Tommy Ingram's Eclectic Variety Show

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

Category: Movies

Review: Iron Man 3

Iron Man was an above average superhero movie. Iron Man 2 was was a joke. But those were on the far side of the singularity that was The Avengers. The future of comic book movies has been uncertain ever since last year. It seems like a bubble just waiting to pop, and after pulling out all the stops for what was ultimately a debut effort, it looked like Marvel and company would not be able to follow it up convincingly. Especially since the next scheduled release was Iron Man 3, a movie for which I and many others had understandably conservative hopes. Read the rest of this entry »


Detention (2011)

Genre Horror
People Joseph Kahn d.w.; Josh Hutcherson a.p.; Spencer Locke; Dane Cook; Shanley Caswell
/10 6

A group of high school students (whose teenage solipsism is represented by shooting their respective scenes as if they were different movie genres) team up to stop a serial killer who’s murdering them one by one.

When this movie came out I was excited by the premise but due to its limited release I wasn’t able to see it. An entertaining and somewhat meaningful movie could be made off of that premise, and the script would basically write itself. This is not that movie; this is something infinitely stranger that doesn’t lend itself easily to description.

It’s cut together in a very abstract way and it moves fast. The dialogue is so mind-numbingly saturated with pop-cultural references that it’s difficult to tell what they’re talking about. Plot points are raised and discarded at a whim. I’m still trying to process this movie some time after having seen it. It’s not bad, exactly, just inexplicable.

By the way (and believe it or not), Dane Cook is actually one of the most easily acceptable things about this movie. That makes two bearable film roles for him (the other being that movie where he gets killed with a shovel).

1h35m; 2011; Colour

A Simple Plan

Genre Crime
People Sam Raimi d.; Scott Smith w.; Danny Elfman m.; Bill Paxton; Bridget Fonda; Billy Bob Thornton; Brent Briscoe; Chelcie Ross; Becky Ann Baker; Gary Cole
/10 7

Three small-town men (Paxton, Thornton, Briscoe) discover a wrecked airplane in the woods with a dead body and $4.4 million in a duffel bag inside. Based on the novel by Scott Smith.

A comparison with No Country For Old Men is illuminating. It’s essentially the same story (though this movie was released several years before McCarthy’s novel was written) and fills much the same purpose. The money, the moral compromises and ensuing deaths, the apocalyptic tone and ultimate pointlessness are all the same. But No Country the book and film are both superior.

It’s not bad, exactly, although it’s agonizing to watch for the same reason an episode of Seinfeld is. There are some pretty good performances and it’s fairly well-written. It’s just superfluous and not very exciting.

2h1m; 1998; Colour; Oscar nods for Supporting Actor (Thornton) and Adapted Screenplay (Smith)

Django, Elgar, and others

I finally got round to seeing Django Unchained. Much like Inglourious Basterds, it’s very funny, very violent, and very disturbing. Tarantino manages the tension in a scene like a virtuoso, Foxx is a badass but with depth, Waltz is an amazing actor, and the other leads distinguish themselves as well. The KKK raid scene with Jonah Hill (who’s beginning to make a name for himself as a real actor) is a particular comic high point. The depiction of the pre-Civil War South is raw and unsettling. It’s something that needs to be seen and rarely is, but it is not for the squeamish. The idea of all this being done by a white guy adds an uncomfortable racial twist to a topic that already has enough—Basterds did not have the same problem, oddly.

I finished Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II on Friday evening. I hope to put up a full review some time soon, but I can’t do it right now because I’m busy mentally preparing for an important concert. Speaking of which: tomorrow, April 8, is the final performance of the University of Manitoba Symphony Orchestra’s 2012-13 season. On the program is Mozart’s Symphony no. 33 in B-flat Major, K.319; Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations (Edvany Silva, cello), and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, op.36. This is the orchestra’s final performance under the direction of Richard Lee, who is leaving the WSO and the U of M after this season. The concert is 7:30 at Westworth United Church. Tickets are $15 or $5 for students.

I’ve had a lot of fun with the Elgar, and it’s taught me a lot about symphonic playing. People familiar with the piece will know that the principal clarinet features very prominently throughout, but especially in the thirteenth variation, where I play an extremely quiet solo above barely audible strings and a timpani played with coins for a mechanical effect. It’s the most tense, poignant moment in a piece full of tension and poignancy. It’s an honour to be able to play it, and a great learning experience besides.

As for Richard Lee, I have gained a lot from my brief period playing under his baton. He is ruthless and uncompromising but fair. He’s done wonders for the U of M orchestra, and I hope he succeeds in his future endeavours.

The really good news is that, with classes drawing to a close, I will soon have the time and energy to post more often in this space. I have lots of ideas floating around that I would love to put into words, and by the last two weeks of April, I’ll finally be able to.

Oscar retrospective

So, I called it in seven out of nine (or 6.5, if you want to get technical) categories in which I made predictions. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the two I missed were Best Picture and Best Animated Feature. I liked Argo but I didn’t seriously think it would win—the Academy is not subtle and the most obvious choice is usually the right one.

As for Brave, it’s a pretty lazy choice that solidifies Best Animated Feature as the Annual Pixar Award. The movie did not make a big splash—its box office was respectable but not outstanding and no one was talking about it a week after it came out. Paranorman had outstanding voice acting, a solid script, and a new method of animation that was very well executed.

This year’s Oscars

Tonight everyone except me will be watching the Academy Awards broadcast. I would, but I am rehearsing Rhapsody in Blue and Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques from 8:30 to 10:15. Counting transit to and from the hall, this more than covers the time of the broadcast. I’ll get the results online when I get home—if I’m not finding out at the same time as everyone else, there’s no point sitting through the tedious ceremony.

Here are a couple predictions, based on very little information. (I always predict awards ceremonies and elections based on vague impressions, and I never do worse than anybody else).

Best Picture: Lincoln is still the obvious choice to me. Les Miserables would seem at a glance like a strong contender, but it doesn’t seem to have gained much traction. Several critics are now changing their predictions to Argo, but I’d be surprised if it actually won.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Best Actress: No strong front-runner, as far as I can tell.

Best Supporting Actor: A weird category this year. It could go to any of them.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway.

Best Director: Spielberg or Ang Lee. Not sure which.

Original Screenplay: Tarantino, but I’m not confident in this guess.

Adapted Screenplay: Argo.

Animated Feature: If it’s not Paranorman, it would be disgraceful.

Original Score: Hard to call, because it’s similar to the Supporting Actor category. Lots of regulars in here, so it almost doesn’t matter who they award it to.

Original Song: I’m still thinking Adele for “Skyfall”, but maybe the song from Les Miserables will win (it’s got everything going for it, Oscar-wise, except for the fact that it’s completely unmemorable).

As for Gershwin and Messiaen, the concert is next week. Also on the program is Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds. If you live in Winnipeg, you may never get another chance to hear the Stravinsky or Messiaen. 7:30 at Eva Clare Hall, free admission.

Thoughts on adaptations

My review of The Hobbit focused almost entirely on how the movie relates to the book. I thought this was odd as I wrote it—I wanted to mention more specific information about the acting, the visuals, the music, but I couldn’t find a way to work it in and it didn’t seem all that important, compared to the overriding question of how well the transition to the screen was carried off. We know that The Hobbit is a good yarn, we know that Peter Jackson won’t make a movie that’s not at least watchable, we know Ian McKellen can act and Howard Shore can bang out a tune. These are not interesting questions to ask. On the other hand, “Did Peter Jackson fundamentally misconceive The Hobbit?” is.

We’re dealing here with a matter of minor controversy in the genre fiction community. On the one hand are the people who want to be told a story, preferably with guns and aliens and simplistic morality, and don’t care all that much about the way it is told. Such people are the reason that, e.g., Stephen R. Donaldson has a career as a writer. TV Tropes is important to them. Adapting a book to film is, to them, paying it a great compliment, and the result will always be judged based on how well it adheres to the source material.

On the other hand are the more educated and intelligent (but sometimes too clever by half) people, the ones who are able to join in on beatdowns of this guy while simultaneously holding this guy in contempt. They will point out that there is more to a novel than the sequence of events it narrates, that not everything will adapt well to the screen, that perhaps the adaptation should try to be good in its own right, in film terms, instead of slavishly following the book. They have, in general, a nicer and more sophisticated way of looking at the world, and if they read it they’d probably object to my Hobbit review. I think they’d be wrong. Read the rest of this entry »


Finally got round to seeing Argo. It’s basically everything it’s been made out to be—a fine take on a historical watershed, very interesting and educational with some good acting and snappy lines, but nothing life-changing. The 70s aesthetic is hilariously spot-on, Arkin and Goodman are as entertaining as ever, and Ben Affleck is remarkably not annoying. Tension runs high, but in a subdued way, in facial expressions and little glances. It never gets graphic, but some scenes implying tortures and executions are quite visceral. Alexandre Desplat’s music is very nice.

Oscar chances: set against Lincoln and Les Mis, not good. Alan Arkin for Supporting Actor is not completely ridiculous, but although his moments were excellent, he was so busy supporting that he was hardly even in the movie. Adapted Screenplay seems pretty likely (assuming Lincoln doesn’t pick it up in some big sweep). Original Score is actually pretty likely, because Desplat has been passed over several times—I don’t know that I’d give it to him over Thomas Newman, but we’ll see what happens.

The weekend’s entertainments

Quartet came out in Canada on Friday. It’s an hors d’oeuvre, but a good one. Billy Connolly is a great dirty old man, the music is very nice, and there’s a shout out to, of all things, Lovreglio’s Traviata fantasy for the clarinet.

The WSO concert was Ligeti, Prokofiev, and Dvorak, and it was a little more mixed. Ligeti’s “Concert romanesc” is a stunning little work by a composer I had underestimated. Unfortunately, Saturday night’s rendition of it was marred by some pretty awful balance issues and insipid tone from the cellos and bassoons. This carried over into Prokofiev (the third piano concerto). The soloist, Nobuyuki Tsujii, is a little too tentative and clean. The piano was actually inaudible at points, sometimes fairly crucial points. And he was too nice. The third piano concerto, especially in the first movement, is meant to be sloppy and vulgar. It’s witty, but foul-mouthed. Wrong notes are acceptable, even encouraged.

The Dvorak (seventh symphony) was much better—it’s pretty clear where all the rehearsal time went. So far this year, the meaty symphonic music has come off well, but the equally important crowd-pleasing character pieces have fallen a little flat.

I’m no expert on disability studies, but I strongly suspect there is something undignified in the way Tsujii was put on display. Like a freak show—“look everybody, blind people are people too! Some of them even play the piano!” The fact that he is blind seemed to overshadow the fact that he’s a fine, well-trained musician playing a great piece of music. The pre-concert talk was all about the challenges of blind pianism, and hardly mentioned Prokofiev. The standing ovation was for his heartstring-tugging story, not because his performance was astounding (it wasn’t).

More standing ovation-related hypocrisy: I confess I didn’t have the strength to stay seated during the whole ovation. In my defense, I defied the crowd at the end of the Dvorak, which didn’t bring many people to their feet because no one had to overcome anything in order to perform it. But the Dvorak was better.

The Oscars

The list this year includes a boatload of movies I meant to see but never got round to. At this point it looks unlikely I’ll see any of them before the Oscar ceremony, because I’m looking at an insane concert schedule through February and late January.

So, what can I say that hasn’t already been said elsewhere? The Animated Feature slate seems unusually strong this year—i.e., they actually found five films worth nominating, and they’re all good enough that they could plausibly win. I’d like to see it go to ParaNorman, for being the most interesting, original movie on the list and for the effort put into the animation. I also wonder if Pixar isn’t losing their touch. Brave was an underwhelming idea with (I’m told) underwhelming execution, and it follows up on the bankrupt Cars 2. Coming up, they have two sequels and a couple movies that don’t look very interesting.

For Original Score, we’ve got two previous winners (Marianelli, Williams) one new guy (Danna), and two frequently snubbed composers (Desplat and Newman). I’d give it to Newman for Skyfall—I’m sure the score for Lincoln is great, but John Williams has plenty of Oscars already. For Original Song, I would again give it to Skyfall.

Other than that, I have nothing to say. Here’s a Bruckner symphony for you: