Archive for December, 2010

Comedy: The Road Less Traveled
Go Out of Your Way to Find This

As part of his touring, as stand-up comic Michael Jr. explains in his feature-length documentary Comedy: The Road Less Traveled, he noticed that comedy seems most often enjoyed by the leisure class—while in fact laughter is most therapeutic for those in hardship or pain. As a result, he set out to find a way to bring his work to audiences normally deprived of such therapy: prison inmates, recovering addicts, disabled children, the homeless. I won’t say much about what you’ll find in this film other than to remark that you’ll probably laugh a lot—and shed more than a couple of tears. This is “Christian” at its best, whether that adjective is applied to literature, film, comedy, or social action.

Wall Street Redux
Yes, Money May Never Sleep...

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may be Oliver Stone’s weakest film to date. I have never been a fan of the original Wall Street, which to me seemed a show-boating gimmick film with Sheen-family stuntcasting and Michael Douglas at his hammy, slicked-back worst. It was, of course, a very personal project for Stone, dedicated to his father, and earned a stack of awards. I was nonetheless surprised that Stone would go back to the well on this one. But as is often the case when you start thinking of Stone’s films at the meta level—that is, in terms of how Stone’s films are a commentary on Stone himself, his thinking, and his own M.O.—it starts looking like a work of genius.

Rabbit Hole
The Aftermath of a Tragedy

My first real experience with death came when I was in elementary school and my grandfather passed away. I was so upset that I had to be taken out of school and I could not understand how my sister could stay; why she wasn’t off in a corner crying? It was explained to me that different people deal with death in different ways. It is this idea that causes much of the conflict between a husband and wife in the new sad drama Rabbit Hole.

True Grit
Who's Got It?

Based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, the 1969 movie version of True Grit was a star vehicle for an aging John Wayne as the one-eyed U.S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn. “The Duke” won his first and only Oscar for his performance. Having won his first Oscar earlier this year, Jeff “The Dude” Bridges steps into the shoes of Marshal Cogburn. Directed by the Coen brothers, the new True Grit returns the story closer to the original source material, bringing the focus back toward its 14-year-old heroine Mattie Ross.

How Do You Know
A Likeable Romantic Comedy

The first few minutes of the new James L. Brooks comedy How Do You Know says a lot. After a young boy fails in his attempts to hit a baseball off a tee, an even younger girl steps up and, for all intents and purposes, knocks it out of the park. The boy’s response to that? He pushes her down. That young girl would grow up to be an elite softball player, but she never did figure out those crazy boys. Brooks has a talent for taking what is a basic romantic comedy premise and making it feel like something more. He does this with great writing and by hiring great actors.

The Fighter
Wins the Acting Title

Like Scorsese’s Raging Bull, some of the most brutal punches thrown in director David O. Russell’s The Fighter are thrown outside the boxing ring. Even so, like Rocky and Cinderella Man, The Fighter proves to be an uplifting drama about a regular guy who overcomes all odds to rise to the top. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to stand up and cheer. There are moments in this movie that will make you cringe and want to turn away—most outside the ring—while others will make you smile. And the movie strikes the perfect balance between these extremes.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
A Grand Adventure

Although the first two movies in The Chronicles of Narnia series have been decent adaptations of their popular source material and mildly entertaining films, they’ve still felt like old beat-up shacks when compared to the mansions that are Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. After the lightweight and bright The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in 2005, 2008’s Prince Caspian took on a much darker tone which worked to a point, but also felt like it was trying too hard. Fortunately, the third movie in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, not only continues to move the series in the right direction, but finally feels as if it has discovered its own voice.

31º North 62º East
Peace Like A Mighty Torrent

Don’t let your biases and preconceptions—or impatience—get in the way of what is a very inventive and enjoyable comeuppance yarn. When it seems like things aren’t happening that you expect, trust that director/co-writer Tristan Loraine knows what he’s about… because he does. He very subtly and deliberately tweaks the genre in ways that make the film’s conclusion all the more effective. Rather than falling victim to budget limitations, he leverages them to his advantage in ways I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. To say more would ruin the effect. And by all means, check out Heather Peace as Mandelson. Like Carrie Ann Moss as Trinity in The Matrix, Peace looks soft… but deceptively so. By the time you’re done with the film, you’ll be convinced that Peace kicks ass.

Black, White, and Blues
Coming Soon to a Theater Somewhere?

Much of the dialogue is sharp and witty, and the music is always good—whether it’s in Bailey’s preferred Blues hangouts or Augy’s Country and Western digs. Generally speaking, the performances are on the mark, too, and don’t foreshadow things too heavily. Writer/star Morgan Simpson, as Jefferson Bailey, is convincing at delivering his own dialogue. You can pretty much guess that the story hews fairly closely to his own in some unspecified respect. Surprisingly, Van Peebles also employs the device that my (black) colleague Maurice Broaddus refers to as The Magical Negro—the dark-skinned genial presence who, in some way, represents a mystical, even divine, power… amidst a bunch of light-skinned folk. Black, White, and Blues is entertaining enough, and I do think it’s a heartfelt meditation on family, music, booze, and redemption. But many of the notes are just a little out of tune, and many we have heard too many times before.

The Precinct
Azerbaijani Morality Play

Most of the film feels like an extended, not overly succinct, fertility symbol-obsessed episode of The Twilight Zone. At one point, we are treated to an extended flashback about how Garib became a photographer… or pornographer… and it’s during this segment that questions of origins and moral culpability elevate the film to the metaphorical level. The segment also makes our return to the main narrative both heavy-handed and perfunctory. I can associate a lot with the young Garib; the metaphorical adult, not so much. For a Western audience, there’s not an awful lot going on here, at the cinematic level, that’s terribly surprising.

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