Archive for March, 2007
Staredown with a Tragic Dilemma
As director Michael Caton-Jones presents the terrible history of these appalling events, Beyond the Gates plunges the audience into a palpable abyss of ethical considerations, leaving us with only our ideas and our thoughts and our beliefs to wrestle through. For me, Caton-Jones’ work is the machete that cleaves bone from flesh, separating the sinews into ugly lumps of mere potential strength with no solid support. Ultimately, he presents a painful history, made all the more profound when, at the end, 800,000 people are violently murdered; certain races are saved; and we are left wondering what we would do if we were in Joe’s or Father Christopher’s shoes, and what, if anything, is “right.”
Family Fun, the Old-Fashioned Way
On the upside—and there is a lot of upside to Meet the Robinsons—the animation is top-notch CGI (particularly the depiction of human movement), and I admire Disney’s decision to avoid high-priced vocal talent which might overwhelm the story. This is meaning-laden children’s entertainment at its best and most idealistic. Kudos to the Disney team on this score, and for delivering the story without raunch, scat, or pander. On the downside, though, the film’s 3-D presentation adds nothing new in the way of cinematic experience, and really doesn’t serve the story at all either. For all of the inventiveness on the screen, the film left me puzzlingly cold. Disney has pretty much hit the target here, nonetheless.
Keep an Eye on This Ensemble
The Lookout is written by veteran screenwriter Scott Frank, and is his directorial debut. His carefully selected cast not only turns in layered and living individual performances, they blend in a constant waltz that never missteps. Both the good and the evil characters click together on all cylinders throughout the movie. This spells very fine directing. The screenplay is multi-layered, mixing suspense with the dilemmas of life; serious situations with the humor that occurs even in the strangest of circumstances; characters who are all trying to find their ways so as to justify their places in the cosmos; diverse relationships and their dynamics; friendships true and friendships false. The film is also masterfully edited, and beautifully and hauntingly shot. Scott Frank has made a very good film.
And At Great Length, Too
Into Great Silence is indeed a worthy project in documenting monasticism. It takes its time and gives us enough silence to whet the appetite for more—or satisfy us that we’ve had plenty, thanks. It makes no attempt to sugar-coat the experience, clearly depicting the level of self-denial involved. It’s also revelatory in its communication of the role that repetition and structure play not only in monastic life, but in general liturgical faith. Upon reflection, I’m also grateful that the film makes to attempt to either “sell” the audience on monasticism or persuade the audience of the discipline’s merits. Sadly, I grew increasingly frustrated by the lack of anything distinctively Christian about the experience, apart from the sparse liturgy and Scripture.
Living There, But Not Being One
This independent production is a dramatic and often-moving look at island life, and its effects on a man attempting to put his life back together. In Islander, you’ll find no big-budget action sequences or twists and turns in the plot. It’s a very straightforward, honest, and therefore refreshing drama. I found it a powerful reminder that often what stands between us and redemption is our own stubborn pride, and maybe a helping of fear. Eben faces the stares and whispers, coming out stronger for the experience. It’s a message I appreciated.
Farrell is as Ferrell Does
I don’t think I was the target audience for Blades of Glory, and those who have enjoyed the humor Will Ferrell is famous for may find themselves rolling in the aisles. Those who, like me, met Will Ferrell in Elf and found him delightful may be sorely disappointed by the celebrated filth here. From what I’ve heard, this is Will Ferrell in his original form—like it or not. For my part, I think the movie would have been just as funny—even funnier—if they had trusted the material and let the humor come naturally, rather than throw in constant vulgarity. But then, I’m not a director…
When Grief Breaks a Man
At recent screening, the usual cellophane rustling and popcorn chomping were distinctly absent for two full hours—you could hear a pin drop in the standing-room-only downtown Seattle theatre. Mike Binder, writer and director of Reign Over Me, held the audience completely captive with both an astounding story and outstanding performances on all accounts. While there have been several films in recent years with either major plots or subplots based on the 9/11 tragedies, Binder opted for a more subtle yet more deeply moving approach, using the attacks as a way to explore how people grieve, how they handle tragedy, and how they try to help each other when nothing can take away the pain.
Shall We Gather in the Astrals?
Take two parts E.T., one part Jumanji-Zathura, one part Dreamchild, one part Terminator, shake the mixture up and saturate the whole batch with, say, Kundun—and there you have The Last Mimzy. The entire story is set up, explained, and evangelized through a prism of Tibetan spirituality, including phenomena such as mental telepathy, palmistry, levitation, telekinesis, and transcendental meditation, all splendiferously visualized through Tibetan iconography. At the end of a very long morning, fine performances by the child stars of Mimzy—Chris O’Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn—will probably be wasted in a moderately entertaining children’s film that will likely generate scathing word-of-mouth.
Be Yourself, and See What Happens
I walked away from the theatre feeling good, though a little overwhelmed. There are so many themes in Avenue Montaigne, I decided to focus on just one important idea: that you have value, regardless of your lot in life. Not the smarmy, manipulative, empty, ego-feeding “You are Somebody!” that we get in public school. I mean the firm joy of living that can be found through accepting yourself as you are and reaching out to others first. I think this is the great lesson of the movie: That if I toss away my pretense, toss away my unfounded expectations of a perverted view of success and just be myself, I can affect more people more positively.
Wahlberg Makes Things Go *BOOM*
Unfortunately, going into Mark Wahlberg’s first post-Oscar nomination vehicle, Shooter, I knew I was going to be disappointed on some level. The movie suffers from something that plagues too many modern movies—and probably older ones as well—in this advertising-heavy world: the preview gives away the twist. Sure, this twist comes only about twenty minutes into the film and would probably be fairly predictable in any case, but why spoil it? What happened to the days of Alfred Hitchcock practically begging his audience not to spoil the surprise of Psycho or even allowing anyone into the theater after it had started?
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