Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I'll be honest. When this came out at the theater I was not that interested. Sure, the little girl from the Piano was a great actress but it just didnt look all that good to me. A girl with some geese. But oh my, it is so much more than that!

The story is actually kind of human interest story since it deals with loss, love, and loyalty in addtion to the aforementioned geese. Caroll Ballard is a master at this type of movie. Even though his films are few and far between, they almost always strike a chord with me. Usually the plot revolves around a child who has lost a parent or loved one and ends up forming a deep attachment to some member of the animal kingdom. The odd thing is, this formula has worked so well on at least three occasions. The Black Stallion is a classic. Duma is absolutely gorgeous. And this one works too. It works so beautifully!

Jeff Daniels portrays Tom Alden, a somewhat eccentric metal sculptor/inventor living in Canada with his daughter, Amy-a thirteen year old child w/ whom he has little relationship. Amy was thrust upon him unexpectedly when his ex-wife dies in a car accident and due to their long estrangement, father and daughter know little of each other. While Amy attempts to get used to her father's odd whims and hobbies, Tom continues to find ways to side-step his responsibilities as a single parent. Amy's discovery of a flock of baby geese leads to their eventual reconciliation however, as the two attempt to 'teach' the geese to migrate south following Ultra Lite aircraft.

One of the things that makes this movie so brilliant is the direction itself. Ballard's direction is soothing and precise, using wonderfully placed closeups of Amy and the birds throughout the movie that serve to draw the viewer into their relationship. The scene in which Amy first discovers that the eggs have hatched is moving and sweet. In addition, there are gorgeous views of the Canadian and Eastern American countryside that rival any I've ever seen. Never should a movie lag or meander over moments of dialogue, especially when such spectacular vistas are there for the taking. And Ballard's camera takes full advantage of that fact. But the dialogue that remains is very well done, focusing as it does on Tom and Amy's relationship as well as the developement of a few side characters that become integral to the plot. Terry Kinney, as Tom's brother David, is especially important and adds a few comical moments to the pace of the story.

Acting by Paquin and Daniels is low-key, understated, and very solid. Amy is understandably grieved at the loss of her mother and therefore shuns, at first, the society of her father but the insinuation of their eventual familial relationship is very believeable and touching. Though the plot revolves around Amy and her geese, we never get the impression that she lacks support from her father and indeed he is the one who teaches her to fly. The moments of quiet that make up the meat of the movie are deliberate and consistent but always intriguing. A couple of scenes almost descend into schmaltz and there are a may be a corny line or two but these are almost not worth mentioning.

I think this movie is an absolute gem. There are scenes in it that will always render me misty-eyed and I will always feel warm after watching it. As a family film, it is hard to beat but even as an adult it can be watched again and again w/ out that liscensing child.

My rating: 9/10

Thursday, November 09, 2006

LE COMTE DE MONTE CHRISTO (french miniseries 1998)

The useful thing I took away from watching this film was this: some novels just do not translate well to the screen. I recently read the book, The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas for the first time. At just under 1500 pages, it is a brick of a book. But as far as a rewarding read goes, this one places close to the top of the list. As Robert Louis Stevenson was quoted to have said, 'it is an piece of perfect story-telling from beginning to end'. The development of the characters, the evolution of Edmond Dantes and his plot for revenge, the romance, and the thrilling political intrigue are all elements that make for an absolute delight of a novel. After reading it, I had that warm feeling in my chest that makes me kiss the book I've finished like I'm bidding farewell to a cherished friend. The end was satisfying but still, even after 1500 pages, I wanted more.

The story is well known. Edmont Dantes, at promising lad of nineteen, is wrongly accused of Bonapartism by the three men most likely to prosper upon his imprisonment. After escaping prison and obtaining a vast treasure (upon the admonition of a former prison-mate), he begins the long and arduous process of making his enemies pay. His scheme for revenge crosses years and travels over whole continents in its culmination. In the end, we are left w/ the same question that Edmond himself must ask, 'Can a person who has devoted their life to revenge, live for anything else?'

The story has been brought to the screen, both big and small, on several occasions. I've seen three of them (and plan to see the fourth when it releases to dvd) with mixed feelings. The 1975 tv version of the film, starring RIchard Chamberlain as Dantes (and co-starring Tony Curtis, Kate Nelligan, and Louis Jordan) is fabulous on its own. It is pretty close to the book and extremely well executed. However, after reading the book, I realize that the movie's 119 min run-time does not allow for the developement of key elements of the story and that is dissapointing. The 2002 cinematic endeavor is an wildly entertaining swashbuckler of a movie, when you don't compare it to the book. Jim Caviezel is a gorgeous Dantes and Guy Pierce a formidable foe as Mondego. Newcomer Dagmara Dominczyk is a stunningly beautiful Mercedes and Kevin Reynold's direction is engaging. Fans of the book, however, will be horribly dissapointed in the 'adaptation'. Huge liberties were taken w/ the timeline and the story that almost make the word 'adaptation' ludicrous.

The 1998 mini-series made for french television was very intriguing for me, at first glance. It was very long which meant that important aspects of the story that were bypassed for the sake of time by the other versions, could finally be addressed. But I must admit I was also very turned off by the casting of Gerard Depardieu as Dantes. Physically, he is completely wrong for Dantes who was often mistaken for Middle Eastern royalty and who throughout the book, is incessantly referred to as a man with long black hair and a lean physique. But, watch it I did.

I was right, by the way. Depardieu, great actor that he is, was NOT a good choice for Edmond Dantes. He seems blunt and clumsy due to his size, not the lithe and athletic hero of the book at all. The opening scenes of the film, thankfully, did not attempt to pass Gerard off as nineteen and the much younger Gillaume Depardieu (Gerard's son), who is infinitely better looking than his father, did the honors. He does fine but so little time is devoted to these early scenes that it is severely off-putting. One of the great aspects of the novel is the time taken to involve us in Dantes' early life, his blissfull happiness and successful career. These scenes along with Edmond's damning accusation and time in prison as well as his relationship w/ The Abbe of Faria are almost completely passed over, assumably to devote more time to the enactment of revenge. Unfortunately, without these particular points that draw us close to Edmond and his degeneration (or ascendance) into the executor of judgement on his enemies, the story loses much. With over 400 minutes of run-time and only about 20 of those devoted to the imprisonment and escape of the title character, I expected great things from the rest of the movie's deliberate handling of the tale. But again, from the moment Dantes escapes prison, great liberties are taken that change the whole momentum of the original story.

Some very odd things are handling accurately, almost to a fault. The conversations between The Abbe and Caderousse are almost identical to the novel, where they could have been cut entirely. The relationship between Valentine and Morrel is addressed in this version only and that is a blessing since it is one of the great things about the novel, throwing as it does, such a wrench into Dante's inner-workings. The murderous vendetta held by the new Mrs Villefort is also included although it doesnt translate as stunningly to screen as it does via written word.

But such strange changes were made to the story as well...pointless ones. Benedetto had an snip of a role that was completely out of keeping w/ his pompous character in the book. A lusty love interest was introduced into the story for Dantes that was just ludicrous since his love for Mercedes was a blinding force behind his actions in the book. His eventual transfer of his affections to Haydee was also ignored in this adaptation, for reasons unknown. The public pronunciations against Villefort, Danglars, and Morcerf were extremely faithful to the book but such was unnecessary since at times and without Dumas' narration, it was just plain tedious. The pirates, Albert, and meetings w/ Mercedes were also very sketchy and full of liberties.

Acting was fine by the leads. I was impressed by Depardieu, miscast as he was, because he did seem to feel his interpretation of Dantes and his performance was moving. Stanislas Merhar as Albert was also a pretty picture and he left an impression. The same cannot be said of Julie Depardieu, Gerard's daughter, as Valentine. She retained the same expression thoughout the movie and the inflection of her voice rarely changed. The tortured innocence of Valentine was replaced by a bland paper doll of a girl.

To sum up, I guess there are some works of fiction too great and too large to be successfully brought to the screen. It was dissapointing, especially after seeing the great Jane Eyre production starring Timothy Dalton and it's avid attention to the story, that the same could not be accomplished w/ this book. But it's to be expected, I suppose. A book as long and detailed as this one would be very difficult to visualize completely.

I can say that the Richard Chamberlain version is the best accomplishment in this respect and the Jim Caviezel film is vastly entertaining when not compared to its source material.

But this one was a large-scale dissapointment in most respects.

My rating: 5/10

Monday, November 06, 2006

rated pg-13

Needless to say, when I saw the trailor for this movie I was already in line mentally. You see, those of you who know me are fully aware of my fascination and admiration for Christian Bale. When you add to that my love for director Christopher Nolan ( Batman Begins, Memento, Insomnia) and my abiding adoration for Wolverine (aka Hugh Jackman-heh heh), it was inevitable that I be... well, let's just say excited.

It would have been next to impossible for me to be dissapointed in this movie. I knew that w/ Nolan at the healm and great actors like Michael Caine, Scarlett Johanson, and the two leads to help move the story along-the idea of failure was somewhat laughable. So, I'll just start by saying-yes, it's a great movie.

The story follows a troupe of magicians led by veteran magic-man, Cutter (played perfectly of course by the failsafe of english thespianism, Sir Michael Caine) ,putting on a show for the public that mainly involves slight of hand and escape arts. Two of the young magicians, Alfred Borden and Robert Angier, are especially intent on perfecting their trade. They both know that their current roles as audience 'plants' are only temporary and that their futures are respectively bright. The knowledge leads to tradgedy and a cut-throat rivalry that spans several years as the two men attempt to better each other and become the best at their trade. When Alfred puts an especially fascinating and jaw-dropping trick into his repetoir, Robert goes to obsessive lengths to accomplish it and ultimately find out Alfred's secret. The constant struggle between their professional and personal lives becomes especially evident during the great 'reveal' at the end of the picture.

The acting by both leads was brilliant, but my husband and I both agree that Bale held a slight upper hand. He really does a remarkable job slipping into his character and he never seems to be 'mugging' his way through the dramatic moments like so many other pretty actors we see. Jackman is also fantastic, playing the slightly more 'off-kilter' Angier, a man who is obsessed w/ perfection. He is more debonair than Borden and milks this for all its worth throughout the years of their competition. Scarlett Johansson is also extremely good, making the most of her corsets and cockney accent. Her character is flawed but very loveable always. Rebecca Hall also makes quite an impact as Borden's wife, Sarah.

The direction is incredible, of course. Nolan is a such a great example of a director that doesnt rely on visuals or storytelling alone, or even the strength of his actors. He is able to pull all elements into a harmonious mix that all others can envy. At first, I must admit I was a little confused by the use of flashbacks in the film since they seemed to be so sporadic initially. But then I realized that the multiple flashbacks were simply the pieces of an intricate puzzle and like in Memento, the pieces come together wonderfully during the last 20 minutes of the movie. After it was over, I immediately wanted to go back and watch again, just to see what I'd missed in the construction. It is a great feat in cerebral filmaking-with one heck of a pay-off.

I strongly recommend this movie. There is very little negative I can say. The pg-13 rating is warranted due to some cleavage and a couple of grisly visuals, I suppose but other than that, I found the movie to be wonderfully unoffensive. Enjoy!

My rating: 9/10 Abracadabra!