Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The cinematography is great, from the opening split-screen to the glorious panorama while soaring above the remote golden canyons of Utah as we follow an experienced climber out for a day of adventure. One thing though, the director didn’t have much to work with: for most of the film it’s one location, one actor. Yet he pulls it off beautifully, in large measure because we are privy to the innermost thoughts of an individual while trying to extricate himself from a perilous situation. Franco’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. Although the movie title gives some hint as to how long he will be in the predicament he’s found himself in, we are not at any point sure of the outcome. It’s riveting stuff.

In trying to fulfill her mother’s last wish, Jeanne sets off on a journey that leads her back to her mother’s homeland. Through a series of flashbacks we learn of the events that took place before Nawal left for Canada. With great cinematography and solid performances all round it is realistic although not for everyone as there are scenes that will be disturbing to some viewers. Even with a running time of more than two hours, it is not a minute too long.

One of the most difficult types of films to pull off successfully, romantic comedies often lack real chemistry between the two protagonists and rely too often on juvenile slapstick to garner laughs. Well this one is unlike most of them: it is a love story that evolves on screen between people we get to care about. The fact this takes place in Tuscany, arguably one of the most romantic places on earth, the lush cinematography more than does it justice as some of the shots are nothing short of stunning. The comedy is of the subtle sort provoking smiles rather than the “laugh-out-loud” type. The acting is uniformly top notch as are the production values. And it does not overstay its welcome with a run time of only 90 minutes.

This true story of a young boy, one of seven children of a Chinese peasant family, who goes on to become a famous ballet dancer is told in chronological order with a few flashbacks. Definitely a “must-see” for ballet fans but for those who are not, the dance sequences are kept to a minimum so no one should become bored with them since they are all beautifully choreographed. The stunning cinematography coupled with a delightful score serve as a wonderful backdrop to this enchanting tale.

This unhurried telling of a Denver housewife who takes over her father’s horse farm and how her determination led to a notable sports triumph has the likeness of a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie: the highest production values, excellent acting and great attention to detail. In addition, it feels authentic. Since not everyone is that well acquainted with the sport of horse racing, the timely expository material is welcome so we can all understand and appreciate what unfolds on the screen. The producers have wisely kept the race sequences to a minimum since a camera following a group of horses running around an oval track can quickly become very boring. Instead using different camera angles, tight closeups and crisp editing they have captured the excitement without overdoing it.

I sat mesmerized by two fascinating performances, that of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Each in their own way had a difficult role to play and they both nailed it. The rest of the cast do an excellent job but these two are the best of the bunch. An extremely enjoyable film the well-written script has quite a few humorous quips to keep the proceedings from getting too serious. The director has wisely chosen to allow adequate screen time for some scenes albeit at the expense of adding to the running time of nearly two hours: like a good wine, some things cannot be hurried. The British are the best at period pieces and this is no exception with beautiful cinemaphotography, elaborate sets and perfect costuming.

Set in 1910, the film provides an insight into the final year in the life of the Russian writer and philosopher. Obviously geared to the discerning viewer this intelligent, adult piece of entertainment tells us a lot about Tolstoy that is not common knowledge. The acting alone is worth the price of admission: Helen Mirren pulls off what I think is her best performance ever (and that is saying a lot) while Christopher Plummer shows what an accomplished actor he is.

It is almost as though this role was meant for him: Jesse Eisenberg gives his best performance ever as the key person behind the development of the internet website known as Facebook. Mind you, the rest of the cast are no slouches: it’s just that he really nails it. Despite a run time of two hours The Social Network is not overly long because it has a lot of ground to cover in what is a complex story involving many people and a raft of different situations. The script is tight with believable dialog, often delivered at breakneck speed, and the editing is crisp so the time flies. Not only is the film well acted throughout, it is beautifully shot, informative and downright entertaining. One other thing: the musical score is just perfect. I cannot recall the last time I said that of any movie I’ve seen. Now that’s quite a compliment.

Modern day families have their own set of problems and issues to deal with. The intelligent, realistic dialogue provides a great deal of insight to relationships forged over the years. The believable characters and fine performances all around make this an entertaining film for the mature viewer.

Although less witty than the first two installments and without the double entendre for “adults only” Toy Story 3 more than makes up for these shortcomings with a more interesting story, one filled with adventure, comedy and romance. As usual the animation is nothing short of perfection, something we’ve come to expect from Pixar Studios. One caveat: the garbage collection center sequence may be too scary for some kids but it’s hard to tell for sure in a darken movie theatre: if so, they all seem to have recovered by the time the end credits appeared.

Once again the Cohen brothers have assembled their “team” (cinematographer Roger Deakins, costume designer Mary Zophres and sound designer Craig Berkey) having worked with them in earlier films (Fargo and No Country for Old Men to name a few). The results are to be expected: a big budget movie that looks and feels just right. Set in the Old West at the turn of the 19th century this tale of vengeance for the murder of her father as played by Hailee Steinfeld. She really nails it and steals the show from such accomplished actors as Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. With great attention to detail there are amusing moments to lighten things up and crisp editing to keep things moving along.

This is no walk in the park. For the first fifteen minutes or so you have no idea why we are following the daily activities of some desperately poor people living in the Ozarks Mountains somewhere in Missouri. The pervasive pale silvery-grey colours set the tone with just a hint of what is to come in this gripping rural crime story. The acting is uniformly first rate although that of Jennifer Lawrence is the best.


With the lead ballerina pushed to explore her dark side this is not your traditional performance of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake". To begin with it borders on soft-core pornography what with the vulgarity of some of the dialogue and frank sexuality including masturbation and groping as well brief lesbian sex. And if that’s not enough the scenes of self-mutilation and stabbing are bound to shock viewers who are unaccustomed to sitting through a horror movie.

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