The Truth is Seriously Out There

It's so freaky -- 'Communion' is on every channel!It’s the battle of the freaks this week, with your local megaplex is flooded with fact-based aliens*, psychic soldiers, spastic Scrooges, and the terror of the scary button. Shall we leap right in?

“The Box”: Richard Kelly expands Richard Matheson’s short story “Button, Button” into an epic study of temptation, manipulation and creepy stares. It doesn’t work, but it doesn’t work in a really interesting way. My NOW review should be online later today.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol“: In which Robert Zemeckis admirably retains much of Dickens’ dialogue, and not so admirably turns everything around it into a theme-park ride. And that motion-capture technology? It’s still not quite there.

The Fourth Kind“: Olatunde Osunsanmi’s alien-abduction thriller — in which Milla Jovovich plays a therapist who uncovers otherworldly goings-on in Nome, Alaska — insists it’s based on factual studies and evidence. It’s not, but it got your attention, right?

Gentlemen Broncos“: A deeply repressed kid (Michael Angarano) writes a ridiculous sci-fi novel, which is immediately stolen by his pompous idol (Jemaine Clement). That doesn’t sound like the hardest sell of Jared Hess’ career, but throw in the projectile vomiting, the Battle Stags, the general unpleasantness of the film’s universe and Mike White in wrestler hair, and there you go.

“Inside Hana’s Suitcase”: I feel like a heel for not liking Larry Weinstein’s adaptation of Karen Levine’s children’s book about the Holocaust, but it’s an awfully patronizing work, undermining its powerful true story with mawkish re-enactments and a manipulative musical score. Best viewed as a teaching tool for middle-schoolers, rather than a documentary for adults; Susan had similar reservations, but she was nicer about it.

The Men Who Stare at Goats“: Grant Heslov’s adaptation of Jon Ronson’s fne book about the U.S. Army’s attempts to develop a force of psychic warriors is a lot of fun for its first hour, as George Clooney and Ewan McGregor goof around in the Middle Eastern desert. But then it tries to get serious, and that’s just wrong.

“When We Were Boys”: Both Susan and I have far fewer reservations about Sarah Goodman’s documentary, which takes DV cameras into a Toronto boys’ school and tracks the development of the student body over a couple of years.

And that’s everything. Which is good, because there’s plenty of other stuff ahead of me today and I should really get on it …

* aliens not actually fact-based.

4 thoughts on “The Truth is Seriously Out There”

  1. Is that 5 N rating for The Fourth Kind correct?

    Discussing this one with the S.O. last night, we came to conclusion the best we could hope for would be a slap ass mess of a movie with some good bits. Maybe it hits the high 60s on Metacritic if enough critics champion it. Does not appear to be the case.

  2. @ Dom — why, thanks! And, of course: Mmm, bacon.

    @ Nathan — that’s just a two-N rating; the other three should be grayed out to establish the scale. It looks right on my browser, anyway. Under no circumstances should you bother seeing “The Fourth Kind” until it comes to DVD, and maybe even not then; it falls sadly short on the “good bits” delivery.

  3. Come on now, Norm (May I call you Norm? We’re all on a first name basis here, no?) You ought not to feel like a “heel for not liking” Inside Hana’s Suitcase merely because it’s about a little girl being murdered by the world’s worst-ever genocidal maniacs and the extraordinary confluence of events that resurrected her story. It would be possible to make an ugly or dumb film on that subject (though, in fact, my friend Larry Weinstein has made one that is beautiful and wise).

    On the other hand, you really do deserve to feel like a heel — and a moron too — for your shallow, snotty, uninformed and (most egregiously) non-critical smears of complex works of art. Surely you learned as an undergraduate (I’m assuming, Norm, that you did have some post-secondary…) that your likes and dislikes are of no interest to anyone other than yourself. The function of criticism is to provide a considered analysis built upon historical and aesthetic context, evidence-based logic, a consistent rhetorical approach and that kind of (admittedly “egg-heady”) stuff. Whereas what you are up to is more like smart-assism; based not in any developed theory but in the Thesaurus from which you pull the adjectives to spice your extended insults.

    Why is Inside Hana’s Suitcase “patronizing”? To whom does the film “talk down”? Certainly not the audience, which is expected to participate in piecing together its wrenching, yet strangely uplifting, narrative. Why do you label the tasteful and touching reenactments “mawkish”? Does it seem overly sentimental to you to juxtapose the simple and deep pleasures of familial love with the brutal winds of fascist history that gain their power specifically from its annihilation? And whatever do you mean to say by calling the score “manipulative”; beyond, that is, stating the obvious, since the entire and only point of music in cinema is to manipulate viewers’ emotions?

    You see, Norm, these are not analytical terms, they are just descriptive words which have neither meaning nor power unless they are a part of a larger “thought”. Though I suppose they do add up to a rhetorical approach, which is to function as a drum roll for your concluding (and, apparently, pro forma) put-down that the film is only fit for middle-schoolers. (I know some bright middle-schoolers who would take exception with your use of their tribe as code for “immature” and, moreover, you’re just the kind of consumer-level reviewer who habitually heaps adult-worthy praise on Hollywood confections that are intended for middle-schoolers…. but let’s leave all that aside for the moment…)

    It’s already breathtakingly arrogant of you to presume to pass judgment in two sentences on a work that has taken hundreds of people years to collaboratively create. The least that you could do is take the trouble to make them two thoughtful sentences.

    Not that you are especially unique, particularly in this market. There seem to be few Toronto critics – I can only think of two — who have the cinematic knowledge and critical chops to be able to intelligently assess documentaries. Moreover you seem to be burdened with the sort of provincial embarrassment that makes you assume that most things home-grown are crap. You are not alone in this either. I see that you are an admirer of Wings Of Desire, as am I. Shortly after that film premiered, I had a conversation with a German television executive who was appalled by it; ashamed on behalf of his entire country by the film’s unabashed poetics. So you see, Norm, where one man sees genius another beholds mawkishness or middle-schoolers or whatever. But neither opinion, in the absence of intellectual rigor, amounts to criticism.

    Flaubert had a nice assessment of reviewers such a yourself: he said that you are to artists as seagulls are to fishermen. Though, on second thought, you lack the pure motive of a gull. Really, your “writing” is to a film as a graffiti tag is to a sky scraper: an ironic sign of your own insignificance.

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