The Illusionist

19 02 2011

The Illusionist is an incredible story directed by Sylvain Chomet, the same man who brought us Triplets of Belleville in 2003.  I should say that I loved Triplets, and so I came into The Illusionist with very high expectations.  It absolutely delivered, and on a more heart-wrenching level than Chomet’s first animation. 

The Illusionist follows the life of an older gentleman, a French traveling magician looking for work and finding it only in the lowliest of places.  His particular breed of stage performance is shown being eclipsed by young, up and coming rockstars, to both our amusement and dismay.  When he is invited to Scotland to perform in a bar, he meets a young woman who, seeking adventure, decides to go with him when he departs town.  Their lives are forever changed by this momentous decision. 

It is needless to say that the animation is absolutely breathtaking.  Each frame is a masterpiece unto itself.  Every character is completely different from every other but still they manage to exist seamlessly in the same universe.  Chomet is a genius because aside from a few muffled words and fully intended grunts, gasps, and yells, the film is devoid of a spoken narrative.  The storyline is propelled forward by subtlety and happenings that are fully compelling despite their quiet.  Chomet is able to make every movement and event have this momentousness and sensation that would have been lost on viewers if it were not for its silent treatment.  Quiet as it may be, the pacing is not sped up to make up for it.  In fact, the pacing is steady and bracing, slow but tension-building simultaneously.  This is aided also by an amazing score, some of which is done by Chomet himself.

I don’t want to talk about the story too much.  I want everyone who is reading this to go out and watch it instead of having it ruined by me.  But I will say a few things.  Each character is fully realized and goes through a tumult of development.  I feel as though there was more character development in this single 80-minute “cartoon” than I’ve seen in most movies from this past year combined.  They are charming, witty, and filled with hilarity as befits their whimsical illustrations and beautiful world, but they are also devastatingly believable, and force reality into firm view rather painfully at times.  In the end, The Illusionist is truly a film of intense self-reflection, made possible only through the viewing of the vulnerabilities and plights of the characters we easily come to love as the story unwinds. 

I give it a 10/10, easily.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

27 12 2010

Very much by accident I ended up watching this “classic,” Mrs. Doubtfire. I remember that, as a child, I was enthralled by this movie, and Robin Williams was my own personal king of comedy.  What could be funnier than a man dressing up and acting like an acient English woman, and what could be more touching than his doing it for the sake of his children, torn away from him by his ex-wife?

Memories abounded as I watched this ridiculous movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I found myself often times bursting with laughter.  Each time that happened though, I was profoundly embarrassed, both for me for having laughed at all, and for the scene which I had laughed at.   To exemplify this point, I leave you with this scene.  It is emblematic of the film and the way it makes me feel.  Try watching it a. without laughing and b. without feeling silly for having done so:

My rating: 3/10

Exit Through the Gift Shop

27 12 2010


The film follows Thierry, a quirky amateur-filmmaker who decides to make a documentary about his passion, street art.  After years of filming street artists and amassing boxes upon boxes of footage, Thierry is finally able to track down Banksy, arguably the biggest and most popular on the scene, and can now finish his “epic” street art documentary.  The problem is that Thierry is a truly awful artist and filmmaker, and when Banksy sees the finished product, he suggests that Thierry leave him the footage (after all, it is great, one-of-a-kind footage) for him to edit and in the meantime become a street artist himself.  Banksy then completely shifts the focus of the film to Thierry, raising the question of who the film’s true director is, as Thierry’s film about Banksy and street art transforms into Banksy’s film about Thierry.  Thierry becomes “Mr. Brainwash” (a fitting name) and goes on to create a huge collection of ripped-off, shallow work, but hypes his debut show so successfully (with help from Banksy and a few other street artists) that the art crowd becomes fascinated with it, turning Thierry into an overnight sensation as they rave about his work and spend thousands of dollars on every piece.

The result is that what started out as a documentary about street art turns into a giant “F-U” to the art world.  Thierry is a terrible artist, yet people love him and spend crazy amounts of money on his work thanks to the hype and the media.  The film works on multiple levels, not only as a critique of the art world but simply as a documentary on street art and its appeal in general.

Many are asking if this is real or a hoax (much like I’m Still Here and Catfish from earlier this year), but it’s brilliant however you choose to look at it.  Whether it’s a true documentary or an elaborate prank, it works.  It raises many questions about the art world, and documentaries, and is well worth seeing if you’re at all interested in either.


True Romance (1993)

23 12 2010

Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, True Romance is an oldy but goody.  No, more than that.  It’s absolutely great.  It’s one of those movies that makes you sit back, sigh and say to yourself as the credits are rolling: “They just don’t make ’em like that any more.”

Made up of one part sweet dialogue, one part badass-ness, and one part fairy tale, True Romance unfolds at a dizzying pace revealing an awesome narrative that is made better by its star-studded and aptly chosen cast.  Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette act as the leading couple, and the question quickly becomes: can their quirky love and charm together withstand the strain of their murder of a pimp, accidental theft of a big time amount of cocaine, and the drama that ensues from there?

If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat!  Just check out this cast list: Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini, and Val Kilmer… as Elvis??  Not to mention Gary Oldman as the excellently rendered pimp that gets the axe to start the tale!

My rating: 9/10

Black Swan

19 12 2010

Watching Black Swan has a similar feeling of intensity and horror as watching a car crash in slow motion.  From the start the viewer knows that this is a story about a ballerina named Nina (Natalie Portman) plagued simultaneously with a yearning for perfection and a penchant for doubt resulting in self-abuse, paranoia and neurosis.  Upon receiving her break-through role as the Swan Queen, Nina’s ambitions are tempered by the accusation that her performance may be technically impeccable but lacks the passion required to snare the audience.  This is delivered by the director of the play and company leader  Thomas (Vincent Cassel) who encourages her repeatedly to “let go.”  Thus ensues an incredibly visceral journey through Nina’s mind over the course of her rehearsals.  Violently and sexually charged, Nina’s succumbing to the neccesities of her demanding role as both White Swan and Black Swan unravels in a stomach-churning performance.   Questions of what is real or not real arise but take a back seat to Nina’s development and her overwhelming drive to play her parts.  In a word, the movie was chilling. 

My rating:  8.5/10

Life During Wartime

18 11 2010

Life During Wartime is a spiritual sequel of sorts to writer/director Todd Solondz’s amazing 1998 film Happiness, and is basically a contrived and hollow replicant of that film.  The characters, dialogue, and style are all pretty much the same, but this time it all feels distant and unnecessary.  In Happiness, Solondz treated all his wonderfully twisted, but natural, characters with empathy and compassion, but that’s not the case in this film.  Not only does everything seem emotionally restrained, but Solondz actually seems to show disdain for his characters, who all have little depth this time around (another major difference from Happiness).  It’s as if Solondz is just going through the motions, with no inspiration whatsoever.  Even the “shock value” is forced.

The upside is the cast.  It’s another ensemble, and every member is near-perfect: Shirley Henderson, Michael Williams, Allison Janney, Ciaran Hinds, Paul Reubens, and Dylan Riley Snyder.  It’s a great actors’ showcase but not much else.  This film has nothing to say or offer that Happiness didn’t.


House (1977)

17 11 2010

This is a zany Japanese horror-comedy in the spirit of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.  It’s creative low-budget horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has all the right ingredients to be cult-classic, which it is.  The peculiar mix of schoolgirl comedy, sappy theme music and graphic supernatural horror make it entertaining and unpredictable in the best ways.  The director also doesn’t shy away from stylish psychedelic effects, all of which are incredibly outdated, corny, and awesome.  Certainly not for everyone but House fits the bill for the perfect midnight/cult horror movie.


Also check out the trailer: