(originally published in The Outreach Connection in August 2007)
I eventually went to see the latest Harry Potter movie, Order of the Phoenix, on the Imax screen at the Paramount – sorry, the Scotiabank – giving in to the enticement of 3-D (for certain sequences only). An opening announcement informed us that a green symbol would occasionally pop up at the bottom of the screen, as the prompt to put on our 3-D glasses. As the movie kept rolling by without any sign of this symbol, I became convinced that I was missing it – perhaps by slumping too low in my seat for example – and spent much time sneaking glances at the rest of the audience, who I kept imagining might already be transported to a different zone of perception.
Well, eventually the symbol turned up, and the glasses came on, just in time for some big flying dragons that naturally swoop out of the screen right into your face, and then for a good fifteen minutes beyond that. It’s a mixed blessing I’d say. Occasionally it generates astonishingly vivid, almost overwhelming images. But at other times the heightened definition in the foreground draws too much attention to the flatness of the background, and images containing characters at different depths appear unnatural. I had some trouble following flurries of action too. I’m not an expert in the science of perception, but I wonder whether the ambition of giant-sized 3-D isn’t fundamentally at odds with the way our brains process images. Oh, and the glasses they gave me had dirty lenses.
The technology may take yet another leap forward before 2009, when James Cameron returns with Avatar, supposedly to be filmed and exhibited entirely in 3-D. Anyway, that was really my only point of interest in the Potter movie. I’ve seen the previous four, and although I know the first was clunky and saccharine compared to later installments, I nevertheless enjoyed it the most, simply because of its sense of wonder and discovery. The Potter movies are much darker, more brooding now, which sounds more thematically interesting, except that it’s all such nonsense. At this point it becomes obvious I haven’t read the books either. Well actually I did read the second one, in French, just to see if I could pull it off. It seemed to me pretty dire. But that was after the translator got to it.
I’ve pretty much forgotten the plot of the fourth movie, but a lot of Order of the Phoenix seemed highly familiar, so I’m guessing that’s where I saw it before. As usual, a lot of great actors hang round to deliver a handful of lines apiece, and the central trio isn’t maturing very interestingly. Obviously the film’s technical accomplishments provide much to praise, just as a visit to a science lab does. I really don’t mean to be negative. It’s just not for me. It was the same week, you know, that Bergman and Antonioni died.
No Reservations is a distinctly 2-D remake of the 2001 German film Mostly Martha. That was a nicely poised, sensitive work, although seldom surprising. The new version, drenched in Hollywood sensibility up to the very brim of its pestle, blands out the recipe with off the shelf cuteness (and a side order of would-be poignancy). Catherine Zeta-Jones, who melds a little too perfectly with this limited ambition, is a brilliant chef who spends too much time in the kitchen and not enough in the bedroom; Aaron Eckhart is way too good to be true as the assistant chef who helps her make a breakthrough. Virtually all of the movie’s potential themes were handled more deftly in Ratatouille – even that film’s cartoon food looked more mouth watering than the real creations on display here (if you’ve seen pretty truffles and scallops and crème brulees once, you’ve seen ‘em a million times). The credits say it was directed by Scott Hicks, who made Shine, but it’s just as plausible that it was made by a PG-programmed robot: it has absolutely nothing idiosyncratic, nothing even slightly daring. Not even a recipe. Excuse me while I sweep the toast crumbs off the keyboard.
Two Days in Paris was written and directed (her debut) by the interesting actress Julie Delpy, who stars in it along with Adam Goldberg. They're a couple on a stopover in her native Paris, where their disheveled but highly viable relationship nearly buckles under the challenges of her wacky parents (played by Delpy's own parents - we can only hope for her sake that they're hyping themselves up big-time), her numerous old lovers, and Paris' charming (or to him, horrible) quirks. In many ways it's going for a vibe similar to that of Delpy's career highlight, Before Sunrise and its sequel, although she crams more into this film, giving it a more raucous energy (less potential profundity though). It weakens a bit as it goes on (although she finds a way to freshen up a conventional ending) but for most of the way it's very funny and engrossing. I hope she gets to make more movies.
I was thinking that one day soon I should update the article I wrote a few years ago in which I mused on who might have won the Nobel prize for cinema, if one existed. If I get to that, I’m sure my fictional Academy will be awarding the prize to Raul Ruiz any year now. Ruiz, a Chilean exile who settled in France, used to make three or four films a year, many instantly lost to obscurity, although he’s slowed down now. I’ve seen only a few of them, and I’m sure I could spend my life searching and not get more than a third of the way through his oeuvre. The masterpiece of those I’ve seen is the 1983 Three Crowns of the Sailor, a remarkable piece of romantic myth that remakes itself over and over in the course of two indescribable hours. His most famous film is likely the 1999 Proust adaptation Time Regained: it’s certainly fascinating on its own terms, although I couldn’t say about Proust’s.
His latest film Klimt, another study of an artist, received a rare if brief Toronto release. It’s another fairly fascinating work, although I’d guess it’s solidly second tier Ruiz, with the air of revisiting (if not recycling) earlier techniques. The artist, sensitively played by John Malkovich, often seems here like little more than a pawn in a game of time bending, transposition, reverie and mystery, and some of Ruiz’s devices (characters who don’t really exist, a repeated motif of breaking glass) are definitely shopworn. When I left the theatre I didn’t think I’d learned much of anything about Klimt, although on subsequent Internet-aided consideration I was surprised how much of his essential biography the film contains. By the same token, Ruiz shows surprisingly little of the painter’s work, and explains less, but afterwards I was impressed how much somehow came across, as if Ruiz’s complex structure were a code that your aesthetic sense slowly interprets subliminally. This basic attribute, whereby even a director’s lesser works still resonate more rewardingly afterwards than most of their contemporaries’ prime achievements, goes down real big with my award committee.