Archive for September, 2009

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel
More Than a Bit Unfulfilling

At times, I was almost astonished by the ambition of this Little Production That Tried Real Hard. But the project was, I think, simply beyond the skills of the filmmakers—and beyond either Dean Jones or Lexi Johnson, as Jason and Mandie, to salvage, as appealing as they are here. In fact, almost all of the performances would have fit perfectly into one of the story’s three disparate acts; but these three acts do not form a cohesive or satisfying whole, and the campiness finally overwhelms whatever spiritual lesson the producers (or the book’s author) may have been trying to impart. I really regret not being able to recommend a film to much of anyone, but I’m afraid Mandie is just one of those things.


Surrogates
The Future of Social Networking

Remember about twenty years ago when you would call someone’s phone and secretly be hoping that you got the machine? That was only the beginning of a society interacting more and more virtually. Today, with the help of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, you can interact with your friends without ever leaving the comfort of your home. The new Bruce Willis sci-fi thriller Surrogates takes this idea to its extreme, in an eerily-not-too-distant future.


Fame
A Real High School Musical

Fame is a remake of the 1980 semi-classic of the same name that is famous mostly for its emphatic dance number that spills into the New York City streets. The problem with most remakes is that they fail to replicate the mystery, wonder, and magic that made the original films so popular in the first place. Thankfully, Fame is the exception that proves the rule. It is a fun, lively, engaging film that is sure to be a hit… despite getting rid of the famous street-dancing scene!


Set Apart
Go West, Young Gangsta

It’s easy to see how someone was readily convinced that this story needed to be told. The problem is that it just isn’t told very well. In spite of a decently lengthy resume, producer/director Ralph E. Portillo stages some scenes so confusingly that you might not exactly be sure who’s talking to whom—or whether all the people involved in a conversation are even present. The best part is the kids themselves, particularly Ronnie Alvarez as the full-of-himself-and-other-stuff Rey and Ary Katz as Marcus. I was totally convinced that these kids, and their onscreen peers, knew the streets as well as the Gunns knew, well, guns.


Bright Star
Poetry in Slow Motion

Bright Star, the new film from Oscar-winning writer/director Jane Campion, is a costume drama about a famous writer and the love that inspired his most famous works. That brief description may sound similar to that of last decade’s Shakespeare in Love, but anyone who goes into this film expecting the joviality and liveliness of its predecessor will be in for quite a shock. Instead, Bright Star pursues a drabber, much more dramatic tone.


Love Happens
...but Grief Takes Work

As a lifelong Seattleite, I was especially interested in this drama set in my hometown. Usually, when watching a Seattle-set film, the feeling is akin to watching a foreign film… not surprisingly, since many productions use Vancouver, Canada as a stand-in. Fortunately, despite some egregious errors, Love Happens actually feels like it is taking place in the Emerald City. This despite the fact that star Jennifer Aniston reportedly never set foot in my fair city.


The Tulsa Indie Scene
One God, Three Approaches to Film

This year, I’ve had the privilege of being in contact with three Tulsa filmmakers. Two of them, Tracy Trost and Titus Jackson, contacted us via our contact form to request that Past the Popcorn review their self-distributed films—Find Me, and Jesus Fish, respectively. Through Tracy, I was able to get in contact with Brian Shoop, who not only appeared in Find Me but directed Treasure Blind. Because these filmmakers’ films and approaches are so different, because they are all working in the same city, and because they are all fellow Christians, I thought it behooved Past the Popcorn to approach Brian, Titus, and Tracy about participating in a three-way interview. Amazingly, they all accepted the invitation!


9
Machines vs. Humanity (again!)

Whether intentional or on purpose, nine seems to be 2009’s most popular number… at least at the movies, anyway. Having already seen the release of a movie called $9.99, and another called District 9, we are far from through with the last of the single digits. The next two films to be released both share the same title, so it could really get confusing from this point. A few months from now the number will make its Oscar bid with a splashy musical starring Daniel Day Lewis, but the cleverest release timing award goes to this 9, an animated sci-fi adventure released to theaters on 9/9/2009.


All About Steve
There's Something Annoying About Mary

After already conquering the box-office this year with The Proposal, the reigning queen of the romantic comedy is back again with All About Steve. However, whereas the promotional materials make this new Sandra Bullock vehicle appear to be a romantic comedy, it’s really not. My note I jotted down during the film simply asks: “What kind of movie is it?” Unfortunately, I don’t think that question was ever raised during production and the result is fairly messy.


Extract
Back to Work

Ten years after his Office Space bombed at the box office prior to becoming cult sensation on DVD, director Mike Judge goes back to work with Extract. This time, instead of focusing on those oppressed by management, Judge sides with the superiors. Like Office Space, it is clear that production values are not necessarily Judge’s specialty, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the jokes and Extract is quite funny from start to finish.