Archive for November, 2007

The Wager
Coming to a Church Near You?

In a much-ballyhooed but as-yet-untested distribution scheme, The Wager will premiere on December 31 in “an exclusive direct-to-church film release program.” Outreach Cinema exists, says film producer and Outreach co-founder David A. R. White, because “many movie theatres have been reluctant to embrace movies with strong faith messages.” Since churches have more seats than the nation’s theaters, reasons Outreach, why not connect faith-based movies directly with the target audience? The guinea pig in this distribution experiment is The Wager, a story about an Oscar-nominated actor, played by Randy Travis, whose life is falling apart around him even as his star is ascending.


Redacted
De Palma Takes on War

Brian DePalma calls the current Iraq war “senseless.” That may a bit naïve coming from someone who hasn’t been violated by Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, or even by the U.S. Military, but war is never senseless to the participants. There is always a reason; we just may not agree with it, or we may not know enough to understand. That being said, De Palma’s film performs a valuable service: it opens some unadulterated windows into what is happening in this war in one way at least—presenting us with photographs of actual wartime casualties. Redacted is “inspired” by the rape and murder of a 14-year old Iraqi girl in Samarra in 2006. What this fictionalized account shows is that war, and the evil that causes it, distorts and perverts even the best of people.


War/Dance
Poignant Topic Distracted by Being “Art”

Since 1987, war has raged in northern Uganda between government forces and the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). As is so often the case, civilians in the area bear the brunt of the violence. Sadly, children are frequently targeted by rebels and abducted to be used as slaves or forced to become rebels themselves. In order to protect the people, the government has evicted them from their traditional lands and gathered them into refugee camps. War/Dance, from directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, follows three children from the Patonga camp as they and their fellow students prepare to take part in the Uganda National Music Competition for the first time ever.


Enchanted
Better Than We’ve Seen In Years

Is Enchanted an animated fairy tale, or a live-action romance? Happily, it’s both—and it does both genres justice, achieving something that’s a mix of Sound of Music mountaintop exhilaration, Cinderella wonder, and Aladdin fun. At the real-world level, it battles against cynical anti-romanticism, and at the fantasy level, it winkingly acknowledges that fairy tale solutions don’t function all that well in contemporary settings. “This is reality,” Robert tells Giselle when she experiences sadness. And he’s right. Still, Giselle expresses real-world wistfulness when she responds, “I think I’d prefer to be in Andulasia.” So would many of us.


This Christmas
Spend Some Time with the Whitfields

What might make This Christmas enjoyable, if you’re in the mood, is the time that director Preston A. Whitmore II takes in letting us visit with the Whitfield family. This movie is not so much concerned with what happens next as it is with what’s happening onscreen at any given moment—and Whitmore’s camera spends a lot more time in every scene than we are accustomed to. Whitmore’s aimless-feeling approach didn’t work too well for me in his previous feature, Crossover. But it works well here, given that the focus is on family—and holidays—and not sports. Besides, there are a lot of appealing actors and characters here, particularly Delroy Lindo as Joe, the always-compelling Idris Elba as Quentin, Loretta Devine as Ma’Dere, and Regina King as Lisa.


The Mist
Darabont Lost in a Fog

In a movie that should be full of excitement, there is really only one crowd-rousing moment and it is not brought because it is thrilling or exciting, but rather because the most annoying character in the film finally got what was coming—and what the audience was hoping for. Much like another recent horror flick, P2, The Mist actually contains more laughs than frights, and not in a campy, fun, B-movie way either. The Mist will find its audience thanks to the built-in horror crowd and fans of the author, but it’s unlikely to draw in many casual viewers after opening weekend. Unfortunately, the movie itself seems to have gotten lost in the titular fog.


August Rush
Other Than Music, No Need to Rush

In short, this is a heartwarming film. But the acting is phlegmatic with few outstanding performances (except for August’s dimples). Special kudos to Terrence Howard as Lyla’s social worker, Richard Jeffries, though. Keri Russell is a lackluster disappointment as Lyla, and Robin Williams, as August’s mentor Wizard, is a little too sinister for young viewers. Despite the dead giveaway which is telegraphed from the outset, the story is interesting. In fact, familiar as the story may seem, there are some fun surprises—and I like the comfort of a familiar tale. And the fact that August feels and hears music in everything gives August Rush its underlying spirituality.


Hitman
Lights, Camera, & Action Action Action

Does Hitman succeed in making the jump from video game to film? Yes, and then again, no. I confess I spent a fair chunk of the running time wondering why no one seemed to take special notice of all these bald assassins running around with barcodes tattooed on the backs of their heads. The story clearly takes a back seat. The real draw is the action, action, action and Hitman delivers the goods on that count. It won’t win any awards, but if you’re looking for a mindless action film to keep you awake after your traditional holiday feast, this could be just the ticket.


I’m Not There
And Audiences Will Likely Stay Away, Too

Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There is an odd duck, a fictionalized attempt to convey something of who Bob Dylan purports to be—without ever portraying Dylan directly, and apparently with Dylan’s full support of the project. Five different actors portray the different manifestations of Dylan’s shifting public persona—and none of these characters are named Dylan (or even Robert Allen Zimmerman, Dylan’s birth name). The most enjoyable character is Christian Bale’s stammering Rollins, while the most interesting performance is turned in by Cate Blanchett as Quinn—though Haynes is so obviously taken with her portrayal that he includes about three times more footage of Quinn than is necessary to make that character’s point. Young Marcus Carl Franklin is engaging as Woody, and Ben Whishaw, so compelling in last year’s Perfume, is largely wasted as Rimbaud. In fact, it seems that Haynes was completely at a loss how to incorporate Rimbaud into the narrative; it would have been better just to leave him out. The most satisfying of these personae is Billy.


Margot at the Wedding
A Curiosity, But Not Much Else

There are probably a bunch of young moviegoers who will connect with Margot at the Wedding in a way that I am apparently incapable of. To me, the film seems nothing more than a downer metaphor, like the piece of skin that Claude (or was it Ingrid?) once left in a movie theatre—“so it could watch movies all its life.” There’s no doubt that Baumbach has contributed a piece of himself, here, to cinematic history. We may end up watching his movies for the rest of our lives; I’m just very doubtful that this one will be at the top of everyone’s Netflix queue.


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