The Couch Potato Report

Here’s hoping you like these better than I did!!

The Couch Potato Report – February 7th, 2009
This week The Couch Potato Report peels a Canadian movie that isn’t a good movie, but I will still recommend it, and some Black Magic.
I have seen this week’s Hot Potato seven times now…from start to finish I have watched Paul Gross’s film PASSCHENDAELE seven times…and what was true after the first time remains true after the seventh…this is not a good movie.
It can serve as a great history lesson to every Canadian…and for that reason it is very worthy of your time…but as a film…this is such a missed opportunity.
Now, in case you are asking why I have bothered to sit through PASSCHENDAELE seven times if it isn’t a good movie, well I wanted – and still want – this film about a piece of Canadian history that we should all know – to be one that is a must see.
One that each and every Canadian would not only feel compelled to see, but want to…and so before every time I saw it, I figured that maybe it was just me…maybe it isn’t a bad film, maybe it was just me.
And this week, I must admit that I came to an unfortunate conclusion…it isn’t me.
The actual Battle of Passchendaele – or Third Battle of Ypres – was one of the major battles of World War I. It was a series of operations starting in June 1917 and petering out in November 1917 in which troops under British command attacked the Imperial German Army.
The battle was fought for control of the village of Passchendaele near the town of Ypres in West Flanders, Belgium.
The film PASSCHENDAELE was written, produced, directed by and stars Paul Gross. He plays Michael Dunne, a soldier who is brutally wounded in France and returns to Calgary emotionally and physically scarred.
While in the military hospital in Calgary, he meets and falls in love with a nurse, who is played by Caroline Dhavernas, from the TV show WONDERFALLS.
And it is the romantic subplot that causes the film to go off the rails, primarily because the world is at war, and…the Nurse has a brother, who has Asthma…but only when the plot of the film needs him to have Asthma…and she lost her father at Vimy Ridge, then, as it turns out, he was a German, fighting against the Canadians, making her and her whole family outcasts.
Now, if that wasn’t enough, the nurse is also addicted to morphine, until one fateful night, after the locals trash her house and she has nowhere else to stay but with Gross’ Michael Dunne in a hotel room, and in one night of just conversation – the utterly ridiculous love scene comes later on the battlefields of France – in one night of cinematic conversation, she is able to completely kick her morpine habit and we never hear about it again…but we do hear about her brother again.
The asthmatic brother manages to get around the rules that prevent people who have the disease from joining the military, and he is shipped off to fight.
And guess who feels compelled to go back to Europe to protect him?
Yes, that is right…one Michael Dunne.
Now, I am a patriotic and proud Canadian, and love seeing our country’s stories told on screen. I also consider myself a fan of Paul Gross’ work, and I am a huge fan of Caroline Dhavernas…but PASSCHENDAELE is just not a good movie…and the blame for that is due to the fact that it was written, produced, directed by and stars Paul Gross.
Even though there were three other producers, and a studio behind this film, not one of them stepped in to suggest that maybe the Asthma plot point didn’t work, or ask why the Nurse has to have all of the afflictions that she does, when one or two would have sufficed…and no one bothered to question Gross as to why so little of his film actually takes place in Passchendaele.
Had they done that, had anyone stepped in and worked harder to make this a better film, then the result could have been something that all of us were proud of…after all, the real-life stories of what the Canadian soldiers actually accomplished at Passchendaele could provide inspiration for dozens of films!!
Unfortunately, due to the fact that Gross’ film cost over $20 to make and market, and only made $4.5 million at the box office, it isn’t likely that many other real-lfe Canadian stories will be turned into films anytime soon…as the studios will say that Canadian films don’t make money.
However…the real truth is…good films make money…bad films usually do not.
Now, with all that negativity said, and for the moment pushed aside, I still think that you should see PASSCHENDAELE because the filmmakers did so a very good job of re-creating the actual Battle of Passchendaele, and spreading the word of our Soldier’s accomplishments there.
I just wish that they had been honoured with a better film…I really wish that.
I have five other releases to tell you about this week, starting with Kevin Smith’s ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO.
Smith is the man who gave us the films CLERKS, CHASING AMY and MALLRATS and he had the chance with this film to do something he had never done before, have a cast who can actually act get his well-written words to a mass audience.
Unfortunately, he decided not to use the talents of his cast – including Seth Rogen from SUPER BAD and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and Elizabeth Banks from DEFINITELY MAYBE and W – and the result is a sophomoric comedy about two broke friends who have to resort to something most of us would consider the height of desperation…and the name of this film again is ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO.
Admittedly, I didn’t think that ZACK & MIRI was an awful film, I did enjoy it more the second time and I will watch it again, but it could have been so much better. Even the lazy title indicates that Smith didn’t give this one his all.
If you liked CLERKS II and JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, then this might be a good rental for you…otherwise skip it.
And you might also need to skip NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST.
NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST is really meant to be a comedy for teens, especially teens who enjoyed the book it is based on.
I know I would have loved this film about two teenagers who meet and fall in love one night primarily bacuse of their shared love of music when I was a teenager, however as a 40 year old, I only liked it a little bit.
NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST isn’t a bad movie, I did like a lot of it as it does have a great soundtrack and cast – including Canadian Michael Cera from ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and Juno, but – to me – it just wasn’t as good as it could have been.
Maybe I am just too old for it. Geez, I hate admitting that.
I am definitely not too old for this next release, in fact it is one that I first discovered during my teen years! This is the 3-DVD Box Set for THE SECRET POLICEMAN’S BALLS.
THE SECRET POLICEMAN’S BALLS is the name that is used to describe the long-running series of benefit shows staged in England to raise funds for the human rights organisation Amnesty International.
The shows started out in the mid-1970s primarily as comedy galas featuring well-known musical performers such as Sting, Phil Collins and Pete Townshend and popular British comedic performers, most notably the cast of Monty Python.
These were all great shows and this is a spectacular box set, that also includes a great retrospective look back!
I wouldn’t use the word spectaculat to describe this week’s BLU-RAY BEACON – Adrian Lyne’s film UNFAITHFUL, but this is a very good film…one made for and by adults.
UNFAITHFUL is the 2002 film starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez. Gere and Lane are a couple whose marriage starts to fall apart once the wife starts to have an affair.
What remains unique here is that it is the wife having the affair, something not usually seen in Hollywood films, and UNFAITHFUL looks and sounds great on Blu-ray.
Finally this week, in honour of BLACK HISTORY MONTH, let me tell you about a very insightful documentary called BLACK MAGIC!
BLACK MAGIC shows us some of the injustices that helped define the Civil Rights Movement in America, as told through the lives of basketball players and coaches who attended Historical Black Colleges and Universities.
Narrated by Academy Award Nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson and jazz great Wynton Marsalis, and featuring basketball greats like Chris Paul, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Julius “Dr. J” Erving this is an eye opening look at how some athletes helped pave the way towards equal rights for all.
The insightful and entertaining documentary BLACK MAGIC and the superb box set for THE SECRET POLICEMAN’S BALLS are both available now on DVD.
The films UNFAITHFUL, NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO and the disappointing PASSCHENDAELE are available now on DVD and Blu-ray.
Coming up on the next Couch Potato Report
FROZEN RIVER is the Academy Award nominated film about the lengths that two mothers are willing to go for their kids.
And I will also discuss Spike Lee’s MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA.
I’m Dan Reynish. I’ll have more on those, and some other releases, in seven days.
For now, that’s this week’s COUCH POTATO REPORT.
Enjoy the movies and I’ll see you back here next time on The Couch!