Review: Enter the Void

Enter the Void
(France/Germany/Italy, 161 min.)
Dir: Gaspar Noé; Writ: Gaspar Noé and Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy.

Now My charms are all O'erthrown

The Tempest ★★
(USA, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Julie Taymor.
Starring: Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou, Ben Whishaw, Felicity Jones, Reeve Carney, Chris Cooper, David Strathairn, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina.
A towering disappointment, Julie Taymor’s The Tempest is a mind-boggling misfire. Taymor made her screen debut with 1999’s Titus, based on William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Titus is one of the greatest cinematic renderings of the Bard’s work, primarily due to Taymor’s now-trademark visual pallet. The Tempest, however, resembles a catastrophic train wreck far more than Shakespeare’s final masterpiece. One must wonder why The Tempest is such a disaster, though, because the play is the most magical and inventive of Shakespeare’s works and thus presumably the play most well-tailored to Julie Taymor’s authorial style.

The film is not a complete disaster, however, primarily due to the greatness of Helen Mirren in the lead role of Prospera, the former Duchess of Milan. As she was in Shakespeare’s play, Prospera is banished to a remote island after her brother, Antonio (Chris Cooper), usurps the throne. Actually, the phrase “As she was” is not entirely correct, for the exiled sorcerer of Shakespeare’s play is actually a he, not a she. The gender-switch in Taymor’s film works quite well and needs no additional explanation other than that provided in the original verse, save for the alteration of several pronouns. 


Giamatti's Version

Barney’s Version ★★★★½
(Canada/Italy, 132 min.)
Dir: Richard J. Lewis; Writ; Michael Konyves
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Scott Speedman, Rachelle Lefevre, Bruce Greenwood, Mark Addy.
Barney Panofsky is a lot like a Canadian version of Henry VIII: he is pleasantly plump and, therefore, a man who likes to indulge in many wordly vices. He also goes through wives like they grow on trees; fortunately, none of Barney’s wives lose their heads, although there is at least one whom audiences might wish she had.

Based upon the 1997 novel by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version is an indelible triumph. Taking on the role of Barney is Paul Giamatti. Like the Barney of Richler’s novel, Giamatti’s Panofsky is an uncouth, but loveable lout.  Barney is a culturally savvy TV producer who spends the latter part of his life as a barfly reminiscing on the past. Barney's nostalgia is triggered when a foe from his past, Detective Sean O’Hearne (Mark Addy), publishes a scathing tell-all about Barney’s life. The book alleges all sorts of nasty things, particularly that Barney is a murderer and a reckless Svengali. O’Hearne’s book forces Barney to mine his memories and offer to himself his own version of his life’s story as a corrective to that of O’Hearne.


Top Ten of 2010

2010 has been one of the best years for film in recent memory. As you’ve all witnessed by the abundance of stars on the sidebar, I liked many films this year. While some of the most highly lauded films of the year, such as The Social Network and Toy Story 3 are absent from this list, I stand by my opinion that they are both admirable films, but also that they are neither ground-breaking nor special. I think that this year’s list reflects both my personal favourites and the very “best” of the year; however, I’m always of the opinion that these two categories are indistinguishable because the very best films are those that you return to often. In amassing my list of the year’s very best, I tried in vain to come up with a roster that somehow included Made in Dagenham, Fair Game, or Animal Kingdom. No amount of rejiggling and retooling, however, could yield a satisfactory result. Since the best part of these films, the performances, were acknowledged in last week’s roundup, they will have to settle for an “Honourable Mention Plus.”
So, without further ado, my list of the ten best films of 2010:

1. Black Swan
Quite possibly the best film I have seen since Mulholland Dr., Black Swan is as audacious, complex, and beautiful as David Lynch’s 2001 mindbender. From Winona Ryder’s art-imitating life character role to Natalie Portman’s soon-to-be iconic performance, every scene of Black Swan is fuelled by the most dynamic and bewitching collaboration of 2010. The pirouetting camera, the frenetic editing, the hypnotic motif of black and white, and the phenomenal sound design – director Darren Aronofsky orchestrates all these rich aesthetics into a dazzling swan song of cinema. The entire audio-visual spectacle is driven by the spellbinding score by Clint Mansell, whose reinvention of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake might be the best manipulation of pre-existing music since Max Steiner re-tooled the notes of “As Time Goes By.” Ah, film!


The Best Performances of 2010

2010 has been a great year for movies. It's been an even better year for performances. As Part 1 of the year in review, I offer my picks for the best performances of 2010. Unfortunately, some of the most lauded roles of the year have yet to make it to Ottawa, such as Lesley Manville in Another Year or Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, but that's probably for the better since I struggled to narrow the lists to "ten." I'm dismayed that I couldn't even find room for the great work by Leonardo DiCaprio, Diane Lane, Noomi Rapace, Rosamund Pike, and Ashley Judd (I feel like I stabbed Ashley Judd in the back). Their absence, however, demonstrates how good a year it was. To celebrate said greatness, I offer my picks for the ten best lead and supporting performances that 2010 had to offer:

Top 10 Lead Performances:
1. Natalie Portman in Black Swan: I know that I’ve been talking up this performance for months now, but no amount of praise does justice to this performance. As the fanatically driven ballerina in Black Swan, Portman offers an astonishing feat of dexterity and dramatic range. Portman’s complex spectacle might be too wild for the Academy’s taste; however, like Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd or Bette Davis’s Margo Channing in All About Eve, Natalie Portman’s Nina Sayers will undoubtedly be a performance with which future moviegoers define the greatness of cinema.

Not Such a Holiday Turkey After All...

Burlesque ★★★
(USA, 119 min)
Written & directed by Steve Antin
Starring: Christina Aguilera, Cher, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell.
Just another quick one, I’m afraid. I’m not afraid, however, to admit that Burlesque is a pleasant surprise. Burlesque is not exactly worthy of its Best Picture pedigree (although this explains it), but it’s hardly the Showgirls 2 that I was expecting. The film is somewhat lacking in its dramatic scenes, which are predictable. Burlesque also lifts material from Chicago to Coyote Ugly and it throws in an “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going” moment for good measure (though Cher’s “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” is probably the highlight of the film). Burlesque is saved mostly, if not entirely, by some great musical numbers and a handful of spirited performances.

Save Your Quarters!

Tron: Legacy ★★
(USA, 127 min)
 Dir: Joseph Kosinski; Writ: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen
This will just be a quick review since I lost so many brain cells whilst watching Tron: Legacy. The film is immediately impressive due to its nifty visual scheme (aside from the digitally rendered Jeff Bridges – that just looks creepy). After a while, however, the neon lights of Tron: Legacy becomes a lot like the flashy lights of Las Vegas: They provide a cheap thrill at first, but they soon lose their appeal and one realizes that they’re simply an attempt to hide the superficiality of it all.


Crazy Mamas, Raging Bulls

The Fighter ★★★★
(USA, 115 min.)
Dir: David O’Russell; Writ: Scott Sliver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Story by Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington.
Starring: Mark Walhberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
Like Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby or Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, David O’Russell’s The Fighter is a powerful drama about a determined boxer. While The Fighter might not pack as strong a punch as its predecessors, it still manages a hefty wallop thanks to the fancy footwork of director David O’Russell and his outstanding cast.

Based on a true story (which inspirational sports dramas are not?), The Fighter follows the slow rise of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a “stepping stone” boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts. “Stepping stone” means that Mickey is basically a punching bag that other fighters use to up their game. The same goes for Mickey’s family: his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), is his manager, while his brother Dicky (Christian Bale) is his trainer, and they both push Mickey beyond his limits with complete  disregard for interests other than their own. Dicky is also a crack-addict and has-been boxer, and both he and Alice fanatically cling to his glory days. 


A Film Fit For a King

The King’s Speech ★★★★★
(UK, 118 min.)
Dir: Tom Hooper; Writ: David Seidler
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter.
Public speaking is hell. Apparently, more people fear it than death. Admittedly, I’m one of many people stricken with glossophobia (I just about threw up before my first session as a TA). One can hardly imagine, then, what it must be like to have such an anxiety and be in a position that requires one to speak publicly on a daily basis. Especially if that person is the King.

That’s the premise of the true tale of The King’s Speech. Colin Firth stars as King George VI, the wartime Royal who suffered from an awful stammer, which further added to his insecurities of keeping up the appearances and withholding the high expectations of his family. The film chronicles His Majesty’s attempts to conquer his speech impediment through various techniques and therapists. After countless efforts leave him overwhelmed and embarrassed, George gives up. Unwilling to accept defeat, however, his wife Elizabeth, Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter), makes one last bid with an eccentric, but esteemed, aid named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). 


Canada's Top Ten!

Molly Parker & Tracy Wright in Trigger
Yesterday, the folks at TIFF released their Top Ten Lists for the best that Canada had to offer in both feature and short length film. I'm very pleased that Trigger, my favourite Canadian film so far this year, made the list. Other notable entries include Barney's Version, Incendies, Splice, and Last Train Home. A bit of a surprise entry is Xavier Dolan's second feature Les amours imaginaires. Dolan's film offers
Les amours imaginaires
 some richly composed set pieces, but it's off-puttingly self-indulgent - more so than I Killed My Mother. Films by 'new directors' that are more worthy of praise, in my opinion, are Sook-yin Lee's Year of the Carnivore (though they may have considered that 2009) or Terry Miles's A Night for Dying Tigers. As far as snubs go, though, the only troublesome omission is Larysa Kondracki's spectacular debut The Whistleblower. The film premiered at TIFF this year, and the festival date is usually that by which TIFF tends to go. The Whistleblower is not scheduled to be released until August, however, so hopefully, like me, they're counting it as a 2011 release - if not, they have some explaining to do!!!.

There was one other sin of omission though: How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You! didn't make the cut as one of the top shorts. Shame!

Full list after the cut:


The Ghosts of Catfish Past

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ★★★★
(Thailand, 114 min.)
Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring: Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee
A few weeks ago, whilst reviewing Hereafter, I lamented the ineffectiveness of several great directors in realizing the afterlife. Well, it seems that Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has done it, and with a fraction of the budget, no less. Weerasethakul’s film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives may be one of the strangest films I have ever seen. It’s extremely difficult to describe. Not so much in the way that Black Swan had me tongue-tied, but more in the way one experiences something like Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, after which you say, “I have no idea what I just saw, but I think I really liked it.”

At its most basic level, Uncle Boonmee is a ghost story. It’s not a scary one, but it is certainly haunting. As Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) spends his last few days of life on his farm in rural Thailand, several ghosts from his visit him past, including his former lover and his long lost son. The ghosts serve not to haunt Boonmee, but more to coax him into accepting his mortality. 

Golden Globe Nominations!

The Hollywood Foreign Press Announced the nominees for the 68th Golden Globe Awards this morning. They were...interesting. The King's Speech leads with seven nominations (I'll be seeing that tomorrow). The Social Network and The Fighter (has not yet been released here, I'll be at a sneak-peak on Thursday!) came in second with six nods apiece. The nominees in most of the drama categories are pretty good. The comedy? Not so much. All we can really they is that the HFPA really likes their Johnny Depp. Depp managed not one nod, but TWO, for Alice in Wonderland (which he was awful in) and The Tourist (which he was more awful in). The HFPA completely snubbed Made in Dagenham in the comedy categories, blind-siding both the film and its worthy actress Sally Hawkins. I've seen many of the nominees, but it turns out that the one film I'm behind seeing this awards season is...Burlesque!!!

Black Swan racked up four nominations, including Best Actress for Natalie Portman and Best Supporting Actress for Mila Kunis, although I think that Barbara Hershey should have been nominated instead. Jacki Weaver, however, was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Animal Kingdom. Portman and Weaver are two actors I'm rooting for most, so since they were nominated, I can't really complain. Canadian film also did well, with Paul Giamatti earning a Best Actor nod for Barney's Version and Halle Berry with a Best Actress bid for Frankie & Alice.

The nominees:

Best Picture, Drama:
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

Best Picture, Comedy/Musical:
Alice in Wonderland
Kids Are All Right
The Tourist 


Une voyage très Jolie

The Tourist ★★★
(USA/France, 103 min)
Dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writ: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes
Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell.
Ah, Italy. Once again, it graces the screen with beautiful scenery and spectacular panoramas. This time, however, when Angelina Jolie visits Venice, Italy gets the boot. The European cityscape just doesn’t offer as good a view as Angelina does. The mega-star has never looked better, especially with how fully she embraces the Italian-sexiness that several other actresses celebrated onscreen in 2010, notably Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and Tilda Swinton in I am Love. It’s only too bad, though, that while Jolie provides a whirlwind adventure, everyone else onboard The Tourist is about as much fun as a trip to the Vatican.

The Tourist, though, is a delightfully convoluted caper. True, one would expect something a little more substantial from a script by three Oscar winners, but as escapist fare, the film does all right. The adventure begins when a team of investigators, led Inspector John Acheson of Scotland Yard (Paul Bettany), trails Jolie’s Elise Ward through the streets of Paris. Acheson et al are on a manhunt for Alexander Pierce, a financial crook who owes the UK roughly three-quarters of a billion pounds in back taxes. Elise is their only lead on Pierce, and she gives them the slip by making it from her sidewalk café to the Gare du Lyon, where she hops a train for Venice. Onboard, she cosies up to Frank, an unsuspecting American tourist played by Johnny Depp. Naturally, Acheson manages to get some of his men onto to train, and they quickly assume that Elise is in the midst of a rendezvous with Pierce.


The Newsman Wears Prada

Morning Glory ★★★½
(USA, 103 min.)
Dir: Roger Mitchel; Writ: Aline Brosh McKenna
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson.
Morning Glory is a pleasant surprise. A warm romantic comedy from director Roger Mitchell (Notting Hill, Venus), Morning Glory is a fun and enjoyable workplace satire. It might not hold up against the likes of say, Broadcast News, but the film is nowhere near as fluffy as it might appear. Like the Nancy Meyers films that always appear in the theatres around this time of year, Morning Appear is easily digestible because it blends clever observations of life within appreciable light humour.

Rachel McAdams stars as Becky Fuller, a type-A workaholic who gets the sack from a successful morning show when the studio opts for people with more business sense and less showbiz savvy. Desperate for any work, Becky accepts the job of executive producer at a crap morning show on IBS (har har!). When Becky arrives at Daybreak, morale and quality are at an all-time low: the co-anchors Colleen (Diane Keaton) and Paul (Ty Burrell) hate each other, the facilities are a wreak, and the staff lacks direction and focus (and decent vocabulary). Becky thus fires Paul and decides to give Daybreak an overhaul by casting respectable newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to co-anchor with Colleen.


Black Swan - It Begins!

This week officially kicks off the piece of film industry greatness that is Black Swan. Black Swan got the week off to a good start by scoring 4 nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Cinematography. (Winter's Bone led the pack with 7 nods.)

Black Swan opens in Toronto this week. It won't be in Ottawa until December 22nd, though. The soundtrack was released this week too, so one can always enjoy Clint Mansell's terrific score until then. I'm eager to listen to it back to back with Inception. I've made up my as to which is the better movie, but as to which is the better score remains to be seen (or heard...). Unfortunately, the HMV in my 'hood didn't get the Black Swan soundtrack, so the jury will be out a bit longer...They did have the soundtracks for 127 Hours and Requiem for a Dream for 2 for $20, so the trip was not in vain.

A great and unusual trailer was released for the soundtrack...enjoy!


Between a Rock and a Hard Place

127 Hours ★★★★★
(USA/UK, 93 min.)
Dir: Danny Boyle; Writ: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
Starring: James Franco.
To quote the priest in Breaking the Waves, “You are a sinner, Anthony Dod Mantle, and you deserve your place in Hell.” Well, be it a blasphemy to be a sinfully good cinematographer, then Mantle has surely earned his spot in the inferno. With the spectacular lensing of 127 Hours, Mantle and co-cinematographer Enrique Chediak prove that sometimes life is at its most exhilarating when delivered at twenty-four frames per second.

127 Hours marks Mantle’s fourth collaboration with writer/director Danny Boyle, their most recent project being 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. Whereas Slumdog was an overhyped lapse into sentimentality and cultural appropriation, not to mention a real hack-job of a great book, 127 Hours is a triumphant and inspiring story of survival. Not only is 127 Hours Boyle’s best film since Trainspotting, it’s also a flawless piece of filmmaking.


Say No to "Drugs"

Love and Other Drugs ★★½
(USA, 113 min. – but it feels like forever)
Dir: Edward Zwick; Writ: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, Judy Greer.
Do you remember those cheesy campaigns when your schoolteachers told you that drugs are bad and you just get high on life instead? If only Love and Other Drugs was such an easy pill to swallow. Unfortunately, the latest misfire from director Edward Zwick (Defiance, Blood Diamond) takes about five or six good ideas and mashes them up into one tragic mess of a movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie Randall, an over-energized, over-confident, and over-sexed pharmaceutical sales rep. Jamie makes a killing by pill-pushing Zoloft and other wonder drugs to a never-ending train of gullible secretaries who fall for his impeccable charm. Jamie’s life gets a new twist when he shadows a doctor during a check-up, and the patient, Maggie Murdoch (Anne Hathaway) valiantly whips out her breast.


Trailer: How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!

Today the Canada Film Centre (CFC) released the trailer for its short film How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You! The film has been a hit on the Canadian festival circuit and, if you’ll recall, I gave the film a quick blurb in my pre-TIFF excitement.

How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You! is a film that I’ve returned to, and each screening brings news levels of appreciation. A film that is truly original in its audacious storytelling and shrewd craftsmanship, How to Rid Your Lover… is a must for cinephiles. Upping it even further on the registry of “Essential Cinema for 2010” is the film’s roster of fresh, innovative, and unpretentious talents: I expect great things from director Nadia Litz, writer Ryan Cavan, and stars Sarah Allen and Joe Cobden.


Put the Blame on Plame

Fair Game ★★★★½
(USA, 108 min)
Dir: Doug Liman; Writ: Jez Butterworth & John Butterworth
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn
Like the stealthiest of covert agents, Fair Game is remarkably deceptive. Doug Liman’s film trounces into the multiplex with the sleek assemblage of a studio film and the bombastic bravado of a brainless blockbuster. However, once it firmly established itself and the viewer accepts the identity of the film before them, Fair Game reveals that it was all a cover. In actuality, the film is a dexterous examination of contemporary American politics. With how the film presents the state of the union, the game played by Washington is hardly fair at all. Moreover, the film transitions from spy-thriller to socio-political drama so subtly that the weighty implications of its narrative are both accessible and enthralling.

This damning tale of American politics is a dramatic reconstruction of the controversial case of Valerie Plame (played by Naomi Watts). In 2003, an anonymous source from the Whitehouse contacted the press and outed Plame as a covert CIA agent. As depicted in the film, the whole debacle was an orchestrated “smoke and mirrors” spectacle à la Wag the Dog in order to divert public attention away from the real story. That “real” story marks the first half of Fair Game in which Plame’s husband, former US ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) goes on a fact-finding mission to Niger. As one learns later in the film, it was on the findings of Wilson’s trip that the Bush administration concluded that the Iraqi government was building WMD’s. There is one small problem, though: Wilson’s research suggested the opposite. As he tells the press, someone changed the facts along the way.


Rumble in the Jungle

Animal Kingdom ★★★★½
(Australia, 113 min)
Written & directed by David Michôd
Starring: James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Joel Edgerton.
It’s a dog eat dog world out there. When seen through the eyes of James (James Frecheville) in Animal Kingdom, life seems especially so. James, or ‘J’ as he likes to be called, goes off to live with his grandmother and his uncles after his mother dies from a heroin overdose. His uncles, the Cody boys, are an unruly bunch: Darren (Luke Ford) and Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) are minor street thugs who scrap by on their petty existence by living with their mother, Janine (Jacki Weaver). Given Janine’s smothering dependence on her boys, however, it could be vice-versa. Nonetheless, they are all beholden to Andrew (Ben Mehdelsohn). Andrew, aka ‘Pope’, is the leader of the pack.

When J arrives at the Cody compound, Darren, Craig, and their friend Barry (Joel Edgerton) are all on edge: the police are on the hunt for Pope and have the family under constant surveillance. The three are a brooding pack of alpha males and when they’re not shooting up the town, they’re jostling with one another in the den. Are these men or beasts?


A 'Force' to be Reckoned With

Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie ★★★★
(Canada, 93 min)
Dir: Sturla Gunnarsson
For his 75th birthday, Dr. David Suzuki gave his most essential lecture. Similar to the “Last Lecture on Earth” series that frequents many University campuses, Suzuki celebrated his life by condensing his greatest concerns for the environment into one speech that he would proudly call his last should he not live to his 76th year. Director Sturla Gunnarsson and the folks at the National Film Board (NFB) were fortunate enough to document Suzuki’s lecture and in good NFB fashion, they deliver a thorough and informative documentary that educates and enlightens.

Force of Nature focuses primarily on Suzuki’s lecture, which emphasizes that the current trends in human behaviour are rapidly depleting the natural wonder of the Earth. Force of Nature, however, is hardly a Canuck rehash of An Inconvenient Truth. Suzuki does away with the raw data and persuasive Power Point, and he goes straight to the heart. Force of Nature thus offers a compelling study on the decline of the planet, but through a humanist perspective, rather than a dry scientific one.


Chaos Reigns @ Criterion

The most notorious, shocking, controversial, provocative, and, might I add, by-all-regards-beautiful film of 2009 finally comes to DVD. I’m referring, of course, to Antichrist. Antichrist sort of got lost in my film lists – it opened in Ottawa in February, but since it is technically a 2009 release, I never added it to the side bar. (A revision of my top 10 for 2009 is required.)

Antichrist is a graphic descent into marital hell – literally. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe star as a married couple whose relationship stumbles on hard times when their son dies in a tragic accident. The wife is particularly devastated by the loss and regresses into the most brutal form of self-blame. To remedy, her husband (a psychiatrist) suggests that the only way she can overcome her fears is to confront what she fears most. Surprisingly, what the wife fears most is Eden, the couple’s woodland retreat. They go off in hopes of conquering her anxiety and the trip permits the wife some time to reflect on her abandoned thesis, which explores the subjection of women in witchcraft; however, once in the woods, nature turns on them. As She says, “Nature is Satan’s church.”


The Beat of a Generation

Howl ★★★½
(USA, 84 min.)
Written and directed by: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman.
Starring: James Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban.
Can the obscene be poetic? No, for as Howl demonstrates, there is nothing obscene in a work of literature that articulates the angst or disillusion of an author, even if the author expresses himself in unconventional ways. Moreover, as Howl suggests, something becomes more poetic when it is said in the idioms and syntax of an unheard voice.

Howl brings to the screen Allen Ginsberg’s highly influential poem “Howl.” When it was first published in 1956, “Howl” caused a sensation on the literary scene – the revolutionary imagery that Ginsberg expressed through a combination of honest emotion and frank words articulated the collective anxiety of a generation of artists. It also sparked an uproar from Americans who felt that its language was too blunt and too coarse to have any literary merit. As a result, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the publisher of “Howl” was brought to trial with charges of distributing obscene material.

Last Night trailer!

A trailer for Massy Tadjedin's Last Night has finally surfaced! (At The Playlist). Last Night recently played at the Rome film festival, so an Italian trailer hit the web a few days ago. Last Night stars Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, Guillaume Canet, and a hilarious golden retriever, who thankfully made the cut. The film is still in distribution limbo, due to the Miramax kerfuffle. I saw the film at TIFF and loved it, so hopefully things will work out and Last Night will make it to theatres sooner than later.

Take a look!

Last Night - Trailer
Uploaded by ThePlaylist. - Check out other Film & TV videos.


Family Law

Conviction ★★★½
(USA, 107 min.)
Dir: Tony Goldwyn; Writ: Pamela Gray
Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher, Juliette Lewis.
A compelling tale of family bonds, Conviction tells the true story of Betty Anne Waters (played by Hilary Swank), a working-class American who fought for eighteen years to clear her brother’s name. Betty’s brother, Kenny (Sam Rockwell), is arrested and tried for a string of crimes, the most serious of which is murder. During the trial, the prosecution produces several key witnesses who describe Kenny’s volatility, aggression, and in one case, his admission of guilt. To no surprise, Kenny receives a life sentence.

Always convinced of Kenny’s innocence, Betty embarks on a long and arduous quest to overturn the conviction. The degree of commitment that Betty has for her brother cannot be stressed enough: she goes to law school so that she can defend him herself. As the years go by, and Betty struggles to earn her credentials, both siblings undergo an enormous burden. Betty Anne’s relationships with her husband and, eventually, her children suffer from neglect; likewise, the years take a visible physical and psychological toll on Kenny.


A Day in the Life

Nowhere Boy ★★★★
(UK, 98 min.)
Dir: Sam Taylor-Wood; Writ: Matt Greenhalgh
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, Thomas Sangster, Sam Bell.
Nowhere Boy presents a day in the life of John Lennon. Well, it’s far more than a day – more like a few months, really. Regardless of the brief timeframe, the screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh packs a wealth of insight into the pre-Beatles years of John Lennon. Greenhalgh, who scripted the 2007 Joy Division pic Control, displays a masterful hand at capturing the minute details that shaped the history of rock and roll.

In Nowhere Boy, John Lennon is a seventeen-year-old hooligan. Played by Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass), Lennon is a cocky, trash-talking, and virile boy. John is a defiant nightmare to his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who has been looking after him since he was five. Despite Mimi’s well-intentioned, but often overly stern attempts to mould John into a respectable young lad, John continually sneaks off to visit his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff). Julia is the complete opposite of her sister: unlike Mimi, she is a colour-wearing, rock-loving liberal. Her waify nature is the perfect escape for John. Moreover, her bohemian attitude creates the perfect environment for nurturing John’s unregulated angst.


'Millennium' Concludes with Potent Sting

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest ★★★★
(Sweden, 148 min.)
Dir: Daniel Alfredson; Writ: Jonas Frykberg and Ulf Ryberg.
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Annika Hallin, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Mikael Spreitz.
The film version of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy comes to a satisfying close with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is, comparatively, the lesser of the three novels, but the same cannot be said of the film. Like its forerunner, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hornet’s Nest is a film that improves upon its source material. Sure, the Stieg Larsson books are great (one need not go any further than compare the two versions of The Girl who Played With Fire to make such an observation), but the Millennium saga seems especially well suited for the big screen.
With the slick cinematographic eye of director Daniel Alfredson, Hornet’s Nest is both a riveting thrilling and a powerful social commentary on victims of violence and bureaucratic corruption.

Hornet’s Nest picks up immediately where Fire left off. A brief recap of the concluding events is spliced within the opening sequence Hornet’s Nest, but appreciating the film is a hopeless cause for any moviegoer who has not seen the first two instalments. As those who saw (or read) The Girl who Played With Fire may recall, the story of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) ended with a bloody climax in which she confronted her maniacal and abusive father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov). Hornet’s Nest begins with Lisbeth and her father being transported to the hospital in police custody. Part three of the Millennium trilogy thus unveils all the secrets of Lisbeth’s dark past as she is brought to court for the string of murders for which she was accused in Fire


Mirren and Machine Guns

Red ★★★½
(USA, 111 min.)
Dir: Robert Schwentke; Writ: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox.
 Just a quick one today. Bruce Willis is back in top form in Red, one of the funner action-comedies to hit the screen this year. Unlike some recent hits in which an ageing action star has attempted to prove that he's still a legit action hero (I'm looking at you, Harrison Ford!), Willis and Red succeed because they don't shy away from age. Rather, that's the whole point of Red. Willis's character, Frank, is a retired CIA black ops man who is now RED (Retired and Extremely Dangerous). Frank's pulled out of retirement, though, when a CIA hit squad ambushes his house during the night.


Canada goes for Oscar

Let the Oscar race begin! Awards Daily has posted the first set of "For Your Consideration" ads to hit the press. Included in the gallery is one for Incendies, which is Canada's official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Incendies picked up the award for best Canadian film at TIFF earlier this year, and it recently scooped top honours at the Vancouver International Film Fest as well. Incendies is directed by Denis Villeneuve, whose Polytechnique won the 2009 Genie Award for Best Picture.

Based on buzz, it sounds like Incendies could go far in the race. However, Best Foreign Film is among the most notorious categories at the Oscars, as films go through a different selection process that involves special committees and whatnot. Lately, the more high profile and/or acclaimed films have been snubbed, but I'm sure common sense will prevail sooner than later. Best of luck Incendies!

(Incendies is currently playing in Quebec theatres. It opens in Ontario theatres January 2011)


Shlocky Musical Scores!

Score: A Hockey Musical ★★★
(Canada, 94 min)
Written and directed by Michael McGowan
Starring: Noah Reid, Allie MacDonald, Stephen McHattie, Olivia Newton-John, Marc Jordan, John Pyper-Ferguson.
Oh, Canada. Where else can you see a campy, crudely made movie and love it nonetheless? Well, this is the same country whose most famous addition to international cuisine is the combination of fries, gravy, and cheese. Score: A Hockey Musical is actually a lot like poutine – it is cheesy and probably pretty bad for you, but you enjoy every bite.

As one can guess from the title, Score: A Hockey Musical is, well, a musical about hockey. Noah Reid stars as Farley, a sensitive and somewhat nerdy boy with a passion for the ice. His parents (Olivia Newton-John and Marc Jordan) disapprove. They’re a pair of intellectual flower children who think hockey is too violent for their little boy, and would much rather have Farley focus on Socrates than skating. Things change when Farley has discovered by the owner of the Brampton Blades (Stephen McHattie). 


Death Be Not Proud

Hereafter ★★½
(USA, 129 min)
Dir: Clint Eastwood; Writ: Peter Morgan
Starring: Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard.
How does one realise the afterlife? The concept has been one of the more elusive tasks in filmmaking. No proof of it exists, nor is there any consensus regarding an abstract concept of life after death. The spirit world is thus one of the few terrains left in cinema that grant a filmmaker 100% creative license. Surprisingly, it rarely yields a satisfactory result. Last year, for example, Peter Jackson visualized the “in-between world” of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. The result was an odd pastiche of swirly pinks, yellows, and purples with the odd tree here-and-there. It was an unexpected misfire. Considering Jackson wowed audiences with his imagination of Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings films, it suffices to say that rendering the hereafter believable is no easy task.

Clint Eastwood succeeds somewhat in Hereafter because he presents death more as an abstraction than as a literal place. The first glimpse of the other side comes within the opening moments of the film when Marie (Cécile de France) is on vacation in South East Asia. While shopping in a local market, Marie and hundreds of other locals and tourists are struck down by a tsunami. Marie dies in the disaster: as her body floats throughout the flooded streets, her soul flips about in a world of white light and fuzzy silhouettes. She is rescued, though, when two locals resuscitate her. Marie comes out of the event shaken, for she knows that she has experienced death.


Please Give this film a look!

A few weeks ago, my family and I took our annual stroll around the cottage to look at the leaves. (We call it the "Bus Man walk" since there used to be a random bus hidden in the woods that some guys either lived in or used as a hunt camp.) Anyways, while we drove to the walking site (rather than walking there...) I kept cracking up because my mind latched on to a recurring joke in Please Give. Throughout the film, various New Yorkers mention what a treat it will be to drive out of the city and see the leaves.When the joke surfaced in my own life, I couldn't help but recall the spot-on satire of Nicole Holofcener's film.

Without getting into too much detail, I have nothing but praise for Please Give. A sharp, witty look at the contemporary neuroses of the middle-upper class, Please Give is just as smart and funny as any New York set comedy that Woody Allen delivered during the peak of his career. It also features a stellar ensemble cast, headlined by Catherine Keener in one of her best performances, and with notable supporting work by Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall. The film made its DVD debut today, so please give it a look: it's the best comedy so far this year!


Cookin' and Kitsch-in'

Soul Kitchen ★★½
(Germany, 99 min.)
Dir: Fatih Akin; Writ: Fatih Akin & Adam Bousdoukos
Starring: Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu, Anna Bederke, Pheline Roggan.
When it comes to cooking, both my siblings approach the kitchen with commendable fearlessness. My brother is the resident Julia Child of our family. On a whim, he might feel that today might be a good day to make a raspberry, lemon, and vanilla layer cake. No sooner than one can say, “Let them eat cake,” a five layer dessert, made from scratch and soaked with booze, will appear on the table and taste even better than it looks. My sister has an equal zeal to toss things together, but with somewhat less savoury results. She still has not lived down the time she made celery muffins: when our pantry could not produce the cream of celery soup the recipe called for, she casually substituted it with cream of chicken. I’m no culinary expert, but something about that seems off…

After seeing Soul Kitchen, it seems that making a good comedy is a lot like cooking. A good cook will always have an instinct for which ingredients work well together and which do not; likewise, most cooks can whip up something good no matter the ingredients on hand. Fatih Akin’s first stab at comedy is thus a lot like my sister’s chicken-celery muffins – the intentions are admirable, but I’ll pass on a second helping.


Didn't Let Me Down!

Never Let Me Go ★★★★
(UK/USA, 105 min)
Dir: Mark Romanek; Writ: Alex Garland
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins.
“Students at Hailsham are special,” says Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling), the Headmistress at Hailsham, which is a vast, cold looking boarding school in the British countryside. The first act of Never Let Me Go follows the days of the students at Hailsham. Their teachers (or “guardians”) grant them so much extra attention that they border on being overprotective. It seems these children are indeed special; however, since the children express themselves so remotely and visitors approach them so awkwardly, something at Hailsham seems a bit off.

Never Let Me Go focuses primarily upon three Hailsham students: Kathy H., Ruth, and Tommy. Like most schoolchildren, the three friends face the typical anxieties of growing up. They get angry, they struggle with athletics and artistic expression, and they worry about fitting in. They also have schoolyard crushes: Kathy is madly in love with Tommy, and Ruth, being an average friend, is jealous.


Adaptation Series 1.5: The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The third and final instalment in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy leaves me with a mixed level of anticipation. This is not to say that The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a bad novel. Hornet's Nest might not be as strong as the previous two Millennium books, but it's still far more entertaining and sophisticated than most popular fiction. It’s just that in the last screen rendition of a Larsson tale, The Girl who Played With Fire, the girl got burned. 

Hornet’s Nest picks up immediately where Fire left off. If you will recall, Part II of the Millennium trilogy ended with Larsson’s spunky heroine Lisbeth Salander hacking her father in the face after he put a bullet in her brain. That’s right…after. Sally’s that tough. Anyways, Lisbeth succumbs to her injuries and spends a good deal of Hornet’s Nest tucked away in a hospital bed whilst in a coma. To thicken the plot, the inept Swedish police have placed Lisbeth’s mean daddy, Zalachenko, in the same corridor at the hospital. (It seems the Swedes are quite good at surviving massive head traumas…)


The Kids Are All Fright

Let Me In ★★★½
(USA/UK, 115 min)
Written and directed by Matt Reeves
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Elias Koteas, Richard Jenkins.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy in search of a friend. Being a frail, rather introverted kid, Owen is frequently picked on at school. Since he’s a loner, he has nobody around to defend him. Owen is equally defenseless and isolated at home. His parents are divorced: Owen’s father is wholly absent from is life and Owen lives with his mother, a woman so apathetic and faceless he may as well live alone in his isolated apartment complex – it often seems like he’s the only one there, anyways. Things change, though, when a new family moves into the neighbouring unit. That family includes Abby (Chloe Moretz), a girl Owen’s age whom he tries to befriend. There’s only one problem: Abby is a vampire.


Love & Death

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger ★★★½
(USA/Spain, 98 min)
Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Josh Brolin, Lucy Punch, Antonio Banderas, Frieda Pinto. 
“Why do men chase women? … Why would a man need more than one woman?” asks Rose (Olympia Dukakis) to her elderly skirt-chasing dinner companion Johnny (John Mahoney) in Moonstruck.
“I don’t know,” Johnny replies. “Maybe because he fears death.”
“That’s it!” cries Rose.

No, Moonstruck wasn’t written and directed by Woody Allen, but it seems the Woodman draws the same conclusion as Rose and Johnny. Older men, as we’ve seen in many a Woody Allen film, go after younger girls as if they are a proven elixir for everlasting life. This time around, though, Woody appears to have realized that nothing can prevent the inevitability of death. The tall dark stranger the film refers to is not some exotic love interest, but rather that pale bony figure in the big black robe.


An "All-Out" Inspiration

Secretariat ★★★★
(USA, 116 min)
Dir: Randall Wallace; Writ: Mike Rich
Starring: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Margo Martindale, James Cromwell, Nelsan Ellis.
The story of a dark horse unlike any other, Secretariat is a rare underdog story that won me over. The true story of Penny Tweedy, a well-to-do American housewife who bet on an unlikely horse and defied the odds to become the owner of the celebrated racehorse of all time, Secretariat is an unabashedly inspiring drama. However, like the prized horse, Secretariat is all svelte and no schmaltz.

Tweedy, excellently portrayed by Diane Lane, takes over her family stables following the death of her mother. The family horses rouse a passion within Penny that’s been dormant in her domestic years. She soon takes an interest in her father’s horses and sees promise in a yet to be born foal. After researching the horse’s lineage, she gambles on Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), a retired horse trainer. Laurin’s a flamboyant and eccentric coach, but as the movie informs us, he’s also French Canadian, so it all makes sense.


Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On?

The trailer for Julie Taymor's The Tempest has finally arrived! (Thanks to Firstshowing.net)

If you'll recall, I discussed The Tempest in the "Adaptation Series" this Summer, and I'm quite excited for it. The early reviews have been mixed, but isn't that generally the case for Julie Taymor Films?

Anyways, the film looks much darker than I'd expected, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It does seem to have a lot going on visually and that's often what I like about Taymor's films...that's also the focus of many of her detractors, too...

Have a look and possibly join the anticipation!


A Very Long Engagement

Late Autumn ★★★
(South Korea/USA, 113 min)
Written & directed by Kim Tae-Yong
Starring: Tang Wei, Hyun Bin.
A cute and quirky love story, Late Autumn is an enchanting tale of two travellers who fall in love in the oddest of situations. Anna (Tang Wei) is in prison serving a homicide charge: she killed her husband – possibly out of self-defense. Regardless, she has been away from her family for years. She’s given the opportunity to return home for a brief visit, though, when she receives news about the death of her mother.


The Sounds of Silence

Oliver Sherman ★★
(Canada, 82 min)
Written & directed by Ryan Redford.
Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Donal Logue, and Molly Parker.
If you save a life, does that mean you are now responsible for it? That is the central premise/focus of Oliver Sherman, the debut feature of Toronto writer/director Ryan Redford. Unfortunately, after seeing Oliver Sherman, the most passionate answer one can give is, “Quite frankly, who cares?”

That’s the conundrum of Oliver Sherman, too: there really isn’t anyone or anything to care about. The film begins with a quiet man walking away from a quiet bus stop in a quiet small Canadian town. That quiet (very quiet) man is Sherman Oliver (Garret Dillahunt). On a whim, Sherman shows up at the home of his former army buddy, Franklin (Donal Logue). Seven years before, Franklin risked his life on the battlefield to save Sherman. Sherman has ever since been wandering aimlessly – he’s become a hopeless nomadic figure due to the cruelty of war.


Phil Goes Directing

Jack Goes Boating ★★★★
(USA, 89 min.)
Dir: Philip Seymour Hoffman; Writ: Bob Glaudini.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega.
Well, it seems that Ben Affleck isn’t the only actor who can direct a movie these days. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a very smooth transition from being in front of the camera to behind it. Well, he’s actually performing on both sides of Jack Goes Boating, which makes his work here all the more impressive. 

As a director, Hoffman has a personal way of framing the characters and he makes Jack Goes Boating a visually appealing film even though it features minimal camerawork. However, rather than being static or boring, Jack Goes Boating is especially engaging because Hoffman exploits cinematic conventions to manipulate our emotions only when necessary, so it’s highly effective whenever he makes that choice.
It’s appropriate, then, that Hoffman is very much an “actors’ director.” He makes his assured debut by relying primarily on the strength of his cast.


To "Like," or not to "Like"

The Social Network ★★★½
(USA, 121 min)
Dir: David Fincher; Writ: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara, Brenda Song.
If you take an old story and make it into a movie, does it feel contemporary? Not really, unless the film engages with current discourse or injects a compelling human. The Social Network doesn’t really do either and thus a film with great potential suffers greatly. Although The Social Network catalogues all of the motivating factors behind the creation of Facebook, and astutely satirizes some of the consequences of the social network, it inadequately engages with many of the current concerns regarding the site, particularly its controversial privacy issues. In that regard, the film feels slightly dated, even on the first day of its release. 


Toast of the Town

The Town ★★★★
(USA, 123 min)
Dir: Ben Affleck; Writ: Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockhard.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlewaite.
Only a quick one for today – I’m sure you’ve already heard a lot about The Town the past few weeks. All the hype is certainly justified, too. The Town marks Ben Affleck’s second trip into the director’s seat (Gone, Baby, Gone was his first) and it seems the man’s found his true calling.

Sarah's Choice

Sarah’s Key (Elle s'appelait Sarah) ★★★★
(France, 111 min.)
Dir: Gilles Paquet-Brenner; Writ: Serge Joncour & Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frédéric Pierrot, and Aidan Quinn.
Much like 2008’s The Reader, Sarah’s Key is a powerful film that explores the ethical and humanist dilemmas posed by the Holocaust. Like The Reader, Sarah’s Key is based on a best-selling novel (Elle s’appelait Sarah by Tatiana de Rosnay). Sarah’s Key is just as powerful as its cinematic predecessor and it also delivers a retrospective analysis of guilt, innocence, loss, and survival through a dual narrative of past and present.

The past occurs in 1942 Paris, when the French authorities (not the Nazis) began rounding up French Jews and ushering them to the Vélodrome d'Hiver (aka Vel d’hiv). The film frantically begins when the police arrive to remove the Starzynski family from their small apartment. Unsure what to do with her children, the mother hesitates before opening the door. In that moment, Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) locks her little brother in the closet. Assured of his protection, Sarah accompanies her parents to Vel d’hiv, taking the key with her so that she can free her brother shortly after their release.


Who's Afraid of Becca Corbett?

Rabbit Hole ★★★★
(USA, 91min)
Dir: John Cameron Mitchell; Writ: David Lindasy-Abaire
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Sandra Oh, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller.
Something remarkable has emerged from the rabbit hole. It seems that Nicole Kidman is back from a long winter’s nap. True, the statuesque strawberry-blonde has been active in Hollywood the past few years, but she’s either been doing her best work in films nobody saw (see Dogville or Margot at the Wedding) or comparatively lesser work in high-profile bombs (see Nine and Australia…though I’m among the three or so people who will passionately defend that film). With Rabbit Hole, Kidman marks a return to form. Not just in performance, but she’s finally found a film worthy of her talents. Quite simply, Kidman and Rabbit Hole are to die for.

Death is also what motivates Kidman’s performance. As Becca Corbett, Kidman plays a mother overcoming her grief from the death of her son in a car accident several months earlier. Becca seems to cope with Danny’s absence better than her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart). But is her stoic “life must go on” attitude just a front? Is it a defense mechanism, or is it really possible to move on from grief so quickly? Judging from how seriously she protects her garden, Becca’s still in stage four: depression.


Sound the Alarm!

The Whistleblower ★★★★★
(Canada/Germany, 100 min)
Dir: Larysa Kondracki; Writ: Eilis Kirwan & Larysa Kondracki
Starring: Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Vanessa Redgrave, Roxana Condurache, and Monica Bellucci.
Bursting onto the film scene with the bravery and skill of a seasoned veteran, Larysa Kondracki is a born filmmaker. Her debut feature The Whistleblower is pretty much as big a powerhouse as first features can be. Kondracki delivers this important tale with the flair of a mature dramatist and the passion of devoted humanitarian.

The Whistleblower is the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), an American police officer who goes to Bosnia for a short term peacekeeping contract with the United Nations. Bolkovac chooses the job out of necessity: she’s recently divorced and needs the extra cash so that she can move closer to her daughter. During the mission, however, Kathryn uncovers a human trafficking operation that involves several of her co-workers.


Capitalism and a Love Story

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps ★★★
Dir: Oliver Stone; Writ: Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon, Eli Wallach, and Frank Langella.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps reintroduces the all-American slimeball Gordon Gekko in a fun, but dangerous scene. The film begins with Gekko’s release from prison. Stone frames the camera on a prison guard as he catalogues Gekko’s list of personal effects and hands them over to the free man. There’s a fancy watch, a gold money clip (empty, of course), and a mobile phone – from the 1990’s. When Gordon (Michael Douglas) grabs the oversized and out-dated device, it’s a playful way of informing new viewers how the first Wall Street ended. However, the antiquated phone also draws attention to the time span between the release of each film. As fun a character as Gordon Gekko may be, was it really necessary to resurrect him twenty-three years later? Before Money Never Sleeps, the answer was an obvious “yes,” but after seeing the film, I’m not so sure.

Following the opening scene, Gekko disappears while the new characters are introduced in the first act. Taking the lead is Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore, an enthusiastic up-and-coming Wall St. broker with a hunger for making money. Jake works for Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), an old-school stockbroker who gets screwed by his rival firm, led by the evil suit Bretton James, played by Josh Brolin. Zabel’s poor turn of fortune hits him hard, and Jake finds himself in both a fiscal and an emotional predicament. Aiding both matters, however, is his relationship with Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Winnie is a hot ticket because not only does she agree to marry Jake, but her last name is Gekko.


America on Trial

The Conspirator ★★★★
(USA, 122 min.)
Dir: Robert Redford; Writ: James D. Solomon & Gregory Bernstein (story)
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Danny Houston, and Alexis Bledel.
One need not be a history buff to appreciate The Conspirator. With very little set-up prior to the main action, Robert Redford throws us into Civil War America as the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln prepare for battle. As the guilty parties make their way to their victims, and the narrative cuts back and forth between them, the viewer is put in a state of disorientation. When the assassination occurs and it’s difficult to decipher who are the key players in The Conspirator, the film effectively replicates the chaos and confusion that must have been rampant in wartime America.

Once things begin to settle, America’s looking for someone to blame. Leading the witch hunt is Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline), the US Secretary of War. Stanton’s quest for visible justice soon extends to the arrest of one Mary Surratt (played by Robin Wright), the owner/proprietor of the boarding house at which Lincoln’s assassins were alleged to have conspired.


Games of Love and Chance

Love Crime ★★½
(France, 104 min)
Dir: Alain Corneau; Writ: Alain Corneau & Nathalie Carter
Starring: Ludivine Sagnier, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patrick Mille.
Funny how after Last Night comes another story about infidelity. Whereas Last Night raises a lot of interesting questions about adultery, Love Crime mostly exploits it for a cheap thrill. In this case, the love dance is basically between two parties:  Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) and Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Sure, Christine’s partner Philippe (Patrick Mille) is involved too, but Love Crime is hardly a love triangle.

The risky business begins immediately when, in the opening scene, Isabelle is working at the home of her boss Christine, and Christine makes a pass at her. Isabelle passes aside Christine’s effort, but her boss persists as their relationship becomes more involved and intimate. To complicate things, Isabelle is the rising star of the company, until Christine takes credit for her much-praised work. To thicken the plot, Isabelle is also sleeping with Philippe. From this affair comes much of the thrill of Love Crime: although Isabelle is physically involved with Philippe, she is enamoured with Christine both mentally and emotionally. Moreover, Christine is fully aware of Isabelle’s affections, and she takes a twisted hold over protégé. 


A 'Night' to Remember

Last Night ★★★★½
(USA/France, 90 min)
Written and directed by Massy Tadjedin
Starring: Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, and Guillaume Canet.
What constitutes infidelity? Sex with another partner? A date? What about kissing someone else? Or does fidelity extend all the way to having warm thoughts about another person? Such questions are posed by writer/director Massy Tadjedin in her fun, smart, and refreshing debut feature Last Night.

The question of fidelity arises one night after Joanna and Michael Reed (played by Keira Knightley and Same Worthington) attend a friend’s party. At the party, Michael introduces Joanna to Laura, his bombshell of a co-worker played by Eva Mendes. Not one to ignore the fact that her husband spends so much time with such a beautiful woman, Joanna keeps a watchful eye on her husband throughout the evening. When they return home, Joanna confronts Michael about why he discusses Laura so vaguely, since their conduct at the party disproves his disinterest.


Dance with the Devil

Black Swan ★★★★★(plus a very high level of distinction)
(USA, 103 min)
Dir: Darren Aronofsky; Writ: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin.
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder.
Black Swan is a film so good it almost defies explanation. One might try and toss about a few ballet metaphors to express Aronofsky’s triumph, but to call Black Swan a grand jeté or a symphonic pirouette would be to mute the film’s greatness. Rather, this Swan is of an infinite wingspan, and its ability to soar is unparalleled by virtually every film this year.

Much like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, Black Swan is an astounding psychological drama driven by the artistic obsessiveness of a young ballerina on the rise to stardom. Aronofsky’s film is much indebted to its predecessor – the opening dream sequence of Black Swan is but a mere nod of thanks to the iconic nightmare of the centrepiece ballet of The Red Shoes.