August 28, 2005

'You never had a camera in my head'

It's an absolutely glorious Sunday morning in my part of the world (Alberta, Canada). And I'm sipping coffee, listening to the Gipsy Kings and posting my review of The Truman Show, for whatever that's worth:

The Truman ShowThose words ("You never had a camera in my head"), I think, capture the essence of The Truman Show best. There’s much in the world that can be controlled, but controlling what someone thinks and, maybe more importantly, feels is not so easy.

For me, this is one of the best movies of the 1990’s, and one of my favourite movies, period. Now, with the recent release of it in a special edition, I have the DVD I had been wanting – better image, informative features.

Slightly preceding the current glut of reality TV shows, the film’s concept seems simple enough, though perhaps less clever now than when it first appeared, before our reality TV world.

While the concept may seem simple – a movie about a guy whose entire life is broadcast live on television – imagine how you would execute that and make it interesting. It comes across more like a clever notion on paper, but the kind of thing that could lead you into a cinematic fiasco.

But between Andrew Niccols’ script, Peter Weir’s direction and some great casting, it works brilliantly.

Jim Carrey is Truman Burbank. His life , from birth, has been broadcast live to the world (unbeknownst to him). He lives in a town called Seahaven – always has, he’s never left – but what he doesn’t know is Seahaven is a television set in California, not a town on the Florida coast. He lives in a not-quite-perfectly controlled world.

"We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented," says Christoff (Ed Harris), the show’s creator and mastermind.

But as much as Christoff controls Truman’s world, he can’t control everything – including Truman.

There are small errors in Truman’s world and they might go unnoticed by him except the life scripted for him is not the one he would live. The more the show’s creator, actors and crew try to steer Truman and keep him on script, the more he resists.

And so Truman embarks on discovering his world, though that’s not his initial motivation.

As mentioned in the special features, Peter Weir made one change to the script that was bang on the money. Originally set in New York, and a darker film, Weir understood that for people to watch such a show (not the movie, but in the script’s world, The Truman Show), it would need to be lighter, more comforting.

So the movie is set in Seahaven, a somewhat heightened reality. It’s roots are more in the world of 1950’s television than the real world, though not to such an extent that it lacks credibility.

Another great notion in the film’s making was the casting of Carrey. He is perfect as Truman. Charismatic and affable, he brings the right amount of innocence to the role of Truman. It might not have worked in another movie, but in the world of The Truman Show it hits the mark.

I also like that there are several ways of seeing The Truman Show. There is the obvious satire on television culture and the issue of personal freedom.

(I like the irony of Christoff “a very private man” being the architect of a very public life – Truman’s.)

Another way of seeing the film, however, is as a fable of a child leaving home.

Christoff is an obvious father figure and Truman is clearly a young man trying his damnedest to leave and find his own life – but not the one Christoff dreams for him (rather like a parent trying to impose his vision on his child.)

In fact, however you view the film, it’s essentially a fable. Perhaps this is why I like the movie so much – I’ve a weakness for these types of films when they are well done.

Weakness or not, I consider this one of the best films of the last decade or so. It’s also one I think will continue to be watched over the years as it captures, quite succinctly and in an engaging fashion, something in the nature of freedom that is deeply woven into the human fabric. The film’s ending captures an archetypal, mythic moment and it’s one that resonates. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. Five stars out of five.

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August 27, 2005

Well, aren't I hoighty-toighty ... I'm Ulysses

Thanks to Bad Maria I found a book quiz, which revealed to me:

You're Ulysses!

by James Joyce

Most people are convinced that you don't make any sense, but compared to what else you could say, what you're saying now makes tons of sense. What people do understand about you is your vulgarity, which has convinced people that you are at once brilliant and repugnant. Meanwhile you are content to wander around aimlessly, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. What you see is vast, almost limitless, and brings you additional fame. When no one is looking, you dream of being a Greek folk hero.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

A worthy edition of The Truman Show

The Truman ShowA favourite film of mine, and one of the best - if not the best - of the 1990's, is Peter Weir's The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey.

I've lost track of the number of times I've seen it. But I've just seen it again because they've finally brought out a worthy DVD of it - the Special Edition. The transfer is great - an improvement, definitely - and the special features (previously absent), are actually interesting. They provide great background on the film.

I'd also add I loved the film's music by Burkhard Dallwitz. I confess to knowing nothing about the man but years ago I bought the film's soundtrack because I liked the music so much. Not that it'll be everyone's cup of tea, but I liked it.

I'm hoping I can get up off my lazy behind and write a half-decent review of this movie soon. It's one I recommed very highly. (I give it five stars out of five.)

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August 23, 2005

More Preston Sturges - Miracle of Morgan's Creek

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek - DVD coverIf you're a fan of the films of Preston Sturges, you'll be happy to know The Miracle of Morgan's Creekis scheduled for DVD release on September 6th from Paramount.

The only downside to this is the DVD cover, which is awful. What were they thinking? It looks like a bad poster for a lame '60s TV show.

Sturges deserves better.

I don't know anything about The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, but I loved The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels. And The Palm Beach Story. So I'm hopeful.

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August 22, 2005

Don Quixote doesn't do so well on film

Sophia Loren, The Man of La Mancha (1972)I just watched 1972's The Man of La Mancha (starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren, directed by Arthur Hiller). And yes, as many have said, it's a mess. But you know, it's a mess that has its moments.

The real problem with this movie is not that it's a musical but that what it's based on was a musical. Because of the source material, there are musical numbers thrown in that throw everything askew. If the movie had been done simply as a romantic drama, no musical, the basic conceit of the movie and the casting (particularly the principle roles) would have worked.

But it's got to throw in those songs and every time it does the movie goes all to hell.

Also, as Roger Ebert points out, they don't really get the theme of Cervantes's Don Quixote quite right.

I watched this movie thinking about Terry Gilliam's ill-fated effort at doing a Don Quixote movie and wondering why making a movie of one of the greatest novels ever, and one of the key characters of all literature, is so hard.

It may be Don Quixote is, by its stature, too daunting. But that's kind of odd since the essence of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance is the exact opposite of that.

Anyway ... the movie, The Man of La Mancha, does have it's moments. O'Toole does some great pratfalls as the Don and Sophia Loren is ... well, she's Sophia Loren. I think the only reason I watched this movie was to see her. And you know, it was worth it.

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August 20, 2005

Housekeeping and some new old movies

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)I've just re-posted some reviews I did a while back of three older movies, all of which are thoroughly enjoyable - at least in my books. They are:

- The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
- Destry Rides Again (1939)
- Auntie Mame (1958)

They're also three very different movies - a kind of melodramatic noir piece, a comedic western and ... well, IMDB calls describes Auntie Mame as comedy/drama.

Also ... a while back I mentioned that Classic Movies had a tribute to William Powell. Well, there is also a tribute up now to Myrna Loy. Could anyone not love Myrna Loy?

Finally ... I've watched all the movies in The Complete Thin Man Collection and I give it a big thumbs up. Have a look at John Puccio's review on DVD Town.

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King Kong set to tear up the place in November

King Kong (1933)Well, I'm excited. Set for release on November 22, 2005 - King Kong (2-Disc Special Edition). This, of course, is the Fay Wray classic.

I'm guessing the release must be tied into the release of Peter Jackson's King Kong. which seems to be scheduled for mid-December - just in time for Christmas!

Be that as it may ... I'm hoping the 2 disc set of the 1933 film is a good transfer. It is, after all, a fairly old film (over 70 years). It's the aspect I'm most excited about.

And geez ... come on, it's King Kong!

(And let's not forget how fetching Jessica Lange was in the 1976 version - not a great movie, but she was ... well, fetching.)

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August 17, 2005

I finally see Sin City (I was bored)

Sin CityOkay ... so I just watched Sin City. My gut response? Visually spectacular. It's everything everyone says it is. As a movie? I was kinda bored after about 20 minutes when the visual thing had worn a bit thin.

My biggest problem? This kind of movie is a fantasy - and I generally love fantasy. But it's a sixteen year old boy's fantasy. Violence, sex, yada yada. I mean, the story is stupid. Everything about it is stupid - which is okay, since it's fantasy and in fantasy everything usually is kinda stupid. I'm fine with that.

But it's a kid's fantasy. I mean, women with their butts hanging out? Guys beaten to a pulp but somehow managing to come back and blow away the bad guys? ... I would have loved this when I was sixteen.

But today? It was just boring.

The biggest problem, I think, is that it's like movies from the fifties ... take The High and the Mighty, for example, or Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Those movies tried to be novels on film. Sin City tries to be a comic on film.

So there's a problem, for me, with the cinematic language - the storytelling technique. And this is not the same thing as the visual technique. As mentioned, visually it is stunning. But it is the images that are stunning, not the storytelling. The storytelling is tedious. They marshall a gazillion stereotypes and archetypes and myths, but do nothing with them.

And what's with the obsession with mutilation? Once again, a sixteen year old boy's vision of the world - his fantasty vision. I don't recall when I've seen so many decapitated heads or severed fingers.

Filmmakers like Rodriguez and Tarrantino are great stylists. But I wonder what guys like this could do if they ever grew up. Ultimately, spectacular though the look is, this is a movie for teenage wankers.

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August 16, 2005

Reluctant about this week's DVD releases

DVD cover My Left Foot - Special EditionSo two movies are out tomorrow on DVD and in both cases I want to see them but I don't want to see them. Very curious.

The one that's really being hyped is Sin City. Yes, I know I'm supposed to love it but I also know that I have a bias against these kinds of movies. That's partly due to the hype. I'd like to be able to judge it on its own merits but that's hard to do when you see something amid a swirl of hype.

And as I've mentioned before, I hated that Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow so much that it's kind of turned me against films like this. Well, at least I'm aware of my bias. But I will see Sin City so we should find out soon what I actually think about it.

The other movie I'm curious about is My Left Foot, coming out in a special edition tomorrow. Based on the subject matter, I'm not anxious to see it. Based on the reviews, I'm very keen to see it.

Well, I guess I find out what I think of both these movies tomorrow ... or, if life is not permitting, in the very near future.

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August 11, 2005

Columbo Three - what the hell happened?

DVD cover image of Columbo - Season ThreeHere's the e-mail I sent the clowns at Universal regarding Columbo - The Complete Third Season:
This set, Columbo - The Complete Third Season, is the best argument I've seen for piracy. This chintzy, 2 disc set is one of the worst sets I've come across. I purchased Seasons 1 and 2 and was happy with just the episodes - I can live without special features.

But Season 3 with its two sided discs and flimsy cardboard box ... well, it's the last Universal DVD set I'll be buying until I see Universal demonstrate some concern for the people they are selling to and some level of self-respect. There is only one word for this set's quality - crap. How corporations can complain about piracy when they put out this level of quality is beyond me.

The puzzling thing about it is that Season 2 was such good quality in terms of the packaging. Did you get drunk and lose the house in a poker game? What's the explanation for this current rubbish?
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August 7, 2005

Anticipating Sin City and The Trueman Show

DVD cover image of Sin CityThere's an interesting interview with director Robert Rodriguez over at where he talks about the Sin City DVD (among other things).

It's is due out August 16th. But, from what I understand, this is the single disc edition.

It will come in four different covers or slipcovers. This is similar to what was done with the last disc incarnation of Reservoir Dogs.

Depending on how you feel about these things you may want to wait a bit before buying the Sin City DVD. It sounds like the single edition is coming out now partly due to the problems of piracy. The definitive edition isn't quite ready, or so it seems from what Rodriguez says, "The real DVD should come out fairly quick which will be just obviously the double disc with all the goodies on it."

I also found what he had to say about theatrical releases versus DVD releases quite enlightening:

"When I was doing Sin City, you're just very aware that, OK, there's a theatrical release which is pretty much a one-shot. People go and see it in the theatres for a couple of weeks and then they kind of forget about that, and then whatever comes out later [the DVD] is the more definitive version."

I think that's a good indication of how technology and other factors have changed and are changing how we experience movies - and, clearly, how they are made.

The single disc of the movie will probably be just fine for a lot of people. Some, however,may want to wait (though they may decide to rent it). And still others will be happy to get both. I guess it depends on how you feel about the movie and douple dips.

I'm not sure which way I'll be jumping on this one. I haven't seen the movie and I don't know if I'll love it or hate it. Everything I read tells me it's a great film - at least visually. On the other hand, I'm not overly enthused with these types of movies. Partly, I suppose, because of that turkey I saw, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which I thought was utterly wretched.

DVD cover image of The Trueman Show SEOn the other hand (and on the subject of douple dips), The Trueman Show - Special Edition is due out August 23rd and I'm excited about that.

I've watched this one several times and just loved it. So a special edition with a two-part documentary ("How's it going to end") is welcome. According to the review at DVD Town, it's a worthwhile feature and the package, overall, is pretty good.

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August 6, 2005

John Wayne's The High and the Mighty

DVD cover image of The High and the MightyI really wanted to like this movie. It's an old John Wayne film, it has come out in a new special edition, restored and remastered and ... well, I was just ready to see an older movie. I was primed.

Sadly, The High and the Mighty is pretty awful.

It's a melodramatic disaster movie. But melodramatic in all the worst ways and none of the good.

To be fair to it, having been made over 50 years ago, it can be seen as a progenitor of the Hollywood disaster movies of today like, for example, Independence Day. So it was made before the formula had been tweaked and tested and nailed down.

In The High and the Mighty, you can see the formula in an embryonic stage. It takes the ensemble idea of an earlier film like a Grand Hotel (1932) - lots of characters, lots of stories interweaving - and adds a disaster scenario to it, in this case a plane in peril.

But what the movie hasn't figured out is how to take an idea like this, which probably works well enough within a novel, where there is more room to work with (a movie has time restrictions, a novel can be pretty much as long as it needs to be), and make it work for the screen.

What we end up with then is a movie that feels like endless exposition - the character introductions and back stories take up something like an hour or hour and a half, about half or two thirds of the movie. You want to yell at the screen, "For God's sake, crash the damn plane!"

Worse, with the exception of John Wayne and Claire Trevor, the characters are as interesting as cardboard, some simply being irritating twits (like the newlyweds - they should have been tossed off the plane in mid-air).

The movie really doesn't get interesting until the plane's engine knocks out and the peril is immediate, and this doesn't happen until the film is into its final lap. But by this time a viewer is pretty numb with ennui.

The bottom line is that the film has an idea - a pretty good one for the period it was made. I'm sure at the time it came out it was probably pretty exciting. But for a modern audience, it feels old - anachronistic. It lacks a sense of cinema as a form of storytelling. Rather, it uses a literary, novelistic approach - except it's done on film, rather than paper (not an uncommon problem with films of this period).

It doesn't handle its characters well. They are shallow stereotypes and their stories are told ploddingly.

The result is a movie that feels as old as it actually is - maybe older. And frankly, it's just plain dull. And that is the exact opposite of what a movie like this should be. 1 1/2 stars out of 5.

(This review is also posted on Piddleville.)

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August 5, 2005

Happy with the Thin Man

Let's be honest: this is a nothing post. But I have to say I'm extremely happy because I've finally picked up The Complete Thin Man Collection. Tonight, I watched Return of the Thin Man.

Very entertaining. A few more dollars were involved in making this movie, too - at least that's my guess based on the look of the film (that is, a few more dollars compared to the first film, The Thin Man).

The question is, why do I like The Thin Man movies so much? I think, like long running TV series (like M*A*S*H), it's the characters and the situation they're in. Who couldn't love Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy)?

Only a barbarian.

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August 4, 2005

Get ready for the uniquely distinctive Garbo

Call me exciteable. Easily exciteable. But I became very merry when I learned that Garbo - The Signature Collectionwould be available from Warners on September 6th.

Yes, I already have Grand Hotel, but (annoying as that may be) movies like Anna Christie, Mata Hari, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina, Camille and Ninotchka are included and they are why I want this set.

From what I understand, this set's release coincides with Garbo's hundredth birthday on September 18th.

Well, happy birthday!

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