Ondine


Ondine

Not only must Colin Farrell carry the film, he also has to carry Alison Barry without any help from Alicja Bachelda.

 

(2009) Romantic Fantasy (Magnolia) Colin Farrell, Stephen Rea, Alicja Bachelda, Tony Curran, Dervla Kirwan, Tom Archdeacon, Emil Hostina, Norma Sheahan, Alison Barry, Conor Power, Olwyn Hanley, Peter Gowen, Don Wycherley, Gertrude Montgomery, Reese O’Shea. Directed by Neil Jordan

 

The sea gives up its secrets begrudgingly, although off the Emerald coasts of Ireland there is a certain magic in those secrets. Where despair and disappointment may reign over the waves, hope can carry the day.

Syracuse (Farrell) – known as Circus to one and all in the village in which he lives – is a decidedly unsuccessful fisherman trying to eke out a living from the sea, all the while dealing with his daughter Annie’s (Barry) debilitating and serious kidney ailment (which confines her to a wheelchair), his wife Maura (Kirwan) who has taken up with another man, and his own alcoholism which he has been trying desperately to beat.

Out for another disappointing day of failure, Syracuse brings up in his nets a woman, who calls herself Ondine (Bachelda). What she was doing in the middle of the ocean she can’t or won’t say, and she begs Syracuse not to let any other souls in the village see her save himself. He is mystified but puts her up in his late mother’s cottage.

Annie, being a smart and inquisitive little girl, discovers Ondine’s existence and decides that she’s a selkie, a creature of Irish myth that is half woman, half seal. Ondine appears to have some magical properties going on – when she sings, fish almost leap into Syracuse’s net. At last he is beginning to make more than a living, helping pay for his daughter’s dialysis and treatment.

But there is a mysterious man (Hostina) searching for Ondine and when tragedy strikes, everything Syracuse knows or thinks he knows may well be put to the test.

Jordan is an Irish director with an impressive resume, including The Company of Wolves, The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins and The Brave One entered on it. He has a penchant for the fantastic and exercises it here. He also has a good eye for the Irish countryside and utilizing frequent Wong Kar Wei cinematographer Christopher Doyle, he extracts all the misty magic of a small Irish fishing village.

Farrell tends to be at his best when he’s playing ordinary Joes who are flawed. Syracuse isn’t a heroic sort; he’s just trying to do right by his daughter and often doesn’t even manage that. He’s nowhere near as smart as his daughter and often defers to her judgment which is the kind of thing that makes me want to bang my head against the nearest brick wall.

Barry may well be a terrific juvenile actress but she’s handed a part here that lands her on my list of pet peeves – the overly precocious child who is smarter and more capable than the adults around her. This serves to make Annie annoying to the point that I’d have preferred long acrylic fingernails screeching over a chalkboard than listening to her talk. That’s not the fault of the actress but of the writer. A more realistic child would have improved the movie 1000 times.

The center of the film is the romance between Syracuse and Ondine. Bachelda, a Polish actress (by way of Mexico where she grew up) is certainly beautiful and has wonderful legs which she displays regularly. She also has, more crucially, actual chemistry with Farrell so their budding romance becomes believable and even encouraged by the viewer who wants to see the together – the watermark of any romantic film.

Some may compare this conceptually to Splash and there are certainly similarities, but whereas Madison in that film was always known to be a mermaid, Ondine remains an is-she-or-isn’t-she until the very final reel which is smart filmmaking. However, the plot takes an unnecessary left turn from gentle romantic fantasy into action thriller for the last twenty minutes or so before returning for the last couple of scenes to the romantic fantasy again. Quite frankly the romantic fantasy works better.

I liked the laidback, dreamy vibe of the movie and Farrell’s IFTA-winning performance (the Irish Film and Television Awards are kind of a cross between the Oscars and Emmy’s in Ireland), as well as Bachelda’s legs and chemistry with Farrell. Kirwan also won an IFTA for her role as Farrell’s estranged wife, battling alcohol issues of her own.

This flew under the radar during an American theatrical release in art houses in the spring of 2010 but is out there on the Showtime/The Movie Channel if you want to catch it on cable, or available for streaming generally everywhere. It makes for a nice romantic evening’s viewing, especially for those who carry an affection for Ireland and all things Irish.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous cinematography and a nice melding of Irish folklore and modern rural Ireland. Fine performances from Farrell, Bachelda, Kirwan and Barry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending is a bit disappointing. Annie is part of a long line of precocious and annoying movie kids.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some words you might not want your kids to hear, as well as a bit of sensuality and a scene or two of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Farrell and Bachelda

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.6M on a $12M production budget; it failed to recoup its production costs during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Arthur (2011)

You Only Live Twice


You Only Live Twice

Did someone call for a sociopathic megalomaniac?

(United Artists) Sean Connery, Donald Pleasance, Karin Dor, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tanba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Charles Gray, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn. Directed by Lewis Gilbert

In the Bond pantheon, this movie usually doesn’t stand out among the movies considered Bond classics; Goldfinger, Dr. No and Live and Let Die, and to be sure, all of these are classic James Bond. However, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for this movie. It was the first one I saw in a movie theater – in a drive-in to be exact, where it was bloody hard to make out what was going on onscreen in the first scenes but my dad liked to smoke so we went to the drive-in where he could puff away to his hearts content.

I will be the first to admit that the plot is a bit on the ludicrous side, with SPECTRE intercepting American and Russian spacecraft with an automated unhinging missile that brings them to a rather impressive volcano lair in Japan (one which remains in many ways the quintessential villain’s lair and one which was spoofed nicely by Austin Powers). This of course brings the superpowers to the brink of mutual war and annihilation, which suited the Chinese just fine (they were funding much of the shenanigans) and more importantly, played perfectly into the megalomaniacal plans of none other than Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Pleasance), the previously faceless Number One of the SPECTRE organization.

The British, having detected the rogue craft coming down in the area around Japan (something which the American and Russian radar were unable to do because they were just, like, tracking) send their best man, James Bond (Connery) in to investigate and he runs into Osato (Shimada), a wealthy industrialist and his deadly assistant Helga (Dor), both secret operatives of SPECTRE. Bond is saved by Aki (Wakabayashi), the beautiful agent of the Japanese Secret Service, headed up by Tiger Tanaka (Tanba), with whom Bond becomes fast friends. With the help of Little Nellie, a gyrocopter, they investigate a remote island in the Sea of Japan. There they find a nearly impregnable lair built into a dormant volcano. Can Bond, the marvelous Japanese agent Kissy Suzuki (Hama) and an army of Japanese ninjas stop Blofeld from plunging the world into nuclear war?

While Auric Goldfinger remains the greatest Bond villain to date, it is Blofeld who is Bond’s nemesis, the Moriarty to Bond’s Sherlock Holmes. Pleasance gives the previously faceless villain not only a face, but a personality to match; urbane like Dr. No and vicious like Goldfinger. Dr. Evil of the Austin Powers movies is based on Pleasance’s take on the part, from the Nehru jacket to the somewhat noticeable scar to the quietly menacing speaking tone. All Dr. Evil is missing is the eurotrash accent.

I also found the Japanese locations beautiful and the insights to the Japanese culture interesting. Previously, the only Japan American audiences had seen in the movies was the one Godzilla trampled over. I have had a fascination for Japan ever since seeing this movie.

The volcano lair of Blofeld is one of the most spectacular ever built. The monorail you see scooting around the perimeter actually worked and the helipad arm that extends out was also a working helipad. Of course, the rocket launches were done with miniatures but this was one of the most expensive sets ever built at the time. It still holds up, looking sleek and menacing and exactly the kind of thing you’d see from a would-be world dictator.

The Bond girls for this movie, Hama and Wakabayashi, were cast mostly for their looks and their willingness to be filmed in a bikini, something that the Japanese were only beginning to embrace at the time. Unfortunately, the two actresses spoke little English and their performances are unconvincing.

That said, even given the implausible nature of the plot and that already by this point the Bond movies were relying more on familiar repetitive plot points rather than stretching the limits (and over-relying on gadgets) of the creativity of the writers, this still remains a film that resonates with me. Interestingly enough, the next Bond movie to be made would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which had perhaps the best script of all the Bond movies but Connery had left the series after You Only Live Twice, tired of the media attention and anxious not to be typecast as Bond any longer. I’ve always thought had Connery made that movie, it might have turned out to be the best in the series, even better than Goldfinger. But, that’s another review for another day.

WHY RENT THIS: An underrated Bond movie, with exotic locales and a great deal of insight into the Japanese culture. The volcano set is one of the most magnificent of the series, with a working monorail and helipad.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The kitsch and implausibility factors were beginning to become noticeable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of sexuality and as usual with Bond films, plenty of violence and smoking. Still, it’s no worse than anything on network television these days so don’t feel that you need to restrict the kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: You Only Live Twice was the last James Bond novel published during Ian Fleming’s lifetime (there were posthumous publications). There were also two Blofelds in the cast; Pleasance who played him here, and Charles Gray who played Henderson here and Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Ultimate DVD Edition has a nice featurette on Maurice Binder, the main title designer for the Bond films up through the Timothy Dalton era. Although the Blu-Ray edition hasn’t been released yet, the Bond films released so far in the format have included the Ultimate Edition features along with a beautifully restored print, so look forward to that.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Date Night