Mia Farrow and Woody Allen Beauty and the Beast?

Mia Farrow and Woody Allen Beauty and the Beast?

The news is full of stories dealing with the bitterly estranged Mia Farrow and Woody Allen. Listen to both camps and their relationship sounds like a beauty and the beast story gone sour. Both sides allege that the other filled the shoes of beast and it appears that both sides have suffered deep nonhealing wounds.

Rango (2011): Animated Animals Re-Create Spaghetti Western Chinatown

Rango (2011 film)
Rango (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The alternate title for this review was going to be, “Silly rabbit these Trix are not for kids.” But it sounded too trite and perhaps eclectic, even though the film is definitely not for the younger members of the audience. Wikipedia calls Rango a ‘ computer-animated family comedy film‘and that’s not too far from the truth. IMDb comes a bit closer with simply categorizing it as an ‘Animated Adventure Comedy.

The marketing for Rango was abysmal. It was advertised as (like the Wikipedia entry) a family film. One that you could take your toddlers to and they would enjoy it whole heartedly. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on whether you are a toddler or not) the film is too sophisticated and clever for the younger audience members to “get.”

Trailers for the film focussed on the more ‘slapstick’ aspects of the movie and left out the sly nudges and winks that the creators intentionally put into the film to pay homage to just about every spaghetti western ever made. In fact the entire film pays homage to just about every western ever made.

What transforms the film from just being clever, witty fun and propels it into the realm of genius was the decision make the entire cast animated animals who, in essence, are re-enacting the plot from Roman Polanski‘s Chinatown. But that isn’t all the film pokes fun at.

The casting of the real actors who voice their animated counterparts is another nudge and wink, not only to the actor’s themselves but to the stereotypical roles that they usually play.  Alfred Molina the English Actor has been cast as a ‘Mexican’ heavy  a lot. Casting him as the ‘Mexican’ armadillo who starts the whole story moving was slyly funny.

Johnny Depp as the chameleon lead Rango was again another great touch and pointing out that Depp the actor was just that, a chameleon.  Ned Beatty as the villainous and scheming Mayor was another brilliant touch and the second ‘villain’ role for Beatty as an animated ‘baddy.’ Beatty had voiced the cruel teddy Lotso in Toy Story 3 so well in 2010 that I’m sure that’s why the creators chose him for the Mayor.

The rest of the cast are all equally impressive with pedigrees that cannot fail to impress. Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant (in what has to be the coolest and best cameo in the world as ‘the spirit of the west’ aka Clint Eastwood) and Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake who almost literally steals the film in his portrayal of the Lee Van Cleef-like character.

Johnny Depp’s Rango accidentally ends up in a western desert.  Stranded, alone, and out of his depth Rango meets Roadkill (Alfred Molina) who tells Rango that he needs to find the ‘spirit of the west’ in order to find his way (way meaning his purpose in life and also the way to survive). While running from an eagle Rango finds himself in the town of Dirt.

Dirt is a ‘dry-town’ in the literal sense. The town has no natural water supply as it suddenly and mysteriously ‘dried up’ and now the Mayor (Beatty) and his thugs rule the town with an iron fist.

Rango manages to annoy the Mayor’s thugs and accidentally kill the eagle (who terrorizes the town more than the Mayor and his thugs). He tells the townspeople that he is the notorious badman Rattlesnake Jake’s brother. He is then made the town’s sheriff by the Mayor.

Rango must now help the townspeople find water, hope and solve the mystery of the missing water.

This animated feature was so well written and executed that I completely forgot that the cast was made up of cartoon animals. It became a western, plain and simple.

A western that was funny, exciting and moving.

I am sure that Roman Polanski never realised that his film Chinatown would work so well as an animated western populated by animals.

Carnage (2011): Comedy of the Correct

Carnage (2011 film)
Carnage (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished watching Roman Polanski‘s Carnage. Adapted from the play ‘Le Dieu du carnage‘ written by Yasmina Reza and adapted for the screen by Yasmina and Roman Polanski. I have not laughed so hard in ages.

John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster play Michael and Penelope Longstreet whose son Ethan gets the business end of a stick in his mouth from Zachary Cowan son of Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz).

At the beginning of the film both couples are united in their dual purpose of handling the fight between their sons like civilized adults.

Investment broker Nancy and her lawyer husband Alan both admit that their son Zachary hit Ethan in the mouth with a stick as part of a fight.

Michael and Penelope are magnanimous in their acceptance of Zach’s parents admission of culpability. Everything is correct and proper.

The trouble begins when Nancy and Alan attempt  repeatedly to leave with promises of returning with Zachary later in the evening to get the boys to talk out their differences.

The longer the two couples are together the more their separate facades begin to slip and the true nature of their relationships with family and each other starts to show. As the cracks widen we get to see the real people underneath.

Penelope is an anal bleeding heart liberal who is rabid in her belief that people can settle their problems in a civilized manner.  Michael is a hot headed, short tempered, narrow minded bigot.

Nancy is a stressed out, bored and unhappy woman. Alan has no interest in anything that does not directly affect his business.

As the situation gets consistently worse, a bottle of scotch is introduced into the mix, with hysterical consequence’s. As the two couples drink, allegiances are formed, broken and reformed.

What was initially couple versus couple, the ebb and flow of the group dynamic goes from men against women, to the couples doing a metaphorical ‘do-se-do’ where the couples switch partners.

The alcohol relaxes their inhibitions and brings out the childishness and selfishness inherent in all the ‘adults’

Polanski has lost none of his touch in this brilliantly funny ‘domestic’ comedy. Of course the writer of the original play Yasmina Reza deserves a huge amount of credit for writing such brilliant multi-layered characters.

God of Carnage original West End production poster

I will warn you, the first part of the film is a little hard to watch. It is a little like watching a train lumbering forward into a crash and you know that the characters are not going to be able to avoid it.

But hang in there, like a slow building avalanche, the interaction  between the four people gets hysterically funny. It’s worth the wait.

Black Swan (2010): Repulsion in a Tutu

Directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie PortmanMila Kunis and Vincent Cassel with knock out performances in smaller supporting roles by Barbara Hershey (as Mum) and Winona Ryder (as Last Years Girl) Black Swan  grabbed you by your metaphorical lapels and shook the hell out of you.

When I watched this film, I instantly thought two things. Firstly, that Black Swan made me think of Roman Polanski‘s    Repulsionand secondly that this was a “coming of age” film. Although at twenty-eight Portman’s character was a little too old to be reaching ‘self awareness’, but after watching her relationship with her mother, you can see why it has taken so long.

The plot in a nutshell is this: Girl is in a ballet company. The company decides their next performance will be of the Black Swan. Girl auditions for the lead in Black Swan. The director pushes the girl to explore her ‘dark’ side as the lead for Black Swan must be Apollonian and Dionysian in turns. In other words the lead must be both the white swan and the black swan. Girl experiences a lot of mental problems in her pursuit of self awareness. Girl gets the lead role. Girl performs.

The plot sound pretty innocuous but it packs a mean punch. Like Polanski’s Repulsion, Black Swan shows us the mental deterioration that is occurring in Portman’s character ( Nina Sayers) in her quest for the darkness in her soul.

Nina is obsessed with giving the perfect performance, period. She spends all her energy on getting everything technically perfect and as the White Swan she is just that, perfect. But the director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) tries to explain to Nina that perfection is not enough, that she needs passion and abandonment for the dual role. He shows her Lily (Mila Kunis) a new member of the ballet company. Lily’s performance shows fire and passion and reckless abandonment. This, he tells Nina, is what she must achieve.

Where this film excels is in showing us why Nina is so repressed.  Her mother, played brilliantly by Barbara Hershey, is scarily obsessed with her daughter and her career. Mother has controlled Nina’s life with the goal of Nina succeeding where mum failed. Mother is constantly reminding Nina that it was her birth that destroyed her career. Little wonder then, that at twenty-eight, Nina is obviously still a virgin.

Nina begins hanging around with the Dionysian Lily in the hope that she can find her own passion. After a night out on the town, the two girls wind up having lesbian sex in Nina’s bedroom. Or do they? As the film progresses, we begin to question what is real and what is imagined by Nina. Some scene we know are real.

The scene where Nina, after being told by her director to go home and “touch” herself, wakes up in the morning and begins to masturbate. As she comes closer to a climax, she twists her head and see’s her mother sitting in a chair by her bed, asleep. Nina’s reaction is one of horrifying embarrassment. Her passion is gone as if she’d been dowsed in ice water and the fact that her mother could have caught her masturbating is mortifying.  This scene we know is all too real and we cringe at the notion of Nina’s almost being caught by mum.

Other scenes cannot be real, Nina’s fixation with last years Black Swan,  Beth Macintyre  (played brilliantly by Winona Ryder) with the resultant effect of Nina seeing Beth in her house and during her lesbian sex session with Lily. These sightings can only be in Nina’s mind.

As a psychological horror film, Black Swan hits the nail so firmly on the head, that I was “creeped out” for three days after I watched it. I also took showers for the next three days, I was a bit leery of the bathtub after seeing the movie.

This is a “must-see” film. Set in the world of Ballet, it is about losing yourself and your mind. About what is real and what is not. It’s also about disturbing you and getting under your skin.