Tuesday, June 22, 2010
A Shine of Rainbows is a family movie set on Corrie Island, off the western coast of Ireland about an orphaned boy named Thomas (John Bell) and his pet orphaned seal. More important is Thomas' sick mother and boyfriend Alec (Aidan Quinn)who agree to get married so her son can have a more stable family home.
Based on the novel by Lillian Beckwith, screenplay by Vic Sarin (who also directs), Catherine Spear and Dennis Foon is so contrived and predictable, your emotions are played on cue. It happens deliberately so you can't appreciate the full meaning of the film's title as an appreciation of nature beyond all living things. No matter what happens in your life, something as simple as a rainbow should be uplifting. For young Thomas it defines his existence as a beacon of hope when everything else goes wrong. His friendship with the seal also becomes his surrogate brother whom he looks after like any child whose has had a pet. When life deals him with a tough hand to understand when his mother dies of Ali MacGraw's disease, he finds himself in a different world where reality has made his life of innocence a cause of discomfort and sadness which, on the surface, is too much for a boy to handle, but he soldiers on with a positive attitude with his seal in tow.
Unexpectedly, he befriends Alec and together they bond in a way that slowly becomes clear as time passes. Before the boy's mother died he couldn't be bothered with him. Hope for Thomas seems assured and the screenwriters make sure it happens. The ensuing plot races ahead with such choke-holding reality it ruins any chance of a real surprise.
Quinn plays his role with utter disinterest and you only see him when it is convenient for him even after he is alone with Thomas.
As for his mother Maire O'Donnell (Connie Nielsen), she brings the right emotional touch without going overboard. Your empathy for her builds up to her final scene which is orchestrated so well you wish the story didn't have to be this predictable.
Just like the screenwriters feed off your emotions at every turn, the direction is achingly sentimental. It would've been more in keeping for Alec to remain hard-hearted and stay the way the first time he's introduced.
A Shine of Rainbows leaves nothing to the imagination. Neither is it poignant enough to be memorable.
I'm reminded of a much better film, Dear Frankie (2005), a Scottish tale with a similar story and location.
A Shine of Rainbows is rated PG/Parental Guidance.
May 20, 2010
Copyright Rick Jackson 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
Jonah Hex is a terrible cross genre mix of a western with elements of horror and the supernatural thrown in to hold your interest. Based on the DC comic book created by John Albano and Brian Taylor, the characters are all mere shadows of what they pretend to be. Canadian director Jimmy Hayward does his best to entertain but it all falls flat due to too many inconsistencies in the screenplay by Mark Neveldine and Taylor. The story of a vengeful cowboy going after a despicable and hated adversary from the Civil War is like mixing oil and water. Nothing works even from an entertainment standpoint.
Josh Brolin, who is a fine actor fails to bring anything legendary to the title character by portraying him as a combination of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name with Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider. Added to this is John Malkovich's villainous turn as Quentin Turnbull who looks out of place.
Much of the supporting cast is lost in a sea of western grass so high it's hard to salvage their collective ineptness as dastardly bad guys. They all presume to be in a western but act so poorly you wish the director had yelled "cut" so we wouldn't have to see any of their shenanigans. The western flavour from start to finish is presented honestly but not without some of the worst acting in a movie so far this year.
It is true that Jonah Hex is a contrived example of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly). In them, the characters move by base instinct. Brolin's Hex ends up more or less like Eastwood's central figure because both operate not without any grand prrinciples, but because power equals morality. Brolin, however, comes across more convincingly than the rest of the film's cast and by film's end, he, alone, at least, gives it some dignity just like Eastwood.
Malkovich depends too much on the script to convey evil and comes up short by the sad fact that he is trying too hard to persuade you who he is trying to portray. As you watch the rest of the cast, they drift in and out and are content in only being around, especially in the last half-hour.
Megan Fox is miscast as Lilah. She fails to represent the sexy sirens in the old saloons like Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) in Destry Rides Again (1939). Fox tries to make up for her shortcomings as an actress by playing her as a female smouldering with sexuality underneath her quiet behaviour. She is, of course, no Dietrich and I didn't expect her to be.
It doesn't help this western one bit when the geography of its setting gets confused by a lack of real sense beyond the obvious action scenes to at least set you up to pay attention. The frontier town of Stunk Crick is somewhere in Louisiana and not far from Virginia or Washington. Everyone appears to be too close and it ruins whatever epic sweep and decent expectations you may have about a western town. You fail to appreciate what is left even liking the western for old times sake. The revenge motif is as old as the genre itself.
Despite the movie's title that other film critics feel compelled to mock because they couldn't come up with something original, Jonah Hex could have been a lot better.
It is rated 14A, with the warnings: violence and gory scenes.
June 20, 2010
Copyright Rick Jackson 2010
Please Give from writer/director Nicole Hofcener exposes our basic human flaws as people. True, she does it by focusing more on women than men, but it is the earthiness and downright candor in her screenplay that catches you off guard and surprises you at the same time.
Whether you are young or old, you are not perfect. As you watch each character move in their individual and self-effacing world, there underlies a sense of troubling nature which has made life for all of them either unbearable or intolerable. It's up to us to recognize just what is bothering some of us and the director hopes you will get the film's message: it's time to start reaching out and trying to help. It doesn't take much to offer it, and it comes easier than you might think. You don't need to be a millionaire to possess the inner qualities of simply caring and recognize who we are as individuals of society who can make life for whomever a little brighter.
Ann Gilbert plays Andra, a 91-year-old elderly person who feels lonely but no one else sees it. Her next door neighbours, Kate and Alex can't wait for her to die so they can rent her apartment. They put up with her sharp tongue because they think old people act that way.
For a similar reason in another scene a man holds a cup, they think he is automatically poor. There is no thought of understanding who he really is as a person who needs help.
Oliver Platt, the only male plays Alex, who wants a facial because it might make him appear younger. Worried more about his vanity, it is his own lack of self-esteem that has made him another social embarrassment. His daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele) from his marriage to Kate (Catherine Keener) has a major skin problem that goes unnoticed except that it's a kid's problem. Both Kate and Alex want to sell Andra's furniture in their antique furniture store. In a later scene, they both haggle a selling price with a buyer.
Hofcener is careful not to let her dialogue wear too thin and it helps move the pace of the story by contributing to your enjoyment. Each character succeeds in gaining your empathy along the wayand you may find yourself laughing with aome of the situations created by her close examination of people in general. It becomes an exercise in believing the truth about ourselves because the actors on screen can be identified as real people, too. Their situations are dead on. You may even recognize a part of yourself as you sit back and laugh or smile.
Please Give is similar in tone and meaning to such Frank Capra films as Mr.Deeds Goes To Town (1936), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
and Meet John Doe (1941). Without analyzing them too much, it is the characters that make you believe in each of the film's faith and hope in people. This conversion motif applies to Please Give on a rudimentary level. However, even in Capra's time there were cynics and unbelievers which means only those who have mattered to someone else will understand what it is to be a Good Samaritan. Idealistically speaking notwithstanding, in making our choices to enrich another's life is important at the outset and it is through these moments of satisfaction we can learn about ourselves as human beings.
Abby, at the end of Please Give, makes it all worthwhile for both the giver and receiver. It is this Hofcener wants to instil on anyone who wants to believe in our ability to tell the truth andd reveal the good in all of us. We don't have to grow old and be a curmudgeon like Andra who saw herself fading slowly away like a shrivelled up flower each birthday. We can all make a difference as Capra has since proven and do ourselves a favour for a change.
It is rated 14A, with the warnings: coarse language and sexual content
June 18, 2010
Copyright Rick Jackson 2010
Friday, June 18, 2010
Based on a true story, Mao's Last Dancer is a triumphant story of love over politics, and the incredible life of a Chinese exchange student named Lee Cunxin who arrives in Houston, Texas and decides to defect. This Australian film is set in the middle of the Cultural Revolution in China and the United States in 1981. Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies) directs with an effective hand in transporting you to a time when an inspiring story about Cunxin, a peasant boy in China was taken from his parents (Joan Chen, Wang Shuang) to be trained as a ballet dancer. Told in flashback when Li is an adult, you learn about Chinese tradition and how strict and protective the Chinese government was in making sure their students remained loyal to the Communist cause. The dance sequences are rousing to watch, even if they are not as detailed like they were in White Nights (1985).
Using Cunxin's autobiography, screenwriter Jan Sardi captures the ambitious elements of western culture and compares them to the disapproval of the Chinese Communist Party in an underlying series of events that do not detract from the actual story. Li's political kidnapping in the second half starts off a firestorm of controversy around the world and changes the quiet and subdued tone of the film's first half.
As you watch Li grow up under the tutelage of Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood), he learns the importance of ballet's form and execution built around the concept of believing in yourself enough to relate the balletic movements as if you were flying in the air. You later see Li's famous dance on the Houston Ballet's biggest night, and the result is a soaring display of a two-tier finale that is really moving.
Greenwood's positive portrayal in the art of dance contributes to the plot's authenticity as a complete marriage of politics and dance and to his credit, Sardi doesn't allow one to outshine the other so you can enjoy the dance sequences without them being ruined by the undercurrent of political upheavals from the Chinese government. The emotional climax is almost guaranteed to bring you to your feet like the conclusion of White Nights.
Chinese-born dancer Chi Cao is outstanding as the adult Cunxinwhose training in the Birmingham Ballet has made his entire performance uplifting. He also succeeds in transcending the simplicity of the story's essential elements by his professional attitude and individual striking portrayal that resonates in every scene he's in. The quiet and undeclaring demeanor of his delivery strikes with such emotional impact it remains indelible in the memory.
The consequences of Li's defection are symbolized in his dreams that appear so real you believe it is all a continuation in a subplot. You remain rivetted to your seat as you watch the conclusion play out in such a compelling manner, you are left wondering ehat is there left to tell.
The supporting cast features an exemplary performance from Amanda Schull as Elizabeth, the American ballerina. She impresses you with her balletic acumen and as you watch her fall in love with Cunxin, it all makes sense. She and Cao make a perfect couple. When it is shaken by an abrupt predictable twist it only reinforces the movie's overall satisfaction when the series of events draws you closer to the two actors amid the media whirlwind that finds them caught in the middle of American propaganda against a test of wills by the Chinese government.
In other roles, Kyle MacLachlan plays Texan lawyer Charles Foster, and Huang Wen Bin is Li as a boy.
Complemented by Christopher Gordon's music score and Graeme Murphy's choreography, Mao's Last Dancer is one of the best films of the year. It is rated PG/Parental Guidance.
June 13, 2010
Copyright Rick Jackson 2010
Monday, June 14, 2010
Idealism clashes with reality in the Canadian satirical comedy, The Trotsky. Jay Baruchel gives a winning performance as Leon Bronstein from the first moment he is introduced. What is even more hilarious is his comic timing which helps you enjoy every moment the camera is on him as he pretends to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. If he were a secondary character he would ordinarily be annoying. He actually succeeds in gaining your empathy and after a while you believe he is him.
Writer/director Jacob Tierney infuses the film with a bold, inventive edge that is sure to please the most erudite moviegoers.
An excellent supporting cast bolsters any apparent flaws in the plot which, at times, wears a bit thin. However, you can overlook this and still appreciate the on screen antics.
It all begins with Leon helping to organize a hunger strike at his father's factory. It all leads to the requisite father-son talks about the son's life and seamingly endless push for the father to impress on Leon a sense of maturity only growing up can cure.
Saul Rubinek looks quite different with a beard and, thankfully, he is not the usual wiseacre he has been in previous roles. His avuncular approach helps you understand the familial underpinnings without dragging the story down with a lot of political mumbo jumbo. He manages to be quite convincing when he uses parallels between his son and the real Trotsky, such as his first wife and his relationship with his father.
As the story develops, you meet Mr. Berkoff, the principal of the school where Leon attends. He is well played by veteran Canadian actor Colm Feore, who adds another strong role to a distinguished career that goes back to the 1980s, notably The 32 Films of Glenn Gould.
In The Trotsky he speaks as the voice of authority which Leon refuses to listen and, like the 1940s title character, challenges him by taking on the Establishment.
How Baruchel slowly ignites controversy is a testament to the story'smain character as a mover and shaker, and Tierney's ability to make full use of satire to convey the masses as a motif addressing the need to fix social injustice. It is accomplished without banging you over the head.
Genevieve Bujold is triumphant as Denise Archambault whose tongue is as sharp as her wit in dealing with Michael Murphy's legal efforts to stand up for Leon's cause for the school to organize a union.
Emily Hampshire is well cast as Alexandra. Her temerity and outspokeness adds much to the plot's strengths as an explosive comedy of indirect proportions. Her charm and ceaseless beauty attracts Leon and as you.too, become enamoured by her razor sharp attitude toward thoughts of going out with a stranger, it is her strong performance that generates welcome laughter.
What is remarkable about this film is its homage to the 1925 silent classic, The Battleship Potemkin every time Leon dreams he is a baby in a carriage which is about to go down some steps. In the fourth section of Potemkin a baby carriage goes down the Odessa steps in what remains one of the top sequences ever studied in world cinema. Director Brian De Palma also paid homage in The Untouchables (1987).
A reference to the Moscow Radio Chorus in Reds (1982) can be heard on the soundtrack, and the general protest with Bujold there is mention of Norma Rae (3979).
All of this will spark memories for movie buffs and it ensures you are paying attention to Baruchel's commanding role. By film's end he proves to be a worthy adversary against the capitalist system. When the school's local bitch (Domini Blythe) descends on students who don't follow the codes of conduct and dress, it adds fuel to Leon's determined efforts.
A vibrant music score and bright colours enhance the overall production by making it all move at a good pace.
The Trotsky is brilliant in its own way of conveying the rebellious nuances of the plot and it succeeds at being funny in its delivery. I loved every minute.
It is rated 14A, with the warnings: coarse language and substance abuse.
June 11, 2010
Copyright Rick Jackson 2010
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Magic, myth and storytelling are the order of the day in director Mike Newell's Prince of Persia:The Sands of Time. A distinguished cast brings the popular video game series to life: Jake Gylenhaal plays Prince Dastan as the dashing hero who saves the world from the evil Nazam (Ben Kingsley), while the lovely Gemma Arterton adds spunk with her strong supporting role as Princess Tamina. The special and visual effects teams have made the film a fun-filled experience to sit through, including some action sequences that will rivet you to your seat.
For those of you not familiar to the story, it focuses on the possession of a valuable dagger capable of turning back time to change events and, possibly,history. When Nizam shows interest in it, it is up to the Prince and Tamina to stop him.
Kingsley is formidable in his role, despite prior knowledge that he is the requisite villain. His serious approach conveys the alacrity and substance of a revered figure who stands out easily as a presence to be reckoned. His manner of speech and quiet demeanor speak volumes as he moves effortlessly from scene to scene as if he was born for the part.
The rest of the cast keeps you glued to the screen as the plot weaves through its simply told elements of murder, treachery and betrayal reminiscent of two other key movies in the Cinema of the Fantastic: The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves (1944).
Under Newell's capable direction , the film is well paced. It is also an adventure unafraid to show off its sparkle and wit. The chemistry between Arterton and Gylenhaal allows for romance to satisfy movie fans who like a change of pace. Their scenes also provide welcome brevity and innocence pure as driven snow.
Anyone expecting something else from Prince of Persia will be guilty of not appreciating what it all delivers on its appeal of being a well told adult fairy tale with a rollicking spirit in a smashing introduction to what you hope will be another successful Hollywood franchise.
It is rated PG/Parental Guidance, with the warnings: violence and gory scenes.
May 30, 2010
Copyright Rick Jackson 2010