Archive for November, 2006

Sentimental, Inspiring Mush

As a film, Bobby is a slow moving, syrupy quasi-sermon about what made Bobby Kennedy great in the minds of those who knew him. He spoke to their passions; he was a rising star that many hoped to use; and many more hoped to put him in the White House. Bobby was wealthy, but still an everyday man. A family man, and devoutly Catholic. He believed what he said. His faith gave him gravity. Estevez admired Robert Kennedy—as Bobby demonstrates—for good reason. Yet I left with a sense that a savior was struck down before he could save: the residue of a simplistic and overly hopeful attitude on Estevez’ part.

The Fountain
Clear as Mud, But So Was Kubrick

Oddly, The Fountain isn’t about the fountain of youth. It’s about the Tree of Life. Melding tales from Mayan culture, biblical accounts, and related religious traditions, Aronofsky envisions an apocalyptic future which unites and fulfills them all. Ultimately, his film analyzes our perceptions of death, and our perceptions of life. I don’t think it gives anything away to note that, when he finally fulfills his quest, Izzi’s conquistador discovers that eternal life looks nothing like what he expected. The same is true with the space traveler’s quest: does it fail, or does it succeed? That all depends on one’s perspective—a perspective that Tommy sorely needs in order to deal with Izzi’s terminal condition.

Déjà Vu
When Science and Faith Collide

I suppose if you’re a physicist you might have quibbles with the science portrayed in Déjà Vu, but I think it works well enough for the average moviegoer. It’s a functional plot device, letting major events in the story play out in reverse. I was constantly on the lookout to see how events that we already knew had happened were initiated in the past. Most of all, though, I liked the themes that played out as Déjà Vu followed its course. During his investigation, Carlin focuses on Claire and his actions begin to be motivated by a desire to reach out and affect this one life—not to the exclusion of other people involved, but above and beyond.

Deck the Halls

In its first forty-five minutes or so, Deck the Halls shows flashes of a becoming a delightful Christmas treasure. There are laughs a-plenty and it is easy to identify both with the growing frustration of Steve and the ambition of Buddy. Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito, as Steve and Buddy, are both enjoyable, despite the fact that each seems to have fallen into a bit of a typecasting rut. The movie’s second half, however, falls flat as the rivalry between Steve and Buddy turns childish and virtually humorless. Meanwhile, it is all building towards one of the all-time cheesiest endings, in a genre that is known for its cheesy endings.

Casino Royale
The Chips are Down

The first third or so of Casino Royale not only lives up to the promise of its opening sequence, it proves a literate commentary on the Bond-film genre as a whole. The first major set-piece, for instance, calls for Bond to chase a terrorism suspect on foot through a construction site. As the hunt begins, the action is entirely plausible; as the suspect climbs higher and higher through the site, though, the stunts become increasingly improbable—and after he and Bond duke it out (without any real result) atop the site’s construction crane, they go… Down. Down, ridiculously (if entertainingly) down. And far quicker than one might imagine.

For Your Consideration
Guest and Company Strike Again—and Hit Paydirt

For Your Consideration was inspired by personal experience and a “funny idea” that came up in conversation. In pre-release notes, Eugene Levy describes the buzz in his head when he had the misfortune of having his name bandied about for a best-supporting Oscar for A Mighty Wind. Christopher Guest hit pay dirt with Levy’s high concept. This time Hollywood D-listers and their attendant D-irt bags find themselves in the impossible situation of being at the top, precariously, of the A list—where obviously none of them really belong. They mostly just succeed in making As of themselves.

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Long on Hair, Short on Photography

As much as director Shainberg is a fan of Diane Arbus’ photography—as much as he was steeped in it as a child—Fur communicates nothing of its power, nor of the power of her method. Where Arbus let her images speak for themselves, including all the rough edges, Shainberg must spell things out for us, stripping away every last layer of fur to lay bare the beauty beneath—and hammer us over the head with it. Allan Arbus may have found his wife to be “the most stunning, inexplicable creature” he had ever seen; but Shainberg makes her dully explicable.

Fast Food Nation
Just How Much Can We Swallow?

Because Fast Food Nation has been fictionalized, the average moviegoer is left to separate what’s real and what’s not on his or her own. Can we rely on the information we’re being told in these narratives? We have no way to know. The movie makes no claim to be documentary in nature, so any position can be adopted that suits the agenda of the screenwriters. This continues right up to the finale of the movie, where all pretense of storytelling is discarded as we’re treated to what appears to be shocking, documentary footage. Not for the faint of heart, I can assure you.

Safeguarding America from Christianity
Puritanism, Proselytism, and the MPAA

Earlier this summer, the MPAA slapped the independently-produced, Christian-themed film Facing the Giants with a PG rating. Spokeswoman Joan Graves initially told producers that the film’s overtly evangelistic tone—which the film’s pastor-oriented publicity materials openly trumpets—was partly to blame. The resulting furor, fanned by a Focus on the Family CitizenLink alert, even got congress involved. “This incident raises the disquieting possibility that [the] MPAA considers exposure to Christian themes more dangerous for children than exposure to gratuitous sex and mindless violence,” commented Missouri’s Republican congressman Roy Blunt. So broadcasters, studios, and exhibitors all seem to agree: religious content, Christianity included, has the potential to offend people.

A Good Year
Well, Maybe a Good Hour or So

Sir Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe (and their financiers, presumably) deserve some credit for stepping outside their market niches and making a quiet little character piece set largely in a remote French villa. There are no action sequences—Crowe’s motorcycle ride, even, is remarkably uneventful—and Crowe’s trademark physicality is mostly limited to awkwardly comic moments in a drained, muck-littered pool and a SmartCar. So both Scott and Crowe are playing against type here. It just doesn’t add up to anything memorable for me. A week later, I’d honestly forgotten that I’d even seen the film.

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