Archive for May, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
A Work of Pirating Art

Even if Pearl and Chest tickled your fancy, as they did for me, there was no getting by the fact that those two movies were really nothing but summer blockbuster puffery. In training his gunsights on self-referentially weighty metaphor, however, director Gore Verbinksi has achieved what I had certainly not expected: World’s End is actually a Good Film. Whether one enjoys it or not—and I didn’t, particularly, because watching it was too darn much work!—the experience is rather like spending nearly three hours studying a riveted and armored butterfly as it emerges from its softer, kinder chrysalis. The Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest, less accomplished films though they may have been, were more fun to watch—and more fun to think about having watched.


Steel City
Hearts of Steel?

Steel City is no flowery-happy summer blockbuster, but it does an excellent job of portraying real-life families and the generational effects of alcohol addiction and its consequences. The movie delves fearlessly into the generational and hereditary aspects of the disease while exploring the complex relationships between a father and his sons. Writer-director Brian Jun’s budget might have been small, but the cinematic scope and art of his movie are far from low-rent. Add to that his ability to coax stunningly believable performances from Heard and Guiry, especially, and you have a stirring story with a subtle yet profoundly poignant ending which begs to bring up the topics of substitutionary atonement and paying penance for one’s own sins as well as the sins of others.


Fay Grim
Grim Fools and Grimmer Fairytales

Hal Hartely’s latest film, Fay Grim, picks up where Henry Fool left off ten years ago—that is, I have to assume it does. While I’m a big Hartley fan (or at least a fan of the artily self-conscious dialogue that he writes) I missed Fool. But all the cast members are back, reprising their roles and extending the story while revising both it and Hartley’s own milieu. In the past, one could never really accuse a Hartley film of being over-plotted; but to be perfectly honest, having just completed my review of the latest Pirates movie, the thought of also synopsizing the equally plot- and exposition-heavy Fay Grim has me a little daunted. It’s that dense.


Shrek the Third
Lukewarm Laughter

When Shrek first hit theaters in 2001, it was a revelation. Its plot and characters were new and inventive, paving the way as the first recipient of the Oscar for Best Animated Film. When Shrek 2 was released in 2004, the plot was far less new and far less inventive, yet it was still a massive success, currently ranked as the seventh-highest grossing film of all time. Shrek the Third starts out predictably, reintroducing us to the main characters with twists on some previously successful gags, but then it becomes obvious that the series is running out of gas. The plot is anything but new and inventive. In fact, in seems somewhat forced, as if the writers were truly grasping at straws to find another adventure for their characters to take towards self-discovery.


A Hard Look at Jindabyne
Guilty Until Proven Innocent

What happens when the first of a serial killer’s victims is found—before anyone knows that more murders will likely follow? Callousness is pretty universal in Jindabyne. Everyone feels that they have been violated yet forgets that others have feelings and traditions to work through. Insensitivity prevents anyone from healing, or discovering who or what may actually be the killer. Along the way, the nonchalant reaction of four guys on a fishing trip over the body of the killer’s victim becomes almost understandable. The logic of their argument is, “She was already dead, we couldn’t help her. This fishing trip is important to us.” You can almost sympathize with them—almost.


The Page Turner
Turn the Page... And Just Keep Turning

Present the exposition of your themes with elegance and clarity. Develop them with energy but keep the pacing varied. Build to climaxes with a relentless inner logic, then give the audience a brief chance to rest before another theme enters to create new complications. And end with a resounding climax. After viewing The Page Turner, I cannot find one piece of evidence that the film follows this formula. If director Dercourt had successfully followed his self-perceived art, this film would not have taken so long to get release dates and would have made audiences sit up and take notice. As things are, the audience will be fortunate to stay awake and interested.


A Hard Look at The Hip Hop Project
Taking It To The Streets—And Back

The Hip Hop Project reminds us that “the criminal mind is a creative mind. It all depends where you put your energies.” As much as this movie is about music, and the power of art in broken communities, it is also about reconciliation as former street kid Kazi Rolle travels back to the Bahamas to meet up with his foster mom, and finally with his biological mom who abandoned him at birth. This is one of those movies to think about and dialogue with—let its ethos penetrate an often lugubrious existence. And by the way—100% of the net profits from this film are being donated to organizations working with youth.


A Talk With Michael Landon, Jr.
Director Talks Art, the Church, and Critics

“I think that the Church is beginning to understand that the choices are “participate in’ or ‘complain about,’” says film director Michael Landon, Jr. “You know, the entertainment business is not all art. Clearly, it’s not all art. Some of it is even purely commerce and entertainment. Yet in saying that, though, clearly this stuff affects culture. Deeply—and in all different formats, whether it be television, film, music. They all affect culture, especially in the younger generations, more than any other influence. So it’s either get in the game and do something about it, or whine about it—and I don’t think that option is too effective.”


Waitress
A Bittersweet, Charming Confection

A humorous, quirky comedy, Waitress is short of great; but it demonstrates some marvelous potential—and director Adrienne Shelly might easily have joined the likes of Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron as one of the premiere female directors if not for her untimely death. Although some major plot points are easily predictable and some editing issues cause the pacing of the film to ebb and flow, for the most part Waitress is a delight, a charming, somewhat whimsical comedy that is uplifting and heartwarming. Adrienne Shelly, high above us, should be proud.


Offside
Iran, Soccer, Women, and Comedy

Offside is not a feminist manifesto, as some in the U.S. may try to portray it. It is a film about the real life repression of women, not the often imagined repression of the feminist movement. These women do not spout feminist bromides. They plainly and eloquently point out that there is a real hypocrisy about the rules they are forced to live by. They don’t have bitterness, just consternation. Their lives are portrayed as joyful in spite of the lives they lead. This film is trying its lighthearted best to make a difference. Beautiful women with a lighthearted demeanor mixed with rock-solid logic may be the catalyst for change in Iran.


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