‘Sweeney Todd’: A Conflict — I Wanted to Love It More Than I did

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Tim Burton promised blood, and blood he delivers. When the incredible tension anticipating Sweeney’s first kill is finally cut, Burton’s slit-throat ballet is grisly and poetic, a Grand Guignol used to often haunting effect. Blood, so central to the visual vocabulary Burton employs to tell the story, is the only vivid splash in an otherwise dark and gloomy world – London. More Gotham than Gotham, the film’s London is an irredeemably corrupt black hole in the titular character’s eyes and, by extension, our own. Blood is the life, as the adage goes, and when it spills, the eventual loss of that colour to the oppressive black and blues of Dariusz Wolski’s gorgeous cinematography makes the spilling all the more shocking.

When Visiting ‘The Orphanage,’ Take a Careful Look at the Resolution

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

Review: The Orphanage

Warning! The following may contain spoilers…

“The Orphanage” is very much a traditional ghost story with traditional elements of the genre: A large, gloomy house with plenty of nooks, crannies, creaks and groans; a narrative structure founded on a mystery to be solved, namely, discovering the violent, traumatic event underlying the ghostly activity; a child sensitive to the presence of ghosts; and others. It is actually in some of these other elements that the film’s function as a ghost story critically compromises itself.

‘I Am Legend’ — Smart with an Unbearable Feeling of Loneliness

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

Cinema has developed a very specific vocabulary for post-apocalyptic stories: Deserted streets, decrepit technologies, nature’s return to power, ruined landmarks. Although Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend” was first published in 1954, this third adaptation of the story, after “The Last Man On Earth” and “The Omega Man,” makes excellent use of the imagery offered by films released after the novel. There’s a bit of “12 Monkeys” in Francis Lawrence’s vision of a world depopulated by a virus, and “28 Days Later,” and “The Quiet Earth,” and many others. But for all the tried and true vocabulary, Lawrence succeeds in overcoming the familiarity to deliver something unsettling and melancholy. When the last remaining human on earth, military virologist Dr. Robert Neville (Smith), scavenges lifeless homes for survival resources, we get a glimpse of interrupted lives —

Speaking of Teenage Pregnancy, ‘Juno’ Is Spunky and Likeable

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

Like a “Little Miss Sunshine,” this indie-spirited film has the distinction of both living up to the buzz and delivering a few surprises. To go down the laundry list of the film’s strengths: Performances? Check. The cast plays the right tune and Ellen Page, far better served by the script than she was in her role as Kitty Pryde in “X-Men: The Last Stand,” is a knockout. Direction? Check. Jason Reitman, who brought us the hilarious and sharp satire “Thank You for Smoking,” gets a “Napoleon Dynamite” kind of vibe. Or “Little Miss Sunshine.” Or any low-key character study that’s perfectly happy sticking with an un-flashy, naturalistic filming style to let the focus remaining on the actors, story and dialogue.

Acid Western: The Legend of God's Gun

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

Now here’s a wonderfully weird chimera, a film of many parts; part music video, part homage to spaghetti westerns (and part pastiche), part delirium, part cult film.

‘No Country for Old Men’ Is Not a Good Country to Live in

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

The film came with a buzz so thick and praise so effusive that when my own reaction to the Coen Brothers’ latest film clearly cast me in the role of contrarian, I had to break my cardinal rule and read other critics’ reviews before writing my own. Result: I remain a contrarian, and am sticking to my impression of the film as a work more horrific for its pretentiousness than its bourgeois nihilism.

I Am Beowulf? I Am Not Impressed

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

I have to wonder what Beowulf scholars would make of screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary revisionist take on the famous Old English epic poem. “Hold me in your memory not as a king or hero, but as a flawed, fallible man,” Beowulf (voiced by Ray Winstone) says at one point. It’s as good a statement as any as to Gaiman and Avary’s agenda to ostensibly add dramatic depth to the tale. From Beowulf’s introduction as a vain braggart to his self-inflicted Faustian tragedy, with one arguable exception there’s not much shine left to his heroism by the film’s end, if there’s any at all to begin with.

‘Dan in Real Life’ —More or Less Real; Gently Sweet

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

Its premise fits in squarely with any number of family reunion movies – the ghastly, inferior “The Family Stone” comes immediately to mind – yet “Dan in Real Life” invites a stretchy and surprising comparison to “The Weather Man,” directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Nicholas Cage. Though tonally and stylistically very different, both films feature sad sack protagonists who, for differing reasons, can’t seem to pull their lives together. In the case of Cage’s character, David Spritz, the damage is largely self-inflicted through an inability to change what can be changed and, crucially, accept what cannot be changed. For Steve Carell’s Dan Burns, a successful advice columnist on the verge of syndication, the trouble stems from persistent grief over the death of his wife. Both men live in situations that hinder more than help, although Dan arguably has a supportive family to ease his burden. Both must learn how to move forward. These are kindred stories, in a way, although where “The Weather Man” employs fatalism that leads to cautiously hopefully stoicism, “Dan in Real Life” opts for the full-bore optimism of a romantic comedy. Unfortunately, “Dan in Real Life” doesn’t come to its conclusion with the same relentless honesty possessed by “The Weather Man.”

‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ — Entertaining, Then Richly Visual

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

Comic Book History

The cartoon history of the Elizabethan age continues in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” the follow-up to 1998’s well-reviewed “Elizabeth.” It’s 1585, 27 years after the events in the first film, and Queen Elizabeth (Blanchett) has more troubles to contend with. The least of these is her persistent unmarried state – she’s not called the Virgin Queen for nothing – while the biggest threat to her reign is Catholic King Philip of Spain and his desire to rid England of her Protestant inclinations, a plot that involves the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots (Morton), and a Jesuit secret agent (Ifans).

‘The Darjeeling Limited’ — All Aboard for a Delightful Ride

Frédérik SisaA&E, Film

The Darjeeling Limited” doesn’t quite have the same rolling-on-the-floor hilarity as writer/director Wes Anderson’s previous film, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” But the dry, quirky charm that sets Anderson apart is still there – and, for bonus points, Bill Murray gets an amusing cameo. Better yet, there’s also a dramatic undercurrent flowing gently beneath the humourous surface, quiet but unmistakably poignant. With a certain metaphorical quality to the film – for example, a train stands in for a car, which itself represents the journey, in what is essentially a road movie – “The Darjeeling Limited” is all about reconciliation.