Archive for September, 2007

The Kingdom
Great Action, Diluted Message

The first half of The Kingdom is a typical procedural murder mystery and then the film explodes with action in the second half. In a typical, wham-bam action flick, the final set-piece would be the kind of sequence I could watch over and over again. It is wonderfully filmed. Unfortunately, this is not a typical, wham-bam action flick. This is a serious, topical movie and I felt very strange about enjoying a certain fight scene in the middle of all this action that got a rousing cheer from the audience. I didn’t feel like cheering. I felt the film had failed to achieve its goal.


A Talk With Robert Benton
Of Sex and the “God That's There”

“The dynamics of the scene that Baxter wrote,” says Benton, “were so exciting and so unique and so unlike anything that I’d ever read, and so cinematic, that there’s a moment of humor—and it bounces all over the place. It’s like a real fight. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. I think, honestly—and you’d have to talk to Baxter about this—the antecedent of that scene is clearly the fight between Julianne Moore and Matthew Modine in Short Cuts, where she’s ironing the skirt. … Hopefully, the nudity in that scene works the same way that it did in the book because it’s startling. It’s just startling.”


The Game Plan
Saccharine Sweet, But Oh So Good

A major surprise in The Game Plan is that “The Rock” is really, really good at comedy and it is nice to see him play a role that requires more than just a hard-muscled, buff body (not that that isn’t a plus). Johnson actually has talent. Now, of course, Disney makes movies to make money. But, when Disney gets it right and makes a really good family movie, it is hard to begrudge them the gold. The Game Plan is full of solid family values and is virtuous and morally upright. The main theme is that people matter and material things don’t. The winner is not the one with all the toys, but the one who has meaningful relationships with family and friends.


Feast of Love
One Part Cynicism, All the Rest Heart

Feast of Love ambles in a manner that will be familiar to those who know Benton’s work. His characters cross paths in ways that resemble a lazy Texan version of a Robert Altman film. They aim for transcendence in a way that prevent them from being entirely “realistic.” Here, though, the opening voiceover of Benton’s film evokes classical mythology in a way that makes his characters’ archness go down as smooth as in, say, Places in the Heart. And for me, Feast of Love achieves transcendent beauty, and truth. It took me two days to be able to talk about this film with my wife; and when I did, I still had to stop several times to choke back the emotion that welled up within me.


The Jane Austen Book Club
Nice Premise, Entertaining Execution

As a screenwriter, Swicord does a good job of adapting the novel and blending the lives of her characters with those of Austen’s. She also does a good job of playing the comedy off the drama and vice versa. As a director, she is not as polished. Despite the six-books-in-six-months framework, the pacing is a little off and I never felt as if the movie found its groove. Some scenes drag on longer than they should, while others are missed if you blink at the wrong time. I’m going to guess that avid Austen readers will get more out of this film than your average viewer, but there is no denying its entertainment value.


Vanaja
Amazing Dancing, Complex Plot

Not being Indian, I find it difficult to judge the cadence of the movie. While it carried itself well, the end seemed just a bit slower and lengthier—though my husband and I agreed that the pacing may have been somehow related to the rhythm of Indian dancing. While it never reached anything close to plodding or drawn-out, it did seem to wind down rather than conclude. Beware: Vanaja is not a flimsy romance. It is a full-length feature film that reveals much about something many Westerners do not understand. The dancing and music are enough to warrant watching Domalpalli’s first feature, regardless of whether it was an assignment or not.


Angels in the Dust
And Another in the Director's Chair

Living saint-prophets like Cloete are both inspiring and damning. Watching this woman as she cradles a dying (and vomiting) serial-infector in her arms—even though she uses him as a case-study example of how the AIDS epidemic is harming far more women than it is men—is a clarion call that judgment is only the necessary first step to mercy. But Angels in the Dust. is not only Marion’s story. It’s the story of a dying continent. Watching this film makes me want to scream, “Someone, please, give this director a budget!” To which, I am quite certain, Hogarth would respond, “Get real. Don’t give money to me. Give it to people like Marion Cloete.”


December Boys
Great for Adults, but Not so Much for Kids

There’s no doubt, while watching December Boys, that director Rod Hardy knows his stuff. The production design and cinematography are beautiful; the boys in the lead roles (including Daniel Radcliffe as Maps) are all well-cast, have distinct personalities and traits, and are engagingly-directed; the story (based on Michael Noonan’s novel) never lags, and rarely stoops to predictable conventions. As a reminiscence, December Boys works fairly well as adult entertainment—even if the rather sappy (yet clearly personally-felt) epilogue leaves too little to the imagination. But this film seems to be aiming for younger audiences, too—yet misses the mark badly in that regard, preventing it from achieving greatness for its genre.


Trade
Vital Topic Sold Short by Weak Story

As is often the case with a Message Movie—which Trade clearly is, as is any film that concludes with encouragement to act on what you now “know”—the film forgets that Message isn’t job one, Story is. And director Marco Kreuzpaintner hasn’t been able to helm the story itself in either a compelling or a believable fashion. It’s easier to believe the facts themselves—such as the methods of sedation that the sex traffickers employ, or the idea of a man plunking down 25 grand at a truck stop for a young male sex toy—than it is to believe that Ray and his nemeses have any idea how to get to New Jersey from Texas.


Don’t Knock Marshall!!

It’s the film’s job to convince those who are not from West Virginia, those who do not know folks from Marshall—and in particular, those who do not come from a town whose resident’s lives begin and end with football—that football itself could heal the town’s wounds. Mike Smith did a fine job of writing about why he felt the film did not do that. Sometimes trying too hard has the same effect of not trying hard enough.


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