At the ripe young age of 8 Marjane Satrapi (voice of Gabrielle Lopes) is celebrating the end of the dictatorial Shah’s reign in late-‘70s Tehran Iran. Along with her parents Tadji (voice of Catherine Deneuve) and Ebi (voice of Simon Abkarian) and her grandmother (voice of Danielle Darrieux) with whom she is closest young Marjane looks toward a bright future one sans the oppression her independent-minded family has endured for some years. But life only winds up changing for the worse in the years that follow. Oppression and repression rage on amidst a new yet obsolete form of government. Women for example are literally not to be seen: Headscarves must cover their faces or else. This doesn’t sit well with Marjane who sneaks in taboo imports like Bee Gees and ABBA records and a “Punk Is Not Dead”-emblazoned jacket. Her parents fearing Marjane is one minor misstep away from jail or worse send her off to school in Vienna at age 14 (now voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) for her own safety. It starts a period of self-discovery self-loathing extreme growth spurts and great wandering both physically and mentally. And it ends with the beginning--of the rest of her life. The only name moviegoers are likely to recognize in the cast of vocals is that of legendary French actress Deneuve whose voice lends a genuinely maternal aura--in addition of course to her distinctive smoky delivery. All the voice-overs are superb though and the family feel is tangible throughout as a result. It pays off--not just budget-wise--to have a cast without A-listers separating Persepolis from the pack that has become star-studded animated movies of today. All dialogue is in French which obviously eliminates 99 percent of Hollywood but the relative few not scared off by lack of star power are in for a more authentic film. Most notable is Mastroianni (real-life daughter of Deneuve and her late husband famed actor Marcello Mastroianni) who voices both the teenaged Marjane and her older self narrating the story via flashbacks. Mastroianni as clearly the central figure of the story is able to capture every emotion on the roller coaster that was Satrapi’s coming-of-age-hood. Sometimes adaptations get lost in translation from source material to movie but Marjane Satrapi the author of the graphic novel of the same name on which Persepolis is based was fortunately integral to the whole production every step of the way. She co-directed and co-wrote the movie along with Vincent Paronnaud and clearly infused her woe-is-NOT-me attitude. Persepolis is sad in spots but it’s always circumstantial never subjective. At no time does Satrapi assert any sense of pathos into her real-life story or plead for viewers’ pity making it a refreshing often humorous and ultimately uplifting retrospective on oppression--not depression. Animation-wise everything is done in minimalist black and white the perfect touch that takes no getting used to; nor does it take away from the story’s soul like CGI sometimes does and the visuals still manage to be just as intoxicating as those in say Pixar movies. And being that Persepolis is adapted from a graphic novel and told in a similarly noir tone live action just wouldn’t have been the same.
Casino Royale starts at the beginning as James Bond (Craig) takes his first baby steps as a Double O agent. His first assignment is to track down a terrorist cell in Madagascar but he’s a bit of a loose cannon and things quickly go awry. Bond’s superior M (Judi Dench) is soon regretting giving the arrogant Bond the promotion. Nonetheless Agent 007 takes it upon himself to follow a lead to the Bahamas and discovers that all nefarious dealings point to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) a nasty fellow who has money ties to terrorist organizations. Le Chiffre is planning to raise money in a high-stakes poker game at the Le Casino Royale in Montenegro—and Bond gets in to beat him at his own game. Along with a hefty bankroll M also sends the beguiling accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to keep Bond in check. They are skeptical of each other at first but as the danger escalates it becomes apparent there is a growing attraction—and affection—between them. Natch. Can these two crazy kids make it work immersed in the cutthroat world of international intrigue? Well this is Bond after all—and we know how he ends up. Craig absolutely gets it. Whatever doubts people may have had when Craig was first announced as the new Bond are washed away in the first few minutes of the film. Sure if Casino Royale was anything like the last few Bond movies then maybe the understated Craig wouldn’t have fit in as well. But this is a different Bond. The British actor plays him not as the icon we’ve come to know but as a flawed man warts and all who flies by the seat of his pants isn’t necessarily refined and yes can even fall in love. Craig also raises the acting bar. His brief scenes with the impeccable Dench for example simmer and pop unlike anything we’ve seen before in a Bond film. Danish film star Mikkelsen (Pusher) is quite effective as the main baddie with a particularly gruesome physical malady while the always good Jeffrey Wright (Syriana) shows up as CIA Agent Felix Leiter. The one weak link unfortunately is Green (The Dreamers). She certainly looks the part of a “Bond girl ” but her Vesper is supposed to be whip-smart able to engage in witty banter with 007 and the French actress can’t quite pull it off. Craig needs more of a challenge. Too bad Judi Dench isn’t 30 years younger; she would have been perfect. Casino Royale the first book in the Ian Fleming series is basic Bond 101. Director Martin Campbell--who helmed Goldeneye Pierce Brosnan’s first and probably best foray into the franchise--strips it of all the far-fetched gadgets (save for a few new-fangled PDAs) and over-the-top action sequences leaving just good clean action devoid of any invisible cars armored Russian tanks and the such. Oh wait Bond does use a bulldozer at one point but that comes briefly in the middle of a rather extensive and hair-raising foot chase. It just proves action can be just as riveting without having to completely suspend your disbelief. Casino Royale is also rare in that it shows how Bond became THE James Bond the one we’ve seen in countless movies over the years in the stylish tuxes drinking the martinis driving the Aston-Martins and bedding all the beautiful women. Casino Royale breathes new life into the franchise and one can only hope they can keep up the good work without once again lapsing into the ridiculous.
First gained notice for his charismatic performances in leading roles in the Greek Tragedies with the Theatre du Soleil
Raised in France and Lebanon
First lead role in the English language film "Yes," as the lover of an Irish-American scientist (Joan Allen) unhappily married to a philandering British politician (Sam Neill); directed by Sally Potter
Cast in Atom Egoyan's "Ararat" which centers around Turkey's elimination through massacre and forced deportation of its Armenian citizens in 1915
Received the Prix Moliere for his performance in "Une Bete Sur La Lune" directed by Irina Brook
Voiced the father in "Persepolis" an animated film based on the graphic novel of the same name; written and directed by Marjane Satrapi
Co-starred in the Lebanese love story, "Ana El Awan"; helmed by Jean-Claude Codsi
Played a detective in Jonathan Demme's "The Truth About Charlie" starring Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton
Directed several plays including an acclaimed production of "Titus Andronicus"
Cast in "Casino Royale" the 21st James Bond film directed by Martin Campbell and starring Daniel Craig as 007
Cast in the French gangster drama "J'Irai Au Paradis, Car L'Enfer Est Ici" directed by Xavier Durringer
Starred as a garment shop owner in "Almost Peaceful," a film by director Michel Deville that centers on a group of Jews in Paris shortly after World War II