Archive for January, 2007

Catch and Release
Imagine A Bogus Idyllic Lifestyle

Catch and Release does almost nothing to help us understand the relationships that develop as the film progresses. Motivation is non-existent. Moods never seem to change. Grief is muted, joy is muted, life goes on and doesn’t change a thing. And soul-searching never enters this film’s lexicon. The result is that the film comes off as an ambient advertisement for a bogus idyllic lifestyle and/or the “real” Boulder. It’s a shamelessly manipulated vision of a hoped-for existence. I walked away from Catch and Release wondering why I should care about any of these people. I realized that I don’t. And they didn’t ask me to. Groovy.

Smokin’ Aces
Carnahan Does Tarantino in Spades

Joe Carnahan has deftly woven a couple of themes through the plot of Smokin’ Aces. Loyalty is the big one, paired with the opposite side of the same coin: betrayal. The people we’re dealing with here aren’t big on playing well together. The fireworks—literal in this case, when all of the players converge in the same spot—are inevitable. In the end, only a single character keeps the faith, making a hard choice based on loyalty (I’m not going to ruin the surprise by telling you who it is). The other theme to keep in mind is that our man Israel is a master of illusion and misdirection. Carnahan draws on these qualities within the story to good effect.

Family Law
Woody Allen Done Wholesome and Latin

Family Law is enjoyable because it is paced in such a way as to allow it to become your story, and the dialogue is under-written to great effect—clever but also exceedingly mundane sometimes. Its sparseness adds luster to the story as we can visually see the introspection behind the thoughtful lines. No throw-away banter. The slow pace, which American audiences may find boring, is powerful and instructive. We have time to get to know these characters as people. And though no great earth-shattering event suddenly brings out the best (or worst) in these characters, life itself subtly and gradually lades its burdens both on top of and inside them. This all leads to self-examination, which I heartily recommend. It is well worth the effort.

Seraphim Falls
A Revenge Tale That Mostly Fails

The only thing I can conclude about Seraphim Falls is that director David Von Ancken is making a greater statement of which I am thoroughly ignorant—a political statement about war and revenge, or a personal statement about the ambiguity of right and wrong in times of battle. I’m not sure. But that’s also the only way I can explain why two Irish actors have the lead roles in a decidedly American (post-Civil War) setting. I do not doubt that Seraphim Falls will appeal to some—chase movies centering on long-past evils always draw a certain crowd, and I’m sure this one will follow suit. But if you’re looking for an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter, I’d advise turning your attention elsewhere.

Blood and Chocolate
Neither Silk Purse Nor Sow's Ear

As far as the conventional approach to the genre goes, Blood and Chocolate makes a pretty good go of taking a fresh look at the usual issues and turning a lot of the conventional answers on their sides (if not completely on their heads). Also on the plus side, Von Garnier clearly knows Europe and Romania, and her visual style with on-location shooting puts Bucharest and its environs to pretty good use. Still, the pacing leaves the film feeling overly long at barely past ninety minutes—in part due to a series of Casino Royale-style false endings. Sadly, genre fans will likely wish there were less chocolate here, and more blood.

The Queen Redux
Why is Mirren Magical as QEII?

One of the elders at my church is fond of the refrain, “But this is not the end of the story!” Too often, in real life or in our critique of art, we pass judgment on the basis of thinking that we are seeing the end of the story when, in fact, we are not. We are only getting a look at a part of the story, and an intermediate end, perhaps, to that one episode. But according to Scripture, mercy triumphs over judgment—and that’s because Godly mercy really knows what the end of the story is! What Frears accomplishes in The Queen is achieving a unique glimpse into two opposing stories—and being merciful to each, through each other.

The Hitcher
How to Gut a Horror Classic

Is Meyers trying deliberately trying to turn The Hitcher into some kind of camp cult classic? If so, the response of the crowd at the promotional screening I attended indicates that he’s hit the mark. Many in the audience were openly hooting—even at scenes that were structured as nearly shot-for-shot recreations of Harmon’s film. If you’re a fan of Original Recipe, skip the Extra Crispy. If you like the new recipe, and are unfamiliar with the original, check it out; there’ll be some surprises there for you. But if you’re sick of explicit gore in movies, or if you’re looking for your money’s worth, take Grace’s advice and don’t bother pulling over for this Hitcher.

The Good German
Brilliant Idea Doesn’t Quite Work

The Good German is meant to recreate the feel of the classic film noir era, to evoke films like The Big Sleep and The Third Man. From a visual standpoint, director Steven Soderbergh pulls it off beautifully. The black-and-white imagery in this film is truly remarkable. Granted, there are a few rear-projection shots early in the film that look bad even by 1940 standards, but for the most part the cinematography is flawless. Few of today’s films dare to shoot in black-and-white, even though—if done right—it can look even better than color. However, The Good German fails to even create characters that stick with us until we’re out of the theater.

Stomp the Yard
Something Completely Different

Stomp the Yard could be classified as an entertaining documentary (using fictional characters and settings) that educates about a culture that exists in universities where the predominant population is African American. The first thing I did upon arriving home after the screening was to Google “step competitions” and find out more about the popularity of these contests. Enough for history… this film is made with great respect and love for the tradition and art of this mode of physical expression. There are also no big names to overshadow the cast and require dancing doubles. Meagan Good as April and Darrin Dewitt Henson as Grant particularly stand out in their roles.

Alpha Dog
Dead-end Choices: Hard to Watch

Exiting the theater, I felt almost shell-shocked. Alpha Dog is a realistic movie that gets in your face. The cinematography, the dialogue, the acting all leave you with a sense that you have journeyed into this subculture and watched these events unfold first-hand. In a sense, it feels like the first big drop on a rollercoaster—things start out slow but you know what’s coming as you creep closer and closer to the top of the hill; then you fall over the top and careen down to the bottom screaming and holding on for dear life. It’s not just another violent gangster film, though. There are multiple themes woven through the movie that are incredibly thought provoking.

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