses. One tax return to complete instead of two. One set of laws to follow instead of two.

It will also result in a fairer tax in that people who consume more, pay more.

It will also result in a slightly more competitive business economy. Under the current RST, businesses pay RST unless there is an exemption (e.g., buying a good for resale to a customer), but many times the RST is paid and becomes a cost of the business. It reduces their profits or is passed on to customers with higher prices. With a HST, businesses would recover these costs as an input tax credit. They can earn more profits or reduce their prices or both.

Let's hope the Ontario government has some sense and acts on this issue.

Posted 2009/01/24 at 13h37ET in Tax Law.

Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File (2007)

Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File. Documentary. (2007, 104 mins) IMDB

...Why did the Russians kill Litvinenko?...

T

he documentary, Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File, chronicles the battle between a former FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, and the powers of the Russian government, in particular Russian president Putin.

Litvinenko's life and death made headlines around the world because he was poisoned in London with Polonium 210--a rare radioactive metal.

For those who may not know, the FSB is simply the KGB by another name in the post-communist Russia. Unlike the US and UK were there is a split between domestic counter-intelligence and foreign intelligence gathering, the FSB operates internally and externally.

Litvinenko worked for the FSB in what you might consider an FBI-type capacity. His job was to track down the Russian mafia and apparently he was good at it, but that's not what got him in trouble.

Post the fall of communism, Russia and Chechnya engaged in a struggle where Russians soldiers fought in Chechnya and Chechnya's carried out terrorist acts in Moscow. The details aren't important to this discussion, but the controversy included Litvinenko's allegation that certain bombings weren't carried out by the Chechnya rebels, but by the FSB, by the Russian government. He alleges a conspiracy theory to garner support among the Russia people for continued military action in Chechnya. He and others were outspoken about the Chechnya issue.

Were they telling the truth? Was there a conspiracy? I don't know. I have no way of knowing, but it is certainly plausible. It is believable. A number of critics were murdered and the suggestion is Putin was behind it. They died to silence the criticism and I suppose to send a message to others who might want to be critical.

If it is true the Russian government was behind his murder with Po-210, why would they use such a method? The material is so rare, the source can be traced and it points to Russia. They have the largest supply of it (97% of the worlds supply). It immediately tells the world, they murdered him and therefore he was probably telling the truth about the FSB involvement in the Moscow bombings. It seems like such a stupid thing to do. So why?

The most plausible scenario? Pathologists and physicians and detectives would find a dying Litvinenko and not know the cause. They would not know it was Po-210. Standard methods of murder would have been detected and uncovered thereby increasing the chance of finding the murderer. Russia believed his death would remain a mystery. They miscalculated. The British brought in military scientist who were able to discover the Po-210. A smoking gun with Russian fingerprints.

The sad truth for the his family is a lack of justice. A murder suspect is known and living freely in Russia and can't be brought to trial in London.

There is supposedly a gentlemen's agreement between nations where one nation doesn't murder someone in another country. Russia and Israel didn't the memo because there have been a number of murders carried out by both countries in foreign territories.

While many fears about nuclear physics and radiation are overblown and hyped, Po-210 would be a terrorists dream because ingesting a tiny amount is lethal and could kill many people. There's a story there, but it's been done.

Posted 2009/01/23 at 20h01ET in Movie Commentary.

Supreme Court of Canada - Lipson

...A major victory for the Canada Revenue Agency from the Supreme Court of Canada...

O

n January 8th, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in the case of Lipson v. Canada. For tax practitioners across the country, the earth swayed, thunder rumbled and some checked their insurance coverage.

Lipson is an individual resident in Canada who purchased a home, in part with borrowed money, and structured his affairs in such a manner to allow for a deduction on interest paid on the debt. Normally, debt used to acquire personal property is not deductible, but some taxpayers in the past have structured the purchase and debt to allow for an interest deduction against business income and income from property. This is what Lipson tried to do, but the government argued against it citing ITA 245--the General Anti-Avoidance Rule.

Prior to Lipson, the courts held up such structures, but that was before the GAAR was law. Not so with Lipson and all courts involved in the case ruled against the taxpayer and in favour of the government.

If you know 20(1)(c) doesn't relate to the size of an engine, you can read an excellent summary of the facts and arguments as written by UoT Tax Law Prof. Ben Alaire. Click here to read it. I assume no liability if you hurt your brain reading it.

And if you want to read the court decision, click here.

So what does it all mean? Be very careful in trying to turn personal non-deductible debt into deductible debt. Your deduction maybe denied.

Further, look for more supreme court decisions relating to the GAAR. There have been several already and there will be more. It's an area of tax law that is uncertain and open to debate, just what the SCC looks at when deciding to hear tax cases.

The good news is that interest paid on debt used to earn income from a business or property is still a valid tax deduction provided you meet the requirements under the ITA and common law. That's where a tax advisor can help with this complex area of tax law.

Posted 2009/01/22 at 20h26ET in Tax Law.

Ira & Abby (2006)

Ira & Abby. Feature film. (2006, 104 mins) IMDB

...They have the nerve to call it a romantic comedy...

N

obodies and TV actors star in this feature film that is supposed to be a romantic comedy. Think about those two words. Romantic means romance, love. How we fall in love and how we keep it. Comedy means not just a happy ending but laughs. Comic moments. Funny moments. Insightful moments. Well, this film doesn't have either. I never laughed once in this movie. Not even close to a chuckle. Neither does it follow the structure of romantic comedies.

The film is mostly about a bunch of neurotic Jewish people in NYC. Talk about original. That each character is either a shrink or is seeing one is hardly original. That the climax features all these characters and their shrinks sitting on chairs in a circle is not original.

Maybe I'm asking for too much.

There's Ira. He's studying to be a shrink except he's completely neurotic and has taken six years to write his PhD dissertation.

There's Abby. She works in a health club selling memberships except she spends her time listening and supporting people, not racking up commissions.

Ira is down once again and decides to visit the club where Abby works and they meet. This is the meet cute except it's a meet frustration because it takes forever for him to get service.

It's apparently love at first sight, but I don't believe it. She asks him to marry him right in her office after only a few minutes. Then have sex in the club minutes after meeting to make sure that part works. Excuse me? That's romance? What the hell world are these people living in?

They marry. They annul the marriage. They get married again.

We meet his parents. Her parents.

Her father and his mother have a fling. It seems everybody has cheated on everybody and therefore the movie isn't about love and romance it's about the insanity of marriage.

What is the reason people get married? I don't know. Ebert likes to quote someone else who said the reason we get married is so we have a witness to our lives.

Posted 2009/01/21 at 20h07ET in Movie Commentary.

The Brave One (2007)

The Brave One. Feature film. (2007, 120 mins) IMDB

...Women don't play vigilantes, but they do if you're Jodie Foster...

W

e meet Erica Bain in NYC. She works as a radio broadcaster giving odd reports on the sounds and look of the city. She has a fiancé and a dog. Life is good.

One hot summer night, she, her husband-to-be and their German Shepard go for a walk in Central Park. They talk about the wedding plans and play fetch with the dog until the dog goes missing. Through one of those upside down, U-shaped tunnels under a bridge they spot their dog and enter. The dog is held by a thug and he's not alone. In no time, three thugs beat the hell out of her and Mr. Big until she goes unconscious. This is the inciting incident. This moment changes her life.

We see her being attended to in an hospital ER. She is covered in blood. Attendants cut away her clothes. Since it's Jodie Foster, we know she's going to live. Not so for him. There is no frantic attempts to save his life. We assume he died before it was even possible.

When she comes out of the hospital, he life is never the same. The three thugs are on the loose. She has no one to talk to. She doesn't know what to do because the city she felt safe in is now a torture. It's a place of evil and threat and death.

When she enters a gun shop, she discovers it would take thirty days before she can legally by a pistol. Fortunately for her an Asian type overhears her request and helps her out when they meet up outside. In no time she has an automatic 9mm pistol with all the cartridges she needs. Life has certainly changed for her. Act II has started. Note: our purveyor of fine handguns hands her a box of cartridges and referred to them as bullets. I heard he sound of a gong when he said it.

Wandering, sleep-deprived, she enters a family-owned and run corner store where she witnesses a murder. A man walks in, shouts at a woman behind the counter and kills her. He's about to leave when he notices Erica and there's a stalking around aisles of this store. He ends up dead and she's invigorated.

That's killing one. Next it's a subway ride. Again late at night so there's only so many witnesses. Two thugs accost a man about his music then they attack two other people. At the next stop everybody is off the car except for her and the two thugs. They accost her. Pull a knife and it's this moment that could have been done better. We know what she's going to do. She has a gun and she's going to pull it out and kill these two guys. The scene plays slowly, but it's too rushed. Jordan could have milked it further.

Have I mentioned the detective? Since there are killings, the police have to get involved and the character of note is played by Terrence Howard. We see him in the hospital and he sees our hero, but there is no real connection because she's unconscious. Next he's investigating the murders. Next he's being interviewed by this woman. Next they are friends and maybe on the verge of being lovers. The relationship slowly evolves. As it evolves, he gets closer and closer to the truth about her involvement in what has happened.

She kills one in a store, two in a subway train, then another in a car. She isn't going to stop and the killers of her fiancé are nowhere in sight.

We know were this movie will end but do we? Three big clues. Erica smokes during many early scenes. Smoking is a symbol that says: bad character. She's going to get it. Second, the viewing and evidence of each killing isn't murder, but arguably self-defence. At least in the US way of thinking. Finally, this is Jodie Foster playing the lead role. She plays the hero and savour type, not the criminal or heavy. Don't believe me. Watch SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or THE PANIC ROOM or FLIGHT PLAN.

So we have Erica getting out of hand killing people and the detective hot on her heals. And we're getting closer to the 120 min mark so something has to change. And it does. During the inciting incidence, during the attack, one of the thugs stole a ring. The ring was pawned and the police recovered it. Enter Erica to ID the man. She sees five faces and knows the third man was one of the three at the scene, but instead of saying, yes, that's him, she says no and goes out the door to track him down and kill him and she does. Along with the two others.

Our detective hero knows she's behind the murders and shows up at the scene, but instead of stopping her and arresting her, he helps he kill the third man. He has figured out a way to pin all the killings on the original three thugs and she goes along with it and goes free.

While there was a time in the movie where it's debatable about her actions--murder versus self-defence, by the later part of the second act she crosses the line and it's entirely clear she's a vigilante and killer. A murderer yet the movie's ending says, so what. Live long and prosper.

In the features of the DVD, Foster says it's a movie against the use of guns. I don't see that. She wanted revenge for the loss of her fiancé and her beating and she got it without any punishment. How is that a condemnation against guns? Not sure.

In watching Foster, I was amazed at how young she looked. It was as if she were ten to fifteen years younger. Quite a contrast to her look in PANIC ROOM and FLIGHT PLAN. What gives? Vanity? Film audience norms? I'm not sure but something was done. The hair, make-up, plastic surgery, what?

This movie is an example of a gender twist. If instead of a woman out for vengeance, it was a man, everybody would have said: been there, done that, yadda-yadda. But throw in woman and it's a different game.

Posted 2009/01/20 at 18h38ET in Movie Commentary.

Literary Agents Respond

...Hope comes in different forms...

W

ith the start of the new year, I started sending out query letters on the novel I wrote in 2008. It's called THE G.O.D. DICTATOR. The plan was to email queries to those who prefer email then send out snail mail queries. The plan also included emails to those agents who weren't high on my list (i.e., save postage etc.)

As expected, during the last two weeks I've been getting replies to my queries and they are all rejections. Each rejection is different but they all have something in common. The agents were sending a cryptic message on the reasons for the rejection and I had to decipher it. Why was I getting rejected? (Agents are too busy or too afraid to give an honest opinion). The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed they hated the story and its premise. If they hated it, editors would hate it and potential readers would hate it.

Ouch.

I spent hours and hours drafting an outline then hours and hours writing the first draft then even more time editing it and it all seemed to be a waste because the story idea was stupid. It wasn't hard to reach that conclusion.

It had to be the story. I was happy with the content and quality of the query letter. I was sending it based on agent's preference and standards. I've educated myself on the markets and fiction writing. The pieces were there except for my stupid story idea. But maybe I was too harsh on myself.

Since I'm an unpublished novelist, agents aren't jumping to sign me up. There are lots of agents who don't take on new clients, and some who only do so with published writers. There are lots of agents who don't touch the genre I write. Once you get past these points, the quality of the writing comes into play. Was my writing poor to bad to awful? No. It was my stupid premise on which I based the story. Time to start the next novel, maybe, but then I received two emails from agents today. I expected more rejections and braced myself for it, but it didn't come.

In the first email, the agent, Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Inc. in NYC, asked to see the first five pages. It's not a signed contract with champagne chilling, but it does provide some hope and encouragement. It means my story may not be so stupid after all and the question of rejection relates to preferences etc.

Then the second email from Diana Finch of NYC. She's been an agent for close to 20 years. In other words, successes in the biz with experience, knowledge etc. Here's what she wrote.

Thank you for this intriguing query. I would be glad to give the novel further consideration, and as so much depends on the writing itself, I would like to begin by reviewing the first fifty pages or so of the manuscript.

Now we're cooking with gas.

I felt as if she personally wrote those words specifically for me, today, but I know better. Cut and paste, but it's the best cutting and pasting I've seen in a while. My query letter worked.

It's purpose is to intrigue an agent so much so they want to read the ms. Although it's only a partial request, it's better than a rejection and I have more clues in decrypting the rejection letters.

It means my story and premise aren't as stupid I may have thought.

It means hope. Hope enough to continue sending out more queries.

Posted 2009/01/19 at 20h16ET in Literary Agents.

DUMA (2005)

DUMA. Feature Film. (2005, 100 mins.) IMDB

...A young farm boy in South Africa raises a cheetah from a cub and releases him into the wild...

T

hey are amazing animals. Swift. Beautiful to look at. The thoroughbreds of cats. The cheetah.

I've always been fascinated by wild cats and cheetahs are no exception. The fastest land animal, they live in Africa which means a constant struggle for survival.

The film opens not with humans, but in the wilds of Africa. We see a cheetah mother and three cubs. In a flash she is killed by a pride of lions. Her helpless cubs are orphaned. I expected the lions to pounce on the cubs, but one tiny cub, chirping as he or she wanders, makes it through the wilderness, through a fence and onto a paved road where we cue the humans.

Alex and his father Peter are out driving in a sports car when they spot the helpless animal and give it shelter. That's the genesis of the story, but this is not Born Free Redux.

The first act flashes by quickly as the father and son and cub have fun. They live on a farm which is the perfect environment, well close to it, for raising a captive cheetah. And in a flash the cute, adorable cub becomes a full grown cheetah.

Father and son plan to set off in a week to release the cat they now call Duma because he's too big and wild, but our story can't happen that way. The father dies from an illness (possibly brain cancer).

This event turns the life of the wife and son upside down. They can't operate the farm and move into the city with the cat. It's a recipe for disaster but it's temporary because they've made arrangements to place the cat in a reserve. Again. Not so fast because we have a story to tell and on the boy's first day at school, the cat follows him much to the consternation of the rest of the school.

There is one scene I love. Our little boy is bullied by three classmates. They have cornered him in a washroom but the moment Duma appears he's saved. Too bad moments in life didn't work out so perfectly. I know a few times when I could have used a pet cheetah in a washroom.

With animal control folks storming the school, the boy and Duma make a run for it and the second act begins. Alex wants to return Duma to the wild just as his late father had planned.

Enter the motorcycle with sidecar. Again another convenient plot device for the story because Alex can drive the thing (his father taught him in Act I) and the cat can ride along side.

Don't get me wrong. It's an interesting and enjoyable movie but it's also just that: a movie and a Hollywood movie.

During this trip many things happen to the two of them and since it's Act II, it's not an easy trip. There's the barren desert to cross. A lack of gas for the bike, food or water. Then a strange black man, Ripkuna, turns up to steal the bike. At once a threat becomes a saviour, an enemy, a friend.

There's a battle between the two. Don't trust him becomes lifelong friends.

But bit by bit, they make it north where Duma opens to his wild instincts and unites with another cheetah. He can return to the wild. Ripkuna can reunite with his family as does Alex.

There is a technical aspect of the film I found wrong and it relates to lions. There is no doubt lions are strong, fierce and can kill any human, but in the wild when a lion or lions see humans, they run the other way. The danger presented by lions to humans isn't accurate. They are a threat to cheetahs.

We do see glimpses of hippos and water buffalo and they are the biggest threat to humans. Why? The stats show it. More people are killed by them than another creature in Africa and it's not a question of more hippos than lions it's that they are big and have horns in the case of buffalo and teeth in the case of hippos.

I also wonder about the ease with which a cheetah raised by humans can so easily go back into the wild. I suspect it isn't easy or perhaps even possible.

So it's not a perfect movie, but it's not a completely predictable movie and it's not sappy à la FREE WILLY with contrived villains.

I shouldn't forget an amazing scene in the film. The father and boy are driving the motorcycle down a long stretch of paved highway. Duma is running with them. At first from the rear, trying to catch up. They are doing 60 km/h. Then faster and faster and the cat zips by. No camera tricks or CGI. You are watching a cheetah run at 70 to 90 clicks. That is an amazing animal.

Posted 2009/01/18 at 12h35ET in Movie Commentary.

This web site—jamespiper.com

...A return to this web site....

T

here has to be a return and here it is.

The site has been updated to properly list entries by category. See the links on the right nav bar.

More to follow.

Posted 2009/01/17 at 15h28ET in JamesPiper.com.