Film: “Helvetica”

“A movie about a font? Okay.”

I knew that Mack had wanted to see Helvetica for quite some time, but the above is what I was thinking when he asked if I had wanted to come. But after reading the description of the film, I found out that it had more to it than that. From the website:

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.”

Friday night’s showing at Metro Cinema included a pre-screening party hosted by the Alberta North Chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, which meant the majority of those attending were in some way connected to the profession itself. While we didn’t feel out of place, when the audience laughed in unison or recognized a familiar face in the movie, we of course didn’t.

The movie in itself was interesting, really exposing to me the pervasiveness of Helvetica everywhere (I was waiting with bated breath for Crate & Barrel’s logo to show up on screen). By the end of it, every metaphor you could think of to possibly describe how design permeates our lives (e.g. it is the air we breathe) was used. Helvetica as a whole, however, was perhaps too focused on the industry perspective. Mack for one wanted more feedback from those not intimately connected with design. That said, the filmmaker’s strength was choosing to put very passionate people in front of the camera, including the very amusing Erik Spiekermann and Massimo Vignelli, who were both unintentionally funny.

As documentaries go, Helvetica isn’t bad. It will just have more meaning for you if you have an interest or work in design.

Film: “27 Dresses”

I took in a matinee of 27 Dresses on my day off, a romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl I’ve been meaning to see for a while.

I doubt I’ll change any minds with this mini-review, as one is typically either pre-disposed to like these types of movies or not, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Between Heigl’s girl-next-door quality and understated beauty and James Marsden’s boyish good looks and disarming charm, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the pair. A good amount of chemistry didn’t hinder the duo’s screen time together either.

While I do agree with critics who see the resemblance of 27 Dresses and The Wedding Planner, I think the former is much more satisfying. Heigl broke my heart as she went through the motions as her sister went after her unrequited love, so by the end of the tried-and-true plot formula, I really was cheering for her. Besides, who could resist a montage of hideous (but fun) bridesmaid dresses?

Not for those looking for a deep, introspective film experience, 27 Dresses is nonetheless a harmless bit of romantic fluff if you’re in the mood for it.

Film: “Waitress”

I watched Waitress over the weekend, a quirky, independent film about Jenna, a small-town girl (played by Felicity‘s Keri Russell) with an exceptional pie-baking aptitude and dreams of leaving her husband.

There’s a lot to love about this movie – from Jenna’s creative pie names (e.g. “I don’t want Earl’s baby pie”) to the comedic supporting characters (Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly are a riot) to the tender letters Jenna writes to her unborn child, Waitress pulls at the heartstrings all while offering hard truths and striking realities. Russell is a vision in this movie, somehow remaining grounded and believable in an off-beat world. This was my first screen encounter with Edmonton-born Nathan Fillion, and while I can see how he could fit the bill as a tempting escape for Jenna, I wasn’t as impressed with him as I thought I would be.

In one of the DVD features, Russell indicates that she decided to sign on to the project when she read one of the voiceover lines that comes near the end of the movie. It’s wonderfully lovely, and though I can’t quite do the line justice in blog form, it’s still worth repeating here:

“Dear Baby, I hope someday somebody wants to hold you for 20 minutes straight and that’s all they do. They don’t pull away. They don’t look at your face. They don’t try to kiss you. All they do is wrap you up in their arms without an ounce of selfishness in it.”

Waitress is a sweet comedy perfect for that lazy Sunday afternoon.

Film: “Roman Holiday”

I was craving some classic escapist fare, as it has been quite some time since I have been to an Edmonton Film Society screening. Roman Holiday was a good pick – Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck frolicking amongst Rome’s most famous sites – what could be better?

Surprisingly, the city wasn’t highlighted as much as I remembered (the Trevi Fountain was only shown in passing, boo), though of course, the Vespa ride through the streets has perhaps surpassed the film itself to become an essential activity for tourists. The comic scare at the “Mouth of Truth” was also memorable, as was the scene in front of the supposed “Wall of Wishes,” which no longer exists as shown in the movie.

Director William Wyler created some fantastic moments of tension, particularly at the end. Her move to meet the press representatives, for example, had audiences holding out for the moment she arrives at Peck’s character. And with Peck’s final walk out of the hall, the camera positioned to capture any movement from the door which Hepburn exited moments before…who wasn’t eagerly awaiting a flash of white to appear?

What is undeniably wonderful about Roman Holiday, however, is Audrey Hepburn. Dazzling in her film debut, I am sure part of the reason she ended up winning an Oscar was because the voters simply couldn’t take their eyes off of her. Radiant and charming, she nailed the steady, aristocratic tone of controlled acknowledgement (if I could just learn how to say “Thank you” as she does in the movie…) and conveyed the difficult choice of duty above self. Clothed in Edith Head’s stunning gowns, Hepburn is unforgettable as Princess Anne.

Roman Holiday is likely stocked at your local rental branch, but here’s a tip – it’s also available at the Edmonton Public Library.

Film: “High School Musical 2”

The long-awaited sequel to High School Musical premiered on Friday to tweens armed with VCRs, parents enjoying the wave of non-threatening, family-friendly entertainment, fans of Zac Efron (Dickson), and those curious to see if the film could possibly live up to the expectation and hype (me). It failed to deliver.

Despite being nearly two hours long (thus having ample time to redeem itself and/or improve along the way), the movie played too much like a poor excuse to capitalize on success. There were one or two catchy songs, but for the most part, the numbers were overdone and melodramatic (see Efron’s solo on the putting green), appearing unnecessary and draining whatever earnestness was gained through the acting. The vocals were also terrible, overly synthesized to the point where some of the singers sounded identical. I’m being harsh – harsher because of the grand expectations created in the wake of the original, but ultimately, I was disappointed that this was the final product. I doubt I will shell out cash to watch the third installment in the theatres.

On another note, I figured the late August release date was timed to coincide with a movie that tracked the summer holidays of the musically-inclined bunch, but after seeing the insane merchandising push by Disney, I now know otherwise. Besides the very-marketable back-to-school items, the over one hundred licensed products include video games, pillows, and dolls. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of a shoe I saw in Payless recently, if not only because only the wearer of the flip-flops would know their devotion to High School Musical.

For those who want to step on Troy and Gabriella

Film: “Ratatouille”

I finally saw Ratatouille this weekend (seems 9:30pm is a good time to go if you’re looking at avoiding the under-12 crowd).

Like most Pixar films, the ‘follow your dreams’ message was inherent, as well as a reinforcement of the importance of family. Still, despite Remy being very cute, and the romance of the animated Paris cityscape, this is a weak addition to the Pixar canon. I don’t want to ruin the movie for those who haven’t yet seen it, but for anyone who has watched a certain clip of a, erm, cleanliness-challenged fast food restaurant in America, one of the last scenes in Ratatouille will not ring so fantastical.

And if anyone was wondering what the ratatouille dish consists of – it’s a French stewed vegetable dish.

Film: “The Bourne Ultimatum”

I watched The Bourne Ultimatum on Friday night. It’s funny, I really didn’t know the title before going into the movie (instead, identifying it as “That Bourne movie,” or “The one with Matt Damon”), and I probably will not be able to tell you any of the minute plot points two weeks from now. That said, the film was very entertaining.

Echoing many critics – Ultimatum is a fantastic chase movie, with gripping action sequences, intriguing backroom drama and unexpected twists. Matt Damon and Joan Allen were great in their roles, and it was nice to see Julia Stiles again, though I had no idea she would play such a vital part in this movie. Director Paul Greengrass’s style does take some getting used to, however – his closeups of fight scenes must have been difficult to shoot, and yet, easily mask prying audience eyes attempting to distinguish stuntperson from star. Lastly, recently back from Europe, I certainly appreciated the London and Paris city settings, and was excited at recognizing landmarks (Waterloo and Gare du Nord stations!) that I had just seen in person.

With the variety of cinematic fare available this summer, I can’t recommend any one film that will appeal to every taste. But as far as thrillers go, you will not be disappointed.

Film: “Hairspray”

After not being able to find good seats to our first choice, Ratatouille (sob), Dickson and I ended up ducking into Hairspray on Sunday afternoon.

Based on the Tony-award-winning musical, I remember being drawn to the film simply because of its Broadway connection. Of course, nothing beats a live stage performance, but as screen musicals go, Hairspray is as upbeat and fun as they come.

I had no idea racism and overcoming segregation were such an integral part of the plot, but it worked really well alongside Tracy’s struggle to be recognized for her talent in the face of her larger frame. As a whole, the movie was very well acted, but I especially admired the work of the delightfully wicked Michelle Pfeiffer, and believably genuine newcomer Nikki Blonsky. John Travolta in drag as Tracy’s mother took some getting used to, and I may have to agree with critics that said Travolta in this role was stunt-casted; his presence seemed to subvert all of the sincerity Blonsky was exhibiting. Lastly, the choice of Zac Efron for the part of teen pin-up Link Larkin was an easy way to inflate audiences with the High School Musical-mad set (though I’m not just referring to tweens – it seems Dickson has quite the man-crush on Efron).

Hairspray isn’t a must-see, but if you’re looking for a movie that will leave you with a smile on your face, this is it.

Film: “Shrek the Third”

I just returned from Shrek the Third, the movie we watched to cap off Michael’s farewell evening.

As with Pirates, though of less importance, I could only vaguely remember what had taken place in the movies prior. Perhaps because of lowered expectations going in, I did enjoy this third installment. Justin Timberlake, the new voice addition, was pitch perfect as the whiny, adolescent heir (who, in Doug’s opinion, resembled Corey Feldman – you be the judge), and crowd favorites Donkey and Puss in Boots were their usual smile-inducing selves (they really could have their own movie). I will also admit to enjoying the princesses coming-of-age sequence (Snow White could be the X-Man who controls animals!). And with the exception of the Frog King’s twice-over fake-out deaths, there were enough lighthearted, humorous moments to keep me entertained.

Though I didn’t originally intend to catch this sequel in theatres, I didn’t regret doing so.

Film: “Knocked Up”

I went to watch Knocked Up with Mack late Thursday afternoon. In the weeks since it premiered, the movie has received surprisingly positive coverage, and not just because of its directorial connection to the also-critical darling The 40 Year Old Virgin.

A story about two strangers deciding to try to make a relationship work after the titular consequences of a one-night stand, Knocked Up was well-done on many levels. The situations, dialogue and acting all seemed so natural, quite an accomplishment on the part of the filmmakers. Nothing (except possibly the ending, but more about this later) seemed staged, and the conversations and crises faced by the characters would be ones expected in the real world. Katherine Heigl put in a strong performance, but I thought (echoing many critics) that supporting cast members Paul Rudd and the hysterically energetic Leslie Mann stole the show. As for the ending, while I can appreciate the desire to cap a supposed “romantic comedy” with a happy conclusion, I am of the opinion that the real struggle for Ben and Alison would begin when they realize that their relationship must exist outside of the bubble created by a child (an assessment that the hopeless romantic Mack disagrees with).

Knocked Up is a good, funny alternative to the bloated summer blockbusters in theatres now.