Movies on the Square: “High School Musical”

When the City of Edmonton started offering free screenings of movies in Churchill Square, I knew this would be the closest I would get to a drive-in for a while. I was waiting for a for a film I either actually wanted to see, or one I deemed was worth watching again. When High School Musical was announced for the August 2 show, I knew this was it.

I’ve seen the film several times since being dazzled by it last year, but the idea of watching it on the big screen, under the stars and in the shadow of buildings in the downtown core, was irresistible.

The set-up

Armed with camping chairs, a blanket, a bag of goodies and mugs of tea, we joined a modest crowd of fifty people already huddled around the front of the screen. It had drizzled a bit as we were heading to the Square, but thankfully we had no use for the umbrellas we had brought along just in case. While most of the audience was comprised of families, there were a few pairs of adults and couples our age.

Mack

Me

A Fat Franks food cart was on site, which may not have been a bad thing on that chilly evening. I was glad I had brought along a mug of tea and a blanket; without them, I would have froze in the windy conditions. The people in front of us who wore winter jackets definitely had foresight.

In all, it was a pretty cool experience, even if the audience didn’t get up to dance in tune with the movie (like that scene in The Wedding Planner). If you missed it, you have three more opportunities this summer, with screenings being held on August 29-31, movie titles TBA.

Film: “Easter Parade”

When the schedule for the Edmonton Film Society‘s Summer 2008 was released, I was most looking forward to the opening movie: Easter Parade. Though I’ve seen the last, titular number more times than I can count, I can’t say I’ve actually ever watched the movie in its entirety.

Among the vocal older audience (as expected), it was a treat to watch Fred Astaire and Judy Garland on screen. They epitomize ease on their feet, and always make me feel like when I walk out of the theatre, I can as gracefully tap, twirl and sway in rhythm as they can. The first half especially showcased Garland’s comic talent and timing, which I had never really seen her demonstrate. One of my favorite actresses of the era, Ann Miller, glowing in her screen debut, played the “other woman” well, and I really did respect her for jumping at the opportunity to further her career.

The rest of the films in the series that runs every Monday until August 25 at the Royal Alberta Museum Theatre are just as lighthearted, fun, and the perfect way to transition into a warm summer night. And for just $5, there isn’t a better deal to be had in the city.

Film: “Sex and the City”

(Spoilers ahead)

I did my best to avoid reading reviews for the hotly-anticipated Sex and the City movie, which opened on Friday. But from the few snippets I saw (such as the screaming headline of “NO STARS” from the Globe’s Rick Groen), I was only cautiously optimistic as I settled down in my seat for a Sunday matinee.

By the end of it, I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I might be, and I realized having extremely low expectations was one of the two reasons why I enjoyed the movie. The second was having watched (and re-watched, in many cases) all six seasons of the show, I had a thorough knowledge of each character and relationship backstory  – something those new to the series would not have.

Janice and I chatted about this on our way home this afternoon, and felt that the movie didn’t do the men justice at all. Big was much too serious all the way through, barely cracking his trademark grin at all. It’s a shame the editors decided to cut out the scene where he serenades Carrie in bed, because that’s quintessential Big! For those unfamiliar with how sweet and charming he can be, I wouldn’t blame them for cheering Carrie on as she strove to forget him and reconnect with her single self. As for the other men: Harry’s inclusion was essentially holiday and special-occasion driven, while poor Steve looked like he wanted to throw himself off of the Brooklyn Bridge every time the camera panned to his face – I wanted more of the Silly(!)Steve we saw a glimpse of in the Italian restaurant. And Smith? Mandatory viewing for those new to SatC is “Let There Be Light”, which shows his patience and understanding after Samantha’s Wright-slip – otherwise, the audience automatically assumes that Smith is just another young Hollywood write-off.

Also, as much as I loved seeing the parade of sometimes ridiculous outfits worn by the girls in the show, the naming of labels and the in-your-face product placements were just a little too obvious and self-indulgent in the movie. This was probably unavoidable – I’m sure they were just trying to cram as many designers into a two and a half-hour movie in place of several years of episodes as they could.

In this vein, though the film was long, I thought it felt rushed – they shuffled through several plotlines that in TV-land, would have developed over the course of a season. Miranda and Steve’s separation (and subsequent reconciliation, in a scene way to sweet for Miranda, in my opinion), Samantha’s waffling over her frustrations with Smith and her LA life, and of course, Carrie’s woeful “why did I fall for it again” cyclical fall from grace followed by a too-quick resolution (the time devoted to her inability to get out of bed would have been better spent highlighting why Big was such a great man to begin with, instead of a denouement demonstrating his ability to retype letters).

With the bad, there was also some good – Jennifer Hudson (playing Carrie’s assistant, Louise), was a surprisingly welcome screen addition, warm and genuine when playing opposite the sometimes over-the-top Sarah Jessica Parker. Second, my favorite scenes in the movie involved Charlotte. While she didn’t really have her own meaty storyline to contend with (just getting pregnant and living the perfect life), her upset stomach in Mexico and Big confrontation (“I curse the day you were born!”) were hilarious moments in the movie.

While it seems there was more to dislike about the film, I think as a whole, it would be impossible for any movie to replace 94 episodes of emotion, drama, and friendship. See it, but know you’ll always have the box set to go back to.

Film: “Definitely, Maybe”

After seeing the headline, “A Valentine for New York” in the Globe and Mail about the movie Definitely, Maybe, I knew I had to see it.

Ryan Reynolds is William Hayes, a devoted father who explains to his daughter Maya (played by the perpetually charming Abigail Breslin) how he met her mother. The foundation of their relationship provides some needed stability in the movie, though some would say Breslin’s character is simply a different incarnation of the leading man’s usual wisecracking sidekick friend. Anyway, Will recounts the different relationships he had as a young man, literally charting his would-be wives and the associated break-ups that ensued.

Definitely, Maybe is principally a movie about bad timing, and thus the flashback structure is an effective vehicle to carry the audience through the years (though it is hard to believe that baby-faced Reyonlds is old enough to have an eight-year old child). The women are a force to be reckoned with in their own right, every one of them easily holding their own. Elizabeth Banks as the comfortable college sweetheart, Rachel Weisz as the intense, sensual journalist, and Isla Fisher as the fun-loving free spirit shine in their respective sequences, and it is easy to see why Will falls for each of them. Reyonlds, who I remember only as an overgrown frat boy in Van Wilder, proves that he is capable of carrying the lead role in an emotionally-charged film (not to mention having eyes that you just want to fall into…).

The one notable weakness of the movie is not the fact that Will is in the middle of a divorce with Maya’s mother, but the fact that their life together is not shown. And beyond the audience’s own extrapolations of why it didn’t work (in order to allow for the ending), it is a narrative hole that should have been filled.

As for the inspiration provided by New York itself, besides the shock of seeing the Twin Towers in an early scene, wasn’t as prominent a backdrop as I was expecting. Moreover, the New York in the movie is spared from the winter season all together, it seems. Because of this, I thought it would have been a more appropriate spring release, though it is coincidental that Will’s involvement in politics (starting with his work in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign) chimes now with Hillary’s current run for Democratic nominee.

As a whole I found this movie more satisfying as a romantic comedy than 27 Dresses – so if you’re looking for something sweet, go see Definitely, Maybe!

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.

“The Hills” are still alive

Before the third season of The Hills began, it seemed that this would indeed be the final season. Lauren’s clothing line launched a few months ago, and she vehemently claimed that her reality series was merely a stepping stone to her fashion career.

But as the finale approached, no one ever referred to the episode as a “series” finale. Today, we found out why – In Touch announced that The Hills has been renewed for a fourth season! As for Lauren’s coy quote, “I have some friends [on the show], some friends off,” we’ll have to see if The After Show‘s reported rumors are true – that Whitney will be replaced by Spencer’s sister, Stephanie Pratt as a “character”.

Other news from Hollywood:

  • Good timing: Kiefer Sutherland’s 48 day jail sentence for drunk driving couldn’t have begun at a better time. As the Writer’s Guild of America strike continues, filming for 24 has already ceased for several weeks. Smarten up, Kiefer. We may lovingly refer to you as a “man child”, but we certainly don’t expect you to act like one.
  • Eeee! The first teaser trailer for the upcoming Sex & the City movie was released today!

26th Global Visions Film Festival: “War Dance”

I had seen an ad for the twenty-sixth annual Global Visions Film Festival in early October, and was amazed that this festival had such a long and rich history in the city. After reading about the opening gala film, War Dance, I decided this would be a good year to partake in the events for the first time.

I had purchased tickets in advance from the website about a week prior, which allowed me to skip the line at the Paramount Theatre box office. I picked up my ticket and headed inside.

I haven’t been to the Paramount in years, and thinking back, my last trip there was for a screening of Steven Spielberg’s A.I., in 2001. I vaguely remember the theatre announcing its closure a few years ago due to a lack of business, and really, with their small audience numbers and seats in dire need of replacement, I wasn’t surprised. Then, the City Centre Church announced it would be utilizing the refurbished Paramount space for their weekly services, and thus, the historic gem came back into being.

Inside, the theatre looked great. The chairs had been replaced, the screen looked fantastic, and the stage, in a fashion similar to that of Garneau Theatre, provided the interior with a unique feel of untouchable renaissance never replicated at local multiplexes. I found an agreeable seat on the main floor, and was surprised at the rate that the theatre was being filled up. Another great thing about local festivals, I find, is how friendly attendees are. On this night, I watched as four different people were asked and subsequently agreed to move to accomodate other patrons yet to be seated – something I rarely see at sold-out screenings of first-run movies.

After a warm welcome from the Board President and the Festival Program Director, and a short speech from Lieutenant-Commander Pierre Comeau, who served for a period of time in the Peoples’ Republic of Congo and in Ghana to end child soldiering, the film began.

Focused on three Acholi children in the Patongo refugee camp in Northern Uganda, the documentary tells of their personal tragedies as a result of the ongoing conflict with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, and chronicles their preparation for a national music and dance competition in 2005 – the first time the Patongo school had beat out their regional opponents for a coveted spot at the finals.

The choice to focus on just three children was a good one, as it allowed the audience more time to connect with their stories. A poignant scene with Dominic, a spunky thirteen year old, demonstrated both innocence and maturity as he confronted a captured rebel leader to question him about the wherabouts of his missing older brother, only to find out he was likely killed years ago. A few days before the competition, Nancy, a girl of thirteen, visited the grave of her father who was murdered by rebels four years earlier. She breaks down in a sudden fit of tears, and if not heartbreaking enough, the camera pans to Nancy’s mother who reminds her daughter of the necessity to stay strong, as she herself chokes to hold back tears, warning that it ‘isn’t safe to cry so loud in the bush’; even the normal process of grieving is repressed. Lastly, Rose, a young woman with a haunting voice and a broken soul, tells of the gruesome way in which she discovered the death of her parents – rebels lifted out the decapitated heads of victims to allow family members to identify loved ones, and here, she found the remains of both her mother and father. It is evident, especially with Nancy as a contrast, of how much Rose could use a comforting, reassuring adult presence in her life.

Two things that were a tad unsettling – I did wonder througout as to how the filmmakers were able to extract the stories from the children. I just hope counselling or supports were provided (Dominic, in particular, said that he had never before spoken of the murders he had committed as a child soldier). As well, Rose’s relationship with her Aunt was quite possibly an abusive one, and though this was hinted at, was never quite resolved.

With books and media (such as the World Vision One Life Experience or Stephen Lewis’ Race Against Time) so focused on the negative out of Africa, it was really uplifing and important to see a story offering some hope and joy. It was such a triumph to be able to watch the final outcome of their preparation and hard work – I couldn’t help but smile as the Patongo school was awarded a trophy for first prize in the traditional dance competition.

If you get a chance to watch War Dance, do so. But if it isn’t available for rent, be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s Global Visions Festival. I have no doubt documentaries of equal calibre, highlighting issues vital to the consciousness of a global citizen, will be offered at its twenty seventh annual event.

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.