Friday, September 16, 2005

The final batch

I'm home, but the festival still goes on. The following are opening up there today. There's a couple of more reviews lying around half written, but I won't post them until they open in theaters down here, in the meantime, I saw the Green Cokatoo, a very old flick with a script by Graham Green. It was the first press screening of the New York Film Festival. Different animatl all together...now here's the last from Toronto:

IN HER SHOES

Directed by
Curtis Hanson

One can always expect greatness from Cutis Hanson. He’s one of the few directors to have batted a thousand in the last decade. I was somewhat scared that a chick flick about lost grandmothers might be a little to fluffy for his sensibilities, but his and writer Susannah Grant’s adaptation of Jennifer Weiner's novel is just about perfect.

This tale of wicked stepmothers, long-lost grandmothers and redemption centers around Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) and her sister Rose (Toni Collette). The sisters are the exact opposites of one another. Rose is a successful in business and unsuccessful in love, and Maggie can’t seem to get a job, but men fall at her feet. Rose is honest, Maggie’s a thief. The things that unite them are love of their father(Ken Howard) and hate for their wicked stepmother (Candice Azzara). When Maggie gets thrown out of her parents’ house yet again, she hunkered down on Rose’s couch, which doesn’t help matters much, especially, when she’s caught screwing Rose’s first possible boyfriend in many years.

So Rose kicks Maggie out as well, and while returning briefly to Dad’s place to rob it, she discovers evidence of a grandmother she thought long dead, and decides to go to Florida to sponge off HER for a while.

With everything established to the filmmaker’s satisfaction, we go to the second and this world is ripped to shreds. Rose goes on a “leave of absence” from her job and becomes a dog walker and Maggie begins to get to know her new grandmother, Ella(Shirley MacLaine).

Much of the rest of the movie is about happy seniors and the sister’s change of life. Ella forces Maggie to get a job at the old age home, and begins to thrive. She meets a blind professor(Norman Lloyd) at her job, who helps her solve the problem that’s been holding her back and Rose finds love with a former coworker(Mark Feuerstein). But the shattered relationship between the sisters is an unspoken sore point, and it’s up to Ella to make it right.

Yeah, this is a chick flick, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Guys will find this totally painless to sit through, and the ladies will absolutely adore it. It’s a perfect date film. Go.

THE MYTH

Written and directed
by Stanley Tong

With Hollywood not exactly breaking down his doors anymore, Jackie Chan still has a huge fanbase, and with foreign backing can still do whatever he wants. This time he’s done a schizophrenic film archeology and love, the latter works and the former doesn’t.

The film goes back and forth between 222 BC and the present day, and while it gets close to greatness at times, it doesn’t make it and finally falls apart.

The film begins two and a quarter millennia ago, where the First Emperor of Qin’s great general Meng Yi(Jackie Chan) and his vast army have been dispatched to pick up the Korean princess Ok Soo (Kim Hee Seon), who’s to become “Grand Concubine Li”, or a minor wife of his imperial highness. However, her former betrothed, has come to rescue her, and a dramatic battle begins. This is epic stuff, and Chan is back in top form, but then it’s all a dream when

Jack the archeologist (Jackie Chan) wakes up in his every expensive Hong Kong barge, where he meets his old pal William (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who is doing research on a mysterious substance he’s heard about, which is allegedly somewhere in India.

While we go back to the romance and adventure in the wilds of China in the third century BC and have a wonderful time, The present gets pretty bad. The ancient temple is still in use.

Jackie Chan’s usual shtick is still pretty good, and the kung fu comedy fights are still funny, but the reaction to some pretty serious crimes by pretty Indian maidens like Samantha(Mallika Sherawat), is beyond the pale. The supernatural stuff is okay, one can suspend disbelief for stuff like that if it’s done logically. It’s the more realistic stuff which is unbelievable. The official villain(Sun Zu) is even worse, his place in the plot is completely counterproductive.

The political statements are completely nonsensical PC stuff and also takes away from story. The final climax in the modern times is downright awful while the one in ancient times is brilliant. The juxtaposition between the two is most disconcerting. But it’s worth a bargain matinee at least.

WALLACE & GROMIT - THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT

Written and Directed by
Nick Park and Steve Box

Sometimes it’s not that good an idea to go too deep. I’ve always liked the “Wallace and Gromit” cartoons. They deserved to get Oscars®. The gags were always brilliant and the animation was a joy to watch. That being said, there’s always a danger that when a cartoon’s “going feature” would make stretch the characters a bit too thin, plothole absurdities that are perfectly acceptable in a shorter work [Wallace and Gromit go to the moon to sample the green cheese] kind of grate in a longer one.

The dichotomy isn’t evident at first. The first ten minutes of the film is sheer genius. Wallace (Peter Sallis) and Gromit(Himself) are running a humane pest contol service called Anti-pest-o, and whenever there’s trouble in the veggie patch, our heroes are out there like Batman and Robin (the TV version) to save the day. This part works, for the most part. It would have been nice if they had gone further, like having them humanly getting rid of termites and imprisoning them in little ant farms,

But in this case, the nasty little vermin are bunnies, and you can’t kill bunnys, right? So we see Gromit feeding them in the bunny prison in the basement. The bunnies escape into the kitchen. It’s funny, the gags work as gags, but the wince factor begins to creep up. Fortunatly, Box and Park manage to punch the whole thing up with gags.

After W&G save Lady Tottington’s (Helena Bonham Carter) palatial estate from a plague of bunnies and humiliating her would-be boyfriend Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) in the process, Wallace decides to use his mind control-o-matic on the little bastards to keep them from being vegetarians!

It goes horribly wrong, and at this point so does the film. This is not supposed to be “LA Confidential” but until the climax, where the whole thing picks up steam again and winds up with an uproarious bang!, it drags like a limp cauliflower. Go for the beginning and the end and try to endure the middle.

ROMANCE & CIGARETTES

Written and Directed
by John Turturro

I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. John Turturro got some of his dear friends together and made himself a musical in someone’s garage. The results are uneven at best, and that’s being kind. I don’t know what the producers were telling the investors, but it must have been some story.

This is what might be termed a “karaoke” musical. It’s the story of a construction worker named Nick Murder(James Gandolfini) who’s having an affair with a sex shop clerk named Tula (Kate Winslet), which is driving his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon) to distraction.

Kitty is aided in getting back at Nick with two groups of people, their three daughters(Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker and Aida Turturro), the latter two look almost as old as their mom, and
Cousin Bo (Christopher Walken), who pretends to be Elvis or Tom Jones, depending on what angle he’s shot in. The whole thing is for the most part extremely boring. We don’t care about any of the characters, as most of the “kids” are way too old to be believed. I love M-L Parker, but…jeez!

The songs are what’s most disappointing. Either lip-synch or cut out the original singer, don’t have the person sing along to the record, it looks really dumb. In fact the entire film looks that way and while it might have been an interesting experiment on paper, it sure as hell isn’t on film…blech!

L’ENFANT (Belgium/France)

Written and Directed by
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Sometimes eavesdropping can change one’s perspectives on a subject. At a press screening for a different film, I overheard someone say that this film was a Christian allegory. It dawned on me that it was actually quite right, and one of the more effective ones to boot.

Bruno(Jeremie Renier) is a small-time hood desperately in need of redemption. He basically just hangs out and manages a network of young pickpockets he recruits from grade schools. He’s charming, but completely disreputable, a thoughtless prick. His girlfriend Sonia(Deborah Francois) loves him anyway, and when she returns from the hospital with their infant son, she discovers that he’s sublet her apartment and is living in a homeless shelter.

She’s not very happy, but she’s still in love, and he’s willing to help out with the kid…or so she thinks. What he’s going to do is take it to an illegal adoption agency and sell it for a few thousand euros.

When Sophie finds out what he did, she faints. It’s at this point he realizes what he’s done. She then denounces him to the police and he has to get the kid back.

In general he get what he deserves for the rest of the film and in another misadventure with one of his stable of pickpockets(Jeremie Segard) gets in even more trouble.

The acting is wonderful. Renier does more with one expression than most actors do with their whole kit. It’s fun, infuriating and uplifting and it’s never boring. Great flick.

4 comments:

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