Nothing says wholesome like a gangster and a baby!
Some fantasy, some animation, some romance, and a whole lot of great,
Stranger Than Fiction (2006, Marc Forster, United States Of America) ***1/2
Loved the movie, the only real drawback was Queen Latifah’s character, she was useless and served no purpose, and in that regard anytime she was onscreen with Emma Thompson’s character the movie would stop. But, outside of that it was a tremendous movie with strong performances from everyone, including Maggie Gyllenhaal who prior to this movie I was convinced couldn’t act in any capacity. The story flowed wonderfully and had a brilliant breaking the fourth wall type of ending. Great movie, probably in the bottom of my top 10 for 2006.
Garden State (2004, Zach Braff, United States Of America) **1/2
I really liked this one, but it was too hard to connect to. I think my main problem is that Zach Braff does play his character as such an emo character, but when he wants to exploit feelings from the audience then he switches gears and plays either a straight man or the hero type. While I thought Natalie Portman was very good I also don’t believe for a second that a woman like her actually exists. There isn’t a woman out that that is so quirky, out there, funny, sweet and innocent, and will accept a guy at face value. I did really like the friend Mark, and thought Ian Holm was good as the dad. I did like the spin it put on the usual concept of innocence and purity. Mr. Braff views Miss Portman as innocent and pure, but it’s not because she’s saintly as are most woman that are innocent and pure in movies. She’s innocent and pure because she’s pure of spirit, she drinks, I’m sure she would do drugs (she may even do them in the movie, I’m not sure), she’s going to bang Andrew after barely knowing him, etc.. None of these are things that movies ever like to associate with the innocent and pure female characters, but Garden State puts a spin on that vision and does so very successfully. There are so many good things about this movie and I really liked it, but I just wish it could have been a little tighter, and the character portrayals would have been a bit more realistic and not pandering to the type of people they thought would see the film.
Venus (2006, Roger Michell, United Kingdom) ***1/2
Powerful performance from Peter O’ Toole, and the young Jodie Whittaker is quite good as well. The concept does take a little getting past, as the idea that a woman that young would allow someone like Mr. O’ Toole anywhere near her is either a take it or leave it idea. I bought it in Venus, and that was because of the performances. Venus was humorous when it needed to be, heartfelt when it called for it, a tad too melodramatic at parts, but it remained a great story about maturity and what exactly it does entail.
Tsotsi (Thug, 2005, Gavin Hood, South Africa/United Kingdom) ***1/2
Quite the film. Outside of the moment when he first brought the child home and I felt they jumped into the “Hey, isn’t this funny, look at how he’s taking care of the baby” montage a bit early there wasn’t a moment I could complain about. This was a perfect companion piece to Children Of Men. The same ideas, just a different conclusion. In Children Of Men a savior, or an innocent child doesn’t make a bit of difference, people are people and therefore war and death will go on. But, in Tsotsi a single child does make a difference and allows one young man to change. The way the main character changes is completely believable, and through his actions you see how that type of change is possible in everyone. Powerful movie.
Bolt (2008, Byron Howard & Chris Williams, United States Of America) ***1/2
Great movie, it was simply stated in parts, intelligent throughout, funny, had some really great voice acting and a story that worked on many different levels. What surprised me the most was how crisp and clean the animation was, I think Pixar has spoiled me to the point where I don’t expect the same level of animation from anyone else. And yes, I do realize that Pixar is Disney at this point so they were partly responsible for Bolt, but this still wasn’t a Pixar movie, know what I mean? Anyways, back to Bolt, this was a traditional children’s tale with just enough of an adult edge to it that it all came off in spot on fashion. This now slides up to my number two movie of the year behind WALL·E, making my top two movies both animated and a good return to past glory for Disney.
A pretty strong string of five films. The top four were actually all clumped together in my rankings. However, there can only be one, and that is why Tsotsi takes home retro movie of the week honors. I’ll be back next week with five more retro capsule reviews!