Victoria Jelinek

A Star is Born
November 3, 2018, 1:09 pm
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A Star is Born movie posterJackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a country music star that falls in love with wannabe singer Ally (Lady Gaga). With his help, her star ascends while his stardom, hindered by long time tinnitus, emotional trauma, and alcoholism, slowly falls.

I found myself haunted after watching this latest version of A Star is Born. I was pensive as a stillness settled over me when I left the cinema, and this film was the first thing I considered when I woke up the next morning. Bradley Cooper’s character is utterly compelling and terribly sad. Despite what his childhood may have been like, the story effectively conveys that his perspective and behavior are the product of mental illness. He can’t help feeling unhappy, insecure, or his being self-destructive because he doesn’t know how to get help, or, indeed, what, exactly, to get help for. He is charming, kind and talented, yet he is also isolated, reactive, and full of self-loathing even as his life contains so much bounty. And he implicitly realizes this type of ungratefulness, which exacerbates his self-hatred. The plot is still a love story, as the other adaptations of this film have been, however, this version stresses the theme of mental illness and its vulnerability more than the theme of ambition and compromise.

A Star is Born (2018) is unequivocally worth seeing. And, it’s evidence of Bradley Cooper’s directorial sensitivity and ‘acting chops’ – he’s not just a pretty boy as he goes hand held and gets up close and personal even when the subject isn’t easy or attractive. Lady Gaga, too, is believable – tender, tough, and charismatic – and absolutely holds her own in the acting arena.

September 17, 2018, 12:36 pm
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Wall-E-Movie-PosterHumanity has abandoned planet earth, leaving behind them a fleet of robots to clean up their mess. When the movie opens, however, the only one of these robots remaining is WALL-E who is fascinated by garbage, cleaning it up each day, as he’s programmed to, and taking various ‘treasures’ he finds back to his home. His enchantment switches to a new target when a super-robot EVE touches down, looking for signs of life on earth.

Released ten years ago, I watched this again recently with my young son after seeing a small robot that cleaned a pool at a hotel we stayed at – day in, day out, without stopping – that reminded me of WALL-E. It was in this re-watching, though, with our ever-growing global behavior of consumption and waste, that I truly appreciated the ambition, charm, and visual wit of Pixar’s film. The story can only be the result of inspiration and passion rather than marketing meetings and focus groups, ‘cause WALL-E brings a message about being nice to our planet and the evils of big corporations (ironic, yes, given Disney owns Pixar, but hey ho, this film was made). The setting, a future earth composed of great skyscrapers of trash reaching toward a permanently overcast sky, is prescient. As are the signs for a mega corporation, “Buy and Large,” dotting the nihilistic landscape. While our hero speaks maybe four words – and he has no mouth, no eyebrows, no thumbs – everything WALL-E feels is perfectly palpable and authentic. He is one of the most expressive characters developed in animation. It’s in the nervousness of his gesticulations, the tilt of one of his lamp-like eyes, and his emotive sounds (designed by Ben Burtt, the man who gave us R2-D2’s beeps and tremors) that he is empathetic and believable. Meanwhile, the humans have been reduced to fat toddlers living in Lazy-Boy-type electronic recliners in space, whose every need is met with a touch of the screen that is perpetually in front of them. Enter WALL-E, who reminds us all what is important in life.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do, with or without children. WALL-E is, arguably, Pixar’s most brilliant film in a canon of excellent films produced by the studio. It’s a hopeful film that reminds us of what it is to feel joy.


The Nice Guys

April 21, 2016 – The Nice Guys – Poster and cover for the official soundtrack that will be released by Lakeshore Recors on May 20, 2016

In 1970’s Los Angeles, private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) team up to investigate the case of a missing girl connected to the death of a porn star. March is a washed up detective who looks smooth, and who stays just on the ‘right’ side of the law due to the wise intelligence of his daughter. Healy is discouraged by modern society and struggles to better himself, even as he can’t seem to maintain a relationship with anybody and prefers to use force rather than words.

I think Shane Black’s movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is absolutely first rate, but The Nice Guys is firmly placed on my list of top 20 films-of-all-time. The script is excellent – smart, fast and witty with an undercurrent of poignancy – paralleling the entire film. While Director Shane Black throws in hard-bitten aspects of film noir (thugs, femme fatales, conspiracies, and fading glamor) for our enjoyment, and the pairing of Crowe and Gosling is hilarious, there is true depth to this film as it meditates on the American psyche through the 1970’s, when the country struggled to find its purpose after the assassination of promising political figures in the 1960’s and the end of the Vietnam War.

A must see film that has left me wishing Shane Black made more movies.

Sunshine Cleaning
December 31, 2015, 2:54 pm
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sunshine_cleaning_movie_posterThe heroine, Rose, is a single mom in need of a regular income who starts a business cleaning up crime scenes. The circumstances that prompt her need are multi-faceted. She’s poor. She’s trapped in an affair with her high-school sweetheart, who fathered her son but then married someone else. Her son is perpetually in trouble at school. Her mother is dead. Her father is a ‘chancer,’ whose moneymaking ideas almost never come off. And her sister, Norah, is a hard-living numskull.

Rose is a good mom. She ‘gets’ her son, and he seems like a nice boy, but the teachers and administrators accuse him of misbehaving and she can’t afford to send him to “a good school.” It’s Mac, the faithless love that abandoned her in the first place, that tips her off to the idea of a new business venture. He’s a cop who notices people get paid well for cleaning up after gruesome murders, and so Sunshine Cleaning is born. By the very nature of the work, Rose and Norah (who helps Rose with the business), witness the aftermath of lives irrevocably interrupted.

Does this sound sunny to you? It’s hard to make a feel-good film about murder scene clean- ups and broken lives. While the material has promise as a black comedy, Sunshine Cleaning’s attempt to keep a smiling face throughout is artificial. That said, it is a watchable film due to its cast. Amy Adams as Rose, and Emily Blunt as Norah, are effortlessly charming. As is Alan Arkin, who plays their father, perpetually hatching get-poor-quick schemes, and whose rapport with Rose’s son is heart-warming. If you’re in the mood for good acting, high production value, and can overlook the excessive cheerfulness of the script, despite the circumstances and events of the plot, then this is a movie worth watching.



The American

An assassin (George Clooney) hides out in Italy for one last assignment. While there, he forms a friendship with a local priest and has an affair with a beauty who also happens to be a prostitute.

Acclaimed-photographer-turned-film director Anton Corbijn’s second feature tries to be existential. The questions the film attempts to ask are: is it safe to feel? Can love redeem a life full of regret? Has it been worth it? Like Corbijn’s debut film about Ian Curtis of Joy Division (Control) it’s also about a lost soul. While these themes are suggested primarily in the priests dialogue,  it seems forced when these themes are only supported by moody looks from George and his physical isolation. The slow, meditative manner in which the film is shot is appreciated in the face of most modern films being frenetic, but this pace, combined with the aforementioned lack of a compelling story and script, leaves one thinking that to see it on DVD, or better yet on television, would be a better choice than spending the money for a cinema ticket.

What can be said of this film is that it has beautiful scenery.

L’Illusionniste (The Illusionist)

The Illusionist is eking out a living during the dying days of the music halls. Travelling to the Scottish islands for one of his performances, he meets a girl called Alice who’s convinced he’s a real magician and follows him to Edinburgh. The Illusionist is reluctant to disappoint her, but as she begs for gifts that she’s convinced he can magically provide, he has to come to terms with the fact that he has little money coming in and no means of keeping her illusions alive.

Directed by Sylvain Chomet (Belleville Rendez Vous), this is an animated, near wordless, tale for adults. The story was written decades ago by the great French comedian Jacques Tati, who found absurdity and pathos in the minutiae of everyday life. Apparently, however, Tati found this script too personal and shelved it during his lifetime, but Chomet has taken it and revived it as homage to Tati, to cinema, and to Edinburgh.

This is a bittersweet, poignant film about loss, grief and shattered illusions. However, like life, it’s also humorous and beautiful.

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

In December 1995 Jean-Dominique Bauby, Editor-in-Chief of French magazine Elle, suffered a massive stroke and became the victim of “Locked-in Syndrome.” Unable to move anything other than his left eyelid, he collaborated with book editor Claude Mendibil on his memoir, dictating by blinking his left eye. He died two days after the book was published.

This film is unique proof that personal tragedies really can inspire. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the will power it took for Bauby to dictate his memoir literally blink-by-blink. The result is a gloriously wry description of his inner world. Equally wonderful is how Director Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls) realises this film. Much of it’s shot through the perspective of the left eye of bedridden Bauby, though we sometimes see external shots of Bauby with his family and friends, as well as memory sequences of Bauby pre-stroke. Through voice-over we hear the words that are in Bauby’s mind but which never pass through his lips.

This film, like its subject, is brave. We leave it full of admiration for Bauby’s mental vivacity (the ‘butterfly’) and his physical limitations (the ‘diving bell’), as well as some understanding of what it means to be alive.

The Town
October 17, 2010, 3:19 pm
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After a heist, professional thief Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) keeps an eye on bank manager Claire, the only witness who could identify MacRay’s gang.  The couple fall in love with each other, and as FBI agent Jon Hamm (Mad Men) closes in on him, McCray begins to question the life he’s been leading.

This is Affleck’s second directorial feature after the critically acclaimed Gone Baby Gone. The themes aren’t particularly original – bad guys wanting to change their ways, kidnapper getting involved with his hostage, a neighbourhood ruled by a criminal fraternity – but Affleck has a feel for the one-square mile district in Boston that accounts for 300 robberies a year and where even children can spot undercover cops.

The film jumpstarts with a slick, well-practiced robbery, but none of the action is overblown, and while the fights are brutal, they’re also always believable. This is a fantastic crime thriller and drama, with pitch-perfect performances, that serves as confirmation of Affleck’s ability as a director.


The story takes place in 1920’s Berlin. After having a fling with a British writer, American chanteuse Sally Bowles tries to create a career as a gold-digger, making overtures to a handsome aristocrat, while the Nazi rise to power puts dampers on their swinging lifestyle.

Based on English author Christopher Isherwood’s autobiography Berlin Stories, the book opens with the lines “I am a camera with its shutter open.” These lines signify a snapshot of a lost world, the cosmopolitan Berlin of the 20’s and 30’s, where cheerful expats dance and revel, whirling faster and faster in the hope that it will save them from the rise of the Nazis. In the film, Isherwood’s character, the audacious and tragic Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), takes centre stage.

Liza Minnelli, whose later work included Arthur, is great in this role and looks fabulous in her 20’s fashions.  Director Bob Fosse’s (Chicago, Lenny) choreography and camera work is dazzling. This film holds up as a great musical that’s exceedingly enjoyable even as it’s also sometimes chilling. Released in 1972, the film won eight Academy Awards.

A Prophet (Un prophète)
October 1, 2010, 11:52 am
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Imprisoned for six years for an unspecified crime, illiterate French-Arab teen Malik (Tahar Rahim) is initiated into the prison’s criminal underworld. A ‘quick study’, he soon plots his ascendancy through the extremely brutal hierarchy of his fellow inmates.

Perceived as a greasy Corsican by the Arab inmates and a dirty Arab by the Corsican criminals, Malik is our guide through the violent and nightmarish labyrinth of the French penal system and its network of warring tribes. Lead actor Rahim gives a masterful performance, conveying different parts of his character – from keen student to wary tough guy – in the shift of his brow. Malik as our ‘hero’ is an empathetic character whose choices, or lack of choices, are understandable, even if they’re not relatable.

This is an excellent, albeit disturbing, film – director Jacques Audiard has created a modern French crime film and a gritty prison drama that’s ambitious and thrilling.