Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
A breathtaking, beautiful, highly stylized animated film, Christian Volckman´s Renaissance represents the height of style over substance. But while the story is nothing special, the animation is so good – created by artists, not just computer technicians – that we are willing to forgive the story flaws. Design is a mixture of futuristic action and 1950´s film noir, using a stark monochrome black & white color scheme (with occasional details in color). Style has been accomplished using rotoscoping, a technique popularized by Ralph Bakshi in the 1970´s and 80´s and used wonderfully by Richard Linklater in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, which traces a live actor´s movements and merges them with cell animation. This is the best and most accomplished the technique has ever looked, however, and Volckman´s film is near-revolutionary.
NOTE: Above review applies to the original French-language version of the film. Catch it in English (featuring voicework by Daniel Craig and others) at Kino Světozor.
Faithful, somber adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham´s classic novel is well-made all around, though like its characters, remains somewhat aloof for the duration. Naomi Watts stars as Kitty, a young socialite who agrees to marry bacteriologist Walter Fane (Edward Norton) though she doesn´t really love him. Walter, however, is deeply in love with her, and leaving for Shanghai; Kitty makes her decision based on social pressures and a desire to get as far away from her mother as possible. Once in Shanghai, she almost immediately has an affair with British official Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber); when Walter finds out, he volunteers to help fight cholera in a remote village as a kind of punishment for his wife, who is more or less forced to accompany him. Source material is affecting and intriguing, and that the film stays true to the literary roots makes it worthy of admiration, even if it occasionally suffers cinematically; it´s often slow-moving, and due to the characters´ relationship, toned down emotionally. Watts and Norton are effective as the leads, though they fail to truly engage the viewer; supporting cast is better, especially Toby Jones as a civil servant Waddington, Liev Schreiber as Townsend, and Diana Rigg as Mother Superior. Stunning Chinese locations, beautiful cinematography, luscious atmosphere. Excellent, haunting original score by Alexandre Desplat.
Unwatchable mess follows in the footsteps of the Scary Movie series, Not Another Teen Movie, Date Movie, etc., to bring us a limp, lame, completely unfunny send up of ‘epic’ movies. That is, if your idea of an epic movie is Nacho Libre or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But it’s mostly a tired walkthrough of The Chronicles of Narnia, devoid of laughs. Pic can’t even replicate the success of a 3-minute Saturday Night Live skit, even though it desperately tries to emulate music videos by The Lonely Island with numerous song-and-dance cutaways. Incompetent on every level: badly shot, acted, and directed, poorly and cheaply produced. Jayma Mays, in particular, is hung out to dry by the directors, with reaction shot after reaction shot of the same damn reaction; it’s as if a wax figure were instructed to mug for the camera. Entirely undeserving of the 2% ‘Fresh’ rating it has on Rotten Tomatoes, which is far too high. Avoid.
AND: Also opening is Michael Hegner and Karsten Kiilerich’s The Ugly Duckling and Me! (showtimes | IMDb), a Danish animated film based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. Film is screening in a Czech-dubbed version.