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October 30 -November 12
VOL.13 ISSUE. 5
HOME / STORY

Deep Dish Pi

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday November 15, 11:12 am
Ang Lee’s latest is almost perfect

Life of Pi

Galaxy (opens Wednesday 21)

4.5/5

In 2001, Yann Martel went from respected but little-known Canadian author to international celebrity with his third novel, Life of Pi — which won the Man Booker Prize in 2002, sold tons of copies and instantly became a staple of Canadian literature.

Now, the movie version is 20th Century Fox’s favoured contender for next year’s Oscars, and with good reason: the story is so infused with humanity and triumph against adversity that it should be catnip for Academy voters.

Director Ang Lee adds to the novel’s already strong foundation. Lee is known for his capacity to successfully portray subcultures he’s not familiar with (American suburbia in the ‘70s, England under Queen Victoria), but he can also be unbearably dull (Ride with the Devil is like watching paint dry).

Pisees Lee at the height of his powers.

If you somehow missed reading the book, the story of Piscine Molitor Patel goes like this: as the sensitive son of a zoo owner in Southern India, Pi struggles to make sense of both the material and spiritual worlds, and how the two interact. The teenager is forced apply everything he’s learned when, on their way to Winnipeg, the ship his family and their animals are travelling on sinks in the unforgiving waters of the north Pacific.

Stuck in a lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a treacherous hyena and a good-natured orangutan, Pi struggles to keep peace between the animals, and is often overwhelmed by their instinctive interactions. Eventually, the story comes down to one stowaway that’s not immediately visible: a volatile Bengali tiger named Richard Parker.

Richard Parker is a seriously angry beast, and more often than not Pi avoids becoming dinner by the skin of his teeth. (Missing the thrill of a good horror film these days? Pi will leave you gasping.) Very slowly, the teenager manages to establish rules for cohabitation — even though they mostly include him spending much of the day fishing for the starving cat.

Not unlike Castaway, Pi’s relationship with his unresponsive companion actually saves him from insanity and certain death, as Richard Parker keeps him on his toes and provides him with a routine. The movie does a fantastic job taking the audience through the same journey Pi faces, as initial fear gives way to affection for the tiger.

Life of Piis ultimately about our relationship (or lack thereof) with God, and how it shapes our perception of the world. It doesn’t matter if you believe or not: faith is a force to be reckoned with. Pi’s dad’s skepticism (“religion is darkness”), for example, is counterbalanced by the kid’s willingness to assimilate others’ beliefs.

Lee fully exploits the visual potential of the novel, making daring use of 3-D in the process. The 3-D in Pi — used mostly to accentuate the dream-like quality of the story — isn’t up to the standards of Hugo or Avatar, but it’s definitely in the top tier.

More impressively, Lee works with a colour palette that would have been impossible to achieve even just a few years ago. Massive amounts of green screen and CGI mix seamlessly with lengthy single-take shots. (Think James Cameron, Alfonso Cuarón and a decent script, all rolled into one.)

Those familiar with the book know there’s another dimension to the story that only becomes apparent towards the end, and I won’t spoil it here — except to say that a seemingly thankless role (in the capable hands of Gerard Depardieu) becomes huge, in a most elegant fashion. Even with all the resources at his disposition, Lee still makes the audience use their imagination to further enrich the movie. This is a master at work.

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Top Hat Falls Flat

 

Lincoln

Galaxy

2.5/5

Not that long ago, a Steven Spielberg film was guaranteed to satisfy both the popcorn crowd and more selective audiences. Even when he waded into more serious territory, Spielberg made sure the public experienced the same emotional journey as his characters.

But ever since he botched the fourth Indiana Jones adventure, Spielberg hasn’t been the same. War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin were technically flawless, but not as relatable as most of his oeuvre. Both were like watching Spielberg imitate his younger self.

Lincolnfocuses on the last four months of Honest Abe’s presidency: the Civil War is winding down, the South has endured heavy losses and they’re ready to negotiate. But before signing anything, Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants a constitutional amendment that guarantees equal rights for blacks. Against him are both pro-slavery Democrats and fellow Republicans who think the he’s being too soft. (Yup: believe it or not, there was a time when the GOP was ahead of the curve on human rights.)

While the political dealings in the film are often gripping, the action is regularly interrupted by boring speeches and low-impact family drama. In particular, a perfunctory father-son conflict between Abe and his son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s bound for law school but who’d rather participate in the war effort, flops.

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Red Yawn

Red Dawn

Galaxy (opens Wednesday 21)

1.5/5

The remake of Red Dawnshould have arrived in 2010, but a funny thing happened: the production company decided to digitally change the race of the invading forces from Chinese to North Korean.

Political reasons aside, the main motivation was the loot the movie could score in China. Turning the villains into North Koreans wouldn’t generate any backlash. On the upside, in the two years it took to CGI the invaders’ faces, two of the supporting actors became household names: Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games).

On the downside, it remains a terrible movie.

Far inferior to the 1984 original with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, this Red Dawn lacks the poignancy that stems from a genuine threat like the former Soviet Union (as if the North Koreans could pull off a stunt this massive). Even the plot has been softened, as feuding brothers Jed and Matt Eckert (Hemsworth and Josh Peck, respectively) lead an insurrection against the invaders after the execution of their dad.

Other than Hemsworth and Hutcherson, the rest of the cast is simply terrible. Isabel Lucas is stunning to look at, but that’s her only contribution to the movie, while the supposed protagonist, Peck, mopes every minute he’s on screen — even when the plot demands a different emotion.

Written by noted conservative John Milius (Dirty Harry, Conan the Barbarian), Red Dawn is a cautionary tale that the wingnuts of the Republican party will undoubtedly love: full of paranoia, rife with American exceptionalism and unabashedly pro-gun. Apparently, you never know when your country will be invaded, so you’d better keep an arsenal at home.

For everyone but GOP diehards, though, just staying at home period is the best approach to this movie

 

Lewis is competent as usual, but his Lincoln isn’t in the same league as roles like Daniel Plainview or Bill the Butcher. Tommy Lee Jones fares better as the President’s frenemy Thaddeus Stevens, but he can’t save the movie from mediocrity on his own. In supporting roles, actors from the likes of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and even Sons of Anarchy pop up to the point of distraction.

Lincolnmay do well in the U.S., but America’s 16th president is such an idiosyncratic character that the film is unlikely to become a hit abroad. That’s fair: it’s not good enough to transcend cultures.

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