Wings of Desire
Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are angels who spend their days roaming Berlin before the fall of the Wall eavesdropping on the conversations of ordinary folk. While slow to start and void of plot as traditionally understood, patience is rewarded in viewing what is really a combination of poetry and stream of consciousness brought to film by director Wim Wenders. Wings of Desire is deep on umpteen levels and full of messages that still ring true today: who are you? why are you here? is love worth it? When Damiel falls in love with the beautiful trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommatin) and opts to fall from grace, we have an answer as sure as the truths espoused by Peter Falk (playing himself). This is a beautiful film and an artsy film, sure; but in the end isn’t it better you be challenged to see yourself differently upon leaving a movie theatre? My rating 9 out of 10.
The Red Violin
This Canadian film, directed by the brilliant François Girard, traces the life of a violin crafted in 1681 Italy, that has come to auction in present day Montreal. Filmed in flashbacks amid the violin’s history in an Austrian monastery, the hands of gypsies, the hands of a crazed English violinist, and the Chinese cultural revolution, we learn of its fabled roots in the death of its maker’s wife, the beautiful Anna Bussotti, whose blood gives the violin both its magical powers, fame, and name. The film is anchored by Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Charles Morritz, the expert brought in to confirm the violin’s authenticity. The Red Violin is an adventure, and a mystery, and a journey on so many levels and is a film best described as rich. It is rare in film today in that it is intelligent. Well worth a rent if you’re looking for 2 hours of utter immersion in the ethereal power of love and music. My rating 9 out of 10.
The Blossoming of Maximo Olivieros
This is a Philippine film directed by first-time director, Auraeus Solito. It weaves the story of a ladyboy named Maxi (a very good Nathan Lopez) with his family’s life of petty crime in Manila. Maxi shares his home with Paca, his dad (played by Soliman Cruz) and his two older brothers, the always moody Boy (Neil Ryan Sese) and always manic Bogs (Ping Medina). Maxi is mother to the older men who spend their day placing bets and stealing then selling cell phones. When a new cop on the block Victor (VR Valentin) arrives to rescue Maxi from a thrashing, the stories collide. Maxi, who everyone accepts as a girl in boy’s clothing, is instantly infatuated. However, Victor is a cop and when Boy ends up killing a student, Maxi is faced with having to support his family or his ‘love’; with some mellow-dramatic – if tragic – consequences. The Blossoming of Maximo is filmed in a gritty, in-the-moment style that works despite the occasional problems director Solito has with lighting, and flow, and while the story is here and there (I suspect more a problem with the subtitles then the acting), it is oddly refreshing to see a gay lad portrayed with such honesty. My rating 7 out of 10.
With a stellar cast of Hollywood hot properties, Four Christmases ought to be a runaway hit. Many reviewers however thought differently and were, in several cases, unkind. Yet, despite its flaws Four Christmases works magically well as both a cautionary Christmas tale of the bonds our families wield and the facades we build about ourselves in the quest for a perfect relationship. Hardcore never-getting-marrieders, Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) have spent their years together outright lying to their dysfunctional families about their whereabouts at Christmas. Unwilling to face the trauma of doing the rounds, they make-up stories of overseas good-deeding in third world countries while secretly vacationing in Fiji. But this year they are caught out in the fib and must tour Kate and Brad’s wonky families including Paula (Sissy Spacek) and Howard (Robert Duvall) – Brad’s folks – and Kate’s parents Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen) and Creighton (Jon Voight). Seth Gordan directs this hodgepodge that, despite its really bad bits (and there are plenty!), comes off revealing the complicated emotions pent up in Kate and Brad with a truism that is both well written and expertly portrayed. There is a great moral here as all great Christmas films must have, and for that my rating 8 out of 10.
The mind of Tim Burton continues its unparalleled ability to birth fantastic worlds, in this case a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. The version stars Burton regulars Johnny Depp (as the Mad Hatter), a simply brilliant Helena Bonham Carter (as the Red Queen – “I need a pig here!”) and Mia Wasikowska as the now 19-year-old Alice returned to Wonderland – her memory muted – to do battle with the Jabberwocky (the voice of Christopher Lee) once again. Like all Burton films, the look is everything and the look here is mesmerizing and alone, worth the price of admission. That, and enjoying the gushing over-the-topness of Carter. While not groundbreaking or epic, Alice in Wonderland is fun, funny and fantastically fabulous. My rating 8 out of 10.
Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard star as husband and wife Kate and John Coleman, who, after a miscarriage, adopt a wee Russian lass, Esther (Isabella Fuhrman) with a whole lot of baggage. Brought into their existing home with younger daughter Max (Aryana Engineer – [dreadful name]) and older son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), Esther sets herself promptly to work sowing seeds of distrust and fear among the family, and lusting after her new papa. As the story unfolds, we learn Esther has a history of wrecking havoc and a disorder that actually makes her look younger than she actually is. Director Jaume Collet-Serra does a good building the suspense, even though we see it all coming and the inherent problem with the film is its slowness in developing Esther’s back story. Farmiga is great and wee Fuhrman is amazing playing a 30-year in a 9-year-old’s body. Props to Collet-Serra for giving us an unconventional non-Hollywood ending vis-a-vis papa too. My rating 7 out of 10.
Lost in Translation was Sophia Coppola first venture as a director and screenwriter and my, what a marvelous entry to the world of film. Quiet and subtle, it follows Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) as they roam the Park Hyatt Tokyo and its New York Grill bar/restaurant in search of something they know they need but can’t quite grasp: grounding. The film is deep on oh-so-many levels as both struggle with the language of their lives – the obvious struggle of fathoming Japanese and the even deeper struggle of communicating with their spouses. The comfort they discover with each other bridges these language barriers. Lost in Translation is a wonderful tome on loneliness and the importance of friendship and Sophia does an outstanding job showing North American audiences the subtlety of Zen existent in modern Tokyo. My rating 8 out of 10.
You can tell from the very first moments of the film that accountant Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan MacGregor) is going to be had by lawyer Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman). This is both unfortunate; and not. Director Marcel Langenegger is not subtle so we see it all coming; ditto when our femme fatale S (Michelle Williams) arrives on scene. We know she’s not quite what she seems. So sure the story is full of holes but thankfully the acting of this trio staves off complete ruin. The film’s premise is, well, just silly and the segway into the sexual escapades of the rich and idle via a swingers club – “Are you free tonight?” – doesn’t help. The wee twist at the end makes the going somewhat worth the journey … but barely. My rating 5 out of 10.
Director Peter Billingsley was brought in to direct the dumb screenplay by – among others – Vince Vaughn. Premise has 3 couples in varying degrees of challenge heading to Fuji (St Regis Bora Bora Resort) – okay, that’s good – to partake in a couples retreat. Despite the B-star power brought into this shipwreck of a movie – with Jason Bateman at the helm – Couples Retreat is both so far fetched and so, well, bad it makes one long for abandonment on a island without access to any films again. If crudeness is your cup of tea, saddle up to the trough, you’ll love it. Only watchable because of the gorgeous scenery in Bora Bora gives this mistake masquerading as a movie, my rating of 3 out of 10.
Beat poet Alexander Trocchi’s novel gets a treatment in this David Mackenzie-directed film. The film is exceedingly introspective, taking us inside the mind of boatman Joe Taylor (Ewan McGregor) as he struggles whether or not to come clean with his knowledge of the death of his girlfriend Cathie (Emily Mortimer) while carrying on an affair with the wife (Tilda Swinton) of his employer Les (Peter Mullan). The performances in this film are both studied and fine and Mackenzie does a superb job creating an atmosphere to match. Despite this though, the film fails to engage its audience and is an example of greatness just missed. But for giving us a glimpse of both Tilda’s breasts and Ewan’s penis, my rating 5 out of 10. Sex sells afterall.