Tuesday, June 12, 2007

C. R. A. Z. Y.

It's Christmas 1960 in Montreal when Zachary arrives on the scene. He's the fourth son to be born to the Catholic, French-Canadian middle-class Beaulieu family. There will be one more son a few years later. Yvan will join brothers Christian, Raymond, Antoine and Zac in this CRAZY family. The father is proud, arrogant and loving in his limited way. He is obsessed with Patsy Cline, Buddy Rich and Charles Aznavour. He expects his kids to be just like him. Too bad. The Mom is kind, sensitive and absolutely convinced that Zac has been given a gift from God to heal the sick and quiet crying babies. The Tupperware lady told her so. The story centers on Zac and his search for identity. He is played as a child by Emile Vallee (Son of Jean-Marc Vallee, the film's writer and director) and as a teen and young adult, by Marc-Andre Grondin. The poor kid has problems from day one. His birth is traumatic and he is declared clinically dead.
The doctors are able to revive him, only to have Dad drop him on the floor. As a child he struggles with bed-wetting, asthma, obnoxious brothers and the fact that he likes to wear his Mom's bathrobe, fuzzy slippers and pearls. Instead of a hockey game for Christmas, he hopes for a baby carriage. He knows he's different, but he believes that if he prays hard enough his life will change. As he becomes a teenager he is rebellious and angry. He idolizes David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Lee (sorry, Dad). He finds himself helplessly attracted to his cousin's boyfriend and hates himself for it. Since praying didn't help change him, he becomes an atheist. Ironically, he heads to the Holy Land of Jerusalem on his quest for definition. Although he feels completely alienated from most of his family, he has a deep spiritual connection to his Mom. He senses that something is very wrong at home and arrives back just as the family is experiencing a tragedy. It will take a few more years before he comes to accept himself for who he really is and figure out his place in the family. This is the Canadian version of the dysfunctional, heart-breaking, loving, hilarious, faithful,
All-American, CRAZY family. (Oh yeah, did I mention that the Dad loves Patsy Cline?) From 2005, with subtitles.

You know these people.
You love these people.
You are these people.

It's great!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Blue State

"Blue State" (2007) hasn't been released yet, but I had a chance to see a screening recently. Breckin Meyer stars as John Logue, a devoted John Kerry campaign worker in the 2004 presidential election. He maintains a blog called "Donkey Revolution", drives a Volvo, doesn't eat meat and won't buy gas from a Mideast oil supplier. He is determined to make a political statement. The night before the election, he vows to move to Canada if Bush wins. Being pretty toasted at the time, he doesn't realize the local news channel has televised his threat. Kerry loses, and friends and bloggers wait for the big move. He treats it like a joke at first, but then he gets a phone call from a Canadian woman who runs a service called "Marry a Canadian". She wants to help him with the transition. Lots of pretty faces on her website seal the deal. He advertises for someone to share the ride to Winnipeg (of course he carpools) and along comes Anna Paquin as Chloe. Chloe is intentionally mysterious, complete with blue hair and nose ring and we don't understand her motivation for the trip until about a mile before the Canadian border. But along the way we meet John's parents and learn a thing or two about conflict. When they arrive in the Great White North, John and Chloe learn much about America, themselves, each other and what it really means to make a political commitment. (Hint: Google "Strawberry Statement" before you see the movie). This film is written and directed by Marshall Lewy. Anna Paquin and her brother, Andrew produce. I enjoyed the heck out of it.

It's good.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Chumscrubber

Don't let the title throw you. The "Chumscrubber" is the name of a video game that all the kids in the idealic suburban community of Hillside are obsessed with. After the not-too-distant-future annihilation of the world, the "Chumscrubber" wanders around carrying his displaced head, and considers himself to be "one of the lucky ones". He is the narrator. This is a dark, thoughtful peek at teenage angst and the torment of life in suburbia. Really. Think Edward Scissorhands, Heathers and Ben Folds "Rockin' the Suburbs". It's got a lot going on and an amazing cast, including Jamie Bell (Billy Elliott), Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, John Heard, Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix), Allison Janney, Lauren Holly, Rita Wilson, William Fichter, Rory Culkin, Justin Chatwin (The Invisible) and Lou Taylor Pucci (Thumbsucker). Jamie Bell is Dean Stiffle, a troubled teenager who finds his one and only friend and next-door neighbor Troy, hanging from the rafters. Troy was the local drug dealer and his absence is soon missed by the high school addicts who proudly sport their DARE backpacks. While Dean is trying to process the death of his friend, his father (William Fichter), author of the popular self-help book "Happy Accidents", pumps him full anti-depressants. His mother (Allison Janney) is oblivious to almost everything around her and spends her time encouraging her friends to buy "VeggiForce - an entirely new life system". Fellow students Billy, Lee and Crystal decide they want Dean to find Troy's drug stash, and kidnap his younger brother Charlie to get Dean's attention. Unfortunately they kidnap the wrong Charlie and end up with the son of the local police officer, Lou Bratley (John Heard). Meanwhile Dean's brother, Charlie (Rory Culkin), sits on the couch, playing "Chumscrubber", as usual. Although Dean can barely get himself out of bed, he now has to step up and save Charlie Bratley, since no one else seems to care that he has gone missing. Charlie's mother (played by Rita Wilson) is completely absorbed in her upcoming wedding to the mayor (Ralph Fiennes in the strangest role I've ever seen him in). Every character in this film is interesting and well-acted. Glenn Close is terrific as Troy's grieving mother. The soundtrack is worth noting - with songs by Rooney, The Like, Snow Patrol and Phantom Planet. I watched this one twice. Kudos to first-time director Arie Posin.

It's great!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Winter Passing

Written and directed by Adam Rapp, this 2006 drama is touching, but somewhat uneven. Zooey Deschanel stars as Reese Holden, a struggling New York City actress searching for love and attention, but numb to real emotion. Her father Don, (played by a nearly unrecognizable Ed Harris) is a
well-known, but reclusive novelist and professor. He hasn't published anything in years, but still has fans stopping by daily, just hoping for a glimpse of the Salinger-esque character. (Is it a coincidence that the family name is Holden? As in Caulfield? Probably not.) Her mother, also a writer, has recently committed suicide. After receiving an offer of $100,000 to sell the publishing rights to her parents' very private love letters, Reese heads back to the UP of Michigan after nearly seven years. She is looking for the box of letters, but what she finds there is a strange new surrogate family. Will Ferrell is Corbit, a sincere, but off-center former Christian rock band guitarist. He was kicked out of the band for beating up the drummer. Don Holden found him asleep on the couch one morning, and inexplicably just let him stay. A former student, Shelly (Amelia Warner), has also been taken in after some serious health issues. It's a motley crew, to be sure, but interesting to watch as they manage to care about each other with an awkward earnestness.
It's good.
(But I kept visualizing Will and Zooey dressed as elves....)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mysterious Skin

Based on a novel by Scott Heim, this 2004 drama stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a role that is a far cry from "3rd Rock From the Sun". This movie is disturbing and difficult to watch, but even harder to forget. Two eight-year old boys are sexually abused by their charismatic Little League coach (very convincingly played by Bill Sage).
Levitt's character, Neil McCormick, seems a willing victim. His mother (Elizabeth Shue), though loving, is oblivious to her son's budding homosexual tendencies and the unusual amount of time he spends with his coach. She is more concerned with her boyfriend du jour. When Neil becomes a teenager, he spends much of his time in local parks and gay hang-outs as a well-seasoned hustler. Mom never seems to notice where he gets his money. He has no illusions about his occupation and heads to New York City to join the big leagues. In no time, he is swallowed whole by the Big Apple (pun intended). The other boy, Brian Lackey (portrayed by Brady Corbet), suffers from blackouts and nosebleeds. His parents seem unconcerned about finding the cause. As Brian gets older, he stifles the memories of abuse and convinces himself that as a child he was abducted by aliens. It is not until he seeks out Neil that the truth becomes clear.
This is a very well-acted and straightforward film.

It's good.

Broken Wings

Last night I watched "Broken Wings" , a 2004 Israeli film (with subtitles). It was a low-budget, realistic look at a normal family dealing with the unexpected death of the father. The mom, Dafna, is depressed, exhausted and barely coping with four kids and a stressful job as a midwife. She struggles with the decision to enter the dating world, but can't let go of her husband's memory. The 17-year-old daughter Maya, is trying to establish herself as a singer-songwriter, but is constantly pulled away by family crises. Maya's twin brother Yair, mopes around in a mouse costume, handing out flyers on the subway. He has issues. The two younger kids vie for Mom's attention and it is ultimately another tragedy that pulls the family together. I would definitely recommend this film, especially to all of the single Moms who know how tough it is to just get through a day.

It's good.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Netflix and Microwave Popcorn

One of the best gifts I've ever received was a subscription to Netflix. It's given me the chance to catch up on some great movies that I missed when they were in the theater. In the past few months, in the comfort of my own living room, I've watched:

Rodger Dodger
The Tao of Steve
13 Conversations About One Thing
The Straight Story
Beautiful Girls
Happy Endings
A Prairie Home Companion
The Aristocrats
The Science of Sleep
Zero Effect
Clay Pigeons
Good Bye, Lenin!
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Mysterious Skin
Broken Wings

In the coming weeks I'll share my unsolicited thoughts, opinions and comments about these and other movies.
My rating system is simple:

It's great!
It's good.
It's just OK.
It's a snooze.

Maybe I can give you some good suggestions or save you an hour and a half of wasted time. I'd appreciate your suggestions as well.