Archive for April, 2009

Matchmaker Mary
Pure, Perhaps, But Not Compelling

It’s nice that the film’s producers bankrolled a couple of recognizable names for supporting performances; but fans of Jeff Fahey or Dee Wallace won’t be doing any cartwheels about their performances here. Fortunately, young Katherine McNamara is decently cast as Mary. I get a real strong sense that this is a very personal project for Whitus, a heartfelt tribute to the power of love and reconciliation; has he perhaps known a young girl like Mary, and been touched by her spirit? But I just can’t muster up much enthusiasm for encouraging you to have a look.

Audience of One
Check This Out

Would-be film mogul Richard Gazowsky is to be commended for his “God will provide” attitude; but there’s also something to be said for studying the craft before running off to make a multi-million dollar motion picture. If Gazowsky ever manages to pull together Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph, it’ll be a miracle for sure—and God will get all the credit. Documentarian Michael Jacobs is to be commended for treating a dicey subject with tact and delicacy; in other hands, the film could have come off as either mean-spirited or fawning instead of fair and balanced. If you’re interested in a maddening look at what’s either best—or worst—about Christianity, pick up a copy on DVD.

Baseball As A Setting Only

Baseball is a fantastic, intricate sport that has often been used in the movies as a metaphor for life. Although Sugar seems to strive for that same kind of deep meaning, it fails to connect; and I’m sure you could interchange many different sports or activities and have the same effect. Also, for those many baseball-haters out there who think the game is too slow and boring, this movie is not going to be the one to change their minds.

The Soloist
A Musical Interlude

The story of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. is truly fascinating, especially as told in the words of L.A. Times journalist Steve Lopez. Lopez wrote a series of articles about the homeless, talented musician with schizophrenia he stumbled across around downtown L.A.’s Pershing Square. Much like Marley & Me scribe John Grogan, Lopez turned his series of articles into a book which has now been adapted into a feature film starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx as the journalist and musician, respectively.

Moscow Chill
Not Deep Enough

To a certain extent, Moscow Chill has much of the feel of a Guy Ritchie film while aspiring to the grandness of something like Children of Men. It wants to be hip and irreverent, but meaningful, too. Toward that end, director Chris Solimine shrewdly casts low-rent cult hero Norman Reedus as kidnapped computer hacker Ray; Reedus’ lazy energy is always compelling, and he is as good here as he has been anywhere else. Sadly, the cast surrounding Reedus is not up to snuff, and most of the time Reedus looks as trapped as Ray.

The Wrestler

The most fun way to think of the film is as a political metaphor. Forget Christ-figures and film directors; Randy represents a country that is ashamed of its origins, masquerades as heroic, hides behind gimmicks and violent subterfuge, and wants to go straight and make nice now that it’s gone to seed—but ultimately can’t, because making nice means being a victim, and because playing it straight means giving up power and the limelight. Finally, though, the metaphor just doesn’t matter because the movie simply isn’t good enough to warrant pursuing such comparisons to their extrapolatable ends.

Dog Days of Summer
Something Decent This Way Comes

Ted Baehr has compared the film to Ray Bradbury’s work, and for once I agree with Movieguide. First-time feature director Mark Freiburger has cribbed from his own short film of the same name, infused it with the period spookiness of Something Wicked This Way Comes, and upped the ante with macabre touches hinting of Tennessee Williams… and the lighter moments of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. When young Jackson Patch leads into a ghost story with “It’s one of the scariest things ever,” his pal Phillip replies, “Tell me.” And that’s our response to Freiburger’s tale precisely.

A Big-Screen Event

With the much trumpeted release date of Earth Day, a holiday celebrating our planet and promoting the protection of it, I was expecting to learn something about the care of our planet from Earth; but I didn’t. That would be fine as long as I was treated to a fascinating study of nature featuring some remarkable visuals, but that element of the film is somewhat below par as well. Instead the film is just all over the map, not just literally, but figuratively as well.

Faith Like Potatoes
Story Like Broth

This is a straightforward retelling of Angus Buchan’s journey from angry, hardscrabble Zambian farmer to gentle, loving, dynamic South African stadium evangelist. Its central metaphors are a stubborn stump and an against-all-odds crop of potatoes; and while it takes a serious look at the role of the miraculous in our daily trials of faith, it also addresses the more mundane illusion of self-sufficiency. If you do much research into the real story behind the film, I think you’ll find it more compelling than the film itself—which I don’t think I’d go out of my way to track down. But if the film has helped get the word out about God’s message, through Buchan, then I imagine it has done its job.

The Terri Schiavo Story
Serious Subject, Short Shrift

It’s a tall order to cover all the salient details of such a story in less than 50 minutes, but Ken Carpenter’s film takes a decent enough stab at it—especially considering that several minutes are spent “getting to know” Schiavo, telling us personal and family details that really have no bearing at all on the facts of her fate—precious moments that could have been better spent elsewhere. Sidestepping the broader cultural context of right-to-life issues in favor of polemic is not particularly helpful. But in the end, Carpenter’s documentary is educational enough, interesting enough, and competent enough to warrant watching; just don’t expect too much from 50 minutes of video.

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