Archive for November, 2010

Heady Stuff

CGI or not, the storyline, the details, the plays on words, the black-hatted bad guys and white-hatted good guys, and the comedic situations and remarks are refreshing after the recent tries to recapture the World of Animation by changing their signature style. I find it interesting that Rapunzel trusts Mother Gothel’s motive of “protection” to the extent that she remains in the tower despite having the means to escape. I can’t avoid the parallel to how often we feel imprisoned by sin, despite the door having been flung wide open, where a world of freedom awaits if we just take those steps out the door.

Tight and Meaningful Indie

It’s a simple and deadly story, and one we’ve seen often before both in theaters and on TV, but writer/director Brandon Sonnier keeps things remarkably fresh by fleshing out his cast of hostages with compelling backstories. Whether we’re finding out more about clubowner Pop Boudreaux, his floor manager and granddaughter Dee, the new (ex-con) bartender Reese, hip-hop entertainer Lil’ Pokey, or the others, we don’t at all mind that the running time is being padded a bit—particularly when the third act comes, and the film’s unpredictability gets downright surprising. If you’re up for a claustrophobic, foul-mouthed drama of grit and guilt—and redemption—you could do much, much, much worse than Blues.

Mrs. Miracle
Misses the Mark

Erin Karpluk, star of the TV series Being Erica, is an exceedingly warm and captivating presence as Reba, the reluctantly drafted pageant director. She reminds me of a young Teri Garr crossed with Kathleen Quinlan—Garr’s simple, wry lightness of delivery, and Quinlan’s dark, serious depth and beauty. If the film had centered more on Karpluk’s character and Reba’s relationship with Seth, I would have been fairly happy with this film. Where the film goes wrong, however, is where it absolutely has to go right to work. The audience has to really care about the children and their plight—and find the governess or nanny irresistible.

Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen
Beauty and Simplicity

Aside from the central relationships portrayed, and the occasional intrusion of trances and visions into von Bingen’s cloistered life, Vision is not a story in which much “happens.” But the sumptuousness with which the story is told, and the depth and quality of the performances, hold an audience’s attention nevertheless. The film communicates the richness and vitality possible in the monastic life without ever becoming particularly spiritual or preachy. Its primary value is almost secular: celebrating the life of a strong woman who found a way to both communicate with God and apply truth to the world around her in extremely practical, beautiful, and helpful ways. Vision immerses us in the 12th Century so deeply that we forget we’re watching a period piece.

The Next Three Days
Make A Break For It

A few weeks ago, a movie called Conviction was released and told the story of a woman who believed so strongly that her brother was innocent of the murder charges that landed him in prison for life that she dedicated her life to setting him free. She chose the legal method; spending years putting herself through school in order to eventually become her brother’s lawyer and find the evidence to set him free. The new film, The Next Three Days, also focuses on a character that is so convinced of a loved one’s innocence that he is willing to do whatever it takes to set her free. The difference is that in this case, he chooses the illegal method.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
The Penultimate Journey

There’s no denying that the Harry Potter film series is one of the most impressive cinematic feats in movie history. Not only has each movie been a commercial and critical success, but for the most part the series has gotten better with each film. It has also grown with its audience. While the first two films were brighter and more kid-friendly, the films have since become darker and more adult. Despite its success to date, however, the franchise’s legacy will be defined largely by its finale; an epic finale that was so big that it had to be split into two movies. Now that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 has arrived, that legacy can now begin to take shape.

Another Talk with Gary Wheeler
Better All the Time

“Every filmmaker—every artist, whatever form of art they are involved in—has this inner thing that makes you passionate about a piece,” says Gary Wheeler, director of his second Robert Whitlow adaptation The Trial, new on DVD last week. “Passion about making a movie demanding two years of your life or something. And more than anything, that’s the path that I follow: something that inspires me enough that I think it’s a story worth telling and committing that much of my life to. I use that as a guide. But long term, I just want to become a better storyteller. And I thought that this was the perfect film to help me become a better filmmaker, become a better storyteller.”

The Sound of Music
Not Corny, But Classic

This re-release reminded me how the art of film can be used to cause the heart to take flight. There was a time when our greatest artists, such as William Faulkner, could unashamedly declare, “I believe that the human spirit will prevail forever. It is our privilege to help it endure by lifting people’s hearts, by reminding them of Courage and Honor and Hope and Pride and Compassion and Pity and Sacrifice, which have been the glory of their past.” And it’s hard to believe that was a scant fifty years ago. There is indeed more to this life than just living. And I must say—three-hour movies rock.

Catch the Train

In 2001, a train left a Walbridge, Ohio rail yard and traveled sixty-six miles through three counties at speeds of up to forty-seven miles per hour until it was stopped just short of Kenton, Ohio. The train was unmanned after a controller accidentally set the throttle instead of the brake. That’s a scary situation by itself, but when you add the fact that two of the train’s tank cars contained gallons of molten phenol, then the escapade begins to sound like something out of a bad movie. Well, now comes the movie based on that event. Fortunately, rather than being a Speed 3, Unstoppable is actually a fun, tension-fueled piece of entertainment.

Morning Glory
Story of a Working Girl

As with the summer season, the holiday season is a time when Hollywood pulls out the big guns, while also rushing its prestige films out. That also means that it is a time for smart counter-programming: movies designed for those who aren’t interested in all the hullaballoo, or need something else to see after Harry Potter sells out. Morning Glory seems to fall in this category. Moved up from a Friday to a Wednesday release to give it a few more days before the big guns come to town, the movie could easily be considered this year’s It’s Complicated. Thanks to its good-natured, familiar story and likable cast, it should leave audiences with a good feeling as they depart the theater.

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