Before Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe gave a knock-out performance as a tobacco industry whistleblower. His mannerisms, the way he walked, his speaking voice were just fascinating to watch. He nailed this performance and I consider it to be the best work he has ever done. It certainly has more depth and intricacies than both of his follow-up films, but when a certain buzz is created around a film that also has a huge box office, that film usually gets most of the glory. Perhaps it hurt that The Insider was not a profit-maker – ‘only’ making $60 million, far short of its bloated budget of $90 million. Again, the screwy politics of Hollywood played a part in a critically acclaimed film’s disappointment come Academy Award time.
Al Pacino is given lead billing, but it is Crowe who leads and steers this film. Pacino is solid, as is Christopher Plummer. I also consider The Insider to be the beginning of a renaissance of the film career of Plummer. I think he has been woefully underused in film throughout his career. He is an amazing actor. Him being the oldest actor to win an Oscar is both a crime and a satisfaction. The Insider was really an actor’s film. This is what also happened to All the President’s Men. A factual story, well-presented on screen has a lot of juicy roles to fill. As a result, the actors who filled the roles portrayed the characters so well that their performances competed with the real-life story for attention. It is rare that this happens, but it happened again with The Insider.
This is the type of film that is made way too less of – intelligent, thought-provoking, intense, analytical, socially and morally fascinating.
When a film containing three A-list dramatic actresses comes out, the film usually is overwhelmed by the talent and it dies an early death. Films with three lead actresses are rare. They are rare because it is so difficult to harness the talent (and the personalities) of the actresses to create an even film. One (or all three) end up trying to take center stage with their performance and the film ultimately suffers. Also, screenwriters don’t know what to do with three lead female roles. None of this occurs with The Hours. It is one of those rare films when all lead actresses provide performances that contribute to the overall strength of the film, rather than having one steal the show.
Although Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman contribute great things to this film, the real winner is screenwriter David Hare, who has crafted a complicated story of three women joined by despair. It’s a wonderful piece of work. I know this because every time I see it, I forget the twist at the end. You get lost in the three stories. You know they’re joined but they’re told so well individually that when that moment hits you at the end, you go ‘oh yeah’. Hare crafts this three-pronged story so well that although you know that the three actresses are the bricks and mortar of the film, the screenplay is the foundation.
Nicole Kidman is unrecognizably wonderful. Julianne Moore’s character is so lost in despair and her tale is told so well that you’re drawn in by her great performance. Meryl Streep is, as usual, solid and reliable.
This B-movie, sleeper film that probably not a lot of people have heard of is a solid sci-fi action thriller. A good example of one of these so-called ‘triple threat’ films is Alien and its sequels. The Hidden was probably inspired by Alien, though The Hidden succeeds because it has a much more humanistic tone than the Alien franchise. There is something very dark and sinister about the Alien franchise. The Hidden takes a more light-hearted, human condition route and in many ways, outdoes Alien in being a thoroughly engrossing, watchable film.
I think I first saw The Hidden on late night a few years after its release in 1987 and I was rivited by the story. Instead of taking place in space, the setting is modern-day earth – instantly recognizable by everyone. Michael Nouri (the police detective) and Kyle MacLachlan (the alien in human form) are the perfect duo. Their chemistry together is one of the great cop buddy partnerships in film history (right up there with Lethal Weapon). MacLachlan’s fish-out-of-water alien provides for some great scenes. The story is well-constructed, seamless and manages to hold it’s firm grip on reality despite the alien from outer space theme – something that you forget about while enjoying the film. The ending (which I won’t mention) is a superb comment on humanity and selflessness. This is an intelligent, humanistic, moving sci-fi film that opens on full throttle and doesn’t let up until the end.
Despite the cringingly awful theme song at the end, this film is not only a guilty pleasure but a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, a totally preposterous sequel was made and it sounds so awful that I refuse to watch it for fear of ruining this fine film.
It is rare in animated film that a particular film can have an impact on the general film industry and cause a buzz. This is what happened with The Incredibles. It is also no accident that most successful animated films that cross borders and barriers are aimed squarely at adults, though they are wrapped up in a neat little bow pretending to be made just for kids. Films like The Incredibles have a story that all ages can enjoy, but when they are written with adults mainly in mind for the humour, pathos, drama and strategic pop culture references, the film can become a supernova.
From the start, right to the end, you’re rooting for all of the Incredibles. When an animated film cleverly aimed and unabashedly promoted at young people draws an even bigger adult audience, something special has happened. Though animated film has been around for decades, it has been in just the past 25 years that a renaissance has occurred – began by Beauty and the Beast with its huge box office, critical acclaim and revitalized and modern animation. Perhaps Disney, Pixar and all the others have recognized that the way to grow and be a successful animation film studio is to aim at the adults – not market to them, but create stories that will appeal to them, their sense of humour and their childhood.
Brad Bird’s witty, intelligent, sardonic writing clearly comes from his early days with The Simpsons. It’s used to great effect here. Anything that comes out of E’s mouth you know has origins from Bird’s Simpsons days. E is laugh out loud funny. Violet’s characterization is spot on. Without this great writing, The Incredibles would have become just one of the many straight-to-video releases. Instead, it is one of the modern-day classic animated films that is referred to in terms of quality, story, characterization and voice. One of the best animated films ever made.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Canadian tennis players continue to reach new heights on the professional tour. This could be the headline that is repeated every month in 2014. The history-tying efforts of Eugenie Bouchard at the 2014 Australian Open started the year off with a BOOM. I had no idea (and I’m probably quite sure that not a lot of other people had much of an inkling) that that event was just the beginning of a torrent of success for a large swath of Canadian tennis players in 2014. I continue to write in my blog articles this now familiar refrain that starts with: “I never thought I’d live to see the day…” or “I never thought in my lifetime that…” Just fill in the blanks with any of the success that Canadian tennis players have had in 2014. I have lived through the doldrums of the dark days of Canadian tennis in the 1990s and well into the 2000s and to see the results that are being put up by Canadian tennis players now is simply both hard to believe and satisfying beyond belief.
The latest historic milestone occurred at the Citi Open (formerly the Legg Mason Classic) in Washington, D.C. in early August 2014. The 500 series ATP event was the first time in modern tennis history that two Canadian men played in the final of an ATP tennis tournament. This was a momentous occasion. Any real fan of today’s tennis scene could have seen this coming. In fact, any watcher of Canadian tennis could have seen this coming if they had paid attention to Raonic and Pospisil when they were just starting out. Below is one of the coolest images I have found of the two of them together in the very early stages of their careers, playing together in the 2008 French Open junior doubles.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Myles
Two years later they were playing doubles together again – this time in the 2010 Canadian Open (Rogers Cup) against two of the hottest players on the planet, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Raonic and Pospisil won by the way. Even back then, you could tell that they had the “it” factor. It manifested itself in the way they played the game and the way they carried themselves on the court: confident, mature, reserved, hungry and talented.
Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/CP
To find the two of them in the final of a pro tennis tournament (not a junior tennis event, a pro-level 1st tier ITF event, or a 2nd level Challenger event, but an honest-to-goodness pro Tour ATP 500 event) is so not surprising. It’s fantastic, but it’s not surprising. The same could be said for their semi-final appearance together at the 2013 Canadian Open (Rogers Cup). It was inevitable considering the talent that they have and the upswing that both of them are experiencing in their careers.
In the end, Raonic prevailed again in Washington. Being close to the Canadian border (opposed to the deep southeast or southwest of the US) the stands were littered with Canadians cheering on both players. It was a great atmosphere. Due to a variety of reasons, scenarios and circumstances, Raonic has the early upper hand in their encounters (I don’t want to say rivalry, because it isn’t. Two matches do not make a rivalry). But as I have often said before, Pospisil has so much talent and there is a lot to like about him and his game. In the end, he has all the goods to go far in professional tennis – even farther than what Raonic may achieve. There second encounter will not be the last; in fact, it will only be their second of many more and hopefully more of them will be finals.
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