First off, I have to qualify this comment by saying that this film is probably critic-proof in the sense that parents will rent it for their young kids (of the 6 and under crowd), and that these kids will no doubt enjoy it for one reason or another.
But as an adult watching this film, I couldn't help but find it uneven, patchy, tonally out-of-whack, and ultimately unfulfilling. And I'd probably dismiss it all the more if it wasn't for the fact that "Happy Feet" was directed by none other than George "Mad Max" Miller (and "Babe," but I'm not holding that against him).
A few flashes of brilliance aside, it's as if "Happy Feet" was made by a focus group. This is especially evident when you consider that this film was released just barely a year after the successful documentary "March of the Penguins." Okay, we've got our penguins, let's have them sing pop songs in a manner reminiscent of "Moulin Rouge." And to top it all off, let's make it relevant by tacking on a third act that deals with environmental responsibility (Miller's heart is in the right place here, but it just doesn't gel with the rest of the film).
What you get is a hodge-podge of elements, which conflict with each other. A few humorous, entertaining scenes? Sure. But a compelling feature-length movie? Hardly.
I have been a casual watcher of 30 Rock for the last few months, but last night's episode made me a true believer. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin reach new heights of comedic brilliance with their excellent timing and, dare I say it, chemistry. And great cameos by Isabella Rosselini, Paul "Pee Wee" Reubens and Will Forte. This could very well be the next "Arrested Development." I'm also looking forward to seeing Andy Samberg show up in one of the episodes (it seems like they're cycling through the SNL roster for small roles - it works!).
As a side note, this episode contains one of the most inventive "cat fight" sequences I've seen in a long time. Absolutely hilarious!
Laurent Herbiet's near-perfect film plays out like a post-mortem murder mystery, but perhaps its most engaging moments are spent in the past - filmed in gritty, black and white, evoking newsreel footage from the Algerian War of the late 50s. It is a stunning first film, which manages to both incorporate and shrug off the influence of producers the Dardenne brothers and politically-minded filmmaker Costa-Gavras. This is clearly Herbiet's show, and his confidence with the camera is highly evident here.
As co-writer and producer Costa-Gavras mentioned in his preamble at the 2006 Toronto Int'l Film Festival, this film is less about history than a metaphor for the present. One sees frightening parallels to the recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. Olivier Gourmet gives a riveting performance as the morally flexible titular character, and Robinson Stévenin is convincingly sympathetic as the conflicted apprentice and unwilling accomplice Lt. Rossi.
It's worth seeing, despite a lackluster framing device that betrays the immediacy of scenes set in the past.
I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Towne give a talk in Toronto, in which he mused on his long and (mostly) illustrious career. From Chinatown to Personal Best to The Firm, he spouted off anecdotes and insights into Hollywood and the screen writing process in general.
Then the audience was treated to a special preview screening of "Ask the Dust." It would seem that this has been a labour of love for Mr. Towne; one that has been several decades in the making. So in that sense, perhaps this film doesn't merit harsh criticism. The fact that Towne got it made is to be commended.
It's not a bad film, by any right. It boasts two decent performances from its leads Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell, lush cinematography, meticulous period detail and a sumptuous score. All the elements of a great film are there. However, nothing really gels.
My guess is that the source material is the film's ultimate downfall. It's dated, and contradictory. What begins as a pulpy potboiler in the vein of "The Postman Rings Twice" becomes a politically correct tirade against intolerance. Oh, and there's a healthy dose of "La Boheme" thrown in there for good measure.
The first half of the film is intriguing as the characters' motivations are enigmatic and unpredictable. Hayek comes across as a latina femme fatale, while Farrell plays the flawed noirish anti-hero. L.A. itself is a character - one of a city at odds with its surroundings. The description of the sand (or dust) from the desert filling the air is particularly poignant.
Halfway through, the film takes a perplexing turn. Turns out there is no mystery behind the motives of the leads. They just wanted to be loved/understood. Cue Hollywood clichés, and end scene. You can't help but be disappointed.
Perhaps in the hands of a '70s auteur director like Polanski, Antonioni or Bob Rafelson, the source material could have been tweaked or restructured to yield a more surprising and challenging film. I even wondered what the film would have been like with a 70s screen icon like Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino in the lead role.
Well, I could see why Sony Pictures might have had some issues with the title of Albert Brooks' latest film. Not for its implied controversy, but for the expectations it sets up in the viewer. One expects comedy on a large political scale, with dark satirical musings - that kind of thing. But this is Albert Brooks, and anyone going into this movie should know what they're in for. Brooks has often been referred to as a lighter, more inoffensive version of Woody Allen. A neurotic, Jewish comedian with a running commentary largely consisting of observational humour. And self-involved. I've always been a fan of Albert Brooks - his weaknesses aside. At his best, he's insightful, clever and funny. At his worst, he's egocentric, annoying and his jokes fall flat. Somewhere in between lies "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World." Take your average Brooks film, and transplant it to India, and this is what you get. There are a few attempts at setting up a larger satirical plot involving American foreign relations and Indian-Pakistani tensions, but Brooks drops these in lieu of smaller, incidental humour. You'll chuckle at the office of Indian telemarketers, and references to Brooks' own patchy acting career ("Finding Nemo" appears to be the only thing people remember him for). But ultimately, it's a pretty forgettable fare. Sweet while it lasts, but lacking in something lasting.
Exquisitely crafted. But don't look for substance.
I'm continually disappointed with Tim Burton. In my opinion, his best work is behind him. After a promising slew of films in the late '80s and early '90s, from Pee Wee's Big Adventure to Edward Scissorhands (and, to a lesser extent, The Nightmare Before Christmas - which he didn't direct), it's all been downhill from there. Granted, "Ed Wood" was an interesting, if slow-moving pet project which boasted knockout performances from Johnny Depp and Martin Landau. But fast-forward to 2005. It's been a busy year for Burton, with two films released within a period of less than 4 months. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was a visually impressive (that becomes a given with all of Burton's films), but ultimately unsatisfying experience. With the promise of a stop-motion follow up to The Nightmare Before Christmas, the disappointment of "Charlie" could be overlooked. However, "Corpse Bride" is another brilliant exercise in style, that falls short in the substance category. The story is far from engaging, the pace is slow, and Danny Elfman's musical infusions fall flat. As an aside, Danny Elfman has paralleled Burton in his downward spiral - when was the last great Danny Elfman score you heard? For me, it would inevitably be the memorable score and songs from "The Nightmare Before Christmas." And that is where "Corpse Bride" disappoints the most. It pales in comparison to the former. The characterizations are dull, the plot is nonexistent, and the music is derivative (again on Danny Elfman's case -he's recycled an Oompa Loompa tune here, as if we wouldn't notice!). That isn't to say that the film isn't watchable, or well-crafted (the animation is painstakingly realized through the analog magic of stop-motion). But from Burton, we've come to expect more. Mr. Burton - it's time to turn off the auto pilot, and deliver something you promised us over a decade ago.
"Everlasting Regret," Stanley Kwan's love song to Shanghai, is one of those films that suffers from an identity crisis and ultimately, doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. Stylistically, it veers from Sirkian melodrama to Godard-esquire detachment. It's beautiful to look at, and sensually composed, evoking the much superior "In the mood for love" by Wong Kar-Wai. Still, by the end of the film, the melodrama becomes arbitrary, and the audience is left feeling cold. The excellent performances almost rise above it all, leading one to wonder what the film would be like if Kwan had more assurance in his directing, and faith in his characters.
Just don't try thinking into it too much, or the logic falls apart.
I think the word I'm looking for is "conceit." The engaging premise, and suspension of disbelief that, for the most part, holds this summer blockbuster together.
There's a precarious balance here that Spielberg almost manages to pull off. Or rather, he pulls it off, but doesn't sustain it for the entire length of the movie.
I'm sure it's already been discussed ad nauseum how the camcorder is working despite an EMP wave, and Ray and his kids seem to conveniently escape mortal danger at every turn.
But this can be forgiven because Spielberg is so good at what he does. And this isn't even the director at his best.
With a surprisingly engaging screenplay in tow, which includes some frightening twists, Spielberg and his team concoct an intense thrill ride. And for all its sentimental moments, he doesn't spare the audience from occasional bouts of nastiness. We see a man clawing at a broken windshield with bare hands, and some equally nasty bits of slaughter on the part of the aliens.
It's fun, scary and gives you some food for thought. The 9/11 analogies work pretty well, while some of science fiction elements don't bear too much scrutiny.
In the end, it's a conceit. A summer blockbuster movie that rises above the crowd, yet can't totally release itself from its designation as an American popcorn movie.
Let me first confess that I will forever be a devoted fan of Douglas Adams' beloved "Hitchhiker" novels (the first three, anyway), and that going into this film I was expecting the worse.
I mean, how can you honestly expect to properly translate Adams' witty, tangential writing to the literal, visual medium of film.
The BBC mini-series aside, many have failed at adapting verbose satirical novels in the past. Just look at "Breakfast of Champions" or "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and you'll see what I mean. The intentions are always good. It's just that the subject material doesn't lend itself well to the translation.
So you could understand my feelings going into Garth Jennings' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
Upon seeing the film, my reaction was divided. On one hand, I was relieved that the filmmakers understood Adams' subtle humour, and made it their task to include several of the books' larger sight-gags (the improbability drive, babel fish, sentient missile-cum-sperm whale). I was also happy to see several nods to the BBC mini series.
However, something was missing. And I couldn't decide whether this was the filmmakers' faults, or the adaptation dilemma rearing its ugly head again.
At its worst, The Hitchhiker's Guide is an incoherent mess. The exposition is muddled, and the average viewer is left wondering the significance of certain key devices. For instance, the importance of the towels' is completely lost on us, and simply becomes an absurd prop. The same can be said of certain characters. Zaphod (the usually brilliant Sam Rockwell, slumming it here) is unbearably annoying (even more than the book affords him), and comes across as a coked-up actor mugging for a non-existent audience. And what is the significance of the Humma Kavula sub-plot? It adds nothing new to the plot, and if anything, complicates things unnecessarily. It also makes literal what was originally a throw away joke from the novel - the Jatravardians worshipping a giant sneeze.
At its best, The Hitchhiker's Guide loyally illustrates the larger set pieces of the novel. The Vogons are nicely done, with help from Jim Henson's creature studio. And Marvin the Paranoid Android is brilliantly rendered by the voice of Alan Rickman (although I still prefer the look of the BBC mini-series Marvin). Arthur Dent is nicely played by Martin Freeman. And the "Guide" sequences are expertly done.
So yes, my feelings were mixed. Ultimately, the sequel may be able to wrap things up a bit nicer. We'll see. It's a daunting task.
With Meet the Parents, Zoolander and The Royal Tenenbaums, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson proved to be a natural comedic duo. Wilson's laid back, dry performance perfectly complimented Stiller's manic, neurotic yet equally clueless characters.
Starsky and Hutch is, happily, another extension of this successful comedic pairing, and works around the strengths of each to provide an entirely watchable - not to mention hilarious - movie.
Todd Phillips is at the helm here - the man behind the Ivan Reitman-produced "Road Trip" and "Old School." Don't let this turn you off, however - especially if you're not a fan of the frat-boy humour of these films. "Starsky and Hutch" manages to both revere its '70s TV namesake, while simultaneously lampooning the inherently cheesy subject matter.
The most suprising feat is how capable a director Phillips truly is. He manages to capture the filmmaking style of '70s cop-shows, replete with freeze-frames, quick zoom-ins and funk-inspired soundtrack. There's car chases over bumpy San-Francisco streets, macho posturing and babes with feathered hair. The attention to detail is incredible. And did I mention it was funny too?
"Starsky and Hutch" manages to work on two levels. One, it's a gag-a-minute comedy that essentially strings together a set of gags, reminiscent of a Saturday Night Live skit, or -at worst - a Zucker-Abrahams movie. On another level, it's an episode of a '70s cop-show, the only difference being the bad acting is purely intentional.
Inspired bits of casting, aside from the leads, include coke-selling yuppie villains played by Vince Vaughan and (!) Jason Bateman, a biker with a dragon-fetish played by Will Farrell, and Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear.
See it. It's funny, and it's suprisingly well-made.
Just by fluke, I happened to catch an episode of this funny-as-all-hell show while vacationing in the UK. To the powers that be (being the TV station heads here in Canada): please pick up Phoenix Nights, and begin airing episodes here ASAP! This is too funny to miss! And as a plug to Canadian audiences: This could easily be a British companion piece to our "Trailer Park Boys" (except way better!)
First off, Aleksander Sokurov's "Russian Ark" is a bold technical achievement that pushes filmmaking to new realms of possibility with its 90 minute long steadicam shot and striking HD cinematography. It also makes excellent use of the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, allowing us to explore - through the first-person narrator - its niches, crevaces and spaces as if we, the viewer are actually there. In addition to this, there is the narrative conceit of having these spaces inhabited by various political figures and characters representing three centuries of Russian history.
Unfortunately, it is with the latter creative endeavour that the film fails to fully deliver. It is as if Sokurov has too many concepts that he is trying to balance. We have a metaphysical journey reminiscent of Resnais' "Last Year at Marienbad," coupled with historical docudrama, and a travelogue for the Hermitage. The European diplomat/aristrocrat figure who we follow for most of the film is a baffling creation, who is more often than not grating and off-putting. The splendour of the Hermitage is minimized amidst this man's distracting banter.
As mentioned earlier, there are metaphysical elements as well, overlapping various time frames, and allowing characters from various time frames to occupy the same space simultaneously.
One wonders what a seasoned pro like Tom Stoppard ("Arcadia," "Indian Ink") would have made of the material. Its innate theatricality demands someone of his narrative skill.
Nevertheless, "Ark" is an intriguing piece that provokes conversation, despite its frustrating moments. See it in theatrical release, as the widescreen HD cinematography and breathtaking locale make it something to behold on a big screen.
Fans of Villeneuve and Turpin can pass on this one
Well, I probably anticipated something more with this one. Or perhaps something else. Coming from Roger Frappier, producer of Maelstrom, and director Manon Briand (of Cosmos fame), I expected something more along the lines of Denis Villineuve or Andre Turpin. In other words, something New-Wavey, fresh, and arty. You do get something visually lavish, containing some great humour, and a nicely understated performed from Pascal Bussieres. However, you also get some trite sentimentality, poorly constructed religious iconography, and the overall feeling of something poppy and mainstream. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm sure that this film will do very well with domestic audiences (I'm speaking of Quebec, primarily). But it hardly makes for the challenging, satisfying artistic experience of "Maelstrom" and "Un Crabe dans la Tete." Maybe I'm expecting too much. Or something it was never intended to be.
It's typical that the Canadian press (including 'The Toronto Star' and 'The Globe and Mail') would overhype a docudrama like this one. For one thing, it's about the beloved Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who, despite his flaws, seemed to capture the hearts of many a Canadian in a manner usually reserved for members of the Royal family, and maybe the Kennedys.
The more disturbing trend illustrated by the press of late is the tendency to write blindly self-congratulatory articles on Canadian content. As if the CRTC didn't limit our content choices enough as it is. Just look at all the glowing press that the Simpsons' "Toronto episode" unfairly garnered.
But back to the matter at hand. "Trudeau": the much hyped, much touted biopic miniseries starring a bevy of Canadian regulars, such as Colm Feore, R.H. Thompson, Patrick McKenna and, surprise, surprise, Don McKellar. Oh, and it stars Polly Walker as Margaret. Now, who is Polly Walker, and what's the big deal here?
Jerry Ciccoretti's direction is admirable at times, working with what must have been a limited budget. Instant giveaway: excess of stock footage from the CBC archives. At other times, however, Ciccoretti gives into cheap mimicry of better filmmakers (yes, Jerry, we get the Richard Lester references). This also involves a mind-boggling over-use of cheap video effects, including split screen, freeze frame, and "wacky font library" titling. All this >reminds me of that video project I got an A on in High School (I think it was about the school's lacrosse team).
Back to the acting. Colm (pronounced "Caw-lum," as Cynthia Dale so eloquently introduced him at the end of the first episode) Feore is passable in the title role. I've never been a huge fan of his overly affected Stratford festival style of acting. But he generally pulls it off. Still, it raises the debate of acting vs. mimicry. Where's the passion, Colm?
Polly Walker is gawdawful as Margaret, although one wonders as to how much she was given to work with, considering the muddled direction and the real-life woman she's modelled after.
The supporting actors generally do better, culminating tour-de-force performances by Eric Peterson as Tommy Douglas and Luc Proulx as Rene Levesque.
In the end, I'm sure that "Trudeau" will pull in record ratings for the ailing CBC. But it's still sub-standard entertainment. We need new directors, and new fresh talent to grace our TV screens if we want TV to survive in this country. Otherwise, we can tune in to better fare from the UK or, dare I say it, the US.
And the press better learn how to criticize, because this is imperative if our country wants to grow in the arts.
After seeing this film at a recent screening of Oscar-nominated shorts in Toronto, I was perplexed by why this film was even nominated in the first place. It doesn't break any new ground in terms of animation technique (at least the dismal "Fifty Percent Grey" is impressively rendered), and the story is lame and derivative. Stylistically, it comes across as a crude melange of the "B.C." comic strip and "The Flinstones" (he even goes so far as to directly copy the Fred sliding down the tail of a Brontasaurus routine). This is a complete waste of time, and it only goes to prove how subjective and, dare I say, political, the Academy Award nomination process truly is.
Now, if I had my say in the awarding of an Oscar for best animated short, I'd probably hand it over to this little gem of a movie. Its simple, yet hilarious premise involves animating a little Irish school girl's monologue involving her interpretation of the story of John the Baptist. The technique, which I believe has been used by Robert Smigel of "TV Funhouse" among others, is essentially to animate the girl's little tangents and colloquialisms of speech. The depictions of Jesus, and Salome approaching King Herod are priceless. Clever, witty, and satisfyingly low-concept.
It's no "The Cat Came Back," but Strange Invaders is another quirky animated treat from Cordell Barker of the NFB. Compared to the other entries in this year's Short Animated Film category for the Oscars (with the notable exception of Ireland's "Give Up Yer Aul Sins"), Strange Invaders comes across as a refreshing dose of absurdity, conveyed through dazzling hand-made animation (as opposed to the CGI trend that seems to be slowly taking over). It's creepy, funny and distinct. Check this one out. Be be forewarned: you may never look at babies the same way again ("Peanut!").
Andre Turpin's "Un crabe dans la tete" is a vibrant, fresh and enigmatic film that proves once again that some of the best new films in Canada are coming out of the Quebec scene. Turpin's vision takes the visual playfulness of Denis Villineuve's "Maelstrom" one step further, while elminating some of the latter film's pretentions in the process. "Un crabe" is very free-form and incidental in structure, with its protagonist, Alex (David La Haye) playing a sort of existential Don Juan, who just cannot say "no" to anyone or any situation. While the tone is generally light and the pace is brisk, Turpin slips in a few serious, introspective moments that ground the film in reality. Amidst the sometimes fantastic picaresque journey, there are moments of devastating reality and repercussion.
Competently made miniseries, good cast - but the accents?
Jon Avnet's "Uprising" is a competently made historical drama about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The attention to historical detail is bang-on, and the film is relentless in its pacing and moments of true horror and desperation. Nevertheless - and for this I might be nitpicking - I was once again left scratching my head as to the filmmakers' decision to encourage the actors to put on vaguely Eastern European and German accents. Technically, if you're going to alter the Geo-linguistic realism but making an English-language film, wouldn't it be best if the actors spoke naturally? This is unfortunate, as it distracts from the compelling plot at various points in the film. At times, we don't see the characters, but rather Hank "Apu" Azaria and David "Ross" Schwimmer hamming it up with their accents.
"Mirror Image" is a film that seems more concerned with the idiosyncracies of each character and their interactions with each other than actual concrete plot. It's rather like a series of incidents elegantly strung together, but ultimately amounting to very little. The influences of Hou Hsiao Hsien and Wong Kar-Wai are evident here, especially in the way the urban setting is shot and the plot lurches. It's an interesting first feature, and one can forgive its flaws if only due to anticipation of what the director will do next!
From the reaction at the screening at this year's Toronto Int'l Film Festival, "Vacuuming..." and "Strumpet" - two new films from Danny Boyle, are instant crowd favourites.
Danny Boyle is back, after slumming it with "A Life Less Ordinary" and "The Beach." He's in familiar territory here, similar to that of "Trainspotting." We see working class angst, social realism and a healthy dose of the fantastic.
It's gritty, it's dirty, and it's incredibly entertaining. Boyle manages to find gold in the gutters of the slums.
He's also assembled a fine cast of actors, including Timothy Spall and Christopher Eccleston (in "Strumpet.").
Perhaps the biggest triumph lies in Boyle's ability to use digital video to his advantage. The possibilities of the medium are fully displayed here, and the result is breathtaking.
One hopes that Boyle will stick to what he does best and leave Hollywood behind him!