Archive for May, 2008

Sex and the City
Packed in a Louis Vuitton Box...

Despite having never actually seen an episode of HBO’s series Sex and the City, I was vaguely aware of the basic plot recipe: single women, fashion, New York, and sex. The film jumps forward four years—and in my estimation, the end result is basically a really long movie about nothing much at all. It has a built-in audience, but doesn’t make a blip on the general movie-goer’s radar. And honestly, I think that’s what the makers intended. This is a film deliberately designed to satisfy the fans of the series while providing a sense of closure after a six season run on television. Judging by the enthusiastic response from the test audience with which I screened it, I’d say they hit their mark.

Lessons for Cultists of All Kinds

As I watched Surfwise, I found myself emotionally moved by this documentary about an eccentric man who loaded his famly (his wife, Juliette, and their nine—yes, nine—children) into a 24-foot camper—not for vacation, but for the entirety of child rearing. As a Stanford-educated physician, supposedly at his prime in health and “success,” Doc awoke daily to severe panic attacks which he describes as the type that make “you hope you’ll die”… but you don’t. The only release he found was in surfing, which allowed him to “come back out of the water a warrior.” There’s no mistaking that Doc and Juliette raised some remarkably creative and sensitive (if troubled) souls, any of whom I’d enjoy getting to know more. There’s obviously some sense in Doc’s observation that “it is easier to die when you have lived.”

Before the Rains
Verdant Visuals, Parched Narrative

Santosh Sivan does a phenomenal job of proving his love for southern India with the direction and cinematography of Before the Rains… so it is truly a travesty that the screenplay doesn’t deliver the same passion. The writer stumbles trying to create characters that draw the viewer into their world and their emotions. As Sajani, Nandita Das comes across with a great degree of passion. Unfortunately, the other characters are so formulaic and predictable that once Sajani is out of the picture, the story just collapses. Regardless of the flatlining story, however, I recommend this movie just for the experience of enjoying the scenic grandeur of the land and the beauty of the tribal people—a travelogue with a simple storyline.

The Fall
High Art As Entertainment (Of A Sort)

Take Little Miss Sunshine and a box of brightly colored crayons; cross them with a Spanish-accented version of There Will Be Blood, and you might get something as relentlessly obtuse, giddy, and interesting to look at as The Fall. Does that help? I thought not. On paper, the story is pretty much a hoot. On film, at a certain level (though definitely not on others), the story is even more appealing. The production design and visual inventiveness marshaled by director Tarsem are genuinely stunning as well. It means something, too… something symbolic, something important. Something you might figure out your second or third time through the thing. What will you come out this film with? I dunno.

The Strangers
Truths No Stranger to Fiction

The mastery is not so much the use of these old tricks, but rather in using them correctly, all while successfully preventing the film to fall into the trap of predictability. The moment a film like this becomes predictable, the tension level sharply declines. But even the most predictable scene in The Strangers—a character warily walking toward a room known to contain a loaded shotgun—provides myriad aspects designed to throw the audience off guard. The best thing a horror movie can do is make me squirm in my chair before popping out of it, while I’m jittery about every shot and every edit. This film does that in spades.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
(1 A-List Actor x 3 Boffo Films) + 20 Years = ??

What’s really enjoyable about the Indiana Jones films is the way in which familiar bits of cultural trinkets are assembled into something that feels rather fresh. Raiders had that in spades; Last Crusade recaptured the magic. In this case, we not only get bits of Close Encounters and American Grafitti but clear references to the earlier Jones films too. We also get what’s rather tedious about the franchise. I’m not sure that “this film delivers exactly what you’d expect from it” is the strongest recommendation in the world. Frankly, once Mutt and Indy left the States for the jungles in Crystal Skull, I felt like I’d seen all of this stuff in other Spielberg and Lucas movies before. Still, the film is never boring, always interesting, and knows how to tell a bloated tale (since we must).

Prince Caspian Redux
What's Not to Like?

Will the Narnia film franchise continue to position the fantasy genre as the one which best posits that good and evil are real, and matter? The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was disappointing in that respect, I thought, because it just seemed too interested in the chase, and the evil it portrayed was too abstract. But I feel Prince Caspian helps the answer to that question be: “Yes… so far.” The question I did not ask, and which I think is culturally less significant, is: Will the Narnia film franchise repeat on film what Lewis already did with the books? That subject really just does not interest me.

The Children of Huang Shi
And We Thought Daycare Was Bad

To say that English journalist George Hogg is one of history’s lesser known figures would be a gross understatement. While doing some background research for this film, I discovered that there isn’t even an entry about the guy on Wikipedia. And heck—you need only rescue a kitten from a tree to get your story on Wikipedia these days. As the closing credits of the film roll, the (now adult) children share their recollections of the man who saved them. It’s an amazing story that apparently never reached beyond the small town to which Hogg and the children escaped, where a statue has now been placed in his memory. Unfortunately, there may be too much story here for the film’s 114-minute running time. It seemed somewhat like I was watching a B-movie version of Lawrence of Arabia. But again, it is a great story that deserves to be told, and The Children of Huang Shi is an adequate, if not great, method of delivering this largely untold tale of a heroic figure.

Prince Caspian
Narnia (and Adamson!) Restored

Even at almost two and a half hours, Prince Caspian never allows the audience to get restless. C. S. Lewis purists will realize that license has been taken, but the revamped storyline does not break down or conflict with the intent of the book. As for Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, and William Moseley who play the Pevensie siblings… well… it’s just plain hard to believe that they are the same children from the first film. Alongside Ben Barnes, wonderful as Prince Caspian, they join an entire cast who are comfortable in their roles. The film is full of integrity, faith, responsibility, duty, trust, humility, courage, and obedience. Parents will find many examples to share and discuss with their children on almost every age level.

Israeli Film Good But Not Great

I’m a sucker for films following different narratives with characters who barely overlap with each other. I enjoy the anticipation, the revelation of how the stories intertwine and what fruit will ultimately be borne. While Jellyfish is an admirably crafted film, I sensed that the characters required not only more space, but more story, in order to develop into sympathetic characters that I would care about. While the film tries to capture whimsy and mystery, particularly in the character of the little ocean girl, it never quite makes it out of its shell and into the hopefulness it wants to impart.

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