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September 12, 2007

“Juno” (****)
Directed by Jason Reitman

I first became aware of Ellen Page while watching her astonishing performance in “Hard Candy” in 2005. She portrayed a vengeful young teen out to get (and I mean get) a photographer who may be a pedophile. Page dominated the film with a confidence I had not seen in an actress so young since Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver.” She is a tiny little thing, looking much younger than her twenty years, but is one of those wise young people who seem older than their years simply by the manner in which they carry themselves.

Roger Ebert has already called for her to get an Oscar nomination for her stunning performance in “Juno,” the new film from director Jason Reitman, and it just might happen as Page all but burns a hole in the screen with her galvanizing performance. As Juno, Page portrays a young girl who tries sex on a lark and gets pregnant. Her dumb-as-a-hammer boyfriend has no clue as to what is going on around him, which makes one wonder why she would bother with him, and her parents react with the appropriate horror. Yet nothing is as it seems here, including the young couple who decide they will adopt the baby once Juno has given birth.

The film explores Juno’s reactions to those around her and makes use of Page’s hyper-kinetic personality. This is a major performance that must, simply must, be widely considered a frontrunner for the Academy Award.

In strong supporting roles are the sublime Allison Janney as Juno’s mother and Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as the bizarre couple that are going to adopt the child. However, as good as they are (and they are superb), make no mistake; this film belongs to the astounding Ellen Page. To quote an old timer from Hollywood, “a star is born”

“Cassandra’s Dream” (***)
Directed by Woody Allen


Woody Allen. What to make of this career rebirth?

Having recovered from the scandal that rocked his life in the early nineties when he was found to be having an affair with one of his lover’s adopted children, Soon Yi, whom he has since married, Allen seems to be undergoing some sort of renaissance.

Now in his seventies, one of the most acclaimed writer and directors in the history of the cinema has made a career out of writing from within, creating some of the finest films ever made. Allen’s best works, “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Bullets Over Broadway,” contain finely written roles for men and women, usually stronger for the ladies, and tend to be astute studies of life and relationships. He is arguably the greatest screenwriter in film history, and without argument one of the greatest directors. To his credit, Allen has continued to evolve over the years, despite an output of a film a year, sometimes two. “Match Point,” his devilishly clever thriller with Scarlett Johansson was a return to form for the master in 2005 and a break from New York as the backdrop for his films, seeming to change up his creativity with a new landscape in London, England.

Allen’s newest film, “Cassandra’s Dream,” is not a comedy but a tragedy of the highest order, nicely acted by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, two of the oddest Allen stars ever. Both do excellent work for the director.

Cast as two young brothers, men trying to make their way in life by dubious means, of course it is going to end badly, how else can a tragedy end? Their involvement with their jet-setting Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) will divide the brothers forever and bring them to the realization that good old Uncle Howard is not such a nice man. Wilkinson is again brilliant (when is he not?) and the film again breaks Allen from his best known genre of romantic comedy allowing him, at 70, to stretch those creative muscles.

A final non-review note: much is being made here over the subject matter in “Nothing is Private,” a film I have not yet seen and may not due to schedule issues. Apparently there is a sequence in which an adult has sex with a 13 year old girl, portrayed however by a 19 year old actress. Walkouts have been by the dozen and now the film is in trouble with some critics who have sharpened their pens and moved to go on the attack. What stops me from thinking the work is simply something exploitive is that it is written and directed by Alan Ball who wrote “American Beauty” and created the HBO series “Six Feet Under.” Hopefully I can see the film, but at this moment it is the talk of the fest.


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