31 May 2010

Review: "Shrek the Third"

I should have never watched Shrek the Third. It has tainted my appreciation of the first two films and I can only imagine what the fourth installment, Shrek Forever After (or is it Shrek the Final Chapter?), has done to the once proud franchise. Shrek, released in 2001, and Shrek 2, released in 2004, were full of energy and creativity. The third lacked both. The first two films grossed almost 1.5 billion dollars and it seems clear that the only reason a third (and then fourth) film were released was because of DreamWorks' desire to compete with Pixar financially. The films introduced Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy to a younger generation and also reignited adult interest in animated films. While the first two Shrek films had great animation and humour aimed at young kids, it also had clever innuendo for adults that kids could never understand. The third installment, which had none of the clever humour that had been a trademark of the franchise, featured only one returning writer from either of the first two films. Andrew Adamson, a New Zealand film director and producer, was given a story writing credit for Shrek 2 and is listed amongst the screenwriters for Shrek the Third. There was nothing about the film that I enjoyed and I often found myself wishing I had turned it off. Shrek the Third is a weak attempt to steal money from moviegoers and completely fails to recapture the wit and ingenuity that had made Shrek and Shrek 2 successful commercially as well as critically.

The film begins in Far Far Away where King Arthur (John Cleese) is dying. The next in line to the throne is his daughter, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), and son-in-law, Shrek (Mike Myers). Shrek does not believe that an ogre for king is a good idea and insists that there must be someone more suitable for the job. Before he dies King Arthur reveals that there is another heir, his young nephew Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake). Shrek sets sail to find the young Arthur with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) at his side. As the three sail off Fiona announces that she is pregnant, prompting Shrek to start having nightmares about his offspring. Shrek discovers that "Artie" is a scrawny sixteen year old boy that is constantly picked on. Artie, originally excited by his future role as king, joins Shrek on the return trip to Far Far Away. While Shrek is away Fiona is captured by Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) who wants to claim the throne for himself. Prince Charming has concocted a plan to kill Shrek because he believes that Shrek has stolen his happily ever after by becoming king. Meanwhile Puss in Boots and Donkey have become imprisoned alongside Fiona and Artie has run away after Prince Charming had changed his mind and decided not to kill him, after learning that he was going to become king. The ridiculous story finishes with an even more ridiculous conclusion that feels forced and poorly conceived.

The future of animation changed drastically when Pixar released Toy Story in 1995. Computer animated films entered the mainstream and Pixar had a sizable advantage over other studios. DreamWorks, with the release of the original Shrek, emerged as the sole competitor to the Pixar dynasty. But I have complained over and over again that DreamWorks is relying too heavily on producing sequels to its most successful films. Shrek the Third was a severe misstep and I wish I had not seen it. Any likelihood of me seeing Shrek Forever After died soon after I began viewing the third film. There is not much else for me to say. I was bored, I was annoyed and I was disappointed. Shrek the Third was a bad decision and a waste of time.

My rating: Zero stars.

30 May 2010

Review: "The Lion King"

As I have mentioned, I have been watching some Disney films on VHS lately. The Lion King was my latest trek back to my childhood. Maybe I have overdone it with animation or The Lion King just pales in comparison to my two previous Disney experiences. It just seems that it was not as good as I remembered. The 1994 film was the fifth in the Disney Renaissance period, in between Aladdin and Pocahontas. It features a great number of well-known actors in voice roles, such as Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg. The soundtrack, one of Disney's most celebrated, features five original songs written by Elton John and Tim Rice and a musical score by Hans Zimmer (who has, to date, been nominated eight times for an Academy Award, winning once for The Lion King). The film's best moments are the musical numbers. The story, a coming-of-age film about a lion cub destined to be king, did not resonate as much with me as an adult. Is it possible that Disney over promoted the film with the stage adaptation, two direct-to-video sequels and the three season run of the animated television series The Lion King's Timon & Pumbaa? The Lion King is a good film with great music, but I found that the conclusion felt rushed and that it was not as easy to empathize with the characters.

The Lion King takes place in the Pride Lands where the king of the lions rules over all the other animals. The king, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), his wife Sarabi (Madge Sinclair), and their young cub Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a cub, Matthew Broderick as a teenager). Mufasa teaches Simba about the Circle of Life and the balance that affects all living things. Simba's uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) wants the throne for himself and uses Simba's innocence to manipulate him. Scar tells Simba about an elephant graveyard and Simba goes there with his friend Nala (Niketa Calame, Moira Kelly) where they are threatened by a group of hyenas who want to kill them. Scar has promised the hyenas that if he becomes king they will never go hungry. Later, Scar lures Simba to a gorge while the hyenas create a wildebeest stampede, where he is again saved by Mufasa. Mufasa finds himself in danger and Scar throws him into the stampede, where he is killed. Simba, believing that he killed his father, runs away. Scar tells the hyenas to run after him and ensure that he does not survive. It is at this point that Scar takes the throne, creating chaos in the Pride Lands. Simba, however, is found by Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), a meerkat and a warthog, that introduce him to their way of life. Simba is eventually found by Nala and is told of the problems in the Pride Lands, but he is afraid to return because he believes he killed his father. He does not believe that he is capable of dethroning his uncle.

I feel that The Lion King uses Mufasa's death to force Simba to run away and then fails to show the affect of his guilty conscience afterward. It almost seems that the grief is only used as a plot point and to give the character Rafiki a role in the film. Is it really necessary for Disney films to feature some form of magic? The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin all featured some magical element. A lot of reviews of the film praised the animation, but in the past decade since the film was released there have been some amazing achievements in animated films and it seems ridiculous to constantly praise film studios for advancing technology. There is a time when story must trump the animation. I would have preferred to have seen Simba discover his father's presence in his life without the use of magic. I think that that maturity would have aided the film and made the conclusion more satisfying. I might be picky and we all have our favourite Disney film, but The Lion King seemed too superficial this time around.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

29 May 2010

Review: "The Graduate"

Mike Nichols' second film, after the incredible Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is probably regarded as his greatest triumph. The Graduate, a 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, is a fiercely funny and emotional film with exceptional cinematography and flawless acting. Mike Nichols deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film, which features a great soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, who were relatively known at the time. The opening sequences of the film make the viewer feel as suffocated as Dustin Hoffman's character, and credit must be given to both the actor and the director for making creating that chaotic atmosphere. Roger Ebert initially praised Nichols for his pacing, but in a later review commented that the film's portrayal of the generation gap in the 1960s is not as poignant today. I disagree. The transition is difficult for anyone who has returned home after graduating university. The Graduate may be over forty years old, but Mike Nichols' perspective is unique and the film, which is highly regarded by the American Film Institute, has a lot more to offer on top of the Academy Award-nominated performances by its three principle actors.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is almost twenty-one and has just graduated from an East coast college. He has just returned to his parents' home in Pasadena in time for a graduation party. He is anxious about his future and would prefer to ignore the possibilities. The camera, using a variety of awkward angles and close ups, mimics Ben's unease as he weaves his way through the house making a variety of excuses to limit conversations. The wife of his father's law partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), corners Ben in his bedroom and requests a ride home. Ben obliges, though his shy and awkward behaviour is a sharp contrast to her blunt and straightforward attitude. Mrs. Robinson leads Ben into her home, forces a drink on him and eventually disrobes in her daughter's bedroom in front of him. Though their relationship does not begin that night, they do begin an affair. He is consumed by their sexual relationship and his parents are worried with him spending the day floating in the pool and his absences at night. He is eventually forced to take Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) on a date. Mrs. Robinson is furious and her relationship with Ben suffers. Ben finds himself falling in love with Elaine but the relationship is put in jeopardy when she finds out that he had an affair with her mother.

The Graduate was the first major film role for Dustin Hoffman and he was awarded an Academy Award nomination for his role. His portrayal of Ben as a shy and socially awkward young man is wonderful. Mike Nichols' camera work suits the melancholic attitude of the character perfectly. It amazes me that he was thirty years old in 1967 and that he is only six years younger than Anne Bancroft, who was pretty close to flawless in the film. Her performance relied on her alluring eyes, the eyes which seduced Dustin Hoffman at the beginning of the film which then became filled with rage by the end. With the powerful performance by Anne Bancroft it may have been easy to overlook Katharine Ross, whose young Elaine seemed naive and fragile compared to her dominating mother, but she matched the power with a mature performance. The Graduate has too many great qualities and that is why it is retains its status in film history. It is not just a comedy about a young man and his affair with an older woman. The dark and shocking moments are what keep The Graduate from becoming just another coming-of-age film that could have easily been forgotten.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

27 May 2010

Review: "Beauty and the Beast"

Like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast has a special place in my heart, though not for the same reasons. When I was in grade eight my school put on a production of Beauty and the Beast and I played the role of Maurice, Belle's father. Beauty and the Beast is an adaptation of a fairy tale first published by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, though Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's abridged version in 1756 is the most well known. Disney's 1991 adaptation is the third release in the so-called Disney Renaissance, after 1990's under-performing The Rescuers Down Under. For nearly two decades it had the distinction of being the only animated film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, where it eventually lost to juggernaut The Silence of the Lambs (the last film to win the Big Five). Beauty and the Beast follows in the tradition of The Little Mermaid with its use of a traditional Broadway score. The music of the film is incredible and beautifully frames many of the film's best scenes. Belle, like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, is a more modern Disney princess in the way that she is educated and worldly. She is introduced as a strong and brave young woman. Beauty and the Beast is unlike any film that Disney has ever introduced. It incorporates a beautiful story, fluid animation and a seamless score to create a film that appeals to all ages with moral that is applicable to all generations.

As the film begins we learn that the Beast was once a young prince who was visited by an old beggar. The old beggar offers him a rose for one night's shelter. The prince refuses and she turns him into a beast. The spell also turns all his servants into furniture and household items. The woman, an enchantress disguised as a beggar, tells him that the rose will bloom until his twenty-first birthday and he must love and be loved in return before all the petals fall or he will remain a beast forever. In the present, Belle is a beautiful young woman who lives at home with her father Maurice, an inventor of crazy gadgets. Belle is a voracious reader who yearns to discover the world. She ignores the unwanted attention from Gaston, the local hero who believes that Belle will be his wife. One day Maurice leaves to attend a fair and ends up at the Beast's castle. He is shocked when he is introduced to Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, Chip and Cogsworth. Maurice's horse returns home without him and a worried Belle makes her way to the castle, where Maurice has become the Beast's prisoner. The Beast allows Belle to take her father's place as his prisoner. The Beast allows Belle to remain free in his castle and the two begin to form a relationship with the help of his servants. Gaston's efforts to marry Belle eventually threaten the lives of Belle, her father and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful fairy tale with such vivid animation that it becomes easy to forget that it is an animated film. The music numbers are definitely the highlights of the film and there is an exceptional ballroom sequence that is traditionally marked as the film's best scene, with good reason. This film, in my opinion, is a turning point for animated films. The success of Beauty and the Beast allowed for major artists to record songs for animated films. Angela Lansbury may not be a huge celebrity, but the film can also be seen as a turning point for major actors to lend their voices to animation. I am also intrigued by the film's poster, which is not the original theatrical release poster. The poster, like the one I chose for The Little Mermaid (which was used in 1997 for the film's re-release) give the film a maturity that attracts older audiences. I may not love Beauty and the Beast as much as The Little Mermaid but its legacy is unlike any other Disney film. The film's animation is so remarkable that Roger Ebert remarked that it looked more real than live action features. I do not think there could be a stronger reason to go watch Beauty and the Beast again.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

25 May 2010

Review: "The Little Mermaid"

I am not sure what prompted me, but I have decided to revisit some of the old Disney VHS tapes that are hidden in my house. The Little Mermaid has always had a very special place in my heart. The 1989 film is my favourite from the Disney Renaissance period, the ten year period that started with The Little Mermaid and lasted until 1999 with the release of Tarzan. What did The Little Mermaid have that previous films did not? Great characters and great music. The soundtrack for the film is one of Disney's best, at least in my opinion. With songs like Daughters of Triton, Under the Sea, Poor Unfortunate Souls and Kiss the Girl, The Little Mermaid went far beyond any Disney title released up to that point. The music was composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman. The Little Mermaid is considered the film that brought Broadway to animation. The Little Mermaid is an inventive film that changed animation for the 1990s with great characters and fantastic animation. Roger Ebert said it best in his review when he critiqued the animation: "There is a lightness and a freedom about the settings [...] The colours are bright, the water sparkles with reflected light, and there is the sense that not a single frame has been compromised because of the cost of animation."

Ariel, the youngest daughter of King Triton, is a mermaid whose increasing curiosity of the human world has made her dissatisfied with life under the sea. She searches the sea with her best friend, a fish named Flounder, and discovers human artifacts that she brings to Scuttle, a seagull, who unknowingly misidentifies each object. Triton believes that contact with the human world is dangerous and when Ariel misses a concert performance he assigns his servant, Sebastian the crab, to watch over her. One evening Ariel and Flounder travel to the ocean surface and spy on a birthday celebration for Prince Eric. Ariel falls in love at first sight. When a storm hits and Ariel ends up bringing him to shore and singing to him. When Eric wakes up he vaguely remembers being saved by a girl with a beautiful voice. Ariel, wanting to be with Eric, makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula. Ursula will transform Ariel into a human and give her three days to receive the kiss of true love from Eric. If she is unsuccessful she will become a mermaid and belong to Ursula. The only problem is that Ursula takes away Ariel's voice. Ariel tries with all her might to prove to Eric that she is the girl who saved him but he is frustrated by her inability to speak. Eventually Ursula reveals her ultimate plans and puts Ariel's life, and her father's, in danger.

The Little Mermaid creates a beautiful and magical world with amazing animated cinematography. Conversely, the scenes involving Ursula are dark and frightening. Ariel is different from many of the other Disney princesses. She is a multidimensional character with hopes, dreams and true faults. Ursula, while she is a contrast to Ariel, is evil enough to be likened to Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Cruella de Vil in The One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Disney is often faulted for the lack of visible ethnic minorities in its films, but instead of looking for what its films do not include, let's focus on the positive messages. The Little Mermaid encourages us to follow our dreams and, while there should be limits to how far we should go, we should not feel forced to follow the dreams of our parents. Beauty and the Beast may have been the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1992, I believe that The Little Mermaid should have been included in 1990 in a group that included Born on the Fourth of July and Field of Dreams. When The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, when I was 5 years old, it ignited my love of animation. While I may be more cynical about animated films today, The Little Mermaid is an iconic film that deserves a special place in film history.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

24 May 2010

Review: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

I am usually well versed on foreign films and eagerly anticipate their North American release. I admit that I was a little caught off guard by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When I first heard of the film some months ago I did not know that it was an adaptation of an international best-selling Swedish novel. The author, Stieg Larsson, died in 2004 and left three unpublished manuscripts that made up his Millenium trilogy. The second and third novels, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, have already been released as films in Sweden with the principle cast, but a different director. In the past couple of months the trilogy has become something of a phenomenon in Canada, with bookstores dedicating a considerable amount of retail space to the novels. I have not read the books yet, but I had been planning to and am even more interested after seeing the film. The film's original Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, directly translates to "Men Who Hate Women" and puts less emphasis on the character of Lisbeth Salander, who is the girl with the dragon tattoo. Both of the lead actors are fantastic. Credit must be given to both Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace for pushing themselves to create such intense characters. At first I had trouble with the Swedish dialogue and found myself paying too much attention to the subtitles, but after a very short while it became easier and I was fully enjoying the Swedish culture on screen. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an intelligently crafted and well-paced thriller with dedicated acting from its principle cast. It is a film that left me speechless and I cannot wait until the fall to see The Girl who Played with Fire.

Michael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is an investigative journalist who has lost a libel case against Hans-Eric Wunnerstr
öm, an industrialist that Blomkvist believes is corrupt. While waiting to serve his sentence he is approached by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the aging head of the Vanger Group. Henrik and his entire family live on a remote island that is only accessible by a bridge. Henrik hires Blomkvist to investigate the death of his niece Harriet, who disappeared forty years ago. No body was ever found and the police were unable to find a suspect, but Henrik yearns to know the truth before he dies. Blomkvist moves into a small cottage on the island and has access to old files and is able to talk to Harriet's relatives. Blomkvist is unaware that he was being followed by a young girl named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a computer hacker with a dark and troubled past. She must report to a guardian that controls her finances. This man, Bjurman (Peter Andersson), is a sadist and forces Lisbeth to perform sexual acts to gain access to her own money. Blomkvist learns that Lisbeth has hacked into her computer and forces his way into her life. Lisbeth then moves in with him on the island and the two begin investigating Harriet's case together. They discover that there was a string of religious-themed murders in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The evidence points to some very disturbing facts and the film does a fantastic job of keeping the viewer on his feet. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reveals itself slowly and deliberately leading to some shocking events and a satisfying conclusion.

From the moment Noomi Rapace appears on screen it is evident that she controls the film. She makes Lisbeth Salander a tough and aggressive character that deserves empathy. Having not read the novel I was left speechless by so many events in the film. It is violent and it is provocative, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is never boring. I love that foreign film force you to pay closer attention to the dialogue. While some thoughts may have been lost in translation, the dialogue seemed well suited to the characters. I was also incredibly impressed with the pacing of the film. There were scenes that were uncomfortable, but there was not a single moment that felt forced or unnecessary. I was intrigued by what Roger Ebert wrote in his four-star review of the film. He called it "a sober, grown-up film. [...] This is a movie about characters who have more important things to do than be characters in an action film." There was a great focus on acting above action in the film and that made The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo compelling and thrilling. Without the strength of its actors the film would have fallen flat. I am worried about the supposed American remake of the film. Hollywood tends to ruin great foreign films, and even though Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese have been rumoured to be interested in the project, let's hope that this great film can exist on its own.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

23 May 2010

Review: "Two If By Sea"

As a burgeoning cinephile in the 1990s it seemed that Sandra Bullock was in almost every single film. She was in Demolition Man (1993), Speed (1994), While You Were Sleeping (1995), The Net (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Hope Floats (1998) and Practical Magic (1998). These were all decent films, but only Speed can be called a classic 90s film. Embarrassingly, one of my favourite Sandra Bullock films from that period was Two if by Sea, a 1996 film that was critically panned, with a 12% rating at RottenTomatoes. I decided to watch the film again to see if my tastes have matured or if Two if by Sea was poorly misjudged by critics en masse. The film was co-written by Denis Leary, who stars alongside Bullock, and directed by Australian director Bill Bennett. Bennett is probably unknown to international audiences as most of his films are small Australian projects. I did not have very high expectations heading into my second viewing, and while Two if by Sea starts out well it is unfortunately not as funny or as clever as I remembered.

Frank O'Brien (Denis Leary) is a petty thief whose last job is to steal a painting by Henri Matisse from a private collector. He was told the painting is worth $100 000 and he is set to receive $10 000 when he hands the painting over to an unnamed buyer at 5:00 PM on Sunday. He decided to surprise his girlfriend Roz (Sandra Bullock) and take her away for the weekend. Frank's smart idea was to steal the painting on Thursday and spend the weekend with her in a small Rhode Island town. Unfortunately things do not go as planned. After stealing the painting they are forced to steal a car and end up in a high speed police chase on the highway. Quick thinking leads them to get on a train, though more bad luck leads the police to stop their train and force them to hide out in a small town. They find a empty house belonging to a couple away in Chicago for the weekend and convince a neighbour, Evan (Stephen Dillane), that they are friends of the couples' son. Roz and Evan become quick friends and his sophistication leads Roz to question the future of her relationship with Frank. Meanwhile, an FBI agent O'Malley (Yaphet Kotto) believes that the art heist is related to a string of thefts in the 80s and becomes involved in the heist. Frank's luck turns for the worst when his boss Beano (Wayne Robson) and his incompetent associates help lead the police right to the exchange on Sunday afternoon.

While I still believe that Meryl Streep should have won the Academy Award over Sandra Bullock's performance in The Blind Side, I must concede that she has a certain charm that works on screen. Roz may not be the best character for her, but she does a decent job with the material. It is Denis Leary that seems out of place in this role. It is not hard to see him as an incompetent thief, but not in a romantic comedy. The screenplay is weak and the pacing is awkward. It is the kind of film that has a lack of focus from its director. I was incredibly unhappy with Yaphet Kotto, who displayed such a gross lack of talent in a scene requiring a certain amount of conviction that he did not muster. Sandra Bullock tried her best with weak material, but I think that she is performs better outside of the romantic comedy genre. She was great in Speed and showed great maturity as an actress in Crash. Two if by Sea may be one of her weaker films, but let's hope that her Academy Award lets her continue her career renaissance and make well-crafted films.

My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.

22 May 2010

Review: "My Cousin Vinny"

.My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 comedy that film starred Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei and Ralph Macchio (best known for The Karate Kid in 1984). It may be best remembered for the post-Academy Awards controversy in 1993. Marisa Tomei was nominated, and won the award, for Best Supporting Actress and for nearly two decades there has been speculation that Jack Palance, the presenter, was unable to read the right name or too drunk to read the name and that Marisa Tomei was the easiest name for him to read. The other nominees were Miranda Richardson (Damage), Joan Plowright (Enchanted April), Vanessa Redgrave (Howard's End) and Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives). I have only seen Judy Davis' performance in Woody Allen's film, which was marvelous, but Marisa Tomei was wonderful in My Cousin Vinny and was the best part of the film. The film was directed by Jonathan Lynn, a British director whose screen credits include Clue (1985), Sgt. Bilko (1996) and The Whole Ten Yards (2000). I have mostly seen Joe Pesci in dramatic roles where he is prone to violence, such as Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995). It was fun to watch him in a comedic role and he did a decent job. The success of the film should belong to Marisa Tomei, who made My Cousin Vinny an enjoyable adventure, but her standout performance overshadowed the rest of the unremarkable film.

Bill Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and his friend Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Witfield) are both college students from New York that are on their way to visit UCLA. They took the opportunity to drive and find themselves in rural Alabama. They stop at a small convenience store and purchase a few groceries. Later, while on the road, the boys realize they forgot to pay for a can of tuna. They are soon pulled over by a police cruiser and, nervous about the different laws in the state of Alabama, they assume they are being arrested for shoplifting. It turns out that the clerk at the convenience store was murdered shortly after they left the store and witnesses have led the police to believe Bill and Stan are guilty. Not knowing what to do, Bill calls his mother who tells him that his cousin Vinny is a lawyer and will defend him. Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (Jos Pesci) is relatively new to the legal profession and has never tried a case in court. He has traveled to ALabama with his fiancée Mona Lisa (Marisa Tomei). He convinces the judge, Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne), that he has enough experience to take the case. Vinny's unorthodox approach conflicts with the judge, and Vinny finds himself thrown in jail for contempt of court. The procescutor, District Attorney Jim Trotter III (Lane Smith), believes that Vinny is too incompetent to win the case. Vinny struggles with his new surroundings and his lack of trial experience which eventually put the boys' future and his relationship with Mona Lisa in jeopardy.

My Cousin Vinny is a very funny film, but after seeing the film I can barely remember any of the jokes. The jokes are not always the most original but the cast does a great job of making the screenplay work. Marisa Tomei is fantastic as Mona Lisa, especially during a courtroom scene late in the film. She and Joe Pesci have created two characters whose unique and quirky relationship is believable and after the film ended I wanted to follow them further. Special mention should be given to whoever was responsible for styling Mona Lisa, the hair and the wardrobe were amazing! The one drawback of the film is that the audience is given little reason to empathize with Bill and Stan. Are we not supposed to care whether or not the boys are acquitted, or should we forget about them once cousin Vinny arrives? I was 8 years old when My Cousin Vinny was released and I have only seen it for the first time now. For eighteen years I have only heard about Marisa Tomei's Oscar win. She may have deserved the award, but My Cousin Vinny is not a film that should be included as one of the decade's best.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

Review: "2 Days in Paris"

After watching Before Sunrise and Before Sunset I felt compelled to re-watch 2 Days in Paris because I had rediscovered my love of Julie Delpy. She is completely responsible for this film: writing, directing, producing and starring in it. While at first it may appear similar to her pair of films with Ethan Hawke, it is not. Once again she is a sophisticated French woman paired against a American man, but this time they are a couple staying in Paris for two days after a vacation in Venice. Adam Goldberg is much crasser than Ethan Hawke, and unfortunately my only previous experiences with his acting come from guest-starring roles on Friends and Will & Grace. While Paris was the third character in Before Sunset, it remains in the background for 2 Days in Paris, only there to remind us that Jack (Adam Goldberg) is a foreigner in Marion's (Julie Delpy) world. I am not sure if the film was originally released with English subtitles because there are quite a few scenes with extensive French dialogue. Luckily, I am able to understand, but I feel that the lack of subtitles force the viewer to feel as uncomfortable as Jack in these situations. 2 Days in Paris has a wonderful sense of humour and features a great screenplay and performance by Julie Delpy that should make all of us hope that she continues to bring her unique style to our screens.

Marion and Jack have been dating for 2 years. Their personalities are as different as can be. We first meet them in the taxi line outside the train station in Paris. They have just returned from a trip to Venice and are going to pick up her cat from her parents' apartment. Relationships often become much more tense while traveling together and we can believe that their relationship was different before this trip to Italy. Marion is a photographer and Jack in an interior designer, though it was Jack who took every single photograph during their vacation. He is surprised that her apartment is above her parents' and he feels very out of place during a meal with her parents, who speak limited English. Jack, becoming increasingly neurotic, has trouble with the language barrier and finds it hard to believe that Marion is still in touch with numerous ex-boyfriends. They attend a party and he has very few people to talk to while she floats around the room talking to everyone. He is very uncomfortable when her exes flirt with her and we begin to wonder if their relationship is doomed. Their relationship, if it was ever meant to last, seems irreparably damaged and the question becomes whether or not Jack and Marion want to salvage it.

The dialogue in Before Sunrise was very clunky at times, and while Before Sunset was much better written (Julie Delpy had a screenwriting credit), 2 Days in Paris seems much more natural, and this may be due to the fact that it is not as dependent on dialogue. It is an enjoyable and unique film. It is not uncommon for a language barrier to affect a couple, but 2 Days in Paris makes this situation feel brand new with two wonderfully quirky characters. Roger Ebert, in his review, wondered how Jack and Marion ever went out on a second date, and I would have to agree! He also briefly mentions a comparison of Julie Delpy to Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Maybe Julie Delpy, in her quirky and sophisticated manner, is a French Diane Keaton. If so, more reason to love her. I wonder how I would have reacted to the film had I not understood the French dialogue. Would a similar language barrier have made me more sympathetic to Jack? 2 Days in Paris is a great first film for Julie Delpy that was well paced and terrifically acted.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

Review: "Valley of the Dolls"

I remember that I was eighteen and I was sitting at the dinner table with my family. For some reason my grandma mentioned Jacqueline Susann and her novel Valley of the Dolls. This prompted me to the buy the novel, which is probably one of the trashiest pieces of pop culture from the 1960s. Her 1966 novel chronicled the downfall of three young girls who turned to pills when life got tough. It was adapted for the screen in 1967 and became the critically-panned cult classic Valley of the Dolls, which was directed by Canadian-born Mark Robson. Robson was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for 1958's Peyton Place and 1959's The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. It took me this long to see the film because I was worried that the camp take on the novel would fail to live up to my expectations. It is not an exceptionally well written novel, nor is it a great piece of literature, but it is trashy and fun to read. The film stars Barbara Perkins, Patty Duke (winner of the 1962 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Miracle Worker) and Sharon Tate, who is sadly remembered for her murder. Ultimately Valley of the Dolls is fun to watch but creates none of the drama of Jacqueline Susann's novel and because I am a fan of Valley of the Dolls I found myself too focused on what the film failed to include from the novel.

Anne Wells (Barbara Perkins) has just moved to New York City from a small town in New England. She quickly finds a job at a theatre agency. Her boss represents Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), a legendary Broadway actress. Anne soon befriends Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke), a rising star whose talent threatens Helen, and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), a chorus girl with limited talent. Neely's talent eventually brings her to Hollywood, but her success is threatened when she becomes addicted to dolls (prescription drugs). Jennifer follows Neely to California and marries Tony (Tony Scotti). She becomes pregnant with his child and then finds out that he suffers from a debilitating hereditary disorder. She has an abortion and to pay her husband's medical expenses she goes to France to act in art house films. Meanwhile Anne has become a model and discovers dolls as a way to escape her ill-fated relationship with Lyon Burke (Paul Burke). Anne, Neely and Jennifer all become addicted to the dolls and their careers and lives are threatened.

Overall I feel that the film lacked much of the punch that made Jacqueline Susann's novel an enjoyably trashy piece of fiction. Valley of the Dolls, as a film, moved too briskly and I found that I did not believe the story lines. The film begins and ends with Anne and it seems as if the films is Anne's narrative, but the middle of the film loses its focus and Anne is all but forgotten. There are so few scenes from the film that I remember. There is nothing special about the film. At one point in the novel Neely is placed in an asylum and the novel places a lot of emphasis on this. I feel that the the film would have been a better success had Mark Robson and the screenwriters taken Valley of the Dolls as its inspiration and created their own interpretation instead of throwing together this awful mess of a film. There is another film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, released in 1970, that was originally conceived as a sequel. It is a parody of the original and written by Roger Ebert. I can only hope that it was better.

My rating: 1 star out of 4.

17 May 2010

Review: "Before Sunrise" & "Before Sunset"

Before Sunrise works because its two characters are played with a real authenticity. The film, which stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, was a surprise critical success when it was released in early 1995. It may have limited dialogue and be nothing more than a 90 minute conversation, but it is terrifically acted and beautifully explores the city of Vienna. It currently has a perfect rating at RottenTomatoes. It is directed by Richard Linklater, who is best known for his films Dazed and Confused (1993) and School of Rock (2003). The film follows Delpy and Hawke as they wander aimlessly around Vienna one summer night. Their relationship may be ill-fated, but the film is never about their future. Nine years after Before Sunrise was released, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reunited with Richard Linklater for Before Sunset, a sequel set nine years in the future. The lead actors worked on the screenplay with Linklater and the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Before Sunset, for me, is a much more romantic film with two characters we have already grown to love. It is wonderful to listen to these actors argue and laugh with each other and while Before Sunrise has a unique sense of immaturity, Before Sunset match it with its own charm and sense of urgency.

We first meet Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in Before Sunrise as they travel westward on a train from Budapest to Vienna. He is traveling across Europe after a disastrous trip to visit his former girlfriend in Spain, and she is on her way back to France after visiting her grandmother in Hungary. Jesse is booked on a flight leaving from Vienna in the morning and Céline has plans to meet a friend in Paris. Jesse, unable to afford a hotel room for the night, convinces Céline to take a later train from Vienna and spend the night exploring the city with him. The two spend a romantic evening engaged in endless conversation. The city of Vienna is a beautiful backdrop to their blossoming relationship. In the morning Jesse escorts Céline to the train and instead of taking a risk they agree to meet at the same spot in six months time. For nine years audiences wondered if Jesse and Céline had ever rekindled their romance. In Before Sunset we learn the truth about what happened to both during the past nine years. Jesse has just written a fictional novel about a romantic evening he once spent in Vienna with a beautiful woman. He is on a whirlwind European tour and his last stop is in Paris. In the middle of a press interview he sees Céline standing in the corner and quickly finds the opportunity to escape with her. The two begin conversing in the same way they once did and while the first film felt like the two had an eternity to make a decision, Before Sunset unfolds with a greater sense of urgency that has Jesse and Céline forced to examine their lives and discover if they are prepared to take the risk given this second chance.

There is something about Julie Delpy that I find completely alluring. She is a wonderful French actress, but she seems to have been overlooked by audiences because of the charm of Juliette Binoche. Coincidentally, the two starred in Kryzstof Kiéslowski's Trois Couleurs trilogy -- Binoche starred in the first, Bleu, and Delpy in the second, Blanc. A third brilliant French actress, Irène Jacob, starred in the final installment, Rouge. She was the unlucky one who was unable to parlay her talent into Hollywood success. I am drawn to and Before Sunrise and Before Sunset because of my love of dialogue (see my obsession with Quentin Tarantino) and my love of European cities. The two films treat Vienna and Paris like a third character and the cities are brilliantly photographed on film. It is enjoyable to just watch a film that has two characters discovering their love through conversation. When I re-watched the two films I stilled felt as if the entire film was shot in one continuous take and the two actors were just allowed to wander through the cities and converse as normal people. Before Sunset is superior because the two actors are more comfortable in their characters and the dialogue is more realistic. Before Sunrise is a remarkable film and outstanding in its own right, but it is not until Before Sunset that the story of Jesse and Céline feels complete.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4 for both.

Also, for anyone who enjoyed these two films, please watch 2 Days in Paris (2007), written and directed by Julie Delpy, who also stars in the film.

14 May 2010

Review: "The African Queen"

I fulfilled my promise to Humphrey Bogart and watched The African Queen. After watching The Maltese Falcon I wondered why Mr. Bogart is so revered. He may have won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in The African Queen, but I still fail to see a special quality in him. Maybe my hopes were too high for this film and maybe I just had trouble with another unbelievable love story. Am I supposed to believe that when a woman is in jeopardy she will undoubtedly fall in love with the man that saves her? The 1951 film costars Katharine Hepburn, who is absolutely one of the grandest stars of Old Hollywood, but I had trouble with her performance. The love story felt very forced and I would have preferred to just watch the adventure and see the two actors develop a strong bond, one that did not need to be labeled as love. The African Queen was directed by John Huston, who directed Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, and I am left to believe that my ideals are in strong contrast to Huston's depictions of this era. There were times that I struggled to continue watching the film, but the final twenty minutes of The African Queen are incredibly exciting and make me wish that a ludicrous love story was only hinted at in a potentially exciting adventure film.

The African Queen is set in 1914 in German East Africa (now Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania) during World War I. Katherine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, a British Methodist missionary stationed in a small village with her brother Samuel (Robert Morley). Humphrey Bogart plays Charlie Allnut, a boat captain who delivers mail and supplies to the village. Rose and Charlie have a tense and unfriendly relationship. Charlie warns them that a war has started between Britain and Germany, but Rose and Samuel choose to stay in the village. German soldiers eventually attack and set fire to the village. Samuel is beaten when he tries to protest and eventually develops a fever and dies. Upon Charlie's return Rose leaves with him aboard his ship, The African Queen. He tells her that the Germans have a gunboat which patrols the lake, located downriver. Rose's plan is to convert The African Queen into a torpedo boat and sink the German ship, the Louisa. Charlie tells her that the trip downriver is dangerous and practically suicidal. Charlie is originally reluctant but gives in due to Rose's insistence. Their voyage is not easy and the two encounter a great number of obstacles, including an attack from a German fortress, a series of treacherous rapids and mechanical complications aboard ship. After surviving the rapids the two embrace and Charlie makes a comment about telling the story to their grandchildren. It is at this point that I found the slow-moving film became a chore to watch. Their relationship seems forced and unbelievable. The film continues with Rose and Charlie heading towards the Louisa and develop their own explosives to target the German ship. An unfortunate storm causes unforeseen problems and their plan is put into jeopardy, as are their lives.

I remember that my grandma had a copy of The African Queen on VHS when I was growing up. The poster made the film look like an exciting adventure. Yet, like The Bridge on the River Kwai (another film she had that I never watched), there was something about the film that kept me away. I do not feel like I got anything from the film and I feel disappointed. There is not much I can say about the film other than that I did not like it. In the future, if I am ever in the mood for a water adventure, I should just watch The River Wild. Humphrey Bogart may have failed me, but Meryl Streep never has.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

11 May 2010

Review: "Looking For Mr. Goodbar"

1977 was a good year for Diane Keaton. Not only did she star in Woody Allen's Annie Hall and win an Academy Award for Best Actress, she starred in Looking For Mr. Goodbar, which might be polar opposites. Annie Hall was eccentric and effervescent, but her character in Looking For Mr. Goodbar, Theresa Dunn, is a reserved woman hiding a dark secret. Theresa is in search of Mr. Goodbar, the perfect man, but she is too easily seduced by sex. The film was directed by Richard Brooks, whose best known film may be his adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. Brooks adapted the film from a 1975 novel by Judith Rossner. Looking For Mr. Goodbar is based on the events surrounding the brutal murder of Roseann Quinn. The film is relies heavily on Diane Keaton's performance and it was a welcome change for the actress, whose earlier credits were mostly comedies, save for her small roles in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather, Part II (1974). She is marvelous in the film and allows her inner turmoil to be felt on screen. The film also features Richard Gere and Tuesday Weld in great supporting performances. Looking For Mr. Goodbar does suffer from some questionable directing choices and awkward pacing, but it is exceptionally well acted and reminds us how gifted Diane Keaton is as an actress.

During the day Theresa Dunn is a dedicated school teacher. She teaches a small class of deaf students and works tirelessly to help them learn. This is especially evident through her interactions with a student named Amy, whose family life makes it more difficult for her to succeed. Theresa's own family life is complicated. Her father (Richard Kelly) belittles her and believes that her sister, Katherine (Tuesday Weld), is the perfect daughter. But it is Therersa who helps Katherine conceal her actions from her parents. Theresa is searching for her perfect man, her own Mr. Goodbar, but this search only leads to degrading situations with a multiple of men. She leads a secret life at night where she goes to bars and picks up random men. The film depicts New York City in the 1970s with its single bars and one night stands. She eventually meets Tony (Richard Gere), a handsome and exciting young man that she brings home and lets into her life. Tony is unstable and violent and even shows up outside Theresa's school one afternoon. Theresa is already in a downward spiral and while during the day she may feel in control of her life, her nighttime actions will eventually put her life in danger.

There is a real emotional honesty in Diane Keaton's performance that makes Looking For Mr. Goodbar a powerful film. I must also commend the cinematographer who helps keep the film feel raw and rough. There are dream sequences in the film that feel misplaced. I understand their importance but I found that their placement affected the film's pacing and cohesiveness. I was very bothered by the end of the film. If Richard Brooks intended for it to be grotesquely violent, he missed the mark. It was done in an overly artistic way and I feel that it did not do Theresa's life or Diane Keaton's performance justice. I also wish the film had paid more attention to Theresa's relationship with Katherine. It definitely seems that Theresa's downfall (and her disastrous sexual quests) stem from her childhood and her relationship with her sister. I agree that contrasting her life during the day and at night create a dramatic atmosphere. It is already a long film, at two hours and ten minutes, but I do question Richard Brooks' intentions in respect to the screenplay and directing. Looking For Mr. Goodbar is a good film because of Diane Keaton, but I wonder if the film would still be remembered today were it not for her performance.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

10 May 2010

Review: "How to Train Your Dragon"

Sometimes there are circumstances that lead to you seeing a film you thought you would never see. I have often made it clear that animated films are not my favourite, but I have only heard great things about How to Train Your Dragon. Avatar can be blamed for the 3D crap that is being shoved in theatres, but I will say that How to Train Your Dragon is the first 3D film I have fully enjoyed. I found myself fully invested in the film and immersed in the fantasy world alongside our hero, Hiccup. Pixar has something of a monopoly in the animated world, and DreamWorks has had success with Shrek (2000) and Madagascar (2005), but it is also the studio that released Bee Movie (2007) and Monsters vs Aliens (2009). I have complained a lot about the overabundance of stars doing voice work and I believe that it often detracts from the film. How to Train Your Dragon did great promotional work by making the film about the animation and not the voice talent, which includes Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill and Craig Ferguson. The film is based on the fantasy picture book How to Train Your Dragon (2003), written by Cressida Cowell. She has written eight stories featuring Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and the most recent, How to Break a Dragon's Heart, was published in 2009. How to Train Your Dragon is a great film with a heartwarming story whose fantastic animation make it a thrilling and touching adventure.

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the son of the Viking Chief, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) and he lives on the island of Berk. The island is often ravaged by a dragons who set fire to homes and steal sheep. Hiccup works as an apprentice to Goober the Belch (Craig Ferguson), the blacksmith, and he is not allowed to participate in the battles against the dragons because his father thinks he is too small and weak. During one raid he shoots down a dragon with his own handmade cannon and while no one believes him, he eventually finds that it is a Night Fury, a never before seen breed. The dragon, which he names Toothless, is trapped in the canyon because of a damaged tail and is unable to fly properly. Instead of killing it, he befriends the dragon and fashions a makeshift tail and control harness, which enables him to fly with Toothless. Hiccup is then enrolled in a Viking dragon training program and due to his interactions with Toothless he discovers certain tricks to control dragons. This amazes and enrages his peers, Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), and twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut (T.J. Miller and Kristin Wiig). Astrid eventually finds out Hiccup's secret and the two discover the whereabouts of the dragons' lair, but upon discovering that the dragons actions are misunderstood he refuses to tell his father. As a graduation rite he must slay a dragon, and when he refuses his father and the Viking men trap Toothless. Stoick believes that Toothless with lead him to the dragon nest and is unprepared for the outcome. It then becomes Hiccup's duty to save his people and prove to his father that he is neither small nor weak.

I was actually amazed by the quality of the animation. Avatar did set a high bar for 3D graphics (not plot, acting, screenplay or directing), but How to Train Your Dragon did not distract me with its 3D animation the way Avatar did. The last DreamWorks film that I saw in theatres was Kung Fu Panda (2008), and while I enjoyed the film it left an unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth. Some movie studios are too quick to make franchises out of successful films and prefer to continue old ideas rather than create original stories. DreamWorks definitely suffers from this as there are three Shrek sequels (and a Puss in Boots spinoff set for release in 2011), a third Madagascar film set for release in 2012 and a sequel to Kung Fu Panda out next year. There is even a 2013 sequel to this film in the works. This is what drives me crazy about animated films. Studios prefer recycling ideas and believe that advanced animation is the only necessity to make a successful film. How to Train Your Dragon was fun and exciting, but it does not push the boundaries of current animation. How long do we have to wait for a studio to work as hard to develop a plot as they do on the animation?

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

EDIT Roger Ebert, in his review, claims that the 3D graphics are nothing but a distraction. I disagree. But he also says that Paramount threatened that theatres that do not make room to show the film in 3D would not be allowed to show the 2D version.

08 May 2010

Review: "Some Like It Hot"

Some Like It Hot is one of those films that I watched fairly often when I was young. Like The Princess Bride, Death Becomes Her, and even Bullets Over Broadway, Some Like It Hot was one of the films that shaped my love of movies. The 1959 comedy, directed by Billy Wilder, is ranked as the number one American comedy of all time by the American Film Institute. The film is definitely a lot lighter than Sunset Boulevard (1950), but the two films are so vastly different that it would be too much of a chore to compare them. It comes as a surprise that some of the films I enjoy most involve cross-dressing, and at times Some Like It Hot is much more risque than To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) ever were, considering the era. The film stars Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, three of Hollywood's biggest stars. While the film was originally planned for colour, the black and white cinematography seems to help make Jack Lemmon's and Tony Curtis' transformations more believable. Some Like it Hot is terrifically written, wonderfully acted and directed and is absolutely one of the best films of Hollywood's Golden Age.

The film begins in Chicago in 1929 and two struggling musicians, Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) witness a terrible string of murders. It is largely insinuated that this event is the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929. Joe and Jerry are seen by Spats Columbo (George Raft) and must leave Chicago. Their only way out is to join an all-girl musical band headed to Florida. Joe and Jerry become Josephine and Geraldine, though later Jerry decides to change his name to Daphne, and board a train with the girls' group. The two men are immediately drawn to Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) and vie for her affection. They befriend the group with their boisterous personalities and their refusal to adhere to the no alcohol policy. Joe finally wins Sugar's affection when they arrive in Florida by adopting a new persona, Junior, a wealthy millionaire and the heir to Shell Oil. Jerry, meanwhile, while disguised as Daphne, attracts the affection of a real millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). Joe and Jerry find it difficult to keep up their charade and their lives are further complicated when the mobsters from Chicago arrive at the same hotel for a conference for Friends of Italian Opera.

No matter how many times I have seen it, Some Like It Hot remains as hilarious and special as the first time I saw it. The scene on the train, while Joe and Jerry struggle to remain in character as the girls travel south, is one of the film's real treasures. The film is too clever to make the film into a life lesson for the two men. There are too many films that are ruined because they fall into the trap of depending too much on themes of personal change. Luckily, Some Like It Hot is too well written (by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond) and directed for the themes to outshine the story. Jack Lemmon, who many of my generation will remember from Grumpy Old Men (1993), is the star of the film. His transformation from Jerry to Daphne is a thrill to watch. It is a joy to watch Daphne's relationship with Osgood blossom, especially during a fantastic dancing sequence. He was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis may be two of the ugliest women to ever appear on screen, but Some Like It Hot is a fantastic film that transcends its era and while some of the dialogue may seem cheesy, the film is certainly not!

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

03 May 2010

My Wait List (2010 Spring Version)

March and April are generally pretty dismal when it comes to film openings. Take for example the films that opened in the past two months: Green Zone (Matt Damon's lame attempt to make Jason Bourne a soldier in Iraq), The Bounty Hunter (which makes me wonder why studios still insist on trying to make Jennifer Anniston a movie star), The Last Song (Miley Cyrus, enough said), and The Back-Up Plan (is Jennifer Lopez still relevant?).

With May and June only offering sequels (Shrek Forever, Sex and the City 2, Toy Story 3), it seems like I must wait until July before any film I want to see is set to open.

Without anymore delays, here are five films I am eager to see:

5. Rabbit Hole
Dianne Wiest and Nicole Kidman in a film adaption of a Tony-winning play. These are two of my favourite actresses and I am excited to see them act against one another. It also stars Aaron Eckhart and Sandra Oh. I do not really want to know much about the film except that it is about parents dealing with the death of their son. I hope it is dark and depressing!

Expected release date: exact date unknown.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I
The last Harry Potter book and the second last film. Let's hope they do not ruin it with 3D and please let it be better than Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It is a shame that we will have to wait until July 2011 to know exactly how the series' ending will be translated on film, but I am anxious to see this one!

Expected release date: November 19.

3. The Kids Are All Right
Julianne Moore? Annette Bening? As a couple? I am hooked. It also stars Mia Wasikowska, from In Treatment, as their daughter (with Josh Hutcherson as their son). The film premiered at Sundance in 2010 and has been labeled one of the must see films of 2010. I am not sure I really even care what the film is about because I want to see it just by knowing the cast!

Expected release date: July 16.

2. I Am Love
I have become obsessed with film blogs and have heard about Tilda Swinton in the Italian film I Am Love for months. It is apparently about a wealthy Italian family and the promotional images and trailer make the film look amazing. I have become a real fan of Tilda Swinton ever since her Oscar-winning performance in Michael Clayton and I will devour anything she is in. That said, while we wait for I Am Love to be released we can watch Julia over and over.

Expected release date: July 16.

1. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
It is a general rule that while Woody Allen is still making films he will always be at the top of my list. His latest offering, set to premiere out of competition at Cannes, stars Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto. Nicole Kidman was originally cast, but left to film Rabbit Hole. Little is know about You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, except that it is about love, sex and treachery and set in London.

Expected release date: September 24.

02 May 2010

Review: "Chocolat"

Like the villagers in the film, I have finally relented and succumbed to the powers of Chocolat. Those who know me know that there is no love lost between Johnny Depp and I. His earlier films are very good (Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994)), but his later films, like 2010's Alice in Wonderland and Public Enemies (2009) have been disappointing. But let's not get carried away, there is only one reason I ever considered watching Chocolat: Lena Olin. She will forever be Irina Derevko, from television's Alias, and I will always adore her in a an inappropriate manner. Chocolat is a 2002 film directed by Lasse Hollstrom, the acclaimed Swedish director known for directing ABBA music videos and the films What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) and The Cider House Rules (1999). He is also the husband of Lena Olin, hence her appearance in many of his films. The film received five unsuccessful Academy Award nominations, including nominations for Best Picture (losing to Gladiator), Best Actress for Juliette Binoche (losing to Julia Roberts) and Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench (losing to Marcia Gay Harden). I was pleasantly surprised that the film was not anchored by Johnny Depp. Chocolat is ruled by its whimsical tone and the incredible performances by its actresses. Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Lena Olin, Carrie Anne Moss and the young Victoire Thivisol are mesmerizing as strong-willed women. Chocolat may come across as a light-hearted fable, but its themes of courage and independence are loud and clear.

Though it may feel like the nineteenth century, Chocolat is set in a small French village in 1959. The town is ruled by the conservation mayor, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), who believes that every villager should attend Mass every Sunday and even goes as far as to write the sermons for the priest, Père Henri (Hugh O'Connor). The town is startled when Vianne (Binoche) arrives with her young daughter Anouk (Thivisol). She dares to open a chocolaterie at the start of Lent, refuses to attend church and is an unwed mother. The Comte believes that she will not last until Easter, and this sentiment is echoed by the pious Caroline Clairmont (Carrie-Anne Moss). Caroline went as far as to disown her free-spirit mother, Armande (Dench), and will not let her see her grandson Luc (Aurélien Parent-Koening). Vianne has a gift of knowing which a person's favourite type of chocolate and her unique talent helps her to rekindle a couple's passion and give one women the courage to leave her drunk, abusive husband. This woman, Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin), eventually moves into Vianne's apartment and learns the technique of making chocolate. The Comte does not see Vianne as a true threat until a group of river rats arrive in town. Vianne befriends a man named Roux (Johnny Depp) and his presence angers the Comte. The Comte de Reynaud struggles to use Caroline and Serge, Josephine's abusive husband, against Vianne and the villagers' true nature is soon revealed.

As the film began I was struck by the dissimilarity between Chocolat and another film set during that period. An Education, the 2009 Academy Award-nominated film that also stars Alfred Molina, is set in 1961 and is vastly different in setting. This period was just before The Beatles arrived and changed music, but Chocolat feels as if it was set a century earlier. The cinematography is beautiful and it is easy to believe that this village is ruled by the evil Comte de Reynaud. Juliette Binoche is a beautiful actresses, and while I prefer her in French films like Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993) and l'Heure d'été (2008), she is nonetheless an amazing actress, as is evident in her Academy Award-winning performance in The English Patient (1996). Judi Dench, like Binoche, is mesmerizing in the film. She may not have the youthful charm of a young actress, but she commands the screen. For me, the film belonged to the young Victoire Thivisol. She acted beyond her years against a trio of powerful actresses and she was the emotional core of the film. Chocolat is a fun and charming film that shows us how easily positivity and optimism can affect others.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

Review: "Goodfellas"

Goodfellas is a fantastic film from 1990, but it is not Martin Scorsese's masterpiece. Without it we would have never had my personal favourite Scorsese film, Casino (1995), or The Departed (2006), which brought Scorsese the elusive Academy Award for Best Director. Goodfellas is based on the nonfiction book Wiseguy by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. The two also adapted another Pileggi's book for the film Casino. It is also Robert De Niro's fifth (of seven, to date) collaboration with the director. The film large cast includes Joe Pesci (Best Supporting Actor winner), Lorraine Bracco (Best Supporting Actress nominee), Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino. At the 1991 Academy Awards the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. While Roger Ebert may have named Goodfellas one of the most mob films ever and one of the best films of the 1990's, but for me it lacks the intensity and attitude of Casino. I loved the film and the film's narration and it serves as a contemporary companion to Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. Every generation seems to have a fascination with the Mafia and the film certainly served as inspiration for The Sopranos -- even Tommy's (Joe Pesci) relationship with his mother in the film is paralleled by Paulie on television. While maybe a bit too long, Goodfellas is a superbly written and acted film that is full of energy and while I personally do not think it is better than Casino, it is much better than The Departed!

The film transpires over a thirty year period and begins with the film's protagonist, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), admitting "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." It was 1955 in Brooklyn, and the Irish-American Henry drops out of school to work for the Mafia. He becomes the protege of Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino), a captain in the Mafia, and his associates, Jimmy "The Gent" Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci).
Jimmy hijacks trucks while Tommy's aggressive nature leans more toward armed robbery. Henry's first job in the Mafia was the Air France robbery in 1967, which earned the Mafia more than $400 000. While enjoying the perks and nightlife of a criminal, Henry meets Karen (Lorraine Bracco), a woman he eventually marries. It is already a problem that he is not fully Italian, but he must lie to Karen's family and claim to be part Jewish. Karen is assaulted by a neighbour and Henry pistol whips the young man in front of Karen. Instead of being disgusted by his behaviour, Karen is aroused by this act of violence. He soon begins having an affair with Janice (Gina Mastrogiacomo) and became heavily involved in cocaine trafficking, keeping that business separate from his dealings with the Mafia. The film continues by explores the lives of the many men involved, looking at their personal lives and their professional dealings. The film is often violent and, according to Wikipedia, is ninth in a list of films with the most frequent use of the word fuck with 300 occurrences and a rate of 2.06 fucks per minute (and was, at the time of its release, number one).

It is amusing how synchronicity can affect your life. A few weeks ago the television show American Dad! aired an episode that was inspired by the film Sideways (Alexander Payne's fantastic 2004 film), and before watching Goodfellas there was an episode of Community that was heavily influenced by Goodfellas and its use of narration. It is a fantastic film that weaves together a great number of stories. I do not think that the television series The Sopranos or could have succeeded without Goodfellas showing how smoothly such a diverse cast can be incorporated into one film. The film stars two future cast members of The Sopranos, Lorraine Bracco and Michael Imperioli, who thankfully created two characters that are vastly different from their alter egos on television. While Goodfellas is remembered for its excessive violence and language, it remains a necessary piece of film history because Martin Scorsese was able to piece together a fantastic story with exceptional performances and a well-written screenplay. Still, Casino remains my favourite Scorsese film, and I think this is because I saw it during a time when I devoured films and have a great fondness for the films that I watched during that time in my life.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.