Friday, June 30, 2006


So, my dear readers... unsurprisingly, my HP Pavilion has crashed on me again, for the fourth time in about eleven months (bought in late July of last year). I'm really past the point of feeling frustration. As soon as I started hearing those strangled clicks and faltering beeps and encountering familiar blue screens, I started to pack up the lemon to send over to Futureshop (equivalent of Best Buy or similarly-themed technology shop) for repair. Hard drive crashes have become a part of my everyday life now, very much like having to visit the dentist for a clean-up or taking in your car for servicing. The only "good" news is that because of the extended warranty plan I have, if the computer so much as sneezes after this repair, I get a brand-new one. What I fear is the same thing happening all over again, since I get the same model; I'm considering asking for a Mac (although I doubt the plan allows for exchanges). Whatever, technology hates me, I hate technology. I am so looking forward to re-installing everything on my desktop, from iTunes to Anti-virus programs (snort). Hurrah.

The bad news is that I am mostly computer-less for the next few days (my mother, brother and I must share the old Dell we have - it barely has ten gigabytes on it), and the countdown has lost all momentum. Plus, I leave for Dubai on Tuesday, so the list may be in a little bit of limbo for the next few weeks. I will do everything I can to post whatever I can for the next few days, but if not, please forgive me for leaving you all in suspense (hah! all five of you that read this... but I appreciate your involvement).

Off to pack!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

#20 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

I suppose this is my equivalent of Javier's unexpected (but most welcome) inclusion of Toni Collette on his list for The Hours; I posit here that Kevin Bacon gave the best performance in Mystic River's powerhouse ensemble. Yes, it is not a showy submission (a la Penn, Robbins and Harden), nor does Bacon's character have the benefit of a sly, shockeroo twist coming his way (see Linney's Lady Macbeth monologue). In short, he has minimal time and space to make an impression, especially with so many actors making Oscar-bids around him. And yet, watching him softly and wholeheartedly support everyone else - all the while quietly experiencing a tragedy of his own - is like watching a different film entirely. Make no mistake, I am not attempting to disparage the other actors in Mystic River, who are stunning in their portrayals. As well, perhaps many would rather I turn to Bacon's work in The Woodsman to shower hosannas (as well they should - Bacon is so very underrated: still nomination-less!), but something about him here in this film always has me looking back over my shoulder. Consider how Bacon nails every one of those difficult scenes on the phone with his wife, never resorting to hammy dramatics and doing his best to remain composed despite the fact he is surely breaking down inside ("Yeah, nice talkin' to you too"). He is frustrated by her silence, yet he depends on them to give him some degree of sustenance and comfort (to his partner: "She calls all the time"). And then there's the scene where he is shown the resting place of Katie Markum's body, and the hardened way it all registers ("What the fuck am I going to tell him?"). Watch carefully at his eyes while Jimmy grows increasingly desperate outside for an answer ("Is that my daughter in there, Sean?") with a fatigued visage, unable offer any befitting response. It's a stunning moment. And recall that final, ambiguous gesture when he aims at Jimmy, determined to bring him down (and let him know about it). Underplaying every "big" moment with the confidence of a seasoned pro, I love this performance because it is so solid and lived-in. It defines "supporting". With all respect to Tim Robbins, who I greatly admire as an actor (especially in this film), he should hand over his statuette to Bacon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

#21 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

In his Oscar-nominated turn in The Fellowship of the Ring, Ian McKellen disappears so completely into the role of two-thousand-year-old Gandalf the Grey, it is difficult to believe he is giving a performance. It is, excuse the hyperbole, an inhabitation; from the moment he appears riding his wagon-of-tricks, McKellen carries the full weight, power and grace of a noble wizard. Clad in drab robes and a pointed hat (which would look, let's face it, ridiculous on any other actor), Gandalf nevertheless is a character that is instantly accessible: McKellen plays him as the kind, tender caretaker that all of us would love to have watch over us. Over the course of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, he plays several roles: the wise old man, the father figure, the fellowship leader and - in his resurrection as Gandalf the White - graceful (read: kick-ass) warrior. But for me, it is in the first film that McKellen gives the most winsome and formative potrayal of this old soul, rejuvenating a familiar archetype. Despite the fact I knew going into the film that Gandalf would die (thus fulfilling the arch of the old wise man in fantasies), the scene still struck me in the gut. It is quite the achievement to stand out in such a stellar ensemble cast, but McKellen proves himself utterly and totally invested in this world. From wistfully smoking his pipe with long-time friend Bilbo Baggins to ferociously defending his clan from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria ("You... shall not... pass!"), McKellen keeps offering various shades to his character. His Gandalf is not always smiles and winks, but is stern and wholly uncompromising when the time arises. Equal parts dependable buddy and protective parent, McKellen's Gandalf is the kind of character you would hope to encounter one day in real life.

#22 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

In my review for Mysterious Skin a couple of months ago, I complained that the role of the druggie hustler looking for genuine love has become something of a tired cliché. In recent years, actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Kevin Zegers (who was Transamerica's MVP) have thankfully managed to avoid monotony and familiarity in their acting. But in Jacob Tierney's little-seen 2003 Twist, a gloomy and complex update of Oliver Twist by Dickens, Nick Stahl gives my favourite take on the character. Stahl has always struck me as a most generous actor; in all of his screen appearances, from the serene and endearing son in 2001's In the Bedroom to his unexpected involvement in T3: Rise of the Machines of all places, he is always willing to let his fellow thespians shine instead of greedily chasing the spotlight himself. This is perhaps why he remains so undervalued in the industry (a turn as a murderous pedophile in the despicable Sin City hardly counts as a quality gig); perhaps his dedication and egolessness is mistaken for blending into the background. In Twist, however, Stahl is mesmerizing and at the forefront as "Dodge" (The Artful Dodger), a male prostitute who regularly uses heroin in order to escape his situation. He does not take the slightest bit of pleasure in scoring tricks; rather, he does his best to avoid them, which in turn enrages his abusive pimp. Dodge is so desperate to avoid work that he regularly scouts the streets for boys willing to join the trade in his place. The performance is free of histrionics and calculation; interstingly, Stahl seems to get quieter and smaller as the film winds down to its devastating conclusion. Note the way he walks, hands crammed into his pockets and bracing the relentless severity of a harsh Toronto winter; he assumes a purpose and direction, but to where exactly? Dodger seems to realize that for all his attempts to escape, he simply brings himself closer to his own annihilation. As his world comes crashing down on him, with the arrival of an estranged family member and the death of a close friend, Stahl literally defines hopelessness and suffocating oppression. The film is an extremely unpleasant affair, and I respect it for not turning its gaze away from the sickening realities of the exploitive sex trade. But it is clearly Stahl who deserves much of the credit for making the film work as well as it does; if only all films could be blessed with so much conviction and willingness on the part of the leading actor. On a side note, I am glad that this little-seen effort managed to score Stahl a Genie nomination for Best Actor (equivalent of Oscar in Canada); Twist also scored another three nods.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

#23 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

A Home at the End of the World, an adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel of the same name, is a woeful wreckage of a film. It is not so much a "bad" effort as it is utterly flat as a piece of cinema; the thing just sits there, plodding through its plot points and suffering from a terminal lack of personality. But the only reason I did not regret plunking down cash on a pricey evening show was the presence of Colin Farrell in the lead, portraying the lovelorn Bobby. Second to perhaps only Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears in receving regular thrashings by the media, Farrell has been (unfairly, I believe) maligned for his personal life as well as his apparent lack of acting chops. Whatever his actions off-screen, I would have detractors take a look at this astounding performance before writing him off altogether (as well as his gorgeous work in Malick's The New World), because it's a keeper. While his co-stars either confusedly flounder about (Robin Wright-Penn) or feign investment (Dallas Roberts) in relation to their characters, it is Farrell who places the weight of the film entirely upon his shoulders. His wide-eyed terror at the possibility of testing unknown waters is not the least bit questionable, because Farrell invests him with such a gentle, susceptible spirit. He is so enchanting because we, along with him, see the world with new eyes and feel deep-seated ambivalence toward drastic change in life. Farrell plays him like a lost little boy who has never been able to grow up, who is unable to understand why the nature of relationships (especially those that are romantic and sexual in nature) change so quickly. Bobby's fluid sexuality is an element many other actors would have botched, needing to define or play him in a certain way. Farrell's Bobby is simply open to love, accepting it from any person because he was so starved for affection as a child. It's a fully rounded characterization, and an effort that should have received more attention than it did during awards season. At the very least, it's a much better performance than the movie it is featured in deserves.

#24 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

Don Cheadle is such a gifted, transformative actor, capable of re-inventing himself in fantastic ways, which thusly makes me wonder why it has taken him so long to be acknowledged as one of Hollywood's most dependable talents. From the sarcastic, back-talking heister in the Ocean's Eleven films to the wary-yet-committed social worker in The United States of Leland, it is difficult to believe that the same performer inhabits both those characters so masterfully. What is even more impressive is that he makes those transitions (and in all the screen work he has done) so pronounced without the help of prosthetics or other "look-at-me" gimmickry. As for Hotel Rwanda: I still am grappling with my feelings towards the film overall (I certainly like it, but am unsure to what degree), but one element I have no qualms with is the quality and passion of Cheadle's lead performance. As hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who was able to prevent the slaughter of over one thousand persecuted Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan Massacre, Cheadle's heart and soul are literally on display throughout the film's running time - it is a shattering thing to witness. The performance transcends mimicry; rather, Cheadle attempts to hit at the essence of the man, rather than presenting him as a thinly-sketched sacrificing saviour, free of flaws. Hotel Rwanda's Rusesabagina is fully human and therefore imperfect, confronted with the most depressing of circumstances. His dilemma is essentially no-win from every side, and Cheadle portrays the indecision, pain and sadness of this man perfectly. In 2005, he was nominated for an Academy Award in the Lead Actor category. While his four competitors were merely adequate in their films, Cheadle was the only one in my mind whose work came close to "award-worthy" status, no contest. He should have won it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

#25 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

In Arnaud Desplechin's intriguing soap-opery-but-surprisingly-not-trite Kings and Queen, Emmanuelle Devos's Nora and her relationships with the several men in her life may serve as the film's main thrust, but it is Mathieu Amalric as her emotionally unstable ex that steals the show, the stage, and even the chair you're sitting on. Thrown into a mental institution on suicide watch at the behest of his frustrated sister, Ismaël argues against, pleads with and finally attacks various members of staff, completely at a loss as to why he is being held against his will. The amazing feat of Amalric's performance is he convinces us that he is the lone sane person on-screen and all the people around him are behaving irrationally and without just cause, despite the fact that his character is a very sick man. I was in gleeful stitches watching the furious, embittered Ismaël sputter and rave at his non-plussed parents, or when he tries to justify to his sister why he sent her Christmas presents in July. Amalric is also very adept at capturing his character's manic, mile-a-minute thought process, and demonstrates how his past relationships with women have utterly soured his view of the female gender. This does not stop Ismaël , however, from contemplating having a tryst with a willing, interested patient in the hospital (Amalric plays beautifully against her, weighing the pros and cons of the situation). Perpetually horny, confused and all-the-while frazzled by his present situation, Amalric is fascinating to look at as he navigates his way through the dilemma at hand. It's a high-wire, loopy exercise, but Amalric always makes sure to humanize the man, so there is no danger of caricature or chewing the scenery. This is the genius of his work; it is hysterical, intelligent comedy, but grounded in a subtle truth about heartache, betrayal and illness that is visible in his body language. His interaction with his would-be son during the film's final moments is a tender, moving scene that does not resort to mawkish sentimentality. In a picture filled top to bottom with astounding acting efforts, it may be the film's best performance.

Top 25 Male Performances 2000-2004

"Oh good grief!" You are likely throwing up your hands by now and asking why I would add my voice to the multitude of acting list countdowns happening right now. Glenn just wrapped up his take on the best 100 performances so far this decade, while both Javier and Nathaniel are in the midst of their Top 25 Female Performances 2000-2004 and Actors of the Aughts lists respectively. Well, in a conversation with Javier, he generously offered to help me out with my creative blog-related dry spell by planning a countown of the best female performances (00-04) concurrently. While it would have been fun to compare notes, I was wishwashy on the idea and reluctant to invest myself in such a demanding project. But as the weeks passed by, I decided that it was necessary to keep myself occupied with such an ambitious task. But instead of totally stealing his idea, I wondered a similarly-structured list would fare with male actors. Frankly, it was not as exciting compiling this list as it was for these actors' female counterparts; while I could come up with more than eighty commendable performances by actresses easily, it took me hours to even hit the fifty mark with the boys. Why that is, I cannot say, although this does not take away from the fantastic performances featured on my roster.

Initially, it was difficult not to credit some of the performances on display from last year (Heath Ledger would have easily broken the top ten, if not the top five), until I realized that it was only because those efforts were fresher in my mind. To ready myself for the list, I opened up some DVDs to browse through some titles to see whether these performances were as good (or as awful) as I remembered them being. Indeed, some of my early favourites have fallen from grace (I'm not sure I even like some of them anymore, let alone love) while others that I took for granted or overlooked before now just play better with the passing of time. It will be interesting to revisit all these roles through this list, and explain why I feel that they deserve placement in such a competitive, limited lineup. I know there will be a lot of opposition to some of my choices, especially in comparison to who I left out, but arguing is half the fun I suppose. I look forward to all your thoughts, and feel free to call me crazy for my choices (although back up your opinions!).

As for the schedule, I am sad to say that the list might not be completed by the time I leave for Dubai (July 4th), although I will try my best. I would continue the list from there, but my cousin's parents do not use the internet, and I'd have to visit internet cafés regularly. And seeing as I'm on vacation, sitting in front of a computer would probably be a waste considering the sight-seeing I could be doing. Not that I do not cherish all of you, the few readers that find my blog halfway interesting... but... really now.

The "Rules":
1. Actors are limited to only one spot each on the list; for example, do not expect to see Jude Law and Jim Broadbent mentioned more than once, despite them having performed brilliantly in multiple films since 2000. I feel this is only fair to the other actors who, for various reasons, have not been working as often or are not particularly high-profile talents in their industries.
2. No ties are allowed (unfortunately - you know how fond I am of using them). I have to restrict myself this time around lest things get out of hand. 25 Performances = 25 Performances. EDIT: (December 31st: My apologies, but I've had to let this rule go. Damn my poor planning!)
3. I will go by IMDB release dates to save myself distribution confusion; so even though a film may have released internationally in 2005, it still might have premiered at a festival or opened in the country of production in 2004.
4. Even though this is a list of fifty performances, I will only be writing capsules on the first twenty-five selections. Do you want this list to go on until November? I didn't think so.
5. Obviously, the list is not set in stone, and the hierarchy is not meant to be taken very seriously; the difference in my regard for one performance listed at #6 and one at #29 is miniscule. Rankings after, say, the first ten are pretty arbitrary (then again, isn't this whole list?).

1-25: [subject to tinkering]

1. Haley Joel Osment, A.I. Artificial Intelligence
2. Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom
3. Dan Futterman, Urbania
4a. Ralph Fiennes, Spider
4b. Ed Harris, Pollock
5. Mark Ruffalo, You Can Count on Me
6. John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
7. Gael Garcia Bernal, Bad Education
8. Ryan Gosling, The Believer
9. Jude Law, I Heart Huckabees
10. Naseeruddin Shah, Monsoon Wedding
11. Paul Giamatti, Sideways
12. Adrien Brody, The Pianist
13. Jim Broadbent, Iris
14. Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge!
15. Ethan Hawke, Before Sunset
16. Scott Mechlowicz, Mean Creek
17. Campbell Scott, Roger Dodger
18. Benicio Del Toro, 21 Grams
19. Jack Black, The School of Rock
20. Kevin Bacon, Mystic River
21. Ian McKellen, The Fellowship of the Ring
22. Nick Stahl, Twist
23. Colin Farrell, A Home at the End of the World
24. Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
25. Mathieu Amalric, Kings and Queen

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

#6 [tie] (Film in Review 2005)

Every year, after assembling and putting to rest my top ten for what transpired cinematically during the previous twelve-month calender, I always encounter a film released during that same time-frame that sends me back to the drawing board. Back in March, I knew I would regret counting down my 2005 list without having screened Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y. (#6 - tie); clearly, I should have listened to myself and sought out the film immediately. The film, which tracks the highs and (mostly) lows of a Québécois family from 1960 to the early '80s, was the most honoured Canadian film released last year (it won a whopping 11 Genies). Aside from the frustrating task of having to now assign it a placement somewhere on this already jam-packed list, I am quite pleased to have finally encountered and embraced this magical, immensely personal treat. Although I have often stated that Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale hit home harder than any other last year (Ali = Frank), this one is perhaps even more reflective of my life. In fact, watching the opening moments - in which a young, sensitive Zachary is chastised and belittled by his terrified father for behaving like a "fairy" - was akin to watching an eerie recreation of my childhood. It was not altogether a pleasant experience, although C.R.A.Z.Y. is thankfully not all morose and self-pitying as a coming-of-age story. In fact, like Baumbach's film, director Jean-Marc Vallée is always eager to present the flipside of the situation, unearthing macabre hilarity behind the sadness and family breakdown. Furthermore, C.R.A.Z.Y. thankfully foregoes exploring Zachary's formative years exclusively by way of his confused sexual identity, but through various lenses (religion, notions of proper masculine behaviour, nationality, the evolution of music and more).

Aside from the added layers of reading Zachary's relationship with his father in a national context (Quebec in relation to Canada as a whole), the film is just fun overall. Vallée's approach is anything but muted or straightforward; rather, he infuses the frame with a vibrant colour palette, including fantastic fantasy sequences and rich musical numbers. Indeed, the film's soundtrack is one of its many pleasures, presenting Bowie and Pink Floyd in a manner that makes them feel new and alive, as if one was hearing the tracks for the first time. The screenplay, also by Vallée, is inventive and witty (surprising, considering the familiar subject matter); although it occasionally falls back on a contrived moment here or there, such missteps are easily forgivable. Why? Because overall, C.R.A.Z.Y. is such a glorious, superbly-crafted ride. Like the best films about family, there are no attempts to gloss over pain and guilt, or (on the other hand) superficially tackle grief and resentment. It is interesting how my favourite films of 2005 all focus around the family - The Best of Youth, A History of Violence, The Squid and the Whale, Pride and Prejudice - in all their charms and flaws. This film beautifully encapsulates how we all function in relation to our loved ones: family members often drive us a little "crazy", but would we really trade them for anyone else? Because sometimes, they often surprise us with a display of love and acceptance we never thought possible...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I like Fresca.

Yes, I am alive. There are many reasons why my blog has been rather neglected over the past weeks, but I don't think any of them are interesting enough to list here. Mostly, I think I burnt out after the 2005 Top Ten countdown, and it was difficult for me to get back into my film critic groove. To make up for this, I have been diligently spending time in front of the television and at the movie theatre, soaking in what 2006 has to offer. In regards to the non-film aspects of my life, I've been enjoying my summer break so far, trying to get fit (a 30-minute run everyday, with weight training thrown in there somewhere) and studying for the LSAT like a good, dedicated student. Some more good news is that I will be traveling to Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates) during the month of July to attend my cousin's wedding. I'm not really thrilled about flying in the wake of recent events here in Canada, and with a name like mine (snort), but it will be great to get away from North America for a while. I spent four years of my life in Dubai, so it will be exciting to re-visit certain family members and memorable places, only now as an adult.

Also, I am happy to report to those of you who are aware of my Diet Coke addiction that I have finally overcome it. I've now switched to ingesting ridiculous amounts of Fresca, which is probably the best drink in the world (no hyperbole here). Those of you who are saying "duh" should know that it's a drink primarily available in the U.S., and is hard to come across even across the border. Granted, neither beverage is particularly good for you (cancer-causing aspartame), but at least I am avoiding teeth stains and overdoses of caffeine. Aren't you all proud of me? Baby steps, people.

Oh, one more thing. Time to gloat. I suppose all those all-nighters and hours commuting back and forth to campus were worth it:

ENG253Y1 World Lit in Eng 1.00 88 A
ENG328Y1 Fiction 1900 - 1960 1.00 88 A
NEW326Y1 Indenture, Survival 1.00 82 A-
POL320Y1 Modern Pol Thought 1.00 80 A-
RLG280Y1 Compar World Rels 1.00 92 A+
G.P.A. - 3.88 (Grr.)

X3 - The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, 06) D+ [The majority of this movie's plot turns has largely faded from my memory, which should give a strong indication of how weightless and inept it is at story-telling overall. As noted before, I'm not an ardent fan of the X-Men film saga (B, B- respectively), but this third installment marks a signficant drop in quality. Brett Ratner, who has received a lot of flak for assuming control over the project following Brian Singer's departure, does a fine job continuing the look and feel of this superhero universe. However, he fails at weaving together a coherent narrative and believable three-dimensional characters. Bluntly put, the film, for all its "big" moments and attempts at seriousness (three major characters bite the dust... or maybe not), makes no impact whatsoever. Of course, a little depth would be too much to ask for, considering the sequel crams in several new characters it cannot accomodate, and attempts to adapt the Dark Pheonix saga into a few poorly-written scenes. I must admit that one or two scenes clicked - namely Mystique's tragic end ("She was so beautiful.") and Famke Jansenn's tortured intensity, but that was pretty much all that impressed this cranky critic. The film wears its subtext on its sleeve ("No needle shall ever touch my skin again."), and makes a major, offensive misstep by portraying rebellious mutants (representing society's outcasts) as tatoo-covered, body-pierced punks. The writing is even worse; from Wolverine and Scott's woefully obvious exchange ("I know how you feel" ... "Don't!") to the "furball" jabs directed at The Beast (Kelsey Grammer, doing his best to save the film), every line is a groan-inducing flub. X Men 3 has no heart, no complexity and often makes little sense (ice-skating when the apocalypse is imminent?). For all their flaws, the first two films at least hinted at greatness from time to time; this one just drools all over itself. Notice how I avoided mentioning Halle Berry? That was intentional.]

The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 06) C+ [It may be the backhanded compliment of the year, but this is one of Ron Howard's better films, smarter than usual and (for the most part) impressively constructed. Based on Dan Brown fictional novel (those who are offended by the text and film, please repeat this sentence several times), the film posits a history very different than the one told in the accepted gospels. The plot overall (a newly-found discovery followed by endless chase across European city, repeat ad nauseum) is less-than-engaging, but the wildly fascinating backstory about the development of the church following Christ's death really holds the ludicrous proceedings together. Whatever you think about Brown's fanciful theories, whether as a churchgoer or not, they must be lauded as a fantastic way of re-considering Christianity and the man (and woman?) behind it (which is no doubt why so many people are threatened by it). For about two-thirds of the film's running time, Howard maintains a gripping pace, using the Louvre, the streets of Paris and monastaries as dark, menacing abodes. But then it all becomes a little much - to say that the last half-hour is anti-climatic would be understating matters; this is where Howard begins his trademark audience pacification, driving home the point repeatedly. Still, that was not enough to sour the film overall; I actually enjoyed it a lot more than my final grade may indicate. The cast does solid work, with "best of" honours unsurprisingly going to Paul Bettany, who is fully committed to the intimidating, self-hurting Silas character. The rest of the cast - Tom Hanks (nicely understated), Audrey Tatou and Ian McKellen - are all well-suited to their parts.]

District B13 (Pierre Morel, 04) A- [Forget X-Men, forget Da Vinci. This is the definitive movie-going experience of the summer, a popcorn fluff piece with blockbuster payoff, but ambitiously brainy all the same. Set in 2010, in a dystopian Paris where impoverished neighborhoods have been sectioned off by towering walls from the affluent sections of the city, two men attempt to infiltrate the crime-rampant District B13. One is a cop who is ordered to locate and diffuse a dangerous bomb, while the other is along for the ride to rescue his sister from a corrupt drug lord. Employing parkour stunts (a phenomenon initiated by David Belle - who actually stars in the film - that involves jumping and climbing over buildings and other obstacles in an urban environment), the film is an absolute spectacle of action sequences and visual effects. Apparently, only 10% of the stunts were achieved through wire-work; the rest were actually performed through parkour tricks. Even if the film was solely an exercise in eye candy, that would have been sufficient for a time-pass, but the film earns bonus points for being open to interpretation. Allusions to the Third Reich's ghettoization of Jewish individuals and the Holocaust are very clear, and the film's conflict is reminiscient of the tensions in Palestine/Israel. It's there if you look for it, but is clearly not necessary to enjoy all the treats this film has to offer in spades.]

The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 05) B-/C+ [I reserve the right to change my mind about this one after a second viewing, because I have the lingering feeling that I missed something the first time around. What I must say right off the bat is that this film features an absolutely stellar ensemble cast (that should be up for a SAG nod later next year, but that obviously won't happen). Hillcoat's film reminded me strongly of a novel I read this year called Remembering Babylon, by David Malouf. The book explored the experience of early settlers to Australia, and was attuned to the subterranean essence (native aboriginal culture) that ran underneath the guise of European "civility" established on the land. Similarly, The Proposition tells the story of how a police captain (Ray Winstone) attempts to capture a band of trouble-making brothers, and how he and all the characters around him are affected by this conflict. For the most part, the film is an effective, blood-soaked western that presents us with severely flawed and complex characters attempting to negotiate a strange and unfamiliar terrain. My complaints are mainly directed at the figure of Martha Stanley; although impeccably performed by Emily Watson, her character's inclusion is merely a way to hint at the vulnerability of Winstone's Stanley authority figure, and what will inevitably happen (a violent disturbance of the outside world into the safe domestic interior of their home). Also, the Darwinian reading literally spelled out by John Hurt's creepy wanderer pretty much kills what the film is suggesting through its writing and direction. These two elements really soured the overall experience for me, but the film is a welcome change of scenery from what is being offered at the multiplexes right now. Worth a look.]