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Chris J.

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Chocolat (2000)
Adult Fairy Tale is sweet, rich and magical., 30 December 2000

It's a rare film which openly declares itself a fairy-tale and then proceeds to tell its fable with a charm and sweetness one rarely sees this side of It's A Wonderful Life. It even opens with a voice-over that begins: Once Upon a Time..but it's not a children's film. The film's tone is reminiscent of a child's fairy tale, but the film has adult sensuality and a conflict regarding religious beliefs as well. It's also an English language film (in case you were wondering) with an international cast of Swedish, German, English, American and French actors.

The film is not all gooey sweetness and charm and refuses to play it safe. It does not shy away from its sensuality and allows it's actors to show us more than one dimension of character. Even the heavies are presented with a degree of compassion. It's ultimately a romantic sensual film concentrating more on spirituality, fantasy and sensuality than on action, machismo and sex. It is more a women's picture than a guy's movie.

I believe Chocalat will soon become a very much admired holiday themed film for teenagers and adults to watch year after year. It's more of an Easter holiday themed film, since it is set during Lent in 1959 than a Christmas film however. It's a film that is more than a war between the ideologies of paganism and Christianity, and concerns itself with the true meaning of compassion, acceptance and understanding. It's a better film than it was a book.

We are introduced to the film with a brief voice over that begins Once Upon Time and shown a remote French village, introducing a couple of it's characters. There's an unfortunate over-use of some obvious CGI effects in the first establishing shots of the town.

The town is ruled as it has been for generations by a member of the de Reynaud family. An ancestors statue sternly stands guard in the center of town.. We meet the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) who insists everyone it the town observe weekly mass, and adhere to a formal belief in Christianity. He's the richest man in tower, the mayor and he helps the new priest in town by editing and rewriting his sermons–which he will later use to help turn the townspeople against the newest member of the village. His wife however has been a long extended Holiday in Italy–perhaps not intending to ever return. (In the book, it was the priest who was the heavy–the change means we don't see a priest being tyrannical and hypocritical instead he's a pawn in another man's ‘war'. This isn't playing it safer though, it's opening it up to be more than a battle of paganism versus Christianity.). The Count believes in leading by example, so he's hard on himself, barely eating anything during his Lental fast and certainly not sweets.

A mysterious woman named Vianne ( played superbly by Julliette Binoche) and her child Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) appears as if traveling on a strong North Wind into the small town. It is the way of these two. They have moved from town to town, sometimes leaving by choice, sometimes run out of town by a scared and fearful populace. Vianne rents a long shuttered bakery from a crabby suspicious old woman (marvelously played by Judi Dench). When the Count stops by to introduce himself to Vianne and invite her to church service, Vianne informs him she doesn't go to church. When he frowns on the idea that she is going to open her bakery during Lent, she informs him it will not a bakery but only says what she is doing is a surprise. The Count is shocked to learn that Vianne is not widowed, but has never been married. He immediately is threatened by her presence and fears she means to challenge everything he stands for. Does she? It would seem not to be the case, but her presence is disruptive to the town.

Finally she opens a chocolatier, specializing in all kinds of exotic chocolates, some promising to cure headaches, lift spirits and even save marriages. We learn Vianne has a secret Chocolate recipe used by an ancient civilization and passed on to her by her mother. A mother who felt it was her destiny to share her chocolate with the world and now... so does her daughter.

How dare this brazen, unmarried, possible atheist woman open a decadent chocolate shop during Lent !!! Who does she think she is? The Count decides she is the enemy and must be banished from the town. Meanwhile, she is winning converts... one of her secret chocolate recipes has brought passion back into a marriage, another has lifted up the spirits of her cranky old land-lady who then is re-united with her estranged grandson, and she befriends and then protects the abused wife (wonderfully played by Lena Olin-director Hallstrom's wife) of a tavern owner (Peter Stormare). She even encourages a romance between old timers (John Wood and Leslie Caron –yes THAT Leslie (An American in Paris) Caron.

Who is this woman who almost seems to be dabbling in witchcraft, is making some changes in the townspeople, has an illegitimate daughter and refuses to go Church? What is her real agenda? Is she evil?

When a wandering band of Irish Gypsy river rats appears, the town quickly shuns them by order of the Mayor, The Count. They can't legally kick them out of the town but they can make them want to go when they can find any odd jobs to get paid and they aren't served food or drink anywhere in the town. The leader of the River Rats (Johnny Depp) is accepted however by Vianne and a romance blossoms which further ostracizes her from the town and sets up a near tragic situation which leads to the film's conclusion. It's not a completely predictable conclusion however–though certainly one which will please most audiences.

Johnny Depp in his supporting role as Roux, has never been more relaxed, nor as effective as he is here. He's even got a good sounding Irish accent which sounds natural rather than actor forced. Depp's been getting some critical notices for many years and he's been good in several pictures, but usually his technique as an actor brings an aloofness to the characters he portrays preventing them from being completely believable. I've enjoyed his performances but this is the first time he seems completely at ease and natural.

Director Lasse Hallstrom fresh off The Cider House Rules, and writer Rober Nelson Jacobs (from the novel by Joanne Harris) find the perfect balance of drama and comic whimsy to create a warm modern fable.

Like the best fables there's a gentle, simple sweetness to the tale which requires a strong suspension of belief in the viewer. There's a naivety to the story and characters in the film which could only exist in a fictional world. We aren't bulldozed into the films charms, and we aren't spoon fed its sweetness either. There are some moments of bitterness as well. The film realizes several perfectly realized little moments which gave me a sense of exhilaration--the type I have felt while watching films like Wizard of Oz or It's a Wonderful Life. And while Chocolat isn't quite that good, it does come close in many ways. It's a film I look forward to viewing and enjoying many more times. . . perhaps annually during Lent.

Chris Jarmick, Author (The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder-a steamy cyber- thriller Available January 2001)

Altman latest is a flawed gem that has been mis-marketed to the audience., 28 October 2000

Robert Altman's latest is not a frothy romantic comedy about a womanizer as the ads suggest. It is instead a deceptively simple, yet busy, multi-layered, character study of a Truffaut-like character (the Man who Loved Women) who has nearly become a martyr to the women that surround him.

Dr T. loves his wife too much, he's successful and looks like Richard Gere. He's remained faithful to the wife who has become more and more spoiled and selfish and now suffers from a fictional malady which causes her to regress to childhood behavior- which includes jumping into a fountain in a crowded mall, and stripping off all her clothes and giving up sex entirely because it's too naughty. One of his spoiled daughters is about to get married, and about to become a famous cheerleader, the other spoiled daughter works at the Dallas Conspiracy Museum fretting about mom, her sister and just about everything. There's a spoiled sister-in-law who's separated, drinks too much and has moved into his house with her three kids. And there's also dozens of rich, pampered Dallas society women he treats. You see, Dr. T is a gynecologist.

Dr. T. eventually explains that to him women are saints. When they go wrong or go bad it's a man's fault. He's about to learn a hard lesson, that his belief is a little bit lopsided, a little bit too much of a good thing. Nobody is perfect, not even women. And Men ... not even him, should ever be so presumptuous to believe they have the ultimate control.

Now there's some critics and writers who have apparently already decided the film is more than a little misogynistic. They need to watch the film a few more times. There are others that have decided the film is a lighter than latte foam. They also need to watch the film a few more times.

It's far from a perfect film, and it isn't an important film with a message or one that ends with a powerful emotional wallop that sucker punches you at it's conclusion.

No, this is a wonderfully written, masterfully directed, perfectly cast, brilliantly acted gem of a film. It's almost a modern screwball comedy, the way a Sturges may have delivered one, if he had been Altman.

I suspect there are several scenes the film critics are identifying or complaining about as being slightly off mark. For me there were two. And they were minor. One involves a scene in which a women patient is allowed to smoke. The smoking is over-exaggerated... like the women is actually an actresses pretending to smoke.. too quickly, too desperately. It's one of the few phony, overly deliberate scenes in the film. The other is when Dr. T is told a secret about his about to wed daughter Dee Dee, by his other daughter. It plays false, because the revelation should not throw his character for quite the loop it does, in quite the way it does.

The film quickly recovers from both of these brief stumbles however.

A casual film-goer might take a lot of what Altman does for granted. So permit me this obvious to many, explanation.

In real life, when we are in a crowded room we can hear several conversations at once, and tune in and out of the ones we want to over-hear. However, to duplicate this on film is quite a difficult technical feat. To wire the room properly for sound, to get everyone talking at the right volume, to get the mixing of volumes in post production and make sure all of the conversations can be heard, to decide how they are blended in and around one another, to create believable movement... well it's a remarkable achievement. Altman perfected this technique, and few do it as well or as successfully. Few create entire scenes that drip with layers of texture and detail like an Altman scene often can. Few give a feeling of depth to both foreground and background characters within the same scene. Few give so many actors a moment here and a moment there to react or do just the right thing. Few let us glimpse at both sides of a situation the way Altman lets us. It can be confusing, and it isn't necessary to the plot of the film. It just adds a layer of authenticity to every shot. Minor characters and extras may have a bit of business which is so perfectly done, such a rightly captured human moment it makes us smile with its truth.

The danger of course is by making sure to get so many details right, it forces us to closely inspect every other detail of the film. Sometimes some details aren't right. Sometimes some details ring false, or are missed or passed over.

We forgive Altman for these things in many of his films, because the stumbles are going to happen when you push so hard, to be so precise, yet remain loose enough to give your actors the room they need to act, to improvise, to find their moments. When you trust people, be they art directors or actors, not all their decisions are going to be good ones. But you let them make their mistakes. You let them have their moments, good, and not so good. You hope the not so good moments give the film a shaggy dog feel. It's imperfections transform into making the film oh so much more precious and endearing because it isn't perfect.

Altman paints as he goes. It's a technique that is like a high wire artist in a circus working without a net. Altman has fallen many times in the past. But he's lived through his falls.

And now with Dr T and the Women he dazzles us with a lifetime of his experience behind the camera, constructing scenes, working with actors, and proves himself a master. He's taken for granted these days and when his films are less than they should be, critics will take to calling him a traffic manager, yet when it does work the way it's supposed to-- few call him a genius.

He's not really a genius.... He's Altman. He's been doing things the way he pleases for nearly 40 years now. Ever since he refused to direct his third Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode in the 60's and got himself fired. Ever since he followed his smash hit Mash, with the quirky and bizarre Brewster McCloud. Ever since he directed such brilliant films as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us, and of course Nashville. He falls right on his face with things like Quintet and Beyond Therapy. He can direct a disappointment like Popeye and then turn his back completely on Hollywood and the studios for nearly ten years to concentrate on directing little known and quirky plays like Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Streamers, and Secret Honor.

This is the guy capable of directing one of the greatest political satires ever made -- Tanner ‘88 (For HBO) and then make a triumphant critical return to Hollywood with The Player, follow that up with the masterpiece Short Cuts only to let nearly everyone down with Ready to Wear and Kansas City. He then got another studio system project to direct and fought with studio executives over his final cut of The Gingerbread Man. The film was not thought of as a success.

Then there was Cookie's Fortune, a fine quirky little ensemble piece and now a bigger quirker ensemble piece; Dr T and the Women.

Altman is a film-maker who continues to do things exactly as he pleases. Even at 75, he's making controversial films which will inspire film-makers to reach beyond formulas and focus groups and create something which defies labels and perhaps even genres. They are also tough films to market to an audience.

Just look at what he does at the end of Dr. T and the Women. He could have chosen to let the film wind down, but instead he takes a giant leap and I believe scores a huge victory for doing so.

Altman is the undisputed master of creating moments that will frustrate some, exhilarate others but ultimately be precisely the type of ending the material demanded all along.

The last line of the film ties into the film in a surprising, spiritual manner that couldn't be more perfect, couldn't be more simple and yet is an extreme risk which I suspect many critics will consider it a flaw. Some may even read it incorrectly.

Not everyone is going to like or even accept what Altman does. But if you have been paying attention to the film, I trust you will respect what he does.

Altman has not stunt casted, or forced any of his actors to stretch beyond what they are capable of. Even Helen Hunt who I find to be an appealing but extremely limited actress , turns in a performance that uses her few strengths so well, you don't notice her weaknesses.

Richard Gere has never been better, and probably never will be this good again.

Dr. T & The Women is a quirky character study of a man who believes he understands women better than he understands himself. He discovers he doesn't understand himself very well at all and consequently doesn't know women all that well either.

There are several witty, satirical, clever and funny observations being made about a great many things in the film, but there are also some keenly made ones that speak directly to the heart and soul of the human psyche. It's here the film becomes much more than the humorous exercise it's pretending to be most of the time. It is here that subsequent viewings will reveal there is a lot more going on in the film than you might have originally believed.

Altman has delivered not a little truffle of a film here, but a richly, layered masterpiece to be savored and enjoyed over and over again.

Don't miss it.

Rouge (1987)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Well done, but too slow., 16 July 2000

After the first half-hour when it becomes clear this is a romantic ghost story and you realize exactly where this film is going it's slow pace really begins to sink in.

It's a very well done film, well acted, a minimum of low-comedy (that rarely translates well to U.S. audiences) and has some nicely realized moments throughout. However it's a very slow film without a lot of twists, turns or surprises.

Christopher J. Jarmick (author: The Glass Cocoon -October 2000)

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A poor mans Glengarry Glenn Ross that gets a bit too preachy and moralistic for it's own good., 16 July 2000

Boiler Room

Some of the writing and acting in the film is very sharp. It takes a little longer than it should for the story to move to the J.T. Marlin Boiler Room, but once it does for a good half hour the film really crackles. The sales closing techniques, the atmosphere of the place, are well captured. Too bad guilty conscience is introduced with the subtlety of Jimminy Cricket. The father relationship is very believable up to a point but certainly could have been better handled. The love at first site attraction of the secretary was puzzling. I was expecting there to be an ulterior motive from the start (I've given nothing away). The film tries to play both sides of the fence, and tries to be moral, becoming a bit preachy by doing so.

If it had just stuck to the story without trying to lay some things on too thick the film would have had a lot more power and resonance.

As it it the film is pretty exciting, well acted and worth a rental. It will certaintly keep ones attention and interest throughout.

Christopher J. Jarmick (Author: The Glass Cocoon)

Sunshine (1999)
Not just a taste, but a ray of Sunshine in the summer movie doldrums!, 15 July 2000

I purposely kept myself in the dark about the film, but it wasn't very difficult to do as it isn't getting a lot of attention --(although at the afternoon matinee I went to it was very well attended), in the traditional press. It has received good/mixed, but generally unenthusiastic reviews.

It's the film many would certainly prefer to MI2 or Perfect Storm, or The Patriot, or Shaft! And let me add quickly the film is in ENGLISH and is not subtitled. Ralph Fiennes plays three different roles in the film (ancestors of each other) and amazingly creates distinct characters with each performance. William Hurt in a supporting role is even good.

The bad news is, half the film covers well worn territory (particularly in the second half) and occasionally does so in the most obvious and self conscious way . On occasion very flat notes are hit. It's also so ambitious, at times the emotional impact of some turns are barely touched upon. However, there are at least a dozen wonderful realized moments/scenes in the film that far outweighed the flaws of the film. During the first hour in particular the manner in which the story is told is superb. The acting is also quite good. It's an epic film spanning more than three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family from the 1840's through the 60's. The rather melodramatic twists and turns that are revealed are often surprising, sometimes joyous, sometimes tragic,and often both. The script by Isreal Horovitz and director Szabo covers a remarkable amount of territory and does so by allowing the story to be told by an ancestor of the family. It's sumptiously photographed. Power and Lust corrupts and leads to tragedy. Resisting Power and Lust is what God asks and in return rewards one with increased knowledge, understanding and family love says a family elder early in the picture. But he is not entirely correct . All of the international cast are quite good. Jennifer Ehle as Valerie in particular reminded me of Julianna Moore at her best (resembling her a great deal). Rosemary Harris who plays the older Valerie (is in real life Ehle's Mom !!!) is also superb. Ralph Fiennes plays three self absorbed, naive idealist/traditionalists who are pursued by women who refuse to be suffocated by life or current relationships. Lust, fame, fortune, respect, and even power knock at the door over and over again. So does prejudice, guilt, tragedy, deceit, betrayal and hate.

Rather than tell too much about this three hour epic, strongly recommend you find out where it's playing and go see it. It's far from perfect but never-the-less should not be missed and it's visual splendor demands to be experienced on the big screen.

Chris Jarmick (author: The Glass Cocoon)

Gorgeous (1999)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Gorgeous is not Chan at his acrobatic or comedic best but it's a little different and ultimately winning., 15 July 2000

The new direct to video Jackie Chan.

There's very little acrobatics in the film and it's unbelievably corny and at times much too sweet.

I can certainly see why they didn't even try a theatrical release in this country.

The DVD has an extended Making of Featurette and Jackie is all over the commentary track.

Jackie in a much quieter fairly natural performance is quite good.

There's a couple of very well choreographed fight sequences in the film, ( of the man against man variety) and a few moments of unnecessary sub-Three Stooges silliness slips in to another fight sequence which is a shadow of what Chan's given us in the past.

The story is slight, and built upon the most ridiculous of coincidences as it strives to be a goofy likeable romantic comedy.

Occassionally it succeeds.

Don't get your hopes up for this one. You might find it difficult to get through the first 20 minutes or so, but if you can, Jackie fans will find the film a pleasant one.

Jackie is after all getting older and will not be able to knock himself about as he has in the past. He will however remain a likeable, charismatic, comedic film star.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Alone Against Rome is one of the very best sword and sandal spectacles I've ever seen ---Ridley Scott pillaged a lot of this film for the recent (2000) Gladiator!!!!, 15 July 2000

I saw this film on an old Sinister Cinema video release version just recently. It was dubbed almost as poorly as any Italian Peblum flick from the early 60's ever was and the print was panned and scanned, in poor quality, very reddish and the sound was only fair with lots of annoying hums and pops.

Still I found the film Alone Against Rome one of the very best films of this type.

The film was produced by Rossana Podesta's (known for Sodom and Gomorrah) husband. It tells the story of an over agressive Roman Tribune taking over an entire town and having Gladiator fights put on for his amusement. He takes a liking to Fabiola (Rossana) and to save her lover Brenno's life he becomes her captors lover. Her real love Brenno is forced to become a gladiator. Many of the healthiest town people, it's former rulers and guards become hostages and slaves for the Roman Tribunal. There are rebel forces that attempt to overthrow this corrupt roman tribunal.

Unlike the more recent Gladiator, this film shows the fate of a Christian hostage, avoids man against lion sequences, and shows several women throughout the town. Both Gladiator and this film feature a man doing battle against two lethal chariots outfited with sharp blades.

The film is extremely well acted (for this type of thing) has a pretty good script (though there are still some howlers in the dubbed version), and is quite suspenseful. The fights are well directed, and quite exciting to watch (usually in these types of films the fights are as phony as junior high schoolers play-wrestling--not the case here). The film was made with a pretty decent budget and while no where near the spectacle of something like Gladiator, it presents it's arena gladiator fights with plenty of spectacle.

Here's an almost lost and forgotten film that needs to be re-discovered, restored and given a DVD release. It's one of the very best of it's type. And if you are a Rossano Podesta fan she is radiant throughout.

Chris Jarmick (author of: The Glass Cocoon) 7/15/2000

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Smart, funny, some slow spots, and a great Eric Roberts performance, 1 July 2000

If you have ever liked an Eric Roberts performance, this film is one you should make time for. It's a very unconventional film, making surprising and funny revelations here, twisting what you are expecting to happen there, and gradually revealing itself to be one of the darkest comedies you are likely to see.

The story is pretty simple, disillusioned loner is mistaken for a criminal, hired to do a hit, and a series of unfortunate events occur which are not what you expect and comprise the film.

This is certainly not for everyone. It's a variation on James M. Cain and if that's got some appeal the film is right up your alley. I suppose I might roll my eyes if read that in a review and think, "oh not that again...". Let me assure you, there's several surprising points of departure this film takes from most which sets it apart and above.

A few scenes are over-written, there are flaws, but there are enough clever moments and Roberts' brilliant performance overcomes all the bumps in the road.

If you don't like Eric Roberts however, you'll not like the film. He's in nearly every shot.

This will quickly and deservedly develop a strong cult following.

Better than Rock, or Con Air but ...., 10 December 1998

It's closer to the Fugitive than other genre action films of late, though not as good. Gene Hackman was wonderful of course. Jon Voigt was very good as well. Will Smith did quite well but for him to be playing a hot-shot union labor lawyer at his obvious young age was a little difficult to believe. I had heard the film was full of neat gadgets and things. While it did have did not have some of the gadgets I would expect it to have..Such as bugging devices that allow you to throw lasers on windows to pick up vibrations of sound off window panes etc. It's also ultimately a rather formula action film A much better than average one but still not a great or classic film by any means.

There was another couple of scenes which bothered me because it showed a contempt for the audience. How do I mean this? Well, when you include a throw-away scene, a slightly comic scene where Will Smith tries to buy lingerie for his wife..... you don't have a glaring continuity error within the scene to prove to the audience you aren't really paying much attention to what's going on so we can get away with this.... Okay... Smith buys lingerie for his wife... and a young lady is modeling a revealing type outfit. Smith tactlessly says his wife's bust is larger than the woman in front of him.

A little later when we see his wife....her bust is smaller than the models in the lingerie place.

Why was the line necessary if it wasn't true... Why would he buy too big lingerie for his wife as a Christmas present? And as a hot shot lawyer would he be as nervous and naive about this as he played it?

And then later on still.... the wife is wearing the perfectly fitting garments.

huh? How can this be?

Wow...must think we're stupid....

Well... it's a minor series of errors, but these types of things show how little some film-makers care about their product and the audience that views them.

Really enjoyed some of Hackman's line readings though. Worthwhile for this type of film.

32 out of 55 people found the following review useful:
Funny, but surprisingly sweet too., 10 December 1998

The shock comedy aside (zipper and hair gel scenes), purposeful unpolitically correct moments (humor at expense of handicapped, animal cruelty), the most surprising thing about this film is it has heart and is rather sweet. It's not the completely nasty, cruel comedy you might have been expecting. There's a nice love story in here too. It's corny and cliche'd and doesn't feel overly cloying because there are enough shockingly funny moments to offset it. The acting is good, the pacing brisk, and the jokes, well... you've heard all about the best ones by now.

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