Archive for December, 2006

Painted Veil Redux
There’s More to The Painted Veil Than Edward Norton

I’ve been taken to task for taking Naomi Watts for granted, for not highlighting her work as Kitty Fane. In my review of The Painted Veil, I remarked that “Kitty’s transformational arc is understandable—perhaps because of its predictability,” while calling Edward Norton’s turn as Walter Fane “the real treat of this film.”
One reader responded, […]

Movies and Relativism
How Do We Process the Ethics of Movies?

David Nedostup asks, “How do you fight relativism in the battle for values and ethics? Is the disease sin?”
The first solution to relativism is knowing what we believe. Really knowing it—not taking what we’ve been taught for granted, but really seeking out the truth. In the Bible, the church at Berea was commended because they […]

Pan’s Labyrinth
Great Fantasy, Compelling Hero, Failed Film

Young Ivana Baquero is well up to the task of portraying Ofelia, the protagonist of Pan’s Labyrinth, and her performance is another of the film’s strengths. Baquero manages the nuances required for such a complex character, and she never seems overwhelmed either by the special effects, the ghoulishness of her two worlds, or the one-dimensional overacting of her costars. The film also delivers what are probably the best fantasy sequences in recent memory—and that’s saying quite a lot, given the fantasies that have come to the screen in recent years. Specifically, del Toro’s creatures possess the convincing, realistic otherness which was so lacking in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

So Much Artistry, or So Much Decadent Wallow?

The first half of Perfume plays like a gritty and literate commentary on the dilemma of an artist. Is it even possible to capture beauty, to limn truth? If so, how do we go about it? Is it better to be blessed with innate talent, or to learn your craft by discipline? Perhaps some combination of the two? Given that Tykwer has said in interviews that film “is a way to … put [time] in a box”—to capture “the beauty of people”—it’s even easy to read the Paris sequence as Tykwer’s meditation on his own chosen artform, his private film fanaticism.

And then disaster strikes.

A Talk with Tom Tykwer
Something More Demanding—In A Good Way

Taxi Driver is one of the very few films that I’ve been relating to in the development of Perfume,” says Tykwer. “Of course, that was one of the reasons that I was attracted by the material. It’s just so fascinating to be seduced by a story or by a character—to follow him and to get to understand his motivations to such a degree that you are even able to… not accept, but to stay with him, even though he breaks all the rules that a protagonist usually has to keep and follow. I really love that. I love how much this material is stretching this limit.”

Children of Men
A Dangerous, Rough, Violent Nativity

Those who accuse Cuarón of being a little too pleased with himself over Children of Men are probably justified. On one level, the narrative seems constructed for the sole purpose of allowing Cuarón the opportunity for three virtuosistic chase sequences in which a hand-held camera at least seems to track choreographed action over unbelievably dangerous and complex distances—and the effect is undoubtedly mindboggling. On another level, it’s easy to see why some of my colleagues find Cuarón’s violent and oppressive futuristic vision overly precious, gratuitous, and sophomoric. All the same, the film pleased me immensely, though I won’t be nominating it for best picture of the year.

Night at the Museum
Almost Better Than A Night At Home

Night At The Museum’s problems come mostly with continuity. Perhaps this was more noticeable on an IMAX screen than it will be on a standard movie screen. When Ben Stiller’s head is six stories tall, it is obvious that one shot is whipped cream and the next is shaving cream and that whatever the substance, it has a different position. Another breakdown comes in the computer-generated slapping fight between Mr. Stiller and Dexter, the monkey. In close-up, the action is superbly handled and everything looks real. However, when the camera pulls back for a full body shot, it is obvious that the monkey is a puppet, and a poorly-made one at that.

The Good Shepherd
The Trade of Suspicion and Paranoia

The Good Shepherd is an eye-opening tale of a portion of American history you may know little about. When most of us think of spies, they’re charismatic fictional characters in the mold of James Bond. While technically this film, too, is fiction, I think it’s a portrayal much closer to reality. Frankly, I’d never really given much thought to the effects of choosing a trade where suspicion and paranoia are a way of life, where your ally today may be your enemy tomorrow. It’s also easy to find movies that play on the theme of patriotism; but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another movie that delves as deeply into the price of patriotism.

We Are Marshall
Too Much Football, Too Little Heart

Why is most of We Are Marshall such a flat-liner? I believe it comes from the writing itself. I have read some blogs and bulletin board entries from people who attended Marshall at the time of the actual incident. The experience was tragic, long-lasting, and life-changing for them. And the profoundness of the loss of friends, classmates, parents, coaches, and boosters simply are not captured in screenwriter Jamie Linden’s script. No matter how hard director McG tries, it cannot be recreated, nor can it be substituted with other meaning. We Are Marshall tries to use football as medicine. I found this particular gridiron prescription underwhelming and unsatisfying.

Curse of the Golden Flower
If Shakespeare Wrote Plays in Ancient China

As you would expect from a Yimou film, the visuals in Curse of the Golden Flower are spectacular, particularly the vibrant colors of the palace. The sound design of the film also seem to carry a particular importance as the clanging of metal swords, the swishing of the Empress’ gowns, and the chattering of chain mail are all vividly detailed on the soundtrack. Still, I left the theater feeling largely unsatisfied, just as I had coming out of Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Why is that? Because these larger scale films just don’t seem as personal to me as his earlier work. I cared for no one in this film.

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