The Commune (Kollektivet)


A communal meal isn’t always a peaceful one.

(2016) Drama (Magnolia) Ulrich Thomsen, Fares Fares, Trine Dyrholm, Lars Ranthe, Julie Agnete Vang, Helene Reingaard Newmann, Ole Dupont, Lise Koefoed, Magnus Millang, Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen, Mads Reuther, Anne Gay Henningsen, Jytte Kvinesdal, Morten Rose, Rasmus Lind Rubin, Adam Fischer, Ida Maria Vinterberg. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

When we think of the 70s, what comes to mind is recreational drug use, long hair, bell bottoms, anti-war protests and free love. Although communes still exist, they are more like co-ops these days rather than all of the inhabitants sleeping with each other, although there are some like that to be sure.

Erik (Thomsen) is a somewhat stuffy professor of architecture at a University in Copenhagen. His wife Anna (Dyrholm) is a beautiful news reader working for the national broadcast network. When Erik inherits what is essentially a mansion from his father in a rural suburb of Copenhagen, he initially wants to sell it; their daughter Freja (Hansen) wants to move into it but it is Anna who comes up with the idea they eventually adopt – to invite friends and strangers to move in and create their own commune.

You see, Anna has become somewhat bored in her marriage and wants variety, but as they say, be careful what you wish for. She and Erik invite friends at first like Ole (Ranthe) who has a bit of a temper but soon they are inviting fascinating strangers and before too long there are a dozen or so adults and children living in the commune.

Things go pretty well at first but things begin to lose cohesion. One of the children who has a heart condition (and quite the crush on Freja) is taken to the hospital, scaring the whole community on Christmas Eve. But to make matters worse, Erik falls in love with Emma (Newmann), one of his students and invites her to join the Commune. At first, Anna is pretty sanguine about the whole situation but she begins to crack and soon the tension in the Commune becomes nearly unbearable.

I’m not so sure this is an indictment of free love and the sexual politics of the 70s as it is more or less simply presenting the pros and cons. In all honesty most of the couples in the commune stay fairly faithful to one another with the exception of Erik – and it must be said that Anna paved the way for that in many ways. Judging Erik by standards that are 40 years after the period depicted here isn’t really fair but by our standards he’s quite the jerk.

The performances here are top-notch; most of the actors are not well-known in the U.S. with the exception of Fares and to a lesser extent Thomsen. The prize though goes to Dyrholm who goes from a strong and confident woman to an absolute mess by the end of the film. Badly shaken not so much by Erik’s infidelity – I think she could have handled an affair so long as Erik still loved her but once it became a case where Erik loved Emma and not Anna she was absolutely destroyed.

The director manages to get the era right between the colloquialisms, the products and the overall attitude. The cinematography is a little bit on the washed out side for exterior day shots (and underlit for night shots both inside and out) which also gives the film a look of a film made in that era.

Despite the pathos and drama (and there’s a lot of the latter) there is some comedy as well that comes up at unexpected times. The Danish have a very quirky sense of humor and it shows here when its needed. What’s not needed is some of the pretentious dialogue – and I realize back in that decade people tended to talk like walking manifestos – and especially the soap opera aspects of the film which are also many. That detracts from a film which most of the rest of the way is serious and fascinating.

Still, human relationships are tricky things whether you’re talking about the 70s or the 2010s. We are complicated little monkeys and we do things sometimes that make no logical sense. It is said that being alone is perfection – you make all your decisions and do as you please when you please. Two is a compromise and three is a disaster. The more people you put at the same table, the more complex things get.

Vinterberg has some really great films to his credit including one of my all time Florida Film Festival favorites The Hunt. This is another strong movie on his filmography and he continues to be a director who hasn’t yet really gotten the credit he deserves here in the States. Then again, he hasn’t done a lot of English language films yet and I’m not sure he needs to. Still, he’s one of those directors whose name on the credits means I’m instantly interested in seeing his film. There are not many about whom I can say that.

REASONS TO GO: The sexual politics are captured nicely. The film is very evocative of its era. Thought-provoking, the movie manages to get in a little bit of comedy as well. The performances are strong all around.
REASONS TO STAY: Pretentious in places, the movie sinks into soap opera a little too much.
FAMILY VALUES: Here you’ll find nudity, sexuality and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on a play Vinterberg wrote about his own experiences as a child growing up in a commune.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/2/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Overnight
>FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Lady Macbeth

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Bang! The Bert Berns Story


This is what producing a classic rock track looks like.

(2016) Documentary (Abramorama) Steven van Zandt (narrator), Paul McCartney, Doug Morris, Keith Richards, Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett, Carmen de Noia, Richard Gottehrer, Jerry Goldstein, Mike Stoller, Ellie Greenwich, Joel Selvin, Robin Levine, Ilene Berns, Andrew Loog Oldham, Van Morrison, Jerry Leiber, Ahmet Ertegun, Solomon Burke, Brenda Reid, Cissy Houston. Directed by Brett Berns and Bob Sarles

 

We know who the great performers of the rock and roll/R&B era are. We know their faces, we know their music. The people who are behind the scenes may not necessarily be as well known other than a few like Phil Spector and George Martin.

Chances are that very few of you reading this have ever heard of Bert Berns, but you certainly know his music as both a songwriter and producer. He’s responsible for such classic songs as “Twist and Shout,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “I Want Candy” and “Piece of My Heart.” His career spanned a mere eight years but in that time he completely remade music in his image.

Berns was a Jewish kid from the Bronx and the last guy you’d think of as a one of the movers and shakers of soul music in the 60s, but truth is a strange motha. He was stricken with rheumatic fever as a boy and his heart was severely damaged. He spent most of his convalescence learning to play guitar and piano. His doctors warned his parents that it was unlikely he would survive past his teens; they were proven wrong but not by much.

In the 50s he fell in love with Cuban music, particularly the mambo. He brought that love of Latin rhythms into his music. He sort of slid into the music business sideways, working as a $50 a week songwriter for a tiny New York publishing firm. He wrote a couple of songs that got mild airplay, including the novelty hit “A Little Bit of Soap.” He eventually was brought to the attention of Atlantic Records, then the giant of R&B music. One of the first songs he wrote while employed by them was “Twist and Shout.” It was brought to Phil Spector who did a version that ended up somewhat lame. Horrified, Berns determined to produce the records made of his songs. He took the Isley Brothers into the studio and did the song up right. A legend was born.

The documentary is definitely a labor of love, co-directed by his son Brett. The film is largely a parade of talking heads interspersed with archival stills but that’s largely a necessity. There wasn’t a lot of behind the scenes footage taken back then and performance video wouldn’t become a regular thing until the MTV era.

We get to hear from those who worked with Berns, from performers to engineers. We also hear from his siblings and most importantly, from his wife Ilene – a former go-go dancer. She pulls no punches and gets emotional talking about certain aspects of his life. She has a take-no-crap attitude that isn’t uncommon among true New Yorkers and compared to some of the others interviewed who are more circumspect, her testimony is rather refreshing.

The music business is full of sharks and Berns rapidly learned to swim with them. His friendship with Carmen de Noia was helpful to his career; while de Noia wasn’t a made man he was the sort of guy who knew a guy, if you get my meaning. Ilene had danced in a club owned by Morris Levy, not just the chief of Roulette Records but the front of the mob in the music business. Bert wasn’t uncomfortable rubbing elbows with these sorts. De Noia also is interviewed for the film and other than Ilene is the most interesting tale-teller of the lot.

Berns died way too young, his heart finally giving out on December 30, 1967 at the age of 38. It’s always the brightest flames that burn out the soonest. Moreover, he knew that his life would end prematurely – he beat the odds in surviving as long as he did. In fact, “Piece of My Heart” is actually about his heart condition, but there’s no need to feel sorry for him. In his time, he nurtured and developed the careers of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison; he also was one of the most prolific and successful producers in the history of Atlantic Records; he remains one of the few people who ever partnered with the main trio of Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler and Nesuhi Ertegun in founding Bang Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic and the namesake of the documentary.

His legacy is mainly in the music and the soundtrack is packed with it. It’s music that made the music of today what it is. You may not know the name of Bert Berns but you know his music and chances are, you love it. One viewing of this film and you won’t forget his name anytime soon. I guarantee you won’t want to.

REASONS TO GO: A soundtrack that is absolutely stellar. One of the forgotten geniuses of rock and roll finally gets his due.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is basically a parade of talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: Some mild profanity and lots and lots of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Berns-written hit “I Want Candy” got its title from a risqué book by Terry Southern.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wrecking Crew
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Circus Kid

Mr. Six (Lao pao er)


Father and son have a little heart to heart.

Father and son have a little heart to heart.

(2015) Drama (China Lion) Xiaogang Feng, Hanyu Zhang, Qing Xu, Kris Wu, Yi Feng Li, Hua Liu, Ju-Gang Bai, Shan Jiang, Jing Liang, Nuo Lu, Hao Ning, Yuxian Shang, Zeru Tao, Hewei Yu, Yi Zhang, Yishan Zhang. Directed by He Guan

NYAFF

There has always been a disconnect between the young and the old. In every culture, the youthful have had difficulties relating o the elderly, and vice versa. In the 60s, the term “generation gap” was coined and there are no signs that things have changed.

In Beijing, there are a collection of alleyways called hutongs that were built once for the diplomatic corps that worked in the foreign embassies nearby at the turn of the 20th century. These alleyways have collective houses surrounding them; they are charming but are mainly inhabited by less well-to-do folk these days.

Among those folk is Liu Ye (Feng) who is better known around the neighborhood as Mr. Six (it is never explained how he acquired that nickname). He was at one time a hoodlum, although he seems content to exist selling things in his shop and leading a life under the radar. He has the respect of everyone in the neighborhood – including the police – and often is turned to when disputes need to be settled. He is something of a Don Corleone but without the impressive Long Island compound.

He hangs out with his friends with colorful nicknames, including the somewhat slow but loyal Lampshade (Liu) and the feisty brawler Scrapper (H. Zhang). He also has a somewhat interesting romantic relationship with his neighbor Chatterbox (Xu). He doesn’t have a ton of money but then again he doesn’t need much.

That is, until his son Bobby (Li) went all stupid on him and started sleeping with the girl of street racer and scion of a corrupt politician Kris (Wu). Although Bobby and Mr. Six are estranged, Mr. Six feels honor-bound to negotiate his son’s release and help clean up his mess. However, Kris proves to be somewhat arrogant and demands 100,000 yuan (about $15,000) rather than the 2,000 yuan that Mr. Six brought with him. And when Lampshade tries to help but makes matters worse, Mr. Six is forced to bring his old gang back together again to take on the young street racing gang, knowing that the cops won’t help since these are all sons of businessmen and politicians and are basically untouchable. As an added complication, Mr. Six is having some fairly serious heart issues that may sideline him from the fight. And then there’s the fact that Bobby doesn’t want anything to do with his father…*sigh* kids today, right?

Some movies are roller coaster rides from the get-go and others are slow burners; this is the latter kind of movie. It starts out at a very quiet and slow pace and builds. You would think that the subject matter would make this more of an action film, but there’s actually very little of that which might upset action movie junkies somewhat.

Feng is a solid presence, laconic and menacing and brooding at times, but never a figure of pity. One reviewer compared him to Charles Bronson and I suppose that works but for me, he was a little bit more stoic than Bronson was. He is the moral center of the movie, a man of strong convictions but one can’t forget that his convictions allowed him to harm innocents as well. He is a complex character and Guan allows us to get to know him thoroughly. He may well be the most fascinating character we’ll see at the movies this year and one of the most interesting ever.

The movie largely starts out as a slice of life in the hutong and I really liked that. I’ve actually visited a hutong in Beijing and found it fascinating. Da Queen and I got to see how people live in China and it was one of the highlights of our trip. You don’t get a sense so much of the hustle and bustle of life in a metropolitan city the size of Beijing; this is a much slower pace of life.

There is a scene in the movie in which Bobby and Mr. Six are sitting in a tiny noodle shop having a meal and the two are trying to make some sort of common ground between them. It is an amazing scene, a very real discussion between two men who have little in common but their love for each other as father and son. Each is sure the other is wrong-headed and that they are in the right; each doesn’t know how to navigate a trail that they can both walk on. It’s mesmerizing and heartbreaking at the same time because so many fathers and sons have the same failings.

There are some moments that are a little bit bizarre, as when Feng goes after the street racing gang and it feels like the scene should have been in Furious 7 rather than this film, and there are other moments that have that feeling that they came out of different movies, plunked themselves down for a moment and then went back to their original location. These moments are a bit jarring and may throw you out of the mood of the film for a short while, but stick with it. As a slice of life this film works on every level.

REASONS TO GO: A slice of life from Beijing’s hutongs.  The film has a mythic quality to it. Feng delivers a powerful performance.
REASONS TO STAY: There are odd moments that almost seem like they came from other films. It lacks the action to satisfy fans of that genre.
FAMILY VALUES: A goodly amount of profanity along with plenty of violence, some sexuality and partial nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Feng is not only an actor, but is one of China’s most popular directors.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/8/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Term Life
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Nuts!

Iron Man


 

Iron Man

Stop! In the na-ame of love…Robert Downey Jr. finds his inner Supreme.

(2008) Superhero (Paramount/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwynneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jon Favreau, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Bill Smitrovich, Paul Bettany (voice), Nazanin Boniadi, Micah Hauptman, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Faran Tahir. Directed by Jon Favreau

 

Some superheroes are born to be heroes. Others are made by circumstance. The question is, were those sorts born to be heroes and always had that characteristic in them, or is it more a matter of necessity.

Tony Stark (Downey) has it all; the brilliant CEO of Stark Industries, he is young and one of the brightest minds in America. Most of the cutting edge weapons the military uses as their bread and butter were inventions of Stark, overseen by his partner, Obadiah Stane (Bridges) who worked with Stark’s dad, the founder of the company. Stane more or less bridged the gap between father and son.

In addition, Stark has a beautiful and efficient assistant, Pepper Potts (Paltrow) and a succession of Maxim supermodels to share his bed at night. His butler, Jarvis (Bettany) is completely electronic. He has a magnificent home in Malibu with a panoramic view of the Pacific. What’s not to like?

Out in Afghanistan demonstrating a new missile along with his good friend and military liaison Col. Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Howard),  Tony’s convoy is ambushed by insurgents and Stark is gravely injured, but taken to the caves where the insurgents are holed up. Just before losing consciousness, Tony notes that the weapons that attacked the convoy were manufactured by his own company.

There is shrapnel near Stark’s heart so Raza (Tahir), the leader of Ten Rings (the terrorist group that captured him) forces Dr. Yinsen (Toub) to keep Stark alive, which he does with an electromagnet ringing the industrialist’s heart powered by a car battery. Once Stark is able to, Raza orders him to build the Jericho missile (the same sort that Stark had been demonstrating) for his group which Stark knows will be used against American forces. This he cannot abide. He convinces Raza he’s building the missile while in reality he and Yinsen are creating a suit of armor that will allow him to break out of the caves and get away. He does, but barely – he has to construct a miniaturized nuclear power source called an ARC reactor to power the suit but the flight capabilities of the armor are limited and Stark crashes some miles from the caves, destroying the suit.

Back at home, Stark announces that Stark Industries would be getting out of the weapons industry to the consternation of Stane and Stark’s shareholders. Stark responds by withdrawing from the public eye, going into his home workshop to upgrade both the reactor and the armor. The sleeker Mark II armor, red and gold after his racing team’s colors, prove to be a powerful weapon as Stark returns to Afghanistan to prevent Ten Rings from destroying Yinsen’s village, leaving Raza to the less than merciful villagers.

In the meantime Pepper discovers that someone within Stark is selling advanced weapons technology to terrorists and had set up Tony for capture and eventual murder by Ten Rings. She notifies SHIELD, a newly formed government agency set up to deal with exactly these sorts of issues and Agent Coulson (Gregg) is dispatched to investigate.

Ten Rings has discovered the pieces of Stark’s original armor, as well as the blueprints for it. Scientists attempt to reverse engineer the armor which they do, but they are unable to build an ARC reactor to power it. There’s only one of them in the entire world – and it’s the only thing keeping Stark alive. The terrorists want it and will use whatever means necessary to get it.

When this was released in 2008, Marvel had licensed their characters to specific studios; X-Men, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four to Fox, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider to Columbia. They had a vision of creating a shared universe like the one they created in their comic books but in order to do that they would have to have control over their characters and how they were being used; this couldn’t be done if they were licensed all over hell and gone so they decided to create a movie division of their own and with a fairly substantial investment, announced an ambitious slate of five films of which this was the first.

It is here that the roots of The Avengers were laid. The tremendous success of the movie not only established Marvel Comics (who were already seeing great success with their licensed properties) as a major force in Hollywood. Even the notoriously hard-to-please comic fan base were impressed not only with this film specifically but with the vision of Marvel generally.

The fact that this is a kick-ass summer movie doesn’t hurt. Downey is perfectly cast as the wise-cracking billionaire industrialist with an eye for the ladies and a mind unparalleled anywhere in the world. Much of the dialogue was ad libbed and Downey tends to excel in that kind of environment with a quick wit of his own. Downey was already a fan of the comics when he was approached to play the part; he had a real understanding from the get-go as to who Tony Stark is and what makes him tick.

Favreau hit a home run not only with the casting of Downey but with the look and feel of the movie. In many ways this was the anti-Batman; whereas Nolan’s hero is dark and brooding, Stark takes himself less seriously. That both are wealthy playboys is about all Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark have in common.

In fact, the movie looks like it could be taking place right here, right now. Most of the weapons that are employed during the movie (of course excluding the armored suit and the Jericho missile) are at least based on weapons that are either already in use or not far away from it. That gives the movie a sense of realism that other superhero films lack.

The supporting roles are more or less backseat drivers for the movie. Bridges looks like he’s having a good ol’ time as the bald and bearded Stane. Paltrow provides some nice chemistry as Potts and Howard, while given not much to do, does it well at least.

This turned out to be a huge fanboy chubby-inducing blockbuster of a film. It accomplished nearly everything it set out to do, creating a huge universe for filmmakers to play in – one that has been expanded upon with every succeeding film. They’ve also set the quality bar very high, one which has been at least approached if not met with all the other films that Marvel Studios has released since (not including the Ghost Rider films – sorry Nic). This is a favorite that holds up well even after all the other films that have since seen the light of day. It all started here and it’s worth going back to the beginning once in awhile to see how far you’ve come.

WHY RENT THIS: Kick-started Marvel Studios into becoming one of the industry’s big players. Elevated both Downey and Favreau’s career.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Final battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger kind of anti-climactic.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of action which of course means violence – some of it on the ugly side. There are also some suggestive situations. Tony Stark is a playboy billionaire after all.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The sound used during a target lock on Iron Man’s Head Up Display is the sound of a laser cannon firing in the original Space Invaders arcade game.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a look at the history of the Iron Man comics, as well as some rehearsal and audition footage. There’s also a hysterical piece from the Onion News network about the adaptation of the Iron Man trailer into a feature length film. The Blu-Ray edition also has a “Hall of Armor” that examines the various iterations of the armor complete with 360 degree rendering.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $585.2M on a $140M production budget; the movie was a great big hit!

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Craigslist Joe

The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arrietti)


The Secret World of Arrietty

Pod and Arrietty on a mission in the world of the Beans.

(2010) Anime (Disney) Starring the voices of Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, David Henrie, Moises Arias, Peter Jason, Frank Marshall, Karey Kirkpatrick, Gracie Poletti. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Gary Rydstrom

 

People come in all shapes and sizes. It is said that the smaller the person the greater the heart and being the brother of a sister who is small in size I can attest to the truth of this. You can’t always predict how courageous a person is going to be based on their size.

Shawn (Henrie) is a very sick boy. He has a bad heart and is in need of surgery. His doctors have advocated bed rest, quiet and above all no excitement. His Aunt Jessica (Poletti) – Shawn’s closest living relative since his parents have both passed away – has decided to take him to the country house where she and her sister (Shawn’s mom) grew up. There he’ll be cared for by Hara (Burnett), a kind of combination nanny and housekeeper.

Hara and Shawn aren’t the only ones in the house though. Underneath the floorboards lives a family of people just a few inches tall. They are members of a race called Borrowers – scavengers who live on items that the people won’t miss. This particular family is made up of Pod (Arnett) the taciturn dad, Homily (Poehler) the hysterical mom and 14-year-old Arrietty (Mendler), their fearless daughter. She has come of age and is old enough to go on “borrowings” with her dad although she longs to see the rest of the world. She has ventured out into the garden where she was spotted by sharp-eyed Shawn.

While on the borrowing she pinches a sugar cube but during the adventure she finds Shawn awake in his room and she accidentally drops the sugar. She and Pod escape but she is ashamed to tell Homily she dropped the sugar they needed. However, Shawn has figured out who they are and where they live and thoughtfully leaves the sugar cube where Arrietty can find it.

Arrietty and Shawn become friends, although there is plenty of mistrust on Arrietty’s part. Pod has seen it before; humans see a Borrower, Borrowers have to leave. It’s too dangerous and so it is again this time, although not from Shawn – Hara you see has also figured out that the little people she’s been ridiculed for believing in her entire life are real and right there before her, ready to vindicate her for the years of being made the fool.

This is the most recent film from the Japanese anime producers Studio Ghibli, the home of acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki (he produced and wrote the screenplay although he didn’t direct it). It’s based on the beloved children’s novel by Mary Norton.

Like most Studio Ghibli films, there is an inherent sense of whimsy that pervades the whole movie from start to finish. Unlike some animated features which push the silliness, this is a more gentle feeling. They don’t hit you in the face with the pop culture references or with the zaniness; there is heart here as there is in the best Pixar movies.

There are some very poignant moments. Shawn has had a difficult go of things; both parents dead and himself facing his own mortality very young. The filmmakers wisely don’t turn Shawn into some sort of martyr figure; there are moments where his heart issues are evident (he tires easily and he sometimes stumbles) but it isn’t front and center. Rather, it is an issue that is much on his mind and in one scene, he talks to Arrietty about it.

Also like most Studio Ghibli films, the animation is breathtaking. It is not three-dimensional like Pixar is known for, but more of a traditional animated look. It’s actually art come to life, like a painting with motion. The look is amazing and the Borrower’s environment is clever. Yeah there are a few issues with proportion – the cockroaches are about the same size as Arrietty and she is also the same size as the rats. If the cockroaches are the same size as the rats, I am not visiting Japan anytime soon. However that’s a fairly minor point. I will say that the film has a distinctly Japanese feel; those who are suspicious of anime for that reason will probably not enjoy this.

That would be a bummer; this is one of the best animated films you’re likely to see this year. People who don’t like anime or have a view of it that it’s big-eyed “Speed Racer” clones with bad animation and weak plots, or worse, “Sailor Moon” cutesy pie crap. This is a beautiful, heart-warming animated feature that is going to appeal to audiences of all ages; I can’t think of a single reason not to pack the family into the mini-van and head on out to the multiplex to see this.

REASONS TO GO: Another great Studio Ghibli film. Beautiful animation and a heartwarming story that is familiar to American audiences.

REASONS TO STAY: A little Japan-centric for those who are wary of Anime.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The UK and Japanese versions of the movie have different voice actors.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/22/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100. The reviews are outstanding.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Borrowers

RAIN LOVERS: Much of the movie takes place on rainy days and the artists at Studio Ghibli take great pains to make the background art for those particular scenes to look magical rather than grey and dull.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW:Safe House

Paris


Paris

Romain Duris contemplates his mortality.

(2008) Romantic Drama (IFC) Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel, Francois Cluzet, Karin Viard, Melanie Laurent, Gilles Lellouche, Julie Ferrier. Directed by Cedric Klapish

The heartbeat of a city is often inaudible to those who live in it and are caught up in the dull roar of their daily lives. Those who are able to hear it often bestow a love upon their city that nothing can shake.

Director Cedric Klapish is one of the lucky ones who know the rhythms of Paris intimately. Renowned for such films as L’auberge espagnol, Klapish is a master of finding the intricacies of life and breaking them down into simple stories.

Pierre (Duris) is dying. He is a dancer whose heart is giving out. Without a transplant, he will inevitably die. His sister Elise (Binoche) who has just endured a heartrending divorce, moves in with him along with her two children so that she can better care for her brother who grows weak easily.

Mostly he stares down at the city from his apartment balcony, observing the comings and goings in the neighborhood with the immense Rungis open-air food market, or in the many cafes that serve as the living rooms of Paris. And there are so many stories to tell, like the middle aged professor of history (Luchini) who falls deeply for one of his students (Laurent), sending her anonymous text messages worthy of de Bergerac (if Cyrano were alive today, do you think he would text fair Roxanne?) while navigating a difficult relationship with his brother Philippe (Cluzet), who being married with children and with a successful business seems to have much more than the professor does, even though he is hosting a television program on the history of the city.

There’s also a highly opinionated baker (Viand) who against her better judgment hires a West African worker who turns out to be much more than she bargained for. There’s a very civilized divorced couple whose lives are drifting apart, and who, they find, are terrified of the prospect.

If an American director had been given this material to direct, he would have intersected these lives, making sure they all interrelated because that is all the style these days. Klapish ignores the temptation in favor of making their lives parallel. The only time they come close to interacting is during one of the final scenes when one of the characters is being driven down a road in a taxi and passes them all along the way at various points in his route. It is a marvelous scene in which Klapish seems to be commenting about the fragile connections we have.

The cast is marvelous, all of them well-known in France. Binoche is in my mind the epitome of the French woman; smart, sexy and compassionate with a wonderful sense of irony. It is my studied opinion that as French women become older, they become more alluring. That is the opposite of Hollywood’s way of thinking; as American women get older they become disposable and marginalized. She is wonderful here, not one of her greatest performances but definitely a good one.

Duris also lends dignity to the role of the dying dancer. He’s not well-known in the U.S. but he’s a marvelous actor who has worked with Klapish throughout his professional life. He doesn’t reveal a lot going on with Pierre, but neither does he milk the pathos. He just hits all the right notes and gives the character dignity without relying too much on sympathy.

Klapish uses Paris as a backdrop and rather than dwell on the familiar sites, or go to grandiose with the imagery, he prefers to show the human side of Paris, allowing us to see the everyday lives of Parisians with an insider’s eye. There is a beauty to the look of the movie that is much more subtle, like an impressionist portrait in many ways.

Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips compared this to Love, Actually and he’s right on the money, although it’s a subtle comparison – the central theme in that film is love and here it is life, although a true Parisian would argue they are one and the same. Here, one sees the heart of Paris through the eyes of someone who loves the City of Light very much – and instills in those who watch the same feelings.

WHY RENT THIS: The central story is riveting and this slice of Parisian life is worth consuming. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many threads, not all of them absolutely necessary.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some rough language and sexuality here, and some thematic issues that are a little bit heavy.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Romain Duris’ sister is noted pianist Caroline Duris.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $23.3M on an unreported production budget; the movie made money.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Dear John