Archive for November, 2009

Red Cliff
John Woo and his Doves Are Back

The new Chinese war epic Red Cliff is basically what you would get if you crossed Braveheart with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Perhaps more appropriately, it is what you would get if you crossed Braveheart with Hong Kong action icon John Woo, as Red Cliff marks the director’s first effort since 2003’s Paycheck and his first non-Hollywood film since 1992’s Hard Boiled. The result is one of the most visually impressive war epics I’ve seen in a long time.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Drama or Spoof?

I walked out of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans not really knowing what I had just watched. Was it a police procedural about the investigation into the murder of a low-level drug dealer and his family? Was it a view into the twisted soul of a man hopelessly addicted to sex, drugs and gambling? Or was it just a goofy spoof of all dirty cop movies before it? The answer is all of the above, which resulted in the cinematic equivalent of multiple personality syndrome.

The Road
A Difficult Adaptation

When The Road was expected to be released in November 2008, it was receiving plenty of Oscar buzz. That’s not surprising considering the pedigree. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, the author who also wrote No Country for Old Men, the adaptation of which took home the grand prize at the Oscar ceremony less than a year previous, The Road just screams Oscar. Unfortunately, the film’s release date was pushed back nearly a year due to post-production issues and now the fanfare seems to have died down some. Can the film itself win its buzz back? Unfortunately, that is asking an awful lot, especially of a film with such a depressing premise.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
It Really is Fantastic

The film adaptation of author Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox demonstrates the current state of animated films, which just may be at its peak. Although the animation arena certainly has its fair share of talented directors and some, like John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, could easily be in the conversation about our best modern directors, few to none of the top-notch live-action film directors have made the move to animation. With Fox, director Wes Anderson makes the move that just may be the beginning of a trend.

Sarah’s Choice
Opting for Excellence

I find myself introducing a great many of my reviews of late with disclaimers, explaining why I am predisposed to dislike films that I nonetheless enjoy. This is either good news for over-achieving niche films or bad news for my critical faculties. Given that reviewers tend to get more jaded than standard-compromised over time, I’m hopeful that it’s the former. In any event, Sarah’s Choice does not at all play like a generic flick churned out by a CCM-clone cinema industry. In fact, when the film concluded, I told my wife, “I think this is a movie I could look forward to seeing every holiday season.” A Christmas classic about abortion? Well, yes.

A Talk with Rich Brauer
2009 Michigan Filmmaker of the Year Burns No Bridges

The handful of MTI Home Video’s titles that we’ve reviewed have been unmistakably low-budget films; and yet they’ve all been professionally and competently made—and better yet, have felt refreshingly different from the usual multiplex indies. When preparing to write my review of the latest, Mr. Art Critic, I discovered that director (and 2009 Michigan Filmmaker of the Year) Rich Brauer and I shared a mutual friend in Brauer’s fellow Traverse City resident Matt Kinne, an indie writer and producer who is also a colleague of mine at Hollywood Jesus. Matt connected me with Mr. Brauer, and we chatted over the phone for half an hour or so a couple of weeks ago.

The Blind Side
A Right Thing Done

Any film that starts out with a detailed video breakdown of the play in which NFL legend Lawrence Taylor snapped legend Joe Theismann’s fibula with a routine quarterback sack has got some moxie. And when the commentary and strategic analysis is provided by a Southern woman, well, you’ve pretty much got to sit up and take notice. And yet it is not a perfect film, or even a great one. But I figure the film will draw enough flak from black activists, Christian social conservatives, racists, and bad-natured free-thinkers that I don’t need to add my voice to that chorus. The Blind Side could be better, but it sure feels like a breath of fresh air to me.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
An Emotional Wallop

Director Lee Daniels’ Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire is the movie everyone has been talking about ever since it won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It has been generating Oscar buzz for so long it almost seems as if it should have been eligible for last year’s awards. The film is finally receiving a nationwide release and is set to attack audiences with an emotional wallop that is beyond compare. Probably second only to the shock at how brutal the abuse scenes in this film were is the delightful surprise at how funny it is at times.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Your Classic Vampire-Werewolf-Human Triangle

I should admit right up front that I have not read any of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight novels. I tend to work in reverse, reading the book after I’ve seen the movie, but unfortunately nothing about last year’s first Twilight movie made me want to go anywhere near the books. Obviously the first film worked well for many people—many of them young women—as the buzz of excitement in the packed Cinerama for the local premiere of The Twilight Saga: New Moon was indescribable. I only wish I was allowed to bring a camera into the theater so I could record the hysterical hoopla.

My Sister’s Keeper
No Weak Crutches Here

If you’re getting the idea that I enjoyed this film, then you’re right on the mark. I did, a great deal. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, though. I thought the final act seemed rushed and was far less satisfying than the opening acts. That quibble aside, My Sister’s Keeper is a powerful film. I think the questions about morality and ethics when trying to save your child, about the struggle to protect a life at all costs, and the timing and approach in transitioning from fighting to live to preparing to die are compelling and thought-provoking. If these issues don’t raise questions in your own mind and pull a few heart-strings then you’re just not paying attention.

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