Bloody, sweeping, fascinating (from the motion picture making point of view), and, while historically inaccurate on several levels, 300 is one bold, beautiful movie. I loved it. Directed by Zack Synder and starring a beefed-up and digitally morphed cast of Gerard Butler (as King Leonidas), Domenic West (as Theron) and Lena Headey (as the movie’s token female, Queen Gorgo), 300 is graphic novelist’s Frank Miller’s version of the Spartan’s stand against the Persian King, Xerxes, at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE (as done by Hollywood). Shot entirely in bluescreen then digitally enhanced, the film is easily the most original thing – visually – seen this last year. And while it is an archetypal example of style over substance … my-gawd, such style. My rating 9 out of 10.
Away From Her
Based on Alice Munroe’s short story, “The Bear Came Over The Mountain”, this Sarah Polley directed film deals with the story of Fiona (played by the immortally beautiful Julie Christie) and her husband of 44 years, Grant (played oh-so-well by Canadian Gordon Pinsent) as they struggle with Fiona’s slide into Alzheimers disease. Within 2 hours Polley reflects on two of life’s greatest themes woven beautifully together on several levels. There is a story of loss: the loss of memory, of connections; of partners; and of love. And the greater story of the endurance of love in our golden years and what it means in letting go, in moving on, and in looking back. Olympia Dukakis (as Marian) and Michael Murphy (as Aubrey) give great supporting acting roles as well, and I suspect this film will see Oscar nominations in a month’s time. For perfect performances and showing us retirees as real people, my rating of 8 out of 10.
While I do adore director Wong Kar-wai’s work immensely, his 1997 ‘classic’ Happy Together is more a miss than a hit for me. Gay lovers Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung) and Ho Po-Wing (the late Leslie Cheng) head to Argentina from pre-reunion Hong Kong to try and rekindle their failing relationship by visiting the beautiful Iguaza Falls. On the ride there, however, the two argue and break-up setting the stage for the 2 hours that follow as the couple alternate between violent abuse of each other to reuniting to breaking apart again. On the surface, how two men who fight continually can possibly be ‘happy together’ remains a mystery. The deeper plotline though deals with the ties we create through intimacy with another human, and how those ties are challenged by the baggage, history and natural inclinations we bring as we enter and move through a relationship. Ho is destructive by his nature and adverse to commitment; Lai, nurturing, kind and forgiving. The themes are universal. Where Happy Together fails for me is not so much in the actors, but with the direction. Wong Kar-wai films the story as though it’s a music video and while I get what he’s trying to do contrasting the men and their histories with the heat and passion of Latin America, I found the juxtaposition too forced. That said, for its visual feast and assault on the senses and the brilliant acting of two of China’s greatest modern day actors, my rating of 7 out of 10.
Ah, westerns, gotta love them. Despite our perception this is a dying genre, it has been a big year for them with: 3:10 To Yuma, No Country for Old Men, Sukiyaki Western Django and The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford. Initially, you would think casting an Englishman and a Kiwi in an American Western would be a recipe for disaster but with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the saddles, damn, it works well. The film is based on the short story by Elmore Leonard, and is a remounting of the 1957 film. The 2007 version has James Mangold directing and it’s a romp-roaring ride. Poor Dan Evans (Bale) sees himself caught up in escorting the mean and murderous outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) with a ragtag group of marshals and deputies (and eventually his son) to the railway town of Contention so Wade can be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma for his hanging. That is essentially the plot but, of course, there’s a whole lot more going on here … all of it brilliantly done. This is Crowe’s movie for sure and his self-deprecating approach to playing Ben Wade is a joy to watch. Long live the westerns! My rating 9 out of 10.
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