Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Late Rise of the Intouchables

     Today's wave of at home viewing options washes ashore a drama about string players, the French film that had the highest non-English language box office in the U.S. and worldwide in 2012, and an animated film about protecting childhood.  Let's sift through the sand....

  The Intouchables - This is not the first feature that Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano have written and directed together, but it is the first to break out internationally on this scale.  The Intouchables did great box office and was also picked as France's official submission to the Oscars last year, although it failed to make the final five.  Many criticized France for choosing this film over Jaques Audiard's Rust and Bone.  I can understand their resistance, this film is not nearly the equal of that masterpiece.  However, The Intouchables is a very good film on its own: touching, poignant, and fun to watch.
     The Intouchables' greatest strength lies in its two lead acting performances from Francois Cluzet (Little White Lies) and Omar Sy (Micmacs).  On the surface it would appear that Cluzet has the more difficult role. It undoubtedly has its challenges.  His character is stuck in a wheelchair and he is limited to what he can express on his face.  He meets every limitation inherent to his performance head on and does a tremendous job in this movie.  Omar Sy, however, may actually outshine him.  Omar has to be ALL of the movement in what basically amounts to a two man show and his physicality never lets you get bored.  He is also gifted with this amazing, shining on-screen charisma that comes across brilliantly in ANY language.
     The story itself has certainly been told before: unconventional caregiver brings new life to invalid patient.  It has rarely been told with this much heart, however.  The script could perhaps have been a little more innovative, but the directors chose to focus on the characters.  Judging by the performances of the leads, this was probably the correct decision...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Rise of the Guardians - Early on in 2012, I had a hunch that this film might wind up being the one to beat for Animated Feature at the Oscars this year.  I wound up being really wrong, as it didn't even secure a nomination.  Chock it up to the Academy's aversion to films with a holiday theme.  This bias kept Arthur Christmas out of the running the year before and it was FAR superior to most of the 2011 animated fare.  I personally found rise of the Guardians to be a very good movie, taking a topic loaded with cheese potential and crafting a tale that was full of adventure, excitement, and a childlike sense of wonder, hope, and fun.
     This film is a far cry from Rabbit Hole (even though it has a rabbit), screen writer David Lindsay-Abaire's most well known previous work, but its not his first animated film (he also wrote Robots).  I have not read the source material, but from that position of ignorance, this story seems fresh and very well told.  This was the first directorial effort from successful Art Director Peter Ramsey, but he handles the job like a seasoned professional.
     The cast is full of great voice talent.  Alec Baldwin's voice is unrecognizable under a flawless Russian accent as Santa.  Hugh Jackman is alternately sternly disapproving and, well, warm and fuzzy as The Easter Bunny.  Isla Fischler makes an adorable tooth fairy.  Chris Pine would actually steal the show as Jack Frost if not for the villainous delight with which Jude Law portrays the Boogey Man.  The animators should also be congratulated for giving the silent Sandman as much personality as any of them.
     If you have REALLY little ones, some parts MIGHT be a little scary.  Otherwise, whether you have kids yourself, or just like to indulge your own inner child every now and then, this one is well worth a couple of hours of viewing time...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  A Late Quartet - This is the debut narrative feature from writer/director Yaron Zilberman who had previously directed the documentary Water Marks.  He seems to handle the job fairly deftly.  There is nothing all that ground breaking about the story itself or the composition of the film, but he does manage to pull the acting ensemble together in perfect harmony.
     Of course, we may have to wait until Mr. Zilberman's next film to discover how much of the credit he deserves, and how much of the finished product resulted from the excellent casting.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Christopher Walken all function like the peerless professionals that they are. Working alongside these three it would be easy to get lost in the mix, but Mark Ivanir holds his own with style and confidence.  Imogen Poots and the always delightful Wallace Shawn lend able support.
     In many ways, A Late Quartet is a pretty standard indie drama.  It IS a well told and believable one, however, with an outstanding acting ensemble that works together flawlessly.  If you are a fan of classical music you are in for a real treat as the film is replete with beautifully performed pieces...4 of 5 stars.

     Related Articles: Down With Sinister Lies! (Little White Lies review)

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