Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Short Reviews: Amelie (2001), Moulin Rouge (2001), Michael Clayton (2007) and Blindness (2008)
Amelie (Jean-Pierre Juenet, 2001) *****
This quirky, but visually spectacular French film is one of my all-time favorites. The gorgeous Audrey Tautou plays the dreamy Amelie Poulain, a shy but sweet young waitress at the Two Windmills in Montmartre, who devotes her life to helping others and changing the lives of those around her, while at the same time struggling with her own isolation and longing for love. After she finds a small box of treasures hidden in her apartment and returns them to the owner, she decides to utilize her desire to be a do-good-er. When she meets Nino, a quirky man who collects the discarded photographs from beneath the city photo booths, she decides to create an elaborate game to both simultaneously intrigue him and win his heart. This quaint, beautifully told fable is hilarious and heartwarming. The cast of supports are all memorable but Tautou's performance is exceptional and this is Jeunet's masterstroke of direction.
Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001) ****
I had attempted to watch this vibrant tragi-comedy musical some years ago, but had struggled to get through the first half hour or so. I found it to be wildly elaborate and extravagant but near unintelligible and it gave me a headache. But on this repeat viewing I really discovered an appreciation for the quality and scope of the work put into the richly designed sets, the hundreds of spectacular costumes, the beautifully timed choreography and the ridiculously quick editing. The plot, which is based on Orphean myth and on Guisseppe Verdi's opera, La Traviata, is complex and moving and features a brilliant ensemble of modern songs, but set within the Montmartre Quarter of Paris. A poet and playwright, Christian (Ewan McGregor) encounters a musical troupe who are developing a play for Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of Moulin Rouge. They attend the show with the intention of pitching their idea to the Rouge's star courtesan, Satine (Nicole Kidman). But Christian, who is invited into her personal quarters following the show after being confused with the Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) ultimately falls in love with her and tries to also win her heart. As part of Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain Cinema collection this is a monumental achievement, and the cast including Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh and John Leguizamo, are all fantastic.
Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007) ****
This realistic, morally aware, intricately crafted, and handsomely staged drama from Tony Gilroy is one of the best films of 2007. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a respected attorney for prestigious New York firm, Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. World weary, suffering from a broken marriage and owing debts to a local loan shark following some gambling debts and a failed business venture, Michael is the firms "fixer" who uses his expertise to assist high-profile clients through legal loopholes, recommending them to suitable attorneys within the firm. Michael is seen leaving a poker match late at night and making an emergency late-night call into the home of one such client who has been involved in a hit-and-run. After leaving the house and driving until the break of dawn, he stops to admire some horses gathered in a field by the side of the road. As he stands there, his car explodes behind him. We are then taken back four days, where we find that Michael involves himself with one of the firm's leading attorneys, Arthur Eden (Tom Wilkinson) who has a bizarre outburst and strips naked during a deposition involving a lawsuit against a prominent agricultural products conglomerate. Arthur suffers from bipolar disorder, and is kept under observation by Michael, refusing to commit himself to a mental health institution. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is a representative for U-North who discovers that Arthur had obtained an incriminating document against her client and seeks to silence him, with Michael ultimately caught in the middle. Smartly written, directed and performed (Clooney, Swinton and Wilkinson are all excellent and received Oscar nominations for their performances), this is a tense and absorbing legal drama.
Blindness (Fernando Meirelles, 2008) ***1/2
Fernando Meirelles' (City of God, The Constant Gardner) adaptation of Jose Saramago's novel was met with strong controversy over it's depiction of the quarantined blind people as "uncivilized, animalized creatures". When a blindness epidemic takes over an unnamed city, the local Government declares all of the victims of this contagious and unexplainable disease be quarantined together in disgusting living quarters under armed surveillance, with food rations and complete absence of rational leadership and togetherness. One of the first victims is a doctor, played by Mark Ruffalo. He examines the eyes of an Asian man who declares that he has suddenly gone blind, the first to contract the disease that will plague the city, when driving alone in his car. Everyone who has since been in near-contact with this man has contracted this 'blindness'. The doctor's wife, played by Julianne Moore, feigns the illness so she can accompany her husband into isolation, and bears witness to the atrocities within. A violent and disturbing tale of social degradation, the darkest and most fragile aspects of civilization come to the fore. As the doctor and his wife try and maintain order within their ward, conflict ensues over the vile degradation of the women of the ward who must offer sexual favors in exchange for food. One must question how a government could subject it's citizens to such an despicable existence, and how quickly the events spiral out of control. While no doubt dramatized for the screen, the film at least offers some hope for humanity at the conclusion. But it's well directed, the cast is top-notch and it remains gripping throughout.