Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sour Grapes (Cheri)

Ah-hoy! Spoilers Ahead.

Cheri (based on the novel by Colette) is a romance starring Michelle Pfeffier as an older woman whose place of business is her bed.

Pfeffier plays Lea, a legendary whore with a string of lovers. They've kept her living in fine style until she falls for her co-worker's son, nicknamed "Cheri".

Cheri is the son of Madame Peloux (played by Kathy Bates) a former competitor until she hung up her boots as it were.

As the son of a whore, Cheri has a certain sense of detachment when it comes to romance. He's also a bit of a strange duck, with a vampire's complexion and the hair of Edward Scissorhands.

Due to the strange casting it took me a while to decide that yes, they are in England, sometime before the First World War. You see the Butler is British, the housemaid is British...and Kathy Bates and Michelle Pfeffier's characters? Well they sound outright American, let's call them "refined".

To his credit director Stephen Frears doesn't keep us in suspense for too long regarding the romance of the snarky couple. It's barely ten minutes before Cheri says "Kiss Me" and and a boy-toy is born.

The initial romantic encounters are sensual, the screen covered in the slurps and skin of the two lovers. Soon they fall into a comfortable state of affairs, neither needing to put on airs. The arrangement last for six years until Mama Bates decides to marry her young man away.

And here we get to the crux of the story. The two lovers, both too proud to admit their feelings, each walking away from each other, each afraid to turn around. It's a familiar set up, and while we wait for the inevitable reunion what are we treated to?

Lea and Cheri, mooning over each other. One a scowl with a top hat. And the other, the tragic beauty. Cheri moves onto breaking in his wife with astounding brutality. And Lea spends her time seducing muscle boys and looking at herself in the mirror. Tracing the pale lines beneath her skin.

Now some may find it revolutionary to have Michelle Pfiffier playing a woman who is beautiful and yet over the age of 26. But there is something to be said for acting, rather than just posing and hoping your perfect frame will do the heavy lifting for you.

When Lea sits up in bed one night, crying out "Cheri!" It's laughable. When the two finally reconnect, it's predictable. The only emotion I felt was relief after 45 minutes of the inevitable. A couple meets, parts and returns. That's not a plot, it's a dance step.

Cheri is trying to pose as a tragedy, a woman who discovered her heart, only too late in life. But with the unconvincing performances and super-busy set design this movie is strangled by superficially. All the more amazing if you remember director Frears' The Queen a movie rich in subtly and moments of contemplation. (Think of the Queen staring at the proud buck in the wild.)

Sadly no royalty here, just a limp love letter to faded beauty. Pity.

Minor Movie Update, Some Catching Up

Well it's beeen a while since I last updated, and there's a number of movies I've seen, but not enough time to write about them all.

I'm not going to mention the major movies. You can catch up on those with my podcast, (Glasner on Film in iTunes) and there's quite an archive there. Instead I'd wanted to rundown some of the smaller films. (And i'm not going to hotlink everything to imdb, because if I do that we'll be here all night. Yes I'm a lazy lazy man.)

YEAR ONE - Oy. How is it Harold Ramis. He of Groundhog Day fame. He of Ghostbusters genealogy. He of the almighty SCTV coughed out this cold fish of a comedy? It's Michael Cera and Jack Black as, as well I think their names were something like Ogg and Ugh. But really it's Jack Black and Michael Cera wearing pelts. Year One is a long succession of bad biblical skits with misplaced modern jokes. It's essentially an extended SNL skit, but not the good ones. The ones they put on at 12:50 before the show ends. Yeech.

FOOD INC - A documentary about the dangers of factory farming and a bit of a wake up call about what's in the local supermarket. Done in the now familiar Michael Moore style it's a heavy-handed and slickly packaged product. The general gist of the message wont surprise anyone whose read books like The Omnivore's Dilemma. But still there are some shocking moments there, such how little a chicken farmer raising hundreds of thousands of chickens actually earns a year. Also kudos for showing how some organic producers are teaming up with the big guys like Walmart. It's rather one-sided but does that surprise you? A good place to start if the topic interests you, but I imagine you'll head to the library/bookstore to fully satisfy yourself afterward.

O'HORTEN - A train conductor retires. But what does a conductor do when the train leaves the stations without him? From Norway a comedy of manners as gentle as it is observant. The perfect tonic to the mid-summer silly season at the cinema.

SUMMER HOURS - No one make films about families eating meals together like the French. You could go see this for the voyeurism aspect alone. But then you'd miss the finely calibrated performance by Juliette Binoche, the mother in a family slowly spinning apart, wondering what's worth holding onto.

Also, as mentioned earlier, I heartily recommend Away We Go & Easy Virtue.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

America's F**king Sweetheart Lays Down the Law

Tomorrow's big review is The Proposal. In short, it's a romantic comedy done right. Formulaic? Sure, but when the actors are having fun it doesn't matter much. Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock are old pals who even go on vacation together. The connection shows on screen.
For a more dramatic example check out this fake behind-the-scenes "reynolds rage" where America's Grandma of the moment, Betty White steals the show.

Kudos to them for having such fun with their image

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fireball-Free Films (summer preview)

I know I spend a lot of time raging against the excesses of Hollywood, but a little looking ahead to the movies coming soon gave me cause to hope.
So here's a little list of some (hopefully) smart summer flicks on the way.


As I said before, this is the Sam Rockwell pic we've been waiting for. That mess called Choke? Forget about it. Never happened. This is some prime stuff coming down the pipe. Sam plays an astronaut running out the end of his three year stint on a lonely lunar base. Then strange things happen. Talking computers & mysterious clones? Sounds good to me. Directed by the freakin-son-of-David-Bowie? Fingers crossed, looks promising.

Open in Toronto on June 3rd.

Il Divo

I recently had the pleasure of seeing this amazing movie and I now understand why Variety called it a masterpiece. Honestly. This is an amazing flick, surely to be one of my top ten of the year. An ambitious tale about the life of seven-time Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. This is a pop-opera of crime and corruption, blood and ambition. It has the sizzle of Guy Ritchie at his best, but the stillness of classic mafia tale...(dare I say...Godfather?) Tony Servillo plays Andreotti. With a face like Henry Kissenger it's easy to underestimate the round man with the gentle voice. But behind the billboard-sized glasses is an equally oversized body count.
Do not miss this one.

Opens July 3rd in Toronto.

The Girlfriend Experience

One word. Soderbergh. The director with the limitless range is returning to his experimental roots with this one. A week in the life of a high-class escort as Wall Street starts to fracture. Starring actual porn star Sasha Grey as the escort in question. Is Soderbergh having his way with the audience again? Most likely. Will it be thought provoking? Surely.
And if you think Miss Grey is just a flesh peddler check this top 5 list out. Is she putting us on, or is she smarter than she seems?

Opens June 26th in Toronto and Montreal.

Away We Go

Directed by Sam Mendes this laid-back road trip seems to be hitting the hipsters in the right spot. It's a beautiful trailer but can Mendes deliver? Early reviews are lapping up The Office's John Krasinski's feature role. And it's co-written by some guy named Dave Eggers.

Opens in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal June 12th.
Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Victoria, Ottawa and Halifax June 19th.
(UPDATE: Saw it. Loved it. Smart, sweet and goofy. I can't believe the same man that directed Revolutionary Road did this film. Some touching moments, a lot of cringe-worthy moments, a couple killer lines and a great breakout performance by both leads.)

Whatever Works

A new film from Woody Allen. Say what you will but at this point you have to admire his sheer endurance. I'm not a Larry David fan, so I'm hedging my bets. But I did swoon over Vicky Cristina Barcelona so here's hoping Woody's still got it.

Opens June 26th.

And of course...then there's Transformers 2. Heh. No really folks, lots to look forward to. Enjoy.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Recovering from The Hangover

The Hangover is your raunchy comedy of the week.
From the guy who brought you Old School is a Vegas road movie gone wrong.
I'll say this, they cut a fine trailer for this film. Unfortunately when you see the full version, there's a lot of dead spots between some comic scenes. The tiger,'s all there. But the film takes a long time to find its groove. Plus the humour is, well a little to ripe for my tastes. Getting laughs with jokes about the Holocaust and swinging a baby around tend to put me off.
But... and there is a but, two of the players in this are much more interesting than the film itself. Zack Galifianakis has been described as an an alt-comic. What he is, is weird in a good way. Even a Andy Kaufman way. He's been through the crucible of stand up. He's done some TV stuff. Now he's just doing his own thing. It's not funny in a Will Ferrell pratfall way, but it is interesting. Normally I don't go for comedy that comes from an uncomfortable place, but there's a amazing sense of vulnerability with Galifianakis. Certainly someone we'll be seeing more of. Check out this long nytimes profile for starters and here's a hilarious music video he and Wil Oldham did for Kayne West.
(love the jumping tractor)
Another actor that deserves a mention is Ed Helms. You might know him from The Office. He does a nice turn here as the typical henpecked husband. It's time for some new faces in these frat boy movies, and Helms does what he can with this paper-thin part. Great suffering and energy. I hope we see more.