Archive for September, 2007
NASA Documentary Gets Patriotic
When it comes to execution, In The Shadow of the Moon works, first, because Sington doesn’t dumb things down. He doesn’t cater to conventional wisdom about what audiences in this “short attention span” age can or can’t handle. If the material calls for a long shot, to enable us to experience the grandeur and epic scope of space travel, Sington serves it up—without special effects gizmos, quick cuts, or Led Zeppelin on the soundtrack. But the film also does us the huge, huge, monumental favor of reminding us of what humans—and Americans—can aspire to and achieve, when we put our minds to it.
Beyond the Gates Gets Second Wind
“Japan will never forget what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki—some sixty years ago now,” says native Rwandan Jean-Pierre Sagahutu. “Rwanda was thirteen years ago. 9/11 was six years ago. … So I will explain Rwanda to you. Rwanda is very small. And in a small country like that, they killed 10,000 people a day. And people didn’t talk about that too much because it’s just a poor country, part of Africa, black people. I think people have to stop being ignorant, and try to read, try to see something like Beyond the Gates and know what’s happening in the world.”
This Film Wields a Hammer
Like the biblical Hosea, you see, Pete Seeger is no mere worship leader. He’s the modern equivalent of a prophet (or at least comes off that way in this film). He carries a sense of purity, devotion, and cold blinderedness that is simultaneously endearing and infuriating. What shines through thoroughly, though, is that this is a man who loves people of all sorts dearly (children, particularly, because they represent “hope”), and is willing to sacrifice himself for them unequivocally. By the time Peter Seeger: The Power of Song concludes with a stirring concert, the slogan on his banjo appears earned, indeed. At the very least, he surrounded the coldness and cynicism of my own heart and forced it to surrender.
What’s True, and What Isn’t?
I don’t know what else to say about The Hunting Party without spoiling the fun of it for those who might choose to see it. It’s well-made, engaging, and tells a compelling story. It’s a sobering examination of indecisive international meddling in regional affairs; it’s a wry look at the world of intrigue; and it raises fistfuls of good questions about the differences between “hard” journalism and manufactured news—and even asks whether that distinction may be not only artificial, but a cop-out. Finally, Shepard’s direction is nicely restrained. At one point he judiciously employs a dolly zoom to tell us that Simon and company have really gotten themselves in deep—but there’s no showing off here. Shepard knows the story itself is plenty flashy.
A Fairy Tale with Clever Updates
I feel as if I’m gushing while I write about this movie, so don’t misinterpret me. This is not a great film that will be on many top ten lists at year’s end. It has its share of faults—the overused cliché that the popular frat boy finds time to volunteer at the local homeless shelter, for one—and it doesn’t do much to separate itself from other movies of its kind. But this movie doesn’t try to be more than it is: an entertaining movie that should be a hit with its target audience. As for me, I consider it to be one of this year’s guilty pleasures.
Wading Slowly Into Insanity
The better part of Deep Water simply documents how Don Crowhurst got in way over his head—and how the newspapers, his family and friends, and the public contributed to that fundamental (but routine) insanity. As troubles begin to beset almost all of the nine racers, though, the film begins to take on a new dimension. Natural elements, the human competitive drive, the fear of failure, the love of the sea, and the cost of isolation produce results that neither entrants nor organizers could have anticipated. And Deep Water becomes more than just a commentary; it becomes transcendent, reflecting the way in which the rules of a really deadly game tend to change as the game proceeds.
Point of View Tells This Story
At about the 45-minute mark, though, an odd thing happens to the film’s tone—and it becomes clear that Dunne is actually a very attentive filmmaker, one of the rare ones who has learned over time to effectively employ point of view. From that point on, Fierce People feels almost like a purging of sorts for Dunne—as if, through Dirk Wittenborn’s book and screenplay and through the character of Finn Earl, Dunne has finally managed to connect with a story that really means something to him. It’s not a great film, and it may never really connect with a definable demographic; but it’s a personal, heartfelt, imaginative, nicely-crafted and well-acted illustration of “how the bad comes to good” in this life.
Inaccessible Characters, Inaccessible Film
The vibe of the film reminded me most of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, partly because the central characters are so inaccessible. They’re ciphers, really, and as in Sunshine, I can get the sense why they need to find someone—but I’m never satisfied that either character really needs the other, specifically. The only reason they’re a good match for each other seems to be that the script insists that they are. But the film is also directed by Justin Theroux with a certain insistence on breaking down the third wall of time and space in way that’s also Gondry- (or Kaufman-)esque. The technique is very self-conscious and interesting; but after the second or third time it becomes nothing more than a gimmick.
Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You
Setting aside the profanity, nudity, and sex montages, this is simply a bad, bad film with no redeeming qualities. Skip it; you won’t be missing anything. It’s rated R for “sequences of strong sexual content including crude dialogue, nudity, language and some drug use.” Honestly, I’m shocked it didn’t receive an NC-17 rating. The only difference between this and your run-of-the-mill softcore pornography is the attempt to inject humor into the story. If you see this thinking you’re going to see a light, romantic comedy, you’re going to leave as embarrassed and flustered as the young couple that rode the elevator with me down to the parking garage.
Sleuthing Out the Cost of Iraq
Unlike the upcoming The Kingdom which lets its serious subject matter become a typical genre film, In the Valley of Elah never lets its basic detective movie framework get in the way of what is trying to say. The film is deliberate in its pacing and the somber tone remains throughout. Its message can be summed up in its brilliant final shot, set up early by a great piece of screenwriting. Some may find this movie’s pacing to be slower than they like, especially if they don’t clue in to some of the extreme subtleties of the plot. Others will find its story to be topical, moving and thought-provoking.
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