Archive for August, 2011


Review: The Owl Killers

The Owl Killers
The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a lovely read for anyone who appreciates interesting characters in a rich historical backdrop. The mystery aspect of the story is really a kind of narrative excuse for the wonderful insights into little-know history and the tale of “what if there truly had been a beguinage (as has been postulated) in medieval England?” Fascinating and beautifully written. (The alternating points of view really did not bother me at all. Guess I am used to that now that I have read so many books like that.)

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It’s been a busy month! Nevertheless, the movie report card has some entries that take a bit more explanation than usual, so here goes:

The Pleasant Surprises

Ceremony (2010) is a peculiar glimpse into some pretty screwed-up lives, yet it leaves one feeling an odd sense of lightness and hope. Michael Angarano plays Sam, a pitiably adorable romantic and failing writer of bizarre children’s stories, who crashes the wedding weekend of a woman he once spent the night with. Most of the characters are pathetic in one way or another, but they curiously grow on you. Even the self-absorbed fiancé (Lee Pace) has a patient strength barely visible under his primping bravado but evident in the moments when he takes care of his flaky Zoe (Uma Thurman). It’s one of those films that you will either love or hate—and be aware that it begins rather slowly—but if you do give it a chance, you might find some pleasant surprises too.

Much to the credit of writer/director Max Winkler (son of Henry Winkler), the characters are not wrapped up in neat little packages, and I found myself wishing this film were a book adaptation so I could read the book and find out more about each of them. I wanted to know what had happened to Marshall (Reece Thompson) and why Zoe’s brother Teddy (Jake M. Johnson) was such a mess, though she loved him so fiercely despite that. I wanted to know their thoughts and their plans. They were real.  Ceremony is not for everyone, but if you like Feeling Minnesota (1996) or Wes Anderson’s films, you may be charmed by this one. I was.

B

Suck (2009) is a rock-musical-vampire-movie, written and directed by Canadian actor/director Rob Stefaniuk. He also stars along with Jessica Paré, Paul Anthony, and Mike Lobel, as a member of the band, the Winners (tongue firmly in cheek), who are barely making ends meet with their back-alley gigs while sleeping in their transportation—a hearse. Their ineffective manager (Dave Foley) says himself that they ought to fire him. And then, along comes a vampire and changes their lives. Now they are getting really popular, and all they have to worry about is Eddie Van Helsing *cough* (Malcolm McDowell) hunting them down. The bewildering cast also includes Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, and Alex Lifeson. I also really got as kick out of the effects surrounding the band’s travels through Canada and New York.  Fun to watch!

B+

The Disappointments

The Help (2011) could have been so much better, given the talent involved, so I personally found it sad that it reminded me of another disappointing “movie of the week,” The Blind Side (also a movie that many others loved). How can I say this? I certainly will receive hate mail. Most people adore The Help. It seems unassailable, since it’s hard to say anything against a story depicting the triumph of the help’s quiet dignity over the malicious ignorance of pre-civil-rights-era bigots. *sigh*

That’s not the point—let’s look at it as a film.  It is not bad.  In fact, it’s mostly enjoyable, with wonderful performances. Leading the pack of talent are Viola Davis (as Aibileen Clark), Jessica Chastain (Celia Foote), and Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook); Emma Stone (Skeeter Phelan) is adorable and competent as always.

Where my problem lies with this film is that it’s a formulaic, gasp-a-minute tear-fest that glosses over any true character development and plays to the audience’s sense of “this is the good fight, so you must cheer,” even though the story is not even a true one.  Some of my fellow viewers pointed out, “But things LIKE this did happen. It’s based on stories from that era.” For my money, I would rather watch true reminiscences (and there are so many real stories out there) than musings that milk the sorrows and struggles of the period.

Those who had read the book also told me, “Well, the characters are better developed in the book.”  What?!  Whoever made a rule that when a film adaptation is made, the characters cannot be as rich or round as they are meant to be?  Plenty of films, including adaptations, present rich and realistic characters.  Stop using that excuse!  There is, for instance, no reason in the world that Skeeter’s mother (played by the wonderful Allison Janney, who was just wasted here) had to come off as an unintelligible psycho. Yes, I get the fact that she was both ill and bound by the mores of the day; that doesn’t mean she has multiple personalities, making her unrealistic as a character.

This film could have been so much more powerful had it been slightly more subtle and, of course, focused on character development—after all, what is more important in a film about the human spirit? As it was, the movie accomplished something that few have in the past: it made NOT want to read the book.

B-

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010) is the worst comic-adapted-to-film I’ve seen since The Mutant Chronicles. I wish people would stop making putrid flops like this; that trend should have gone out with big shoulder pads.

I’ll watch just about anything supernatural or based on comic books, but it seems the moviemakers here simply wanted to cash in on moviegoers’ current love affair with vampires, werewolves, and all things alluringly monstrous. Speaking of which, Brandon Routh, bless his heart, may be eye candy, but he can’t act his way out of a paper bag. Even one of my faves, Peter Storemare, could not shine in this mess.

The only saving grace was Sam Huntington (Fanboys) as the sidekick, playing second fiddle to Routh again, as he did in Superman Returns. Unfortunately, even his amusing delivery can’t fix the awful writing.

D

Here are a few other films I watched over the past couple of weeks:

Film Grade Comment
The Jerk

B+

“I was born a poor black child.”  Classic silliness!  Gotta love Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters.
Hearts of Darkness

A-

For those of us who love Apocalypse Now, this is a terrific look behind the scenes, from learning about Martin Sheen’s personal difficulties and on-location heart attack, to seeing a 14-year-old Larry Fishburn waxing eloquent, to following the challenging journey of Francis Ford Coppola from dream to nightmare and back.  His wife, Eleanor, filmed this documentary footage and adds interesting insights about the journey into the jungle.
The Human Centipede (2009)

C-

I finally watched this sicko horror flick after hearing so many, ahem, intriguing things about it.  It was like a bad and bloody car accident—I was repulsed but could not look away.  The ending is truly freakish, especially if one thinks about what that poor “part B” girl is going to do now.  *shiver*  Astonishing is the fact that the creepy doctor (Dieter Laser) is even more horrifying than the creature he creates! Unless you are a diehard fan of gruesome horror flicks, skip this one.

What do I know from parenting? I can’t even get my furry four-legged child to behave and have to just keep repeating  “This is why we can’t have nice things!”

What I do know if terrific writing and the most helpful advice for nearly every situation—communication. My friend Kindred Howard’s book, Cavemen in Babyland, is filled not only with sage advice but also with humor and observant anecdotes from his own family experiences.

The underlying message is about strength and open communication between mom and dad, the two-headed cornerstone of a family. It’s about remembering that mommy and daddy love each other and that “baby time” is not all they will ever know again in their lives. It’s about understanding that men and women, even those in the closest relationship possible, won’t always see eye to eye … forget the Mars and Venus thing; it’s because men are cavemen. (I see many women out there nodding their heads.)

Even someone who doesn’t have kids, doesn’t plan on having any in the foreseeable future, or had them so long ago it seems like another lifetime, will find this book entertaining and insightful to read. It’s like a two-hundred-page stand-up routine about preparing to have kids, going through the process of their arrival, and then dealing with them being in your life. But it’s a routine filled with valuable lessons from the trenches.

And Kindred has been in those trenches—he and his lovely wife, Meredith, have five (yes, five) children.

Excerpt: Undiapered babies aren’t like trained marksmen aiming to take out a carefully selected target. No, they’re more like green berets with orders to wipe out an entire enemy camp. “Poop on ’em all and let God sort ’em out!” A first-time dad is a sitting duck. It takes time to master the art of the quick diaper change. Sure, he did all right on that doll in parenting class. But that doll didn’t flail, scream, and kick the petroleum jelly out of his hand every time he tried to gift-wrap its loins.

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