‘Alice Creed’ a gutsy, audacious three-character thriller
There are few things more exciting in moviegoing than finding a truly original film by someone you’ve never heard of before. Think back to the first time you saw Christopher Nolan’s Memento, say, or Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. Remember that feeling of, “Wow, where did this guy come from?” You may get that same hit of awe, coupled with a gleeful sense of discovery, when watching The Disappearance of Alice Creed, a gutsy, disturbing, scrupulously well-honed little thriller from rookie British auteur J Blakeson.
It’s really a tale of two dancers. One, Li Cunxin, a peasant boy plucked out of his rural Chinese village and sent to the Beijing Arts Academy toward the end of the Mao Zedong regime, became one of the most prominent ballet dancers in the world. The other, Chi Cao, is the phenomenal young Chinese ballet star who plays Li in Bruce Beresford’s heartfelt, rewarding film. Scripted by Jan Sardi (Shine) from Li’s autobiography, the film sticks to the highlights of Li’s incredible journey, but dramatic resonance and Beresford’s beautifully shot dance sequences keep the viewer enchanted. The sixth of seven sons, Li grows up in a poor family presided over by loving parents (Joan Chen is wonderful as his humble, but feisty mother); newspaper lines the walls and they share a communal soup bowl at mealtimes.
The average moviegoer may enjoy this film version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling book. The movie doesn’t require much effort on the audience’s part. All one needs to do is sit and be led to believe that one is witnessing a major transformation taking place in the life of a troubled writer named Liz (played by Julia Roberts). But anybody who truly understands (or wants to) the art of real personal triumphs—transformations that hit you to the core and set you sailing somewhere profoundly new—must know that real change can be hard work.
'Anton Chekhov's The Duel' an exercise in ennui
It might surprise 19th Century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov to see naked women in a adaptation of his work. But it's not entirely gratuitous in Anton Chekhov's The Duel, an international co-production of a Chekhov novella whose heroine, a young society matron transplanted to a sleepy seaside resort in the Caucuses, is so ripe for life, she's fairly bursting out of her corsets. Which makes her the perfect visual and emotional contrast to the story's protagonist, a slight, sallow, petulant malcontent whose only response to the natural beauty of both the seaside and his mistress is profound boredom.