Archive for the Mystery Category

Enemy

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 29, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Enemy photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpg“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”

So begins Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s confusingly twisty but oh-so-stylish ode to David Lynch. The brew is a head trip of a cocktail that goes down deliciously smooth but will no doubt disorient you for days afterwards. Imbiber beware! It’s a refreshingly tight 90 minutes but has enough style to populate 2 additional movies directed by the likes of Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg. Its visually stark set design, champagne-hued color palette, cinematography, and score make watching every minute of this little perplexity a cineaste’s delight. By the end, however, I really didn’t know what I had actually witnessed. This will irritate some and enchant others. If you haven’t guessed by now, I happily claim to be a member of the latter group. I totally dug the film.

Enemy was adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, a mild mannered history professor. One day a colleague recommends a movie, which he subsequently rents from a video store soon after. Do those still exist? While watching late at night he notices an anonymous extra in the background that looks eerily like himself. Pausing the frames reveals a similarity that appears identical. Fascinated, he researches the actor and learns his pseudonym is Daniel St. Claire (real name Anthony). The curiosity becomes an obsession as Adam rents the performer’s other films. Next he finds out where Anthony lives. Then Adam uncovers his phone number and calls his home. Anthony’s wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) answers and mistakes Adam’s voice for her own husband’s. And that is only the beginning.

The whole production has this unrelenting feeling of dread. There’s something sinister looming you can’t quite put your finger on. Enemy plays with the conventions of doppelgangers. Adam Bell is the humdrum one, emotionally distant with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). He teaches history with languid enthusiasm to college students.  Anthony St. Claire on the other hand is more confident. He’s an actor who rides a motorcycle. His wife is expecting. For some reason his existence proves unsettling to Adam’s identity. The atmosphere instills Adam’s discovery with a sense of alarm. The narrative grows more fascinating with each new development.

Director Dennis Villeneuve worked with Jake Gyllenhaal on 2013’s Prisoners. That was a solid Hollywood studio picture, but this little independent is far better because it’s so bizarrely original and unexpected. The Canadian filmmaker knows how to exploit Gyllenhaal’s strengths. Jake gives two powerfully nuanced performances here, each one masterful in their own right. It’s a complicated balancing act because both guys must look identical in every way, yet remain two separate people. Even the physical similarities between the women in their respective lives are uncannily alike as well. An inquiring mind can be a dangerous thing. Adam’s visit to his mother (Isabella Rossellini) provides hazy details to an individuality that feels increasingly threatened. Bits and pieces of evidence of various sorts are offered up to the audience to help formulate an explanation as to what exactly is going on – that opening scene in a nightclub, for example.   You might think you’ve already guessed how it ends. Let me tell you, you aren’t even close.

Non-Stop

Posted in Action, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 2, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Non-Stop photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgIn the grand tradition of aviation movies like Red Eye and Flightplan comes Non-Stop. Star Liam Neeson is clearly in his comfort zone playing, what else, a badass. Okay so he’s in fact a U.S. Federal Air Marshal. But Bill Marks has a past. His daughter died when she was 8 and his wife has since divorced him. He’s an alcoholic AND he smokes too. These days smoking cigarettes is pretty much the same thing as shooting up heroin as far as the cinema is concerned. So we’re already wary of him. He even duct tapes the vents in the airplane lavoratory so he can light up without tripping the smoke detectors. Yet he gives us reason to care. Liam Neeson is incredibly charismatic as the lead character. Let’s face it. Taken and Unknown have given the actor enough practice where he can now play a tough, but likable, ultra-cool mofo in his sleep. And I got to hand it to the guy.  He’s in his 60s and he’s carved a nice little niche in these action roles where others have failed at this age.  Sorry Arnold.

Speaking of Unknown, Non-Stop reunites the star with the same director, Jaume Collet-Serra. I like the director’s style. He’s a dependable type that knows how to keep the chronicle moving so we are never bored (or reflect on the plausibility of what is happening). Most of the picture takes place in the tiny cramped, quarters of an airline cabin and you could hardly pick a more tense environment in our post 9/11 world.  Midway on a transatlantic flight from New York City to London, Marks begins receiving cryptic text message on his personal phone. The anonymous intruder demands $150 million dollars to be transferred into a secure account or a passenger will die every 20 minutes.

The screenwriters have stockpiled the trip with a sampling of cultural identities and temperaments to make the guessing game a bit more confusing. Every time someone gives a dirty look (and there are a lot), we’re meant to think, “It’s him! It’s him! It’s totally him!” The shifting blame of who’s responsible is fairly effective.  Neeson is surrounded by an engaging cast. I was surprised to see Lupita Nyong’o as a flight attendant . This year’s Supporting Actress Oscar winner took the part after filming 12 Years a Slave but before her performance was received with universal acclaim. Her generic role here allows her to utter maybe 3 lines. I suspect she can say goodbye to being cast in this fashion from now on.

As developments happen, and the evidence starts to pile up, Bill Marks himself appears to be culprit. That secure account for example? It’s in his own name. Is this all an elaborate set up to make him appear guilty or is he indeed the villain. Without giving anything away, I was convinced I knew “whodunit” only to be proven wrong in the end. That’s not because this is a smartly written, coherent mystery, but because the story doesn’t really play fair with the audience. It obscures information it doesn’t want you to have, then throws in red herrings that cloud the truth even further. Given that a substantial amount of time involves him receiving text messages from the extortionist, you’d think that all he’d have to do is merely watch the passengers to see who keeps texting him. He actually attempts to do this at one point, but apparently he isn’t thorough enough because it leads to absolutely nothing. I’m being overly critical however. I don’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t entertained. I was, immensely in fact. This is a nifty little thriller that will captivate your attention for most of its running time. It’s very enjoyable. It’s just that by the end when everything is made known, you kind of feel betrayed. The reveal doesn’t really equal the sum total of the clues that we’ve seen. But eh I liked it anyway.

The Past

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Mystery with tags on December 29, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Past photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe incredible promise that Director Asghar Farhadi demonstrated with 2011’s A Separation has proven to be no fluke with his subsequent follow-up, The Past. He recounts human behavior with the precision of an absolute master. The plot is artfully straightforward. Four years after separating from his ex-wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), an Iranian man from Tehran named Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), arrives in Paris to finalize his divorce. Marie has 2 daughters from her previous marriage and is currently in a relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), an Arab man. Samir’s wife is in a coma and he has a son with her. Director Farhadi’s understanding of the human heart makes the sentimentality of modern movies look like ersatz emotion. The Past is ambitious in its desire to portray human feeling so honestly. It’s ironic because this is about the façades that people put up to mask their genuine desires.

The Past is an intensely intimate drama concerning 3 key people: Marie, Samir, and Ahmad. As was the case with A Separation, everyone’s point of view is displayed. No one is a villain. We tend to identify with ex-husband Ahmad since that is the person through which most of the action is filtered. However each character has their own merits. Bernice Bejo is quite moving as mother Marie. She is a sympathetic, maternal presence that is immediately affecting. She has two daughters from an even earlier marriage before Ahmad. One is a little girl, the other a 16 year old. Bejo portrays an intelligent woman that seems to have everything in order. Then the cracks begin to show. Older daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) has the warmest regard for her former step dad. The bond with her mother is strained because Lucie disapproves of her mother’s current boyfriend Samir. You’ll find yourself vacillating between the various characters trying to decide whose side you’re truly on. What originally appears as the picture of accord, is a woman gently unraveling at the seams.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has a knack for extracting fervid passion from our everyday lives. His talent for constructing a fascinating tale from a deceptively simple scenario is nothing less than genius. He starts with routine domestic problems. Then offers an endlessly compelling saga with unflinching honesty. The criteria by which we judge human drama has been elevated. It sets the new emotional high bar by which all other movies must now aspire. Director Asghar Farhadi presents the narrative unencumbered by elaborate devices. Sans music, costumes, special effects, flashbacks, nonlinear storytelling and other stylistic flourishes, he strips the production bare and serves it up to an audience for perusal. Much of the true feeling that percolates beneath the surface is evident not from dialogue, but from body language and gestures. The chronicle considers how we put up walls that impede effective communication. Once again, you think you know the story. As it unfolds, layers are exposed. As developments are revealed we’re drawn deeper into their crumbling relationships. Then the daughter reveals something that threatens to change everything. This is humanity and you cannot look away.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on September 18, 2013 by Mark Hobin

To Kill a Mockingbird photo starrating-5stars.jpg“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” — Atticus Finch

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1960 novel is adapted into a milestone of American cinematic entertainment. The townspeople of Maycomb, Alabama as seen through the eyes of Jean Louise Finch or “Scout” as she‘s affectionately known – a little girl living during The Great Depression in the South. As the movie begins, an adult Scout narrates through voice-over regarding her experiences growing up with her family – brother Jem, friend Dill, and father Atticus Finch.

To Kill a Mockingbird is highlighted by stunning performances that are breathtakingly genuine. Young actress Mary Badham epitomizes tomboy “Scout” with the skill of a seasoned pro. The film examines her societal observations beginning as a 6 year old. These include her adventures with her brother, 10 year-old Jem (Phillip Alford) and their friend “Dill” (John Megna). Dill is a peculiarly eccentric boy based on Harper Lee‘s real life childhood friendship with Truman Capote. The three of them pass their summers together preoccupied with a neighbor home that belongs to the hateful Mr. Radley and his reclusive son – the often talked about but never seen – Boo Radley. Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch, a lawyer and the children’s father. It has become an iconic role. The actor embodies absolute virtue, both as a father and as a lawyer tapped to defend a man on trial for a serious crime. Peck even won the Oscar (beating Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia). Estelle Evans is their no-nonsense housekeeper Calpurnia and inherent mother figure to the kids. Deeply respected, she provides discipline and love but doesn’t overindulge the children.

Gregory Peck is the personification of goodness in his part as the southern lawyer selected to defend a black man accused of rape. Director Robert Mulligan along with frequent collaborator-producer Alan J. Pakula, brings a classic of modern American literature to the screen in a near perfect masterpiece. To Kill a Mockingbird meticulously captures the reflections of a young girl. It’s hard to imagine a more deft handling of what a child witnesses concerning the residents of a close-knit community. Bigotry is definitely a major subject. However Horton Foote’s Oscar winning adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel, is more importantly a timeless reminiscence about growing up in Alabama during the 1930s. Multiple characters and storylines are effectively managed as a portrait of the American south is painted. The atmosphere of a small southern town is perfectly captured. Russell Harlan’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography has a transcendent quality that rightfully earned an Oscar nomination. His beautifully framed evocation of the south is just as important as the actors that gives spirit to Harper Lee’s words. The entire story climaxes in a entertaining courtroom drama that deals with civil rights but it leads to so much more. As the developments play out, the movie demonstrates how subsequent events have a profound effect on the formative education on a maturing protagonist.

The East

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on June 7, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The East photo starrating-4stars.jpgSarah (Brit Marling) works for a private security firm in Washington DC that gathers intelligence against eco-terrorists. Her agency is employed by big corporations under fire for endangering the health of people and/or the environment. This includes industries like oil refineries, pharmaceuticals, etc. Sarah is selected as an undercover agent to infiltrate an anarchist group known as The East. Posing as one of them she endeavors to gain knowledge and report back to her bosses at the bureau. The subsequent information will be used to make arrests.

A majority of the cast have fully developed personalities. What makes The East so captivating is the perceptive screenplay.  Credit  star Brit Marling who co-writes and produces with director Zal Batmanglij, the same duo responsible for 2011’s Sound of My Voice. As our lead protagonist Sarah, she’s an appealing presence, smart and attractive, capable of handling herself in rough situations . She prays for guidance to do what is right and acts with her conscience. We experience the faction through her eyes, judging everything she experiences. It’s a carefully modulated window into a world not many have experienced. As she extracts information / develops friendships, these characters become complex individuals. Alexander Skarsgård is their cultish leader. To emphasize the point, he sports Jesus-like hair and beard. We’re first introduced to him at a dinner scene involving straitjackets. It’s a memorable introduction to his methods. He has earned a dedicated loyalty from his followers. These include Doc (Toby Kebbell) and Izzy (Ellen Page), both of which offer detailed backstories to explain why they’re part of this collective.

When I originally saw the trailer for The East, I figured it would be a “horror” film recounting violent revenge “The East” exacted on evil companies they determined should be taken to task. But the way the plot unfolds it’s more of a character examination balancing the principles of environmental terrorists with those of a corporate spy concerned about their “eye for an eye” mentality.  It’s natural to champion the environment, but hardly anyone would go to the limits of these radicals.  We see these activists operate on the far end on the protester spectrum. They break into a gasoline mogul’s mansion and dump crude oil through the air-conditioning vents. Later they lace the champagne of employees at a drug manufacturer’s party with their own questionable medication. Their extreme behavior is not something most people would advocate. Yet we grow to understand their motivations and their viewpoint. On this converse side, we also appreciate Sarah’s dilemma as she starts to sympathize with her criminal zealots and their alarming objectives. There are some issues. You might say that Brit Marling as Sarah ingratiates herself into the group a bit too easily. Also, the narrative is tidied up at the conclusion in a couple hastily presented scenes that don’t do the nuanced story any favors. But more often than not this portrait is a brilliant study that handles multiple characters with deft and precision. Few films have accomplished this so skillfully in 2013.

The Hidden Face

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on April 26, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Hidden Face photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgAdrián, the young orchestra conductor of the Bogota Philharmonic is distraught by the breakup of his girlfriend who has recently left him. Belén has split but not before imparting with a filmed farewell video message for Adrián. “I’m leaving… don’t look for me and don’t hate me.” She resented his flirtations with another woman. They were having relationship problems so perhaps it’s not so surprising. It’s just that she has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. Where did she go and was Adrián responsible for her disappearance? His new sweetheart (that didn‘t take long), the local barmaid Fabiana senses an uneasy presence in his dwelling. She becomes convinced that his ex-girlfriend is haunting the residence and possibly trying to make contact.

The Hidden Face unfolds like a typical ghost story in an eerie haunted house. For the first half, it basically is. However there is more to this picture than meets the eye. Director Andrés Baiz, who co-wrote the screenplay, has fashioned a fascinating fable. The modern mansion is photographed with an appreciation for its beauty, but also evokes something sinister. Actor Quim Gutiérrez who portrays our lead protagonist is pretty bland unfortunately. A more dynamic personality would’ve been preferable, but Martina García and especially Clara Lago are attractive support that engage the emotions. The drama plays with expectations and has at least one surprise that is completely unforeseeable. Warning: Don‘t watch the trailer. It spoils everything. It’s a most unusual love triangle built on insecurity, mistrust and jealousy. An enjoyable thriller that entertains with its creepy twists.

Note: Review posted August 17, 2013. This movie was recommended to me by Gary Lee over at With a Friend Like Gary movie reviews. Please check out his blog and his review of this film.

Sinister

Posted in Horror, Mystery with tags on October 19, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketFirst and foremost, there is a question every horror film must answer: “Is it scary?” With regards to Sinister, the reply is an unqualified yes. Sinister scared the living daylights out of me. Through a combination of mood, music and fundamentals of the genre, director Scott Derrickson has created an accomplished work inspired by Japanese horror. Our protagonist, author Ellison Oswalt, writes about true life crime. He has recently moved his wife and kids into a new home so he can investigate an unsolved murder for his new book. Not only has Ellison kept the case a secret from his family, but they remain ignorant of the fact that he has moved them into the very home where the killing took place. Soon after, Ellison discovers a box labeled “Home Movies” in the attic. Their vicious content is the subject of this tale.

The picture employs 3 plot devices that would each be scary enough on their own.  When combined, they make for an unbearably creepy narrative. The finding and subsequent viewing of these home movies, exploits a feeling of dread that proves to be most unsettling. A video record of the deaths of various families, they remain a most disturbing document of something evil. Second, children in peril is a malevolent contrivance that really adds to the rising tension. Third and finally, the summoning of a pagan god is rather frightful. Bagghul is a particularly nasty deity that we are given a history lesson on. This gives actor Vincent D’Onofrio the slightly random cameo of being the cult expert that Ethan Hawke must contact in order to make sense of what he’s experiencing.

Sinister is not a perfect film. I’ll admit, the father’s insistence on placing his family in peril and keeping them there is a far fetched basis necessary to accept in order for the story to even occur. However, the script addresses this. His last few books were unsuccessful and his family, once used to better financial times, have struggled recently. His ambition to write a bestseller upon solving the homicide of the previous occupants, consumes him. Ethan Hawke effectively portrays a man torn between protecting his family and a fervent desire to solve the mystery and achieve financial success. His motivations are much more convincing than say John Cassavetes in Rosemary’s Baby or Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Granted, there is a particularly unsavory element in uncovering a cache of what basically amounts to a collection of snuff films. Though the idea itself is pernicious, the presentation is thankfully restrained.

Sinister is rather chilling. As it details a man’s obsession to find out the truth, the narrative unfolds in a very believable fashion. Even when we the audience must take a leap of faith to stomach what this father/husband has indirectly brought upon his family, we can understand, though not condone, his motivations. By employing traditional cinematography along with the found footage of the super 8 movies he discovers, director Scott Derrickson fashions drama around a most unpleasant spirit. The grainy reels that Ellison watches late at night is eerie. The jump cutting, haphazard images combine with a truly creepy soundtrack by Christopher Young and a pastiche of dark original music by ambient music artists like Accurst and Boards of Canada. A shadowy figure, with a white triangular face and black eyes is seen in the bushes in one shot. The simple image is frightening. The whole production makes something like The Woman in Black (released last February) look like a ride on a children’s merry-go-round. Sinister is without question the scariest movie of 2012.

Kaboom

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Mystery with tags on September 10, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketGregg Araki is a polarizing filmmaker. He’s guaranteed to alienate at least slightly conservative tastes even before we begin to make sense of the plot. On the one hand, Kaboom is a frivolous comedy highlighted by the warm glow of a brightly colored visual palette. The enthusiastic, youthful cast engenders a playful mood that attracts interest. But anyone familiar with the director by way of his 2004 dramatic high point Mysterious Skin, will undoubtedly be disappointed in this wandering meditation on the sexual exploits of this group of college students. Their adventures are mixed with some nonsense concerning how an undergrad’s destiny holds planet Earth in the balance. Yes, you heard that right. It’s an end of the world story.

Of course most of the film is an excuse to show promiscuous students in a pansexual world of carnal escapades. I’m trying to write about this in the most urbane manner possible but it’s rather difficult. Thomas Dekker is our main protagonist Smith. The teens have a chilly indifference to their surroundings, none more so than his best friend Stella portrayed with sassy, nothing-fazes-me attitude, by Haley Bennett. Her presence gives the story some much needed direction. Her odd relationship with a witch gives focus to the directionless plot. She’s very amusing and a nice comic foil to 18 year old Smith, who is preoccupied by his all consuming lascivious desire and little else in this world.

The narrative does have some mental quests thrown in. Smith witnesses the apparent murder of a red headed woman by men in animal masks after a late night party. In a drug addled haze, he’s not quite sure if he didn’t just hallucinate the whole thing at first. But then he discovers a disc drive in his pocket left by the unknown victim that points to a mysterious online cult. Here’s where the tale starts to get interesting. Unfortunately director Gregg Araki is more interested in the sexual experimentation of teens and the story collapses under the weight of wanton pursuits. These interludes appear kamikaze style throughout and they’re neither sensual nor funny.

Kaboom is a schizophrenic melding of two different films. It presents a mildly entertaining, bizarro apocalyptic fable that is buried under a lot of drek. What a shame that everything is ultimately explained in a hastily executed wrap up in the last 10 minutes. The explosive streams of vernacular coming from the mouths of the entire cast is a recklessly spoken explosion of words meant to clarify what we‘ve been watching. It renders the whole account as arbitrary and meaningless. I couldn’t possibly do justice to the ridiculous conclusion. Perhaps the producers were running out of money and Araki had to quickly end this mess. I know you pretty much get what you deserve when you choose to watch a Gregg Araki flick, but good heavens, Kaboom is really out there, even for him.

Citizen Kane

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on June 16, 2012 by Mark Hobin

The Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition that I received free from Warner Bros. is the most lovingly assembled Blu-ray package I‘ve seen. The box is a fold-out digipak with the Blu-ray disc and then two DVDs that contain The Battle over Citizen Kane and RKO 281. The former is a nice 1995 two-hour Oscar-nominated documentary that chronicles the struggle between Welles and William Randolph Hearst who claimed Citizen Kane was but a thinly veiled and slanderous account of his own life. RKO 281 is a 1999 HBO drama covering much of the same territory. Physical reproductions in the slipcase include the 20-page souvenir program issued at the 1941 opening; five postcards reflecting the various posters; and 10 memos between RKO and Welles related to the movie. Additionally, there’s a 48-page, mini hardback book packed with lots of behind-the-scenes info. All of this a supplement to the pristine black and white transfer that makes the picture look perfect. This is a beautifully done presentation befitting of the “greatest film ever made.”

It’s rather intriguing to learn that despite the hallowed status this magnum opus holds, this production was extremely controversial. Orson Welles’ assertion that “Citizen Kane is the story of a wholly fictitious character” is ludicrous. It’s abundantly clear that that main inspiration for Charles Foster Kane was media mogul William Randolph Hearst. This film à clef is an unmistakably vicious attack on his life. Hearst was a force to be reckoned with in the news world. So angry was the publishing tycoon with the film that he prohibited mention of it in any of his newspapers. Movie studio RKO also had problems getting exhibitors to show the film as many feared retaliation from the newspaper magnate.

The parallels are undeniable. Yet I’m willing to assert that whether inadvertently or on purpose, there’s a lot of Orson Welles own personality in the depiction as well. It’s one of the reasons why I think he’s so believable as the lead. Personally I would think the part that might have infuriated Hearst the most was the character of Susan Alexander, his mistress and second wife in the film, as played by Dorothy Comingore. Susan is portrayed as a shrill, talentless airhead. The obvious real life parallel is that of Marion Davies who was his mistress, a woman he never actually married. Already an accomplished silent film star even before she had met Hearst, many film historians ironically view his involvement in Davies’ career as more of an interference than a help. Hearst’s threats definitely hindered Citizen Kane’s box office performance and it wasn’t until its re-release in 1956 that it finally turned a profit for RKO. In the face of these setbacks, the film was an immediate critical success and earned 9 nominations at the Academy Awards. It won only for Best Original Screenplay losing to How Green Was My Valley for Best Picture. Over time however, the film’s reputation grew into what is often referred to as the greatest film ever made.

We begin the tale of Charles Foster Kane at the moment of his death as he utters his last words “Rosebud.” A newsreel reporter takes charge of finding out the meaning of the statement made on his deathbed. The narrative then proceeds as a series of flashbacks as he interviews various people that knew the man when he was alive. Each person recounts a different part of Kane’s existence as they knew him, essentially becoming a new narrator, with their stories overlapping. It’s an effective and entertaining way to tell the tale. It may seem common today, but Kane’s dependence on the technique was something of an anomaly for the time. Another favorite of mine is the breakfast montage, whereby the disintegration of Kane and his wife’s relationship over the years is distilled into a sequence of back and forth exchanges and costume changes. It’s amusing as it is clever. Much has been written about the incredible number of innovations contained in one film. It’s advances in cinematography, music, and makeup have been acknowledged on countless occasions, so no need to repeat those distinctions again, other than to acknowledge they are indeed impressive.

Citizen Kane remains a fascinating reflection on the megalomania obsessions of a man. While it is an undeniably well made film, it’s dark message doesn’t really inspire the kind of repeated viewings that other early classics of this era engender like Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. I first saw Citizen Kane 25 years ago. I guess the clearest way to explain my appreciation for Welles masterpiece is that although I certainly respect the technical craft and storytelling techniques that Welles employed, I could wait another 25 years before I watch this again.

A Cat in Paris

Posted in Animation, Crime, Family, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 11, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketZoë is haunted by the death of her father. He was murdered by public enemy number one, Victor Costa, and the 7 year old hasn’t spoken since that fateful day. You see her father attempted to stop Victor from absconding with a giant statue called The Colossus of Nairobi. The object’s current transport to the museum is now being overseen by the Police Commissioner who just so happens to be Zoë’s mother.  Zoë is watched over by a mysterious nanny and her pet cat Dino, who keeps her company by day.  By night however, the cat retreats into the night to accompany a kindhearted and lonely jewel thief.

Delightful hand drawn cartoon has the appearance of the colorful Post-Impressionist work of French artists like Georges Seurat and Henri Rousseau with the elongated faces of Amedeo Modigliani thrown in for good measure. The art has an extremely simple, primitive look. Yet the bewitching style holds its own in today’s 3D CGI computer animated world. Witness the spectacle in the story’s final quarter where the lights go out.  Scenes in pitch blackness are artistically imagined as white chalk outlines on a black background.  It’s arresting in its simplicity.  The art has the two dimensional, traditional look that has all but vanished these days.

A Cat in Paris is a children’s book come to life, but with the surprisingly mature feel of an adult thriller. This has the complex machinations of classic suspense.  The cat really isn’t the focus of the film at all, but rather a device by which to interweave a myriad of plot threads involving human characters.  Indeed this could have been cast with human actors and succeeded better than most modern mysteries. One might question the morality of the script’s sympathetic portrayal of a burglar. Think Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s To Catch Thief.  He really has the little girl‘s best interest at heart, mind you. The production isn’t perfect, but it‘s close. Not a single frame is wasted as this mystery unfolds in a brisk 62 minutes. Illustrators Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli directed this comedy drama which put French studio Folimage in the spotlight.  This deservedly received an unexpected Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature in 2012.

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