The Dear “Departed”

He makes the best f**king films!

He makes the best f**king films!

If I ever meet him, I’m gonna grab his f**king neck and just shake him and say:

“Thank you. Thank you for making such excellent f**king movies!”

– King Missile, “Martin Scorsese”

It’s been a long, long time since a Scorsese movie has made me feel like spinning up that song … but “The Departed” is a welcome return home.

Now, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Jim Emerson would probably take issue with that — actually, there’s no “probably” to it; he goes after the “Marty’s back where he belongs” sentiment in the very first graph of this post on his Scanners blog — but for me, the glory of “The Departed” wasn’t that Scorsese was back in gangland … it was that Scorsese has stopped trying to win an Oscar.

I mean, we must be honest. Most of his choices in the last decade have been a little … well, craven. “The Age of Innocence”, “Kundun”, “The Aviator” — they’re all respectable projects that feel like someone else directed them.

“Bringing Out the Dead” and “Gangs of New York” have a jangled energy and a sense of purpose that makes them more immediately identifiable as Scorsese pictures, but they fall short of actually working.

“Cape Fear” and “Casino” are decent genre exercises with a couple of bravura set pieces apiece, but they’re just exercises … and it probably doesn’t help that both films are remakes. (Apologies to Nick Pileggi, but “Casino” is just “GoodFellas Go to Vegas”, and everybody knows it.)

“The Departed” is a remake, too, but Scorsese doesn’t let it feel like one this time around; he tackles the material head-on, without a hint of artifice or posturing, and with none of the affected, this-is-art-here pretense you could feel underneath all those self-important tracking shots in his previous pictures.

From beginning to end, it’s its own thing, with William Monahan’s screenplay taking the bones of the exquisite Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs” and rebuilding them into a shape that’s somehow burlier and meaner than the original, while staying just as light on its narrative feet.

And the director? He’s not worrying about which clip they’ll use at the Oscar ceremonies, or how the “For Your Consideration” ads will look. He’s actually excited about the movie he’s making. God bless him.

Just in case you’d lost your faith in the moviegoers of North America, the movie won the weekend, beating that pointless “Texas Chainsaw” prequel by almost eight million dollars — a feat that’s even more impressive when one considers that the “Chainsaw” prequel is over an hour shorter than “The Departed”, and can be shown more often in a day.

Also, there’s the small matter of it sucking. But we’ll get to that later in the week.

O Blogger

Sorry for the long silence; it appears Blogger and my webhost are no longer on speaking terms, so I’ve been unable to publish to the blog for the past week and a half.

In fact, the odds are slim that you’ll be able to see this post … but I’m hoping it can sneak around whatever issues are crippling my FTP servers.

Bear with me while I try to figure out a workaround. Anybody know any good blogging alternatives?

Version 2.0

So Blogger and my webhost aren’t speaking to one another, which explains the radio silence here over the past week and a half.

It’s not that I don’t love you all, it’s just that I haven’t been able to successfully publish a new blog post.

Frickin’ Blogger.

Anyway, I’m back now, and once I get the hang of WordPress I should even be able to restore the previous blog posts. It’ll be like nothing ever happened.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Bear with me, okay?

Can You Hear Me Now?

I’ve been trying to update this blog since Thursday morning, with no luck — Blogger’s been giving me a “Broken Pipe” error every time I try to post.

The error isn’t new to me — there was a period during TIFF when it was all I saw between the hours of 9 AM and 2:30 PM EDT — but I’ve never received it so consistently.

I mean, I’ve been home all weekend, compulsively flipping my laptop open and hitting the “Publish” button; and after a few minutes’ useless cycling at 0%, Blogger returns the broken-pipe error.

(How long has this been going on? I wrote the above Monday, October 2nd. It’s now Saturday the 7th.)

At least I got the PVR working.

The Ticking Clock

Apocalypse Savings Time
Amazing. Even without my Starweek gig, Wednesday is still the busiest writing day of the week — I’ve got five reviews to file for Friday’s Metro and four DVDs to write up for Zap2it, which would make for several solid hours of work even without screenings at 10 am and 7 pm.

Back tomorrow …

You Wanted DVD News?

How about this?

I won’t try to deny that “Blade Runner” has had an inestimable impact on tech culture, but I find it crushingly dull as a movie. It’s beautiful, sure, but the narrative is patchy and repetitive … and there’s not nearly enough of Rutger Hauer’s energy to balance the droning performances of Harrison Ford and Sean Young. (I know the actors’ monotones are intentional, but it still means the characters end up being very dull.)

I’m still looking forward to the new editions, because Ridley Scott is turning out to be a fairly successful post-facto filmmaker; the expanded “Alien” didn’t do any real harm to that film, unless you’re one of those nerds who argues that the restoration of the cocoon sequence renders invalid James Cameron’s explanation of the xenomorph life cycle in “Aliens”, and I found the recent restoration/expansion of “Kingdom of Heaven” a substantial improvement over the choppy, uninvolving theatrical cut.

So letting him go back to “Blade Runner”, which he’s been trying to do for a decade or so anyway, and a movie about which I’m ambivalent at best, seems like a good idea. It’s his movie, anyway.

It isn’t something I dread on the scale of the next wave of “Star Wars” revisions. And speaking of “Star Wars” and revisionism, don’t even get me started on Lucasfilm using 1993 laserdisc masters for September’s original-trilogy DVDs instead of locating a viable print source — that’s just pudu of the highest order. Imagine the geek cred in being the guy who gives up his prized collection of interpositives, and gives the movies back to the fans in all their pristine, unaltered glory …

… I mean, surely that’d be worth a message on the Jedi listserver, right?

Good? Bad? Can’t Really Say …

Hurrah! 'Hudson Hawk' is still funny!
Mary-Margaret, a friend in meatspace as well as on the internets, writes to ask how the Swaziland movie was, and opens a modest can of worms.

The Swaziland movie — which, if you didn’t click the link, is “Wah-Wah”, the directorial debut of the actor Richard E. Grant — doesn’t open until Friday. And I’m reluctant to discuss any movie in detail before it opens … not because I’ve signed some devil’s pact with the studios, but because the detail comes when my review runs, and the review runs on opening day.

This can be awkward. I don’t want to get into those blind-item games where I start a post with something like “I’ve just seen the YEAR’S WORST MOVIE” and let all y’all wonder what the hell I’m talking about. (Besides, with any luck the year’s worst movie is already behind us .)

On the other hand, “Wah-Wah” has been fair game for months now, having played the Toronto film festival last fall and opened in regular release around the world. Does that mean there’s an exemption for festival films? Should there be a conditional pass if a movie’s already been released on DVD elsewhere in the world?

I have a feeling that part of the problem, at least as it applies to “Wah-Wah”, is that I don’t feel particularly passionate about the movie. Don’t take that for anything more than it is; with apologies to Theodore Sturgeon, the horrible truth of art criticism is that five percent of anything produced for any medium will be great, five percent will be crap, and the remaining ninety percent will be, well, neither great nor crap.

I guess I’ll elaborate further in Friday’s review.


I am for sale!
Isn’t it always the way?

Toronto’s public-transit workers walked off the job on what looks to be the hottest day of the year, plunging the city into gridlock and generally screwing up everyone’s day.

(Breaking news: The strike’s been resolved, and by this evening it’ll be like the work stoppage had never happened, except for all the glaring passengers filing past the bus and streetcar drivers.)

Sure, it was kind of fun to walk straight through Queen’s Park Circle on my way to the Varsity this morning without breaking stride — just a matter of weaving around several dozen gridlocked cars — but really, a nice air-conditioned subway car would have been preferable. One is not supposed to show up for a morning screening in a dripping sweat. It’s unprofessional.

On the upside, though, the movie was set in in Swaziland, so at least I was suitably acclimatized to the atmosphere by the time the film rolled.

One McKellen to Rule Them All

And still no Oscar.
Funny thing: Over the last week or so, I’ve done a number of TV news hits to discuss the “amazing success” of The DaVinci Code, and been asked more than once whether its awesome” $77 North American opening demonstrates is indicative of the public’s rejection of the harsh critical response.

I’ve long argued that box-office success is no indication of a movie’s subjective quality — the backlash for The Blair Witch Project nicely illustrates the radical disconnect beween tickets sold and audience enjoyment, while the numbers for any Michael Bay project before The Island demonstrate the disconnect between bums in seats and aesthetic accomplishment.

Turns out none of that matters. It’s all about this guy.

DaVinci opens to $77 million. The X-Men threequel kicks its underdeveloped ass. And just you watch: Tomorrow, Brian Grazer starts telling anybody who’ll listen that people flocked to X3 because his movie gave them a taste for Ian McKellen as a duplicitous, calculating mastermind.

My Mutant Power is Caring About the Script

New wig, same monotonous performance

The downside to reviewing movies for Metro is that I only get about 300 words per piece — enough to discuss a couple of performances, address a key metaphor, if there is one, and maybe hint at the plot. The idea of placing a film in its proper context, well, that’s kind of a pipe dream.

For example: I’m working on my X-Men: The Final Stand review, and it occurs to me that the mutant superhero franchise is a perfect mirror of the original Star Wars trilogy. The first movie had a certain ragged quality, but it was energetic and impressive; then, the incredible sequel took the series to a whole new level of dramatic resonance and emotional impact. And the third film … well, the third film recycles a lot of elements from the previous pictures (a political standoff here, an exploited young mutant there, a climactic confrontation on an American landmark), while the new stuff seems sort of slapped in and illogical — the product of someone’s marketing instincts, rather than an organic evolution of the script.

Because we’re fond of the characters, we put up with a lot of it; the spin I’ve been hearing, and to which I myself have probably contributed, is “wow, it’s a Brett Ratner movie that doesn’t suck.” And it’s certainly true that Ratner doesn’t crap all over the world so lovingly established by Bryan Singer in the first two films. But he doesn’t honor the logic of the movies, either, slapping in stuff from the comics that actively works against the characters as they’ve been defined in the previous films. (Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier may be a lot of things, but he’s never been short-tempered; when he snapped at someone early in the picture, I started wondering whether he’d been impersonated by Mystique.)

The sudden alterations of key character traits — mainly so we can get Jean Grey to hook up with Magneto’s evil Brotherhood, and stand around looking all veiny in the final reels — brings to mind Lucas’ desperate rewriting of the Skywalker family tree in Jedi: “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view.” Suddenly, Obi-Wan goes from a kindly mentor into an equivocating dick, telling Luke that the truth about his heritage comes down to what the meaning of “your father he is” is. It’s not as stupid as making the Force a blood disorder, but still. It just says Lucas doesn’t care about the emotional stuff; he just wants to get the talking stuff out of the way so we can move on to the next big special effect.

Ratner’s the same. I think Singer would have forced a couple of additional script drafts, or worked with the actors to shape the performances into something that felt more consistent, and worked to support the big action scenes, rather than push against them. The great thing about Singer’s X-films is that the dialogue and character development has always felt more important than the action scenes; the conversations in X-Men: The Final Stand had me feeling that Ratner was sitting behind the camera, knee bouncing restlessly, until he could call cut.

My other other gig.