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Dark, Gripping, but Falls Slightly Short on Believability
Writers Aronofsky and Gullette have crafted a dark, psychological thriller that centers around, of all things, math and numbers. One would think that there was no way that this could hold anyone's interest, but they managed to pull it off. "Pi" reminds us that genius is just this side of madness, and that great intelligence is a burden as well as a gift.
Gullette plays Max Cohen, the brilliant and tortured mathematician, beautifully and without overacting. His mind seethes with the possibilities that lie waiting inside number systems. However, the strain that his talent places on him results in blinding, hallucinogenic migraines. The scenes where Max falls victim to his ailment are tense, well-directed, and have just the right amount of creepiness.
The one beef that I have with this picture pertains to the other characters who are meant to be the film's antagonists. Two parties - a Wall Street firm and a Hasidic Jewish sect are after Max for his abilities. Neither of these relationships are expanded on enough to make the viewer care about them. Of the two, the sect members are the most believable. However, the stockbrokers and Max's encounters with them scream "film school". The loud-mouthed and overbearing businesswoman is more a parody of "the suits", and doesn't fit in with the rest of the film. You are left thinking that the only reason these characters appeared at all was as a plot device to get Max the parts he needed.
A minor, but nagging point - are we really to believe, in this day and age where nearly everyone has seen the inside of a PC, that Max's super-processor is a black cube with four pins? I saw this film with a bunch of other techie-type folk, and our collective reaction was "he's going to run his calculations on a bridge rectifier?"
All in all, this film is entertaining for those who enjoy offbeat cinema. Those looking for "The Matrix" aren't going to be satisfied at all. Math, science, and computer geeks won't wince too much. Hollywood SFX blockbuster this isn't, but that's not a bad thing. Overall, a good film with a few minor drawbacks.
La cité des enfants perdus (1995)
Visually intriguing, but dramatically lacking
"City of Lost Children" has one of the most striking production designs you will ever see. The world that the characters inhabit is a cross between the sewers of Paris, the canals of Venice, and Victorian London. The set design, lighting, and camerawork are first rate. Add to this costumes by famous designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. This adds up to a visually stunning film, which might satisfy some viewers.
Unfortunately, this does not make up for the major shortcoming of the film. While the story is imaginative and the dialog is mostly appropriate, the direction of the actors appears to have taken the form of "do not show genuine emotion under any circumstances." Perlman's "One" is the only character capable of putting forth any aura other than those exuding evil, and his performance is mostly unconvincing. Miette is supposed to be standoffish because of "wisdom beyond her years." It merely comes off flat. The "little brother", a watery-eyed blond waif, is constantly eating and burping into the camera. The first time is "cute", if a bit contrived, but the joke gets old quickly.
One of the more inspired characterizations are the vicious twins who run the child thievery ring. Of all the people we meet during the course of the story, they are some of the more devious and entertaining. They are actually interesting to watch, while many of the other characters appear to wander aimlessly through the story.
However, even with its shortcomings, the film is an interesting and slightly surreal experience. If the acting had been more credible and the pacing provided a little more suspense, this movie could have been a 9 or 10. As it is, I give it a low 7/10.