Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday morning at eight o'clock

I'm beginning to run behind in the reviewing department, as we saw five films the other day and had to wait futally on a long line to try to see the über-controversial Death of A President. There was almost a riot when the fourth part of the line was put ahead of the third. But that didn't last very long and there was no extra to the reviews:

U The Unicorn

Written and directed
by Grégoire Solotareff,
and Serge Elissalde

Animation is something that brings form to a mind flowing free. Unfortunately, the only limitation on the medium is that it's still considered children's fare outside of Japan, and thus we've got something like this, which is one of those extremely strange movies which is allegedly for kids, but may not be. It's an unfocused wonder of some unusual stylizations.

Princess Mona(Isild Le Besco) is an orphaned puppy living with her evil rat step parents in a dilapidated castle by the sea in funny animal land where they mistreat her because they can't find any food. She's miserable and crys in dispair, when out of the blue comes U(Vhahina Glocatne), a little unicorn, who looks more like a diminutive supermodel with a horn coming out of her head than a horse.

Cut to years later and Mona is grown. Along come a troupe of traveling animal musicians, who settle in a tree nearby. It's spring, the filmmakers are French, and so we get a story about love and food. There's nothing wrong with that, and since this is for little girls, there's a little instruction on how to tounge kiss.

Unfortunately for U, her magical mandate only lasts until Mona falls in love, in which case she shrivels up into nothing, something that the filmmakers don't really know how to deal with, which is somewhat surprising.

The design of the film is extremely stylized and this fits the story, which is more for adults than children, except for the romance angle, which is more about lust than love, nothing much happens and the plot development is almost an afterthough.

This is probably not going to get release here in North America, even on video, so don't worry about finding out where it's playing.


Directed by
Ridley Scott

When you think of Ridley Scott, you think of action movies. From the science fiction “Blade Runner” and “Alien” to costume epics “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven,” Scott has gotten a reputation for stylish big budget epics. But then again everybody needs a vacation from the usual, like David Mamet doing a G-rated period piece or Wes Craven doing a two-hanky drama about an inner city violin teacher. So Scott is doing a light romantic comedy about the joys of wine and the Province region of France.

Max Skinner(Russell Crowe) is a stockbroker in the Gilbert Gecko mold. He first coming in for work to do what he does best, manipulating the market and making tons of money for his company and himself in a morally ambiguous way. He has just done that when he's informed by his assistant Emma(Archie Panjabi) that his Uncle Henry(Albert Finney), from whom he has become estranged and hasn't seen for years, has just died, and as his sole heir, has to fly down to Province immediately. This brings on the first in a series of flashbacks, where eleven-year-old Max (Freddie Highmore) and Uncle Henry converse about life, love and the art of winemaking.

Getting down there, our hero gets a tiny car and meets some people from his past, the caretakers of Henry's chateau(Didier Bourdon and Isabelle Candelier), who are worried what might happen when and if Max sells the place. Due to the questionability of our hero's actions, he's suspended for a week by the British SEC, and is forced to spend a week in the south of France.

So while he's trapped in all that beautiful scenery, there's a budding relationship with the lovely restaurateur Nathalie Auzet(Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), which goes on a remarkably standard romantic comedy arc and the sudden appearance of his maybe cousin Christie(Abbie Cornish) just before his best friend and real estate salesman Charlie (Tom Hollander) shows up.

It's so goddamned cute you almost want to puke, but you don't. This is the most charming movie of the year, and it comes within an inch of being too sweet to stand, but it doesn't get there. It stays in that territory of pure grace where you laugh and cry in all the right places and don't feel the least part manipulated. This is a great movie, possibly one of the great romantic comedies of the decade.

Attendance, preferably with a date, is mandatory.


Written and directed
by Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro is going to give Peter Jackson a run for his money as the number three creator of fantasy in movies today.
In between doing his two “Hellboy” pictures, he's managed to create one of those unexpected masterpieces that both touches both our inner child and our inner cynic, something that not too many people can do.

It's June 1944. War is raging everywhere but Spain, or at least that's the official story. Even though the Republic finally collapsed under assault from Franco's fascists in early 1939, an insurgency was still going on, and would continue into the 1950s.

Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), son of the famous General Vidal, who died heroically in the Civil War, is a fascist through and through. He's mean, nasty and a bit of a coward. His wife Carmen(Ariadna Gil) is almost nine months pregnant, and he wants her to give birth where he can supervise things, which means that she and her daughter [from a previous marriage] Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) have to go all the way out to the boonies to be with him on what appears to be the remnants of the front lines. They are being watched, and not just by the insurgents…

Back in the age of legend, when what is now Spain was inhabited by the pagan proto-Irish, the daughter of the king of the underworld left her dank-but-happy land to see the world of the surface, and came by a horrible fate. The fairies have been looking for her ever since, and in Ofelia they may have found her.

So we've got two simultaneous plots, In the first, Captain Vidal fights the forces of good, who are not only in the hills, but have support even in the armed camp, for the captain's housekeeper Mercedes (Mirabel Verdú) and the camp's doctor (Alex Angulo), are providing aid and comfort to the guerrillas in the hillside. Next to this real-life horror show is the second story, which has to do with that lost princess and those millennia-old ruins which prove to be a portal to another world, guarded by the fairies and a faun (Doug Jones), who looks like the devil but is actually good…or is he? What we do know is that he gives her a magic book and three tasks to accomplish, providing juxtaposition between the worlds of fantasy and the reality.

The film is beautiful in it's ugliness. The special effects are really cool, and the makeup job on Doug Jones is really creepy. What makes this film compelling is Ofelia's internal conflict. Does she want to stay with her mother and soon-to-be-born brother? Or does she want to just chuck it all and head off to fantasyland?

The whole thing meshes perfectly, and while there are a couple of bumps at the end, this is an almost perfect picture. This is something to take the kids to despite the R rating.


Written and Directed
by Sean Ellis

When a short version of this film was nominated for an Oscar@ last year, we saw the makings of greatness. A delightful romp in the fields of erotica, we got a glorious celebration of the human female breast, in one of the most artistic hard-R comedies of the decade. It was a genuine triumph. Unfortunately, Ellis and company were invited to turn it into a full feature. He should have left well enough alone.

London art student Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff) is working the night shift in a grocery store. The reason is that he foolishly dumped his girlfriend Suzy (Michelle Ryan) and has been plagued with complete insomnia ever since. So after reading every book on his college reading list, he decides to make some extra money with his extra hours, and so we get into that glorious fifteen minutes of the short.

This part flows effortlessly, from his boss, Mr. Jenkins (Stuart Goodwin) a bit of a jerk, who has a thing for the Sharon(Emilia Fox) the check out clerk and she doesn't reciprocate the feelings. Meanwhile Barry(Michael Dixon) and Matt(Michael Lambourne) like to play with the products, like putting penis-shaped shampoo bottles in women's carts without their knowing it, or simulating cocksucking using large sausages.

Ben then goes into flashback mode where is seen the full frontal nudity from the height of eight year old Ben (Frank Hesketh), with a close-up of a clitoris that comes close to filling the screen. This is art, right, not porn [well, the short was kinda porny, but so what?].

One of the cute things about the short was the use of Ben's superpower. He had, as a way of keeping from getting bored, developed the ability to stop time, and use the prolonged microsecond to literally undress the women in the supermarket and observe their beauty for his artwork, plus a few minor pranks.

In the short, it was terrific, and pretty much the entire short is in there, but as a full 90+ minute feature, there's lots more time to fill and what we've got is a lot of bad slapstick with people we don't care about doing things that get old really quick. The cast is good, and Ellis' sense of style [he is Britain's top fashion photographers] is impeccable, but his comic sense is off, especially with the soccer scene, which is deplorable. You can get the short on DVD with the other Oscar contenders from last year. Get that.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

I simply can't wait to see Pan's Labyrinth, though it's definitely going to be a bit longer for me to wait here ... With "Devil's Backbone" and now this, it does indeed seem he is at the top of the game