Archive for the ‘Harry Connick Jr.’ Category

MOVIE: Passchendaele (2008)

November 25, 2009

As with Harry Connick Jr. from yesterday’s review of New in Town, it probably goes without saying that I’m an absolutely ridiculous fan of Paul Gross.   Due South to start with, of course, and then Slings & Arrows to do me in completely.  And even though I couldn’t get into Eastwick this season on TV, it wasn’t because of him.  I love this man.  I love him.  I love him.  I love him.  If he asked me to get down on my knees and kiss his feet, I would do it and love it and only feel the tiniest bit like a schmuck later.

And that’s why, when I heard he’d made a WWI movie that had been released in Canada to fairly respectable reviews, I couldn’t wait to see it.  I tried to wait, I failed.  They kept not releasing it here in the U.S. and I kept wanting them to and they kept not, so I finally caved and made an end-run around the problem.  I will make it up to the problem just as soon as the problem lets me, though, I swear.

Now let me tell you how absolutely gut-wrenching it’s going to be for me to write the rest of this review.  Because, oh GOD, my gut is wrenched that I have to do this.  Monkey wrenched, in fact.  Socket wrenched.  Because this film, which was written, directed, and stars Paul Gross, is pretty unbearably awful.   And you know what the problem is?  The problem is, it’s just exactly as self-indulgent as a film written, directed, and starring the same guy sounds like it would be.  Goddamn it.  Ow, my guts, I hate you.

Let me ‘splain.

As the story opens, Gross’s character (Michael Dunne), is in Europe fighting in a battle in which he finds himself face-to-face with a German soldier who couldn’t possibly be older than about 17.  Despite the fact the kid had surrendered, Dunne makes the decision to kill him, and before he even has a chance to process that, he’s blown up by a grenade.

He wakes up back in Canada in a hospital where he’s being tended to by a pretty nurse named Sarah Mann (the wonderful Caroline Dhavernas, who some of you might recognize from the series Wonderfalls).  Of course, he falls in love with her, and she with him.  After he’s recovered, he takes a job in town as a recruiter, ostensibly because he’s a hero, but everybody knows it’s actually because of a diagnosis of shell-shock — something they all translate internally as “cowardice.”

Long story short, Sarah’s younger brother, who has terrible asthma, decides he wants to enlist and go fight, and he gets someone to forge his paperwork for him so he can head off to war.  Madly in love with his sister, Michael feels he has no choice but to follow her brother back into battle so he can protect him.  And, of course, madly in love with Michael and terrified for her brother, Sarah feels she has no choice but to join the two of them as a nurse on the battlefront.  So, the next thing we know, we’re all of us back in Europe with stuff exploding over our heads and a whole heck of a lot of misery and awfulness.

Now, quick — the things this movie does well:

I liked that so much of the movie was set in Canada instead of in battle, focusing more on some of the emotional complexities the war had both on returning soldiers and the men who were not allowed to fight in the first place.  I knew the movie was going to have to move back to the actual war at some point (because the title refers to the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium in 1917, which you can read more about here), but I enjoyed the way this movie gives us a little time to get some insight on the many emotional elements of war for men, as well as, to a lesser degree, the politics of recruitment.

I also really liked the actual battle scenes themselves — in Passchendaele, Michael and his platoon find themselves forced to dig into trenches, as was typical during WWI.  Only, it had been pouring down rain for months and their trenches end up being more like swampy swimming pools than holes.  Shots of these men and boys literally waist-deep in mud brought home the horror of trench warfare in a way no other movie I’ve seen about that really has.  My god.  No wonder so many WWI soldiers died of diseases instead of bullets.  I can’t even imagine what that must have been like.  I get cranky when it rains here in Seattle and I’ve forgotten my umbrella.  At least I can still keep my socks (and matches) dry.

But now, and I hate this part, I really do, but here’s what this movie does really, really badly:  ALMOST EVERYTHING ELSE.

Put simply, the number one flaw of this movie is that it just tries WAY too hard.  Gross obviously feels extremely passionate and proud about Canada’s involvement in WWI, and he’s also obviously seen just about every brilliant war movie ever made.  He knows that brilliant, powerful war stories involve things like imagery, motivational speeches, love that may or may not be totally doomed, and the shock of the violence the Everyman is forced to take part in just to survive.

But in trying to incorporate every one of those elements into his own film, he just couldn’t pull it off.  He didn’t seem to understand what makes each of those elements truly powerful — the emotions behind them, the meaning behind them.  His imagery, for example, focused heavily on the concept of martyrdom (Jesus on the cross, especially) and birds, especially birds of prey.  But there wasn’t any actual MEANING to those images.  The martyrs were not martyrs.  And the  birds — the birds made no real sense at all.  It was like he thought “imagery” simply means repetition of a visual.  But the visuals have to be representative of something; they can’t just hang out and be all, hey, it’s me again, hi.  Know what I mean?

And the speeches, oh man.  They were just painfully vacuous, I’m sorry, Paul.  Delivered with such poignant tone, and yet without any actual power whatsoever.    I’m not even going to talk about the total lack of chemistry between Gross and Dhavernas, either.  It just crushed me.  It seriously did.  It was that painful to watch.  If only he’d cast me instead.  Seriously.  That would’ve been some third-year P-Chem, let me tell you.

In any case, are just SO many things about this movie that do not work.  It struck me as disastrously amateurish and was ultimately completely without impact.  There were some good ideas in there, but Gross needed to pass his script along to a pro when he was done with it and get some better thinkers involved.  As it stands, it seemed like the kind of script I would’ve written in high school, when I tried to make all my writing sound “deep,” without any real comprehension of what “deep” truly was.

Lordy.  This is what I get for pirating a video.  And now I have to buy it when it comes out just to assuage my guilt.  Damn.  I am so not thankful for that.  (But hey, to all my American readers:  Happy Thanksgiving!)

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  War, Drama
Cast:  Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas, Adam Harrington, Joe Dinicol, Michael Greyeyes

MOVIE: New in Town (2009)

November 24, 2009

newintownIt’s obviously no big secret that I have  a serious weakness for Harry Connick Jr. So, when Mom and I were scoping out vids for our pile the other weekend and stumbled across this one — added bonus of being set somewhere snowy, which we love — there was really no resisting it.  Yes, I knew it was a romantic comedy.  Yes, I don’t typically go for those (unless they also involve zombies, of course).  But when you get a good one, they can be really fun.  And you know what?  This one is a good one.

The story is your fairly traditional “fish out of water” type thing — it reminded me a lot, actually, of another favorite of mine, Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard’s Baby Boom.  In New in Town, Renee Zellwegger plays Miami businesswoman Lucy Hill, who, as the film opens, is living up her fast-paced lifestyle with a jog in the warm Florida morning before work.  She then changes into a sexy skirt-suit with serious high heels and heads into work, where she’s promptly told the company is sending her to Minnesota — in the dead of winter — to oversee the downsizing of the corporation’s food processing plant in the tiny town of New Ulm.

Armed with eight suitcases of completely inappropriate clothing, Lucy gets off the plane in New Ulm to discover a whole new, thoroughly frozen world.  There’s a great shot here, actually, set at the baggage claim in the airport, where the camera pans down to focus on everyone’s feet — boots, boots, boots, boots, what the HELL are you thinkin’, lady?!

New Ulm is different in other ways, too.  Her new secretary, Blanche Gunderson (the always awesome Siobhan Fallon) is a frumpily-dressed, scrapbook-loving, tapioca maniac.  The plant manager, Stu Kopenhafer (the also always awesome J. K. Simmons) keeps doing things to exploit her city-girl naiveté (closing the plant for the fictitious “Gopher Day,” e.g.).  And then there’s the head of the union — truck-driving, beer-guzzling, unshaven, plaid-wearing Ted Mitchell.  Only Ted — well, Ted is played by Harry Connick Jr.  ‘Nuff said.

The story follows the standard trajectory for these sorts of films and there’s nothing all that original about it.  But what makes this one stand out is that it is truly, authentically charming and funny.  Zellwegger is great in this sort of role — think the opposite of Bridget Jones but played with the same sense of humor — and Harry Connick Jr., SAY NO MORE.

Mom and I both really enjoyed this one and I think any fan of the genre or any of the actors will love it too.  Recommended, and a great one if you’re looking for something to watch with family of all ages over the holidays!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Cast:  Harry Connick Jr., Renee Zellweger, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Siobhan Fallon