Review: Marie Antoinette (2006)

Director Sofia Coppola’s latest feature, Marie Antoinette, has received a mix of praise and boos, beginning at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Some critics found it dull and disappointing, others called it intriguing and energetic.

And I think I found my favorite film of the year (<sorry Martin Scorcese).

Marie Antoinette opens with flashy black and pink credits and pop music blaring in the background. Marie (played by Kirsten Dunst) is briefly introduced; she is lying on a chaise lounge, wearing an elegant outfit, surrounded by cakes and having her shoes placed on her feet. While this scene illustrates how France saw Marie Antoinette at the height of her rule, through Marie Antoinette, Coppola hopes to paint a different picture of the ill-fated monarch .

Adapted from Antonia Fraser’s biography, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, the film narrates the life of Marie Antoinette beginning her arrival to Versailles from Austria as she meets her future husband, Louis-Auguste (Jason Schwartzman). Although the couple is expected to produce an heir to the throne, their marriage remains unconsumated for seven years. Additionally Marie Antoinette depicts the free-spending ways, emotional distress, and overall growth of the Queen as Dunst gives a charismatic performance.

However, the film itself is less a historical film and entirely Coppola’s artistic interpretation. From the use of contemporary pop music as scene narratives to the vibrant colors, elaborate costumes, and gorgeous set design, every element of the film is purely diretorial vision.

Most likely Marie Antoinette will not be nominated for any awards this season. But if you let yourself be taken away by magic of Sofia Coppola’s revisionist Versailles, the picture becomes a delight.

Updated October 11, 2010

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Review: Friends With Money (2006)

Friends With Money, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, is a drama that centers around four longtime friends, all with personal problems and approaching middle age.

 

Three are married and well-off: Christine (the always fabulous Catherine Keener), whose marriage is crumbling faster than the new house addition can repair it; Jane (an excellent Frances McDormand), who handles middle age by not washing her hair and with pure rage; and Franny (Joan Cusack), who is incredibly wealthy and just wants to see everyone happy.

Christine, Jane and Franny focus most of their attention on their lone single friend, Olivia, played by Jennifer Aniston, who has thankfully returned to indies. Olivia works as a maid, smokes pot, lacks ambition, and she cannot find a decent boyfriend. But while they try to help Olivia, the group cannot see the faults and problems within their own lives.

Any movie starring Catherine Keener AND Frances McDormand should be a guaranteed hit. Throw in the talents of Joan Cusack, Jennifer Aniston, and their male counterparts, Greg Germann, Simon McBurney, Scott Caan, and Jason Issacs, Friends With Money should be great period.

Despite a great cast, an entertaining script, and lovable, quirky characters that aren’t forced into a typical Hollywood mold (Frances McDormand is probably the sloppiest fashion designer you’ll ever see on screen), something is missing. Most scenes lack depth and the characters quickly fall flat. Specifically, Joan Cusack’s character becomes lost and frequently forgotten throughout the movie.

Nevertheless, Friends With Money is a delightful picture about success, self-worth, marriage, and most importantly, friendship. Many memorable scenes and the ensemble cast, highlighted by superb performances from Catherine Keener and Frances McDormand, make it worth seeing.

Updated October 11, 2010

Reviews: Five Movies I’ve Seen Recently

The Syrian Bride (2004)

A Druze woman (Clara Khoury) from the Golan Heights is set to marry a Syrian television star. When she does marry and crosses the Syria-Israel border, she can never return home due to immigration laws. The film is set during her wedding day, as she and her family prepare for the festivities. A powerful picture, The Syrian Bride is also delves into Israel-Syria relations and the Middle East conflict.

 
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut is reminiscent of a old-fashioned Western. Set on the Mexico-Texas border, ranch hand Pete Perkins (Jones) is determined upheld a promise and bury his best friend Melquiades (Julio Cedillo) in his native Mexico. Once he learns that Melquiades was brutally murdered by Border Patrol Officer Mike Norton(Barry Pepper), Perkins kidnaps Norton and he drags him on a journey of redemption and forgiveness.

 

Kings and Queen (2004)

During her father’s long illness, Nora (Emmanuelle Devos, a successful single mother, comes to terms with her past and her future. Mathieu Amalric also stars as Ismael, Nora’s ex-lover, who has been mistakenly placed in a mental ward. Their stories run parallel with each other creating a poignant and moving French drama.


The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)

Jack (Daniel Day Lewis) and his teenage daughter Rose (Camilla Belle) live isolated from society in an abandoned hippi commune on an island off the shores of North Carolina. Their lives are forever changed when Jack’s new girlfriend Kathleen (Catherine Keener) and her two sons move in. Rose is forced to discover her emerging womanhood. This is a father and daughter story that is both memorable and haunting.
Separate Lies (2005)

The Mannings (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) appear to have the perfect marriage; he’s a successful business man and she is the typical wife. Their flaws are revealed when their cleaner’s husband is killed in a hit-and-run and the secrets begin pouring out. Rupert Everett co-stars in this provoking and thrilling film, but it is Tom Wilkinson’s powerful performance that makes Separate Lies an outstanding movie experience.

 

Review: Superman Returns (2006)

Brandon Routh in Superman

Superman Returns, directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men), is one of this summer’s most anticipated movies.

After a long absence, searching for the remains of the planet Krypton, Superman (Brandon Routh) returns only to find that the world survived without him and his love, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), moved on with her life. She’s engaged, has a son, and she even won the Pulitzer Prize for an editorial entitled, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”.

He returns just in time, however. His enemy Lex Luthor (an outstanding Kevin Spacey) is planning to destroy the United States and Superman once and for all.

Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth lack chemistry. Their characters past relationship and unrequited love seems forced and it is almost painful to watch their scenes. Although I feel that Kate Bosworth is a talented actress and will go onto better films, she wasn’t the right Lois Lane.

Many scenes are exhilirating, action-packed, and completely wow moments. The others, when acting is not expected but appreciated, drag on and are kind of like eating stale cheerios.

On the scale of summer blockbusters, it’s very good, but compared to Batman Begins, it doesn’t even come close.

This doesn’t mean I’m not saying to not go see Superman Returns. People were cheering and applauding in the theater I was in, so someone had to like it. I just wish I hadn’t wasted 10 dollars on seeing Superman Returns.

Updated October 12, 2010

Review: Tsotsi (2005)

Written and directed by Gavin Hood, Tsotsi, set in Johannesburg, South Africa, explores six days in the life of a young gangster. Presley Chweneyagae stars as Tsotsi, the ruthless leader of a township gang.

One evening, Tsotsi attacks a gang member who taunts him and suggests avoiding violence acts. To release his aggression, Tsotsi ventures into the suburbs and he attacks a woman entering her home. He steals her car, only to discover her infant sleeping in the back seat.

What results is a poignant tale of redemption. He takes responsibility for the baby with the help of a local widow (Terry Pheto). Through this child, Tsotsi’s soul is awakened as he confronts his past and sees a future he never thought existed. Tsotsi learns to value love and human life.

Tsotsi is a riveting and emotional experience, although sometimes difficult to watch. It offers an honest look at crime, revival, and hope for the future. Above all, it is a thrilling and touching journey into the soul of a lost individual.

Updated October 12, 2010