'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.