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Rating History

Incendies (2011)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Incendies is a powerful experience. It's a carefully crafted parable that injects the audience with the horrific possibilities of the world, then attempts to remind us that a personal peace is worth pursuing.

Incendies follows three protagonists all revealing the same story from different timelines. We start with two twins, Simon (Maxim Gaudette) and Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) as they listen to the details of their mother's will. The will instructs Simon and Jeanne to deliver two letters, one addressed to their Father (who they thought was dead) and one to their brother (whom they didn't know existed). Their search takes them to Lebanon, but their journey is to find out who their mother was. The details they uncover coincide with scenes of their mother, Narwal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), living each clue they discover.

Part of what makes Incendies so compelling is the way it is told. Simon and Jeanne don't know who their mother was, and neither do we. We don't know much about Simon and Jeanne either, except that Simon is a bit juvenile and rebellious against his mother, and Jeanne is a solitary person. It's a small gamble to begin a dramatic mystery with so little to relate to because the film has to make us want to discover more. Incendies works because it juxtaposes Narwal's harrowing history to Simon and Jeanne's investigation.

The ignorance and innocence of Simon and Jeanne act as a window into experiencing an unknown culture and history. They are as much removed from their Mother's history as we are, but Incendies is more interested in conveying what history feels like rather than educating. The movie is based on the play Scorched by Wajdi Mouad. When Mouaud was six years old he witnessed Christian militia machinegun a bus full of Palestinians. As a child he wouldn't have understood the "why" of the situation, but focused on what it felt like. Scorched is his relation of that experience, and it is still poignantly felt in Incendies.

This is also why some scenes in Incendies are untranslated. In one scene where Jeanne enters a home filled with Lebanese women they are gracious and smile. Jeanne is invited in for tea. She is smiled at, even revered a little; it excites them to have an exotic traveler from Canada in their home. A woman who speaks French begins to translate Jeanne's inquiries. Jeanne mentions "Narwal Marwan" and shows a picture of her mother. We see one translation that says Narwal Marwan was a disgrace, then the thirteen women heatedly screech at each other. Jeanne is asked to leave.

Despite all the cultural hatred, murder, and emotionally fractured families, Incendies reminds us of peace through its imagery. The first thing we see are trees in the wind; still trunks, and periodic gusts that rustle the leaves like waves from a tide. This imagery is revisited so often it seems like a mantra, ensuring we remember calm. Eventually Incendies puts words to this imagery, but by then the image has faded.

One of the promotional posters for Incendies shows Narwal Marwan's face against the backdrop of rising clouds of smoke from a vehicle on fire. Her expression suggests profound change - irrevocably scorched - the same as the earth below that vehicle. When Incendies ended in my theatre, people didn't pack up their things or hurry out. They remained seated, like a gesture of respect out of what they had witnessed.

Article first published as Movie Review: Incedies on Blogcritics. http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-incedies/

The Green Hornet
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Green Hornet's design is as bumbling as its execution. It manages to be both a miscalculated buddy movie, and a sub-par action comedy. All the movie wants is to be goofy and entertaining, but this silly romp gradually runs out of breath because it works too hard at being a Seth Rogen comedy.

When his Father dies Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) inherits a powerful LA newspaper (The Daily Sentinel) and a kung-fu-fighting-coffee-making-ultra-mechanic named Kato (Jay Chou). Amidst a drunken prank, Reid and Kato stop a mugging and enjoy the experience so much they decide to become super heroes. The twist: they will pose as villains so they can infiltrate the real bad guys, and will use The Sentinel to promote their villainy.

This premise sounds muddled but is accurate to the Green Hornet mythology; Seth Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg are the ones that complicate things. On paper a buddy movie between a man and his butler is intriguing, but it's difficult to make the Batman/Alfred dynamic work. Ideally buddy movies should feature two equals whose opposing characteristics complement each other. Rogen and Goldberg make Reid a volcanically obnoxious boss and make Kato an inordinately smooth sidekick. It's a weird concept that plays out like moving starring Gilbert Gottfried and George Clooney.

Beyond the dynamically different duo, action comedies work best when we are given genuine characters. Genuine characters make the comedy funnier and the action more engaging because we care about what happens to them. In True Lies, for example, we spend a lot of time with Jaime Lee Curtis's character. We see the staleness of her marriage and her lust for excitement. This backstory makes her striptease funnier, and her haphazard action sequences more interesting. Contrast that to Green Hornet where Kato reveals his true passion is to be an artist. He shares a drawing of a busty comic heroine and Reid calls him a perv. It's sadly one of the few motivations we learn about Kato, but Green Hornet doesn't care about motivation, it cares about laughs.

Despite Green Hornet's shortcomings, Jay Chou is a surprising standout. In his debut film Initial D he played a subdued character and delivered a horrifically boring performance. Here he can focus more on being Jay Chou than acting. He talks with the confidence of a man who has sold 28 million albums, has won the World Music Award four times, and has the sexual affection of millions of women. Whether or not the casting director knew it, there is a large Jay Chou following that will go see this movie, and quiver as Chou touches those ivory keys.

In fact the entire film is one one mishmashed draw. Either you really love the obnoxious, rambling Seth Rogen, or you can't resist seeing a Green Hornet movie, or you think Director Michel Gondry can't miss, or you want to have Jay Chou's babies. But none of these things look like the other, and none of them belong in a movie worth watching.

Article first published as http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-green-hornet/ Movie Review: Green Hornet on Blogcritics.

Michael Jackson's This Is It
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"This Is It" is not a movie, but a carefully reconstructed home video. Filmed as a document for Michael's personal library, Kenny Ortega (director of the film and cancelled O2 performances) agreed to cut the film together "for fans."

It's tough to make a movie out of that. If you saw Dave Chappelle's Block party, you saw a concert documentary filmed fully aware that it was going to be a movie. "This Is It," while filmed by documentarians, does not have the same purposeful feel.

I suspect critics of the entertainment industry use the film as an opportunity to pay final tribute to the most successful entertainer of all time. Many of their reviews read like eulogies, rather than film reviews, which is understandable. "This Is It" is Michael's self-proclaimed the final curtain.

But 80% of the film is Michael on a rehearsal stage. He doesn't sing full out because he's saving his voice. He excutes the dance moves, but his dancing doesn't have the same fury of his performances. It's an imprint of the man, rather than the performance of the legend.

Michael Jackson was the first artist I loved. I would launch myself down the stairs if I heard he was dancing on TV. I know now why I wanted to see him perform. Jackson meticulously crafted his shows, and released his unparalled potential as a performer when he was on stage. But this movie isn't Michael on the stage, it's him behind the curtain.

The Town
The Town (2010)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Ben Affleck's admirable effort in The Town won't matter to those that, "just don't like his face." That's difficult to overcome for an actor, and Affleck's additional roles as director and co-writer for the film won't quell the prejudiced army that has dogged his career. But hopefully Affleck's excellent work on The Town will change some opinions.

The Town is about a crew who robs banks and armoured trucks. Such is family tradition in Charlestown we are told. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) leads the crew while James (Jem) Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) acts as his second in command. They rob a bank, take a beautiful woman (Rebecca Hall) hostage, then she is released. Later, Doug starts dating her. Problems ensue.

Someone told Ben Affleck that 90% of directing is casting. Perhaps that's why the performances in The Town are so remarkable. Chris Cooper as Doug's Father is so good he has his own theme music - and why shouldn't he? It's only one scene in the film but he has to convey oceans below the surface of the dialogue. Jeremy Renner's aggression as Jem is almost comical in its intensity. Jem reacts to the chance of violence like an erection; all he wants to do is act on his constant desire.

Perhaps it is Ben's charm that helps the dialogue paint pictures and be funny at the same time. If you've seen Pearl Harbour, Good Will Hunting, Hollywoodland, Chasing Lanes, and Gone Baby Gone the perception of his ability is muddled. He told Renner during casing he wasn't sure he could manage three roles for the film. But The Town needs Affleck's fondness for Boston. The focus on Boston monuments and the streets of Charlestown are as prevalent as the familial touch between all the characters.

While there is nothing particularly surprising about the plot points of The Town the film is oddly riveting. It's the unremarkable set pieces that help make some scenes more gripping. For example, a car chase in a family van makes sense as a conspicuous getaway vehicle, and thematically we are much more drawn to root for our bad guys when they struggle to escape several police cars in narrow streets in a caravan.

Hollywood caters to the "book by its cover" mentality. Chris Cooper is too old. Blake Lively is TV-caliber. Ben Affleck is too dumb. But they'll all dazzle and surprise you if you would give The Town a chance.

Article first published as http://blogcritics.org/video/article/movie-review-the-town2/Movie Review: The Town on Blogcritics.

True Grit
True Grit (2010)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Good Westerns are about performances first, and justice second. There's an initial disbelief in any period piece, and True Grit's faithfulness to a 19th century Arkansas dialect doesn't help settle the audience - its actors do. If you're able to accept the dialogue True Grit is a good-silences-evil Western that is entertaining, and surprisingly funny.

Fourteen year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) believes the film's opening proverb: "The wicked flee when none pursueth." This is why she hires the toughest lawman she can find, Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to pursue her Father's killer. They are also accompanied by LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a Texas Ranger who hunts the same man.

Mattie Ross won't be treated as a child or disrespected as a woman, which is unfortunate because she is both. When authority figures tell her "no," she either finds a way to get what she wants or threatens to get her lawyer. She hires Cogburn before she has money to pay him, which she acquires by forcing an auctioneer to purchase things he doesn't want. Like her character, Steinfeld is also fourteen and has remarkable range for someone so young. She must make us believe she is both strong willed and vulnerable, and do so speaking dialogue that baffles and alienates the audience. It's a nuanced performance for a teenager that reveals the occasional glimmer of a woman.

Marshal Rooster Cogburn decides right and wrong based on how much whiskey is on hand. When we first see Cogburn he's on the stand recounting his story of his most recent arrest. There's a bright light from a window behind him. Often in films a light directly behind a character's head indicates a special knowledge or the divine. But the light from the courtroom window doesn't illuminate Cogburn's head, instead it's slightly askew to where he sits. Cogburn is not a saint, and if he had any special knowledge he probably drank it away. He's a hilarious and oddly capable buffoon, and in a Coen Brothers movie few could embody buffoonery as well as Bridges. He slurs most of his lines through a gruff voice and is the lovable comedic center of the film.

Matt Damon's performance will draw the least praise because it's difficult to appreciate a character that is the butt of every joke. However, Damon's keen portrayal of an earnest nitwit elevates his fellow actors. Damon's character's name, LaBoeuf, is pronounced as though it were French: "Le Beef." We see his fancy spurs before we clearly see his face because he displays them like a vain peacock. When Mattie wakes and finds him sitting in his room, he leans back in chair as he announces his job title, and slowly reveals his Texas Ranger star as if to say, "you may swoon now."

The Coen Brothers have an uncanny ability to translate their humour onto the screen. John Turturro called working with them a "comfortable collaborative effort ... like kid's play." This playfulness gives humanity to the wordy dialogue, and binds the audience to the story. We approach such Coen films as children approach play; where the game ends up is never as important as the fun you have while you're together.

Article first published as Movie Review: True Grit (2010) on Blogcritics.