Friday, September 15, 2006

an ober update

the good news: the trailer for Ober is available on-line
the bad news: it's kind of in Dutch. In fact, it's pretty much totally in Dutch.

but don't let this deter you!! It's still worth a watch, and it's available in various formats, such as:

Windows Media (Middelgroot)
Windows Media (Groot)
Quicktime (Middelgroot)
Quicktime (Groot)

or, download it from the film's official website:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

TIFF review: the fountain
dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2006

starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, & Ethan Suplee (the guy from My Name is Earl)

I really didn't think I'd be back this soon, but just as one Toronto International Film Festival screening prompted me to sing my highest praises, another was so bad that I can't resist the urge to sling a handful of poop in its general direction. If memory serves, I seem to recall rumours (a few years back) that director Darren Aronofsky was in the running to helm a live-action Batman Beyond picture. Well, that film never surfaced, but The Fountain, Aronofsky's labour of love-- the project's inception dates back to 2001/02-- marks his first release since Requiem for a Dream, some six years ago.

Requiem was released at an exciting time, when filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, and David Fincher were experimenting with (somewhat) unconventional cinematic techniques that serve to remind us that film is, primarily, a visual medium, and that even a familiar story can seem fresh when it is approached with attention to style. For a moment, it seemed as if Aronofsky would join their ranks; in retrospect, however, Requiem feels trite. The performances are strong, but the subject of drug addiction has been handled with such graphic realism in other films that, upon multiple viewings, Aronofsky's efforts start to reek of style over substance. He has a talent for aesthetics, no doubt, but his sensibility seems to be more suited to music videos than to feature films.

The Fountain only emphasizes this sentiment. It is an ugly film, but I can imagine that any band with a penchant for teenage angst might benifit from Aronofsky's style. Neil Gaiman fans will also be impressed with the kind of pseudo-mythology this director vomits up ... Strike that. I like some of Gaiman's work. Gaiman is literate in his exploitation of mythology, while Aronofsky simply repeats the names "Adam & Eve," as if his vision of creation-via-love-via-death-via-special effects is somehow deep.

In reality, The Fountain plays as an unintentional comedy. Sperm pours from a tree into Hugh Jackman's mouth, and instead of receiving everlasting life, flowers sprout from his every oraface. Good golly. And the outrageously emotional performances-- many of which take place between man and tree-- are over the top, even within this fantastical story-world. This is only a minor concern, given the fact that the story-world looks an awful lot like a sound stage.

This is a film that will have a significantly wide release ... After bemoaning the fact that Ober won't, I can't help but feel that the injustice is palpable. All I can do is to urge the Aronofsky fan-boys and fan-girls not to defend a substandard film, simply because you admire the filmmaker ... That's how we got Star Wars episodes I through III.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

TIFF review: ober ("the waiter")
dir. Alex van Warmerdam, 2006

If anyone has stopped by my little site here over the last several months, they will have noticed that I have been remiss in actually posting anything. I have been on an undeclared hiatus as I struggle to finish the schoolwork necessary for the completion of my Masters degree, and must reserve as many words as possible for the purposes of essay writing. Though it is still in its infancy, this blog has become one of my favorite tools for procrastination (second only to watching films), and when one has a readership of three, it is hard to justify one's blogging efforts as anything but frivolous. So Did I Miss Something?? was relegated to the back-burner for a little while.

Now, this post represents only a brief hiatus from my hiatus ... The 2006 Toronto International Film Festival is in full swing, and it's the most wonderful time of the year; after a summer of schlock, movies are suddenly worth raving about again. Perhaps once I've seen all ten of my selected films, I will recap the experience with a few summaries. One screening in particular, though, prompted me to take a break from real life and return to cyber-criticism in an effort to share the wealth.

Alex van Warmerdam's Ober was well received by the audience at yesterday's TIFF presentation. Spectators can be fickle at 9:45 a.m., and it is a testament to the director's talent that his film elicited a laugh-out-loud response from beginning to end. Sadly, this is a film that will never garner the mainstream spectatorship that it deserves-- When's the last time you saw a movie from the Netherlands at a theatre near you? In all fairness, I tend to be skeptical of films from the Netherlands (which are similar in style to Scandinavian cinema). I'm no philistine, but I have encountered several movies from these regions that I can only describe as "weird." Now, I won't claim that there aren't unusual elements in this film, but they are employed in the service of comedy rather than abstraction.

Warmerdam, himself, plays Edgar, a middle-aged waiter who suffers through confrontations with his belligerent customers, unruly neighbours, his chronically ill wife, and his demanding mistress. Warmerdam's dead-pan performance is so consistent that the passivity that defines his character is not compromised when Edgar visits Herman, the screen-writer who is controlling his destiny; he is simply worn out, and has come to request, not demand, that his life might be propelled in a more agreeable direction.

Herman concedes, mainly to protect his own privacy (he doesn't feel that it's appropriate to have a fictional character visit his apartment). He strikes the plot line involving the invalid wife, and grants Edgar temporary solace in the arms of another woman. But, as any screen-writer will attest, a compelling narrative requires conflict, and Edgar is not off the hook in terms of the misery he must bear. As I mentioned, some of the circumstances in which Edgar is placed are unusual-- there's an hilarious scene in which he purchases a bow-and-arrow set from an eccentric hunchback, for instance. It sounds strange, yes, but don't mistake Ober for some kind of surrealist art film; scenarios like this are outrageously funny because they are unexpected, and refreshing because most contemporary comedies are ridiculously predictable.

Another film playing at TIFF this year is Stranger than Fiction, starring Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman. It has a similar premise: the destiny of a character (whom we perceive as real) is controlled by an author who is writing fiction. I had wanted to see this movie at the festival, but tickets are issued by way of a lottery system and it was sold out before my selections were considered, so I can't assess whether or not it is as successful in its execution. I have talked to a number of people who have seen Stranger than Fiction, and their feedback has been positive. I suspect, however, that Ober is the better of the two. I say this, not because I am snobbishly pro foreign films, but because I honestly believe that mainstream audiences will respond to the "gags" in Ober with more pleasure.

I know: you're afraid of subtitles ... And, yes, subtitles take some getting used to; but it is a mistake to discount foreign films as erudite or pretentious. Alex van Warmerdam's film has the potential to satisfy a wider audience than it will ever encounter, and I would urge people to seek it out. It is a film with great depth, but it needs to be emphasized that, first and foremost, Ober works as an accessible comedy that even the most skeptical movie-lover will enjoy. So, please, don't forget this title ... It may surface at a specialty video store in your neighbourhood, and I guarantee that it will provide a satisfying night of entertainment.

(note: this commentary contains excerpts from a review I posted on