Archive for April, 2007

The Condemned
Reality TV Makes for New Fiction

In The Condemned, director Scott Wiper offers a not-so-subtle condemnation of our modern voyeuristic society. After all, this is the same society that has watched the hanging of Saddam Hussein on Google Video more than 16 million times and counting. It’s a good argument to make, and Wiper makes it effectively, if slightly heavy-handedly. Ironically, while this movie attempts to condemn our natural fascination with violence, it also relies upon it for its success. Minor political statements aside, it is an action movie that moves from one violent encounter to the other as the inmates fight for their survival.

Hidden Secrets
The Not-So-Hidden Secret: It’s “Christian”...

Sometimes low expectations work in a film’s favor. That’s certainly the case with Hidden Secrets, the flagship release of new film production company PureFlix Entertainment—a film I only agreed to review because it technically meets the criteria for films we review at Past the Popcorn: it’s booked for theatrical release (May 30), and it is potentially relevant to our readership. But boy was my schlock-meter calibrated for maximum sensitivity when I popped the screener into my laptop on a flight down to L.A. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by this idealistic, gentle, somewhat cloistered, but genuinely moving little film.

Deliverance in Modern Garb

The basic story of Vacancy revolves around the soon-to-be-divorced Amy and David Fox. In order to avoid a long traffic jam on the interstate, David takes an exit that he thinks will be a shortcut, only to find, as the day slips away and night falls, that he has made a major error in judgment and is lost. Add a car breakdown and a long walk back to the nearest inhabited building which turns out to be an empty ’60s-something hotel with a very creepy and psychotic manager (who is also a voyeur and entrepreneur in homemade snuff films) and you have a solid recipe for scare potential.

We Know What’s Coming, But Not Much Else

What if you could know now what was going to happen in the next two minutes? How would that affect your actions, your conversations, and your life? That’s the situation that Next’s Cris Johnson has lived every day since his birth. Blessed, or cursed, with the power to see two minutes into the future, he’s been hiding in plain sight as a Las Vegas magician and only using his ability sparingly. So given that the lead character can alter the future, you should be suspicious of anything you see on the screen, because it can and will change. And while this effect does lead to a few dramatic moments, it can also be disorienting as the movie literally rewinds before your eyes.

For Those Who Doubt that Clams Can Sell a Story

Welcome to 1976, on the south shore of Long Island, New York. The country is in the throes of the Bicentennial celebration, and the presidential race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter is in full swing. But in Diggers, these national events fade into the background in this sleepy coastal town. Right now the locals are more concerned about the new commercial clam digging operation that’s moving in, taking over clam beds and making things tough for multiple generations of local clam diggers. The recipe for success here is simple: an interesting story and a talented ensemble cast. Overall, director Katherine Dieckmann has done a fine job of arranging the right ingredients in the proper proportions.

One Smart Little Thriller

Just as Edward Norton was the best thing about Gregory Hoblit’s Primal Fear, the same can be said of Fracture’s young star, Ryan Gosling. But Hoblit doesn’t repeat himself here. Not at all. Unlike Richard Gere’s cocky attorney in Primal Fear, the only character flaw that Gosling’s Beachum has is his ambition. Other than that, he’s a straight arrow: principled, determined, scrupulous. Which is not to say he isn’t tempted to bend the rules to nail his adversary; but unlike the heroes of so many thrillers—say Halle Berry’s Rowena in last week’s dismal Perfect Strangers—Beachum is a guy who’s easy to root for. He’s heroic, if no crusader, and he fares well with the moral predicaments of his profession.

Hot Fuzz
Small-town Setting, Big-time Humor

While Hot Fuzz is not intended as a parody—and doesn’t play like one—there’s no question that the movie’s violence is a gentle send-up of horror and cop genre conventions. Yes, there are thousands of rounds fired in the climactic sequences; there are bloody fistfights, car chases, and gory skewerings. But monitor the deathcount as those scenes proceed and you’ll find that all this violence is awfully good natured. And that’s what really took me by surprise. There’s not a mean bone in this movie; even the cursing is acknowledged as crass within the context of the film, though I noticed (and cringed over) it a bit more the second time around. But Pegg and Wright’s writing doesn’t depend on potty talk for its humor.

A Hard Look at Land of Women
A Chick Flick, Sure: But Far More Than That

It seems rare lately that I have been able to find any true spiritual content in the films I have reviewed. In the Land of Women breaks that trend, but not in an overt manner. In fact, neither faith nor religion are ever mentioned or even hinted at in the movie; but as a Christian, I can draw an honest correlation because of the primary subject—relationships. I believe that people were created to be relational. It is how we survive. It is how we live. Whether with God, people, pets, ourselves, or all of these, relationships are what we spend the most time seeking. When our relationships are not whole, we are not all we are meant to be.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
A Strong Dose of What Ails Us All

Deep inside The Wind That Shakes the Barley is the symbolism of the song from which the film takes its name. At a wake following a brutal murder, a village woman sings, unaccompanied, a hauntingly beautiful song of the coming harvest—for the barley is ripe and golden. Yes, it’s not just these brothers who have a history: It’s the whole country. It’s the whole region. It’s humanity. And, to the extent that one buys into the notion of meeting savagery with savagery, we are indeed reaping what has been sown. Systems of merciless savagery are bound to produce retributive blood feuds. It’s sad to see how little, in some regards, society has progressed in 2000 years.

A Hard Look at Year of the Dog
When Passion Goes Too Far... And Then Comes Back

It wasn’t until after this rather weird movie was over, and I could talk it over with my husband, that I came to the conclusion that the plotline of Year of the Dog itself may not have been the point of the story. In more general terms, the story is of a young woman who, after an identity-shattering loss, goes a bit off the deep end before returning to some semblance of sanity, while staying true to her new convictions. But, after thinking about it, I think that writer/director Mike White is really making a larger statement, in a way that is non-threatening and accessible to a wide audience.

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