Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Written and Directed by:
Olivier Assayas, Frederic Aubertin, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Gerard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer and Gus Van Sant

Francine: Thomas Listen. Listen. There are times when life calls out for a change. A transition. Like the seasons. Our spring was wonderful, but summer is over now and we missed out on autumn. And now all of a sudden, it's cold, so cold that everything is freezing over. Our love fell asleep, and the snow took it by surprise. But if you fall asleep in the snow, you don't feel death coming.

With the sun shining brilliantly on a quiet Sunday that is just about to fully wake up, love can be felt in the soft breeze that sweeps past my feet and can be seen in the smiles of the people I walk alongside. It is the perfect day to stop off for croissants and a café-o-lait before heading off to the city of lights and love. Of course, a flight to Paris is not reasonably in this humble film critic’s budget so I had to opt for the next best thing, PARIS, JE T’AIME, a collection of 18 short films by a variety of international directors. Each piece is named after a different Parisian neighborhood and is a reflection on love. Careful not to over glorify the most powerful and persuasive of all human emotions, PARIS, JE T’AIME explores love at the many stages of its own game. The results are spontaneously romantic and surprisingly consistent. And truly, what better way to express the fleeting nature of love and how a moment can change your life than with a collection of filmed moments.

The beautifully poetic quote above is taken from Tom Tykwer’s Faubourg Saint Denis. True to form, Tykwer (RUN, LOLA, RUN) uses time-lapse photography and repetition to demonstrate the entire cycle of love, from inception to dissolution. Originally shot in 2004 and paired down for this anthology, Faubourg stars Natalie Portman as Francine, an American actress in Paris for a part in a film, and Melchior Beslon as Thomas, a blind man she falls in love with. Here, the blind leads the blind through the most unstable of terrain, where two people consume each other to a point where their lives nearly lose their own existences. As love seems to go from dazzling to dizzying, Tykwer reminds us of the tricks it can play on our minds and the illusions it can create when we stray towards doubt.

Perhaps the most giddily romantic offering comes from Sylvain Chomet’s Tour Eiffel. Choosing the city’s most identifiable attraction for its title, Chomet (LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE) gives us a little boy who tells the story of how his parents met and fell in love. His father, a mime (Paul Putner), finds himself falling into one surreal scenario after another and eventually lands himself in jail. This is where he meets the woman who will become the love of his life (Yolande Moreau). Miming has become something of a dying art, if it isn’t already dead. Yet by nature, it is dreamy and untroubled. Miming points its silent finger at the ridiculousness of human behaviour and what but love can make people act more absurd? We might find someone special in the least likely of circumstances if we could just take ourselves a little less seriously.

PARIS, JE T’AIME keeps the flow lively by not always focusing on love between lovers. Three memorable shorts focus on the love between a parent and a child. Walter Salles (MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) has Catalina Sandino Moreno singing lovingly to her child before she leaves him to sing the same song with a distant longing to the child she watches over for her living. Nobuhiro Suwa (UN COUPLE PARFAIT) has Juliette Binoche trying desperately to overcome the emptiness she feels after losing her son. Binoche says very little yet, not surprisingly given her immense talent, her struggle is evident in her face as she learns that love sometimes means letting go. And Alfonso Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN) weighs in with one continuous shot of a father (Nick Nolte) and his grown daughter (Sara Martins) walking together for what must be the first time in a long while. We see them only from across the street and we only get close to them as the distance between the two characters narrows to a place of comfort and accepting.

The last short to screen is Alexander Payne’s 14ieme Arrondissement. As usual, Payne (SIDEWAYS) takes an ordinary person and shows us what makes them extraordinary. Carol (Margo Martindale) is another American in Paris. She is there alone and for less time than she would have liked as she has dogs waiting for her at home. She is a plain person with an uneventful life who finds herself in a city that is rich and lush. In beautifully delivered Americanized French, she muses about the sights and how being there makes her feel. This woman spends so much time trying to be happy despite life’s numerous disappointments and as she sits in a city made for lovers, she realizes that she is in fact happy and loves herself more than she knew. She falls in love, if only for perhaps a moment, with life and love itself.

The characters that appear but fleetingly in PARIS, JE T’AIME find themselves at the romantic center of the universe. The moments they share with each other, be it helping someone up after a hard fall or reaching out your hand to another person without touching them or without their knowledge, are the moments that give love its flare and flourish. Outside the city of lovers, it can be easy to miss moments such as these but we must remind ourselves of their significance. It takes but a moment for love to shine through a cloudy sky. You just have to keep your heart open to see it. And if one city can be so abundant with love, one has to believe it can find its way one day to your door.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Directed by Gore Verbinski

Pintel: Slap me thrice and hand me to Mama. It’s Jack!

Have you ever noticed how both good and bad things are said to come in three’s? The month of May at the movies this year does nothing to answer that question but it does take the entire superstition that much further, by making it so when things, good or bad, come in three’s, nothing else comes at all. The big commercial theatre where I saw PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END was playing only three films on its dozen or so screens. This summer’s other high profile third chapters, SPIDERMAN 3 and SHREK 3, joined it. With these three films monopolizing every screen, how can any other film come to matter or register a dent in the consciousness of filmgoers? One could conclude that the theatre is just giving the people what they want but how accurate is that? By the time the third part in a series rolls around, people seem to be tired of the whole thing and just ready for it to be over. Given how much bile has been spilled over all three of the aforementioned films, it appears as though it has become cool to turn on those that have provided so much entertainment in the past. Luckily for Hollywood, the trend has done nothing to stop the money from rolling in.

I didn’t care for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST. I found it to have had its comic moments but to be overdrawn and tedious at times, lacking the spontaneity and energy of the first film, THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL. As a result, I didn’t have much of an interest in AT WORLD’S END. The PIRATES series falls into a category of trilogy where the second and third installments were not specifically intended when the first was conceived. What was once a complete story must be expanded into a longer series. Some storylines are given back-story while others are stretched so thin that it becomes distracting to actually grasp how everything is connected. In AT WORLD’S END, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) needs to be brought back from the dead, known here as Davy Jones’ Locker. With a variety of selfish motivations, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) make the dangerous journey along with their regular crew. Once back, Jack and company must defeat Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) and his fleet, who intend to rid the world of all pirates. Along the way, a number of other sub plots find some screen time but find themselves ultimately left ashore. Having already seen the first two films, I found it somewhat difficult to piece the muddled puzzle together at times so I can only imagine how lost one would be coming into this film without any previous pirate experience. Overly complex stories are almost inevitable though when you expand a story that was never intended to be expanded to begin with.

The PIRATES series has relied increasingly on visual effects as the series has progressed. While the transitions between pirates and the undead in the first film were sleek and engrossing, the film itself struck with viewers thanks primarily to the wild and unpredictable performance of Johnny Depp. Depp has been just as consistent at being inconsistent in the two latter films but there’s only so much further the character can go. Subsequently, the visual aspects needed to step it up to deliver that which a summer blockbuster is expected to deliver. Back for a third time is director Gore Verbinski, taking a decidedly darker, more surreal approach to the pirates he made famous. When a film opens with mass hangings and the announcement that a number of citizens are being robbed of their fundamental rights, you know that fluff is not about to follow. Only here, it does. What ensues is a ride that bounces back and forth between varying visual motifs that leave the viewer lost at sea. That being said, I don’t think I will forget that close-up of Depp’s nose traveling along the screen, sniffing for a peanut, for a very long time.

It’s hard to say goodbye to anything that has been with you for so long. It’s even harder for studios to imagine never seeing the size of treasure that Jack and crew haul in with each of their adventures. Hence, even as this trilogy comes to its intended close, further pirate plots are being cooked up by studio heads that will likely plow ahead with them with or without their regular cast. That doesn’t stop AT WORLD’S END from ensuring that every possible audience satisfaction is met before the credits role. Characters say their goodbye’s almost as if they were the actors themselves saddened by the end of their own experiences together. The film suddenly seems to be fully aware of its own significance in the pop culture fabric. The problem here is the film is giving itself more credit than it likely deserves as it seems these days that more people flock to trilogy closers out of obligation and not anticipation.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Written and Directed by Sarah Polley

Grant: Fiona, is there any way you can let this go?
Fiona: If I let it go, it will only hit me harder when I bump into it again.

A couple washes up after dinner. He washes while she dries. They savour the memory of the delicious dinner they just shared. They are smiling and in love after forty-four years together. In a moment of silence, he casually hands her the frying pan he has just cleaned. She dries it with her towel, walks to the freezer and puts it inside. She exits the room as if nothing out of the ordinary has just happened. All he can do is watch, if his intentions are to be sensitive. This is the context in which we are introduced to Grant and Fiona (Gordon Pinsett and Julie Christie) in the first feature film adapted and directed by Canadian actress Sarah Polley, AWAY FROM HER. Polley brings unapologetic honesty and sympathy to the lives of these two characters. After a lifetime together, they will be torn apart by Alzheimer’s. Neither can do anything to stop it. He can only watch her mind disappear while she tries to enjoy the undetermined lucid time she has left. It is Polley’s delicate and respectful hand that guides the viewer to see past the surface of misplaced kitchen apparel and see the longing for tenderness that is had between as it lingers longer than fading memories.

Memory comes in and out in AWAY FROM HER. With the image often filling with white and veering on blurry like a blinding snowstorm, Polley sets the tone from the start. Memory is a hazy concept. Alzheimer’s is a cruel game that has Fiona having difficulty maintaining her short-term memory, like why she left the house or common words, while some of the most painful memories in her life seem like they will never be forgotten. Her story unfolds as she decides to admit herself to a retirement facility so that her husband needn’t be responsible for her. This particular “home” enforces a policy where new residents are not allowed to have any contact with the loved ones they left behind for the first thirty days after they are admitted. When Grant is finally able to return to the residence, it isn’t clear whether Fiona even recognizes him and worse yet, she has found comfort in the company of another man (Michael Murphy). As painful as this reality is, Polley cuts away to another time and place throughout this build, allowing us a glimpse into where Grant will end up as a result of all this change. As a result, the film feels interrupted. It is one of few mistakes made by this novice filmmaker but fortunately not one that makes the film any less painful.

Polley directs three beautifully nuanced performances from her leads. As Grant, Pinsett is bewildered, stubborn and hopeful depending on the moment. Despite all of his frustration, he is constantly searching for understanding and resolve for the memories even he has difficulty letting go of. Olympia Dukakis joins the cast as Marian, the wife of Aubrey, the man Fiona befriends in the residence. She is a tough woman, brass because she has to be. For Grant, she represents what he could have become had it been decided that he would care for his wife himself. Her life is one that was surrendered to supporting her husband through his illness, forcing personal happiness to be removed as a possibility. Naturally, given the nature of the part, it is Christie that pulls the viewer deep into a mind that is falling away. In one scene, Grant brings her home for a day. She marvels at how it was kept so well after all this time. Though the home she is seeing was her own for over twenty years, she looks on it as if it belonged to someone else. The way her eyes take in the surroundings, an environment that she should know intimately, suggests a sense of attachment intrinsically linked with a saddened detachment. She should know this place, these things, and one some level she does. She does not understand why she should feel a sense of familiarity, just that it is so. It is as though memories flood back to her but they aren’t her own.

AWAY FROM HER is a fantastic first film from a talented Canadian actress with great promise as both a perceptive writer and skilled director. It is also a lesson in patience and learning to let go. Not for the viewer but for those onscreen. Grant must always exercise restraint while allowing the love of his life to find solace in another man. After all, what matters most is that she be at peace. As big a task as this is, Fiona must do even more. She must accept that the life she knew is behind her and that the one ahead of her is new, necessary and one that might fade away from her as quickly as it happens to her.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi
Directed by Sam Raimi

Mary Jane Watson: Everybody needs help. Even Spiderman.

As far as I’m concerned, you can drown those pirates at sea and banish that ogre to a land even further away because there’s only one sequel that matters this summer. SPIDERMAN 3 has finally swung through oncoming traffic and in and around the tallest buildings to land in theatres as the flagship film to launch the box office into summer. Legions of Spidey enthusiasts have had their tickets for weeks while critics have been waiting to review the latest installment in one the most successful and well-received film franchises in history. With expectations this high, its hard to imagine how Spidey could possible satisfy anyone fully. Yet despite the increasingly loud whispers of disappointment waiting to welcome SPIDERMAN 3, this critic slash Spidey enthusiast had himself one heck of a web slingin’ time and he’s not afraid to say it.

In the third, and what is sadly not likely the last in the Spiderman series, your friendly neighborhood Spiderman (Tobey Maguire) finds himself on top of the world. New York loves him; Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) loves him; and subsequently, Spidey ends up loving himself a little more than he should. High on his own ego, he decides to make everything perfect in his life and ask MJ to marry him. Simple enough a concept but things get a little sticky when he has to deal with his uncle’s killer escaped from jail, his best friend’s obsession with getting revenge on him for his father’s death, having to compete with a new photographer at the Daily Bugle and MJ’s increasingly disastrous acting career. Oh, wait. I forgot that he also has to deal with The Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace), the newest enemies to emerge in New York City, a city where freaks apparently flock to. It’s a lot for one man to handle, let alone one man with super human powers. Ultimately, it proved to be too much for another super human to handle, namely returning director, Sam Raimi. Taking over script duty with his brother Ivan, found a lot of interesting themes like revenge and ego woven into the Spidey web but so much going on leaves so little to fully develop. Scenes that would seem pivotal, like when Venom and Sandman decide to team up, end up feeling rushed while scenes that are entirely disposable, like when Spidey’s alter ego, Peter Parker, finds his “Saturday Night Fever” groove strutting down the streets of NYC, seem to go on forever.

While the first SPIDERMAN film, written by David Koepp (rumoured to be returning for SPIDERMAN 4) brought me to tears more than once, there is plenty to enjoy in SPIDERMAN 3 that allows forgiveness for the script problems. People seem to have forgotten that Spidey is here to entertain us. Sure it would be nice to be affected by the words being spoken as well but when the action is as tight and the special effects as vast as in SPIDERMAN 3, it is a pleasure to tune out for a while and enjoy the ride. With three enemies to fight off at any given moment, Spidey finds himself constantly reevaluating his approach. With the New Goblin (James Franco), Spidey has to fend off a very aggressive attacker that he doesn’t truly want to hurt. The Sandman, who enters and exits in a flurrying sandstorm that is a visual kaleidoscope of grain, is at times an insurmountable force. The fact that Spidey can’t effectively hit him only further shows how much energy is wasted on revenge (as he was the man who actually killed his uncle in his pre-Sandman days). And Venom is just plain frightening. Being under the control of the tar-like substance that transforms cocky photographer, Eddie Brock (Grace), into this fanged fright, amplifies all of your aggressive, negative behavior. For Spidey, fighting Venom is like fighting all the parts of himself that he tries so hard to leave behind.

When SPIDERMAN hit theatres a few in 2002, its energy was infectious. Hopes were high and the goods were delivered. Genuine admiration was formed for the hero but like any hero, people eventually want to tear them down out of jealousy. How quickly we forget the love and allow our expectations to be set so high that no one, not even a man who glides gracefully through the sky, could surmount them. Better than the second, not as good the first, SPIDERMAN 3 is falling prey to the audience’s need to be constantly wowed with something bigger and better that eclipses accomplishments that are already awesome. Sure Raimi got himself tangled up in his own overcomplicated web but there is no one who can spin it like he can. And if Raimi, Maguire and Dunst don’t return for future installments, you’ll all be wishing you hadn’t squashed this spider so quickly.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Written and Directed by Adrienne Shelley

Jenna: I was addicted to saying things and having them matter to someone.

Somewhere, someone is making a pie that is all their own. They have been to the grocery store; they have chosen the best ingredients. They have a recipe in their head that might have once been their mother’s or might have come to them while they waited for the bus. And though there may be situations or circumstances in their lives that may be keeping them from the happiness they deserve, for the time it will take to prepare their warm treat, they will be focused on the act of creation itself. That same kind of care is baked into writer/director Adrienne Shelley’s Sundance darling, WAITRESS. Like the film’s heroine, Jenna (Keri Russell) who bakes to escape from her dreary, hopeless life, Shelley ensures that WAITRESS is the result of blending all the right ingredients, not over baking and gently sifting in just the right amount of love whenever necessary.

If WAITRESS were itself a pie, it would taste like the perfect combination of different flavours coming to life on your tongue one after the other instead of all at once. It would be rich, not overly sweet. Realism gives this romantic comedy its affluence. Jenna plays a waitress who works thankless hours at a pie shop outside of town. She is married to a controlling, abusive husband (played by a humanely needy Jeremy Sisto) and has just discovered that she is pregnant. She thought her life was going nowhere before but the baby news shut the oven door for good on whatever dreams she still held on to. Russell plays Jenna like a woman resigned to her fate. She is not necessarily unhappy in her day-to-day interactions; she merely does not believe that any good will come to her in her life. None has come thus far so why should she expect anything different from the future? She is not a pessimist but a pragmatist. While the dead-end career/deadbeat husband angle has been played out before, Shelley makes sure to avoid cliché with a sensitive script that allows for her characters to make sensible choices rather than typical ones that define the genre.

The relationship that is perhaps treated most delicately and also becomes the central relationship in the film is the one that forms between Jenna and her new gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). After an initially uncomfortable meeting, the two start an affair that finds Jenna following her pregnancy very closely with what seems like weekly visits to her doctor. Affairs are very tricky to sell on film as the romance has the extra challenge of overshadowing the innocent partners that are left at home and the undue hurt that is caused to them. In Jenna’s case, the woman has got it so rough; you want her to have this happiness. What value do the vows she made to her husband have when he essentially manipulated her into marrying him in the first place so that he would never be alone? Russell makes it boisterously enjoyable to watch Jenna realize that she can actually make choices that control her own destiny. They may not be ideal but they can bring smiles to her face again. And as for Dr. Pomatter and his involvement, Shelley wisely chooses not to show his wife until much later on or explain away why he is cheating. In the end, it isn’t his story and all that matters is that he’s there and he sees Jenna for the wondrous woman she is.

WAITRESS is easy to fall in love with. After all, isn’t there a little waitress in all of us? To varying degrees, we all wish that something about our lives had turned out differently. If we’re lucky there are elements that we are happy with but there is always going to be something we don’t feel we’ve explored to its fullest or opportunities we feel we’ve been cheated out of. Let this movie and its creation be a lesson to us all to enjoy the moments where we feel happy just making a pie, as those are the moments that matter and you never know what life has in mind for you next.

Before she could witness the critical success and audience reaction to her film, a construction worker killed writer/director Adrienne Shelley over a noise dispute in her building.