Archive for February, 2010

The Ghost Writer
Another Polanski Conspiracy

Director Roman Polanski has been in the news a lot recently, but not for his filmmaking. Still wanted in the United States for a 1977 sexual assault case, Polanski was recently arrested in Europe and will likely have to travel back to the U.S. for sentencing. Sounds like the guy could use a distraction and a hit movie may be just what he needs. But The Ghost Writer moves slowly and the end reveal is not nearly mind-blowing enough to make it worth the monotony. It’s a nice effort that certainly harkens back to the paranoid thrillers of the seventies, but it is not nearly as successful as, say, Michael Clayton. Sorry, Jake, this is not Chinatown.

The Crazies
An Effective "B" Movie

George A Romero’s name has become synonymous with zombies, so it comes as no surprise that, in this era of fondness for both the undead and remakes, his canon of work is being mined. Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead is one of the better of the recent zombie movies and helped usher in the era of the modern, fast-moving zombie. Now, director Breck Eisner is remaking Romero’s 1973 flick The Crazies and while it is no Dawn of the Dead, it is sure to delight fans of the genre.

Law Abiding Citizen Revisited
Someone's Gonna Pay

Clyde Shelton’s rage of injustice in Law Abiding Citizen (and our reaction to it) is fueled by the sense that Clarence Darby, the primary perpetrator, isn’t getting what he deserves. On a purely secular level, I get that; but on a broader moral level, none of us get what we deserve. In fact, most of us expend a great deal of daily energy trying to find ways of circumventing our very own laws, and conceptually (read: begrudgingly) agreeing that we will “be accountable for our actions,” as Shelton wishes, only if we are caught red-handed. But when somebody does something really wrong (read: breaking those laws with which we actually agree), by God we want them to pay.

Blood Done Sign My Name
Solid, if Not Classic

At every step along the way Blood Done Sign My Name avoids the triumphalist tone of so many civil rights films. Not once do you get the impression that this is one of those “one act changed everything forever” stories. Instead it recognizes that the progression toward racial equality was—and remains—a two-step-forward, one-step-back proposition. It’s a good thing that we don’t get to the end of the film thinking that everything’s gonna be rosy. The strength of Stuart’s film lies not in legal ramifications but in human ramifications. These will keep you hooked through the two-plus hour running time, and will leave you feeling inspired and satisfied even if the last twenty minutes come off as rather perfunctory.

Shutter Island
A Scorsese Puzzle

Long considered to be overlooked, legendary director Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar for directing his exciting 2006 cops-and-robbers flick The Departed. For his next narrative feature, Scorsese reunites with star Leonardo DiCaprio for the fourth time to make Shutter Island, a puzzling thriller based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. Previously set to be released last October, the movie now hopes to take advantage of the notoriously lightweight month of February. On a first viewing, however, I must say that the film is rather underwhelming. There is little about this movie that suggests “A Martin Scorsese Picture” and I’ll bet in time only his biggest fans will be giving it that second look.

Ice Castles
A Serviceable Remake

This is a much better-looking film than the original. The skating sequences—particularly the heroine’s finals-qualifying routine to Stravinksy’s “Firebird Suite”—are exquisitely moving and beautifully choreographed, and the loving photography of the winter Iowa countryside is stunning. Unfortunately, the story invests so much energy in this authenticity that Lexi’s character never really comes alive as a person—and the central conflict is established so late in the proceedings that the film’s rising action becomes rushed and perfunctory. I’m afraid that the skating ultimately trumps the characters and the story.

The Weathered Underground
Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

As much as the project wants to be hip and edgy, I just found it annoying—mostly due to the visual style, which melds a low-def video source with rough-hewn quasi-animation to produce compact video that imitates, after a fashion, comic-book art. I found myself making choices that would just conclude things quickly—and succeeded wonderfully, my own ending coming after a scant 35 minutes. Whew! I was really fearing I’d end up in the four-hour version. Those who are searching out something new for newness sake might be interested in this release; but claims that the film will change the way we think of interactive video are overstated.

My Neighbor, My Killer
Are We Anybody’s Keeper?

As this spare and painful film charts its course through years of tribunals and appeals toward a final, grudging, capitulation of forgiveness, we might ask ourselves what good can possibly come of such unspeakably horrific peace. To paraphrase and co-opt what one of the Tutsi women asks about one of the Hutu perpetrators: Is the point to move us? To soften our hearts? Is that even possible? Reconciliation, at the purely human level, is a necessary evil; but it does not bring healing if merely human. In fact, lingering resentments over such things make the gory madness of Inglourious Basterds—or the slaughter of the Old Testament and the Crusades—look positively reasonable.

Valentine’s Day
Cupid Hits and Misses

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the new movie Valentine’s Day is the lengthy opening credits. As the movie alphabetically lists one-by-one the names of its stars, one cannot help but be impressed at the sheer volume of popular talent. It appears director Garry Marshall collected just about every attractive person in Hollywood and threw them together in a romantic comedy blender. Some, it turns out, have rather small roles in the film, whereas others may take up a little too much of the movie’s runtime.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
A Promising Beginning

The filmmakers behind Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief can talk all they want about keeping Percy unique from its predecessor Harry Potter, but the similarities are too prominent to be ignored. Adding to the comparison is the fact that Lightning Thief is directed by Chris Columbus, the same man who directed the first two Potter films. Still, with the Harry Potter series about to wrap and the vast world of Greek Mythology to explore, Percy Jackson might just be poised to take over the reins from Hollywood’s most beloved series.

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