Monday, December 31, 2007

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

Directed by Julian Schnabel, the film is based on the true story of Elle Magazine editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was paralyzed by a stroke at age 43. Unable to move any part of his body except for his left eye, Bauby learns to communicate through a series of blinking the alphabet. And in doing so, "writes" the book that becomes "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly".

With the help of a translator, Henriette Roi, Bauby manages to communicate his thoughts through a very repetitive process that, while a triumph for him, begins to grate on the viewer. What saves the film, is the imaginative way Mr. Schnabel shows us what is going on in Mr. Bauby's mind. His imagination and memory are the only things that sustain him. The artistic flashbacks and dream sequences that connect all the elements of the film are very well done.

Mathieu Amalric gives an outstanding performance as Bauby. To express oneself though only one eye is remarkable. It's also his witty and emotional voiceover that guides us and allows us an intimate link to the character.

The film is in French with English subtitles.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Orphanage

Goosebumps. You want a ghost story to give you Goosebumps. "The Orphanage" delivers them big time. In an era when "horror" movies are nothing more than torture porn or gory remakes, a film finally reminds us of how to be truly frightened at the movies.

Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, many are calling it this year's "Pan's Labyrinth". Nothing could be further from the truth. That's a marketing ploy that is unnecessary. "The Orphanage" is closer to Del Toro's film, "The Devil's Backbone" or another Spanish ghost story, "The Others". It scares you with atmosphere, implication and anticipation, rather than cheap shocks and gore. Although there is at least one "jump out of your seat" moment that was unnecessary but scary just the same.

The film stars Belen Rueda as Laura, an orphan herself who is adopted in the prologue and then returns to her orphanage 30 years later with her husband and young son, Simon. It is their intention to renovate the place and make it a home for special children.

Know that the film is in Spanish with English subtitles. To say anymore would be spoiling the experience but know that Ms. Rueda gives a tour de force performance as a woman unraveling when the past, literally, comes back to haunt her.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


You know you're watching a film of merit when it unfolds like a good book and you get lost in the story. "Atonement" is adapted from the book of the same name by Ian McEwan. I didn't read the book but I have read others by Mr. McEwan and I can only imagine that the screenplay for "Atonement" faithfully follows the book. Mr. McEwan is a gifted author who writes powerful novels. This is a powerful film.

It is a sweeping story of depth, filled with romance, and devastating drama. There is great chemistry between it's lead actors, Keira knightley and James McAvoy. Saoirse Ronan is a wonder as Ms. Knightley's 13 year old sister who sets the story in motion with one horrible lie.

This is a period film set in England and war torn France in the late 1930's. The cinematography, sets and costumes are all wonderful. There is an amazing single tracking shot on the French beach that is remarkable in it's beauty and horror at the same time.

"Atonement" has already been nominated for many Golden Globe Awards and will surely garner many Oscar nominations as well. It deserves all of them. Once it ends, it will haunt you for days. It will have that kind of impact.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

This film is a strange mix of serious politics and light comedy. Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Mike Nichols, "Charlie Wilson" plays like an episode of "The West Wing". The dialog is fast and furious. Much of the political nature of the film may go over the head of the casual viewer. The story, however, is an amazing one especially when you consider it's based in truth.

Those expecting a light hearted romp with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts will be surprised by the turn of events when Congressman Wilson visits an Afghanistan refugee camp. The sights and sounds will shock the audience just as they do Charlie. It's that turn of events, spurred on by a wealthy Texas socialite (played by Ms. Roberts) that moves Wilson to begin a covert war aiding the Afghan people against the Russians. He is aided in his mission by a unorthodox CIA agent played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who steals every scene. Mr. Hanks exhibits both charm and gravity as Charlie Wilson. He's a terrific actor and both he and Mr. Hoffman are adept at inhabiting their roles.

The story is remarkable and will certainly hold your attention. The ending should anger you, especially if you stop and consider what has happened in Afghanistan since it's liberation from the Russians. The quote that closes the film could not be more haunting.

Monday, December 24, 2007


A sharp script and terrific performances highlight this comedy about a pregnant teenager. The film is intelligent and there is never a false note in the performances.

The film stars Ellen Page as Juno, the 16 year old learning about love and life even as a new life begins to grow inside her. Ms. Page was terrific in "Hard Candy" and and with each new film, she continues to show a maturity beyond her years. "Juno" also stars Michael Cera as "Bleeker", Juno's best friend, responsible for impregnating her. Mr. Cera owns the part of the sweet, awkward teen whether it's "Superbad" or "Arrested Development". No one does it better.

As for the adults in the film, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janey play Juno's understanding dad and caring step-mom. Jennifer Garner and Jason Batemen play a childless couple looking to adopt Juno's baby. The entire cast is just perfect and all show a new side to the type of characters they usually play.

Besides the clever writing, the film also boasts a terrific soundtrack, with original songs provided by Kimya Dawson, of the band "Moldy Peaches". "Juno" captures the language and rhythms of today's teenagers in a very honest way and the music is a perfect compliment to the story.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Savages

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney return to their Indy roots in this intimate film about a brother and sister dealing with their father's failing health.

The film is a cross between the 70's comedy "Where's Poppa" and the drama, "Affliction". A strong screenplay balances the serious subject matter with moments of unexpected comedy. Mr. Hoffman recently received a Golden Globe nomination for his work in this film and while he is excellent as always, the film really belongs to Ms. Linney. Wendy Savage is the more complex role and Linney gives a wonderful performance, balancing a very complicated character. Actually stealing the film out from both of them is the remarkable Phillip Bosco as their father, slipping into dementia yet revealing a hint of sanity that refuses to go.

"The Savages" is an offbeat film, not for everyone but a nice alternative to the holiday blockbusters.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I Am Legend

I am boring.... After an extremely promising start, "Legend" slows to a crawl until the big finish, which frankly, didn't really thrill me.

Will Smith is very good in the lead and almost only role. It's a different Will Smith, more serious, yet emotional and heroic. His German Shepherd companion is an extremely well trained and expressive animal.

The special effects are amazing and really give you a sense of a deserted New York City. The problem is, after the initial "wow" factor, you get used to it pretty quickly and the effect loses it's punch. The same can be said for the night creatures. They are terrifying at first and then just annoying.

There is one really terrific sequence outside Grand Central Station that was truly exciting but Will's loneliness and boredom is so realistic that it carries over to the audience.

The one truly frightening thing about the film is that many doctors believe the premise of the film will actually come to pass. It's not a question of what if, but rather, when.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Into The Wild

Based on the non-fictional bestseller, "Into The Wild" is the story of Chris McCandless, a college graduate who leaves behind a privileged life for one of self discovery and adventure. Sean Penn has adapted the screenplay and directs the film.

Not having read the book, I can offer no comparison and just take the film at its own worth. After graduating, Chris decides to drop out of society and go off on his own journey across America, ultimately to Alaska. He changes his name and ceases any communication with his family. The people he encounters and his own self discovery form the basis of the film, recreated by his journals and the memory of those who knew him.

Visually the film is breathtaking with many of the Western states and Alaska providing the natural background for the story. Songs and music by Eddie Vedder compliment the story perfectly. As Chris, Emile Hirsch does his best work to date, in a physically and emotionally demanding role. The film also stars Hal Holbrook, Vince Vaughn, and Catherine Keener as the people Chris meets and impact his life. In addition, Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt play Chris's parents and Jenna Malone, his sister.

Mr. Penn charts Chris's journey with love and affection for the character. But in the end, "Into The Wild" is not a celebration but rather just an observation of one man's life. It is ultimately a sad story but not as haunting as it might have been.