Thursday, January 27, 2011
The passion and fire of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake underscores the main character of Nina, a principal dancer with a ballet company. Natalie Portman excels in a demanding role that finally shows her mettle as an actress. Moviegoers will be surprised by her tenacity and determination to play someone who is part of an endless struggle inside her because she battles with scratching and eating disorders, her domineering mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) and Thomas, an autocratic stage manager who is desperate enough to do anything to ensure his production of Swan Lake is perfect.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose credits include Requiem For A Dream and The Wrestler, continues his obsession with perfection as seen through the eyes of Nina in Black Swan and the demands she places on herself, including the psychological effects where the challenges along the way become an acid test for acceptance.
Portman brings to her a quality of understanding that, on the surface, is easy to understand. She also excites raw emotions that are dead on in assessing her mental state as a ballerina which, in this case, she must work hard if she is to prove she can do it.
As you watch Nina react under Thomas' unrelenting push to perform she must cope with a lot of stress. At one point, she is on the brink of madness andalmost loses her mind.
Clint Mansell's music score evokes the requisite strains of classical music to interpret her many moods from her violent hallucinations to the close up shots of the casualties of obsession, such as bruised feet and the expressions of hurt and determination. The screen erupts in a volcanic display of consuming fascination between prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder) and Nina as they become friends and later adversaries as they each try to pleaseThomas.
Mila Kunis is perfectly cast as the Black Swan who is Nina's main competition. There exists the same kind of emotional state that Jennifer Connelly faced in Requiem when her innocence and charm gave way to an equally desperate situation.
Portman's Nina descends into a sense of hopelessness that finds redemption within her own mind's deviation from reality when it comes back and she hears a voice or sound emanating closeby. She appears to as if she has lost hermind when she is revealing more her gut feeling in a situation that has made her fear for her life as a result of her intense performance to act on stage which is further enhanced by the exhilaration of the movie's soundtrack.
It is interesting to watch both Nina and Portman mature before your eyes at the same time and the conviction she conveys contributes to her overall role as a convincing ballerina. Nina becomes an extension of the actress.
Aronofsky's latest deals more with the fears and obsessions to succeed on stage than he is in trying to make a film about the ballet. It rings a familiar and triumphant note which can be better appreciated by looking at the film in its entirety as a major achievement on the silver screen.
It is rated 14A, with the warnings: coarse language, sexual content, and disturbing content.
January 16, 2011
Copyright Rick Jackson 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
The King's Speech reaffirms the position of British Cinema as an international source for making films that continue to be enjoyed by the most discreet moviegoers.
Tom Hooper directs this engaging and exciting film set in London, England during one of its most colourful eras when radio was the medium in which you heard a royal monarch speak. Newsreels also became popular, like they did in North America, to inform the public of what was going on in the world, in particular, Germany where Adolf Hitler was planning to invade Poland. History buffs will appreciate not just the acting but the historical events that shape the simple story into one of the year's biggest movie events.
Beginning in 1925, you are introduced to the Duke of York (Colin Firth) who is about to declare open the British Empire Exhibition. He begins to stammer when he opens his mouth. At this very moment British history becomes terribly interesting with the controversy over King Edward VIII's relationship with Wallis Simpson and the abdication of the throne by Edward which paves the way for the Duke of York to become King George VI or "Bertie."
His wife, Elizabeth (The Queen Mother)(Helena Bonham Carter) is faced with his fear of speaking in public because of his stammer. To help resolve the problem, she hires speech therapist Lionel Logue(Geoffrey Rush in an outstanding supporting role). His respect for the future king of England creates some amusing scenes that are more enjoyable thanks to the comic timing of both actors.
In his screenplay, David Seidler use of humour adds to the skeletal framework of royalty in the 1920s and 1930s. The early scenes between the Duke and Logue establish the beginning of a long friendship that remained until they both died.
Based on a true story, Hooper skilfully directs each scene with authority and it is through Firth and Rush's impeccable acting that the screen benefits by their distinguished performances in making British history come alive.
Rush especially imbues Logue like a man at the top of his class. Unable to become a successful actor despite his expertise in linguistics, there is an uncommon quality that allows him to rise above his station in life to help a British royal overcome his speech impediment.
At first, the Duke of York is reluctant to allow him to be addressed by his nickname, and Rush slowly earns his respect as a teacher/mentor when he learns how well he is overcoming his stammer. Feel free to laugh when Logue suggests to His Royal Highness to swear in order to help him. He even asks him to sing and use profanity which other moviegoers found quite funny.
In the second half right up to the conclusion, you actually enjoy their conversations and wisdom they both impart along the way as two men of experience. Sometimes what they say is less important and more relevant because it contributes to the common ground that embraces their friendship as it grows.
Guy Pearce is well cast as King Edward VIII and Eve Best is his wife, Wallis Simpson. They add more impact from a historical perpsective.
The rest of the cast features Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, Derek Jacobi as the archbishop, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary and Michael Gambon as King George V.
What ties the film together is King George VI's address to the people of Great Britain when the country goes to war to stop Adolf Hitler. Besides the obvious, the film's title reminds you of the importance radio had at the time.
It is interesting to learn that the real Queen Mother refused to allow it to be made because it brought back a painful reminder of the past. It was not until after she died in 2002 that Seidler began work on the screenplay with the blessing of Logue's son, Valentine.
The film was made a few miles away from where Valentine's nephew lived. He also helped provide the diary Logue kept in addition to pictures, clippings, and copies of the speeches in which Logue marked for King George VI to read. If you look closely you will be able to see the red marks Logue made.
The King's Speech bears a distinctive stamp as a significant film that will be remembered along with the more recent The Queen, starring Helen Mirren.
It is rated PG, with the warnings: mature theme and language may offend.
January 16, 2011
Copyright Rick Jackson 2011
Season of the Witch is, in spirit, the kind of movie they used to make when Universal Pictures put out horror film after horror film in the 1940s. Other studios contributed to the genre and by the the 1950s they became known as "B" movies.
The title of director Dominic Sena's latest is a misnomer because you realize there isn't a season of the witch perhaps, because, it was left on the cutting room floor. It's hard to believe he was inspired by Ingmar Bergman's 1957 classic, The Seventh Seal, in which a knight returned from the Crusades to fight Death.
The death in Season of the Witch is the plague and, apparently, it is responsible for the witches you see which are not a lot.
Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are the knights Behmen and Felson, who return from many years of battles which are summarized in an exhaustive and tedious montage which shows off their masculinity and strength which you already know to begin with. The battles last longer than the plague itself.
What happens next is an incredible and ridiculous plot turn when they agree to escort a priest and a young girl (Claire Foy) who is possessed to a monastery where an incantation from a special book can save the girl.
In an attempt to bring some distinction to the film, Christopher Lee is Cardinal D'Ambroise. You can hardly recognize him which doesn't matter for he doesn't contribute anything substantial and, sadly, his appearance is wasted along with the entire plot.
It's a good thing the film is only 95 minutes long which means you don't have to suffer through the familiar climax which Hollywood has repeated too often.
Season Of The Witch has the requisite special effects to try and hold your interest, but they are old hat.
Here is a matinee that fails to entertain a mass audience to any degree of satisfaction.
It is rated 14A, with the warning: violence.
January 9, 2011
Copyright Rick Jackson 2011
In the hands of writer/director Julie Taymor(Frida), William Shakespeare's The Tempest is an artistic triumph. The themes of art and nature are explored deftly and powerfully. Unlike Paul Mazursky's more modern version in 1982, she sticks to the actual play that speaks volumes about the two main themes which can still be appreciated today when studying Shakespeare. Although Taymor has changed the sex of Prospero (man) to Prospera (woman), there still exists the magic of of the character as a magician whose powers demonstrate the simplicity of the supernatural and combining the intellect and power from the formidable witch of Sycorax who was expelled from her husband's kingdom and exiled to a Mediterranean island where she unleashed her wrath by reducing men to beasts as a force of nature. Prospera rids the world of evil by interjecting her methods of persuasion through her understanding of human nature and the qualities humans possess in learning and breeding. She symbolizes art, while another character, Caliban, represents nature. Shakespeare compares both worlds to discuss how man is measured as a human being.
In the play, Prospera, the exiled Duke of Milan, represents how much he controls the world man lives in. Man sees himself as a savage borne out of slavery and because of this, through the character of the primitive or, if you like, Aboriginal, Caliban embraces and helps you understand art, nature, and civility which is different from two other key characters, Prospero's brotherAntonio's malice and Alonso's guilt when compared to man's ambition and lust for control.
The shipwreck at the beginning represents the conflict between nature and art when the Prospera(in the film) uses her magic to take control when the threatening sea forces the shipmates to live on the island where they must fend for themselves against nature similar to the New World when it was being discovered.
Shakespeare had read about the New World before he sat down and wrote The Tempest.
Left alone on the island, the colonists had to learn to adapt by applying what they knew from the knowledge they brought with them.
Djimon Hounsou plays Caliban with the same "brute understanding" that some Shakespearean critics have described him. Presented as a black person he is symbolic of the slaves who came to America to settle in the New World where blacks were treated like savages similar in attitude by the colonists toward the Indians who already lived there.Scribner's is one source who described Caliban as an American Indian in Elizabethan England.
Helen Mirren plays Prospera as more ferocious than the modern Prospero played by John Cassavetes in Mazursky's film.
Felicity Jones plays her daughter Miranda with utter innocence and purity as if she were an angel on earth.
Ariel, the spirit (Ben Whishaw) is androdgynous so he can fit into the magic of the play which makes it come alive in Taymor's vivid interpretation. Just like in the film, he is clearly visible to the moviegoer like he was by the audience who saw the play when it was performed live on stage.
He serves Prospera who is to blame for the storm that causes the shipwreck Shakespeare calls a trick of desperation in Act 1, Scene 2.
In the same act, Caliban doesn't want to be disturbed on the island so he puts a curse on the new inhabitants: "Thou shalt have cramps, side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins shall, for that vast night that they may work, all exercise on thee; thou shalt be pinch'd thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging than bees that made 'em." It is after this speech that you learn Sycorax is Caliban's mother.
The rest of the cast features Alan Cumming as Sebastian, King Alonso's brother, Tom Conti as Gonzalo, an honest councillor, David Strathairn as King Alonso, and Russell Brand and Alfred Molina as two seafarers who, in an uproarious sequence, persuade Caliban to join them in getting drunk.
The exterior scenes were filmed on the island of Hawaii and they contribute to the exceeding amount of entertainment the ensemble cast delivers with each line which,after a while, you get used to quite easily.
Like other screen adaptations of Shakespeare plays, notably The Merchant of Venice (2004) starring Al Pacino, Much Ado About Nothing (1993) with Denzel Washington, and Hamlet (1990) with Mel Gibson, The Tempest joins such classic films as Laurence Olivier's 1948 version of Hamlet and his exceptional Henry V (1945).
It is rated PG/Parental Guidance.
January 15, 2011
Copyright Rick Jackson 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
With director Julie Taymor's new adaptation of The Tempest opening in Kingston, Ontario at The Screening Room, I am reminded of an earlier film which I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival where it made its Canadian premiere on September 15, 1982. Here is what I said in The Heritage, a now defunct weeky Kingston newspaper.
John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands lead a fine cast in Paul Mazursky's The Tempest. Loosely based on William Shakespeare's play The Tempest, it is the director's best film since An Unmarried Woman in 1978.
Don McAlpine's photography, Stomu Yamashita's music score and the exotic locations of Greece and Rome stand out.
With a running time of almost two-and-a-half hours, it moves at a steady pace. As you are introduced to each character, you learn via flashbacks about them: Philip, a modernProspero is brilliantly played by Cassavetes who is caught in a mid-life crisis. He wants to quit his job and leave his wife so he can have more time to think. You first see him on the beautiful Aegean isle with his teenaged daughter Miranda.
Rowlands plays Philip's wife Antonia, who falls in love with Alonzo (Vittorio Gassman), a powerful tycoon and owner of the Atlantic City hotel and casino Philip is hoping to build. Her role is less demanding than Cassavetes and quite touching by film's end.
The supporting cast features Molly Ringwald as Miranda, and Raul Julia as Kalibanos. In one of the movie's finest moments, he plays his pipe, a clarinet, for his goats while you listen to Liza Minnelli's rendition of New York, New York on the soundtrack.
One character worth watching is Aretha, the nightclub singer played by Susan Sarandon. She joins Philip and Miranda on the island, and is the only person who holds the film together. Her bright and witty performance should give her an Oscar nomination next year. She does a wonderful job singing Hava Nagila in Spanish.
Produced and directed by Mazursky, The Tempest does not bore you like he did in Willie and Phil, his tribute to Francois Truffaut's 1961 classic, Jules and Jim. What we see here is a worldly piece of filmmaking by one of Hollywood's more serious, but not always successful, film directors.
A footnote: The Tempest was the surprise favourite and winner of the Labatt's Most Popular Film Award at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
It is rated AA/Adult Accompaniment, with the warning: not recommended for children.
September 15, 1982 in Toronto.
NOTE: Don't forget to check back for my review of the new Tempest.
From Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, comes Waiting For Superman, an eye-opening documentary about the educational system in the United States. In approaching his subject, there is an amazing sense of candor about the inner city children when it comes to which ones will be lucky enough to attend school and get the right education to prepare them for life and have a greater chance of being more successful than their parents.
As one mother points out, all shis is what wants for her child. Education is equally important as eating well and it is a common thread throughout the film.
As you watch students being picked by a lottery, you know there is a certain injustice to this method and it all brings to the individual moviegoer a cry of empathy and hope for the poor. Just look at the faces of the parents and children as you watch the seeds of utter despair fill the screen and the utter helplessness they must feel combinedwith their disappointment.
In their screenplay, Guggenheim and Billy Kimball address the issue of poverty in a dysfunctional system of education that needs to be fixed. For you know right from the beginning how a poor education will affect not only those who need a good education, but, more importantly, there is the more rippling range of effects related to the economy and country for a generation of shool children who will not be prepared and, consequently, not be ready to live a quality of life which has been denied to them because they weren't born rich.
Guggenheim first touched on education in the documentary, The First Year, which focused on new teachers struggling to adjust to the challenges of classroom life. From this experience he learned how broken the public school system was and only until after driving his own three kids to school did he consider looking at the influence and energy needed to make a difference in a child's education. Inspired by an article in The New York Times about the way children were chosen by a lottery, he wanted to explore how it affected someone's life. He used the lottery as a metaphor to get this point across. There lay an embattled sense of powerlessness among the kids in the blighted neighbourhoods in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, California, the Bronx and Harlem, New York and one middle class teenager in a wealthy San Francisco suburb.
The key figure of hope lies with the charismatic Geoffrey Canada who changed Harlem into a community of revitalization. He remains after he is introduced as a sign of hope, someone who has the ability to persuade to persuade the movers and shakers in the United States to give all kids from every class a chance to see their dreams come true.
His dialogue is concise and accurate in addressing the problems faced and he doesn't pretend when it comes down to the actual realties students, parents, and communities must deal with in resolving the problems within the educational system. Canada's honesty and determination to fight for a better tomorrow for America's children remains an issue central for him.
One gets a sense watching him that more teachers should come forward to deal with the problems of education because there isn't any single resolution. This is abundantly clear.
Unlike Superman who could save the day, there needs to be more focus by both men and women at every level of government to share in Canada's strong will and determination to be a more positive force if today's children are going to get the education they must receive.
It is rated G, which means everyone can see it.
January 8, 2011
Copyright Rick Jackson 2011
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Stone is a powerful and low key film about the powers of seduction. Both Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton give one of the best performances of their careers. The former plays parole officer Jack Mabry who is assigned the case of the latter, prisoner Gerald Creeson who thinks he can persuade Jack to give him parole. As you watch him you can tell he is up to something but aren't entirely sure until later when you realize he is manipulating Jack's emotions by tapping into his psyche. It is altogether innocent and devious and it gives Norton a chance to play a meaty part.
When Gerald's wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) appears she literally seduces Jack which he likes because his wife Madlyn (Frances Conroy) has stopped having sex with him at home. It is Mabry's sexual repression that drives Norton's character to work on his snappy dialogue and psychological stature as a criminal who believes he deserves to be paroled. It is interesting how DeNiro allows you to think Jack is going to fall for all of this.
Director Jack Curran makes effective use of closeups and long shots to gauge the reactions and motivations of the three main characters and you are easily absorbed in the moral complexities of wrong and right as they are presented. Nothing is clear cut in Jack's latest case which is slowly getting to him personally. It is through dramatic irony at first you realize this and you wonder for a while if Creeson and Lucetta are deliberately conning Jack or not.
The essential points of understanding DeNiro and Norton are in the director's capable hands and, unlike the gangster films of the 1930s and 1940s which pitted one against the other, the key reason to keep watching Stone is to patiently wait to see how both actors react physically and emotionally and it requires your undivided attention.
More than once it is consistently pointed out that it is DeNiro's duty versus Norton's conscience that underlies the main thrust of the overall seduction that unfolds with utter normalcy on the surface but not without some fear on both sides. It is after Jack decides to make his decision that screenwriter Angus McLachlan's focus is to keep you thinking continuously when the two are victims in a role reversal. What Curran has done is manipulate you, the moviegoer, into believing this is going to end the way you think it should and this peaks your interest. However, you have to accept the one Curran ultimately leaves.
It is rated 18A, with the warnings: coarse language, nudity and sexual content.
January 2, 2011
Copyright Rick Jackson 2011
Like Prince Caspian (2008), Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, the third adaptation from the novels by C.S. Lewis, fails to live up to what I said on December 17, 2005 in my review of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe as a film filled with magic, awe, wonder, and sheer fun and excitement. Still, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a fitting finale of the first trilogy of Narnia tales even if it is terribly predictable and exciting on some level to be enjoyed. Shot in 3D, it's too bad there aren't enough sequences to make it worthwhile to wear the glasses. It should have been left in 2D like the other two films.
Directed by Michael Apted and filmed on location in Queensland, Australia, there is the opportunity to, at least, believe in stories coming to life like it does when the painting of an ocean suddenly appears real when the waves begin to approach the Provensie children and from that moment on their third screen adventure in the land of Narnia begins. It returns them to the same alternate universe that has captured your imagination with increasing curiosity as if you are reading Lewis' books for the first time. It is truly a magical experience to be whisked away by someone else's imagination on this journey aboard the Dawn Treader. You soon learn that Narnia has been threatened by the dark forces emanating from Dark Island and its deadly mist which has swallowed up anyone in its path. I was reminded of Stephen King's The Mist. However, this is not a horror film so the younger set who line up to see this film with their parents can be thrilled by this harmless piece of entertainment.
Lucy (Georgie Henley), her brother Edmund (Skandar Kaynes)and Eustace (Will Poulter) are again silent when they should be asking what is really going on. Much of the dialogue comes from a rat named Peepicheep (the voice of Simon Pegg) and it is this character who helps fill in the gaps of the story while you wait to see what happens next. For continuity sake, screenwriters Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Pretoni are wise to include Prince Caspian who was introduced in the titular title of the series.
The first chapter of The Voyage of The Dawn Treader is The Picture In The Bedroom. Like all adaptations there have been changes made, notably the ending of the book. It is reasonable to conclude that they, perhaps, decided not to do all seven Narnia books and it makes sense to end it the way it does.
As you watch the Provensie children become involved they learn they must find all seven swords of the lords of Telmar if they are to save Narnia. Without them the spell that has changed the land and its people cannot be broken. Most importantly, they must hurry for the evil is getting stronger and may strike a deadly blow at any time and this would render it impossible to return Narnia to its former glory.
This is the main part of the plot that holds your interest and there are certain dangers ahead as the children get closer to the island which, from a distance, is a foreboding presence complete with skeleton eyes.
The main weakness in this screen treatment is its dependency on special effects. The battles are not spectacular enough, even in 3D.
Liam Neeson is back as the voice of Aslan but his appearance isn't anything nearly as special.
Also reprising their roles are Ben Barnes as Caspian and Tilda Swinton as The White Witch.
The Voyage of The Dawn Treader manages to maintain your interest long enough to see how it ends. The spirit of the adventure remains a hollow shell compared to the other two films, although I wasn't impressed with Prince Caspian either.
Time will tell if the box office warrants the other Narnia books to be transferred to the big screen. This includes The Magician's Nephew (published in 1955) which Lewis started as another beginning of the Narnia saga which he originally did in 1950 with The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Prince Caspian came out in 1951, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 1952.
This latest film adaptation in the Chronicles of Narnia is rated PG/Parental Guidance, with the warning: some scary scenes.
December 29, 1010
Copyright Rick Jackson 2011