F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 10, 2015)

10 09 2015

A ProphetThe Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) gets underway today, and plenty of films vying for Oscar glory will be seen for the first time.  Other holdovers from Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, and Venice will also get a moment in the sun, a reintroduction for North American audiences.

One film of the latter variety is Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan,” the controversial Palme D’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  Many people chalked up the film’s unexpected victory to its director simply being due for the prize after coming up short numerous times.  One such missed opportunity was back in 2009 when Audiard debuted “A Prophet.”

I first watched the film after it received a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars back in 2010 … and found myself quite underwhelmed.  For whatever reason, I just could not connect with it.  But once “Dheepan” took the big prize in Cannes, I felt obliged to give it another go.  The second time around, I was actually quite taken by the film.  I still think “Fish Tank” deserved the Palme D’Or, but “A Prophet” is certainly worth of my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Audiard’s film is a patiently paced prison drama that goes for slow, longitudinal change rather than explosive incidents.  Think “The Shawshank Redemption,” but as an art film instead of something so commercial.  “A Prophet” follows Tahar Rahim’s Malik, a most curious double agent, as he games both sides of a Corsican/Muslim prison gang tussle.  He wants to make a big move one day in the future – even though that forces him to assume a subservient position for the ruthless, spineless Corsican ringleader (Niels Arestrup).

Audiard was smart to cast Rahim, a novice actor when he filmed “A Prophet.”  A well-versed thespian might have tried to slip hints towards a greater intellect humming beneath the surface of Malik.  Rahim, however, plays him as a rather ordinary man of no particular intelligence, just sort of making it up as he goes.  He’s playing the long game, not necessarily because he focuses on the ends but mostly because he cannot sufficiently navigate the present.

Malik’s rise to power, when watched in the right state of mind, makes for truly riveting cinema.  While it might not always be pulse-pounding action, the novel-like breadth of its narrative provides a rich experience for serious-minded movie lovers.

What To Look Forward To in … February 2010

7 01 2010

We’re still in some hazy territory in the month of February, but the new decade looks to give this month some much needed energy.  Fueled by two movies originally scheduled for release in 2009, I might actually drop a good amount of change at the movies in February (not just on repeat viewings of Oscar nominees).

February 5

Put “The Notebook” in front of anything and you are guaranteed a flock of screaming girls coming with boyfriends in tow.  Put wildly popular model/actor Channing Tatum in the poster and you can add some more girls aside from the hopeless romantics.  “Dear John” has just that: a super sweet story from author Nicholas Sparks and girl eye candy Tatum.  Thankfully for the guys, the filmmakers cast Amanda Seyfried (“Jennifer’s Body”), who isn’t so bad on the eyes either.

I’m a little weary to endorse “From Paris with Love,” another John Travolta villain movie.  He’s only good at playing subtle ones (“Pulp Fiction”) with the exception of “Face/Off.”  2009’s “The Taking of Pelham 123” was a disaster mainly because of Travolta and his villainy established only by constantly dropping the F-bomb.  Potential redemption here?  I’ll need positive word of mouth before I watch Travolta go evil again.

February 12

“Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” is the name given to the film adaptation of Rick Riordan’s kids novel “The Lightning Thief.” Clearly Fox is setting up a franchise with the title, and they picked the right place to stake the claim. I read the book in seventh grade, and it is the real deal. I even got a chance to have lunch with the author, Riordan, who is one of the neatest people I have ever met. Whether they ruin it or not is yet to be known, but the movie is being helmed by Chris Columbus, the man who got the “Harry Potter” series flying. That has to count for something.

If Pierce Brosnan isn’t a big enough star to draw you to the aforementioned movie, you should find solace in “Valentine’s Day,” which features just about every romantic comedy actor ever. Literally, I can’t even list all of the stars of the movie here. The post would just be too darn big. Garry Marshall, director of “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries,” is in charge here, so I find some comfort in that. But if the movie flops, this will be a high-profile disappointment.

Sorry girls, the werewolf in “The Wolfman” is not played by Taylor Lautner. Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro metamorphasizes in Victorian England into the hairy beast when the moon is ripe.  This werewolf is not based on cheeky teen lit but on the 1941 horror classic.  And this adaptation is rated R for “bloody horror violence and gore.”  Get ready for some intense clawing.

A big winner at Cannes and a contender for the Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, “A Prophet” is a foreign film that may be worth a look.

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