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Thankfully, Michel Gondry has once again taken his warped mind and melded together a piece of work that is personal and touching, without ever going too far into sentimentality. For all of you who saw the trailer and think that either it will take a one-note joke and beat it to the ground or be out-loud funny at all turns, don’t bother watching because it is neither. I only wish I could have told the four 16-year old girls in front of me who were constantly on their cell phones, talking, making a ruckus as they went to the bathroom halfway through, and at the end yelled out “finally.” Maybe the mistake was bringing it to a Regal and not letting it lie in its rightful home of a Dipson. You will not get mainstream laughs or stellar acting; instead we are shown a whole lot of heart and compassion for the people you love, the town you call home, and the imagination and knowledge that you can make a difference, no matter how small. Be Kind Rewind is a feel-good film that wears its creativity and craft blatantly on the screen. Gondry tells the tale of two men hand-creating movies by molding his own, stamped throughout with his personal fingerprints blemishing each frame.

I could go the easy route and say that the acting was kind of atrocious, but I won’t because I really feel the amateurish quality was deliberate. Between Mos Def, (whom I love as an actor), mumbling, Danny Glover sounding as though his teeth were falling out, and Mia Farrow acting so over the top happy with broad expressions running the gamut, the cast is as unpolished as the “sweded” films they are shooting. Something about that feel works perfectly, though, and I don’t think the movie would have been as successful if they all were pristine. Each plays their part to perfection and even Jack Black reins it in to portray a fully fleshed character and not a caricature as he is used to. Sure you get his manic comedy at times, but just his reaction at the end proves he was into this film completely and was willing to do what was needed for it to succeed. All the supporting roles were great as well with brilliant turns from Melonie Diaz and Irv Gooch (as Wilson) along with Marcus Carl Franklin playing an actual boy, something that was a departure from his very adult portrayal of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There.

But why am I talking about the acting? That is the least of my memories from this film. Gondry is a true genius in the definition of the word. The way he creates set pieces and allows for each erased VHS to be recreated is astonishing. When we are shown a montage of the crew filming multiple stories at once, the true inventiveness comes in. Going from 2001 to Umbrellas of Cherbourg to Men in Black, we are given a brief glimpse of the setup that is slowly turned into the film. Watching a crank with numerous cars spinning while Mos Def and Black are upside in a car looks absolutely absurd until the title flashes on the bottom and you realize it is the tunnel scene of MiB, just an amazing transition. Every second is laced with creativity from a skewed camera angle showing Black slide down a stair banister to appear like a fire poll, the fake depth of field to show Black as King Kong grabbing Diaz, to the laughably perfect mat of a city laying on the ground and shot from above to make it look as though characters are falling to their death off a building. Gondry might have single-handedly created a phenomenon that will be mimicked and YouTubed in the very near future. Heck, he even “sweded” his own trailer to rake up some added press. “Sweded” of course being the term to describe the art of recreating movies to their personalized, condensed format. I’ll buy the DVD just to see the full versions, as I am sure they will be included, (how could they not?).

There is an underlying story of course, a race against time to try and save the video store from demolition—complete with an FBI lawsuit of copyright infringement—but all that takes a very far backseat to the human story at the front. The way these films bring the rundown, low-income city together, as a community, is heart-warming and a big payoff for the film. Credit Gondry for knowing what he was doing too. He shows Ghostbusters being filmed, but then only snippets of the rest so as not to ruin the joke. When the group finally decides to shoot an original story, we are still intrigued by the workmanship that goes into the process because we have not yet been bored by it from before. And of course, he films the finale the only way he could have. As an audience, it really doesn’t matter what the end product is; it’s the reactions of those watching that counts. To see the laughs and the tears on the faces of all the people who helped create their masterpiece is the true endgame that I wanted to see. You won’t experience a more charming and original film, with enough heart to warm those in it and those outside in the theatre watching, anytime soon.

Be Kind Rewind 8/10

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Will Ferrell has done it again. He got my butt in the seat based off a funny trailer and funnier spoof premise despite the fact I knew I would end up hating the film. Yes, I did not like it much at all. Probably more entertaining than its predecessors, I found myself laughing big at more scenes, rather than just laughs in one or two sequences. I credit this fact to it not trying to be a movie, but instead relying on its strung together skits as just that. Sure it is all loosely tied together for somewhat of an arc in the absurd fantasy world that the Flint Tropics would ever have a shot at becoming an NBA team, but for its own good, Semi-Pro never took itself seriously and I was able to enjoy that fact even though I would have no real interest in ever seeing it again.

Barely making the 90 minutes mark, (if it does at all), this is a very short film. I would actually say that is a compliment because the jokes don’t have quite the breathing room to get as stale as they could have easily become. What the length does detract from is the screentime of the multitude of side characters. When a joke prop played by Jackie Earle Haley, (the absolute best thing in this film), gets more face time than a tried and true actress like Maura Tierney, you know no one is going to get ample minutes to work with. Tierney is the romantic love interest here, usually that role would be given second billing, but the funny thing here is that she is the love interest for the right-hand man, not the star. Ferrell’s Jackie Moon doesn’t need a love interest because he is already too in love with himself.

I do need to applaud Ferrell for not hijacking this as he customarily does. Yes he is on screen for almost 100% of the movie, but he allows those around him to run free and enhance rather than just be fodder for his own loud, obnoxious shenanigans. Some of the set pieces are perfect for the whole group to really shine at his expense, a very welcome change to the horrid string of “everyman” bio-spoofs he has been churning out. Scenes like at the poker table, (Jive Turkey); the during commercial brawl on the court, (a priceless ending when they come back on air); and in full Broadway/Sesame Street costumes during a pivotal scene of a power shift, (when they all try to hide from what they are saying by covering their faces with giant foam hands you realize the absurdity of the situation was intentional for those expressions to payoff as funny), really stick out and bring enough laughs to overcome their randomness. The alley-opp stunned silence is also top-notch.

We are still given the requisite moments of emotion as though what these players are going through is real life. When they make decisions for the better of the team instead of their own individual self, you think to yourself that a tear might come to your eye due to the excruciating pain of sitting through those moments. I know you need some weight in order to invest in the story, but really I just came to laugh; make me laugh and don’t try to be like you’re a serious film. They also rely on skits that have been done better before in previous comedies like Andrew Daly and the great Will Arnett doing their best impersonations of the Dodgeball commentators. You can’t help think of that superior film and the fact that this is just a poor facsimile.

There is still a lot to enjoy during the mess, however. André Benjamin is great as Clarence “Coffee” Black. He has the comic chops to do some supporting role damage in the industry, but roles like he has had in “The Shield” show that he could be doing so much better than this hokey fare. Woody Harrelson does well as the professional coming in to save the day—although his character’s true payoff is with Rod Corddry being totally excited that his girlfriend was falling for Woody, his sports hero. There are a lot of cameos from “Daily Show” (Steve Carell is absent) and “Upright Citizen Brigade” alums and each brings a smirk at some point.

Is it great? Absolutely not. Does it have some big laughs? For sure. Would I recommend it? No. Saying that doesn’t mean a thing, though, because if you are a fan of Ferrell’s previous work in this “genre” you will be going anyway. Besides that, I am a self-proclaimed detractor of his starring work, (I do enjoy him in smaller roles and more subdued ones), so no one will listen to my opinion. Either way, for what it’s worth, I had more fun with this than his others. Maybe I was just in a better mood or maybe I just didn’t take it as serious as the others because, thankfully, it didn’t take itself that way either.

Semi-Pro 4/10

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[1] Will Ferrell (left), Woody Harrelson (center) and Matt Walsh (right) in New Line Cinema’s SEMI-PRO. Photo Credit: Frank Masi. Copyright © New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Andre Benjamin (center) stars as “Clarence” in New Line Cinema’s upcoming comedy, SEMI-PRO. Photo Credit: Frank Masi. Copyright © New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

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Why did the American producers decide to rename a foreign film with a foreign title? Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose? I guess I understand the decision to use one of Edith Piaf’s more famous songs as the name of the film about her, but they could have gotten away with La Môme (The Kid). Either way La Vie en rose is a heartbreaking story about a woman finding success despite a horrid childhood. With problem after problem growing up, always being kicked to the gutter and taken from those who truly loved her, it might be this abandonment that made her overnight success so potent to her. The portrayal here of Piaf is not one of a great woman. She is actually quite unsympathetic at times, heavy on the ego with sparse flashes of the love that she never received. At times though, we can begin to see inside her head, when she begs to go back on stage after a collapse, she says she must sing one song in order to keep faith in herself. Her voice is the only thing that saved her from the life of solitude and prostitution that otherwise waited. That gift from Saint Theresa was a sacred one to her and she would guard it with her life, no matter how many people were hurt along the way.

Here is a shy young woman, thrust into the limelight with a voice unlike any other. Lauded with praise at every turn, she becomes knowledgeable of her skill and it is a chore to break out of her bad habits when a true performer offers to help her leave the bar scene for the stage. Piaf becomes an international sensation, but it appears that her guardian angel needed something in return for her good fortune. At every turn for the better in her career, only a devastating setback in her personal life awaited. Left with her grandmothers while her parents pursued their dreams of failure, she found herself blinded from infection for a spell; taken from a motherly whore—the one person who truly loved her; stricken with arthritis; involved in a car crash; fingered as an accomplice in the murder of the man who got her off the streets; overcome by jaundice; losing the one man she ever saw as her equal in life; and a death too soon around the age of 50. As she sings in her final moment onscreen, however, she lived with no regrets.

Piaf, as seen here, is the godmother of rock and roll. Between the drugs, the alcohol, the men, the ego, and the Diva requests, she was a star. How much of this hard lifestyle helped in accelerating her deterioration or how much it helped her cope with the pain in order to go on when she couldn’t, who knows? One thing is for certain, though, she had an iron-strong will to continue and never looked back. One pause, one break and she might find herself back on the streets. There was no way that would ever happen.

The story on display is very intriguing and devastating in its mixture of extreme elation and utter suffering. My gripe is with the way the filmmakers decided to show it to us. We are thrown from 1918 to 1963 to 1936 to 1955 onto 1960 without any regard for keeping us, as the audience, grounded at all. I’m not saying it was confusing, in actuality a lot of the transitions made perfect sense. What ends up happening is that it feels like a puzzle hastily thrown together and jumbled up. People crop up that we haven’t seen in forever and you have to really think, “are we back in time or is that him in the present?” Only one instance truly angered me and that is with a hidden tragedy sprung on us right at the end of the film. Talk about probably the most devastating event to happen to her and we get it shown to us on her deathbed almost like the director saying, “You thought she had it bad, listen to this one…” I don’t want to totally dismiss the direction, though, because there are some amazing sequences. The one that shoots to the front of my mind is of a long-take involving Piaf finding out she has been hallucinating and someone she holds dear has passed away. Her fear becomes devastation and complete loss of control as she continues down the hall of her house onto the stage of a theatre, seamlessly spun into a performance. It’s just a gorgeous scene to behold.

While the film itself is lacking, you still need to watch for the amazing performance by Marion Cotillard as Piaf. Say what you will about the Oscar winning makeup allowing her to embody different stages of her life, it is really the Oscar winning performance that sells each moment. The shaking in her crippling years, the drunkenness pretty much every year, the naivete as a young girl, and the slow degradation of her mind in middle age are all portrayed with precision and attention to detail. Sure she is not singing herself, but her actions pull off every performance. When she takes the stage for the first time after leaving the streets we are shown her debut as a true performer. We do not hear the words at all; just the orchestra’s playing. Instead we are shown Cotillard fully transformed into Piaf, onstage, composed, and singing with her beautiful hands, touching each audience member to laughter, jubilation, and tears. A fantastic performance that outshines the film itself, Cotillard alone is why you should take a look at the tragic life of this French Sparrow.

La Vie en rose 7/10

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[1] Louis Leplee (Gerard Depardieu) and Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) – Photo by Bruno Calvo
[2] Momone (Sylvie Testud), Edit Piaf (Marion Cotillard) and Susanne (Agathe Bodin) – Photo by Bruno Calvo

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I love the correlation between the Arab’s comment of American arrogance making us think we are always one step ahead of the world and the fact that this film falls into the same exact trap. I understand the concept of multiple viewpoints on the proceedings, as well as the rewinding to show us those differences, however, if you are going to do it, only show us what we missed the first time. Not to spoil anything, the sequence of a character throwing a bomb underneath the presidential podium is shown four times as it is seen by four people…are you kidding? We know the person did it the first time, gloss over it and get to what we DON’T know. A gimmick can work if it is utilized to full effect. However, I can’t really complain about that because the entire concept of the film is false advertising. Eight views, one truth? Not really. More like eight people with plot progression storylines that add up to the one truth. These people aren’t seeing different things and coming up with different conclusions, they are only giving us the full picture rather than incomplete snippets. The tricks involved are great, in theory, but it seems that the filmmakers needed a lot of padding for the short script and decided hiding information and/or cutting away when the truth is apparent in order to show it later would be a more fun way to tell the tale.

My real problem is the fact that we as an audience are played with at every moment. We are teased with answers and made to sit through a new character’s account that holds 75% old information with only 25% new before we are actually given what we should have received twenty minutes ago. Where is the cream filling? Vantage Point ends up being all flash with no center to hold it together. It is a real shame because the plot and conspiracy going on are well thought out and planned. Maybe if it was a straightforward short film it would have been great, but as a feature, recycling footage and manipulating what’s onscreen in order to extend the runtime, it just plain fails. Also, the ending is real corny, clichéd, and obvious.

I wonder how much of its trouble comes from a very extended cutting period. I saw the first trailer for this film in June 07 and it only came out yesterday at the end of February 08. Something is fishy there. Maybe they cut all the backstory, because honestly, there is absolutely none on display. We are never told why all this is happening; why people’s allegiances have been changed; why a hero secret service man is “punishing himself” for what he did, (considering we only know he took a bullet for the President, we have to assume he did something after to make it appear that he might step out of the line of fire the second time); or why the orchestrator of it all is seemingly working on his own. The movie shows us just enough to get by and then throws a new twist so that we forget we haven’t really been told anything. I guess the fact that America and Arab nations are at war and trying to come to a peace accord is enough background for us to believe this would all happen so quickly without any other nation’s support.

I can’t disregard the work completely, though, because this cast is amazing. How they got everyone involved, I have no idea. Dennis Quaid does his usual stern face of contemplation, but he plays a secret service agent always on the job, so it is acceptable. Matthew Fox is a lot of fun especially later on when he lets loose a bit and has some fun. Forest Whitaker is probably the best thing the movie has going for it and shows that he can elevate any role given to him. He is pitch perfect with every emotion he is made to elicit after the tragedies that unfold in front of him. There are so many other people that it would be tough to get to them all, but mention for Edgar Ramirez and Saïd Taghmaoui (both desperately underused in Hollywood) and new face Eduardo Noriega needs to be made.

In the end, Vantage Point becomes a by the numbers blockbuster that takes its possibly intelligent plot and dumbs it down completely in order to be served up to the lowest common denominator of the American public. Arrogance becomes the word of the moment as Hollywood has become so much so that they decide they know what’s best for the country, churning out mindless action, brainwashing society into feeling that any movie that asks for thought is just boring. With a smaller budget, a more unique vision behind the camera, and the guts to let some carnage and desperation be shown, this might have been great. Instead we are shown a story that flips the supposed winner and loser roles. Where the terrorists think of American arrogance, it ends up being their own egos that ruins them. They think they have beaten democracy with their guard down, but in actuality they just turned a blind eye to the fact that one man could single-handedly have the fortitude to take down an entire cell by himself while his fellow agents think he is crazy, and a little friendly coincidence that every person he runs into has video footage of the exact moments necessary to put the puzzle together. Man those terrorists can be so stupid.

Vantage Point 4/10

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[1] Secret Service Agents Holden (Richard T. Jones, left) and Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid, right) assist a fellow agent in Columbia Pictures’ Vantage Point. The film is directed by Pete Travis, written by Barry L. Levy, and produced by Neal H. Moritz. In theaters February 22, 2008. Photo credit: Daniel Daza. © 2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and GH Three LLC All rights reserved.
[2] Forest Whitaker plays Howard Lewis, an American tourist in Spain, in Columbia Pictures’ Vantage Point. The film is directed by Pete Travis, written by Barry L. Levy, and produced by Neal H. Moritz. In theaters February 22, 2008. Photo credit: Daniel Daza. © 2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and GH Three LLC All rights reserved.

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I think that I will shortly be purchasing the Oscar winning short film Six Shooter from 2004. I’ve got an iTunes gift card for just the job. The thought occurred to me after seeing the wonderful debut from director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges. After seeing the trailer, which really worked for me, many times and wondering at how it is from an Oscar winning director yet never hearing of the name, I did some research. While he already has more little gold men than Alfred Hitchcock, his actual feature premiere is what has opened this weekend. It is Irish, most definitely, and if you have trouble with the accent, maybe you should steer clear until in comes out on DVD, however, if you can cope, this is a smart pitch black comedy. When I say pitch black, I mean black hole expanse of darkness. The trailer leads you to believe it will be an uproarious time, and while it is very funny and very smart, there is a tragic event that is held over the proceedings, lending a somber shadow over all that occurs. In the end though, it is consistent with its wit and drama, telling an intriguing story and never relying on the laughs to hide any plot point that the creators may not have wanted to work out to completion.

If I am to gripe about anything, it will be the ending. Not the very end, however, as that is absolutely perfect. The camerawork, voiceover, and final shot cannot be argued, it is the climax that happens just before that rings false. It is the only moment like that, though, so I don’t hold it against the film. McDonagh needed a way to get his characters to their arc’s conclusions and if that means turning one of the roles, at first seeming to be there for jokes, into a pawn for a symmetrical kind of convenience, I’ll give him that reprieve. As far as fitting with the story, yeah it works; it has to because the incident is alluded to unknowingly at many times during the course of the sightseeing romp. I guess I think it fits too well and wish McDonagh could have come up with another way to do it.

Besides that, though, In Bruges is a great time at the theatre. Colin Farrell is steadily becoming a favorite of mine with his precise comic timing and broad facial expressions. I may be one of the few people on earth that loved his comedic turn in Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream, (yes I truly believe the comedy was intentional), and here he shows it was not a fluke. Kind of similar to his scene-stealing role in Intermission, he is a punk with a lousy disposition and disregard for tact. Here, however, he also has a conscience. This tug-of-war is ripe for laughs as he is a sweet guy, he just doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut. One-liners are in abundance and you will be laughing continuously. Brendan Gleeson helps this fact by being an effective straightman to play off of. He knows the score and tries to enjoy the “fairytale” city while his cohort sulks and puts on “moods like a five year old” because, honestly, unless you grew up on a farm and were slightly retarded, Bruges is really just hell on earth. (Actually, the city looks pretty great and I wouldn’t mind checking it out once in my lifetime.)

The periphery roles, and there are many, also add depth and interest to the film. Small characters like Eric Godon’s alcove loving gun dealer, Jordan Prentice as a horse-tranquilizer taking midget actor (he played Howard the Duck, that is awesome), and Clémence Poésy as the love interest and enigma Cholë all are fun and never quite feel just thrown in as jokes, but instead integral parts to the story. Of course, the great Ralph Fiennes is involved too. His accent and vocabulary rivals Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast and unfortunately is a much smaller part than anticipated from the trailer. Well maybe not unfortunately, because if he was in more it might have become a gimmick. I also couldn’t help stop thinking of Harry Potter with Mad-Eye Moody, Lord Voldemort, and Fleur Delacour all involved.

I highly recommend this film for anyone looking to see a good drama with comic overtones. Don’t go in thinking this is to be a total good time, with laughs a minute, there is so much more to the tale that you may not expect or necessarily be hoping for. At times it is very dark and drains every molecule of happiness out of your heads, but thankfully a good joke or line will be coming shortly to alleviate the depression.

In Bruges 8/10

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[1] Jordan Prentice (left), Clémence Poésy (center) and Colin Farrell (right) star in Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES, a Focus Features release.
[2] Brendan Gleeson (left) and Ralph Fiennes (right) star in Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES, a Focus Features release.

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I really need to start watching more films by Kar Wai Wong. I adore In the Mood for Love, yet I still have not found the time to view its sequel 2046. Instead, I chose to take a gander at his English-language debut, My Blueberry Nights. This is a fantastic film; I don’t care what people say. It is a road trip journey through the landscape of the soul, overcoming that which did not work in life in order to accept that which does. One may think that the film is about the lead, played by singer Norah Jones, but they will be mistaken, sort of. Yes, she is the central character and it is her that is on the journey, however, the people she touches along the way have their own inner catharsis as well. Whether that view into their heart ends with joy, tragedy, hope, or forgiveness, well that is for them to experience and decide. Not every story has a happy ending, but at least finding one more smile, one person’s soul to look into and see that the world isn’t completely insane, can end it bittersweet—sometimes we need that reassurance before we can settle our bets and walk away from the table.

For an acting debut, I have to give credit to Jones. She has some heavyweights to play against, and all of them more or less bring their A-game, yet she is able to hold her own. More of a natural performance than trying to do anything flashy, Jones is the perfect vessel for us to walk around and meet the many characters she comes across. It is as much about their stories as hers, but she is most definitely the catalyst for everything. After all, the tale begins when she discovers her boyfriend has been cheating on her. Spilling her thoughts and emotions with the diner’s owner, (the place her ex had his indiscretion exposed), she finds that only by getting away will she be able to put her life back together. The bond between these two lost souls, however, has been forged and wherever the road takes her, she stays in touch with postcards written to the one person she believes can hear her voice.

Jones’ role of Lizzie is the cause of much that happens to those around her. Touching the dinerman, played brilliantly by Jude Law, (thank God they allowed him to play a Brit, because his bad American accent would have totally ruined the part, much like Rachel Weisz’s fake southern one almost did), on a spiritual level, in a way that will play a major part in his future confrontation with the one that got away, his set of keys laid in the jar above his bar for too many years; giving a depressed drunk a reason to believe that the world isn’t all bad, one shining beacon of light to bring him out of the funk he has been in since the woman he loved found she could no longer be with him, (David Strathairn truly steals the entire film with his performance, absolutely fantastic); and having the trust to lend some cash to a girl in her element of high stakes Texas Hold’Em, while also teaching her that there was more to life than just reading people and knowing their next move…it’s just too bad she did not learn it sooner, especially after the person who taught her to be a cynic had given her the gift of love through a FedEx package, (Natalie Portman, in a role that you would not expect from her, very good, very funny, and most of all very real). Each person learned more about themselves just by using Jones’ Lizzie as a mirror into their own psyche. They may not all finish for the better, but they still end with dignity and maybe a sliver of happiness that wasn’t there before she crossed their path.

While Norah Jones is a big part of the success, in her ability to let others craft their roles off of her, one can’t end without speaking about the director. Kar Wai is a master of visuals and even his use of the gimmick of looking through things constantly never grows old. Almost three-quarters of the movie are seen through windows, bakery shelf casings, bottles on a bar, security cameras, etc. Even his use of light is phenomenal—going from the dark exteriors and natural light of Law’s diner; to the bright sunlight of the Memphis diner; to the dim phosphorescence of the bar at night; all the way to the hazy, neon highlights of Vegas—every frame is gorgeous. Even the use of slow-motion at high emotive moments and close-ups of shoes or pie meeting melted ice cream don’t detract from the big picture. Never afraid of askew compositions either, we are shown some nice positioning of the camera and cropping of the picture. It’s all done with the greatest amount of care, subtly and effectively, enhancing the words and actions of those actors doing their job. With a payoff that is expected from the first moment of the film, it is still so perfect of a conclusion to her trek through America and her soul that you can’t help but smile once the credits begin to roll.

My Blueberry Nights 9/10

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[1] Norah Jones stars in Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights. Photo by: ©The Weinstein Company, 2007/MaCall Polay
[2] Jude Law and Cat Power star in Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights. Photo by: Macall Polay/TWC 2007.

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Doug Liman’s first misstep is the new movie Jumper. I have either greatly enjoyed or loved each of his films until now. This teleportation action adventure is not necessarily bad, however, it is just a bit of a mess. Acting as the first part of a planned trilogy, it is too short, too glossy, and too reliant on the viewers taking the leap and journey without any idea of what is really happening. Why are the Paladins after the Jumpers? When did the fight really start? Is it completely religious based? We are thrust into the plot much like how our lead stumbles upon his ability. He sees the power he has and decides to use it, that power soon becomes too much and takes over his life with any shade of regret or remorse for his thievery gone. The concept is quite fascinating and if the other two installments are made there might be something here. As a standalone, though, there are just too many unanswered questions and, frankly, not enough to really make me care whether the others get made at all.

With the ability to teleport taking center stage, the effects need to be believable and flashy to work. I think Liman has succeeded on both counts here. Maybe he uses it a tad too much, turning it into a gimmick, but with the war that is going on he gets the details right. Concepts like electricity grounding a Jumper, the jump scars staying visible for short times to track them, and high-end technology for normal men to be able to use the Jumper’s trace in order to follow are very intriguing and add a layer to the tale beyond watching characters go wherever they want. The toys, bells, and whistles deliver the goods, yet their success is a detriment to the work as a whole, really letting us see how it is all just style over substance. Every little insight into our lead David Rice’s life is thrown out in the open and never expanded on. Was his father abusive? Did he leave him or the bullies at school when he took off? Why after nine years on his own does he finally go back to see them after almost being captured? When the Paladin Roland finds him, there is a definite chance that he could be killed, yet when all is said and done, he goes out in the open for the first time since the fateful day his power manifested. I understand why he does this as far as progressing the plot, but would the boy who couldn’t bring himself to tell the girl he loved what happened to him actually decide to go back after an ordeal like that? No, it should make him crawl into an even deeper hole.

As far as the acting goes, Hayden Christensen, as Rice, is pretty much a one-trick pony. He is cast as the rebellious kid always against the establishment. It works to great effect in films like Life as a House and on paper in Star Wars; however, he is mechanical in his delivery and motions, as much as I hate to agree with all the hate spread around on the internet. Christensen is not horrible here, but he is not perfect either. There is just something about his grin that comes across as trying a bit too hard. For the rest of the characters, there isn’t anything too special to announce. Samuel L. Jackson is good as Roland, the Paladin on Rice’s trail. He is his badass self throughout and is effective if not fleshed out at all. He is a man on a mission to rid the world of Jumpers, but why does he do it? We never find out and it is never shown that we should care. He is there to be the villain and that is all. The only standout to speak of is Jamie Bell. Sadly, it is his performance’s success that really shows Christensen’s limitations. Whereas you can see the wheels turning in Bell’s head, a plan always being hatched and worked on from all angles, Hayden just looks like he is showing us his mind’s at work, but he doesn’t actually make us believe it. Bell’s Griffin is the one man here that you feel has a stake in what is going on. He knows the pain of losing a loved one to his power, he understands the responsibility he has to his kind, and he is the only person that you wonder what he might be really up to. Despite no details on his past, one still gets all that from his limited screen-time, because he creates a character and makes it come alive.

Jumper could have been great and I think the fact that they want to make two more, but aren’t sure if they will be able to really hurt it beyond recovery. So much is left open, characters are stranded, but not killed, well-known faces are introduced without any relevance for this first film (Diane Lane and Kristen Stewart), and our lead finds himself trying to prove that he is different. He is not the Jumper that will turn evil with time as Roland says they all do, he is not a killer, but someone looking to bridge the gap between the two opposing forces. I just don’t know if I can buy it, he has been a bankrobber for almost a decade and he has never cared about the consequences. Why should we believe that he would change now after realizing he is not alone?

Jumper 6/10

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[1] Jamie Bell as Griffin in The 20th Century Fox Pictures’ Jumper (2007)
Copyright © The 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Samuel L. Jackson as Cox in The 20th Century Fox Pictures’ Jumper (2007)
Copyright © The 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

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Maybe I was just in the mood for a romantic comedy with some intelligence, but as far as wondering if I liked this week’s Valentine’s release, I say…definitely. Wow, I just did that. Despite the horrible wordplay, I really found myself fall into this story of one man’s three loves told to his daughter in order to show the complexities of that, humanity’s greatest passion. Definitely, Maybe is very much your run-of-the-mill rom-com, yet something about it just resonated with me. It might be the three beautiful and talented actresses involved, the always fantastic Ryan Reynolds, the precociousness of Abigail Breslin (who goes a tad Dakota Fanning here, but great anyways), or the tale that, although somewhat obvious and clichéd, seemed true to the heart. Every performance added in the realism of this fact and the stages of our lead’s life and the highs and lows of love just made sense. Paint-by-numbers? Possibly. Evenso, the colors used could not have been chosen more perfectly.

I generally hold Love Actually on the loftiest position of great “chick flicks” and its perch is not to be questioned here. To me there are many kinds of romantic fluff out there, some that bridge genres and some that stick to the formula, with a few surpassing it. A film like Beautiful Girls is a favorite of mine, but the fact that it is about guys and their friendships shining light on the relationships they have, I can’t put it in the same category as this film. Definitely, Maybe holds nothing back and never attempts to hide what it is. The equation has been written down and a story has been formed, filling in all the blanks. Boy meets girl, boy and girl separate, boy meets other girl, boy realizes true feelings for the lost love—stir and repeat, (in this case a few times). I guess one could say the gimmick of telling his travels to his young daughter so that she can guess which is her mother adds enough originality to keep it fresh for me. I’ll admit that although I would have pegged the correct woman from the start, there were many times that I almost had to change my mind. Some credit for that goes to the writing, but again, as I said earlier, the film is filled to the brim with coincidence, dumb luck, and big clichés. As a result, I must give the bulk of the kudos to the stellar acting on hand.

Ryan Reynolds carries the movie throughout, never letting go to show us that this was a paycheck film. Thinking back to work like Waiting makes me remember the smug comic look that he uses so often, the one that screams acting and performance, throwing any semblance of realism out the window. Could it be the fact that he plays opposite a young girl, two great actresses, and a third finally showing some skills beyond her pretty face? I’d agree with that. Let’s not shortchange the guy, however, because his comedic timing is impeccable. Whether the quick-witted funny lines were scripted or ad-libbed in the moment, it doesn’t matter. The fact that I couldn’t tell shows me how lost I was in the proceedings that I didn’t try to notice which was in fact the truth. Perfect casting and for being onscreen pretty much the entire duration, I must applaud his work.

As for the women, each brings exactly what is needed to their stereotypical roles. Rachel Weisz is used to playing the gorgeous, successful woman with a brain and the ability to use that mind with her looks to get whatever she wants. Here is no different. Elizabeth Banks is great, albeit in a smaller role than the others. Not quite on caliber with her performance in the wonderful Heights, but enough so to warrant her getting more quality roles (Kevin Smith picked a good one for his upcoming film). As for Isla Fisher, this may be the first time I can say that she was truly great. Yeah, she was a blast in Wedding Crashers, but her poor showing in The Lookout made me worry that there just wasn’t anything there. With her role as April, though, she shows what she is made of. From the early scenes, smoking on her birthday, to the ones where emotions run very high, Fisher doesn’t miss a single step. If the writing can be credited for anything concerning these three girls and their bond to Reynolds, it is the fact that writer/director Adam Brooks shows how strong it is, despite their transgressions. Each relationship begins and ends with only the coupling and passion lost, their love for each other never diminished. This is how I see life, maybe it’s naïve of me to think so, but a connection that strong cannot be severed just because you are no longer together. That kind of love is too strong and thank you to Brooks for not being afraid to put that in the story, rather than go the easy route and have him hate the two losers showing us all who the mother is tactlessly.

Yes, the journey is one that I had immense pleasure taking. We are shown a fully fleshed out Reynolds as he grows from the big dreaming college graduate to the weathered by life man he knew he would become. Or as the best character of the film might say, “from boy-man to real man.” Kevin Kline is absolutely brilliant, stealing each and every scene he is in—even when just a photo. Derek Luke and Kevin Corrigan also deserve mention for small parts that still deliver important story necessities (Luke) and good comedy (Corrigan). All in all a very solid rom-com that I would say to all my male friends in a relationship—take her to see it. You may surprise her by the choice, but know you may actually like it as well, despite its genre’s shortcomings.

Definitely, Maybe 8/10

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[1] Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin in Universal Pictures’ Definitely, Maybe (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher in Universal Pictures’ Definitely, Maybe (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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Here we have France’s official entry for foreign film at the Oscars, the animated film Persepolis. This intrigues me for many reasons. One, it is a cartoon and almost destined for the nod in that category; two, it is about Iran, by an Iranian who took France as an adopted home in her 20’s, and third, the wonderful film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly had a real shot at winning the award, let alone getting a nomination (but then it was directed by an American, so who knows?). By no means is the film unworthy of the praise or accolades; it is in actuality very well done. Maybe not quite as good as I have heard, but than this is not the type of film I normally put my sights on being almost documentary-like in its biographical and historical nature. As a visual piece, one can’t complain though, and as a piece of history, telling of the pain and horrors that went on in the Middle Eastern country, it is quite shocking and informative (albeit from a viewpoint that was very anti-war/regime, not that her family should have been for the genocide, but it is a biased view nonetheless). With multiple sequences that are as powerful as any scenes all year, there are just too many moments showing the naïve immaturity of our heroine as she deals with relationships and depression. The weight of what is happening on a global level is so strong as a story thread that the “little” things took me away from the movie and caused me to become a tad restless waiting for the intriguing moments to come back.

Marjane Satrapi lived a very interesting life. Her family contained many important members in Iran, from a Prince, numerous revolutionaries, imprisoned and killed Communists, and a couple of strong-willed parents, fighting the good fight, yet still maintaining a balance to keep themselves alive. The film is a very personal piece of work, telling about her life from childhood to mid-20’s—from precocious youngster wishing to be the last prophet of the world to a cynical, jaded woman who had survived hard times both physically and emotionally. Her outspoken demeanor leads to some tense moments that almost seem to be diffused a little too easily. In a country that is so repressive and so against women, how can all these men allow her to say what she does and just cower in embarrassment? I am surprised she survived to turn 20 in the first place with the way the film portrays Iran.

This is of course a fictional remembrance, and I’m sure there were some liberties taken. Much like American Splendor from a few years back, Persepolis is based off a series of autobiographical graphic novels created by Satrapi. In that regard, the tale is infused with comedy and fantasy throughout, helping to keep interest and counter the heavy subject matter at the crux of it all. So much of this humor works perfectly—the figure study model cloaked, the “Punk is Ded” jacket, and early Bruce Lee moves, kicking another youngster in the head at a party—but a few times it can be somewhat cringe-inducing—the “Eye of the Tiger” montage came off hokey to me. Her vocal outbursts and putting lesser people (although in positions of power) in their place help shape her character and show how one can fight back against a country that gave up on its people without using physical violence herself.

The animation at times is absolutely breathtaking. Using color to delineate between the present storytelling Marjane with her story’s lead in black and white is well utilized, if a bit unnecessary considering her being in color has no bearing except for showing an older age. Where the movie truly succeeds, however, is in the heavy/dark moments. The stark contrast of the colorless majority really brings some weight to the proceedings. With somber music overlaying those sequences of battle and oppression, we are treated to some events that stay with you way after the film has finished. The initial siege after the fall of the Shah is fantastic with its black, silhouetted soldiers combining into a massive blob advancing on the innocent civilians. Even atmosphere is added with smoke and fog, a very nice trick for a field of depth that is completely two-dimensional using only overlapping layers to show space. My favorite piece, though, is a chase on the rooftops after an illegal party is broken up by the Guardians. In almost complete silence we see the pursuit right until its inevitable conclusion—heartbreaking.

Full credit goes to Satrapi for having the fortitude to not only survive the life she lived at such a young age, but also the ability to tell the world about it. I’m sure her stories have served as somewhat of a catharsis for herself, especially after seeing her Uncle Anoush tell his tales of exile and persecution so that the family’s story is known forever. She seems to have taken everything very seriously and put it upon herself to not let all those in her life to have died and suffered in vain. Always strong-willed and unafraid to speak her mind, she was the true revolutionary. Learning from experience and many mistakes of her own, Marjane grew up very fast and never forgot her heritage or her home. Even years later from the last time she stepped foot on Middle Eastern soil, she still answers a cabbie’s question of where she’s coming from, without pause, as Iran.

Persepolis 8/10

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Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice is a truly solid bit of filmmaking. I can’t say whether it is a good adaptation or not, being I have not read the novel nor seen the other film treatments, however, as a piece of work in its own right, it succeeds on all accounts. Gorgeous to look at, this debut shows all the signs of the greatness he was to achieve with this year’s Atonement. From multiple long takes, sweeping through the scenery, choreographed to perfection in order to allow the characters to flow in and out of frame, to wonderfully shot dance sequences at the two balls, the craft is unreal. I don’t want to knock the story, though, as it is quite good. Never having really taken the time to acquaint myself with the Jane Austen canon, I am pleasantly surprised with how good the tale of love and premature judgments of character is. Firing on all cylinders, I accept all the praise that was lauded on it upon its release fully.

Wright seems to have the period drama down to perfection and it will be interesting to see what he does with his new film The Soloist, very much a departure from his two previous works. What we can expect, however, is a precise attention to detail and composition. Throughout this film we are given frames resembling works of art, (not to mention the actual artworks depicted—I absolutely loved the marble statue of the veiled woman, breathtaking), with light and atmosphere filling every available space. The little things, like when Elizabeth Bennet is in search of her soldier friend at the ball and we see Mr. Darcy look at her from behind as she continues to walk away, add so much depth with no dialogue necessary. He knows what he wants to show at all times and is never afraid to allow what’s onscreen do the talking for him through emotions and actions. For a director to trust the craft and the medium at such an early stage of his career, so unabashedly, is a rare trait. Most would rely on his actors to pull out greatness, but instead he relies on no one but himself, and the vision he wanted to put to celluloid.

If I were to fault Wright and the film at all, it would be with the handling of some performances, although I’m not sure how much I can really blame. The Bennet family is supposed to come across as loud and obnoxious, a family ill-suited to the status for which they are trying to marry into. They do this in spades, but I may have wanted it to be toned down just a tad. Jena Malone’s role as the youngest sister is just plain annoying, but her crassness and lack of subtlety do help in a dinner scene later in the film in order to give her reason to slip and tell her sister a secret. Brenda Blethyn, as the Bennet matriarch, is also very over-the-top. The performance could be a bit grating at times, but thankfully we are given lengthy reprieves without her to allow us to handle those moments when she is in full force.

The rest of the cast is absolutely fantastic. Keira Knightley, as she did in Atonement, really surprised me again with her starring role as Elizabeth. She is an actress that finally has deemed herself to deserve the accolades she receives in my mind. I understood people’s fascinations with her looks (although maybe not in total agreement), but never the skill at her craft. Now, though, I am on the bandwagon. Mr. Darcy, our second lead, is brilliantly portrayed by Matthew Macfadyen as well. His transformation from stuffy aristocrat to enraptured slave to love is believable at every turn. Despite his burgeoning love, he was still trying to be true to himself and his friends when he gave advice on matters such as marriage. It takes the events between he and Elizabeth for both to realize their own fallibilities and stubborn pride. Only when they finally open up to each other and tell of what the other doesn’t really know do they see that what they thought were good intentions were in actuality poor judgments. A good supporting cast bolsters these two stars too, with acknowledgements going to Rosamund Pike, Donald Sutherland (a wonderful final scene), Simon Woods, and the always-great Tom Hollander.

For all those that decide to pass by Pride and Prejudice because it is a romantic fluff piece, I only have to say give it a chance. As far as drama goes, the story is well told, and as far as cinematic excellence, it delivers at every moment. I won’t go on record and say that it must be the best version of the classic tale—I’m always told the Colin Firth piece is better—but I will say that this is one heck of a film. See it for the grandeur and the spectacle, but also become engrossed in the tale and the journey that love takes these two very different people on showing them and us how very much the same they are.

Pride and Prejudice 9/10

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[1] Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005) Copyright © Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005) Copyright © Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.


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