Monday, October 30, 2006

75 Great Performances: #2

2. Björk as Selma Jezkova in Dancer in the Dark (2000)

The fans of Icelandic pop icon Björk have always known that she is a true artist and have always had an inkling that she would do well in a musical (as evidenced by her performance in the music video for "It's Oh So Quiet"), but we probably never expected that she would be able to give a downright haunting, mesmerizing, heartbreaking portrayal of a blind martyr of a mother. Her role in Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark is typical for the heroines of the director's recent projects (Emily Watson and Nicole Kidman, both on this list), but Björk's quiet energy, never subtler, makes Selma Jezkova one of the more endearing. Just like in many of her more brilliantly understated works, she speaks in whispers in this film, but her eyes are never quiet. In the key scenes of the film, musical or otherwise, her elfish face speaks of an inherent sadness and a strong conviction that effortlessly stir (or twist) the heart of the viewer. Anyone who has loved his or her mother or who has been a mother herself would be drawn in by Björk's almost mystical performance. The last sequence is one of the most agonizing that I've seen in any film, and it is made more astoundingly intense by Björk's amazing handling of what could have been an overly hysterical part. She deservedly won at Cannes but was insanely overlooked by the Academy. Here's hoping that she make another film, blow audiences away again, and prove too hard to ignore by anyone this time. Heck, even with that swan costume, I'd have loved to see her up the stage to receive the Oscar.

#3: Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998)


The Banquet

Zhang Ziyi has shown before that she can act (especially in Kar Wai Wong's 2046), and in Hong Kong's entry to the 78th Academy Awards, Ye Yan (The Banquet), she shines once again and shows why she's China's leading actress. She's more than just a pretty face, though she easily displays both this and her skill in the loose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Just like in many other recent Chinese/Hong Kong epics, the set designs and costumes are stunning, and the music is suitably grand (though in this film sometimes messy); most of those involved in Ye Yan were the same people Ang Lee worked with in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That means that yes, there are still high-flying martial arts fight scenes here, mostly courtesy of Daniel Wu. They can prove distracting, sometimes even overdone, and the film might have worked more as a whole had subtlety not been cast aside for flash, but here the fights are more akin to a dance and are mostly fluid and lyrical. Aside from Zhang, actress Xun Zhou also gives a strong performance. Grade: B

The Prestige

Wolverine and Batman squaring off in a movie about magicians? I was onboard the moment I heard of the plot, the casting, and the director (Christopher Nolan). I did not let some negative pre-release reviews of The Prestige prevent me from seeing a film that I knew I would at least enjoy. I was not disappointed at all. The viewer can get slightly thrown off by the chronological order of the scenes (especially if he or she is not accustomed to Nolan's style of tweaking with the time element, as he so masterfully did in Memento), but other than that it's a strong headtrip of a movie, with a twist that you would be able to predict early on in the movie without ruining the whole experience. All principal actors, Hugh Jackman (in a dual role), Christian Bale, and Michael Caine, are superb, though Scarlett Johansson fails to shine onscreen. David Bowie is extremely effective in a short role. It is a thought-provoking and riveting film that is every bit as magical as its premise suggests. Grade: B+

The King and the Clown

Just like Hong Kong's Oscar entry, Korea's own, Wang-ui Namja (The King and the Clown), is a very visually appealing movie, with splashes of color in the Korean garb and set designs, and a pretty lead actor to boot. It is a moving film about two street performers/minstrels (played adequately by Woo-seong Kam and bishonen Jun-gi Lee) who land a job as court jesters by mocking the King (Jin-yeong Jeong in a far from endearing performance). Complications arise when the King's tyranny and cruelty abound as a result of the revelatory nature of the acting troupe's skits and are exacerbated by his growing obsession with Gong-gil (Jun-gi). Jun-gi's performance is the flashier here, with Woo-seong's being more subtle but no less effective. The film builds up the tension in the court without rush, and the dramatic scenes near the end are suitably powerful. The ending scene (and the scene accompanying the credits) is poignant and wraps up the film in a beautiful tone of realization and surrender. Grade: B+

Friday, October 27, 2006

Trailer of Notes on a Scandal

The trailer of Notes on a Scandal can be viewed here. It's powerful and searing and shows potentially great performances by co-leads Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. I'm smelling nominations for both of them (lead for Dench and supporting for Blanchett).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

75 Great Performances: #3

3. Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998)

I love Shakespeare In Love more than I probably should (it's my second favorite movie of all time, just after the Lord of the Rings trilogy), but it remains one of the biggest blunders and injustices of the Academy to have given Gwyneth Paltrow the Best Actress statuette over who was the true best actress of that year. Actresses with the name of C/Kate seem to be blessed with uncannily magnificent acting talents (Kate Hepburn and Kate Winslet, anyone?); Australian Cate Blanchett is undoubtedly one of the most respected thespians of her generation, despite having gotten only two Oscar nominations (and one of what should have been two wins). Everyone buzzed her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth for its sincerity and power, but she lost out to then "It" girl Paltrow. The term "breakthrough performance" could not be better applied to any other (though of course Blanchett has been acting professionally before that film). Just like Helen Mirren is being praised this year for bringing out the humanity of the current monarch in The Queen, Blanchett is able to strike a balance between showing the queen who brooked no nonsense and survived the schemes of her enemies and portraying her as ultimately a woman, who could love and get her heart pierced. At times fragile and tentative, at times headstrong and willful, Blanchett went through this prism of emotional states like a true artist best at her craft: with control, precision, and sophistication. Many continue to have issues against Shakespeare In Love winning the top prize that year over Saving Private Ryan. That result could be justified by many reasons beyond the Weinsteins' power. The true injustice that year, with all due respect to Mrs. Paltrow-Martin, was the Academy passing over Cate Blanchett's bravura performance as the queen that she truly is.

#4: Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede in Ran (1985)

Monday, October 16, 2006

75 Great Performances: #4

4. Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede in Ran (1985)

In one of world cinema's best films, the great Akira Kurosawa's Ran, the performances are majestic and forceful, as if they were actors playing in front of gods (Peter's jester Kyoami cries in anguish to them in one key scene). The actors constitute only one part of the glorious scale of this movie, but they are as memorable as the battle scenes and the haunting music and the splashes of red. Her role is neither large nor central to the story (a point that can perhaps be argued), but Mieko Harada's masterful portrayal of the Lady Kaede demands attention--and fear. Her Kaede is a scheming, slinking serpent of a woman. She knows what she wants and she's going to get it, if she has to glare at you with demonic eyes or threaten you with a dagger to do so. Not many actresses could bring such intense fire, sophistication, and a hint of eeriness to the role of a manipulative, ambitious wife. Toshiro Mifune will forever remain the principal actor in Kurosawa's troupe of thespians, but Harada can stake a claim to having one of the most vivid and indelible contributions to the director's craft.

#5: Jodie Foster as Nell Kellty in Nell (1994)

75 Great Performances: #5

5. Jodie Foster as Nell Kellty in Nell (1994)

"Chicka, chicka, chickabee." It may sound like gibberish, but for Nell Kellty, a wildchild with her own language, it speaks volumes. There was a time when the Academy loved the brilliant Jodie Foster, bestowing on her three nominations (two of them wins) in six years. Her last nomination was for playing the title character in Nell, a film that perhaps not many will remember seeing if not for Foster's incendiary performance. Despite the interesting premise, the film is ultimately unremarkable and not very memorable. But Foster lifts it several notches to the level of a film that must be watched for the artistry of its major star. In the hands of a less capable actress, the role would have turned overly demanding of pity and attention. Foster's performance subtly, gently makes us understand Nell's humanity, whether or not she speaks words and in whatever language.

Image source

#6: Maria Falconetti as Jeanne D'Arc in La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc (1928)

Monday, October 09, 2006



Its title is exactly what the film lacks. Pulse is a lifeless thing weighed down by dumb dialogue, logical flaws, and amateur acting. It has some creepy imagery, but it isn't enough to lift the film from a state of utter flatness. Grade: D

Keeping M

Keeping Mum is a delightful British comedy with understated, fine performances by Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Dame Maggie Smith. Thomas and Smith are the definite standouts, though more scenes with Smith and greater development of her wickedly funny character would have been preferred. The last scene makes the film twice as amusing as it is before that shot. A misstep: though he tries, Patrick Swayze was a serious miscast in this viewer's opinion. Grade: B

Akeelah and the Bee

How good or original could a film about spelling bees be? It is easy to expect such a movie as Akeelah and the Bee, about the simple girl Akeelah Anderson who with a little expert coaching (from Laurence Fishburne) and newfound confidence makes it to the National Spelling Bee, to be inspiring. The film achieves that goal effortlessly, and the way it does is original. It has the common elements, yes (among other obstacles, a domineering mother, Angela Basset, who at first prevents Akeelah from joining the Bee), but the way Akeelah gets her groove back after a slump and the outcome of the Scripps National Spelling Bee are little things to be appreciated for elevating this film above similarly themed projects. Keke Palmer (Akeelah), Fishburne, and Bassett all give commendable performances. Grade: B+

Pictures source

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Review: The Departed

Infernal Affairs, the brilliant Hong Kong movie by Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak on which The Departed was based, is a sleek thriller, with aesthetics typical of the gems photographed by Christopher Doyle. The remake, masterfully directed by Martin Scorsese, is more raw and primal, but in no way is the frenetic energy of the original diminished. Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong's story is transplanted practically intact to Boston, home of the Irish-blooded gangsters, where Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello is the big boss. Andy Lau's character is played by Matt Damon, while Tony Leung's is played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Jack Nicholson is, as always, sufficiently smarmy and frightfully unpredictable. His is a role that is technically a supporting one that could land nevertheless land him a nomination as lead actor, by virtue of sheer size and gravitas. Nicholson is irresistible as Costello, but there is nothing new to see, and at times he even loses the Boston accent that his character is supposed to have. Despite the importance of his role, Matt Damon isn't given much room to shine, but he makes do with what he is given well enough. It is Leonardo DiCaprio who is given the opportunity to show great range, and he steps up to the challenge astoundingly. This film only serves to convince one that DiCaprio is a truly great actor, who by this time should have already reaped so many more awards than he has. Just like in the original, in which Tony Leung is inarguably the centerpiece, the character of the undercover cop constantly in risk of discovery and death or loss of identity allows its actor much berth for a career performance. A number of critics have hailed DiCaprio's performance here as his best, and it is hard to argue that point. Among the supporting cast, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are absolute scene-stealers, while Martin Sheen and Vera Parmiga contribute fairly good turns in their respective roles.

The Departed has a running time of 149 minutes, but at no point will the viewer feel as if it's taking too long. Such is the power of Scorsese's direction (some cite this as his best work to date, or at least in recent years), the all-star cast, and, of course, the original story (which was rightfully cited). The very minimal departure from the original plot and the slightly forced (and gratuitous) ending sequence are minor factors that barely diminish the overall greatness of the film. Grade: A

Picture source

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Scariest Film Scenes
(What film is this one from?)