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!