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La science des rêves (2006)
It Won't Put You To Sleep - Another Gondry Hit!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Min is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the last few years, so when I found out this was his film, I became much more excited and made sure to catch the premiere. It didn't disappoint me - the film's melange of surrealism and realism, of sleep and 'reality', of life and waking life.
This film takes the eXistenZ examination of virtual reality and really real reality and moves it one step further, where dream becomes real, and where the lines between sleep and not- sleep become blurred. At times this led to a bit of confusion, trying to grasp exactly what was happening - and there were little leaps here and there where things were happening that seemed not to make sense based on what we had seen - but in general, not knowing whether Stephane was dreaming or not - or whether, indeed, the entire film was actually a dream - heightened the fantastic aspect of the film, and made the story more enticing.
Bernal put on an expectedly strong performance, and Gainsbourg gave us nothing to frown about - their chemistry and, at times, lack of chemistry made the bizarre non-relationship between them perhaps the most real aspect of the film - and some scenes, like the scene where she finds the note, and the scene where they're 'married' on Stephane TV, are truly magical. But what truly stole the show was the stop-motion animation - especially the toilet paper roll city - and the very clever 'machines' like the 1-second time travel machine, which were magical to watch and compounded the dream sequences in an NFB meets Keith Haring kind of way.
Bernal's character, however, was immature to the point of being mean - which weighed down whatever sympathy one might have had for him. At some points his selfishness, and his cruel insults, started to grate on me. It didn't hurt the story so much, but it made me roll my eyes more than the film's surrealism ever did.
All in all, even with the moments of confusion and the character flaws of Stephane, the film was magical in all the right places. Fans of Eternal Sunshine will definitely approve and applaud. 8.5/10.
Huo Yuanjia (2006)
Typical But Strong Jet Li Film
Fans of Jet Li will not be disappointed, but don't expect a socio-political epic like we found in Hero. For Jet Li's martial arts swan song, we instead go back to his roots, and get a Shaolin Temple/Fong Sai-Yuk style martial arts film, complete with the same dazzling skill and boyish charm that Jet Li provides with every film he stars in.
The evening of the premiere in Mntreal started out with a nice moment as a Make-A-Wish kid got a personalized message from Jet Li himself, and it kind of set the tone for the story to follow - learning through hardship that certain paths are simply superior to others. That may sound oversimplified, or even saccharine, but that just reflects the extremity of the film's 'message'. On the flip-side, even with a bit of over-emoting, and over-dramatization, there are moments of such profundity that you have to take pause and smile. The scene, for example, between Huo and Tanaka taking tea, was my favourite in the film. Partially because it was nice to see an HK film feature a pleasant and sympathetic Japanese character - who was actually, in my opinion, the best (and best-acted) in the film - even outshining Jet Li (though nobody could touch Li's fighting style).
In the end, the irony of the message of achieving peace, unity and honour through fights that often lead to death, is only surpassed by how one starts believing in Huo's ability to pull it off. From the shock of his death-punch, to the murder of his family, to his recovery through Moon and Huo's swansong in the film which says as much about Jet Li as anything else, any weakness in the film is always outweighed by the film's ability to suck you in and keep you there throughout, always on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what Jet Li would do next.
Not an epic, and hardly his best ever, but still a top notch film, and while we could have hoped for Li to make the greatest film of his career for his last, this is certainly one he should be proud of. 7/10
Tom yum goong (2005)
Tony Jaaa needs some spit and polish
While more humorous than Ong-Bak at times, Tony Jaa's impressive agility and athleticism grows less impressive this time out - and this is more than simply having seen it all before (and any fan of Jackie Chan - who makes a humorous cameo here - and Jet Li will have seen it all before) but also a lack of anything to back up the fancy stunts and raw fighting prowess.
The simple problem with Tony Jaa is that he has the shiny film martial arts stardom down pat, but he has absolutely no charisma. One thing that all of the action and martial arts superstars to come from China and Hong Kong have in common is that element of charisma - be it Jackie Chan's buddy-next-door act or Jet Li's handsome hero, Lau Ching Wan's 'my father the cop', Shieu Shek's rock star or Chow Yun-Fat's tragic hero - they all really make you cheer for them, and draw you into their character. This Thai warrior needs a major lesson in on-screen performance -all he does is show off his Mui Tai skills, which can carry a film only so far.
I'm all for Tony Jaa breaking into the realm of martial arts stardom, but only when (and if) he can step up and bring us an actual PERFORMANCE first... 6.5/10.
The Water of Life; Echoes of Baran
In 2001, well-regarded Iranian director Majid Majidi came out with Baran, a film about a young girl forced to pretend to be a boy in order to bring money to her immigrant Afghani family, living illegally in Iran and not permitted to work. Baran means 'rain' in Farsi, and the allegory of water was a very important one thematically within the film.
Baran was later thematically pilfered by a less successful film, Osama, which dealt with the harsh reality of an anti-feminist Taliban in Afghanistan, where a girl is caught pretending to be a boy by the Taliban regime, and the horrible consequences of her actions - only committed for the purpose of survival.
Water is similar to both of these films on several thematic levels. Deepa Mehta finishes he trilogy on a powerful note. She gives us the story of two women, each trying to discover a sense of self-worth and purpose while trapped in a seemingly endless life of forced confinement. she also gives us the story of a woman who is not only trying to keep her faith but understand it, and a man who is looking for change in a world of stagnation and traditionalism.
The feminist ideal is a prominent one, as is survival against the harshest of odds. Inhumanity on one level contrasted against the theme of renewal, both physically and spiritually - the essence of water, the ever-moving, indispersable, and essential aspect of life itself. But Water succeeds on the level of Baran - unlike Osama, which preaches incessantly, hitting you over the head with its point until your concussed with what the director has to say. Water, like Baran, is subtle, preferring to let the human side of the story tell you what you need to know, and showing us the necessity for change, for hope, for unbroken faith, without holding our hands through the process.
Mehta has given us a very successful film. What struck me most about this film was that the subject matter is one that the Western world would likely exclaim as being incomprehensible - that of widows being thought of as untouchable, and spiritual pollution (as though it was their will that their husbands die on them...) - and yet so much of the Western World exists in this film. This is not merely an Eastern film that we should look at and cluck our tongues, saying 'those crazy Indians!' These issues exist in our back yards - the ill treatment of foreigners, of neighbours, of our own peoples.
This film is very heavy, but there is a light side to it - the message of Ghandi, and the promise of renewal of spirit. That faith is not something to twist to your own beliefs, but something for your beliefs to be twisted to. We are constantly reminded of Ghandi's teachings - but we are never preached to. Instead, Ghandi could almost be an absent narrator - his voice is only heard for a brief instant near the end of the film - instead we hear his voice through the voice of Narayan, who is the avatar of Ghandi in the film, and the avatar of change.
Water teaches us that problems exist, and that many are rooted in our own traditions and beliefs - often misinterpreted or twisted by us to fit our agendas. The British can't be scapegoats for THIS set of issues (though they were responsible for plenty of others). Change is hard to come by, but the one thing that is eternal is Water. Sure, there are a few moments of unsubtle prodding in the film, but the fine acting and smart writing overcame any moments of forced drama. And the heart-wrenching twists within the story were surprising in their finality, and not Disneyesque tear-jerking moments. Our faith (and not necessarily religious faith) must be like water - for without either, we cannot hope to survive. 9.5/10.
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
The new PIxar?
MORE MORE MORE! Andrea True must have been thinking of Wallace & Gromit when she wrote that, because I was actually sad when the final credits rolled. A big fan of the W&G films, I had been anticipating this for a long, long time, and believe you me it did NOT let me down. A great tribute to b-horror film and to the classic film archetypes, a mixture of great voice acting and stellar claymation - the sets in this put the W&G shorts to SHAME - this film has a lot in it for all ages, and kids and adults alike will love this film, for different reasons perhaps, but love nonetheless.
This is one of the films of the year for me. If it doesn't win the Oscar for animated film I'll be tempted to send poison pen letters to every member of the Academy. It prompted me to finally dump my W&G cassettes and buy the DVD just to get the extras. It took them two years to make, and you can sense the hardship of every single day's worth of effort they put into it. Pixar be damned, I want more Wallace and Gromit!
My highest recommendations - and I hope I haven't hyped it up beyond your expectations, but it surpassed each and every one of mine. 9.5/10.
Chicken Little (2005)
Better than expected, but still needs work...
The best non-Pixar Disney film in years. Sure it had a touch of drag, and it was most definitely a kids flick, but one thing that stood out was that it wasn't infested with fart jokes and potty humour, which is a step above most kids films these days.
The CGI was ho-hum, but one thing I liked was the expressiveness which was highlighted by some wonderful voice work by Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn. And Don Knotts was fabulous - we need to find more work for Don Knotts, he's so good! I also loved the Adam West cameo at the end.
The problem with the film was, as pointed out by a few, that the story was thin and they filled the empty spaces with fun moments, like the Spice Girls karaoke scene which cracked me up. More attention should have been made towards a linear plot - but hey, the film wasn't that long, and the fun scenes they used as mortar really did hold it together.
All in all, an amusing film, above average in terms of entertainment, but hardly a classic. I'd recommend it for a fun family outing, as the kids in the theater seemed to really get into it - and I had nearly as much fun hearing all of the kids laughing as I did watching the film. 6.5/10.
Worst film of the year!!
I thought Alone in the Dark was awful. Well, it was, but this just surpassed it in terms of ultra-horribility. I know that's not a word but it's all I can summon up to describe the experience that it Doom.
Watching Doom is like watching someone play the video game, but without being able to crack jokes or talk to the player about the game. It's filled with characters who are completely unrealistic as marines - and there are references to it being a game from the beginning of the film - from the Rock telling the to get ready to enter the game right down to each of them picking up their guns and gaining a 'handle'
The effects were somewhat impressive - I liked the sealing door that shut right onto the attacking monster. BUt that's all it was - a CGI-plated quagmire. The scene where it turns into 1st-person shooter POV was completely contrived - it made no sense and was just there for the sake of being there. As well, there was pretty much zero story - they were thrust into it from the very beginning with no back story or explanation as to what was going on and when they kinda sorta filled us in the details were few and ridiculously dim.
Finally, the ending drags on endlessly - just when you think the penultimate fight scene is over, it picks up again until it seemingly ends only to pick up again. And when it DOES end, if you're still awake, it's horridly anti-climactic.
My advice: STAY AWAY! Don't even bother renting. Just play the damn game and rent something worth watching. I'd give it a bomb if they'd let me but I'm stuck with the one star. 2/10 (with a 4/10 for effects, if you're still in the theater to see 'em...).
A Jim Jarmusch masterpiece!
This is possibly the best Indie film of the 90s. Its certainly up there. There are so many things I'd like to say about this film - I could write a dissertation! So here's attempt, in point form:
-The cast: All I can say is WOW! Forest Whitaker blew me away - even more so than he usually does.
-Notice how the cartoons are a direct prediction or reflection of the scenes surrounding their viewing? And how the gangsters are all awed by them. An interesting connection to the cartoonish gangsters themselves - gangsters who are all old and have fallen into gross caricatures of what gangsters should be. It gets to the point where Vin praises Ghost Dog for sending them all off 'like real gangsters', implying that they're fake.
-Louis and Ghost Dog live by a similar code - except that Louis betrays his code in the end. Interesting how G.D. says, "me & him, we're from different ancient tribes and now we're both almost extinct." Almost prophetic as it leads to the High Noon style Western showdown, where G.D. sacrifices himself in order to remain honourable.
-The best friend, marvelously played by Issach de Bankole, is able to communicate back and forth with G.D., even though neither of them speak the same language. Yet they always know what the other is saying.
This is a classic samurai tale, and a classic fairy tale. A fascinating connection to Rashomon, featured in the film, which takes the same story, which changes drastically as its recounted by different witnesses. Yo have the sens in this film that those who are involved on the same plane are separated by different understandings of reality.
You really need patience to appreciate this film and its various divergences. Many of the slow moments are extremely pertinent to the parent themes of the film. Set in Unknown, USA - which may as well be feudal Japan - the film breaks boundaries of communication and social/moral code. "The end is important in all things". 10/10.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
The best horror film of the year - so far...!
Forget, for a moment, that you ever saw the original. Forget the 'based on true events' tag-line - inevitably there to sell extra tickets. After all, a horror film based on true events is Hotel Rwanda, far scarier than this - though for different reasons.
Now that those little tidbits are out of your system, sit back and prepare for the best damn horror film of the year! The suspense is there, with the right blend of sharp cutting, solid pacing, slick cinematography and a musical accompaniment by someone who has obviously done his horror film homework (Clay Duncan's work on the Ring films' scores surely helped...). The editors did work on films like Face/Off, True Romance and MI:II, which certainly helped a novice director (Andrew Douglas), whose only other film was a Southern-Christian documentary entitled 'Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus'.
The film is not perfect - there are a few moments of tedium - namely when the characters - particularly Ryan Reynold's ever-darkening George - get repetitive, especially with the dialogue. And the end drags a little as the family desperately try to escape the horror - no, I won't spoil it, but think to yourself when watching the film: why not just break the bloody window? And why run further UP the roof, instead of just jumping off the edge of the lower eave?
Still, great editing and a fantastic atmospheric setting move this film easily through any minor difficulties, and as a longtime horror fan, I did find myself startled on occasion - though that may have been due to the two *shrieking* girls directly behind me (and here I thought the film was 13 and over...? They may have looked older, but they could have fooled me...their behaviour certainly didn't)
All in all, I give this one high marks for excitement, pacing, and eeriness. It mixes the right amount of horror with dramatic flavour and tension. Not the best horror film ever, but a helluva lot of fun! 7.5/10.
Millions of Clichés
This film was a first - a film with kids under 14 that didn't make me want to strangle them.
That aside, this film was full of quirks and neat ideas - including Damian's obsession with saints and their appearance as guardian angels and advice givers - his naming of them was always good for a laugh - and is brother Anthony's stock broker mind. Sure, they were a few years ahead of their apparent age, but a suspension of disbelief - at least as far as that went - wasn't unacceptable.
The inherent problem within this film was a bucketful of clichés that started early on and kept rolling forth as quickly as the high speed trains that we felt so prominently. The dialogue was so predictable at times that I mouthed the words before they sprang forth from the characters' mouths - and don't get me started on the scene between Damian and his mother, followed by Anthony seeing the 'saint' for the first time. When she tells Damian that her miracle 'is you', after I rolled my eyes and mumbled the predictable words myself, I almost choked to death - and it wasn't on tears.
The film dragged on for quite awhile, with too many little plot offshoots, and too many little twists and turns to the story to try and provide a little suspense. And what was with that final scene??
Nope, this film didn't cut it for me, and Boyle can do better. When my friend, Jeff, remarked after it was over that he was itching to see Shallow Grave again I agreed, but for different reasons. He enjoyed this film and wanted to enjoy that one again. I just wanted to be reminded of Boyle when he was sharp and made great movies. 4.5/10