30 September 2009

Back to #2: "But sweetheart... I can't be your mother!"

Secrets & Lies is the only film that is guaranteed to make me cry every single time that I see it. Writer and director Mike Leigh has crafted a perfect film, with vibrant characters and real dialogue. Mike Leigh is a noted British director whose other films include the intense Vera Drake and the wonderfully funny Happy-Go-Lucky. His films are created without an original script, he builds the dialogue with the actors with the characters developed. This creates some very wonderful and emotional scenes in the film, especially a heartbreaking scene between the two leading actresses that was unscripted and done on one take. The film stars Brenda Blethyn as Cynthia Purley, a woman whose family is so torn up by secrets and lies. This performance won Brenda Blethyn the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, the BAFTA award and an Academy Award nomination (the Oscar went to Frances McDormand for Fargo). The film is a beautiful and touching story of how years of secrets can tear a family apart and how difficult it can be to rebuild the trust. Anyone who has ever had even an argument with a family member will be touched by this astonishing film.

Cynthia Purley is factory worker and single mother living in a shitty apartment in London with her soon-to-be twenty-one year old daughter Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook). Her brother Maurice (Timothy Spall) lives with his wife Monica (Phyllis Logan) in a new house in an affluent neighbourhood. He rarely sees his sister, mostly due to Monica's tense relationship with Cynthia. Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) has just lost her adoptive mother and has decided to find her birth mother, Cynthia. Roxanne has never been told that her mother had a baby when she was sixteen, and this fact a
ngers Monica because she believes that Roxanne has every right to know. As Cynthia and Hortense attempt to build their relationship, years of secrets and lies are revealed. This story of wounded hearts leads to a painful climax during Roxanne's twenty-first birthday party.

Secrets & Lies
tells the story of a family who has spent so much time apart that they are unable to function as a family. As an audience we are able to fully relate to the characters on the screen because they are real. These characters have faults and are not perfect, and we watch this film, often stunned, as more and more secrets are revealed. It is refreshing to watch a film where the characters act and react in a natural manner, in ways that we would react. The acting is impeccable, each actor brings commitment and passion to the role. Brenda Blethyn's performance as the fragile Cynthia Purley is completely deserving of any and all accolades, and her performance alone is enough to rank Secrets & Lies number two on my list.

Review: "The Informant!"

No, this is not my second favourite film, it just happens to be the first new film I have seen since starting my blog!

The Informant! is a film by Steven Soderbergh, starring Matt Damon. Soderbergh has directed some very well known American movies in the past decade (the Oceans 11 films, Erin Brockovich, Traffic), and I would not call this his best film. Traffic will stand as his best directorial effort for some time, I believe. The Informant! has received an awful lot of buzz in the past month due to its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. My desire to see this movie, which was pretty dismal to begin with, lessened with each news article I read and with each viewing of the trailer on television. I feared that the film would be too lowbrow for my taste, and I have never been a fan of films that advertise themselves as true stories. Sorry, I just have little desire to go watch a film based on the life of a real person. I am the same with books, I prefer fiction over non fiction.

In the film, Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a vice-president of a large corporation who begins working with the FBI as an informant in an attempt to bring down the company. The film works as a dark comedy and there are many elements of the film that are quite humorous and unique. There are many times when Damon's character is in the midst of a conversation and we begin to hear the character's thoughts through the use of narration. It is quite clever and gives the audience more insight into the character. Whitacre's personal life begins to suffer due to his role as informant and he tries to get the FBI to shut down their investigation. Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula), the FBI agent in charge of Whitacre's case, tells him that the U.S. Government has expressed interest in going after the company and that the only way to protect himself is to continue to work as an informant. What follows is a bizarre turns of events that are so unbelievable (as the film's poster reads) that it is hard to believe that it is based on real events.

I really enjoyed the film until about the halfway point, after that the pace slowed down and it felt like it was a chore to enjoy the rest. There were so many twists and turns at the end that I feel like Steven Soderbergh spent too much time setting up the film. Matt Damon is a good actor, but not a great one, and he played the role of Mark Whitacre well, but neither the film nor the role will go down in history as his greatest accomplishments. It also seems like so much emphasis was placed on Matt Damon's role that the other characters come off as one-dimensional. I do not know if I would go as far as to say it is a black comedy, but it has its comedic elements and is enjoyable for the most part.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

And to the bitches sitting behind me in the theatre, next time you want to talk through a movie SHUT UP.

27 September 2009

... Three "Shut your raggedy-ass up, and sit the fuck down!"

Some people may consider Quentin Tarantino's best film to be Pulp Fiction (which is definitely a classic), others may think that Kill Bill was his finest work (and it is absolutely an amazing film), and Quentin Tarantino himself has said that he wants Inglourious Basterds to be his masterpiece, but I honestly believe that Jackie Brown is his pièce de résistance. Like all Tarantino films, Jackie Brown works as an ensemble, with all actors working effortlessly to create memorable characters. The film stars Pam Grier as Jackie Brown, a Los Angeles-based stewardess, Samuel L. Jackson as Ordell Robbie, a gun dealer, Bridget Fonda as Melanie, one of Ordell's many girlfriends, Robert De Niro as Louis, a lifelong criminal recently released from prison, and Robert Forster as Max Cherry, a bail bondsman. Jackie Brown is a crime thriller based off a novel by Elmore Leonard (responsible for the source material for films like Out of Sight and Get Shorty), and throughout the film the audience is constantly trying to figure out just who is playing the con in this smart and intense film.

Jackie Brown opens with one of my favourite title sequences: Jackie Brown running through the Los Angeles airport to make it to the gate in time to board her flight. We really get to see how disheveled and distraught her character is, all without the use of dialogue. Jackie has been working for Ordell, smuggling money into the country for Mexico to support his gun trade business. At the beginning of the film she is taken into custody by an ATF agent (played by Michael Keaton) and an LAPD detective (Michael Bowen). Jackie knows that the two men are after Ordell, and orchestrates a plan with the two detectives. She also convinces an irate Ordell not to kill her and assures him that she is on his side. Together they hatch a plan for Jackie to bring Ordell's money into the country and Jackie has the ATF believing she is leading them to Ordell, and Ordell believes that she is helping him sneak the money past the agents. Robert Forster, who Ordell hires to get Jackie out of jail, plays Jackie's accomplice in her attempt to gain her freedom from jail and from Ordell. Louis and Melanie play pivotal roles in the film, but to highlight their significance would require me to ruin too many of the film's secrets.

At more than two and a half hours, Jackie Brown is an intense film, and it is the quintessential Quentin Tarantino film. It has fantastic dialogue that is well-paced and humorous, it has fully developed characters, and it is, of course, violent. Each actor brings such commitment and passion to the role that we become emotionally invested in the outcome. Pam Grier is fantastic in the title role, but it is Robert Forster's performance that is most unexpected. There is such a quiet intensity in his creation of Max Cherry that it should come as no surprise that he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. I chose this image of Bridget Fonda because she is perhaps my favourite character in the film. In a role that could easily be forgotten or even overacted by another actor, Bridget Fonda's Melanie is the character that controls the outcome of all the characters at the end.

#4 "I shoulda been motherfuckin' Black Mamba!"

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, in my opinion, should be viewed as one film, rather than in two volumes, as it was released. Tarantino is a filmmaker for a film lover, as he understands how to create a film that audiences will love. Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown are definitely two of the most clever and enjoyable films of the past two decades. Kill Bill stars Uma Thurman as The Bride, a one-time assassin who has just been left for dead at her wedding. This film showcases all of Uma's talent, and should be seen as a masterpiece. It is a film that is violent, wickedly funny, and touching. While volume 1 focuses a lot more on action and volume 2 on dialogue and character, the two films work as a whole to create a wonderful story of revenge. Quentin Tarantino writes his screenplays with such a masterful use of language that we are swept up into the story, where we feel that we are right along with The Bride on her quest to exact revenge on Bill. Uma Thurman's interpretation of character is so astonishing that it is hard to view her in any other role before first seeing her in her yellow jumpsuit playing The Bride.

We first meet The Bride at the beginning of the film when an unseen Bill shoots a bullet into her skull. We skip ahead four years and find that she did not die, and has decided to seek revenge against those responsible for her attempted murder, namely her former boss and mentor, Bill. The Bride was once a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, where she was given the code name Black Mamba. Before finding Bill, she has made it her mission to kill O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah), and Budd (Michael Madsen), her former colleagues, who killed her unborn child and entire wedding party. Volume 1 begins as The Bride seeks revenge against Vernita Green, second on her kill list. The anticipated fight between these two former assassins is choreographed like a dance and is spectacular to watch. Quentin Tarantino employs a fractured narrative and the story continues as The Bride begins her quest to find and kill O-Ren Ishii. Tarantino is no stranger to fractured narratives, as he used this style with great effectiveness in Pulp Fiction. As this is a revenge fantasy film, one can expect that The Bride finds success in her effort to kill Bill, however, she does encounter enormous resistance from her enemies, particularly a fantastically campy fight scene against O-Ren Ishii's army, the Crazy 88. As a director and storyteller, Quentin Tarantino gives his audience the back story needed to empathize with The Bridge and you find yourself cheering louder for every enemy she dispatches.

Kill Bill should never be seen as just another revenge fantasy. Quentin Tarantino melds so many different techniques into one film (in two volumes) that the film becomes a visual masterpiece. Tarantino uses of colour and contrast in the film: so well that the scenes in black and white are especially eerie and the red blood splattered over The Bride's yellow jumpsuit shows just how hard she has to fight to gain her revenge. The soundtrack of the film is also quite memorable, which is a staple of most Tarantino films. There is such a wide variety of music in the film and the soundtrack of the film expertly enhances each scene. When the final credits end, after volume 2, the film belongs to Uma Thurman. She gives a wonderfully impassioned performance which should have received much more attention from media and critics, although the film may have been considered too violent for a conservative public. Forget Uma's career performance in Pulp Fiction, she is the star of Kill Bill and it is her film and she is the reason that is will one day be considered a masterpiece.

On a final note: Quentin Tarantino NEEDS to edit the two volumes into one film, so it can be released on DVD as it was meant to be viewed.

26 September 2009

Then there were five: "So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator!"

Woody Allen, whose large body of work includes some very fantastic films (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanours, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) has perfectly matched his film making style with the musical genre in his film Everyone Says I Love You. Roger Ebert, my favourite film critic, lists this film among Allen's best. Woody Allen aficionados know that music has always played a crucial role in all of his films, with the use of jazz music played during in most opening credits of his films. A movie musical seemed to be a perfect way for Woody Allen to merge his love of music (he is an accomplished clarinettist) with his own films. Woody Allen also has a definite knack for casting, and this film is no exception. He is known to often cast the same actors in multiple films, but in Everyone Says I Love You Alan Alda is the only actor of the main cast to have appeared in a previous film The film stars Edward Norton, Drew Barrymore, Goldie Hawn, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Allen himself. Natasha Lyonne has the arduous task of being both narrator and star of the film.

Natasha Lyonne plays Djuna "D.J." Berlin, who narrates a story of the love lives of her family members through the four seasons of a given year. All actors in the film were asked to use their own singing voices for the film, except for Goldie Hawn (who was asked to sing worse) and Drew Barrymore (who believed her singing voice to be too inferior and was dubbed). D.J. narrates use through the relationships of her family. We watch her father (Allen) as he tries to win the affection of a woman (Julia Roberts) in Venice, while in New York her sister Skylar (Barrymore) become engaged to Holden (Norton), and her twin sisters (Natalie Portman and Gaby Hoffmann) as they experience young love. The musical numbers of the film showcase the trials and tribulations of love across generations and the film is tied together through D.J.'s own personal revelations about love.

Everyone Says I Love You is not my favourite Woody Allen film (stay tuned to see which of his nearly 40 films wins that honour), and there are a good number of films that could have won the spot as my second favourite, but this is a special film that leaves you with a great sense of hope that everyone is capable of finding true love. Natasha Lyonne's performance ties the film together in a wonderful way and her tone of voice is perfect for a film that showcases the ups and downs of love. Beyond the music and characters, the film also showcases two of my favourite cities: Paris and Venice. There are two of the world's most beautiful and romantic cities. The music used in the film are mostly classical standards and will be very familiar to those who watch this film. There will be times that many of the songs become stuck in your head, even after not having seen the film for weeks and another viewing is needed. There are many scenes that combine Allen's masterful skill of direction with the music that one cannot hit the rewind button quick enough to watch the scene again!

25 September 2009

It's time for six: "Let's shag ass!"

Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums is the first film I remember going to see twice at the cinema. I clearly remember watching the film and laughing harder than I had ever done before. My brother and I have a special relationship with the film because it was, and still is, our favourite film that we have seen together. I remember seeing the previews for this film during the summer of 2001 and knowing that it was going to be a film I would love. I had never seen Wes Anderson`s previous films, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, and for some unknown reason I still have not, although his more recent films (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited) were quite enjoyable. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow may not be my favourite actors, but the entire cast of this film creates a wonderfully off-beat dark comedy about an eccentric family.

Gene Hackman stars as Royal, the deadbeat patriarch of the Tenenbaum family. His three children (Ben Stiller as Chas, Luke Wilson as Richie, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot) were once child prodigies, who have all failed to mark achievements in adulthood. The film begins with Royal being evicted from his hotel room, his home for the past 22 years.
His wife Etheline (a marvelous Anjelica Huston) has just become engaged to her accountant, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Homeless and broke, Royal devises a plan with his devoted friend Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) to become reunited with his estranged wife and family. He tells his family that he is dying of stomach cancer and before long all the members of the Tenenbaum family are living in the family home. The Royal Tenenbaums features Owen Wilson, as a childhood friend of the Tenenbaum children, and Bill Murray, as Margot's husband, in supporting roles. The film follows the chaotic adventures of Royal, as he tries to reestablish his relationship with his family.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a fantastic movie on so many levels, but at its core it is a story about family. As you can see from my taste already, I love dark comedy. This film is a very dark comedy. I love watching a movie where you do not know when you should laugh, if you should laugh, and when you realize that you have been the only one laughing at a certain scene. The actors in this film work as an ensemble and it is very clear that these characters are related. Wes Anderson has created a script with Owen Wilson that is both wickedly funny and very emotional. Many films fall flat with the use of a narrator, but Alec Baldwin's tone of voice perfectly sets up the scenes and gives the viewer just enough information for the whole film to flow perfectly. Gene Hackman was rightly praised for his leading role, one of his few films this decade. One may draw comparisons between this film and one of my favourite television shows: Arrested Development. There must be something about dysfunctional families!

24 September 2009

7! 7! 7! "On guard, bitch!"

Robert Zemeckis' Death Becomes Her is not a perfect movie, but it is absolutely one of my favourites. How can one have a top ten list of favourite movies without including Meryl Streep? There is no other actress with her talent or body of work. Streep has been in fantastic films (Kramer vs Kramer, Manhattan, Silkwood) and in less spectacular films (The River Wild, Adaptation, Postcards from the Edge) and yet in every single one of her films she gives a performance that would be a career achievement by any other actress. Death Becomes Her is a movie from my childhood. It brings back memories of being 10 years old and seeing this film. It is hard to believe that Goldie Hawn has not been in a single decent film since it was released in 1992. The only other above average film that Bruce Willis has been in is Pulp Fiction, which thankfully features him in a minor supporting role. Imagine that after this film was released Zemeckis went and directed the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump.

Madeline (Meryl Streep) and Helen (Goldie Hawn) have always been competitive with each other. Their friendship was ruined when Madeline stole Helen's finance Ernest (Bruce Willis) and Helen turns to food. Then we fast forward to the present: Madeline is a struggling actress whose looks are fading, Ernest is a drunk and bitter husband, and Helen has overcame her obesity and the author of a best-selling book. Helen has devised a plan to finally get her revenge on Madeline and be reunited with Ernest. Madeline, frustrated by her aging body, turns to Lisle (Isabella Rossellini), a mysterious woman who grants Madeline the gift of eternal beauty, with the only stipulation that she remove herself from the public eye. Immediately after drinking the potion, Madeline sees her body returning to its former glory. At home, after a fight with Ernest, Madeline finds herself at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck... which should have killed her. Ernest, believing that Madeline is dead, calls Helen to celebrate, only to find that Madeline is not actually dead. From here, we see how similar Madeline and Helen are, and how far they will go to get what they want.

Death Becomes Her is a smart and frivolous black comedy about society's obsession with beauty. The film may never really hit any of the key issues, but it does negatively depict the endless quest for beauty and cosmetic surgery. It is definitely not Meryl Streep's finest performance, but it does prove that she has a knack for comedy. This film can also be remembered for its use of special effects. One of the film's most memorable scenes includes a hilarious fight scene between Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn just before the characters' darkest secrets are revealed. This film will not touch you on an emotional level, and it does not necessarily need to, it is sheer, enjoyable fun.

20 September 2009

Number 8: "Ah hon, ya got Arby's all over me."

If you can't tell already, I am quoting the fantastic Marge Gunderson in the even more fantastic film, Fargo. I had never seen a single Coen brothers film before Fargo and did not discover it until it was released on DVD years later. The Coens brothers have made some great films such as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, and No Country For Old Men, but for me Fargo ranks far above all of their other efforts. Frances McDormand won a richly deserved Academy Award for Best Actress her performance. Even though I didn't see this film for about 7 years after it came out, I remember watching the Academy Awards the year it was nominated. This was the time in my young life when I was just becoming interested in films and I remember wanting Brenda Blethyn to win the Oscar for her performance in Secrets & Lies. Roger Deakins cinematography should have won the Oscar over The English Patient, as it is probably the best cinematography I have seen in recent films. The wintry landscapes of the film are certainly the images that stay with me long after the film ends.

Set in the late 1980s in Minnesota, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a financially strapped car salesman, who plans to have his wife kidnapped in order to extort money from his affluent father-in-law. The plan goes awry and a police officer is killed along a Minnesota state highway. Marge Gunderson, the local police chief in her seventh month of pregnancy, begins to investigate the crime on her own. It is too easy to give away critical details by discussing the plot, and by watching the film one wonders how so may things can go wrong. Marge Gunderson is either the smartest detective in film history, or is just lucky to be in the midst of a crime committed by some of the most absent-minded criminals.

Fargo is absolutely a black comedy, which is definitely a reason that I love this film. Dark comedies are definitely more apt to become cult favourites because it is harder for them to be embraced by the general public. Luckily, I am usually someone who loves a dark and odd film. The tone and pacing of the film are excellent. One of the most talked about elements of the film is the accents employed by the actors. Frances McDormand's stereotypical Minnesota accent definitely makes the viewer more empathetic to her quest for justice. Joel and Ethan Coens film Fargo is a perfect piece of filmmaking that should be required viewing for any cinephile.

19 September 2009

Numéro neuf: Little Children

Little Children is a hauntingly beautiful movie with stunning performances by its two lead actors, Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson. Kate Winslet is a phenomenal actress and her talents are displayed brilliantly in this chilling film directed by Todd Field. Todd Field's previous film, In The Bedroom, left me absolutely stunned at the end as well. Little Children is based off the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta, who co-wrote the screenplay with Todd Field. Tom Perrotta, as I have come to learn, is also responsible for the source material for the clever film Election. I will admit that I had never been a fan of Kate Winslet until seeing this film. Once the closing credits ended I was unable to move and yet eager to go discuss this film with anyone who had seen it. It was that powerful.

Kate Winslet plays Sarah, an emotionally and sexually starved homemaker with a young daughter, and feels lost in her role as a wife and mother. Sarah meets Brad (Patrick Wilson) at a park with his son and find themselves drawn to one another. We learn that Brad feels emasculated in his relationship with his wife (Jennifer Connelly), who treats Brad as a second child. Sarah and Brad begin spending summer days together at the community pool with their children and establish a daytime friendship, which quickly develops into an affair, using their children as a reason to be together. Sarah's desire for Brad becomes more and more fervent while Brad's wife begins to question his new demeanor. While this is happening, Ronnie has been released from prison for indecent exposure to a minor. These two stories are linked through Larry (Noah Emmerich), an acquaintance of Brad's who has been relieved of duty as a police officer and seeks out revenge on Ronnie and his elderly mother.

Little Children, narrated impeccably by Will Lyman of PBS' Frontline, is a harrowing example of how the simplest action can affect the lives of others. Kate Winslet gives an astonishingly layered performance of a suburban housewife turned psychotic mistress. She richly deserved her Oscar nomination and, in my opinion, should have won over Helen Mirren in The Queen (sorry to be the sole dissenter). The film flows beautifully and each actor brings such emotion to the character that the viewer becomes emotionally involved in the lives of each character.

18 September 2009

Number 10 on the list...

After seeing this film in the fall of 2008 I knew that I had just been witness to an amazing film. I have always been a huge fan of foreign movies (Run Lola Run, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy, Volver), but Il y a longtemps que je t'aime hit me smack in the face. I had always respected Kristin Scott Thomas as an actress but, honestly, my knowledge of her career achievement ranged from the epic and somewhat unwatchable The English Patient to the cheesy Mission: Impossible. The only movies of hers I can claim to have seen are Gosford Park (a brilliantly interwoven film by Robert Altman) and Life as a House. Unfortunately, I do not actually remember her being in either of these movies. It was not until I saw Ne le dis à personne that things changed. Playing a small part in the film, Kristin Scott Thomas captivated me. I realized that we shared something in common: two Anglophones trying to make a living speaking French. It was marvelous, and I wholeheartedly recommend this film to everyone (it was so very close to eclipsing this film as number ten on my list).

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Juliette, a woman released into the world after spending fifteen years in prison. For most of the film, we, as viewers, are left in the dark as to the reason for her stay in prison. Slowly, more is revealed about Juliette's past, through her attempt to reestablish a relationship with her sister Léa, who has graciously invited Juliette to stay with her family, much to her husband's discomfort. The film is beautiful to watch and often uncomfortable to witness. Juliette's new relationship with those around her are built on such fragile ground that we sit and watch with such anticipation and trepidation. Kristin Scott Thomas has created a character so emotionally damaged that one cannot help but empathize with her.

This film is a beautiful and provoking example of a film that unravels before you and leaves you breathless. From the beginning of the film until the emotional climax, we watch and grow with Juliette and pray for her redemption. After all, it is you, the viewer, who must decide whether or not Juliette deserves this redemption. The direction of Philippe Claudel is so quiet (and disquieting) and understated that the talents of his actors bring to life the emotional core of this film. The film unravels its secrets slowly and deliberately that when the final credits ended I felt that I had been unraveled. In the year that has passed since viewing this film for the first time, I still feel on the brink of tears when I think of Kristin Scott Thomas' complex and skillfully nuanced performance.