Archive for October, 2010

The Way Home
Outstanding, Simply Outstanding

Jenn and I are rarely in a position to “willingly suspend our disbelief,” even when we just watch a movie “for fun.” Countless are the times we’ve started to screen a movie and then just turned it off because it’s lost us for any of a number of reasons. So when we start a movie, our B.S. Meter is pitched high. It never peeped once during this film, in spite of the usual handful of clunky performances from minor characters that you find in low-budget indies. If you have the slightest interest in watching a film that speaks volumes about faith and the power of America’s heartland—minus car chases, explosions, and gratuitous sex—you can’t hardly go wrong with The Way Home.

Do You Wanna Dance?
Yes, I Do

Making a successful niche film may not mean you’re making great art (hello, Omega Code), or it may not mean you’re making great entertainment (yes, Into Great Silence, I’m talking to you), but it least means you’re passionate about what you’re doing and know how to get your film in front of people who will like it. That’s no mean feat—and it’s a model that brings us dozens of passion-filled movie experiences every year. So, thanks to the Spiritual Cinema Circle, I’m happy to recommend another successful and engaging niche film for the Greek market: 1997’s Do You Wanna Dance? Happily, it’s well enough made and engaging enough that it should also play well with a pretty broad audience.

A Talk With Derrick Warfel
Putting God in “God Knows What”

“I went to The Twilight Zone [for inspiration] because Rod Serling was one of the best writers around,” says first-time feature director Derrick Warfel of his low-budget apocalyptic thriller Midnight Reckoning. “He did Playhouse 90 before he did Twilight Zone, and people don’t realize that those Twilight Zone episodes are little morality plays. A lot of those, aside from the little twists that make them interesting, are just good dramatic writing. And those were done on a budget, a prayer and a song, basically, in terms of getting them made—and yet they stick with us today. So basically, that was my goal—to have some mind-bending twists in the story to keep people’s attention, but to also have good writing.”

Lost in Translation

When a real-life story is so unbelievable, it is often referred to as being “like something out of a movie.” That’s exactly how one might describe the real-life story of Betty Anne Waters, an uneducated young woman who spent eighteen years working her way up through the school system to become an attorney and free her wrongly convicted brother from a life in prison. Unfortunately, when these stories are eventually turned into a movie, some of the magic gets lost in translation, and such is the case with Conviction which fails to truly engage.

What Lies Beyond

For years, Clint Eastwood was one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars. In his later years, he has become one of Hollywood’s most admired directors. He’s also been a very productive director, with a new film—or two—every year. Although some are definitely better than others, the quick turnover has done little to diminish the quality of the director’s work. His latest, Hereafter, is a unique entry in the Eastwood canon, following three different storylines around the globe. It’s definitely worth seeing, though it doesn’t delve as deep into the questions of an afterlife as much as it seems it should.

Pure Country 2: The Gift
A Painful Pleasure

When was the last time you saw Bronson Pinchot, Cheech Marin, and Michael McKean in a film together? To be perfectly blunt, you’re almost certain to find this casting stunt to be one of the worst ideas you’ve seen on film in a long, long time… but you’re almost equally certain to wish you could see a lot more of singer Katrina Elam. Packing all her gear (and troubles) into an old kit bag, Bobbie (Elam) lands in Nashville and quickly finds herself a white-hot career. She also finds herself in a morality play, as angels Matthew, Pedro, and Joseph cringe in the fluffy clouds every time Bobbie compromises her principles to get ahead. Fortunately, Elam alone is reason enough to see the film.

Mad Max
Do It Again... and Again

The moral vision is, of course, Old Testament eye-for-an-eye. It’s pretty easy to see, after considering Mad Max as a character, what the appeal was of Samson and Deborah. Gouged eyes and impaled skulls fit right in with Miller’s futureworld. The slaughter at Gibeah presages The Road Warrior. Think about it. This is what the world looks like when no one’s in charge, and heroes must rise from the dust itself and return a whole lot of bad guys to it. Now, there’s a lot about Mad Max that’s patently absurd. There’s more that’s painfully awkward. But history—not hype and reputation—proves that there’s something radically special about what director George Miller and Mel Gibson achieved here.

Yes, It Cries Out... and Bleeds

Usually, a good script puts an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances and then, through the rising action of the plot, which turns upon a central conflict, that ordinary person changes in some fundamental fashion as a byproduct of resolving the plot. A notable recent example is Edge of Darkness, in which Thomas Craven is pushed over the edge—not by his daughter’s murder, per se, but by the seemingly callous indifference with which her death is investigated. And here, De Niro’s Jack Mabry isn’t the only character who’s pushed over an edge. What’s particularly interesting in Stone are the edges to which these three characters draw near, and the directions from which they approach.

Typical Disney Fare

As one of the two most noteworthy movies about the sport of horse racing, Secretariat is going to draw a lot of comparisons to Seabiscuit, but a better comparison would be The Rookie, Miracle, or even Remember the Titans. Those three movies represent a popular sub-genre that has been established over the past decade: that of the inspirational Disney sports movie. It’s a genre that has been very effective, but with Secretariat, the formula is beginning to feel a bit stale.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Lives Up To Its Title

The writing and directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have earned a lot of praise in the independent film community for their films Half Nelson and Sugar, but they are not the main reason people will see their new film, It’s Kind of a Funny Story. The female lead, Emma Roberts, is the niece of one of the biggest stars on the planet, but she’s not the draw either; nor is relative newcomer Keir Gilchrist as the film’s protagonist. No, the reason most of the people who go see It’s Kind of a Funny Story is the comic star of the moment, Zach Galifianakis. Fortunately, in a mildly entertaining film, it’s a performance that is well worth watching.

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