If a Canadian movie has a Best Foreign Language Film nomination, do you think I’m going to go see it? Of course I’m going to go see it. For the second year in a row and for the sixth time ever, a Canadian film was nominated for an Oscar in that category. This year’s nominee is titled Monsieur Lazhar.
The film starts with what is to be a typical day at a Catholic elementary school. A boy named Simon is getting the milk for the day. As he walks into his classroom alone, he discovers his teacher Martine hanging. This is very hard for the students and the school. One of the difficulties is finding a new teacher for the students of the deceased teacher’s class. In walks Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant. They are hesitant at first but they agree to hire him.
Known to few is that Bachir’s immigration status is in question by the courts. A package he receives comes into question. The immigration court asks him why he won’t return since ‘Algeria is back to normal’ but he replies “Nothing is ever really normal in Algeria.” The interrogations eventually get frustrating to the point Bachir admits of the fire in Algiers that killed his wife and children back in the 90’s. That fire was no accident.
The class tries to move on as usual. For some students, it goes fine. For others like Simon and Alice, who witnessed their teacher hanging, it’s difficult and painful. Alice is more vocal about her difficulties. She makes a speech in class about violence and how the hanging has an effect. She also has a softer side and develops a liking for Monsieur Lazhar, even learning about his home city of Algiers. Simon is more reserved and difficult. He’s not the same since the hanging and appears like he has something to let out but can’t. He even resorts to fights with other students. Home life isn’t easy for him because his parents are rarely there. However something has to be done as it’s discovered he has a picture of Martine which he drew angel wings and a noose on.
Dealing with the students is not an easy task to do either. The elementary school is worried about the suicide being brought out into the open. Plus teachers are now under strict limits over what to deal with students’ issue and how to deal with them. The new laws set twenty years ago changed lots to how a teacher can function towards a student. This is hard for Bachir as he wants the students to heal from this trauma. Especially Simon, whom the teachers are considering expelling. We learn shortly before Martine hung herself, Simon was hugged by Martine while he was crying but told his parents she kissed him. The parents came down hard on her.
What happens in the end is one scenario ends on a bright note and another scenario ends on a low note for Bachir. In the end we get a turnaround that’s more valuable than Bachir keeping his job as a teacher. Something that the school board could never give the children.
The role of Monsieur Lazhar was that of a man who would help bring help when it was needed unexpectedly. Right at the beginning of his teaching he would tell the meaning of his name: “Lucky” and “Tell the good news,” In the end, he was the lucky one who would give the good news to the children. The students in turn would be the lucky ones as he would help the most troubled of the students heal from the trauma. He would succeed where the school board and the counselor would fail. Even in the end, his impulsive helping of the students would be too much for the school to handle. The ending would show the common belief that no good deed goes unpunished but it’s not without its rewards. Bachir Lazhar would give to the students and he would receive from them as well. His teaching of the students would also help him in terms of his own healing from the loss of his own family.
The best quality of the movie was in its gentle storytelling. We have a situation of a troubled school being taught by a teacher with a troubled past of his own. He faces two pressures of keeping his new-found job, keeping the peace of his classroom since the suicide, maintaining the peace of the school and being able to stay in Canada to avoid persecution back home in Algeria. All of this was told in a gentle manner that would keep the audience intrigued and hoping for the best for Bachir Lazhar and for Simon and Alice. That was its best quality.
The acting overall was excellent and stuck to their parts well without coming across as showy or phony. Mohammed Fellag was excellent playing a teacher with a troubled past thousands of miles away. The children were also good as they played genuine child roles instead of the typical cutesy acting Hollywood normally gives them. Their feelings, traumas and actions were not over-the-top either. The directing and scriptwriting of Phillippe Falardeau was also well-written, although not a standout. Known to few, Monsieur Lazhar is actually an adaptation of a one-man monologue. Falardeau did a very good job in creating and directing a script with a multitude of actors. He did a very smart job in making the story very real.
Intersting how Monsieur Lazhar gives Canadian film a unique achievement. This is the first time Canadian entries in the Best Foreign Language Film category has been nominated for two years in a row. Last year was Incendies. Interestingly two of the three producers of Monsieur Lazhar also produced Incendies. The Oscar nomination isn’t the only acclaim Monsieur Lazhar has received. The film also won the Viewers Choice Award for Best Canadian Film at the Toronto Film Festival, Best Film award at the Valladolid Film Festival and has been nominated for nine Genie Awards, Canada’s national award for filmmaking excellence. Surprisingly, it was not shown at the Vancouver Film Festival. It’s a shame because I would have liked to have seen it if it was out then.
Monsieur Lazhar is a film that starts out on a dark subject but it ends on a bittersweet positive note. The warmth of Monsieur Lazhar reminds us how people can succeed where the system fails. We need more people like Monsieur Lazhar out there.
Now one would wonder why on earth would one want to see a reel of short films. First reason: They’re all nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film or Best Animated Short Film. Second reason: a lot of winners of this category would go on to direct bigger and better things. Peter Cattaneo directed the Oscar nominated short Dear Rosie years before his big break with The Full Monty. Taylor Hackford won this category for Teenage Father 25 years before he directed the Oscar-nominated Ray. Most recently, Brutish director Andrea Arnold won seven years ago for Wasp and has gone on to direct two renowned British features: Red Road and Fish Tank.
Now 2011 has a crop of nominees for the categories of Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. I will review each and give my picks for what I feel should win and will win:
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
–Pentecost – dir. Peter MacDonald and Eimear O’Kane -Interesting story about a boy–Damian– who’s a lousy altar boy and is punished by having no football for three months. He has the opportunity to redeem himself with a mass led by the Archbishop. Sure enough it’s in time for when Liverpool is playing the European Cup. Even the priest gives quite a pep talk to all participating in the mass. Will Damian do it right? A big surprise at the end!
–Raju – dir. Max Zahle and Stefan Gieren-This is an excellent story about a German couple who adopt a boy from India only to lose him and find a dirty secret along the way. The story brings up the same moral dilemma Gone Baby Gone brings up. This is of a situation that could be quite real: an orphanage that gives away kidnapped children. The story will leave you wondering what side to choose and the ending will surprise you.
–The Shore – dir. Terry George and Orrlagh George-The story is of two boyhood friends. One, Paddy, stayed in Belfast, lost his arm and continues life as an illegal crab hunter. Another, Joe, moved to the US but returns to Belfast after being away for years. He wants to come and visit again and make peace with Paddy years after Paddy took his girlfriend, and married her. The story is as humorous as it is touching and it provides for a happy ending. I pick this as my Should Win pick.
–Time Freak – dir. Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey-There have been lots of stories about time travel but none as weird as this. A guy invents a time machine only to go back a few days into the past to correct things he’s done. And he does it again and again until he gets it right. Bizarre is right!
–Tuba Atlantic – dir. Hallvar Witzo-A man has six days to live. A young woman is to be is death angel and help him before he dies. It won’t be easy because he’s quite eccentric: he hunts with a machine gun and fishes with dynamite. Then she learns he has a horn that can send a signal across the Atlantic. He hopes to use it to send a message to his brother whom he hasn’t seen in 30 years. She wants to be a successful death angel and he’s her third chance. It makes for a touching story with a surprise ending. I predict this for the Will Win in this category.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
–Dimanche/Sunday – dir. Patrick Doyon/NFB of Canada – This is a charming 2D animation story that is coarsely drawn and has hardly any dialogue but tells a lot. It’s about a boy and the town he lives in and the places he visits. Not spectacular but charming and entertaining. One of two Canadian entries in this category this year.
–The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore – dir. William Joyce and Brandon Oldenberg- Morris Lessmore had everything fly by him in a windstorm. Then one day he sees a young woman flying with books instead of baloons, and that changes everything for him forever. Impressive use of 3D animation. Good use of music and of the animated story. I predict this Will Win the animated feature category.
–La Luna – dir. Enrico Casarosa – Interesting that Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2 didn’t get a single nomination but this short that was played before Cars 2 did. While most of Disney/Pixar’s shorts feature a story done without dialogue, this story is mostly in the types of mumbling. As expected from Disney/Pixar, top notch animation and a very unique story about being able to touch the moon and its glitter.
–A Morning Stroll – dir. Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe-Features a chicken’s stroll down a New York neighborhood in 1959, 2009 and 2059. In 1959, people say “How do you do?” don’t get too peeved if you bump into them and the chicken’s able to make it there safely. 2009 and people are too into Starbucks coffee and iPhone using. A bump into someone causes a big coffee spill and a chicken entering into a house is perfect moment for your iPhone video camera. Once again, the chicken makes it there safely. 2059 and New York is filled with zombies. The chicken makes it home but not after a big zombie chase. This was a good mix of 2D and 3D animation with a creative image of the future.
–Wild Life – dir. Wendy Tilbe and Amanda Forbis- A British émigré tries to make his home in a small town in Alberta. While everyone else is either a cowboy or made themselves a villager, he continues to be an Englishman. Interesting and humorous. Plus me knowing Prairie life helped the sort to appeal to me. Both the dialogue from him and the villagers add to the humor of the story. The animation was excellent not just as 2D but as painting animation. The painting animation was its best quality and it makes it stand out from the five nominees. I pick this as my Should Win pick.
And there you have it. The nominated shorts for the 2011 Oscars. Stay tuned to find out the winners. Stay tuned to find out which directors move on to bigger and better things.
“If things were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding.”
A Separation is an Iranian film with a lot of huge buzz. It won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. It won the Rogers People’s Choice Award at the Vancouver Film Festival. It has already won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. For this year’s Oscars, it was not only nominated in that category but Best Original Screenplay as well.
The film begins with Nader and Simin: a couple married for 14 years with an 11 year-old daughter filing for divorce. Simin wasn’t to pursue her career goals in another country and take her daughter with her. Nader wants to stay as he has a father with Alzheimer’s to deal with. The judge first rejects the grounds.
In the meantime, Simin moves in with her father and recommends Nader to employ Razieh; a young, pregnant and deeply religious woman from a poor area to look after his father. Nader can’t handle the father on his own as he has a buy job at a bank and he has to look after Termeh, his daughter. Meanwhile Razieh’s hot-tempered husband Houjat is unemployed for months and owes creditors a huge amount. Nader even has the opportunity to hire Houjat at the bank but is jailed the next day for what he owes. During the time nursing, Razieh learns that looking after Nader’s father is a big challenge, both physically and religiously. She can only do so much because of her pregnancy. She also has to consult a Muslim cleric if it’s a sin to do certain duties like change the father’s soiled pants.
One day Razieh finds the father out on the streets. She has to cross a dangerous intersection to get him back. We only see her take the father back. The next day, Nader returns home to find his father lying on the opposite side of the bed with his arm tied to the bed post. He’s alive but Nader is furious. He’s even angrier to learn that there’s missing money and accuses Razieh of stealing. He fires her despite her please. She comes back to plead again but Nader pushes her out of the door. We later hear some loud thumping outside and Razieh walking away.
The next day, Simin learns that Razieh is in the hospital. She and Nader go there to find out she suffered a miscarriage. A court is assigned to decide if Nader knew of her pregnancy and caused the miscarriage. If convicted, he could face from one to three years in prison. Accusations fly. Nader accuses Razieh of neglecting his father. Houjat is angry and threatens Nader and his family. We learn that Houjat is deeply depressed, self-destructive and on antidepressants. Razieh left the house that day because she had to see a doctor. This leaves Nader to think Houjat is abusive and may be the one to cause the miscarriage.
Termeh lies to protect Nader and Simin tries to arrange for a financial deal between the couple. Nader refutes because he feels it will be like admitting guilt. Nader later tells Termeh personally that he did in fact know of Razieh pregnancy. Razieh later reveals she was hit by a car the day before she was fired, questioning what really caused the miscarriage. Finally everyone meets at the home of Razieh and Houjat including the creditors. Nader is willing to make the cheque out to Houjat on one condition, that she swears by the Koran that his actions that day were the cause of the miscarriage. Razieh can’t do it because she believes it’s a sin and that causes Houjat to break down physically and emotionally.
The film’s last scene takes place in the courtroom as Nader and Simin’s separation is to be finalized. Termeh is given the option to decide which parent to live with. She says she made up her mind but wants her parents outside. The film ends with Nader and Simin waiting outside while families are shown out in the halls waiting.
I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the marriage situation in Iran but I believe that this film is trying to make a statement about the modern day difficulties of marriage and divorce in Iran. Divorce has been a common theme in a lot of films like Kramer vs. Kramer but it’s over here where we see an angle on divorce in Iran. We see one couple separating while another couple staying together but struggling with their issues. There’s a lot of things causing friction in both couples. One has a career pursuit in another country, another has a sick father to look after. One has to work as a nurse. Another has been unemployed for months. You see the friction happening throughout the movie. It starts with the scene of Nader and Simin in court getting the divorce started and it ends as the divorce is finalized. That ending scene with the credits rolling as Nader and Simin wait for their daughter’s decision while other families are out in the halls waiting and we could even hear shouts of another couple in court is probably a statement about the modern difficulties of marriage in Iran. Mind you it’s not completely about law and divorce. There are other examples where the law provides difficulties and not strictly in the area of divorce, like providing bail upon guilt to prove innocence and avoid a lengthy prison term. Even the scenes where Houjat has creditors to deal with paints a picture.
Another key element in the movie is the use of the Koran. As most of you know, I ran is a country with a strong Muslim ethic that’s even included in its own constitution. The Koran plays a huge role in the everyday lives of people in Iran. The influence of the Koran is very present in the movie. We see how the maid couldn’t clean the soiled clothes of the father because it was against her religion. We hear mention of the Koran and God in court. We see that Termeh has to attend and all-girls school. We see how Nader uses the Koran to get the whole truth out about the miscarriage. One thing we don’t see is the Koran solving the marriages. We see the couples either continue to be split apart or going through heavier friction.
Without a doubt, the standout qualities of the film were the direction and writing of Asghar Farhadi. He did an excellent job of creating a good story out of a hot topic. The acting of Peyman Maadi and Leila Hatami was excellent too. Very genuine without any showiness. Excellent supporting performances played by Sareh Beyat and Shahab Hosseini who played the other couple in the middle. There was also excellent acting from Sarina Farhadi, Asghar’s daughter, who played Termeh, the daughter caught in the middle. The use of no score until the very end worked as a benefit for the movie because it allowed the audience feel the intensity of the story.
A Separation shows how far Iranian cinema has come. Iran’s first breakthrough came back in 1998 when Children Of Heaven was a modest hit. It was Iran’s first nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category and established director Majid Majidi as a top international director. Now A Separation is a huge favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film category and Asghar Farhadi is the new name in Iranian cinema. It’s also surprising to see such subject matter portrayed in Iranian cinema. You think with Iran having law and order in such a strict fashion according to Muslim law, this film would’ve been banned or censored by the Ahmadinejad government. I’m not too familiar with free speech laws in Iran but I’m sure there’s a lot of censorship.
If you see A Separation, you can easily see why it’s a huge favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It has a excellently-written, excellently-acted story of a hot topic in its own country. Very deserving of the win indeed.
“My friends think that just because we live in Hawaii, we live in paradise. We’re all just out here sipping Mai Tai’s, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we’re immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up? Our heartaches, less painful?”
The Descendants is a movie starring George Clooney which is set in Hawaii. But if you’re expecting this movie to be an escapist holiday getaway, you’re wrong. It’s about real-life pain and heartache happening in an island paradise.
Matt King is a Honolulu-based lawyer who has to deal with the fact that his wife Elizabeth is in a hospital comatose from a boat racing accident. On top of that he has the issue of dealing with being the sole family member in charge of 25,000 acres of land on Kauai owned by his family for generations which will expire in seven years. The King family decided to sell the land to a developer, something Matt supports. Matt was never really close with his two daughters and always considers himself to be the ‘back-up parent’. With Elizabeth in a coma, he now has to be the main parent and deal with things like youngest daughter Scottie’s inappropriate behavior with other children and teenage daughter Alex’s drinking. As if his ailing wife and the future of his family’s land isn’t enough to deal with.
Matt had always considered himself a lousy husband and make a mental promise to Elizabeth that he will be a better husband to her once she’s better. Then the news drops. She will never recover. She also has it in her will that she be disconnected shortly from her life support. Matt will no longer be the back-up parents. He decides to tell Alex before Scottie. Alex gives the shocking news that Elizabeth was in an affair just before the accident. He later learns the ‘other man’ is Brian Speer. Matt makes a surprising decision: to find Brian and give him the news the Elizabeth is dying and a chance to say goodbye. He learns that Matt is a real estate agent vacationing in Kauai.
After telling the family of Elizabeth’s eventual death, he goes to Kauai with his daughters and Alex’s slacker guy friend Sid to find Brian. He soon finds Brian jogging on a beach and entering into his family’s vacation resort. Matt also learns from Cousin Hugh that Brian has connections to the developer who they’re about to sell their land to. If sold, Brian Speer will gain a lot of money from commission once it’s developed.
Before confronting Brian, Matt introduces himself to Brian’s wife Judy. Soon Matt is able to meet alone with Brian. He drops him the news he’s Elizabeth’s husband and she will die soon. Brian is shocked of the whole thing. He apologizes for the grief it’s caused the family but that the affair was only a fling and he loves his wife and sons. The fate of the land is finally determined.. The cousins meet to vote on the land mostly in favor of the developer but Matt decides to keep the land for other reasons. He doesn’t regret it even if it means potential lawsuits from Hugh or other cousins.
With the issue of the land over, Matt can now focus solely on the last days of Elizabeth as she’s taken off life support. Scottie hears the news from a nurse. Sid, who first appeared like an idiot, is now a figure of moral support for the family. Elizabeth’s father tells Matt he should have been a more devoted husband and father and describes Elizabeth as ‘good and faithful’. Matt expects Brian Speer to show up but it’s wife Judy instead. Matt is shocked but Judy is now aware of the divorce. She gives Elizabeth flowers and says she forgives her even though she should hate her for destroying her happy home. Finally after Alex and Scottie say their last goodbyes to Elizabeth, Matt comes to terms with all that’s happened and all Elizabeth has done and gives her a goodbye kiss. The movie ends with a scene showing that Matt is now no longer the back-up parent.
The best quality of the movie is that it deals with a family problem very likely to happen, if not common enough already. A wife from a marriage that’s already failing is about to die. The husband finds out his wife cheated on her while she’s in a coma with only days remaining. A lot of times, Alexander Payne has focused on stories of people that were either failures or felt like failures. This is a story of a husband and father who is a success as a realtor but paid the price of his success with a failing marriage. Now with his wife dying, he has to confront the fact that she failed him as much as he failed her. He’s forced to confront the fact that he would have to be the full-time parents now that his wife will die. It’s also on the verge of what could be the biggest break of his Real Estate career and the biggest break for a family business. The impending tragedy mixed with lucrative opportunity mix well in creating a story that succeeds in telling a lot about ourselves and our own feelings. Maybe this situation could be happening to an audient who sees this movie.
It also has an important element about forgiveness. For so long Matt thought he was the bad guy and he failed Elizabeth. Then he learns that Elizabeth was the dishonest one. Confronting the sudden fact that one’s dying wife was cheating is not an easy thing to sort out. She’s dying but she was unfaithful. Matt makes a lot of surprising decisions in that factor both on the future of his family’s land and to do with Brian. It’s surprising to see the husband of the cheating wife confront the ‘other man’, tell him she’s dying and offer a chance to say goodbye. It’s also surprising to see Brian’s wife, the wife caught in the mess, confront the dying ‘other woman’ and say that she forgives her despite the pain she caused. Forgiveness is not easy. Necessary but not easy.
George Clooney again shines. This is the best effort I’ve seen him do that involved a multitude of emotions and feelings. This could be his best performance yet. Even though none of the supporting performances were at the same performance level as George, the two best supporting performances came from Shailene Woodley as the oldest daughter Alex and Judy Greer as the wife of Brian Speer. Alexander Payne did an excellent job of directing and co-writing the script with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Payne has always specialized in including the story’s region and its charms in stories of people’s failures and difficulties. About Schmidt captured the charm of the American prairies. Sideways captured the charm of California’s wine country. Now The Descendants captures the charm of Hawaii while dealing with the impending death of a cheating wife and mother. Again Payne directs it to perfection. That scene around the beginning which shows homelessness in Hawaii sure says something about a place we all call and ‘island paradise’. The script’s plot and atmosphere combine perfectly to make the story of family problems in an island paradise work. The script’s mix with dramatic and comedic elements as well as some genuinely touching moments makes a situation like this easier to watch on the big screen. The addition of Hawaiian music to the movie also added to its charm. Those lucky enough to see it will be glad they did.
The Descendants is excellently well-acted, well-directed, well-adapted drama. It features a situation that could be more common than we think and it shines. Definitely worth seeing.
Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become… habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.
Remember Margaret Thatcher? I remember her well. She was the Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 80’s. For those who remember the 80’s, who could forget her? The Iron Lady is the movie where Meryl Streep brings Margaret to life. The big question is how good does Streep do it?
The movie opens in the present as Margaret in her 80’s goes out to buy milk and has breakfast with her husband. Problem is when her keepers see her, she’s the only one there. Margaret now has dementia and has people to look after her. She can’t tell the difference between her illusions and her reality. Even her daughter, who she has a strained relationship with, tells her that her son is in South Africa, she’s not the Prime Minister and her husband’s dead.
Margaret tries to adjust to her reality. She knows she has to accept the fact of her husband’s death. It has its difficulties. As she’s autographing books, she signs one Margaret Roberts. This flashes back to the days she’s the grocer’s daughter, working at her father’s grocery store while the town’s girls were having fun. Her father gave political speeches and encouraged Margaret to develop a strong will for herself. Further flashbacks move to when she falls in love with successful businessman Denis Thatcher and when she runs for her first election in 1950. She loses but Denis strongly believes in her.
In 1959 Margaret Thatcher, now married and a mother, is finally elected an MP in parliament. She has the difficulty of being the only female MP in parliament as she is known as the ‘lady of the house’. Nevertheless she does find support in a man, Airey Neive. He’s able to coach out her voice and her image. He even believes she could be the Prime Minister. Margaret doubts it and believes there will never be a woman Prime Minister as long as she’s alive. His death in a car bomb implanted by the IRA changed that. She became leader of the Conservative Party and won the national election in 1979. She didn’t just live to see Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. She achieved it.
Becoming Prime Minister in 1979 was not an easy thing. She had to deal with Britain’s rising unemployment, the Brixton riots, lengthy labor strikes like the seven month-long coal miners strike of 1984, and even an IRA bomb explosion during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference where she and her husband were almost killed. She also faced her biggest challenge when she declared war to reclaim the Falkland Islands. She was determined to win it back and she succeeded. Things improved for Thatcher as Britain had a better economy, she developed a friendship with Ronald Reagan and she emerged as a leading world figure.
By 1990, her reputation as the Iron Lady was starting to wear thin. She went from being seen as an active World leader to being more of a political tyrant who verbally assaults her own colleagues. Geoffrey Howe resigned after being humiliated by her in a Cabinet meeting. Michael Heseltine challenges her for the leadership of the Conservative Party and Cabinet forces her to resign as Prime Minister. She still carries the bitterness twenty years later.
Eventually Margaret does learn to let go as she packs up Denis’ belongings and tells him it’s time to go. Denis does leave and we see her washing a teacup, something she promised Denis she would never do.
The weakness of this movie is that it looks like it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a biographical drama or a fictional story amongst historical figures. No question there are a lot of times when it showcases the struggles, triumphs and defeats of Margaret Thatcher but it often feels like the story is more about her ordeal with dementia instead of the legacy she created. Many times it doesn’t make much sense as I came hoping for a biographical story of Margaret but instead felt like I was watching a movie about Margaret dealing with the loss of her husband. Even now I’m still confused what the main point of the movie was.
There is no doubt the movie did an excellent job in bringing back the legacy of one of the most legendary political heads of state of modern times. History should continue to remember Margaret Thatcher and the younger generations should be familiar with her. Margaret Thatcher sent a strong message of what a female head of state can do. She showed a woman head of state is as capable of being a world leader as a male head of state can be. She proved a woman head of state can have a long powerful term. She proved a woman head of state can transform a country. She also proved that a woman head of state is just as capable of declaring a war as a male head of state. There have been female heads of state before but never before was there a female head of state of a major country. Today the biggest country with a female head of state is Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. American media have strongly hinted there may be a president Sarah Palin in the future. Who knows?
Without a doubt, Meryl Streep delivers another winning acting performance. She never disappoints and always delivers. However this is a milestone for her and ranks amongst one of the best performances she’s ever done. Jim Broadbent was also excellent as her husband. The script however was the difficult part as I stated earlier as it doesn’t make it clear what this movie is exactly supposed to be. In all honestly, it’s another average film where Meryl’s acting saves the day. Director Phylidda Lloyd and scriptwriter Abi Morgan appear like they need more experience in their fields. They both know how to do well in their trade on the theatre but not necessarily too well on film. Even Phylidda’s own Mamma Mia from years ago doesn’t do her justice on film.
If there was one positive point of the script, it’s that it was able to capture Thatcher’s drive and beliefs. Lines like: “(Politics) used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.” or even how she talked of the Americans and their drive showed how she was one who wanted to achieve things for reasons beyond her own personal interest. The biggest strength of the script is that the essence of Margaret’s political muscle was very present.
The reception of the film has been mixed. I talked about how the film brought back the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Some may agree with me while some may feel the movie hails her more than it should vilify her. We often forget that there are many people who were unhappy with her way of politics back during her administration and still harbor negative attitudes to her to this day. Even Margaret’s children, Mark and Carol, have said about the movie “It sounds like some left-wing fantasy.” Films about politicians are always going to start lots of talk.
The Iron Lady isn’t exactly as strong portrayal of Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister. It took Streep’s performance as Margaret to save the film from being a major disappointment. No doubt Streep will win the Oscar this year.
You’d think a story about a young person dealing with a potentially fatal form of cancer would least make for comedy material, right? 50/50 succeeds in making a comedy out of it, and a good one too.
Adam doesn’t sound like the type of person to get cancer: a 27 year-old who jogs, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t eat junk food and always plays it safe to the point where he doesn’t even own a driver’s license. But everything changes when he gets his back checked. The doctor gives him the sudden news: cancer. What’s he to do? He checks on the internet and learns his cancer has a 50/50 chance of survival. His mother is shocked, his artist girlfriend Rachael finds the news sudden but his crazy friend Kyle tries to keep his spirits high “50/50? That’s better than a Vegas game.”
Things change for Adam once he stars going for chemotherapy. On the plus side, his girlfriend decides to the one to look after him. She even buys him a dog. During chemo treatments, he meets a pair of older men also receiving treatments and they share a lot together, including marijuana-laced macaroons. On the negative side, his mother is concerned to the point of being overbearing especially since she also has to deal with a husband with Alzheimer’s. He also sees a young therapist who’s very inexperienced. Adam is only her third client. On the in-between, his friend Kyle tries to keep his spirits high by doing and saying things that are off the wall, like hold a party for Adam on the day he leaves work and gives Adam his body shaver to shave his head.
Things change for Adam: some for the better, some for the worse and some for the weirder. Kyle catches Rachael cheating on Adam. The relationship is over. Kyle encourages Adam to use his dog walking and cancer ordeal to get laid. Adam stars becoming more open with Katharine the therapist. The bond between the two men he sees during treatment grows. And Rachael moves out. Adam and Kyle celebrate by egging, cutting and burning her picture for him.
Then comes some biting realities. One of the men Adam meets during treatments dies. The doctor delivers the news that Adam’s cancer is worsening and needs a risky back operation or else he’ll die. Adam is now at the end of his emotional rope. He starts distancing himself from Kyle. However he starts opening up more to Katharine to the point there’s more than just a therapist-patient relation happening. Just before the operation, he learns that Kyle bought a book on having a friend with cancer. He also learned his mother attended a support group of parents who have children with cancer. It makes for an ending that not your typical simple happy ending but an ending that’s genuine.
There’s no question that there are a lot of comedic elements with this movie and there are the times when the movie does try to push a few buttons. One thing about the movie that’s the best quality is that it tries to be funny but real at the same time. It may poke fun at the after-effects of eating a marijuana-laced macaroon and some of but it also focuses on human relations and the feelings one goes through during cancer at such a young age. It focuses on the relationships of the patient and those around them. Despite that, it doesn’t sugar-coat things. It also shows that nasty things like a girlfriend cheating on the Adam does sometimes happen. It also reminds you that some of your friends that are going through cancer like you could die the next day. It’s a mix of some of the nasty and some of the happier things too. That’s the strongest part of the comedy is that it’s able to balance it all out. Interestingly enough is that this comedy is based upon the cancer ordeal of the scriptwriter: Will Reiser. Who would’ve thought that a plot like this would be a winning formula?
No question that the script of Will Reiser was winning. It created a good mix of humor and real life. It could qualify as autobiographical but I don’t know Will’s personal life. The acting made it work. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the perfect fit for Adam. There couldn’t have been a better pick for Kyle than Seth Rogen. Anna Kendrick was also excellent as the inexperienced therapist who becomes the best thing for Adam. Jonathan Levine also did a good job of directing. Definitely a refreshing alternative from your usual box office fare. I will admit there was the occasional lewd and crude humor from Kyle but overall it made for an excellent movie.
50/50 was the surprise hit comedy of this fall. It has received a lot of acclaim as one of the best comedies of the year. Unfortunately it did not receive any Oscar nominations, not even for script. I’m not too worried because I’m sure with the help of DVD and Netflix this movie’s charm will last for a long time. It does seem odd to make a comedy about dealing with a life-threatening form of cancer, especially for someone so young, but it’s an example of how the younger generations are dealing with cancer. You can notice how cancer services and support groups and charities have changed over the past thirty years. Thirty years ago, the slogan was “Cancer can be beaten.” Now cancer funds and groups are using their own methods to encourage the younger generation to get involved. There are fundraising groups with the slogan “F*** cancer!” There are breast cancer funds with the slogan “I love boobies!” It may seem too in-your-face to some but it’s how the younger generation is now dealing with the fight. It’s all in the passing of the torch. Now to have a cancer survivor make a comedy about cancer that does sometimes rattle cages but is also very genuine in both the positive and negative aspects, it’s an accomplishment of its own.
They say laughter is the best medicine. 50/50 is definitely worth it. Until there’s a sure-fire cure for cancer, there’s 50/50 to laugh things off.
When you think of cartoon characters that have become pop culture icons, who comes to mind? Garfield? Snoopy? Calvin? How about Tintin: the freelance reporter with the funny hairstyle that was all the rage more than ten years ago who travels the world with his dog Snowy? You can bet he’s a pop culture icon in Europe, especially the French speaking countries. In fact his 75th anniversary was celebrated in 2004 with a special 10 Euro commemorative coin.
Tintin cartoons have been known the world over but has had only two live-action movies made of him made way back in the 60’s. Tintin comes to the big screen as a full-length animation feature in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
Tintin is out in an open air market and purchases a model of the ship the Unicorn. A villain named Sakharine wants to buy it off Tintin but he refuses. The ship is broken on the day Tintin buys it as Snowy runs around the house chasing a cat. The break also knocks out a small scroll inside a metal flask. Meanwhile incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson are searching for a pickpocket in the city. Also we’d learn how skilled of a villain Sakharine is: with associated accomplices and eagles trained to fly on command and steal.
Tintin would later visit Sakharine where he would learn there are two model ships. Soon Tintin is kidnapped by accomplices of Sakharine and imprisoned on the SS Karaboudjan. He meet the Captain Haddock who has been made drunk by a first mate under Sakharine’s control and doesn’t know what’s happening on the ship. Tintin, Haddock and Snowy successfully escape on a lifeboat and are able to salvage a seaplane which they take to return home only to crash in the Sahara desert.
It’s while in the desert that Tintin learns of the secret as Haddock hallucinates from the heat and suffers from a sudden lack of alcohol. His ancestor Sir Francis Haddock was captain of the Unicorn in the 17th Century. The ship was treasure-laden and was attacked by a pirate ship led by the masked Red Rackham. Sir Francis surrendered the ship but sank it with the treasures rather than let it fall into Rackham’s hands. It becomes clear that the three model ships each had a scroll and the scrolls together would lead to the location of the Unicorn.
In the Moroccan town of Bagghar, Tintin and Haddock learn that the third modal ship is there and owned by a wealthy villager in a bullet-proof display case. Also there is to be a concert given by an opera singer known as the Milanese Nightingale. The reason why is to break the case open and retrieve the third scroll. It works: he has all three scrolls and he’s able to get away despite being chased by Tintin and Haddock. Sakharine returns on the Karaboudjian but Haddock also arrives on.It’s revealed that Sakharine is a descendant of the Red Rackham and the two, Haddock and Sakharine, get involved in a fight that replays the swashbuckling swordfight between their ancestors. Even cranes are involved. In the end, Haddock is victorious and Tintin leads the ship to the dock allowing for Sakharine to be arrested by Thomson and Thompson.
Tintin and Haddock then use the scrolls to find the location. At the location, which is the hall built by Sir Francis, they find some of the treasure and a clue to the location of the sunken Unicorn. They both agree to continue the adventure.
This movie was a dream project of Steven Spielberg for decades. Spielberg took an interest in the cartoons when someone compared his Raiders Of The Lost Ark to Tintin. For years he’s wanted to bring Tintin to the big screen. Even Tintin cartoonist Herge became a fan of Spielberg’s movies and thought Spielberg was the only person who could bring Tintin to the big screen properly. Herge died in 1983 but Spielberg could not purchase the full rights on Tintin until 2002. He even collaborated with director Peter Jackson to achieve this. Jamie Bell, who grew up reading Tintin comics, even came to Spielberg years ago about the idea. It wasn’t until years ago that this movie had started being made. Jamie Bell was Spielberg’s first and last choice to be Tintin. Even Peter Jackson recommended him after working with him in King Kong. The end result is the right mix for the movie.
The movie is very true to a Tintin cartoon. It’s set in the right time and features a lot of elements of European culture familiar in Tintin cartoons, like the artwork, the markets, the opera singer and the use of Interpol. The movie also has a lot of commonalities with a Spielberg adventure like Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The animation was top notch. It features some of the best animation effects of the year. The story was kept in good taste and strayed away from cheap laughs and crude humor. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were also an excellent choice for being cast as Thomson and Thompson. Andy Serkis was also good as the drunken Captain Haddock. Daniel Craig was also good as the villain Sakharine. Snowy was always a reliable companion who had a liking for bones. John Williams was able to deliver a score that didn’t sound like your typical John Williams score.
The world box office results went as most would expect. Worldwide outside of North America, the film has made close to a very impressive $300 million. In North America, the film has made only around $75 million. This shows the big divide in Europe and the United States in their pop culture icons.
Another big shock is that Tintin was heavily favored to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar leading up to the nominations. It had already won the Golden Globe and the Annie award. To the shock of almost everyone, the nomination didn’t happen. Instead Tintin’s only nomination is for Best Original Score for John Williams. I’ll never understand the Academy. I’m fascinated by the Oscar race and the biz’s pursuit of nominations and wins, but I’m still left confused even as I understand it more.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn is a pleasant surprise for animated movies. It’s not as cutesy or goofy as most of the animated movies this year or most years but it was a very enjoyable adventure. A refreshing alternative from one of those cutesy animated features.
My Week With Marilyn is an adventurous comedy of a young man assisting on the set of a Marilyn Monroe movie. What we get is an interestingly adenturous story and a lot more.
Before Colin Clark became a successful British documentarian, he was dazzled by the movies and movie stars, including Marilyn. That didn’t rest well with his upper class family who felt that the movie business wouldn’t get him anywhere. Then in 1956, he hears the news that Marilyn Monroe is coming to England to film The Prince And The Showgirl. How could he turn down an opportunity to work on the set of a film like that?
Once he arrives on the set, Laurence Olivier arrives, Vivien Leigh arrives, Sybil Thorndike arrives and Marilyn arrives with her acting coach Paula Strasberg and husband Arthur Miller. Working with Marilyn is not easy as she often misses her cues and easily loses her confidence in believing she can do a good job. The other actors like Olivier, Leigh and Thorndike find her difficult to work with. The pressure is soon adding up on Marilyn, both physically and emotionally. In the meantime, Colin is winning the attractions of young costume girl Lucy.
Arthur Miller then leaves England for a short while. Marilyn decides to take a break from the pressures of filmmaking and movie stardom and finds her escape through having Colin escort her. Colin takes her around the countryside, around Eton College where he was educated in, just about everywhere every day. During the time, Marilyn develops an attraction to the young Clark and the two have a short affair. During the time, Clark learns that Marilyn is a hurting woman: burdened by a difficult childhood and often feeling like a failure as an actress. This goes on for the week. During the whole escapade, he forgets about his date with Lucy. The filming end after a week and Marilyn leaves England for Hollywood. Colin is left with an experience he’ll never forget.
The unique thing about this movie is that it’s not just a young man’s adventure with Marilyn Monroe but also an intimate look at a screen legend who epitomizes the beauty and charm of Hollywood but also epitomizes Hollywood tragedy. Marilyn was made into a beauty that excelled in Hollywood. Nevertheless she always wanted to be taken seriously for her talent. She relied on her coaching from Lee and Paula Strasberg and often felt like a failure. Interesting bit of trivia is that Marilyn is the biggest Hollywood star never to be nominated for an Oscar. Never! As a person, she had problems getting over her difficult past out being raised unloved by her mother. It would be an ordeal she’d go through throughout her whole life. She would eventually take her own life six years later.
The funny thing about the movie is that it wasn’t just about the empty feeling of Marilyn but also the empty feeling of actors in general. During Colin’s time on the set, he also dealt with Sir Laurence Olivier: an actor beloved for his mastery of great roles. He was the accomplished actor while Marilyn was the popular star. Nevertheless he too felt an emptiness of his own. He wanted the movie star acclaim that Marilyn had. That should surprise just about everybody. That’s a very common theme in this movie: an actor’s insecurities, traumas and feelings of emptiness. It hits movie stars like Marilyn and it hit great actors like Sir Laurence.
The most shocking thing is that we would learn from Laurence is that Marilyn’s traumas and insecurities are what make her the actress and legend that she is. It’s not that uncommon that we celebrate entertainers who are troubled and traumatized and all too often, their traumas and troubles make them the greats that they are.
It’s obvious Colin never forgot his experiences of this. He would release his diaries under the title The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and memoirs titled My Week With Marilyn. Both would provide the material for this film. It should be noted that the diaries were made into a television documentary in 2004, one year after Clark’s death.
The biggest strengths of the film have to be the performances of Michelle Williams as Marilyn and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier. They weren’t just performances of the two acting legends but very deep parts. They made the two actors three dimensional and they stand out as two of the best acting performances of the year. The performance of Eddie Redmanye as the young Colin Clark was good but lacked depth. It was a simple role not as Colin Clark but as a twentysomething. Emma Watson’s part as the costume girl Lucy was simple but she is able to make you forget that she is Hermione Granger.
Outside of the acting, nothing much else stood out. The direction of Simon Curtis and the writing of Adrian Hodges were good and flawless but not spectacular. Nevertheless it did make for an enjoyable comedy. In addition, I commend Curtis for directing an excellent first feature. In essence, it was a semibiographical movie whose best assets were the acting performances.
My Week With Marilyn is a surprising look at a screen legend. Make that two screen legends, and the young rising documentarian who witnessed it all. If you like legendary actors, you’ll like this movie and will leave surprised.
Okay, this is one of my delayed movie reviews. There will be three more to come. I saw it weeks before but I’m sure many of you could now see it in a second-run theatre before you can get the DVD or Netflix file.
Those of you who have seen the first Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. only received one part of the story. Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows picks up where it left off. It’s not an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes novel but an independent story of Sherlock Holmes that is able to entertain.
The movie is full of tricks, foiled killings and even successful incidents that lead Holmes to solve his next mystery. A bomb meant for Dr. Hoffmanstahl from Professor Moriarty is detonated. Adler is murdered by Moriarty who thinks she did it out of a love for Holmes. The murders and bombings surrounding Moriarty is part of Holmes’ next case.
Even Watson and his wife become part of this when Moriarty tells Holmes he killed Adler and the couple will be next if Holmes doesn’t stop. The couple is even attacked on a train by Moriarty’s men but Holmes, who followed them for protection, is able to foil the attackers and successfully protect the two. The two head to Paris to contact a gypsy who was to receive a letter from Adler. She becomes part of the detective team and leads them to an anarchist group she once belonged to only to learn of a plan to assassinate Moriarty via explosion. One search for a bomb lead to the wrong place. The bomb kills one of Moriarty’s business associates, allowing ownership to Moriarty of the businessman’s weapons factory in Germany.
Each clue leads the three-Sherlock, Watson and the gypsy- to the factory. There they are tortured by Moriarty and his men and learn of his plan to own weapons factories to profit out of a World War he plans to start. They’re able to break free thanks to Watson and flee onto a moving train. However Holmes senses that Moriarty may be planning an incident at a peace summit in Switzerland to cause an international uproar. At the summit, Holmes learns of the true assassin who is disguised as an ambassador. Both Holmes and Moriarty go outside to discuss to their associates their plans. Both Watson and the gypsy are able to stop one of Moriarty’s men from assassinating. Holmes later revealed he replaced Moriarty’s diary with the plans and able to get Watson’s wife to decrypt the code of Moriarty’s. Mary forwards the information to an Inspector who’s able to claim the bulk of Moriarty’s assets. This would lead to a physical confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty over a waterfall, which leads to a surprise ending.
A Game Of Shadows is partially influenced by A Final Problem, which is part of Arthur Conan Doyle’s series The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes but has been tailor made for the movie with a lot of twists and turns. It’s not necessary part of a chronological series but another story based on the characters. In fact the filmmakers intended for A Game Of Shadows to be a stand-alone film that did not require knowledge of the previous movie. The movie retains a lot of the charms of the first one but doesn’t seem to deliver the same thrills as the first. It does however maintain the same energy of humor as the first. Robert Downey Jr. is again able to keep the humor moviegoers will remember from the first. Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Eddie Marsan also reprise their respective roles well too albeit for their brief time. The biggest new edition was Noomi Rapace as Simza the gypsy and she does a good job of her own at stealing scenes. The Mulroneys, Kieran and Michelle, did a good job in creating a humorous adventure with a lot of familiar thrills as the first but often felt like a maze that was confusing at times. Guy Ritchie did a good job in directing, if not the directing that stands out. Technically the sets and costumes were excellent in fitting the times. Even the guises worked well. And Hans Zimmer returned with a score that included parts of the original as well as some new material that fit the movie’s adventurous and humorous tone.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows faced the same pressures as any sequel. In the end, the movie lacked the same level as the first in terms of its best qualities. One thing is while most sequels or follow up movies often lose the first movie’s best qualities A Game Of Shadows was still able to keep the original’s best qualities, if not match the original’s same level. Fans of the first will appreciate A Game Of Shadows and movie goers in general will find it a good relaxing time at the movies.