Thumbnail Reviews (KS, February 2005)

The Triplets of Belleville

Tired of the wide-eyed innocence and terminal cuteness of the home-grown anime? This film’s for you. A hilariously bizarre French cartoon done in a sharp,edgy definitely non-cute style. The story, such as it is, involves a bicycle-racing prodigy (trained, mercilessly, by his loving grandmother), who is kidnapped by the Mafia and, suffice it to say, can only be rescued with the help of his intrepid, long-suffering dog and three 1920’s music hall performers. The dialogue is limited, so even if you speak neither French nor Japanese, you’ll get a laugh from this beautifully grotesque little movie.

Sylvia

American Sylvia Plath and British Ted Hughes were the golden couple of postwar English literature.They met at a party, and she bit his cheek and drew blood when he kissed her goodbye. That pretty much sums up the relationship and the movie. Gwyneth Paltrow portrays Plath with all her obsessions, the main ones being Hughes and death. Death by gas won out in the end, and her posthumously published poems and novel made her more famous than the once celebrated Hughes, whose career (and life) were haunted by hers for the 35 years he outlived her. This movie recreates the dreariness of postwar Britain, as well as a long-gone world where a living poet could be a household name. Stay out of the kitchen for about a day after seeing this one.

The Bourne Supremacy
Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen
dir: Paul Greengrass
Universal, 109 mins

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), the man with no memory but remarkable killing skills is back for part 2 of this well-made trilogy. The plot is not simple. Bourne is hiding out in India and is tracked down by a Russian assassin. Around the same time, a CIA spook is found dead in Berlin: Bourne’s fingerprints are all over the crime scene. How, if Bourne was in Goa..? And why frame him? Bourne suffers flashbacks and nightmares which may or may not be helpful. Perhaps part three will pull it all together. This installment, like the first, is well-paced and shot with edginess and realism.

Ocean’s Twelve
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia
dir: Steven Soderbergh
Warner Bros. 116 mins

Ocean’s Twelve certainly sounds like a rehash of every caper film you’ve ever seen, but Steven Soderbergh and his cast are obviously having so much fun that it would seem spiteful not to join in. This time, the victim of the gang’s first sting (Garcia) catches up with Danny Ocean (Clooney) and wants his money back. The gang is forced out of retirement to perform a string of jobs in some rather picturesque cities. They discover ,though, that they’ve finally got some serious competition from another phantom-like robber. A good old-fashioned adventure yarn with some great characters and sharp dialogue.

Cellular
Kim Basinger, William H. Macy, Chris Evans
dir: David R. Ellis
94 minutes,
New Line Cinema

Remember Phone Booth, the movie where Colin Farrell couldn’t leave the phone booth or a psychopath would kill him? This is that story turned upside down. A woman (Basinger) has been taken hostage and hidden in an attic. A science teacher, she’s able to get an old wall phone working, and dials at random. She gets a 20-something guy on the line and has to persuade him not to hang up until he can get help, trace her call and release her. Can the guy with the phone and the veteran cop (Macy, great as usual) track her down before the batteries die (or she does)? Stay tuned.

The Princess Diaries 2

Princess Mia, from Princess Diaries 1 has to get married or forfeit her position as heir to the throne of Genovia, a European country where everybody speaks American English (the villains all have British accents, which dates this movie, because all bad people in movies now are supposed to be French). Julie Andrews, an Oscar-winning actress and legendary singer, appears as Mia’s grandmother, the queen. I can’t imagine why. Maybe she lost a bet. Good news: Garry Marshall also directed Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. Bad news: thirty years ago.

The Notebook

dir: Nick Cassavetes
cast, Gena Rowlands, James Garner, Ryan Gosling
New Line Cinema, 120 mins

What could be an overly sentimental story turns out to be quite charming. We see the story of two young people, a rich girl and a local boy from the place where her parents spend their summers. Even the boy (Ryan Gosling) thinks his courting attempts are in vain, especially when her parents disapprove of him. It’s a simple story, given a poignant edge when you realize that it’s being read by the same boy, in old age (James Garner) to the girl, now his elderly wife, who’s retreated into Alzheimer’s. The director is the son of John Cassavetes, and he uses his father’s famous improvisational technique here to great effect.