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Young People Fucking Reviewed

Posted by film On August - 1 - 2008

Young People Fucking
Directed by Martin Gero
Maple Pictures, 2008

By Madeleine Sims-Fewer

With its racy subject matter and a title few would be prepared to say out loud, Young People Fucking was bound to attract attention from all angles. Being a Canadian movie just adds to the allure. A quirky, biting comedy, Young People Fucking follows five typical pairings through their atypical sexual encounters one fateful night. The film revs into action immediately, lubricated with slick dialogue and snappy editing, pulling you into the fray in the first minute. We are introduced to The Friends, who are looking to escape their past failed relationships in a night of drunken sex — with each other.

Then there’s The Couple, who are easily sidetracked and seem like they may never get around to doing the deed; The Exes, who provide the softer, subtler notes of the film in their night of reminiscence; The First Date, between a player and a seemingly innocent co-worker; and The Roommates, who share an unlikely ménage-a-trois (sort of). The film guides the audience through the different stages of sex, including foreplay, the midpoint, and post-coital pillow talk. Never did I realize that sex involved so much talking. I don’t just mean the occasional instructions: these couples have fully fledged conversations during sex. It is not unrealistic however, and proves to be one of the film’s few triumphs. The steady stream of dialogue keeps the audience from noticing the potholes. Coupled with the agile editing, YPF rarely loses your attention.

The film suffers a little in the first half from a few poor performances, most notably from the Friends, who punctuate each line delivery with a flailing hand gesture, and the Exes, who act as if they are reading auto cues. But the acting is solid overall, with sensitive turns from Kristin Booth and Josh Dean (who resembles a young Steve Buscemi).

The biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t quite live up to its title. The actual sex is dry, uninspired, and void of any of the poignancy that made films such as Shortbus and Sleeping Dogs Lie so groundbreaking. Every couple is heterosexual, and since when did “young people” translate to “incredibly gorgeous thin people”? Not one of the characters is ugly, pudgy, or has birth marks in weird places, and all of the women have sex with full make-up on. This detracts somewhat from the intended reality of the film, even though they are all very nice to look at.

The most laughs are garnered by the Roommates, who are definitely the strangest (cookie dough anyone?), though surprisingly also the most human of the lot. Some of their dialogue is truly hilarious, and there is one moment involving a hand and a derrière that is worth waiting for.

Though I enjoyed it at the time, and laughed at how silly people can be when it comes to bedroom antics, looking back Young People Fucking was a little hollow: all fuss and no finish.

The Happening Reviewed

Posted by film On July - 11 - 2008

The Happening
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Spyglass Entertainment, 2008
By Madeleine Sims-Fewer

The trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s newest thriller was pleasantly intriguing. With haunting imagery and a strong cast, what could go wrong? I had also heard that this latest venture was free of any groan-inducing twists that you saw coming an hour before Shyamalan intended. Could this be the film that lends mortar to a crumbling career? Sadly not.

After seeing the film in it’s entirety, I would hazard a guess that writer/director/producer Shyamalan wrote a rough draft, intending to hire researchers, story editors, and all the people that could bring it up to the standard that a million dollar movie should rise to. But then he got a strong case of Lay-zee, figured he could do his own research, on the web, and you know, what’s really the point of a casting director anyhow? Since M. Night was also the producer, there was no one to stop him. So we arrived at The Happening, whose title is incredibly fitting if, like me, you are a fan of irony.

The opening scene is more hilarious than haunting: Central Park comes to a standstill and a young college student stabs herself with her own hairpin, forcing her friend to react with what could only be described as boredom. And so begins a film in which the actors seem to have less of a clue as to what they are reacting to than the audience does. As chaos ensues, we focus on the few central characters who will be followed throughout the film. Mark Wahlberg plays science teacher Elliot Moore, who never uses his knowledge to any effect throughout the film, which prompts me to believe that he could have been a garbage man without changing the script much. As soon as the words ‘terrorist attack’ are uttered, he leaves the city with his scattered, troubled wife (Zooey Deschanel), a fellow teacher (John Leguizamo), and his daughter.

After the rambling plot hints at an affair between Elliot’s wife and a coworker, and bumps blindly around for a while, we arrive at the cause of the attacks. The plants on earth are releasing a poison that induces a suicidal state in any human who breaths it in [Editor's note: normally I would consider this a spoiler, but I loathe Shyamalan enough to let it slide]. Why plants wouldn’t simply release a poison that kills humans directly is beyond me, but it does make for some very funny shots of people starting lawn mowers and lying in front of them, or tempting lions with their limbs.

The fact that the wind is the main villain in this film was decidedly problematic and not in the least bit scary. Coupled with close-ups of Wahlberg and Deschanel in which they seem to be searching for some scrap of direction rather than a place to hide, this film was hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Wahlberg and Deschanel, who are best when in comedic roles, suffer hugely from the lacklustre script, and resort to making wide-eyed, nostril-flaring stares.

The script, which is stunted from lack of research, becomes preposterous in its placement of plot devices, intended to forward the action (such as a conveniently-placed radio they just happen to find in a field), and its poor excuse for a subplot in the love scenes between the two protagonists, which are distracting at best, and for the most part utterly hokey.

Nonsensical parallels are drawn between the human deaths and the bee crisis, and everything is sloppily summed up as ‘something we will never truly understand’. Something I will never truly understand is how M. Night Shyamalan still has a job.

Sex and the City Reviewed

Posted by film On June - 17 - 2008

\Sex and the City
Directed by Michael Patrick King
2008, New Line Cinema

By Madeleine Sims-Fewer

Sitting in the packed cinema, inhaling estrogen fumes from all sides, I felt a little out of place. Yes, I am a woman, and yes, I have seen every episode of Sex and the City (though as a self-proclaimed feminist I pretend otherwise). I had no giggly gaggle of friends to share the experience with, only my notepad and a box of vegetarian dumplings, which I closed tight after one woman felt the need to shout, “Eew, what’s that smell?” (I’d like to point out that she was chomping on a cholesterol castle of a burger.) Travelling in packs must be what makes the film enjoyable, because if it weren’t for the rows of pointy heels I would have had to negotiate past on my way to the door, I would have walked out.

From the opening credits, Sex and the City is a fluffy, consumer product that cannot stand out as its own movie. The theme song shimmers through the speakers, prompting applause from the audience, but it is the revamped, Fergie-styled song that takes over, with her signature bark and tacky lyrics that make the film reminiscent of an episode of The Hills. Carrie’s voice-over sums up the series in a few quips, bringing us up to date and making it clear that this is a film for fans only. It doesn’t have two legs to stand on, let alone a pair of Manolos to walk in.

Then we get down to business, back in the lives of our four protagonists four years after the show gave them the happy endings we should have accepted and moved on from. Carrie’s relationship with Big still has an air of the high school about it, Charlotte is annoyingly happy with her cute daughter and perfect sex life, Miranda is cranky with a husband who, quite frankly, you can hardly blame for cheating on her, and Samantha…well, she just wants to have sex.

The film plods along, dragging its heels through mundane writing and a plot that misses the point of the show. There is no structure, no stakes or character progression, nothing to pull you in, unless you are already a fan of the series. For dramatic effect, it should have started with the wedding of Carrie and Big, but for some reason it starts pretty much where the show left off, but with a time lapse where not much seems to have happened. When big dramatic scenes are set up, like Miranda finding out that Steve has cheated, the writers avoid all the juicy dramatic details that the audience wants to see and conveniently skip to the aftermath. This happens several times, and it feels like an episode that has been chopped up and scaled down for daytime television.

The actors aren’t given much to work with, yet happily some of them do quite well. Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon give solid performances displaying depth and range. However, the fact that this was written, filmed, and acted like a TV show is patently obvious, especially in the more emotional scenes, where what should have been sensitive close ups reveal hammy facial expressions that you can let go in your living room, but in the cinema just make you squirm. Jennifer Hudson as Carrie’s assistant is utterly superfluous, turning in an embarrassingly earnest performance and saying lines like “my very own Louis Vuitton” with a wide-eyed enthusiasm that would be embarrassing for any Oscar winner.

Inevitably there will be a sequel, if not two. I just hope that the writers can throw away the fashion jargon in favour of the witty dialogue that peppered the original series and gave it so much flavour. Why, I ask, did they not just make season seven? Ahh yes, bigger paychecks.

Prince Caspian Reviewed

Posted by film On May - 27 - 2008

Prince Caspian
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Disney, 2008

By Madeleine Sims-Fewer

In his father’s usurped Telmarinian castle, young Caspian is woken in the dead of night by his tutor. This is not an unusual occurrence, since Caspian is used to studying the stars with suspiciously dwarf-like Cornelius, however tonight is a different story; Caspian’s aunt has given birth to a son, and he is in danger of being executed by his own people. Thus begins the C.S. Lewis’ book, Prince Caspian, and the film version faithfully follows suit.

Back in London, we get re-acquainted with the Pevensie children, who are unsatisfied with the plebeian life they now lead; Susan has become solitary, and without swords in their hands, Peter and Edmund are often getting into fistfights —and losing. But of course, they are called back into Narnia. As soon as they arrive, they slay a soldier, bringing back the old excitement of Narnia, where they can simply kill their enemies!

Despite remaining relatively faithful to the book, Prince Caspian loses some of the magical flair seen in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, possibly because of the non-magical human enemies — cleverly shown as being Spanish, compared to their resemblance to Villainous Shakespearian Moors in the novel.

Here’s another difference between the written and filmic versions of this story: in the book, Prince Caspian is young, wide-eyed, and a bit of a dreamer, but none of this comes across in Ben Barnes’ interpretation of the character. Instead, Barnes’ prince is a suave, muscular teenager, foolhardy, and not the least bit interested in the Narnians before he stumbles across them. This was my main problem with the film. Caspian, with whom the audience should grow and learn, doesn’t do much growing. He seemed to stand merely as a heartthrob, placed there for the viewing pleasure of the few fifteen-year-old girls who take their younger siblings to the film. However, the fabulous acting from the four Pevensie children makes up for it, as we are again drawn into their fantasy with every lingering close-up.

Narnia is perfectly imagined, with lush foliage and idyllic beaches. If you imagined something different when reading the book, you will gladly let the director’s vision take its place. The cinematography can be a little on the distracting side, with it’s grandiose swooping and dollying without remorse, and a few shots are suspiciously soft. It seemed like the director did everything he could to pull us out of the story. Luckily, the tale is so captivating that we cannot help but be invested, especially when the battle scenes begin. Expertly choreographed, and tight with suspense, we are right there with Edmond as he soars in on a hippogriff, slays an unsuspecting soldier, and sends a Morse-coded message to the Narnian army with his flashlight.

The minotaur, centaurs, and talking animals are all expertly animated into being, and it’s a welcome relief if you ever happened to see the old television show of the same title. Instead of being suspiciously weightless, which so many computerized characters can appear, they have a solid presence, which adds to the magic.

Of course, the old Christian philosophy holds strong even in this Disney-styled version, and each child learns the lesson that the nonbelievers suffer punishment, while those who always had faith in Jesus — sorry, I mean Aslan — will reign triumphant. This does nothing to dampen the film’s spirit, and I’m sure children will fail to notice, as indeed I did when first reading the saga.

I found Prince Caspian to be a delightful adaptation, thoroughly entertaining, and though I felt a little old sitting in a cinema packed with six to eleven year-olds, it could no doubt become the Princess Bride for a new generation.

Best of York University Student Film Screenings

Posted by film On May - 9 - 2008

by Madeleine Sims-Fewer

So it’s that time of year. No, not the day the circus comes to town. Better than that: it’s student film season; when York, Ryerson, and Humber unleash a plethora of fifteen minute stories, docs and alternative films rife with string quartets and crying clowns (or at least one hopes!)
 
I had thought about reviewing all of the final year’s films from each school, with the help of painkillers and a hair vest to keep me awake. However, although student shorts give us insight into future talent, it can be nauseating to sit through one full night of screenings, let alone nine or ten. So, I decided to shed some light on the aptitude of the York graduating class (I am a little biased as I will be graduating along with them).

With three nights of fourth-year screenings one can’t help but wonder why the faculty isn’t more selective. But despite it being difficult not to doze off at times, there were many standout films from emerging talent in all three categories. The first evening produced few true gems, with too many fiction films based around quirks and twist endings, alternative films that I don’t believe the directors even understood, and unimaginative docs that leave a dry feeling in your mouth. However there were a few hidden treasures;
 
Chinese Watercolours, a “silent, hand-processed film about Chinese watercolour painting” by Frances Lai, was captivating. The film, shot in black and white, was filled with sensuous close-ups following rich brush strokes and billowing incense smoke. Lai was able to beautifully capture the essence of Chinese watercolour and create a meditative mood. I can’t help but wish that she had incorporated music, as it yearned for accompaniment, but otherwise it was fine work. Her second film, Red Envelopes, was a mystifying portrait of longing, and loss. In the experimental piece several people find a wooden box full of red envelopes containing a meaningful substance; spring onions and pins being two examples. Red Envelopes seems shy to really challenge the viewer, but it explores human need, producing a sensitive, pleasing outcome.
 
The Black Shell, by Matthew Nayman is a fiction about one woman’s search for God in a computer program she created. Her program is capable of creating every possible combination of coloured pixels and she keeps an eerie room full of the blank faced beasts, and watches for some order to appear amid the chaos. Matthew Nayman writes his female lead with a sense of insight and clarity rare to student films, and I was left with a sense of loss and fear as the final shot dollied slowly in towards the shifting colours, as the protagonist becomes lost among them. Again, the lack of music only drew attention away from the film and highlighted more awkward moments in performance.
 
The second and third nights saw films of considerably higher quality, and after a nauseating fifteen minutes spent sitting through my own film, wondering what people thought of it, I was able to fully enjoy the vast amount of talent that this year had to offer. Daniel Reis caught our audience’s attention with Brazil I Love You, made up of moments captured on a journey through Brazil. The still photography with anecdotal voiceover painted an eclectic pallet of emotions. Still on the Alternative spectrum Morning Will Come, by Pouyan Jafarizadeh was one of the most spectacular student films I have seen, and it is safe to say that this man is going somewhere. Through his use of poetry, juxtaposing animal imagery against the fallibility of the human condition, he draws you into his world only to spit you back out again feeling disoriented yet contented. His teasing description ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ sets the tone for the metaphorical voyage to come.
 
Turning full circle, we come to A Pretty Funny Story, by Evan Morgan. A comedy about a father who witnesses his neighbour’s strange evening antics through his kitchen window. In retaliation for being laughed at, said neighbour breaks into their house, and instills an explosive device into their young son’s head, threatening to blow him up if his strange behavior is ever revealed. Though it sounds ridiculous, the film is rife with beautiful comic moments such as when the son, head bandaged and bicycle helmet taped on tight, thanks his father wholeheartedly for not making him eat his broccoli. Evan’s sense of timing as a writer is well developed, and although the film could do with some tightening, it was one of the most enjoyable of the evening.
 
The first documentary film to stand out from the grain was Consequencia De La Lluvia (The Consequence of Rain) by Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam. Shot entirely in the community of Barrio Antonio Jose, (Caracas, Venesuela) the film looks at the dynamics between the locals and their community leaders. The documentary was vibrant and humorous, while also drawing attention to the pride of the people, and their unwillingness to seek help for their poor living conditions. The pacing was perfect and the cinematography engaging; involving the audience in every story by crowding into overpopulated houses and stopping to rest with the guide on what seemed like celestially long flights of stairs.
 
Staying with documentary, Nicole Saltz’s Canadian Anus, “a probing analysis of everything butt,” is a high gear trip through the sphincter examining Canadian fear of this avoided orifice. The documentary splits its focus between Erika, a woman diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 27, and the taboo world of anal sex. Saltz does a superb job of balancing the humorous with the solemn and the result is touching and eye-opening. The final two fiction films worth mentioning were Partners, by Matthew Hotson, and Seize the Day by Symone Roper. Inspired by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, Hotson wrote and directed Partners, a buddy film that follows Hondo on his first day as a mall security guard. Though clearly drawing on techniques used by Wright, Partners has enough narrative flare and originality to steer clear of being a ripoff. Hotson has an original writing style reminiscent of Columbo episodes with a sarcastic twist, and it’s one you either get, or you don’t. To wrap up my picks, Symone Roper’s fictional Seize the Day is worth checking out. The film, about a down-on-his-luck young man trying to support his ailing mother while flirting with petty crime, was sensitively written and beautifully acted.
 
After three exhausting nights, the York fourth year films festival came to a close. Hopefully, and I don’t doubt it, many of the directors will go on to show their shorts in other festivals, so if you didn’t catch them, keep a keen eye out. And remember, student films aren’t all shot in dorm rooms with screeching string accompaniment and melancholy circus performers. Nope, some of them have traveling shots through the anus and small explosive devices in the heads of infants.

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