Archive for May, 2008

Speed Racer
Resurrecting Another Toy from the Dead

You’d think that, in the five years since Revolutions, the Wachowskis might have learned some valuable lessons; but sadly, their adaptation of the popular cartoon—excuse me, anime —series Speed Racer ends up lost in its own sensory-overload and indulgence. It takes three paragraphs to explain a plot that is really not important to the film and simply exists as a device to showcase bright, colorful, and fast computer effects created by the same team that developed the groundbreaking techniques showcased in The Matrix. Unfortunately, Speed Racer never gives the audience much opportunity to enjoy the visual effects. Still, the (presumably targeted) younger audience might make it a surprise hit.

A Talk With Errol Morris
Truth Is Hard To Find

A product of the 1970s and the San Francisco Art Institute, Errol Morris became an overnight sensation with 1988’s The Thin Blue Line, a film which examined the case of Randall Dale Adams, on death row for the murder of a Dallas area police officer… and eventually led to his release. “It’s hard for me to even imagine how people experience my films,” he said while promoting his new film, Standard Operating Procedure. “I’m so involved with thinking about them and making them. It’s always been my hope that they can be taken on lots and lots of different levels. They can be taken as just entertainment. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. They are, after all, supposed to be movies.”

Mamet Goes Soft On Us?

The hero of Redbelt is a man clearly guided by a profound belief in a moral code. Moreso than any other character, it seems Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mike Terry serves as the voice of Mamet. There are interesting subtexts to the story, which on its surface isn’t all that different from, say, Rocky or The Hustler. But Mamet’s not after something as specific as a “Jiu-Jitsu film” or as generalized as a commentary on honor: the film functions not only as story, but as an extended metaphor; and that’s a curious thing to find in a Mamet film, which, as a rule, are more concrete than abstract. But when you’re expecting the Big Speech this time out, you might just get silence (or merely a slap in the face); and just when you’re looking for the big Moment of Cynicism, you might want to be prepared for a deep swig of—would this be pushing it too far?—hope for the human condition.

My Brother Is An Only Child
Two-Party Systems as Metaphor

Directed by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Daniele Luchetti, and garnering high praise at both the Cannes and Toronto film festivals, My Brother Is An Only Child explores Italian politics of the 1960s and 70s through the lives of two brothers in a small town outside of Rome. The film evokes a sense of the blurred political allegiances through the story of two brothers, remarkably similar in their intensity, passion, and sense of urgency to save their country and their people. But it is not only a film about Italian politics personified; it is also a film about the delicate and complex relationships between people, regardless of politics. Anyone can appreciate the film as a worthy exploration of the common human desires to improve a corner of the world, whether that means leading a political movement or making sacrifices for one’s family.

What Happens in Vegas
PG-13 Romance in R Town

What Happens in Vegas is one of those movies that leverages its stars to get you into the theater. In this case, it’s Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. You’re probably going to see it based on whether you like one or both of them. The draw is certainly not the story or the special effects or even the director—a mostly unknown Tom Vaughan. In truth, the two stars do a pretty good job here, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Most of the time, the film falls short of being laugh-out-loud funny, but I did experience a guffaw or two. If you find the big blockbusters sold out this weekend and you’re in need of a good date movie, What Happens In Vegas could pay off for you.

Iron Man
When Thought Becomes Action

If Iron Man is any indication of what we can expect this summer, I think we’re in for a great time. In this film at least, Hollywood returns to a simpler, unambiguous adventure story—and I for one greatly appreciate it. Real life is complex enough; I go to the movies to escape for a while, and this is the kind of film that works for me. If the thunderous cheering as the credits rolled were any indication, the rest of the audience agreed. My recommendation? Stop reading this review, buy your tickets, grab your popcorn, and then sit back and enjoy one of the most entertaining superhero movies you’ve likely seen. I plan to do that again myself.

A Talk With Eduardo Verástegui
Don’t Bother Preparing Questions

Eduardo Verástegui has lived the movie-star life… South of the Border style. He is right, I think, in observing that we “have this tendency and inclination to imitate or copy what we see on film or television, and what we read in magazines or interviews.” But he has unhitched himself from the star cart, instead lending his talents to entertainment with a purpose. “I have to see this as an opportunity,” he says, “to say a few words of hope, so when people read those interviews they will be influenced in a positive way. Because I myself, when I was a teenager, all these things that I did—many of them—I was influenced by the magazines I was reading and the TV shows I was watching, and the movies I was watching. And now that I look back, I think, My gosh! I can’t believe I was influenced by this person’s interview! I was imitating everything that people were saying in that interview; and they were not good things, you know?”

Son of Rambow
What’s A Little Reckless Behavior?

A dark-horse hit at the Sundance Film Festival, Son of Rambow is a charming and insightful story of friendship, childhood, boundaries, and making movies—all wrapped up in a smart British bow. Impressive work is done by all the young actors in the films, especially the two leads. They appear as real boys, not some version of what an adult imagines a boy to be. And, as with the issues the film deals with, none of the performances are forced or over-the-top. They have surprising nuance and wit not often seen in child actors. All of this makes for a wonderfully different film that families can watch and enjoy together. It hits just the right note on universal issues of not only growing up but of being in true relationship with oneself and with others.

Flight of the Red Balloon
Childhood and Adulthood Intersect

This is not a fast-paced, plot driven film. It is slow and drifting, with long shots of the cast sipping tea or the balloon floating through the Parisian rooftops. It is a film meant to be taken in slowly, much as Paris itself is best seen while enjoying a drink in a boulevard café, or while strolling through a city park eating a crêpe. No hurrying: simply calming down and quietly observing the life going on everywhere around you, and letting it soak in. The child in me wanted more of the balloon, more of the wonder of Simon, more of his discovery that the balloon is following him—that the balloon, in a sense, cares about him. But Hou is asking the child to genuinely look at the adult, and the adult to genuinely look at the child, in long contemplative stares.

Teen Heist With Deft Touch

There’s not a lot to say about the film, other than to remark that’s it’s a very fun little flick that doesn’t pander to the usual conventions of high-schooler dramas. It feels a lot like Coppola’s S.E. Hinton adaptations—Rumble Fish and The Outsiders—without being quite so self-conscious or arty. This is director Michael Mayer’s first real stab at a theatrical release, and if he connects with the right audience he could have a success on his hands. But the star of this show is Shannon Lucio as Polly. She’s already put together a smallish if decent résumé of TV and film work; but here I felt as if I was watching an early Grace Kelly crossed with Bridget Fonda… or something. There’s real talent there, and a good deal of charisma.

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