Archive for January, 2008

U2 3D
A Concert Film and So Much More

The sentiments expressed are pure wide-eyed nobility and bare-knuckled inspiration. “Is there a time for keeping your head down and getting on with your day?” Bono sings in U2 3D. “Is there a time to run for cover?” Yes, he concedes; but now is not that time. Now is the time to put aside the “difficulties of the past” and act to shape tomorrow. John Lennon, I love a lot of what you stood for, brother. You contributed mightily to this movement, too—maybe even started it. But Bono is carrying the torch now, and Bono doesn’t exist without religion any more than King or Gandhi did. Imagine that.


How She Move
The Language of Dance

We know the story itself isn’t going to surprise anyone who’s been to more than a dozen movies or so. But sometimes predictability of that sort is a good thing, and in this case particularly so because director Ian Iqbal Rashid is then free to get about the business of what the film is really trying to do: not win Oscar nominations, but show off the step—and challenge teens to make solid choices about their futures and the future of their communities. For those with ears to hear, How She Move mostly speaks the right language, sells the right goods, makes good choices—and manages to do so in a highly entertaining fashion.


The Willow Tree
Finding Vision and Blindness

The emotion and psychological changes that take place in Youssef are handled with extremely delicate yet powerful cinematography. The Willow Tree eloquently handles the challenges of learning life anew through a totally different experience. An experience of starting over. The most profound part of the film is in how a blind man can become a seeing man—yet actually become more blind than ever before. Even though he now has a driver’s license. This is a very perceptive and profound film. Mr. Majidi is a master storyteller.


Untraceable
Solid Thriller, Interesting Angle

To a degree, Untraceable is a formulaic crime thriller. The unique spin put on the story is the method the killer uses. In essence, he sets up the scenario for the murder and starts streaming video on his website. The more people watch, the faster the victim dies. If no one watched, nothing would happen. It’s an interesting commentary on the voyeuristic nature of our society, given the rise in popularity of reality-based shows and online video. The message in the movie is that watching makes you an accessory to the crime.


Grace is Gone
Grief Digs, But Not Deep Enough

The film almost salvages itself when Stanley finally fesses up to the girls on a Florida beach at sunset. The actors are understated in a very believable way, and all three of them shine. But even here, the climax of the film, the filmmaking gets in the way as the soundtrack and setting become distracting. Stanley’s words are muted for the soaring score and the sun setting over the ocean. If one of the girls had silently screamed “Noooooo” in slow motion, the film school playbook for “emotional death scene” would have been complete.


Teeth
Is There a Mental Hygienist in the House?

Like a shark, Teeth is a film that bites in more ways than one. In classic models, the legend here explored is expressive of “the threat sexual intercourse poses for men who, although entering triumphantly, always leave diminished,” as Wikipedia rather dryly puts it. Closer to the mark is author Barbara Walker’s assessment that the myth articulates “the unconscious belief that a woman may eat or castrate her partner during intercourse.” Or, more precisely, such legends will always arise when supposedly virtuous and maritally faithful men are forced to come up with a good story to explain the tooth marks on their medically-treated members. Yup. It’s a whole lot better if you can manage to cast the victim of a crime in the role of the predator.


Rambo
It's Stallone, Stoopid!

Well, it’s a Rambo movie. What more do you really need to know? The template has been well established by the three previous movies. On tap is monosyllabic dialogue, a big knife, and a heavy machine gun. Rambo will never be considered art. The story is simply a vehicle to unleash the violence. And violence there is, more so than I remember from any previous Rambo movie. It’s over the top in this new installment. You’ll see bodies vaporized by mines and mortars, limbs severed by heavy machine gun rounds, and several decapitations and eviscerations courtesy of that big knife. At times the intensity is enough to make the most hardened action movie fan cringe.


27 Dresses
About as Good as the Genre Gets

Depending on your gender, you’re either thinking “This could be interesting!” or “Humph, another chick flick!” I was solidly in the latter camp filing into the theater. Fortunately, my misgivings were quickly proven wrong. 27 Dresses is indeed something of a formulaic “chick flick,” but the smart writing and outstanding acting broaden its appeal and produce a film that’s a cut above the normal fare in this genre. Oh, the film isn’t perfect, but what flaws do exist didn’t detract much from my overall enjoyment—especially compared to some of the rude, crude entries in this genre last year, I’m willing to cut them some slack.


Cloverfield
The Mystery Has Been Solved

I just didn’t find Cloverfield all that scary. The tension never ramps up high enough to generate those audible gasps in the theater when the unexpected happens. The action is too predictable; you always see it coming and thus are never surprised. The result isn’t a completely awful movie, but one that just seems a bit mediocre. The only real attraction winds up being a few brief shots of a fantastically rendered monster laying waste to New York. It’s kind of a fast food version of a classic monster flick—not as satisfying as you’d like and over far too quickly.


Mad Money
Well, It Isn’t Award Season, You Know

The performances are decent and enjoyable. Queen Latifah seems maybe a bit too restrained as Nina and Katie Holmes may be a bit over-the-top as Jackie, but I was still most impressed with her. Whereas Latifah and Keaton were more or less playing themselves, this is probably the first film I’ve seen where Katie Holmes played a character that wasn’t, well, Katie Holmes. Mad Money is an early-season example of the films that often hit theaters this time of the year to pass the weeks between award and blockbuster seasons. Funny at times, it might sustain you for a couple of hours; but I wouldn’t recommend going in with very high expectations.


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