Archive for February, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl
...And the Other Elizabeth

It’s too bad, really, that Chadwick ends up steeplechasing through the film’s final act. Most of the way, he coaches some pretty nice performances from Scarlett Johansson as Mary and Natalie Portman as Anne. Down the stretch, Portman ends up coming off a little too much like Amidala on steroids and crack; but when Anne’s still smarting at Mary’s “betrayal” (and Chadwick has not yet kicked in the afterburners), Portman delivers a fine and controlled ferocity. At a thematic level, The Other Boleyn Girl is an enticing look at the question: “Is ambition a sin or a virtue?” The question also works well as a metaphor for the film itself. Did it shoot too high, or too low?

A Talk with Stefan Ruzowitzky
Counterfeiters Wins Oscar, And Yet...

Unlike Schindler’s List’s Amon Goeth, the antagonist here, Herzog, is not revealed to us through inside information. Instead, he’s fictionally based on the first-person recollections of another of the counterfeiters, Adolf Burger. So we see in Herzog a man who is “charming, friendly, always good-looking,” says Ruzowitzky: a real “manager-politician” who is fully capable of dreaming up “new, beautiful words” for extermination. And yet the only handle we get on what makes him tick is by examining his character through the lens of the prisoners themselves—and Sorowitsch, specifically. It is an approach that asks us to examine ourselves, and our country.

Ferrell On Familiar Ground

Ferrell is in rare form here, sometimes hilarious, often annoying. Semi-Pro’s director is Kent Alterman, a first time director, and it’s likely he gave his star too much freedom. This is obvious in multiple one-joke scenes that try for more and fail. It almost felt as if I were watching two separate films. There’s the classic—or cliché, if you will—sports underdog film in which a new coach comes in and teaches a bunch of selfish show-offs how to play as a team… and then there’s the Will Ferrell movie which is like a crazy stand-up act. Think of some of the lesser Robin Williams comedies and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

City of Men
Sins of the Fathers, With Interest

This movie is about the sins of the fathers passed on to generations of boys who can’t see life beyond the barrel of their AK47s. In City of Men, the gang war is a weird background effect for two boys trying to become men by searching for the missing fathers in their lives. It ends with a sense of redemption that City of God failed to leave us with. It gives us a softer story, not nearly as violent or as dark as City of God. Personally, I believe that everyone should see both. They are movies that remind us of the violence that lie at the heart of everyone of us pushed up against the wall of despair.

The Band’s Visit
Take the Time for Discovery

The tag line for The Band’s Visitmovie is, “Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this… it wasn’t that important.” That pretty much sums up this movie. Its humdrum pace moves a slow story along very slowly. That certainly may seem to put quite a negative spin on this witty and important movie, but that’s not my intent. Kolirin does a fantastic job of communicating a cross-cultural and political message without preaching at us or making us hold hands and sing “We Are the World.” Instead, he takes his time demonstrating the point, and allowing us to feel what it’s like for tension to be relieved through hospitality, mutual sharing, and love.

Vantage Point
Yummy.... But When’s Dinner?

In order to deliver a taut, exciting finale, it’s really not possible to follow a single character during that final tour through the Big Fifteen Minutes in Salamanca. In fact, so much of the final segment focuses yet again on Barnes, and so much detail is packed into the sequence, that I found myself wondering why the movie had forced me to bother with two or three of the earlier segments. Still, that final sequence is awfully satisfying, even if there isn’t any quotable dialogue in the film and Vantage Point ends up being about nothing at all. It’s like getting to the bottom of your popcorn bag and realizing you’ve just had nothing but popcorn.

No Awards Here… Nope!
The So-Called Experts Weigh In

Out of the 611 films released theatrically in 2007, I am reasonably familiar with 294—less than half of the films shown in theaters during the year. And I’m reasonably well informed, by critical standards. This is why I’m reluctant to offer an opinion about which were the “best” films of the year. All I can really talk about with much assurance is which films were the best (by various standards of measure) of the films I actually saw. Bottom line: take it all with a grain of salt… But without further ado, here are our picks for 2007.

Attention Span Theater
The Gnats Appear To Be Winning

As Jenn and I would agree after the screening, Vantage Point represents an increasingly rare breed of film—one that actually demands that you pay attention. If you so much as blink (or glance down to jot notes for your review), you’re likely to miss some salient clue or detail. Now, it would be very hard to argue, empirically, that films have actually dumbed-down or assume that audiences no longer have attention spans longer than gnats; but a lot of industry insiders have strong impressions along those lines. Jenn started noticing the trend herself after interviewing Billy Bob Thornton almost exactly a year ago.

Be Kind Rewind
The World Can Be Fun and Affirming, Too

Jack Black is at his best—and is a real joy to watch when he does what Jack Black does best—being wacky and unexpected. He is most hilarious when he acts like a truly funny adult and doesn’t succumb to middle-school hijinx, over-used potty humor, and ad nauseum repetitive use of certain swear words. Black’s character, Jerry, is truly gut-laughingly funny and when juxtaposed against Mos Def’s Mr. Goody Two Shoes, Mike, there is a team born that is reminiscent of some of the best Abbot and Costello. There is a sense that at times Michel Gondry just let the camera run and allowed his actors to just go with it.

Charlie Bartlett
In the Spirit of Parker Lewis

With Charlie Bartlett, it appears that we’re in for a standard “fish out of water” movie as Charlie tries to fit in to a typical public school while wearing a blazer and carrying an attaché case. You can probably anticipate his reception. Charlie proves to be adaptable, though, as he tackles trying to fit in and make the best of the situation. Soon he’s acquiring friends, wielding influence and butting heads with the administration. But even then, hold your assumptions; this is one film that may surprise you with the direction it winds up taking.

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